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Technique and Maintenance for Fiddle and Fiddler
Q: How do you respond to criticism from a sometimes unforgiving and even bitter purist classical crowd?
Eddy Chen discusses the role of the Left Hand, looking at finger positions, the thumb, flexibility, support of the violin, shifting, and the importance of adapting to circumstances. 20:39.
How to Stay Healthy at AllThingsStrings.com.
BOWINGFrom Violinist.com: Hold the bow in a way that allows each finger to do its job, never in a way that works against those jobs.
Tightening the bow: recommended tension leaves the hair about a pencil-width from the stick at the middle of the stick, its closest point.
Jesus Florido: Balancing the Bow on YouTube.
Sautille, sounds like you are off the string and bowing rapidly. A simple approach. Finger flexibility very important, and use three fingers on the bow.
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 the Hertz cycles per second of both notes in an interval: the ratio needs to be a whole number. , which is based on the relationship between the notes in an interval, and it is the musical expectation of many non-Western cultures From 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."
Clayton Haslop recommends the following for violin students:
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 several 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.
How many hours a day should you practice? Noa Kageyama says just one if you are really trying!
Dr. Kageyama lists three major problems with the auto-pilot method of practicing:
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.
Efficient Practicing for the Time-Crunched by 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.
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. She describes her approach in detail at Why I practice scales and what they do for me.
At 60 beats per second, she practices her scales thusly:
Liz Lambson also multi-tasks, but her tool is a metronome. She describes her approach in How to Use a Metronome.
CHIN and SHOULDER RESTSThe use of shoulder rests, in particular, and what kind, is a hotly-contested subject. I use one. All the fiddle players I know use one. My first violin teacher did not use one... he used a handkerchief...so he never suggested I use one.. but after years of wondering about it I finally realized that he had broad straight shoulders and I have narrow sloping ones.
MutesThere 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.
ROSINFrom 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:
POCKET FIDDLESI 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 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. It came in a case made from a broad piece of PVC pipe which would no doubt cause mass panic in any airport.
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. I COULD get this thing into my luggage if I put it sideways, which would make it a REAL travel fiddle. Meanwhile, I can sneak this thing into any informal social event without being too ostentatious, and bring it out if music is appropriate. Maybe a coat with very long pockets is in my future!?
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Author: Maura Enright
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Latest revision: April 2017
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