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So far, so good...

Posted by Erockin on Wednesday, January 4, 2023

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It's been 4 months now since I started this journey on the violin/fiddle. Sept 25th to be exact. That's when I began to actually play my fiddle. I have been a fan of this instrument for a very long time. I guess the first fiddler I was aware of was Vassar Clements. That was about 25 years ago I guess...give or take. I guess by now though, you guys have read all my posts here on the FHO along with all of my other commentary. When I ran my own website, I used to write a daily blog and kept that up for years. Every show, every practice, almost every day I put a blog out there. I can say it reached a lot of faces at one point. So, I thought what the heck. Let's put one out here. In fact, I have been keeping a physical hand-written journal of my thoughts and progress on the violin so far. Lord knows I'm obsessed with this instrument. To the point I've considered quitting everything to devote all my energy to this one thing. I see why it's so special now and at the age of 45, I want to give what I have left to this 4 stringed device.

Being a rocker originally, I did not discover bluegrass until Old & In The Way. The way many others found bluegrass and string music. My first album that I owned though was a Blue Highway tape. Then a IIIrd time cassette. I was hooked. Mainly on the roll of the Banjo and Mandolin chop! At that time, I was a garage band drummer, shooting for the big time! This music was infectious though. I continued my journey with rock, blues, jam bands ect... but mainly listened to the Grateful Dead. I was gifted my first acoustic guitar in 95 or 96...too long ago to remember. Keeping that Old and In the Way album blasting, I wanted more bluegrass in my life.

In the late 90's, I lived above an old hardware store, Beck and Benedicts in Waynesboro and there they hosted a Bluegrass Jam every Friday night. Too scared to attend, I listened from above.

Let's fast forward to the year I met my wife. We met and only 4 months later we were married. At our wedding, we hired a local bluegrass band called "Nunnery Run" and this is where I heard my first true bluegrass harmonies live in person. My goodness! I knew at this point; bluegrass would always be a part of my life. So as the years went on, rock became less, and grass became more. Through bluegrass, my wife learned the upright bass along with me and we traveled from Maine to Florida. We met and played with so many great pickers along the way. Always fearful of the violin, I kept my distance. So, I furthered guitar, bass, mandolin, faked some banjo and now I sit here with a fiddle in my hand. How did this happen to me?

Just this past Sept we were browsing the local antique shop and discovered 2 violins for sale. I loved them. I was drawn to them. I wanted them both as a matter of fact. Not sure why, but I wanted them. One was $115 and one was $45. I took the cheaper one home with me and named it "Tudd Lewis" because there is a TL carved on the button. The case was old and so was Tudd. I had no idea if it would ever be playable but a guy that I had been jamming with reminded me that a mutual buddy had become a luthier over the past years. So, I looked up Dave Masland near Carlisle PA and said, “bring it up.” This thing was missing a string and the bow was toast. Besides, I'd have no idea what to do with it any ways. So, we took a beautiful drive to Carlisle through the mountains to drop this thing off. 2 weeks later I pick it up and I'm getting some sounds out of it. Needless to say, it was pretty rough. Thankful for the FHO, I have been sharing and asking all sorts of questions. All I watch now on YouTube is violin and fiddle videos. Making violins, fixing violins, violin reviews and so on. It's getting ouf of hand! I guess that's a good thing.

But where to begin? I need to do this right. I was able to find a local player to give me weekly lessons. His name is Chuck Krepely and he plays bluegrass, celtic, old time, classical and all the other styles you can throw at him. Most of all, he's a kind soul and very encouraging. Since I started playing music, this was the first lessons and theory I ever had. Exciting and strange. Everything to this point has been by ear or a buddy showing me something. Now I had to pay attention. Now I need to focus. Something I struggle everyday with on the violin. I'm ready to run and I know it's not time. I've spoken about this before in an earlier post. It's amazing to hear and see the progress. It's there. In little bits and pieces but it's there. So many things to focus on at once. Posture, grip, bow position, pressure on the bow, intonation, speed and's a workout for the mind when starting off.  This was why lessons are/were so important. I think I'll always want to go to lessons. In fact, I'm seeking camps and workshops as we speak. 

