Posted in Just Fiddling

Video: Putting Guitar Strings on a Violin

I thought this was an interesting, though scary(!), experiment. I was actually surprised to see how decent the flat guitar strings sounded! Thought I’d share!

Posted in Fiddle, Just Fiddling

6 Months of Consistent Practice!

As of yesterday, I have practiced consistently every day for 6 months!

I didn’t reward myself with anything last month for consistent practice, but I thought this milestone deserved something. So, seeing there were sales going on at Sharmusic, I decided to do a little shopping. I was totally taken aback at how quickly this all shipped as I only ordered this a few days ago, and it all came today. What great timing!

The first thing I picked up was a new kind of rosin. I’m doing okay with the rosin I have, but it doesn’t hurt to try and see if something might work better. This Jade rosin is a neat green color and it had really high ratings, so I’m going to give it a whirl!

While I know I already have a number of method books, lately I’ve felt like I wanted something to mix things up a little bit. So I browsed through and decided on these two:

I Love My Scales

I got the coolest version of the cover, IMHO!

So I’ve been practicing very basic scales for a while now. I looked at this book and thought that maybe this could help me expand on that. From a glance, I can see the exercises get quite involved. I’m very happy that it comes with a CD, though, as I’ve learned that I have a hard time with any book that doesn’t have audio with it.

Fiddle & Song – A Sequenced Guide to American Fiddling

While several of the songs in here overlap with tunes I’ve learned through AFM or my Irish book, the arrangements in this book seems far simpler than what I’ve already learned. This is not a bad thing. I’m going to try it out and see if maybe pulling back to something simpler and working back up again on several tunes is a good idea.

Not only does it have a backing track CD, but this is also one of those books that provides and advanced version of the song for later on. I love that!

These should be good fun and something to spice things up next week!

Posted in Fiddle, Just Fiddling

Celebrating Two Months of Consistent Fiddle Practice!

So after several wishy-washy months last year, I’ve managed to keep myself on track and make two back-to-back months of consistent practice.

I’ve not missed a day of practice in February or March, and I’m quite pleased with this! I’ve also been rewarding myself at the end of each month with something fiddle-related that is meant to encourage and help my progress along.

Last month, I purchased the software ScanScore so that I could use it to turn notation into a WAV file I can put on my Tune List for personal reference. This month, I’d originally wanted to try out a new chin rest.

However, that changed when Southwest Strings had a spring string sale. I’d been eyeing a set of Obligato strings, since I’ve heard good things about the dark mellow tone they have. The awesome thing about this set is that you can switch out the E string for various other brands, including the Hill E string.

I talked about how I decided to try the Hill E string earlier this year, and now that I’ve spent some time with it, I really like it. So the fact that this set allowed me to purchase a Hill was a major part of what swayed me. I don’t need to replace the Hill I have now just yet, but it’s very good to have a backup E string, just in case. I’ve heard those are the strings that will break most often.

I’m looking forward to outfitting my fiddle with these strings tonight and giving them a try. Once I’ve broken them in, I’ll let you know what I think. They are not cheap strings by any means, but the sale helped a bit in easing the pain of the cost. Hopefully they’ll last me a while and I’ll get my money’s worth out of them.

Posted in Fiddle, Just Fiddling

Taking a Step back – Playing WIthin Your Skill Level

Last week, I took a step back and had a hard, long look at my practice.

While on one hand, I know that practice should not always be easy, I started to really think about the songs I was trying to polish up. I tend to always finish a session with “Well, it’s not perfect, but will keep working on it.” But never truly feeling I’ve got the song sounding pretty good.

Some of this was due to the fact that I got Cripple Creek as a random practice tune review one day the previous week. I also got O, Holy Night one of those days, too.

The idea behind having a tune review is that you’re supposed to be touching on tunes you already know. Just to keep in practice with them.

But when I ran across these two tunes – both that were always difficult for me to play – I’d either forgotten most of them, or I played them so poorly, that most of my time during that practice went to the frustration of trying to relearn what I thought I already knew. And even then, I still didn’t play either song anywhere near satisfaction.

That shouldn’t be the case. A review is a review. The learning part should be focused on the newer tunes, not things you were supposed to already know.

