Posted in Net Fiddler

Progress Report: Two Months of Fiddle

As of tonight’s practice session, I’m happy to announce that I’ll have practiced violin every day for two months. Let me tell you, that hasn’t been easy to meet every day, for sure. Many of the issues that I struggled with during my transition period of the first month have been resolved. This means that my practices are much more focused on playing than troubleshooting.

I have three different lesson books, all that say they’re geared towards beginners. While I’m sure two of them could work alright if you had a teacher, only one of them really does the job of walking me through concepts in bite-sized chunks:
Essential Elements for Strings – Book 1 with EEi: Violin. I know that I’ve continued to praise this book and all of the online learning tools it provides (at a super low cost), but I really feel this method has been key to progress that I’ve made on my own over the past two months.

My Progress

I’m a little over halfway through the first Essential Elements book now. This week, I’ve played up to exercise #102, which incorporates two new elements for me: the G string and 4th finger on the G string. This being the lowest string (but the highest on the finger board) is the most challenging for me to play due to my small hands and short pinky finger combination. Here’s the newest exercise I’ve played:

Here’s a teacher playing this version of the song:

Honestly, the song itself isn’t that hard — it’s just the 4th finger that makes it that way for me. Playing on the G string makes most of the tunes I’ve played on the D and A string feel so much easier. In fact, I keep going back over many of the tunes from #89 up to #102. This includes tunes like Bile em Cabbage Down, Lightly Row, English Round, and Baa Baa Black Sheep.

Probably the most complex tune I’ve picked up (and really enjoy the challenge of) is the Can-Can.

I’m really focusing on learning how to bow straighter and to cross strings cleaner. I have to admit that though the G string is tough for me to play, I really love the deep tone it produces on my violin. It has a certain thickness that I don’t hear on the other strings. Could be the kind of strings that came with it — I’m going to ask for a new set for my birthday (in May) and try other brands to see how they sound. 😉

Keep playing!

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Posted in Net Fiddler

Buying a Violin Online: Clearance Violins

While I did post about why you shouldn’t buy a cheap violin as your first instrument, I’m still all about saving money if I can. While I was shopping around for my improved violin, I discovered that a few places online provide clearance sales on some of their instruments. I did some looking around, and found a couple locations – Shar Music and Kennedy Violins.

When I purchased my Bunnel, I was drawn to the idea of picking up a deal in exchange for a slightly less than perfect instrument. Clearance violins are functionally the same as a full-price instrument — they sound the same and perform the same. There’s simply some cosmetic imperfections in the make. Maybe the finish isn’t perfect, or there’s a tiny dent that doesn’t change the way the violin sounds (as was with mine). Whatever the reason, it cosmetically did not come up to the maker’s standards, so rather than trash it as a failure, they sell it at a clearance price.

Shar Music

I’ve not purchased from Shar, but I’ve heard lots of good things about them. They’re one of the online sellers who provide pre-setup violins, and they also have a clearance section on their website. In the case of Shar, they offer an upgrade/exchange system if you buy a new instrument through them. This means that you send in your used instrument (as long as it meets their resale standard) and put it towards the cost of an upgrade.

Their clearance section often provides the pre-owned instruments at a discount, along with blemished brand new instruments. Because of this, the stock you’ll see on this page varies, so keep checking back.

Kennedy Violins

My second violin was a Kennedy Bunnel Premiere, which I bought on clearance from Amazon. I was a little antsy about getting something on clearance, but overall, for the the cost in savings, I’m very pleased with the instrument I got. I had to actively look for the blemishes on my violin — they were nothing you’d outright see if you weren’t aware of them. And I figure, over time, I’ll probably end up nicking it here and there, anyhow.

There’s a couple places to browse the clearance violins from Kennedy. You can do it from their main website here, or you can look for the items marked as clearance on their Amazon storefront. I picked the Amazon store because of the fast Prime shipping, and because Amazon is pretty good about refunds if anything big happened to go wrong. Unlike Shar, I don’t think Kennedy sells pre-owned as clearance, so all of these are blemished new instruments.

So far, I’ve had my Bunnel for about a month, and I’m quite happy with it overall. I’d like to change out the strings on it eventually, but it’s exactly what I was looking for in a lower-range priced violin.

If you’re violin shopping online, keep an eye out for clearances – don’t dismiss them as they can be great little instruments for a lower cost! There may be other makers who provide something similar, but in my searches, these are the two I found. Good luck!

Bunnel I bought on clearance

Posted in Net Fiddler

Fourth Finger Fun

I knew that the day would come when I’d add the fourth finger to violin practice. Sure enough, this week, my lesson book has led me to just that – using the fourth finger to replicate the sound of an open string. The book says this is to promote smoother note changes due to not having to cross strings with a bow. I’m not so sure smoother is the result of this for me at the moment!

I read that other folks tend to have a bit of trouble when first implementing the fourth finger. I find it a bit more difficult, mostly because it really forces you to have to twist your hand to be as parallel the fingerboard as possible. I definitely feel the effort I have to make for proper arm posture, especially up and down the length of my left arm.

