Before I jump into the meat of this post, I just wanted to address the folks on this blog real quick. Back in December, I bought a cheap violin. I was interested in learning to play fiddle (leaning towards Irish and folk music), and I dove into trying to teach myself how back in January – last Friday marks 5 months of making this effort.
In order to keep myself accountable and remain inspired with this endeavor, I spun up a little blogging project on the side that didn’t overlap with this blog… until now. A few days back, I decided to take the content I wrote during my musical journey and consolidate it into this blog — so the Net Fiddler category with all of these posts is now archived here!
Subtitled: Gifting Yourself and Handling Practice Doldrums
Today marks 4 months of learning violin for me! Similar to month 3, daily practice has been more sporadic than I would like… and I’m learning how to deal with the reality of that in a way that keeps me coming back to the fiddle instead of shaming myself for days I miss.
I think my mindset and how I handle missed practice is very important at this point. I want to keep playing – I still love the instrument and feel like there’s a whole world of music out there for me to discover. It’s just things in adult life that keep tripping me up and pulling my time and energy away.
Granted, missing practice is not something I want to encourage. But if I go heavy handed on myself, I know that it’ll damper the energy and whimsy I’m approaching this process with. I don’t want to do that.
Gifting Myself – Practice Journal
I’m the type of person who can become inspired with a project only to set it down a month or so later. But I’m also the type of person who is still working on producing work weekly for an online project after 17 years of hardly missing a week, aside from vacations. So I can go both ways!
I decided my approach to this would be to celebrate the fact that I’m still practicing after 4 months, even if I don’t make it every day. So I bought myself a little gift of encouragement – a practice journal!
Yes, I’m aware that I could make my own practice Bullet Journal instead of buying one – I might do that somewhere down the line as I do like to journal, and practice seems a good topic to do this with. But to start out, I wanted a journal that would give me some guidance on what I should focus on when I record practice.
The journal I picked was 10,000-hour Practice Log & Journal. It was inexpensive, put together by a musician, and just seemed to have the feel of what I was looking for. I’m not sure that I buy into the 10,000 hour theory of practice, but I am pleased with the journal!
While EEI had a little place for me to record my time and what I practiced on the website, it was just a short one-line description. This book goes into a lot more detail in what you record, and while it takes more time to fill it out, the act of writing down what I practiced and how well I did makes me think back over the session. It’s not just one and done.
I’ll talk more about this book in its own post since this one is getting long already! I do want to quickly touch on my actual progress!
Month 4 Progress
I spent some time working with the FiddleHed online lessons this month. I really do like the approach and how songs are broken down in chunks to learn more easily. I had already picked up this method from reading the Practice of Practice, but this actually put it into action. I may come back to the site in the future as I did have fun with the songs, even if they were just your starter tunes.
I the end, I decided that instead of jumping into a brand new method, even though I enjoy FiddleHed, I really want to see what I started through with Essential Elements for Strings – Book 1 with EEi: Violin. I like this series a whole lot, and even more now that I’ve discovered backing tracks for the online playback songs.
I’ve made pretty good progress and I’m getting towards the end of the book. So my goal is to focus on learning the songs and working on the exercises that will finish Book 1. Once I “graduate” that, I’ll decide where to go. I have other method books that I’d like to investigate, or even Book 2 of EEI on down the line.
I have mostly solidified playing songs #116-#118, since this is where I’ve been stalled out at since last month. I find myself going over and over these tunes (Song for Maria, Banana Boat Song, Firoliralera) to retain my practice since it’s been so spotty. While I can play the songs alright, it isn’t good to not be moving forward at all.
Last night, I decided to push on past the Skill Builders section (which are mostly scales that I practice, too), and try out a new song – Jingli Nona. While I haven’t tried playing it with the music yet, just working through the song on my own, it seems like it should be pretty intuitive to learn. Here’s what it sounds like:
It’s nice to be making progress on a new song again! Hoping Month 5 will turn out better that the past two months have been for practice.