My lessons began with Soldiers Joy and Old Joe Clark. Neither are up to par but, we’ve moved on. Now I'm on to Ashokan’s Farewell. I love this song but it's trying on me. Because it's so direct and beautiful, there is no room for error. Vibrato is not my friend yet either. We’re about to talk about it though. Being an experienced teacher, he explained that most beginners wouldn’t begin this until way later but because I’ve kind of taken off, I’ll be ready soon. Some things seem impossible or overwhelming but when you break it down in chunks, it becomes easier. I have trouble practicing one thing. I seem to jump all around. Not sure if that’s a good thing or not? I have C, D, G and A major scales down for the most part. I split my time with scales and whatever song I’m to be learning. I do try to touch the violin once a day, sometimes more. If I miss a day, it makes me sad. Of course, I’m learning double stops and using the drones. It’s so addictive and fun now that I’m going. Then I find myself needing some bowing patterns. That’s where the internet comes in. There is so much material out there to consume, you really could do it that way and succeed for the most part. It’s fun having that feedback, especially live and in person. I could see Skype working for those who choose so, but I definitely prefer in person lessons. Plus, it’s nice to hear someone playing a beautiful line in front of your ears. Half hour lessons go by pretty fast I must admit. We normally stretch it to 45 mins. In the room we are playing, there are also 5 banjos, 5 guitars, Cellos, Violins and Mandolins hanging everywhere. It’s a great room to be in. Chuck is also a reenactor which is cool and he’s near Gettysburg so that whole civil war/old time vibe is there. I am hopeful to play some duets with Chuck one day. We did play Angeline together once and that feeling of twin fiddles is hard to describe. More of that in my future please!

I’m starting to get it. I know a little bit more each day. The internet is such a resourceful too. Especially the Fiddle Hang Out! One of my favorite things is opening the case. The anticipation of seeing the fiddle. It never gets old. Many times, I start playing before checking the tuning, which is wrong, I know. Must have it in tune for everything to make sense. I’m like a little kid at Christmas. I am not regretful of the time I’ve missed with the fiddle. Everything happens for a reason. I used to think that way. Like, “why didn’t I do this sooner?” Welp, it’s not helpful to think that way. It’s better to just get on YouTube and explore! I’ve learned of so many awesome bands and songs. Way too many to even start listing. There is a larger fiddle scene out there that most don’t know until you’re in it. I’ve created a running list of songs I’d love to start learning on my own. Some I can fake at this point but that’s what I’ve always done. This is different. This is more challenging. I know if I stay the course, great things will come. I’ve always respected fiddle players and violinist but it’s at a whole new level now. Insane amount of respect. The time and effort put in is immeasurable when listening to a good fiddle player. Now I put on YouTube and jam away. Recently, I’ve went down the rabbit whole of fiddle makers. My goodness! It’s crossed my mind. It’s so fascinating to watch a luthier build one. There were a couple local apprentice programs around, but they are gone now. If that were the case, I’d probably really drop it all and go right into it. The gentleman I take lessons from built his own and it’s amazing. I was like, “how cool is that?” Build it and then play it! The one thing I hope to get better at is, learning to read easy fiddle tab and then play the songs from that tab. It’s slow, but it’s there.

Are you ever really satisfied with your instrument? I love my antique find but as we all know, there many out there just dying to be played. So, I can see how acquiring a collection could be easy if you have a little bit of money. I’m on Ebay, Music Shops, Craigslist, you name it, I’m looking! I have no need but all the needs. I found a guy in Frederick MD who apparently works and sells on them so let’s just say I’m pumped to there. I was recently in Richmond VA and they have a few shops and unfortunately, they were all closed for the holiday. I even brought my bow with me in case. Look at me, being all professional. Ha! Not really. I did purchase a Fiddlerman carbon fiber bow that made a world of difference. It does depend on the musician in the end, but good gear does make it better. I came across a Scott Cao violin and I can’t stop looking at them. It would be nice to find unbiased reviews on them though. I can’t find any negative feedback on them. Beautiful instruments for sure. Some day. One day. But for now, ole Tudd will do the job! Eventually, I’d like to share/post some recordings, but I can’t seem to get through a take without it sounding like cats fighting over a meal. Until then, I’ll keep on playing make believe.