So this told me something: I previously didn’t really learn these two songs very well. And that’s frustrating, especially in the case of O, Holy Night, because I practiced that for two months before I thought I knew it well enough to put on the review list.

Cripple Creek is a song I was supposed to have learned some time last fall. But apparently, I didn’t. So I chose to put Cripple Creek as the tune review for every day last week in attempt to try to improve it. Again… that’s not what review is really supposed to be about.

Halfway through the week, I’d improved somewhat, and remembered the song a lot better. However, it was obvious that it would take a lot more than a week of practice to get it sounding like it should.

This just causes frustration. It’s easy to start blaming yourself, or your bow hold, or any number of things, when you can’t quite “get it.” I did all of these things for a bit… then I took a step back and had a realization.

Playing Within Your Skill Level

I’m over a year into learning to play fiddle. As an adult, my mindset is that I should be able to pick up a song, and sound good (quickly). But the reality is, I can practice until I’m blue in the face, but if a song is outside of my skill level, it’s going to take all that much more time to make it sound good.

Is it possible? Yes.

Am I that passionate about Cripple Creek that I want to set everything else aside to master that song in particular?

Not really.

It was just one of a list of tunes that was in the American Fiddle Method as I worked through it. But I have no burning love for it – it’a good tune, don’t get me wrong, but you know what I’m saying.

I’m not willing to sacrifice my progress in everything else… because sitting here working on mastering one song that’s out of my skill range is going to require that kind of dedication and time. I’m doing this for the fun of it, and while practice should challenge, I shouldn’t be struggling this much.

In fact, the newest video by Julia at Violinspiration included this in her tips for looking more professional of a player than you actually are. Take slow, small steps, and work up to harder pieces.

Finding a Comfortable Level

So this week, I dialed it back some. It helped that I also decided to jump in and try a new learning track made just for Irish fiddle. I wish I’d found this earlier, because I think I would have been a happier fiddler last year if I had!

Now, I don’t need Twinkle level difficulty. I am way past that. But, I need something between that and the level of mastery demanded from the AFM tunes.

Thankfully, this school started with Maggie in the Woods, which I feel is just about the right level of difficulty for me. I picked up the tune quickly, in a few days had it memorized, and now I’m working on starting to get comfortable with it.

Overall, I feel a whole lot better about my sound and my practice sessions since I dialed it back. And when I feel better about practice, and like what I’m playing, that means I’ll stick to my practice more consistently. And, likely, I’ll hopefully get more out of my practice than being frustrated with my sound and “fixing it tomorrow.”

I’m very glad that I took the time to think about what was going wrong with my practice and progress. I just figured, “It’s the next song in the series, so I should be able to play it.” That’s not always the case.

When you’re learning on your own, you have to be your own teacher. And part of being a teacher is recognizing when the student is overreaching to a point that it’s detrimental. For me, I guess it’s one of those trial-by-error things.

I still learned a lot, either way, so nothing was lost.

-Image Credit-

Posted in Fiddle, Just Fiddling

The “Hill” Special Steel E String

When it comes to strings, it seems fiddle players are always on the lookout for that perfect E string in particular. In fact, it’s not unusual to switch out the E string from whatever set they’re using for one that they enjoy the sound and playability of most.

I still don’t have the ear that a more advanced player does when it comes to sound and color. But I did recognize that the E on my Fiddlerman Master seemed to be really shrill to me.

I’m not absolutely certain what strings the instrument came with – Fiddlerman says they’re “whichever strings sound better on the specific violin (most commonly Kaplan Amo or Thomastik Vision).” But I’m totally down for experimenting with other strings going forward.

I’m a member of several fiddle and violin groups on Facebook, and someone was discussing having a shrill sounding E string. Several folks piped up and said they really love the Hill Special Steel E string in particular. And looking at reviews on Amazon, people really liked it there, too.

I checked out the price – it was only $6.38 + shipping at Amazon (no Prime option). I’ve seen it cheaper at places like Southwest strings – $4.89 + shipping – but overall, it’s an inexpensive string no matter where you get it. So I figured I had nothing to lose by trying it.

