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I swear I'm getting worse instead of better . . .

Posted by bj on Sunday, June 15, 2008

I practice practice practice. I've been putting in well over an hour a day, sometimes more than double that. And lately it's just all been falling completely apart.

If I'm pulling good tone from the strings, I'm fumbling the left hand and the melody is going way south. If I'm getting the left hand to do what it's supposed to, then either I'm squeaking, squawking or fumbling on the tempo. Then my neck, shoulders and arms get like steel bands instead of the liquidity that would help more, and it all gets even worse.

There's this weird thing that happens when I play two strings. I only get good tone on one, and which one can vary from note to note, and it doesn't seem to matter if there's a bow change or not when that happens. I've changed my bow grip a thousand times, moved it up, moved it back, bent the thumb, straightened the thumb, etc. I've also tried bowing the tip, then bowing nearer my hand, then bowing the middle. Doesn't matter. None of it works.

And often BOTH hands just stop doing what they're supposed to, and I sound worse than a room full of cats in heat. So I start back on scales, after shaking out my arms and rotating my shoulders a couple times, and taking a few deep breaths . . .  and can't even get those right at a slow tempo. UGH!

Doesn't help that I just put new strings on the fiddle, so when I finally do hit a stretch where it's "working" for as much as a couple measures at a time, I realize I'm grossly out of tune, which doesn't help any, since I'm then compensating with the left hand, and that is truly a bad habit, and the curse of having a near perfect pitch ear (which is what makes all this SO VERY PAINFUL.)

And with humidity being high, I'm also suffering from sticky rosin syndrome. It feels like I'm trying to play with glue on the bow. Yes, I've cleaned it and re-rosined it. And it seems I clean my strings a dozen times a day. That helps for all of five minutes. If I'm lucky. And I'm using decent rosin, so that's not the problem (Gustave Bernadel, though suggestions for rosin that is more amenable to Delaware Valley Summer Humidity would be welcome.)

And then, on those increasingly rare times it does come together, Briggsy the Cat, who has realized that when I'm playing he can safely get into mischief AND vanquish the rival that takes over his favorite shoulder and his human slave's attention, does just that, and my good stretch ends with the sound of a thud or crash offstage left as he makes his point.

I'm not quitting. I'M. NOT. QUITTING.

I'm just frustrated as all hell.

And I have a funny feeling y'all can relate . . .

9 comments on “I swear I'm getting worse instead of better . . .”

kyfiddler1 Says:
Sunday, June 15, 2008 @3:12:56 PM

Everyone has these momemts. Unfortunatly it just doesn't come easy as we would like it too. We have ups and downs with this little instrament. But just keep on working and practicing and it will get better.

bj Says:
Sunday, June 15, 2008 @4:02:18 PM


Thanks, kyfiddler1. And you're right. It just isn't coming easy at all, and not nearly as fast as I want it to. But I will persevere, and I will master this confounded thing. Someday.

And based on what others have said I better live for at least another twenty years to do so, and then I'll be at least getting warmer. :)

SteveO Says:
Sunday, June 15, 2008 @5:55:03 PM

Wow!......... Man we all have bad fiddle days.  Just keep on playin' and make up your mind you're going to whip it's a** !  Be determined that you will play it, and don't let it get you down.  Sometimes just putting it down for a day or two will help.   Everybody gets twisted up on a tune or two now and then.  Set it down, step back and come back with a refreshed mindset.

"If I'm pulling good tone from the strings, I'm fumbling the left hand and the melody is going way south. If I'm getting the left hand to do what it's supposed to, then either I'm squeaking, squawking or fumbling "

This is why many instructors will have you mix your practice session, with part of it being bowing exercises, part of it scale exercises, and the other part playing the melody of a tune.  It's that combination of the above that makes good fiddling. There are also exercises for alternating strings when practicing.  Stretching your hands really good before practice will help with the cramping. 

Tone and intonation are developed. When you are just startin', practice specific exercises for each, by making each a part of your practice session.  You will have a very hard go of it if you try to practice everything all at once, when you are first starting to learn to play.  Just organize your practice...........practice bowing exercises (i.e. slurs, tripletts, shuffles, changing strings, etc...)........practice scales (i.e. for developing that internal map to keep you hitting your notes dead on, and not flat or sharp)...........practice your melodies (i.e. for mapping out the skeletal notes of the tune you're attempting).............what ever you need to work on just work in exercises to improve that particular skill.

"since I'm then compensating with the left hand, and that is truly a bad habit"

I'm constantly "compensating" with my left hand.  This is a GOOD habit to learn/develop.  Strings can be in tune when you begin a tune, but will occasionally go out WHILE you are playing, due to weather, moisture, heat or cold, especially when playing outdoors.  Compensating is the way you adapt to it.  Even when playing different fiddles, each one is slightly different, with the notes slightly falling at a different position than another instrument.  Develop this compensation habit.  The skill of compensating is a great thing to keeps you flexible in your playing.....adaptable.

