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Fiddle Lovers Online


Jan 14, 2021 - 10:44:37 AM
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28 posts since 6/5/2016

I took up the fiddle late in life about 4 years ago. I've been a guitar, mandolin player my whole life and thought I'd give the fiddle a go.
I'm entirely self taught and would like to share some of my experiences learning to play this awesome instrument.

At first I was a sponge, listening to everything I could and watched youtube endlessly.
There is a lot of great info there, but some not so good as well.

I had no issues getting the tunes I liked under my fingers, especially since most fiddle parts have just an A B structure.
The hard part was getting a good tone from the instrument.
After years of trying to manipulate my bow pressure and keeping the bow traveling in a straight direction, trying different fiddles, bows, etc.
I still couldn't get a good tone from my bow.

I put the fiddle down for about 10 months and did solo acoustic guitar shows due to covid, now I picked the fiddle back up about a month ago
these were my immediate observations.

I realized just how delicate a fiddle is, they are so light and airy that any pressure on the top or bottom chokes them. If your beginning to play double stops and you feel and hear that top vibrating when it in perfect intonation then you know what I mean.
I also realized that contrary to my beliefs, I get good tone when I don't have any pressure on my bow, the strings just hold it.
If I would have know this years ago, I would have progressed much faster.

My advice is to pick the fiddle up, appreciate its fragility and transfer that to the bow, for years I was choking notes out of it
and I managed pretty well considering I played in a weekly jam, but was always fatigued.

This observation may come natural to some but I thought I'd share my experiences in hopes of saving someone from the same fatigue and lack of good tone, the significant other used to tell me all the time that I needed to tune my fiddle, now she actually says hey that sounds good.

Jan 14, 2021 - 11:21:08 AM
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5016 posts since 9/26/2008

Great advice.

Glad to hear you came back around to the fiddle.

Jan 14, 2021 - 11:42:12 AM
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1742 posts since 12/11/2008

Glad you're feeling the magic. To me, though, a secret to bowing is to be gentle, but not sloppy or careless. You do actually have to hold the thing firmly enough to maintain control.

Jan 14, 2021 - 12:26:20 PM

311 posts since 6/11/2019

Yeah, tone. Something we never worry about while picking.

There's a sweet spot of pressure that maximizes the amplitude of the vibrating string, making the best tone. You can actually see the side-to-side 'travel' of the string if you look in good light. Too little/too much pressure, the width of the vibration is much narrower than when 'just right'.

Of course, easier said than done; nobody I know of stares at the strings while playing a tune. Just an exercise trick.

Jan 14, 2021 - 1:39:47 PM
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2204 posts since 10/22/2007
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Famous British Fiddler Graham Clark would preach the long slow bow exercise. One is to feel the string "lighting" or "exciting" beneath the hair, through the bow.

Sort of like feeling where your wheels are at when you drive.

20,000 hours playing, things still go to h@ll. I go back to long slow bows.

Jan 16, 2021 - 7:08:24 AM

172 posts since 4/9/2009

quote:
Originally posted by farmerjones

Famous British Fiddler Graham Clark would preach the long slow bow exercise. 

20,000 hours playing, things still go to h@ll. I go back to long slow bows.


This! It's the one "warm-up" or practice technique that I would choose, if I could only choose one. That last sentence is spot-on.

Feb 9, 2021 - 5:46:46 PM

TerryW

USA

3 posts since 2/9/2021

I have a question about calluses. I've played guitar since high school but if I don't play for awhile I lose the calluses on the tips of my fingers on my left hand for holding down the strings. So my guitar had been in the closet for a couple of years when I got a cheapie violin to try to learn on, if I get good I'll get a better one. But my soft finger tips are not holding down the strings to get a clean sound, and of course there's no frets! So I pulled my old guitar out (that I got for a high school graduation present, so it is old!) and ordered some new strings so I could start getting my calluses back. The day the strings came in the mail I almost cut the end of my left index finger off with a chainsaw. So everything was on hold for quite awhile and as it is now my finger feels numb from nerve damage but the very tip still seems to be about normal. Short story long, do I need calluses to get a clean note out of a violin string?

Feb 9, 2021 - 6:53:19 PM
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311 posts since 6/11/2019

quote:
Originally posted by TerryW

I have a question about calluses. I've played guitar since high school but if I don't play for awhile I lose the calluses on the tips of my fingers on my left hand for holding down the strings. So my guitar had been in the closet for a couple of years when I got a cheapie violin to try to learn on, if I get good I'll get a better one. But my soft finger tips are not holding down the strings to get a clean sound, and of course there's no frets! So I pulled my old guitar out (that I got for a high school graduation present, so it is old!) and ordered some new strings so I could start getting my calluses back. The day the strings came in the mail I almost cut the end of my left index finger off with a chainsaw. So everything was on hold for quite awhile and as it is now my finger feels numb from nerve damage but the very tip still seems to be about normal. Short story long, do I need calluses to get a clean note out of a violin string?


I already had em from other instruments when I picked up violin, so I can't really say.  But I don't think so.  I bet playing from the start will put somewhat of a toughened fingertip on, but I don't think you really need a guitar-level callus to stop a violin string.  In fact, I don't feel the string really needs to completely touch the fingerboard to stop it if you're going fast.  A long-bowed note maybe.

Feb 9, 2021 - 6:54:41 PM
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2204 posts since 10/22/2007
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quote:
Originally posted by TerryW

 Short story long, do I need calluses to get a clean note out of a violin string?