But like all things, I also know this will get easier with time. When I first began playing, I could hardly endure a full five minutes off playing without having to shake out my left hand out and give it a break. Now days, I might have to take a single short rest during my 30 minute practice sessions. I’m certainly seeing improvement.

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Buying a Violin Online: Set up Violins

Most folks will tell you if you’re shopping for a violin, you should stick to brick and mortar shops. You need to hold the violin in your hand, hear it, try it out and get a feel for each potential instrument before committing. This is good advice, however…

What about the folks who don’t have a local music shop? Or if the one that they do have doesn’t specialize in violins, so the selection is thin and the prices are out of budget? What if there’s no promise that the music shop really knows how to set up a violin properly? And the nearest luthier is hours away (such as in my case).

It’s no wonder that folks in this Amazon age turn to the Internet to shop for a violin. And this isn’t a terrible idea, as long as you know what you’re getting. Beyond just the quality of the violin and the reviews you read, an important thing to make certain of is that the violin you purchase is properly set up before it comes to you.

By set up, I mean that the instrument has been checked for proper alignment and approved by whatever the maker’s process is, the bridge and strings are in place, and with a little bit of tuning, it’s ready to play out of the box. I don’t include tuning in this because new strings can’t be expected to hold tune during shipping — most instruments will need some tuning upon arrival.

Some violins, especially in the lower price brackets, will require setup. You will need to place the bridge (with no promise the bridge is properly shaped to the instrument) upon arrival, and this runs a risk of the sound post coming loose during shipping.

Plus, an instrument that hasn’t been run through an approval process and professional setup may require extra cost just to get it in playable condition. That $100-$200 violin from Amazon may cost you another $100-$200 to ensure proper setup from a professional in the end… which is a doubled hidden cost you really can avoid by paying for a quality, set-up instrument from the start.

I’ve gathered a list of online shops that have been confirmed to pre-setup their instruments for online sales. My Bunnel from Kenney Violins came set up, and I know for sure Fiddlerman (some brands – double check) sets up theirs, too. The others I’ve heard as suggestions from the community — so be sure to read the product pages and reviews when looking to purchase to ensure they have gone through some approval process and include set up.

There may be other shops that provide set up online as well. These are just the ones I’m fully aware of. Hopefully this helps you to know a bit more of what to look for if you decide to shop for violins online!

Posted in Net Fiddler

Do Yourself a Favor: Don’t Buy a Cheap Violin

Probably NOT a cheap violin. -Image credit-

The very first step I took on my path to learning to play violin was to make a mistake. I didn’t listen to the warnings I read online, and I bought a cheap violin.

You might be like me. An adult with a full-time job who has taken interest in doing something completely new… or maybe something you’ve wanted to do for a long time… and decided to learn to play violin. But you’re not sure if you can really commit to it.

Will work schedules prevent practice? Will you discover that you’re just not meant to play this instrument? You’ve heard it’s challenging, and the idea of spending hundreds of dollars on a student violin for it to only sit in the corner gathering dust after the first few weeks is not an appealing thing.

What IS appealing? That $40 cheap violin you see on Amazon or Ebay.

“Hey,” you think, “I can handle $40-$60 to try the thing out. And if I don’t like it, then I didn’t lose much.”

Meanwhile, folks who have experience – long-time players, teachers and online violin shops – all are telling you, “No, no no no no… If you want to be successful, you really don’t want to do that.”

What do they know, right? I mean, they’ve been playing for years… or they’re the ones selling the higher quality instruments. Of course they’ll tell you to invest money into a hobby you’re not sure you’re going to see through.

Well, I’m here to say… believe them!

Continue reading “Do Yourself a Favor: Don’t Buy a Cheap Violin”
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Trouble with Learning to Read Music

Honestly, I don’t really know if this is a problem or not. If anyone has insight into this, please let me know!

I’ve always had trouble practicing reading music notation. The thing is, I can fumble through reading a (simple) song passage, such as something I’m practicing from my Essential Elements for Strings Book. I reference the notation the first few times, and maybe look at bits and pieces of it a little bit after. But once I know what the song should sound like, I find myself quickly shoving the notation aside to play from memory.

That’s why it’s so, so important for me to be able to hear samples of the tunes that I’m trying to play. When I hear the song and put it on repeat a few times, I’m much more able to perform it. Every book or learning tool I use has to have some kind of track to play with for this reason.

Back when I was learning to play guitar many many moons ago, I did the same thing. I feel like I never really connect the process of learning to match notes on the page with fingering. By the time I settle into practice, I’m doing it more by ear than by eye.

Is this a bad thing? Is this a good thing? Is there something I can do to help me focus more on practicing to read the notes? I guess I could FORCE myself to sit and read notation, but that seems awful dull. Or is this something I should just roll with for now and be more focused on when the tunes get a little more complex?

Posted in Net Fiddler

Discoveries: Things I Learned My First Month of Playing Violin

When I decided to learn to play violin, I came to the instrument with zero exposure to the instrument. I don’t know anyone, past or present, who plays violin. In fact, that cheap violin was the first violin I actually held — I was surprised at how light it was!

I thought that it might be interesting to gather the discoveries I made during my first month as a completely new violin player. Here you are!

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