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Become a Better Fiddle Player: The Cliff Notes

Technique and Maintenance for Fiddle and Fiddler

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Link to Schradieck violin exercises in the public domain
Schraidieck violin exercises are in the public domain. Click on the picture to access them. These exercises build up strength and flexibility very efficiently.

Fingers, Hands and Body

"We learn our individual ways to manage and minimize those pesky by-products of vibrating, shifting, and sliding. I wanted an exercise that would let the left-hand breathe and not create friction with the violin's neck. The exercise needed to be useful for the variety of ways violinists hold their instruments. Some make contact with the thumb only, while others let the side of the index finger touch the neck. There are those who play with higher fingers and touch directly on the fingertip. Others play with the fingers at a lower angle, with their thumb underneath the neck. A popular but somewhat quirky style is with a high thumb that seems to fly all over the place. All of these methods work well, and every violinist should have the freedom to pick what comes most naturally to him... The most effective exercise has a universality about it that allows for individual differences." — Paul Stein

Keeping the body relaxed is important. Visualization of energy flowing through the affected part to the violin is usually effective for me.

Laurie Niles says:

  • Head straight, spine straight, shoulders straight.
  • No sideways-tilted head, scrunched shoulders, hunched back.
  • Thumb should also be straight; do not curl it around the neck, which will inhibit shifting and vibrato and easy hand movement moving from string to string.
  • Elbow under the violin or maybe a bit forward; not behind or before.
  • Touch points: The thumb and the bone at the bottom of the the first finger (trapezium).
  • Straight wrist, not collapsed inward or pushed outwards.
  • Curve the fingers.

Chin and Shoulder Rests

Chin and shoulder rests, or the lack thereof, affect all moving parts of the player's body. The use of shoulder rests, in particular, and what kind, is a hotly-contested subject. I use one. Most of the fiddle players I know use one. Fiddle players who play with their left hand flat against the neck of the violin often do not use one; their hand is providing the stable cradle. My first violin teacher did not use one ( he used a handkerchief) so he never suggested I use one. My second violin teacher put me on a shoulder rest immediately, as though I was in immediate need of a musical antibiotic.

Many years later, I finally started to parse the problem. Do I need extra height to fill in the space between my violin and my chin because of my long neck? Do I need a way to keep the violin from slipping down my shoulder? Where does my jaw REALLY touch the violin and what kind of chin rest will support this?

Fiddlerman, who does not use a shoulder rest, uses a side-mount tall chin rest to fill in the gap between chin rest and jaw, and uses a removable foam pad to keep the violin from slipping.

Murphy Music Academy video on why not to use a shoulder rest. Includes good footage on left hand support of the violin, applicable to those using shoulder rests or not.

"The violin resting lightly on the collarbone and the jaw resting gently on the chin rest establish two stable points of contact with the instrument... The jaw, collarbone, base of the left index finger and the side of the left thumb establish four contact points with the violin... The instrument is supported by the collarbone and the base of the first finger. The jaw on the chin rest and the left thumb provide stability and may be intermittently more active in supporting the violin."— Michael Schallock

As it turns out, I am most comfortable with a center-mount violin rest and a shoulder rest adjusted on the tall side. I accidentally bought a side-mount chin rest with a [minimally intrusive] amplification system built in; I was so excited about the built-in amplification that I forgot to check the chin rest position. Alas, the side-mount chin rest throws my intonation off. Following the premise that the violin should fit me and not the other way around, I'm going to have to replace the bridge in order to change the chin rest, since the two are connected. Then outlay money for a new amplification device. Oh well.

Hillary Hahn suggests that if both a chinrest and a shoulder rest are needed, that the performer can increase the stability of the installation by using a high chinrest and a lower shoulder rest. Having the weight of the violin lower to the shoulder will counteract the tendency of the violin to move when strings are crossed.

AllThingsStrings.com, which requires a subscription to see the archived articles, includes an article, Rest Assured, by Mary Nemet, which includes a recommendation to test, test, test different versions of chinrests and always with the shoulder rest (if you use one) of your choice.

"By far the most popular [chin rest] type used by professionals is the Guarneri model," says Jim Scoggens of the Orchestra Store in Houston, Texas. "For beginning students, it would be a side-mount Dresden type."

Fingers, Hands and Body

AllThingsStrings.com: How to Stay Healthy.

Bill Alpert, Buddhist Art of Violin Practice, and some suggestions for mindful practice. "You cannot become successful. You either are or you aren't."

Eddy Chen

Nathan Cole

FiddlerMan: Holding the Violin Without a Shoulder Rest.

Laurie Niles: Solving Violing Posture Problems: Left Arm and Hand.

Richard Gwilt: Holding the Baroque Violin: a fascinating history of arguments pertaining to the right way to position and hold the violin.