I know that it’s been a while since I last wrote about progress. I’m coming up on the 4 month mark, and while it’s been a bit more of a struggle to practice this last month, I haven’t given up. Nor am I frustrated or even disinterested in playing violin – really it’s a matter of time and energy level after dealing with work.
All excuses aside, while I haven’t been as consistent in my practice as I want to be, the important thing (as I see it) is that I have not stopped practicing by any means. In fact, I made a discovery last night about my instructional series of choice – Essential Elements for Strings – Book 1 with EEi: Violin – that has fueled more excitement for me.
Just by accident, I learned you can change the type of accompaniment with the online playback tracks!
By default, all the tunes I’ve played using the EEI online site have a metronome as the backing. For some reason, probably by accident, I clicked the drop-down and discovered… there’s actually a variety of instrumental accompaniment for each song.
It makes a huge difference to play the Banana Boat Song along with a Reggae jam, and Firoliralera with actual Latin Folk backing it! And while I’m still working on learning these songs, and have been practicing them probably longer than I really should have, my enjoyment of practice skyrocketed to have something more than just a metronome keeping the beat along with me.
I love that the songs have a variety of accompaniment styles to choose from, even some you wouldn’t expect. Dropping a classic rock vibe behind Song for Maria, for example, completely changes the feel of the tune. Some styles are a bit more suited to the song than others, but having the option to change it up is amusing and keeps you on your toes.
I really wish I’d known about this sooner – here I’ve been practicing with this series for over 100 songs and almost 4 months and I never realized this was an option! Silly me! Now I really want to go back and revisit old tunes just to see what the options are!
I know this is going to make practice a lot more exiting forthcoming, and is just another reason why I’m really enjoying EEI.
Today marks the third month of learning to play violin. I wish I could say this was as successful as my first two months, but, as I wrote before, I’ve had more trouble sticking to daily practice. A lot of this is due to simply being exhausted when coming home from work… so hopefully, as things shift, I’ll have more energy to put back into practice again.
So, as to not concentrate on the bad, I do want to talk about what I made progress on. Since last month, I have practiced up to exercise #117, which is The Banana Boat Song. Song #118 seems a bit difficult to tackle, so for now, I’ve skipped it and moved to the series of technical exercises that start with #119.
These are mostly variation of scales and practices, which are all good for daily revisiting (even if I don’t get anything else done). There’s a whole page of short scales and tunes, so I think I’m going to focus on these on the tired days, if nothing else. Maybe by the time I’ve got some scale practice in, I’ll feel more up to playing something more.
I did start practicing the slur technique this month. Also, I removed one of the tapes from my fingerboard, and really, haven’t had much trouble with that. Still not quite ready to remove the other tape, though!
I also wonder if it’s time to weave something new into my practice. I know that Jim at Fiddling for Older Folks has good things to say about the FiddleHed online lessons. I signed up for a trial account there last month, but something came up that weekend, and I wasn’t really able to explore the lessons or site as much as I’d have liked. I got an email from FiddleHed yesterday that offered a pretty sweet discount for trying my first month (I assume since I haven’t acted on the account in a while), and I think I might just take up that offer.
I’ve heard good things about the site, and a full month access to all of the tutorials would allow me to get a better feel for where I stand in my own progress vs. what the site offers to see if it provides value. Plus, to add a little something different in my practice might spark excitement. I really love my instruction book, but even I know I need to change things up from time to time. So this might just be the perfect thing to lead into a new month of practice!
How about that! I removed the washi tape marker for my first finger position earlier this week!
Actually, this was more because the tape had begun to bunch up at the G string now that I’ve started playing the lower notes. I ignored it for a while, then finally got annoyed with it and decided to take it off.
I hear about how you’re supposed to be focusing on training the ear rather than the eye to know where fingers should be on the finger board. While I don’t feel comfortable enough removing the third finger tape yet, I’m adjusting to removing the first finger, and it’s gone well so far!
