During my first few fiddle lessons, my teacher would laugh as he attempted to give me advice. "There's just so much to think about and pay attention to when you're first learning - how you hold the bow, your intonation, your up or down bowing, your bow speed, your tempo."
Since that time I've had many occasions to experience the two steps ahead, one step back, choreography that happens as a tune winds through my fingers, leaping from hand to hand and sliding back and forth across both hemispheres of my brain. Once, to my teacher's amusement, I tried to blame my whistles and scrapes on my bow. After he had finished playing an uptempo tune on my fiddle with his bow, I asked him to please do that again, but this time to use my bow. Of course, you know what happened then.
He handed my tune-filled bow back to me with all the seriousness he could muster. "Nope. Bow seems fine." Then he smiled. "Wouldn't it be great if I could say to you - No wonder you're having trouble! You can't play with this bow!" We both about laughed till we cried.
Months later I'm better with the bow, but I've gotten to the point where my bow hold is starting to seem a little rigid, so I ordered a DVD by Canadian fiddler and teacher, Gordon Stobbe called "12 Things Your Right Hand Should Know." The very first thing he addresses is the bow hold and he spends a lot of time on it, even including silent, slow motion clips of the right hands of champion fiddlers.
I've watched the bow hold section twice and I've come to the decision that I must change my bow hold. Since May, when I started fiddling, I've been holding the bow with my thumb under the frog. My teacher plays very well that way. But watching the flowing motions of the gently bent fingers in the silent clips and comparing them to my own tight grasp makes me think I need to make a change.
It seems very uncomfortable to change horses in midstream, however, I'm probably not anywhere near midstream and a change now could bring many rewards later in the form of speed and quick ornamentations from nimble bow fingers. Is the proper bow hold a real element in the whole scheme of things or am I distracting myself with minor matters?8 comments
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Playing Since: 2009
Experience Level: Just Startin'
Guitar, Fiddle (since May)
Rosie Shipley, Steve Jacobi, Shane Cook, The Chieftans,Flat & Scruggs, Doc Watson, Natalie McMasters, Chris Thiel, David Grisman, Sam Bush, Russ Barenburg, Jay Unger and Molly Mason, The Mammals, Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, Steve Kaufman, Tony Rice
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Last Visit 1/14/2011
I started out in folk guitar in the 60s. Everybody was learning to play chords so they could accompany themselves singing or play for sing-alongs. Michael Row The Boat Ashore, Kum-by-ya, This Land Is Your Land, 500 Miles...those were the songs that I used to play and sing. In the 90s I dusted off the old guitar and took some lessons after hearing Steve Kaufman play his energetic flatpicking style of old time and bluegrass tunes. I was enjoying great music, but wasn't really satisfied with what I was doing. A fiddler found me on folkjam.org. I was listed as a guitarist. She recruited me to play guitar for her newly forming fiddle jam. Even though it was 2 hours away, I had family in that location and thought it would be fun. Turned out that I put my guitar away after just a few sessions and rented a fiddle to try to figure out why all the fiddlers had these wee smiles on their faces as they played. After I got hooked, my sister-in-law, who used to play violin back in the day, gave me her old instrument that was bought for her in 1940. I have a repertoire of 18 Old Time Tunes now including Shove That Pig's Foot A Little Further In The Fire, Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss, Marching To Georgia, Arkansas Traveler, Golden Slippers and others. I think I would still enjoy playing the guitar. I brush the dust off of it now and then before I turn away with a wee smile to play my fiddle.
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