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Technique and Maintenance for Fiddle and Fiddler
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:
Chin and Shoulder RestsChin 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."
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.
Simon Streuff at Violin-Education.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 RestsBodyMap: Shoulder Rests from the Alexander body-work point of view. Recommended: Viva-Sas chinrests.
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.
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:
Marc Bouchkov, Bow Position in Five Minutes.
Eugenia Fielding: Why I practice scales and what they do for me; Violinist.com
Jesus Florido: Balancing the Bow on YouTube.
Professor V: Part One, Sautille bowing demonstration; fast and bouncy. Finger flexibility very important, and use three fingers on the bow.
Vienna Symphonic Library:
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.
Liz Lambson's practice advice emphasizes bowing skills, developed using a metronome.
Rhythm and Swing
ImprovisationOnce 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.
Dustyfiddles: 50 Improvisation Ideas for Violin/Fiddle in four minutes.
Fiddlerman: Blues in E minor improvisations.
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.
From Laurie Niles:
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.
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."
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:
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.
Practice with a Plan
Noa Kageyama: Bulletproofmusician.com.
Gerald Klickstein, MusiciansWay.com
VibratoVibrato 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.
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.
Simon Streuff at Violin-Education.com:
Violinist.com: Wrist Vibrato
BridgeOne basic requirement: do not let it warp.
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.
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.
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:
Sound-proofing your practice spaceFrom 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.
Sound-proofing your practice space
Carbon Fiber ViolinsI 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 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 (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?
Simon Streuff at Violin-Education.com:
Vienna Symphonic Library: the parts and the dimensions of the Chordophone called a violin.
Maura Enright, Proprietor
Author: Maura Enright
© 2012 - 2020 by Maura Enright
Last updated: 2020.12.07
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