I’m not sure what caused it – maybe it was me finally putting my frustrations into words yesterday. I came home from work tired, but determined to put time into what I consider a full practice sessions (for me).
Granted, 30 minutes isn’t a lot to real musicians. But keep in mind: this is a hobby, I’m fitting it in around work and other responsibilities, and I’m still very new to the instrument. So, for me, 30 minutes of practice feels about right (as long as it’s consistent). If I’m really inspired or interested in what I’m working on, I let myself go longer, of course.
When I sat down last night, I tried practicing scales along with a drone for the first time. I’ll write more about this later, when I’ve spent more time with it. Interesting and helpful overall, though!
I then spent some time going back to the very beginning of my instructional book, and playing the simplest pieces. Many of these I never attempted to bow before – the book starts students off with pizzicato. So I thought it might be different to see how well I do on simpler songs, just to see how far I could get with minimum mistakes.
After that, I jumped back to Song for Maria, which is the tune I’ve been practicing for a while now. I understand the song, I generally know how to play it and have it mostly memorized, but it’s still complex for me. It combines slurs with some forth fingering and string changes at a pretty good tempo… all which leads me to bow wrong strings, hit wrong notes and that sort of thing. So, I can play it, but my playing feels very sloppy.
For some reason, last night, I just nailed the song. In fact, I think that was the best playing I’ve done tone-wise that I can remember. I played the song many, many times over last night – not every time was great, but the majority of attempts were far better than what I’ve done up until now.
I’m not sure what changed. I don’t know if it was just one of those good practice days… and I’ll come back to it tonight and suck at the song mysteriously (as it seems to happen). But I finished out the full session, and walked away feeling pretty good. Decided to write about it since it was the flip side of how I was feeling yesterday.
I’m going to try to get back on track with my practice this weekend, and if I do as well playing Song for Maria tonight as I did yesterday, I think it’s time to move on to The Banana Boat Song finally!
Moving into my third month of learning to play violin, I’ve started to feel a drop in my momentum in a big way. Part of the issue is that IRL work (I work a full time job) has been increasingly demanding lately, leaving me so tired by the time I make it home. The idea of practicing every day has become harder to do.
I haven’t quit, though. I’ve dropped back to practicing every other day, often for less than 30 minutes, which used to be my standard. But I’ve tried to keep going and not stall out all together, because I know if I falter too much now, I’ll be at the risk of putting it down.
I guess we all have times when practice is hard to stick to. I’m trying to give myself the room to take a break while still maintaining the knowledge I’ve earned over the past few months. Right now, forward progress is extremely slow, nearly non-existent. But I’m being gentle with myself, while still making some time for practice on days when it’s plausible.
One of the newest techniques I’ve been learning from my practice book – Essential Elements for Strings – Book 1 with EEi: Violin – is something called a slur. This is when two or more notes played are within one bow stroke. It looks something like this:
I actually already slurred from time to time by accident, but didn’t realize it had a proper name! Indeed, when done correctly, it makes a smooth slurring transition between the two notes, giving a softer flow in the sound.
I’ve been working on a tune called Song for Maria quite a bit when I do practice, really trying to get the technique down. I also find I have trouble with accidentally bowing on strings I shouldn’t on this song for some reason. So, I’ve taken more time than I usually do trying to learn it.
When properly played, it sounds something like this:
Thankfully, it’s pretty pleasant. But I am looking forward to feeling like I can move on from this song pretty soon. I’ve dabbled with the song following it, The Banana Boat Song, which is a bit more upbeat and fun.
In fact, I’ve peeked ahead at a number of upcoming songs in this book, and found that the accompaniment on the practice tracks becomes quite a bit more entertaining. Up until now, the tracks only featured the sound of the violin and metronome… maybe a second violin if there were rounds or a second part. But upcoming songs have a full on band to play along with, which is rather exciting!
I’m certainly trying to hang in here during my rough patch right now. Writing about it here is one way of trying to refill that motivation and inspiration. I know that the most important part of practice is showing up for it, and that’s something I need to rebuild as a habit again.