I’ve been using it for about a week now. Again, I don’t have the developed ear that more veteran players do, but I do feel like it’s fixed the shrillness issue that used to make me cringe when playing scales along with the playback videos. I spent time breaking it it the first few days – it really settled and stretched quickly, but that could be my fiddle helping it out, too.

Overall, it’s a nice E string for a good price. I might poke around to see what others sound like, but I’m content with the sound of this one. Far better than the shrill I had before!

Posted in Just Fiddling

Basic Fiddlers Philharmonic Celtic Fiddle Tunes

I got a few things for Christmas that were fiddle-related, including a wonderful instrument tuner, which I sorely needed. But I also got this book!

I’m pretty sure this was something on my Amazon wish list, but I didn’t realize how good a pick it actually was. This is both book and CD – I’ve learned that being able to hear the tune I’m playing is super important.

But the neatest thing about this book in particular is that it includes both a basic and advanced version of the songs, along with tracks on the CD. Also, a back-up section, if you’re playing support.

So once you’ve got the basic tune down (I like that it also has the letters in the notation to help out), you can move on to the more advanced version. It’s a cool way to build up a tune.

I’ve said that I wanted to work on my notation reading this year. I started out with it, and kinda let it fall by the wayside back during the summer. So this is a good chance to relearn and brush up on it.

Also, my ultimate goal is to play Celtic and Irish tunes. So this feels like a good intro into the music I really want to be learning.

While I have decided to continue practicing Greensleeves at this point, instead of going back to the AFM once that’s done, I’m going to be bringing some of these tunes into my practice instead. Excited to give this a try!

Posted in Just Fiddling

Tis the Season!

Welcome to November!

It was about this time last year when I started to get it in my head that I was going to learn to play fiddle. I didn’t take the leap into buying my first cheap fiddle until Dec 7, but I know I spent a lot of time researching into how difficult it would be to learn to play, especially if you don’t have a teacher nearby.

Of course, all advice said not to do it. They also said not to get a cheap fiddle. I didn’t listen to any of it, and here I am, almost a year later. I own several violins of varying quality now – including the one I ended up loving the most. And I’m still working at it, still practicing, even though I wasn’t sure if I’d stick with it before I tried it last year.

Yesterday, I was browsing one of my fiddle Facebook groups when I ran across a post where someone was asking how to stay motivated in those slump times. I’m not exactly in a slump right now — in fact, I took to learning my newest tune, Cindy, far faster than I expected to. I was getting ready to move on to the next song (which I’ve already reviewed one practice last week), because I feel I’m at the point where Cindy is on daily clean-up practice, but something new can be in the works.

Anyhow, back to this Facebook post. One of the suggestions given was to add a song they wanted to learn just for the fun of it outside of whatever they’re working on for their teacher. This person said they were doing that with holiday tunes.

That’s when it hit me.

Of course! It’s November! A perfectly acceptable time frame to begin learning some holiday songs on my fiddle! After all, if I’m to play anything around Christmastime, I really do need to start practicing many weeks ahead.

I’m at a perfect place to take a bit of a break with the method I’ve been practicing for the past few months (of course practicing my latest trio of tunes a few times a week to stay current on them). I’m not in the middle of learning a new song yet, and I really did want to spend some time making use of my Bluegrass Daddy account.

I bought a subscription to Bluegrass Daddy (BGD) just to explore it last month. I did try to add one of the songs there to my practice, but I felt like the song was a bit too advanced for me, and gravitated back to AFM for daily practice. But in visiting BGD yesterday, I noticed that the site has a nice solid selection of traditional holiday music on the lesson list.

This is perfect! I’m considering a lifetime at BGD – that might be my Christmas present to myself this year – and using the site to practice and learn holiday music is a great way to put it to the test to see if it’s helpful to me.

I started with the standard Silent Night yesterday, and actually found myself learning it pretty quickly. I’m in no real rush, but I’d love to learn a handful of Christmas songs by the end of the year including:

  • Silent Night
  • O Holy Night
  • Greensleeves
  • The Holly and the Ivy
  • Auld Lang Syne (Maybe, for New Years)

All of these have a beginner version on BGD, and are tunes I would really love to learn to play. So here it goes, time to practice for the holidays!

Header Image Modified from Source.