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When you can't blame your equipment anymore . . .

Posted by bj on Sunday, September 28, 2008

Okay, so I have two very decent fiddles, at least one respectable bow, with another reasonably good brazilwood bow, the one that came with the little french fiddle, being rehaired, and I have another fiddle and bow on the way, and since it's coming from our own Johnny Thomasson, I expect that the fiddle will be stellar, and Johnny tells me the bow is "decent" and plays well on the fiddle he's sending. Both the fiddles I currently play have been expertly set up, and a couple very respectable fiddlers who play a lot who have tried them have said that the setup is "enviable" and in a couple cases asked for my luthier's name, which says worlds about Steve's ability! Both the fiddles I currently play have great voices with strong long sustains.

Any bad noise that comes out of any of these fiddles played with any of these bows is my playing. It isn't the bow, it isn't the bowhair, it isn't the strings, it isn't the cat's fondness for cleaning rosin off my bows since I now case them when not in use, it isn't the bridge, it isn't the soundpost, it isn't the rosin, or anything else. I can no longer blame the equipment. Did you hear me say that? I CAN NO LONGER BLAME THE EQUIPMENT.

In a very real and immediate way that fact is incredibly liberating, even if it seems to be counterintuitive for it to be so. And it's funny, since there seem to be people who have never learned that lesson, and I'm beginning to realize it's the most important one to learn, especially when you read some of the agonizing over equipment that goes on in some of the forum discussions.

Is equipment important? Yes, but as long as you have a nicely voiced and well set up fiddle, and a bow that suits it well, you don't need another damn thing. Your bow doesn't have to be pernambuco or cost a king's ransom. Your fiddle doesn't have to be really fancy, nor does it need to be handmade by a master craftsman. Because when all is said and done, it's the person wielding the bow who is creating the music. Or not.

I take full responsibility for the noise I make.

And some day I will make some damn good noise . . . in fact I do get flashes of brilliance in between my squeaks and squawks now. And the squeaks and squawks are much less harsh and coming much less often. When I play with others my pitch is pretty damn decent, though it still has a tendency to wander just a bit when I play solo, which tells me I need to record some guitar parts to play along with so that I get better. And the more I play with others or with some sort of backup while I'm playing, the better it will get.

I doubt I'll ever be 100% happy with my playing. But I can already visualize a day in the not too far distant future when someone says to me, "Hey, that sounded great! Play some more."

12 comments on “When you can't blame your equipment anymore . . .”

brya31 Says:
Sunday, September 28, 2008 @5:45:29 PM

Before you know it, bj, you will be changing that screen to "purty good"

bj Says:
Sunday, September 28, 2008 @6:50:45 PM

Realistically, that'll be at least a few years in the future!

I can still fall apart spectacularly when trying to play fast . . .

fiddlepogo Says:
Sunday, September 28, 2008 @7:31:10 PM

Good blog entry- very true.
And I do think you'll progress quicker since you aren't in denial
about whose fault it is whatever problems there are.

Flashes of brilliance? Good sign...
figure out what you're doing to make those flashes
and keep doing it longer, and longer and longer and longer and....
then you'll be a flashy fiddler! ;^)

janepaints Says:
Monday, September 29, 2008 @1:00:40 AM

True words, BJ. Ours is a Trust In Stuff society. Gotta git the right stuff or all is lost.

A fella who owns a saxophone shop gave me a swell zen-like insight into the 'gotta git the perfect music stuff' trip. In the early 90's I decided to learn soprano sax, my fave of all the saxes. So I plunged into it with the kind of drive, curiosity and passion which you evidence regarding fiddle. Sax ain't easy. My sax sounds were squeaks, squawks, blurts, shrieks, deathmoans and fartissimos. So I began studying sax lore and literature. Reeds, mouthpieces, pads, springs. All the arcana.

Heard about a shop in Philly where serious sax people bought serious sax stuff. Cheap beginner saxes are like cheap beginner fiddles: shiny and crappy.

Since my sax sounds stunk, the problem was obviously not me, but my crappy sax--especially the mouthpiece--which is to a horn kinda like a bow is to a fiddle. So I went to the Sax Shop and waded through tons of mouthpieces, aiming to get a really good one which would immediately allow me to wail like Coltrane.

I asked the store owner the same kinda questions about each mouthpiece. "So, what does this mouthpiece sound like? What will it allow me to do? How good a match will it be for my horn/my embrochure/my style?"

He gave the exact same reply to every question! He looked me in the eye and deadpanned "That mouthpiece? Oh, that one will make you play FASTER, LOUDER and BETTER!"

After hearing his reply about 26 times I began to get what he was trying to tell me. No Magic Bullets. No E-Z Answers. No Short Cuts. Gotta do the work--the stuff won't do it for ya. Etc.

But I did buy a mouthpiece, a much-better one than the junky one that came with my horn. Went home and played my repertoire of blurps, squawks, shrieks, squeals and fartissimos. But now I was playing them LOUDER FASTER and BETTER. :)

janepaints Says:
Monday, September 29, 2008 @1:14:00 AM

Oh, addenda: "fall apart spectacularly when I try to play too fast." AMEN. That's something I always gotta work on. When we're 'in the zone' speed, drive and momentum take care of themselves. When we're not 'in the zone' those same qualities can womp us over the head. Bill Monroe said something pertinent to this. Somebody asked him how he played so fast. Bill said "I don't play fast--I play quick, and there's a difference."

bj Says:
Monday, September 29, 2008 @5:30:05 AM

"Ours is a Trust In Stuff society. Gotta git the right stuff or all is lost. " Only because we've been brainwashed to be that way. It's why I threw out my TV ten years ago.

Thibodeaux Says:
Monday, September 29, 2008 @7:17:02 AM

I learned this lesson over the course of letting several trained fiddlers play my cheapo Chinese fiddle (and this was before I had the setup improved upon a few months back). Every time a good player played my instrument, the instrument actually sounded REALLY pleasing. So I figured out very quickly that yes indeed, it's All About My Playing Skill.

I gotta keep practicing! :)

bj Says:
Monday, September 29, 2008 @11:45:40 AM

We ALL gotta keep practicing!

Humbled by this instrument Says:
Friday, October 3, 2008 @8:51:42 AM

Welllllll, sometimes--as when your bow slides doggywampus all over the strings--you just need more rosin. And I'm not going to practice unless I feel like it!

bj Says:
Friday, October 3, 2008 @9:01:20 AM

Ah, so you're blaming the rosin AND the dog . . . LOL!

eileenrkinney Says:
Monday, August 30, 2010 @8:41:37 AM

Excellent blog, BJ. Thanks for directing me to it. I'm also learning how important it is to get support and read about other's struggles. No fiddleman is an island unto himself, right?

bj Says:
Monday, August 30, 2010 @8:45:10 AM

Dang straight, Eileen! Get out to local jams too. Nothing shortcuts you faster than playing with others.

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