"I've changed my bow grip a thousand times, moved it up, moved it back, bent the thumb, straightened the thumb, etc. I've also tried bowing the tip, then bowing nearer my hand, then bowing the middle. Doesn't matter. None of it works."

Part of learning to fiddle is learning what works FOR YOU.  Everybody's hand, arms, shoulders, chins are different lengths.  What works for one DOESN'T work for another sometimes.  Just relax and see what grip works best for you.....see what positioning works best for you.....strive to makes it easier (not sloppy technique)......but rather what works for you.....and see how it'll fall into place........ Yes it takes practice to actually determine what'll work for you, but keep at it.  Everybody has to practice, even the best fiddler.  Don't get too hung up on trying to play with any certain grip, or play like someone else plays..........find YOUR groove.........and work it.

oh yea....don't be too hard on yourself.....remember this stuff is supposed to be fun!.............if you ain't havin' fun, you doin' somethin' wrong..........

.....sorry ..............I don't like cats!



brya31 Says:
Sunday, June 15, 2008 @6:39:50 PM

bj,  Its not funny, but I couldnt help but laugh when I read your blog.  I just went thru that exact same crash last week.  I am a beginner also, so I know exactly what you are going thru.  I didnt take a day off though,  I am afraid if I step back and take a day off I might lose a step....not that there is much to lose.  What I did do was this.  I decided to slow it dooooownnnn.  I really focused on doing the scales slowww and watching my bow to make sure I kept it fairly straight.  I also keep a digital tuner beside me when I am going thru the scales to make sure I have my fingers in the right spot,  my ears have no clue yet!  After practicing at a slower pace I then played the tunes that I do know, at a slower pace.  I did this for two nights,  and it reallly helped, tonight I had no squeeks, and squeeks had really gotten to me the past week.  So bj  hang in there.  I am by no means good at fiddlin, but I really think if you go back and slow things down and give yourself a good looksey, it may just get you back on track.  PS  My litte Yorkie knows exactly how your cat feels!  LOL

bj Says:
Sunday, June 15, 2008 @7:23:11 PM

Steve, I took your advice and rearranged my practice session (well, not ALL of your advice, I didn't take a day off. But then I never take a day off, not of practice and seldom of work.) brya31, I also took your advice and slowed everything down. And I don't blame you for laughing. I'd be laughing too if it wasn't so damned infuriating. I actually don't have many bad days, but when I do they are spectacularly bad. I just had three spectacularly bad fiddle days in a row, so I had to vent. I knew this was the right place to do it! Encouragement and great advice. I love this place.

Anyway, upshot of it all is  . . . not great, but better. Definitely better. And now that the new strings are starting to settle in a bit (I put them on last night) I'm liking them a lot. I think the old strings were definitely a part of the problem. No one could have pulled a clear tone on that e string. The others were just slightly better. They were the strings that were on it when I bought it. (That's my story, and I'm sticking to it! Yeah, it was the strings. Uh huh!)

And Steve, I am SO GLAD I accidentally developed a good habit. Just wish I had been smart enough to recognize that's what it was. And I thank you for pointing it out! I guess I'm still in guitar head when it comes to tuning. Frets are like that. So from now on I won't fret about tuning so much!  ;-)

And Steve? It's probably a good thing you don't like cats since cats seem to hate fiddles. Though at least Briggs doesn't hide under the bed anymore, so I must be getting better. In all fairness to Briggsy, I swear, his poor ears must hurt . . .

persian98_98 Says:
Monday, June 16, 2008 @4:06:14 PM

beautifully expressed, well written! I am sure I am one of those who will experience these days all my life! but isn't is lovely, to hold a violin, cussing it by tongue and loving it by heart?! that's what I always do!

bj Says:
Monday, June 16, 2008 @6:26:05 PM

LOL! Yes, persian98_98, and today was definitely a LOVE day! I'll be blogging tomorrow morning about the epiphany that resulted from this post and the responses to it. I'm still exploring the change I made and the result it's gotten me.

FiddleJammer Says:
Tuesday, June 17, 2008 @6:12:15 AM

For playing 2 strings at once, here's a tip for regulating the bow weight: turn the bow right around and hold the tip instead of the frog. You're reading that correctly. Hold the bow backwards and play a few scales. That extra frog weight at the end of your bow will help you to realize the sort of extra pressure from your index finger needed to bow a good double stop or open drone when you return to your bow hold dujour. Good luck. Being able to describe our foibles helps to minimize them.

bj Says:
Tuesday, June 17, 2008 @2:54:03 PM

Thanks FiddleJammer, I'll try that if I feel I need it. Right now the TUF grip seems to be helping immensely.

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