Paul Stein, Touchin' or Squeezin'— the Dilemma of Holding the Violin, Violinist.com.

Mitch Reed

  • Playing Tunes in the Third Position; a Cajun fiddle player can be heard above an accordian if they go into third position on the high strings. Mitch demonstrates third position drones.

Simon Streuff at Violin-Education.com:

Violinist.com:

Woodhouse, Jim and Galluzzo, Paul: Why is the Violinh So Hard To Play?: the mathematical reasons for the scratching and squeaking.

Chin and Shoulder Rests

BodyMap: Shoulder Rests from the Alexander body-work point of view. Recommended: Viva-Sas chinrests.

Hillary Hahn:

Violinist.com:

  • How to Hold a Violin, a book review that includes a clear explanation on how to choose a chin and shoulder rest. Michael Schallock.
  • Practice without a shoulder rest in order to improve "focus on developing the ideal balance of instrument, body and bow... without tension".

Violinist in Balance: A four-year research project with eleven Conservatory string students during which time they investigated what to use and how to use it. A LOT of custom solutions were settled on! Fascinating reading... don't be put off by the web site design. The Musician Stories section is especially interesting; the initial setup, mid-study setup, and final setup.

Bowing

"I told her that the bow-hand I teach is based on the Franco-Belgian bow hold; there is also a Russian bow hold that works well, and other teachers teach that. The idea is that, over the years, we develop flexible but strong fingers and a relaxed way of holding the bow. The way we place the fingers in the beginning is just a start, and you'll learn how the balance works as you play more and learn more bowing techniques...Over time, you'll make it your own and optimize it in small ways for your body, to be most effective." — Laurie Niles

Keeping the bow parallel to the bridge and away from the fingerboard: Everyone recommends looking in the mirror; Heather Broadbent recommends looking in the mirror to determine if you can use the bridge or the end of the fingerboard as a reference for keeping the bow straight.

Tightening the bow: recommended tension leaves the hair about a pencil-width from the stick at the middle of the stick, its closest point.

Also from Laurie Niles: Hold the bow in a way that allows each finger to do its job, never in a way that works against those jobs.

  • The thumb is the anchor and point of balance.
  • The ring finger is the main counterbalance
  • The middle (index) finger re-enforces the ring finger. The index finger is the driver of the bow -- it steers it straight. The index finger is also the pressure controller -- but never hooked on the stick.
  • The main job of these three fingers together is to hold the bow.
  • The pinky is the main balancing finger, especially when playing in the lower half.
  • The index and pinkie are in charge of balance and direction, not of holding.

Your upper right arm stays stable and straight; the lower arm goes up and down without pushing the elbow back. If the upper arm is moving back, your bow will be skewing across the fingerboard and your tone will suffer.

Eugenia Fielding is the incarnation of Lydia Leong's admonition to avoid scales unless they are combined with another technical drill. She uses scales and arpeggios as the content for bowing exercises.

At 60 beats per second, she practices her scales thusly:

  1. Slur between a base note and a third above it;
  2. Play whole notes while shifting;
  3. Slur half notes between notes an octave apart while keeping all fingers down;
  4. Slur three notes together with no bowing anamolies;
  5. Slurs four notes with emphasis on good legato, no bow accents, and with with crescendo at the top and decresendo at the bottom of the scale;
  6. Slur six notes with good bow division and consistent tone;
  7. Slur eight notes, accenting one note and then again with accent as slurred staccato;
  8. Switch between eight, then six, then eight, then six slurred notes until scale is complete;
  9. Twelve, then 16, then 24 to a bow with slurred staccato, spiccato, sautille, and detache bowings.
When that is done, she does arpeggios. She does a major key one day and its minor the next for a week, then she changes to a different key the next week. This routine takes 30-45 minutes per day and leaves her prepared to smooth out string crosses or to fit a lot of notes into a bow.

Bowing

Marc Bouchkov, Bow Position in Five Minutes.

Heather Broadbent

Eddy Chen

  • Bowing: Ten Tips for Better String Crossings.

Nathan Cole

  • Safety Move eliminates violin bow shake. Don' panic; keep your curved-finger grip on the bow, do not reduce pressure on the bow, but do not power through it (unless you want to get louder). Try tiling the bow by rolling the bow back and forth between the fingers with your thumb. Tilt the stick as far away from you as it can go. Then continue to try to roll it even further. The bow frog will be stabilized by your thumb and the shaking will be minimized.
  • Bowing: Soft starts and smooth bow changes.
  • Bowing: Son File, the one-minute bow.

FiddleHub.com

FiddleJamInstitute.com:

Fiddlershop:

Eugenia Fielding: Why I practice scales and what they do for me; Violinist.com

Jesus Florido: Balancing the Bow on YouTube.

