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My Screw Ups and Misconceptions, a Retrospective

Posted by bj on Saturday, July 3, 2010

Now that it's going on three years for me playing fiddle, I thought that a retrospective on my foibles, quirks, screw ups, misperceptions, misconceptions and outright oopses might be fun or useful or cathartic or boring or . . .  something.

  • Hey Diddle Diddle, the Cat and the Fiddle -- Why would that nursery rhyme lead me to believe that my cat, Briggsy, might actually LIKE  my playing? He let me know in no uncertain terms that cats HATE  fiddles, though in truth it was just him. Diva, my little female cat, came to live with us AFTER I was through the awful and horrible beginner phase. She sings along quite happily, and never leaves the room when she sees me pick up a fiddle.
  • It's not the Equipment, it's the player -- I've blamed the bow, I've blamed the strings, I've blamed the fiddle, I've blamed the soundpost, I've blamed the tailpiece, I've blamed the bridge, I've blamed the bowhair, I've blamed the rosin, I've blamed the fiddle nut, I've blamed dang near everything for the awful sound coming out of the fiddle except the real true cause 99.9% of the time-- it's the nut holding the bow. And the other 0.1% it's the strings going dead or unravelling or the wrong strings for the fiddle.
  • Realizing it's not the Equipment doesn't stop you from getting a good case of Fiddle Acquisition Syndrome -- I always look at other fiddles and bows with lust in my heart. It's a sickness. And that is even though I have ( ** knock on wood! **) THE PERFECT FIDDLE and a really decent bow. But of course, I'm nervous. What if some accident happens to my main fiddle love? What if she's needing shop time? What if . . . what if . . . what if . . . enough to drive me mad. So of course even though my spare fiddle is fun, I need to keep on a constant lookout for the perfect SECOND fiddle that is just as good as my PERFECT FIRST FIDDLE. And then I'll need a bow to match her . . .
  • Sawstroke is your friend -- When starting out I really neglected sawstroke, thinking it was too . . . SIMPLE. One note per bow. How boring is that? Well, truth is when it's done by a master it isn't boring at all, and can set a groove going like no other. And it is also hard as hell to get it right. It takes exquisite left hand / right hand coordination to sustain over long periods of time at dance speed. I really wish I had started pounding on the sawstroke from day one. It was a HUGE  mistake not to do so, one I'm working hard to correct. I might manage to be passable at it in ten years or so.
  • A relative beginner can't get a jam going nor run it -- Since I was aching to play oldtime with others, and there was only one Oldtime jam nearby, which is held only monthly and often suspended during summer months, I had no choice but to start up a jam if I wanted to find other people with whom I could play OT  music. I really did NOT  think I'd pull it off. I did. The Easton OT  jam has been going strong for over a year now. I also seem to have been volunteered into helping run a second jam in Belvidere NJ, that's been running for a few months now.
  • The other sickness-- Fiddle Addiction! -- When you're self-employed it takes a huge amount of self-discipline to stay on track, get work done, bring in new work, get the books done, and all the other various stuff entailed in self-employment. I've always been fairly well-disciplined at all this . . . until I picked up the fiddle. Now I find I have to ration myself to a few hours' of playing a day, or I blow the whole day away. I think somebody on the forum quoted John Hartford as saying something like "There's many a good crop been lost to a fiddle." Boy, do I ever understand that! Which means I have to figure out a way to make a living with this demonspawned instrument in self-defense.

11 comments on “My Screw Ups and Misconceptions, a Retrospective”

OTJunky Says:
Saturday, July 3, 2010 @10:41:45 AM

You're right about the saw stroke.

But I can't say I like that version of "Katie Hill". He's sure got a different mental image of her than I do. His Katie Hill seems to dance mostly on her toes...

No accounting for taste I guess.


bj Says:
Saturday, July 3, 2010 @10:59:19 AM

Carl said this tune was "Sally Johnson" in the comments section. He's in the vid and knows the players, I believe.

ChickenMan Says:
Saturday, July 3, 2010 @1:11:26 PM

BJ, they are contested tunes of the same more-than-general sameness often called the same tunes but named differently in the north and south. Don't get involved in the madness :-)

BC Says:
Saturday, July 3, 2010 @1:24:11 PM

That was a great blog. It pretty much covers everything a beginner has experienced or will be experiencing. And I thought I was the only one! LOL

OTJunky Says:
Saturday, July 3, 2010 @1:41:25 PM

bj wrote: "Carl said this tune was "Sally Johnson" in the comments section."

I think the two names "Sally Johnson" and Katie Hill are commonly interchanged on the East Coast - with "Sally Johnson" being the most common name.

Here's Clark Kessinger playing a tune he introduces as "Sally Ann Johnson"

I think Henry Reed has an entirely different tune named "Sally Ann Johnson" - in the key of D.

West of the Mississippi, "Katie Hill" and "Sally Johnson" are two slightly different tunes. The difference being that Sally Johnson has an E-Minor in the A part while Katie Hill doesn't. Otherwise they're not much different except that "Sally Johnson" is the tune the Texas contest style players have adopted and embellished in the way that only they can do.


Ozarkian DL Says:
Saturday, July 3, 2010 @6:28:12 PM

A great reminisce BJ, it's always a constructive, educational, learning experience.

FiddleJammer Says:
Sunday, July 4, 2010 @5:42:17 AM

"t takes exquisite left hand / right hand coordination to sustain over long periods of time at dance speed." Lighten up your touch for both hands. Don't press so hard on the strings and don't press so hard with the bow. Then, it takes less coordination and yields more speed.

Great post, BJ.

ViolaFiddler Says:
Sunday, July 4, 2010 @9:41:41 AM

bj, thanks for your fiddlistory here. I can relate lots to the bit about cats.... AND once I changed some 10 year old strings last summer, she's singing sweetly as I can play. I have also organized the occasional jam with friends here. What fun and I can even lead a few tunes, bravely, these days. WHAT is a saw stroke? I do a rather sawing bowing to a friends lively Cajun tunes. Simply sawing out the chord notes in a lively and enthusiastic way.... SUCH FUN as I make it up as it goes using my ears to tune me in. I'm considering self-employment is some form and now I'm totally terrified with my viola fiddle calling to me more and more these days....//o-\\. Happy 4th and hope your hose is healthy around those dang fireworks. I'm sitting in a fog that is blowing softly in the West wind. I hope this means it'll clear later. I have a date on the deck with a new chaise lounge and love to fiddle outside unless the neighbors are mowing or some such. Jan

bj Says:
Sunday, July 4, 2010 @10:45:51 AM

Thanks, Terri. The tension thing is a constant battle, though I'm LOTS better than I used to be. But I think the coordination between the left and right hand is important when sawstroking no matter how loose you are. It just . . . is.

Thanks, Oz!

And Billy, thanks for saving me from the booby trap . . . ;-)

Jan, sawstroke is simply bowing one note per bowstroke. It's the most basic bowing there is.

And yes, the garden hose is ready. My neighbors may burn down the rest of the town tonight, but MY house will be SAFE. I think I'll fiddle while Easton burns.

janepaints Says:
Sunday, July 4, 2010 @3:22:54 PM

i'm self employed
but got laid off.

frogeyes Says:
Monday, July 5, 2010 @3:21:16 PM

Totally with you on all of the above points BJ, Love it I don't know how many times i have blamed poor Ruby for my bad playing. It amazes me that she doesn't have self esteem issues to contend with.As for the cat thing my cat hates the flute but as soon as i get ruby out she is asleep in her case or chasing my bow while i am trying to play.

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