Thanks for reading…

4 comments on “So far, so good...”

JonD Says:
Wednesday, January 4, 2023 @6:38:57 PM

I think everyone on this site has had that 'epiphany' about the instrument, some early on, some later in life... it's the best addiction imaginable! Thanks for sharing your path so far.

mackeagan Says:
Wednesday, January 4, 2023 @6:54:26 PM

Well, you got a long road ahead of you. Don't be discouraged. I played by ear, no teacher, for years. Getting a teacher puts you way ahead. I started out wanting to play bluegrass, and everything else. Bluegrass is hard, especially if you haven't had lessons. As the years went by, I discovered that what I do best at is Irish and Scottish tunes, so that's what I stick to. I want to make the distinction between songs and tunes. Songs are things you can sing, while tunes (or, chunes) usually don't have words to confuse the issue. In bluegrass, you will have to learn the song, and the tune of it as well, so you can improvise a solo over the melody when it's your turn to solo. Me, I love the tunes, I don't always remember the words, and my singing voice is not the greatest. Also, the singer's keys (the series of notes/scale/chord changes the song is based around) may not be easy keys for the fiddler. For now, enjoy the tunes, and the sounds you can make on the fiddle. Watch how the bow works, and try to remember how you got each note to sound good. Like driving a car, you have to start out slow...

bluesguy63 Says:
Thursday, January 5, 2023 @7:34:54 PM

I can relate with op. I come from a guitar/mandolin background and now seven solid months of practice with fiddle (at least two hrs a day). I know where the notes are bc of mandolin. I wish I had started fiddle yrs ago. It just gives me more enjoyment than other instruments! I like the irish tunes and have a few under my belt -not great but progressing. I can tell a big difference from when I started. I also love the ot time sound and I'm still working in that direction. I think I got burnout on BG from years of going to jams and playing guitar/mandolin. I just don't really enjoy it so much anymore. There are literally dozens of bg monthly jams where I live, not so much other genres. I did venture out to a jam this week with my fiddle. They were playing so fast 200 + bpm. I could never do that. There was another fiddle player there that slowed it down a bit and I actually played 3 or 4 ot tunes....what fun! My goal I guess is maybe to be "decent" in 3 yrs...I hope that is a reasonable goal!

Fiddler Says:
Tuesday, June 20, 2023 @1:42:56 PM

What a journey! It is a good thing that you have found a teacher. He can help you progress faster than learning on your own. I, too, like antique violins! My main instrument, up until a week ago, was J.B. Schweitzer copy that I found in a junk store and bought for $80 about 30 years ago. It is an incredible instrument!! I started with a no name, VSO and saved my money for a better, but still 1900 era instrument. It was $150. A year ago, I needed something to get me excited about playing again. I followed ebay, FB Marketplace and even FHO marketplace. I set a price limit and I knew that I would not spend that kind of money on a no-return policy!! I tried one from Royce Burt - he's on FHO and many folks have had good experiences with his offerings and "revoicing." I tried one, but it had some issues that weren't readily apparent, except to a trained luthier. So, I sent it back. Threes weeks ago a friend gifted me an incredible instrument that she had been given. It had not seen the light of day for over 70 years!! It was made in 1895 and is in mint condition. I took it to my luthier who cleaned it, cut a new bridge and put on new strings. The sound post was perfect. When he called to say it was ready, he said that the instrument and sound was "phenomenal!" I played it for a dance and then our jam last Saturday. The tone and timbre actually changed and improved over the course of the jam.

So, the moral of the story is to learn with what you have. If your luthier has made it playable, you are in good shape. Let him know you are looking for a better instrument. If you find an instrument on your own, have him check it over before you buy it. If you have a fiddler friend whom you trust and who plays well, have him/her go with you and try out the instrument and give their opinion.

I started with Soldier's Joy which I learned from my Dad's harmonica playing. Same with Turkey in the Straw and a few others. I hope you are able to find a local community who will help you and nurture your playing, especially during the painful early years. FHO is great for a virtual community. Have fun and enjoy the journey!

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