David LePage

  • Bowing: Portato, Emphasizing each note under a Slur.

Itzhak Perlman

Geoffrey Perry

Professor V: Part One, Sautille bowing demonstration; fast and bouncy. Finger flexibility very important, and use three fingers on the bow.

Vienna Symphonic Library:

  • Violin Notation: Bowing (including the percussive types), playing chords, playing harmonics.

ViolinOnline.com

Wikipendia: Solfége, Wikipedia.com.

Rhythm and Swing

I had a bit of a classical music background when I started playing fiddle tunes. A contra-dancing friend once remarked to me that a certain fiddler was very popular because she had a solid rhythm, even though she sometimes didn't play in tune. It took me a long time to internalize the fact that most folk music is dance music, not performance-for-an-audience music.

Closely tied to rhythm is the swing, or lift; the slurs and bow pressure applied at the right micro-moment that allow a tune to defy gravity.

  • Get a metronome and use it. Better yet (as Kevin Burke said), get two metronomes.
    • Play with the metronome as if it were another player.
    • Do not become dependent on the metronome. Develop your own sense of rhythm.
    • Favor the big beats
    • Favor the off-beats
    • Address technique issues separately and thoroughly. Use it for one section at a time, determine what the issues are, and then turn it off while you work the issues.
  • Start slow. Play each phrase slowly until you have mastered it; do not leave mastery of the harder measures for later. You are teaching yourself to play it wrong if you are practicing it wrong. If some measures are harder than others, practice them separately and slowly until mastered. My personal measure is: if I can bounce against the metronome beat with precision and ease, then I have mastered the phrase well enough to go faster.
  • When you start slow and speed up, some correction of technique will be required. Adjust.
  • Practice using different bow strokes: long, short, choppy, smooth. Change the bowing, play at the frog, play at the tip. This will teach you control of the bow so that you can render a song from any angle. You will not always be be approaching a phrase from the optimum up-bow or down-bow angle, especially when improvising. The down-stroke is the natural power stroke but you need to be able to produce the power you need from any point.
  • Experiment with bow hand movements. These will add swing, emphasis and interest.
    • Bow strokes at the frog (top) of the bow involve a lot more arm movement than strokes at the point. Try playing fast notes starting half-way down the bow using a flexible wrist and no arm movement (other than adjustments to reach strings).
    • Straight up and down will put the bite at the beginning of the stroke.
    • A circular movement (bow hand moves down at the start of the downstroke, up at the start of the upstroke) will eliminate the bite and add a bit of swing.
    • A full-figure eight (a slight downward movement of the bow hand at the start and end of every stroke, then returning bow back up to neutral) will add a different pulse.
    • A smooth bow that touches a higher string at the very start of the stroke will add, as Bruce Molsky phrases it, pulse.

Liz Lambson's practice advice emphasizes bowing skills, developed using a metronome.

  1. Warm up with long, slow tones to a metronome beat.
  2. Practice scales and arpeggios with different rhythmic patterns. Whole notes, half notes, quarter notes, triplets (one per bow) and groups of sixteenths. Practice with a slow tempo, gradually turning up the speed.
  3. START SLOW. Only increase the speed on your metronome once a passage or lick is free of error. You can apply this principle to even a single measure, a group of notes, or even a single shift between two notes. Zone in on exactly what you're tripping over and then conquer it with your metronome.
  4. Learn vibrato by slowly rolling your wrist, forearm, and/or fingers in time with a slow beat. This will develop a vibrato that vibrates consistently.
  5. Breathe deep and stay relaxed.

Rhythm and Swing

ClassicalMusicCity.com:

  • Basic Tempo Markings.
    • Larghissimo — very, very slow (20 bpm and below)
    • Grave — slow and solemn (20–40 bpm)
    • Lento — slowly (40–60 bpm)
    • Largo — broadly (40–60 bpm)
    • Larghetto — rather broadly (60–66 bpm)
    • Adagio — slow and stately (literally, "at ease") (66–76 bpm)
    • Adagietto — rather slow (70–80 bpm)
    • Andante moderato — a bit slower than andante
    • Andante — at a walking pace (76–108 bpm)
    • Andantino – slightly faster than andante
    • Moderato — moderately (108–120 bpm)
    • Allegretto — moderately fast (but less so than allegro)
    • Allegro moderato — moderately quick (112–124 bpm)
    • Allegro — fast, quickly and bright (120–168 bpm)
    • Vivace — lively and fast (≈140 bpm) (quicker than allegro)
    • Vivacissimo — very fast and lively
    • Allegrissimo — very fast
    • Presto — very fast (168–200 bpm)
    • Prestissimo — extremely fast (more than 200bpm)

Violinist.com:

