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Practice focus for beginners

Posted by fiddlerdi on Tuesday, June 26, 2007

I have noticed that there are quite a few new people in the hangout,  who are adult beginners in fiddle. I thought I would pass along a few ideas that my students seem to find useful about practicing at the beginning level. You have probably noticed that there is a lot to concentrate on all at once. Like, left-hand position, holding the bow, playing between the fingerboard and bridge, staying on the right string or at least one string, making a good sound, playing in tune, finding where your fingers go (left-hand), keeping your wrist straight and breathing all at the same time. You are breathing, right? Students seem to stop breathing while they are playing...not good.  I start out by telling folks that there is nothing, and I mean nothing that you do in everyday life that is like playing a fiddle. At first it feels like the most UNnatural thing in the world. Because it is!

Good news is, it gets better each time you pick it up. This is a very critical time in your playing future. If you learn it right the first time you won't have to fix it later. You are creating muscle-memory here. Fiddle playing is about how it "feels" to play, so while your mind is concentrating on the present moment, your sub-conscious mind is adding up "this is how it feels" for the future.

First practice focus: Before you play any notes. Get in front of a mirror. The mirror should be on your right side so you can see your bow coming across the strings. Play on all your open strings and closely observe what movement your right hand (bow-arm) has to make to stay perpendicular to the string. Play longer notes in the middle-third of your bow. if you are playing it right, you will get a good sound. You should be about 3/4 of an inch from the bringe with your bow. This is where the sweet spot is on your fiddle. It may vary a little bit and you need to find it for each string. When you can play open strings with a good sound, and a straight bow, then you can start to worry about where those left-hand fingers go. Only do this for about 10-15 minutes or less. Then take a break and go do something else. Try to do it two or three times a day. Your focus is on "making a good sound," with a straight bow. You will notice that you have to move your bow arm a little forward and backwards to keep the bow perpendicular. (I think that's the first time I have used the word "perpendicular" more than once in an essay.) lol! Memorize this feeling. If you are moving your upper right arm then you are sawing and probably getting a big arc in your bow stroke. Stop it. Try to move only your forearm, kinda like it's a gate you are opening and closing. Notice that to change strings you must raise and lower your right elbow. When you play on the G, D, and A strings your bow is laying on the strings. When you play on the E string your bow is leaning on this string. It is a different feel and your right elbow should be down closer by your right side. Try this for a few days and see if your sound doesn't improve significantly. Even if you have been playing for a while try this both on open strings and while playing notes. Soon you will know your bow is straight by how your tone sounds. I didn't learn this trick until I had been playing for over 10 years. More later. Have fun with it!

2 comments on “Practice focus for beginners”

urib23 Says:
Wednesday, June 27, 2007 @3:09:13 PM

Hi!  Thank you for your comment.  It's great to know that other people have also switched from classical to more of a bluegrass style.  I listened to your audio sample, and it sounds great!  I guess what attracts me to the bluegrass style is the freedom it provides, whereas classical violin sticks to rules and is very regimented -- and this is exemplified by your clip!  What artists would you suggest I listen to that would give me a good introduction to this style?  Also, what are the main differences in how to play a fiddle compared to a violin?  I read that some actually hold the fiddle on their forearms instead of using a chin rest.  What would be some good exercises or things to practice?  I bought a book of fiddle tunes, and since the notes itself is pretty easy for me, how can I get more used to fiddling?  Classical violin is completely reliant on reading music and practicing notes, so I'm used to that type of practicing, and I'm not sure exactly where to start for fiddling.  Sorry for all the questions!  : ] 

vrteach Says:
Thursday, July 5, 2007 @2:17:10 PM

Diane, thanks for posting these little guides. I'm one of the middle-aged newbies and I appreciate any advice.

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