Posted in Fiddle

Two Years of Fiddle

While this isn’t the exact date of when I first picked up a fiddle to learn to play, it’s the day I’ve dedicated as my fiddle anniversary. About this time two years ago, I was just starting to become serious about practice.

This hasn’t been a completely seamless experience for me – I had a couple months in the first year when I set the instrument down and wondered if I’d ever pick it back up. But I did, and I’m glad that I did.

This past year has been a focus on evolving my practice and being as consistent as I can with practicing every day. As of February of last year, I’ve only missed about 5 days of practice (a day or two was due to things I couldn’t control). That is absolutely astounding for me, and I’ve learned a lot by sticking to a schedule as much as I did.

I learned to spend more time practicing songs, rather than just skipping off to the next tune in the book. I learned when to say when – identifying songs that were out of my skill range and were only causing frustration.

I found a way to consistently practice sight reading, and this has gone really well! I also started the process of learning vibrato – this has been a very slow, difficult journey. Honestly, I didn’t expect it to take as long as it has, but it’s been another learning experience.

I started to really focus on bowing exercises and found a more consistent practice book for scales. I also experimented with gear such as rosin, shoulder rests and chin rests.

I have to say that looking back a year ago, I’ve changed just about everything I was doing with practice except the fiddle and the bow! And even sometimes then, I do pick up my secondary fiddle just to mess around on it. 🙂

Being completely self-taught, I’m having to rely on resources in books and online for my learning. This has been a discovery process as I’m always looking to pick up some new knowledge and implement it to see if it works for me. I know that I probably would be much “further along” (whatever that means) if I had a teacher guiding me, but that’s not a reality for me at this time still. Maybe one day.

My focus for this year is to remain consistent in practice. I want to continue to evolve my practice exercises, work on finding good tone and clean string crossings, develop what I’ve started with my vibrato, and build up playing endurance.

My lack of playing endurance is what’s hurting me most right now. My practice sessions are getting longer, but my shoulders start to ache, and it falls apart near the end when I’m working on my most intensive tunes. I need to find a way to strengthen my shoulders in order to better finish out my daily practice and to just play longer over all.

Still so much to work on! I hope to be reporting good things come this time next year!

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Posted in Fiddle

Fiddle String Swing

Back in September of 2020, I picked up a set of Thomastik Alphayue strings for my Master fiddle. While I’m sure for the right instrument they could be a good set of strings, they just weren’t working out for mine. They sounded scratchy (due to certain rosin) and often muted on the G and D strings far more often than I’d like.

Also, when putting new strings on any instrument, there’s a period of time where the strings must stretch and settle. During this, you have to retune several times – sometimes even during a single practice session. I always check tuning before I practice, and a settled set of strings doesn’t usually need much tuning from day to day.

The Alphayue strings took weeks to finally settle. I’ve never had strings slide out of tune so much for such a long period of time after first putting them on.

While I did get the Alphayue on sale at a good price, I was still reluctant to switch them off for something new because I felt that I’d hardly gotten my use out of them. That’s when I noticed some discoloration on the strings of my Bunnel – indicating those strings would need changing pretty soon.

So, the idea came to me that I’d pick up some new strings for my Master and put the Alphayue on my Bunnel, which is my back-up fiddle. That way, those strings didn’t go to waste, and hey… they might even sound better and fit the Bunnel more. Who knows?

This time around, I decided to try D’Addario Zyex because not only do they have good reviews, but the D and G strings were available in silver. I’ve never tried a silver violin string before, but D and G on my Master have a history of being a bit nasal-sounding. So I was curious to see if this improved that.

I had an extra Hill E string (which remains my favorite) that needed to be put to use, so I only bought three Zyex strings and not a full set. My strings arrived yesterday, much to my surprise – they weren’t supposed to be here until Saturday – and I did the string swing between the two fiddles.

One of the first things I learned to do back when I got my first cheap fiddle was how to change the strings on it. I know some beginners are a bit antsy to mess with this, but it’s really not that difficult. I’m saying that without ever having a string break on me, though. I think I’d be a little more scared if one should pop!

Also, I used to practice learning guitar back in my high school/college days, so changing strings isn’t something unknown to me. …Despite the fact guitar and violin strings are very different animals!

Anyhow, I have one practice under my belt with the new strings. It’s hard to tell yet because they’re still stretching and settling in, but I think these are a marked improvement in sound over what I was using before. I haven’t had time to experiment with the Alphayue on my Bunnel to see if they sound similar on different fiddles, either.

I’ll let you know on down the line how it turns out!

Posted in Fiddle, Fiddle Progress Report

December Fiddle Progress Report

I know it’s a few days late to post a progress report from December, however, I had so many goal posts to make around January 1st, this post just got pushed back a bit.

So what all happened in December? Aside from me deciding to move my blog posts from my dedicated Fiddle blog to this (which is still in the works)?

With the passing of Christmas, I finally put away the only carol I’d been playing since November, which was Silent Night. I started playing Silent Night last year around the same time, and this year I feel that I’ve certainly improved upon it. Silent Night isn’t a difficult tune, but it has a number of long bows and stops that I’ve had to work very hard to clean up and make sound better.