  • Liz Lambson: How to Use a Metronome.
  • Rhythm: Robert's Rules of Metronome on Violinist.com.
  • Miranda Wilson, cellist: Slowly but Surely Wins the Race?: "A perfectly accurate rendition of a piece is not, obviously, going to spring fully-formed from any but the absolute best of us, but spending excessive time practising slowly seems like a waste of time to me. If all I can do with a section is play it at half tempo, I'll work it up to tempo by the two-steps-forwards, one-step-back method... Essentially, you move the metronome up a considerable rate above what you can currently play, and struggle through the passage a few times until it becomes easier. Then you move the tempo down about halfway between the tempo you can play and the too-fast tempo. Although the new tempo is faster than your original slow tempo, this method makes it seem instantly easier. You keep doing this until you can actually play faster than your goal tempo–by which time the goal tempo will seem easy and manageable."

Improvisation

Once I got the importance of rhythm in my head, the necessity to be able to improvise assumed first place. An improvisation that emerges from a relationship with the tune, with notes, ornaments and rhythm modified with a delicate (or not so delicate) awareness of the tune, is highly prized in Irish and Cajun music and esteemed in New England and Appalachian music, if only because playing the exact same thing forty times in a row at a dance can drive you crazy.

Closely tied to improvisation is the ability to play without sheet music and to learn by ear. My ability to read any tune at the drop of a hat was of use to friends who played by ear when we needed to learn a new tune in a hurry; but after a few passes through the tune, they had it down and I was still locked into the sheet music. I learned to take the time to memorize music by singing it (in my mind, if I am in public) and practicing it in bits that I could memorize. I am still working on the ability to learn by ear, but the more tunes I play the easier it is. Being in a group that includes instruments that are playing chords is a big help; those chords are audible guideposts.

  • Sing everything before you play. Stop in the middle of playing and continue singing. You want to hear the music in your head before you play.
  • Play the same song in many different keys.
  • Play the same song in different modes (major, minor, Dorian, Mixolydian).
  • Breathe deep and stay relaxed.

Improvisation

Dustyfiddles: 50 Improvisation Ideas for Violin/Fiddle in four minutes.

Fiddlerman: Blues in E minor improvisations.

Intonation

Many fiddlers do well with indifferent intonation and a driving rhythm and skill with chords, but how much better would it be if the beautiful harmonics that result from accurate intonation were employed!

In Western music, a C sharp is held to be the equivalent of a D flat, and ditto for the other similar combinations. This is called equal temperament and it is used on the fixed-pitched instruments, like the pianos many of us start our musical education on. It divides the octave into minute units called "cents". Since an octave is 1200 cents wide, and the Western scales have 12 tones per octave, each note is 100 cents apart.

However, on a violin, just intonation often sounds better to the ear. Just intonation is based on the relationship of both notes in an interval, and it is the musical expectation of many non-Western cultures.

Itzhak Perlman: Perfect pitch is not an essential. Practicing carefully is. Go slowly and repeat phrases over and over so that your fingers will learn the intervals.

  • Play with other people. Play straight melody, play harmonies, play bass lines. Listen carefully.
  • The most important patterns for intonation development are arpeggio patterns, beginning with tonic [do-mi-sol] and dominant patterns that make up the harmonic functions of most of our Western music. Sing these as well as play them.
  • Control of your bow is an important part of control of intonation. A bow that is skewing sideways or with unconfident pressure will affect the pitch, especially at beginning and end of the note. Keep the bow parallel to the bridge (work with a mirror until it is instinctive).
  • Control of your fingers is important for intonation. Build up your finger strength with exercises. Keep your hand and your fiddle in position and it will be easier to stay in tune. If I let my fiddle drop or my hand drift, my intonation suffers.
  • Breathe deep and stay relaxed.

From Laurie Niles:

  1. Play in tune when you practice. Sloppy practice may do more harm than good by reinforcing incorrect physical patterns. Slow everything down to where every note is in tune.
  2. Correct incorrect intonation correctly. Do not land and then slide, or you will be, once again, reinforcing bad habits. Instead: Stop, back up, and re-play the passage with the incorrect note. If you cannot play every note in tune, slow it down to the point at which you can.
  3. Harmonics are your friend. The notes that resonate with the open strings (G, D, A and E) will ring in sympathy when your intonation is correct, giving you immediate feedback.

Intonation

Nathan Cole

  • Intonation: Perfect Intonation with Total Recall practice.

Wikipedia: "Today, despite the dominance of repertoire composed under equal-tempered systems and the prominence of the piano in musical training, musicians often approach just intonation either by accident or design because it is much easier to find (and hear) a point of stability than a point of calculated instability. A cappella groups that depend on close harmonies, such as barbershop quartets, usually use just intonation by design. Bagpipes, tuned correctly, also use just intonation. There are several conventionally used instruments which, while not associated specifically with just intonation, can handle it quite well, including the trombone and the violin family of instruments."