Not at all. In fact most press too hard in the start. 

Feb 9, 2021 - 7:49:52 PM

TerryW

USA

3 posts since 2/9/2021

Interesting. Well I'm about to give my finger a try since its chainsaw massacre. Is it hard to transfer your brain over from guitar to violin? Do our brain's become too old to learn something new?

Feb 10, 2021 - 6:23:22 AM

2204 posts since 10/22/2007
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quote:
Originally posted by TerryW

Interesting. Well I'm about to give my finger a try since its chainsaw massacre. Is it hard to transfer your brain over from guitar to violin? Do our brain's become too old to learn something new?


I picked up a fiddle at 40. I learnt piano at 50. Took a couple weeks in there, to figure out how to play electric bass. I think any music education pads the brain for more. I'm 60 now. At least that's what my DW says.

Feb 10, 2021 - 2:13:11 PM
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boxbow

USA

2604 posts since 2/3/2011

I've got some old scar tissue on my left forefinger tip. No chainsaws were involved. Sometimes it would get tweaky playing mandolin. I've never had any trouble with fiddle even as a beginner struggling with the death grip. I've worked with my hands all my life, so they're not delicate to begin with. It was really hard learning how light a touch to use with my left hand. My fingers often don't let the string quite touch the fingerboard. That and the medium weight strings means there ain't much pressure there.

Edited by - boxbow on 02/10/2021 14:14:51

Feb 10, 2021 - 2:39:20 PM
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1472 posts since 4/6/2014

Yeah, i always felt a bit like i was over doing it with the fiddle after playing guitar, i just didn't realize how much. i suppose an approximate comparison of pressure required, would be picking up a 4oz weight between thumb and finger (Guitar) compared to picking up a 1/2 oz weight between thumb and finger (fiddle).......minimum pressure that is and very approximate.

Edited by - pete_fiddle on 02/10/2021 14:45:16

Feb 11, 2021 - 8:58:11 AM
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9 posts since 2/12/2020

Thanks for the advice.  I need to figure out some way to step up to the next level.

I have been a chord banger on the guitar since my early 20s but 5 years ago at 45 I picked up clawhammer banjo.  I have a beginner fiddle from the 70s that has been passed around the family.   I would get it out every 2 or 3 years and then give up about 5 minutes later.  About a year ago I decided to take another run at fiddling, so I got it out and watched some YouTube.   Within 3 or 4 days I could twinkle twinkle a little.  I took the fiddle to a couple of weekly jams and got some advice. Even managed to play a few notes almost in key for a "D" tune.  Made an account here and got some advice on a better bow without dropping a fortune.

Then the pandemic hit and the jams got canceled.   I have tried to keep at it.  I have always played everything by ear.   I'm useless with tab or sheet music while I play.   I understand how it works, I can use it to see what I'm supposed to do, but as far as a reference while I play?   I'm just not wired that way.   I don't think I have a direct connection from my eyes to my hands while I play.  The connection from my brain to my hands musically has some kind of interface I don't really understand.  Even when I was a kid stuck in piano lessons I was just trying to pretend I was looking at the sheet music for the teacher while I played by ear.   

So that's what I end up doing with the fiddle.   I end up playing the high spots in the melody by ear and I'm not progressing much.   I video myself and it looks like I have my neck stuck in the fork of a tree limb and I'm trying to saw it off with a hacksaw.   

My problems may be compounded by my instrument.   The fiddlers at my jam both said my fiddle was good enough to learn on, but I also build instruments myself.  Nothing fancy usually,  cigar box guitars, tin can banjos etc.   So i built myself a cigar box fiddle.  Then another.  I like playing what I build so I have myself conditioned to the point I'm more comfortable with the box than my actual fiddle.  I'm not sure if that is holding me back or not.   The scale and fret radius is ok.  String response seems about the same as the real one to me. 

I guess I need to find a video series and stick to it, or shell out for some Skype lessons.   Skype just doesn't appeal to me.  I know how I get red light fever when I try to record myself and it seems like it would be the same.  

I keep hoping the jams and festivals will come back soon.  

Feb 11, 2021 - 5:10:23 PM
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189 posts since 4/15/2019

Played guitar since I was 14 year old. I am 77 now. Picked up the fiddle at age 75. That was my big mistake. Pressed too hard on the strings! Figured I needed callouses. Found out the lighter the touch the better the sound!

Feb 11, 2021 - 5:37:23 PM
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Old Scratch

Canada

680 posts since 6/22/2016

I would suggest you slow it right down and relax your bow arm. Relax everything else, too. Once you can play it that way, start speeding it up little by little.

Feb 11, 2021 - 6:59:23 PM

639 posts since 8/10/2017

It's not a bad idea to take some lessons to learn the basics. I have been doing that. But because of the pandemic I rarely play anything except the stuff in the Suzuki book, most of which is pretty awful. But when I have tried to play an old-time tune, I've been surprised at how I can do some new stuff, make it sound better than before.

One of the hardest things about the lessons though is that I taught myself for 15 years and don't bow right and despite all the help over zoom by my teacher, I still can't bow right. So if you start early maybe you won't get stuck like me.

Feb 13, 2021 - 10:24:23 PM

TerryW

USA

3 posts since 2/9/2021

quote:
Originally posted by old cowboy

Played guitar since I was 14 year old. I am 77 now. Picked up the fiddle at age 75. That was my big mistake. Pressed too hard on the strings! Figured I needed callouses. Found out the lighter the touch the better the sound!


Good to know, thanks!

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