It was during this that I started getting frustrated with bouncing and jittering on long bows. I began experimenting with different things to figure out what was causing it. I changed bows, changed rosin and tried to loosen the bow some. Turns out, what I needed to do was actually tighten my bow more than I though I needed!

While I still have a bit of jitter and bounce sometimes, tightening the bow made it all sound a whole lot better! Live and learn.

I’ve decided I really don’t care for the Thomastik Alphayue strings on my Master. I just don’t like how the D and G strings sound especially. I poked around waiting for some holiday sales on strings that never showed up (I guess they held off after Black Friday sales).

Yesterday, I just caved and ordered a set of D’Addario Zyex with silver D and G strings. I figure I can afford it after getting an unexpected stimulus check, right? These weren’t terribly expensive (Obligato were much more), and I’ve heard good things about them. I wonder if the silver strings will improve the muffled tone that I’ve heard on other strings. I guess I’ll find out – looking forward to trying them and reporting back next month!

I stepped up my sight reading exercises to Level 2 in the Sight Reading Factory. Level 1 was getting to be a little too easy with just two strings and little note variation. This adds the G string notes (which I really need to learn to read), eighth notes, dotted notes and some rests. It’s taken some time getting used to the variety, but I think it’s been a good change.

I haven’t made changes to the tune lineup in December, other than dropping Silent Night. I’m hoping to finally get to a point where I feel I can move on from Russian Folk Song so that I can make progress in my EEI book. Maybe soon?

My consistency was pretty good in December. I missed two practices, one on a day that I was in the ER with family for 7 hours… so I just didn’t have the energy to even think about practicing. I’ve been a little bit more flexible in allowing myself time off from practice because I’ve been able to bounce back each time and get right into the habit again. But I still want to keep my consistency as high as I can.

Onward into 2021!

Posted in Fiddle

Fiddle Goals for 2021

One last goal setting post for this year – I promise it’s the last one! This time, I have a list of goals for learning to play fiddle for 2021. I actually have a number of them!

Finish Book 1 of EEiVolume 1 of Essential Elements Interactive was the first method book I started almost two years ago. Because I’ve hopped between different methods, and even set this book aside for a solid part of a year, I’ve still not finished this book despite all the time I’ve practiced.

I received book 2 as a Christmas present in 2020, so that’s a sign to me that it’s time to work through the remaining content in book 1 in 2021.

Increase my playing stamina – Meaning, I want to strengthen my upper body in order to be able to play longer pieces or the same piece for a longer amount of time before my shoulders and arms start to ache. I’m doing far better than I did when I first started to play just by virtue of practice, but I really want to research strengthening exercises I can use, especially for my shoulders which seem to get to aching first.

Learn vibrato (better) – I started the process of learning vibrato last year. I’ve been working on learning the basic motion for many months, though I’m only able to do it slowly. All of the videos I’ve seen tell me that the next step is to set up a metronome and focus on getting a consistent vibrato at a specific speed. Then, once that’s achieved, speed it up a notch. This is the part I need to focus on now.

Listen to more great fiddle/violin music – I’ve listened to masterful Irish fiddle music all my life, and that’s the basic area of interest. However, musicians say that to develop an ear for what good violin playing sounds like, one has to immerse oneself in good music. So, this year, I’m going to research and expand the music I listen to in order to help develop my ear a bit more. Not just Irish/Celtic fiddle, but old time fiddle and classical violin as well.

I’m sure more goals will pop up throughout the year, but to start this year off, these are the areas I really want to focus on!

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Posted in Fiddle

Violin Tips I Learned in 2020: Experiment with Shoulder and Chin Rests

This has been a year of experimentation in gear for me.

I have a shorter neck, so I’ve always thought that I needed a shorter shoulder rest and chinrest combo, too.

I think I’ve found the right chinrest for my needs. I’ve been using the WAVE for several months now, and I still really like the way it feels.

But my adventures with shoulder rests have been a different story. I knew that the standard shoulder rest, even with a little bit of flexibility in how to set it, felt too high. For a while, I tried the Play on Air shoulder rest, thinking the lower I went the better.

I did like the Play on Air, though sometimes I’d have to reinflate it from time to time. It also came off the violin back a bit too easy if I was not careful.

However, after a time, I started to notice that my violin posture wasn’t all that great. The Play on Air had no resistance or support at all, and allowed me to droop my fiddle down – where it was easier for my shorter arms to reach it. But the downside to this was that I felt I was holding it more and more incorrectly and it was effecting my play.

So, I researched shoulder rests yet again, and decided on a Wolf Forte Secondo shoulder rest back in September. I’ve found this to be a very comfortable and very adjustable shoulder rest over all. At first, I was a little taken back by the design, but now that I’ve used it for a while, I appreciate what it has to offer.

It doesn’t feel too rigid, but it does provide the support I need. And I found myself actually making the shoulder rest setting higher than I thought it should be in the beginning, to help support the violin under the E string so I can play better.

I was truly surprised that after a while I didn’t leave it on the lowest height at all! I really appreciate that I can experiment to find a height setting based on issues that have come up in my practice – especially with the E string.

Of course, all of this probably could have been resolved quickly by a teacher (again). But this was a learning experience for me. Don’t let your expectations become your “facts” because it could turn out wrong! Be open to experimentation and find what works best for you!