Fiddlehed, Intonation: How to Play in Tune Overview.

Michael Martin

Simon Streuff: I am a fan of Simon Streuff's teaching style. He is a German who is fluent in English but concise; no minutes of flailing around talking non-essentials to pad out the length of the video. His free videos have always been carefully organized to provide maximum information in the shortest amount of time. He is now starting on-line courses. The first one is on Intonation. "When we first pick up the violin... we don't think that one topic, the topic of intonation, will be after us our whole lives as a violinist. Every violinist dreams of about security on the fingerboard and intuitive intonation. But in reality, we all struggle, on a daily basis, with intonation."

Violinist.com:

ViolinMasterClass.com

Practice with a Plan

Itzhak Perlman: Practice slow: if you learn something slowly, you will forget it slowly. If you learn something fast: you will forget it fast.

Just because you play fiddle music does not mean you cannot steal a page from a violinist's playbook. As Gerald Klickstein says, "The fundamental source of confidence on stage is thorough preparation."

More from Gerald Klickstein:

  1. Combine Imaging with Executing: Employ precise mental imaging along with actual playing or singing. Work at tempos that ensure ease and, as you execute, always feel ahead.
  2. Vocalize Expressively: While imaging, expressively singing pitch names, rhythm syllables or fingerings. Use a metronome to anchor your pulse yet avoid mimicking the metronome's blandness; instead, animate every musical gesture.
  3. Use Varied and Interleaved Tactics: Practice individual excerpts in varied ways, maybe hands alone, with altered rhythm, or at varied tempos. Try interleaving material — tackle portion A for 20 minutes, practice portion B for 10, take a 5-minute break, and then return to portion A.
  4. Consciously Direct Yourself: do not slip into mindless muscle memory.
  5. Expand Your Attention: Instead of narrowing your concentration, expand your attention to monitor your sound, timing, mental focus and physical tension.
  6. Record: Self-record periodically in practice to ensure precision and clarity. Record at every stage in the development of the piece.
  7. Practice Performing: Do solitary mock performances at home as well as run-throughs in front of peers and friends. Video or audio-record, and then evaluate how you sounded and felt.
My most-important and most-neglected "rule" for practicing is to know what my goal is and to have it in my head BEFORE I play it. This means listening to a new song many times, attentively, before putting bow to string; reading the new exercise through before attacking it; visualizing and humming the problem note or phrase before trying to fix it. Mitch Reed suggests that we build up our ability to play what we hear in our heads by playing tunes we familiar with (but which we haven't played on the violin); tunes as simple as Twinkle Twinkle Little Star or Happy Birthday To You.

Kageyama espouses Deliberate Practice: "goal-directed, problem-solving, solution-focused practice." Listen with concentration so that you can analyze what went wrong, why, and how to correct the error. This will involve focusing on the specific notes and phrases that require improvement, not mindless repeating an entire section in which the error is embedded.

  • Real on-stage confidence comes from being able to nail it 10 out of 10 tries. You have a tendency to shift over into hyper-analytical left brain mode when you walk out on stage. If you have done most of your practicing unconsciously, you really don't know how to play your piece in full-conscious mode.
  • Deliberate Practice is very draining. Practicing more than one hour at a time is likely to be unproductive and probably not even mentally or emotionally possible. The key is to keep tabs on the level of concentration you are able to sustain. This may be as short as 10-20 minutes for younger students, and as long as 45-60 minutes for older individuals.
  • The key to getting into the zone when practicing is to be constantly striving for clarity of intention. In other words, to have a clear idea of the sound you want to produce, or particular phrasing you'd like to try, or specific articulation, intonation, etc. that you'd like to be able to execute consistently. When you figure something out, write it down so you will not forget it.
  • Practice smarter, not harder. When a strategy isn't working, stop practicing and brainstorm. Experiment with the promising solutions.
Lydia Leong: Her article on practicing 40 minutes a day had many of the same points as Dr. Noa Kageyama's, above. Here are some additional points that she made.
  1. Break up your practice. Nap in-between if you can; you should better retain what you've learned.
  2. Skip the scales. The time invested in scales often isn't worth it. If you play scales, something else useful has to take place at the same time, combining them with some kind of other technical drill.
  3. Warm up on what you're working on, played at a slow speed and gradually sped up. Normally this will be something that's starting to feel comfortable, as opposed to something that's still very shaky.
  4. Identify the most challenging parts of the piece and practice these until comfortable with the skill being emphasized, Once the skill is learned, getting the rest of the notes will become easier.
  5. Have a plan of attack. Do the difficult bits and those bits alone. Simon Fischer's Practice has a large collection of useful tricks. Train your brain, not your fingers.
  6. Resist the urge to practice what you already know. When you need them, you will go back and rebuild them, and they'll get more solid with each rebuild.
  7. Listen to your repertoire as background music. Listen to repertoire with score in hand when unable to practice. Make a playlist with as many different versions as possible.

Practice with a Plan

Ellen Carlson

  • Tips for Better Practicing, Fiddle Magazine, 2016.

Noa Kageyama: Bulletproofmusician.com.

Gerald Klickstein, MusiciansWay.com

Lydia Leong:

Mitch Reed:

Vibrato

Vibrato drops below the desired pitch and back up. Nathan Cole suggests that, after the initial on-pitch note, you think "Up, Up, Up," as though you are pumping iron; avoid Up-Down-Up-Down visualization which will encourage your brain to add an extra conscientious motion which will get in the way.
  • Start on the initial note with full finger pressure.
  • Relax back into a lower position and relax finger pressure. Your finger does not leave the string, but it moves back a bit to produce the lower tone.
  • You are now in position to chunk Up..Up..Up.

Vibrato

Julia Bushkov

  • Vibrato: Wrist vibrato Technique.

Beth Backerby: Slow Motion Violin Vibrato: a good video on the importance of relaxing the hand and fingers. Good closeups with discussion of most effective motion for each finger. ViolinLabs.com

Nathan Cole: How To Develop a Flexible, Effortless Violin Vibrato: Nathan Cole's demonstration of Simon Fischer's approach.

Itzhak Perlman on Vibrato and importance of knowing various types. He classifies types as Fast/Narrow, Fast/Wide, Slow/Narrow, Slow/Wide.

Mitch Reed

Simon Streuff at Violin-Education.com:

Violinist.com: Wrist Vibrato

  1. Basic Principles of Vibrato and left-hand technique in general
  2. Building a Concept and Developing Muscle Memory
  3. More Development Exercises
  4. Impulse Practice for rapid, continuous and dependable finger action
  5. Mastery and Reminders for Practice

Bridge

One basic requirement: do not let it warp.
  1. Lift strings clear of the bridge when you are changing them until the final tuning.
  2. When changing strings, replace one every two days. This will minimize tilting of the bridge as the string is stretching.
  3. Lubricate grooves on bridge and nut with soft pencil.
  4. Regularly check the bridge to make sure it is standing up straight.

Bridges

Strings Magazine

  1. Bridge Care Basics for Stringed Instruments

Mutes

There are two uses for mutes: in an orchestral piece, as notated by the composer, and during practice to keep the neighbors from calling the police.

I am only familiar with the last. However, I avoided them (and lots of practice time) for years because I felt the mutes distorted the sound to the point that the practice time more than non-productive, it was damaging.

However, one day I awoke to the fact that there were more options than my cheap student mute and that some of them not only reduced the sound better than my ebony wood one but which did not distort notes.

Mutes

Ray Chen:

Fiddlerman:

Mitch Reed:

Shar Music

  • Mutes: Differences and Characteristics of a wide range of mutes.

Pickups

Mutes

Mitch Reed

Rosin

From AllThingsStrings.com: "Some musicians perceive significant differences among rosins, while others are simply not picky. Ultimately, each player's experience is subjective and preferences are highly personal... According to Norman Pickering, a giant in the world of violin acoustics, the rosins that work best break up into tiny particles, coating the hair with a thin, uniform coating. "Small particles stick to hair better. It's the larger ones that fly all over the instrument and do no good at the string." According to Pickering, and many others in the violin business, most people use far too much rosin. "Ninety-nine percent of the rosin falls on top of your instrument. So I use very little," says Fan Tao, a violinist and head of research and development for D'Addario Strings. An avid player, Tao has barely scratched the surface of a rosin cake he started nine years ago and has never needed to have his violin cleaned.

"While it's crucial to use enough rosin, over-rosining to get a better grip or improve the tone often has the opposite effect. Bow maker Michael Vann is fond of the following demonstration. He asks a violinist to play for him, perhaps a passage of Bach, and then asks to see the bow. He removes much of the rosin with a soft, clean cloth, and then asks to hear the same passage. Says Vann, the player is always surprised at the bigger, more beautiful tone that ensues with less rosin. He also points out that vigorous rosining, rather than working rosin into the hair, actually melts rosin into a glassy coating on the hair."

Fiddlesman.com recommends that a new, unrosined bow be rosined for 5-15 minutes. After the initial treatment, re-rosining will be necessary after an hour of practice and with 5-20 strokes.

If you over-rosin a bow, you can remove the excess from the bow with a clean cloth. Remove the rosin dust from your violin with a clean cloth as well; My luthier says that a layer of un-removed rosin will change the tone on the violin.

Recommended rosin types:

  • Dark rosin is deemed softer, grippier, and likely to get sticky in hot or humid situations than light rosin. Hence the terms 'Summer Rosin' and 'Winter Rosin.'
  • StringsMagazine.com article on the differences between dark and light rosin; plus an argument by Magic Rosin proprietor that the article be brought up-to-date to include 'clear' rosins, such as Magic Rosin, which are described as both light, grippy and stable.
  • Fiddlerman recommends Kaplan Artcraft dark rosin for the carbon bows he sells: he considers it to be a product that produces less dust but has a very good grip.

Rosin

Fiddlerman:

Heather Scott

  • Rosin: The Difference between Dark and Amber Rosin, StringsMagazine.com, Web. "Dark rosin is softer and is usually too sticky for hot and humid weather: it is better suited to cool, dry climates. Since light rosin is harder and not as sticky as its darker counterpart, it is also preferable for the higher strings [violin and viola]."

Strings

Strings

  • What's the best way to care for our strings at WARCHAL.com.
    1. Remove fresh rosin every day with microfiber cleaning cloth.
    2. A credit card or other plastic card will scrape away any fused rosin.Use light pressure; force creates heat which fuses the rosin to the hair.
    3. Alcohol or other solvents are not recommended.

Sound-proofing your practice space

From Strings Magazine:

Ask a friend or family member to measure the sound level (using a free or inexpensive decibel-meter app) while standing six feet away from the practice space, with the door closed, while you play. Be sure to play at the loudest volume you will use during rehearsal. The typical sound level of a violin is about 70—90 dB. By comparison, normal conversation ranges from 60—65 dB and traffic noise from inside a car is about 85 dB. Reducing the sound emitted from a room by just 10 decibels (dBs) will create the perception of a 50 percent reduction on the part of an outside listener.

Buy soundproofing that will treat the frequencies produced by your specific stringed instrument. A violinist or violist will not need a bass trap placed in the corners of the room to inhibit bass waves. If you practice with a cellist or bassist, you will need one anyway.

The goal is to create an acoustically "dry" room free of a lot of reverberation, which will enable you to hear your instrument without ambient effects. Soundproofing during construction is ideal, but post-construction methods can be effective as well. Minimize existing reflective surfaces: lay carpet or some sound-absorbing material on hardwood floor.

Here are five popular soundproofing treatments. Ask for the noise reduction coefficient rating (NRC) to determine the sound-absorption quality; a higher NRC rating indicates maximum effectiveness.

  1. Soundboard: These resemble sheets of drywall. They can be cut to size and screwed in place over existing drywall and on the ceiling to create an effective sound barrier.
  2. Latex wall liners: This comes in rolls and can be attached to the walls or ceiling.
  3. Acoustic foam: These are lightweight panels, constructed of rows of wedge shapes that can reduce echoes and available in a variety of sizes and colors. They are highly effective at absorbing the high- and mid-range frequencies produced by violins and violas. You can experiment with the results by adding as many panels as needed.
  4. Acoustic panels: Often made of foam, mineral wool, or fiberglass enclosed in decorative fabric, and interspersed along a wall or ceiling to absorb sound waves and reduce reflection. Advantage: You don't need to completely cover a wall to get the benefit. (These are often used in restaurants to cut the din of loud conversation.)
  5. Acoustic blankets: effective at absorbing sound and relatively easy to install. Nail 1X2-inch boards along the top of a wall and attach the blankets with heavy plastic clips. Even more effective when used over a combination of drywall, a rubber barrier, and fiberglass insulation to soundproof a garage. Sound levels were reduced from 110 dB ten yards away to 50 dB.

Sound-proofing your practice space

Greg Cahill

Violins

Carbon Fiber Violins

I bought a carbon fiber violin because I sometimes find it hard to hear myself in a music jam that has a lot of happily strumming instruments in it and I'm tired of it. Wooden floors and high ceilings are common in these venues and the reverberation confuses my ears. But if you try to distance yourself from the happy strumming circle so that you can hear what you are playing they get miffed. Carbon fiber is supposed to be louder, impervious to the heat or cold that might be encountered traveling to or during music events, and able to travel in an airplane's cargo hold because changes in pressure and temperature will not cause it to explode.

There were none to be tested locally my decision to go forward with a purchase was influenced by information and videos gathered from the Internet. There was not a lot of information to be had. I started a conversation with Simon Streuff, a violin educator and You Tube blogger, asking him about his experience with testing a carbon-fiber violin. He had tested one at a convention, not the best setting, but felt the one he tested ($6000 high end) sounded nice.

with a lot less information than I usually gather before buying anything that costs more than $20, I decided to go with the Fiddleshop's Glasser Carbon Composite for $500, figuring they would be likely to let me return the instrument if it was not a real musical instrument.

After I posted that I had ordered the Glasser, Mr Streuff wrote that "The acoustic sound from the mezzo-forte violin was actually pretty powerful! I am curious how your Glasser violin will sound! Yes, they seem great for more rough gigs! I also consider one when I will play more with a band, they are designed to fit the needs of a traveling musician who sometimes plays bars and clubs quite well. For the moment I am more into classical music though...the carbon fiber violins actually sounded much better than I expected. I think for crossover gigs the combination of a robust, good sounding and good looking violin make them so attractive."

After I received the violin, I was pleased to find that the Glasser is both loud and distinct and clear. It doesn' have the sweetness of my wood violin, but I love the clarity of the sound. And it IS killer to look at.

I also ordered a Stroh violin in case the Glasser is not loud enough. I am obviously not going for subtle nuanced tones here.... but I believe a Stroh might be able to go head-to-head with an accordian if necessary.

Pocket Fiddles

I have owned and played three types of travel (or pocket) fiddles.

My first was the wiplstix. I had it for several years and tried to love it, but couldn't. The main problem was the shorter-than-standard fingerboard, which worked against muscle memory. The completely round bottom was another hindrance- it was very hard to keep on my shoulder and the little tire tube supplied with the fiddle wasn't much help on my sloping shoulders. The bridge kept sliding to the left (turned out to be a common complaint) and tuning was very difficult. I actually liked the intimate sound very much but it took too much effort to obtain it. I gave it away.

My second was the Neil Gow 22XL Travel fiddle from Adventurous Muse. This is made from full-sized neck and a narrow body. I ordered it with the fancy geared tuners. I like the sound very much. It's a good tool in a small group or at home. The optional shoulder rest holder (which attaches with two small screws) is an ingenious solution but those two little screws are, well, little, easily misplaced, and they have to be unscrewed to remove the holder if you want to put the violin away. A nuisance. I purchased a two-part (collapsible) bow with it, which was a mistake; I ended up getting the bow hair tangled every-which-way in a careless moment. I then purchased a 1/2 (or 1/4) size Coda bow, which serves well.

My third is now the Cricket... My main interest in it was the chinrest/shoulder rest assembly... it looked awesome. And portable. And screw-less. The fact that it was made in the USA and that I could order it with an internal pickup was an additional bonus. I am really loving the full-size fingerboard and the sound. The optional geared pegs make tuning it easy. The chin/shoulder rest is both elegant and functional... this is their second version, more adjustable than the first I was told.

Traveling safely with a small fiddle: finding the ideal case for a small fiddle is frustrating. The Neil Gow came with a tubular case that seemed very strong but I could never get the top lid to stay on. As for the Cricket: they sell a soft-sided trapazoid with a handle and a 31-inch long document holder with a shoulder strap. I bought both, but the fact is that the soft-sided case was not very protective and the document case, 31" long, allowed me to carry it out of the house safely, but it was not going to fit in overhead compartment of an airplane and might not survive a trip in the hold, leaving me at the mercy of the plane crew as to how and if it could be carried. For my first airplane flight with the Cricket I ended up wrapping it up and putting it inside a box which I then put in my checked luggage. Then I read a hint from another pocket fiddle owner which suggested the Tran carrying tube (4.5 inch diameter and 24 inches long) was a good solution. I bought one and it was perfect, fitting both the Cricket or the Neil Gow, plus 1/2 size bow, plus Cricket shoulder rest, and it will fit inside checked luggage. Unfortunately, these 24-inch cases do not seem to be available any more: 36-inch, yes, 24-inch, no. I believe used ones sometimes make their way to Ebay. If you see one, snap it up!

P.S. Still toying with the idea of making a coat with big pockets to carry my pocket fiddles the old-fashioned way... Dancing Master on Halloween?

Violins

Fiddlerman:

Chris Museler

Simon Streuff at Violin-Education.com:

References

Glossary on Violinist.com.

Maura Enright:

FiddleHangout.com

Vienna Symphonic Library: the parts and the dimensions of the Chordophone called a violin.

Violinist.com:

Dear Diary:

2016.09.05: The tiny fiddle that Short Stuff craved so badly arrived and was approved mightly. She just marched out of here carrying her new violin case as though she was headed for yet another concert at Lincoln Center. She can now say the word 'Violin' pretty well (we don't have to refer to it as a Get It anymore). After getting a close look at her own violin case as we zipped it shut, she realized that there were several similarly-shaped cases in the front room and asked me how many I had. I told her that when she got big like me I would give her one of my big violins. She looked me straight in the eye, informed me that she HAD a big violin, and marched down the stairs. Welcome to the planet, little one! [Two hours later: her mother called me to inform me that Short Stuff had offered to teach her how to play the violin.]

BabaYagaMusic.com
Maura Enright, Proprietor
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Last updated: 2020.12.07
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