The Amazing Bow!

The violin bow is an amazing contraption. Pick one bow up after another, and they pretty much look the same, but they may feel light or heavy, even though the difference in weight could be a tenth of an ounce (3 grams). More astonishingly, when you try playing with various bows you’ll find some that actually sound a lot better than others.

I remember making a number of drawings of violins and bows many years ago. Bows are very difficult and frustrating to draw because they so long, thin, and seem almost uniform in shape. The stick has a subtle arc to it, called the camber, which can be beautiful but tricky to draw, as it gently curves toward and away from the hairs. It’s a bit more interesting to draw the gracefully shaped tip, and the black curved block of ebony at the frog. (”Frog” is horse terminology — the bow hairs come from a horse’s tail, and the frog is named after the part of the horse’s hoof that’s in the middle of the horseshoe).

When you try playing with different bows, you find differences in responsiveness partly because of the type of wood and the quality of the carving, which affect the strength and springiness of the bow stick. A very weak stick could easily touch the strings with some pressure, and if the hairs are tightened too much, the stick might even arc the wrong way (away from the bow hairs). The camber of the bow, the way the stick curves toward the hairs, allows you to control the tension of the hairs against the strings.

I always recommend Continue reading The Amazing Bow!

The Beat Not Played

Most of the time, we change bow on every beat, in order to keep up a good sense of timing in our tunes. But there are lots of times when a beat goes by without a change of bow. That’s what I meant by the title of this article — “the beat not played.”  It could be a syncopated rhythm or it could simply be a dotted note, where the following note is played after the next beat has passed. We need to feel each beat, whether we play a new note on it or not — this is one basic timing question, not only for playing musically, but for being able to play with others; and it is why slow airs are more difficult than people imagine.

Syncopation is the focus of this month’s workshop tunes, because they all contain some syncopation that’s worth getting comfortable with. But let’s look first at the way slow airs often make you hold a bow beyond the next beat.

The beauty of a slow air depends on the placement of the notes, and if you are playing a very long note, the note that follows must be placed exactly in the right place, or the flow of the tune falters. We have to feel the beat throughout, but especially during the long notes.

Here is the beginning of the slow air “Da Slockit Light”:  Continue reading The Beat Not Played

A Treasury of Techniques, in short video form

Fiddle-online.com has a unique offering in its Technique Video Groups. Each group has 10 short videos (except #2, where the ninth video is actually 3 videos on learning vibrato).

Visit the TechVids page https://www.fiddle-online.com/technique/learning.php to learn more and/or sign up. There is a video introduction describing each group videos, and there is even a sampler which has one video from each group for only 3 credits. Each full video group of 10 videos is 12 credits for 2 months, and only 8 credits to renew. These videos are practical and help you work with them for about 3 minutes each. They’re great to keep coming back to for maximum benefit, as physical games/exercises, and awareness builders. They’re not really for people to accomplish and move on; they’re really for all levels. This includes Group #1 even though those exercises are really helpful to beginners as well.

Let’s take a quick look at what each group of videos offers —  Continue reading A Treasury of Techniques, in short video form

Finding Articles You Want!

There are some 70 articles in this blog!  Apart from the more recent ones highlighted to the left, you can check out past months in the archive, if you know which month you want, or if you want to hunt through them all.  But the easiest way to find something useful to you is to use the search box at the left.

Here are some keywords you can type into the search box to bring up selected articles you might enjoy.

“advanced” — tips for use of fiddle-online by advanced and professional players

“tuning” — about tuning the violin

“mind/hand/ears” — reversing presumptions on how to learn to play

“playing faster 1”, “playing faster 2”, and “playing faster 3” — three articles setting you up for learning to play faster and understanding how fast to play various tunes

“mapping” — how to “ear-map” your tunes and learn most efficiently

“clarify” — once you’ve “ear-mapped” your tune, how to clarify and embody that map

“troubleshooting 1” — how to handle and avoid various physical problems from playing

“troubleshooting 2”, “troubleshooting 3”, and “troubleshooting 4” — understanding and improving bow control

“troubleshooting 5” and “troubleshooting 6” — addressing left hand problems

“stagefright” — is it learned?  New and organic ideas on how to avoid and handle it

“style” — what are fiddle styles?  how to learn them from within

“nature” — about intonation and mother nature, including a comparison of musical pitches and those of various insects around us

“motivators” — ten aids for motivating your practicing

“brain” — how learning and playing music enhances brain capacity

“musical fork” — how to avoid being derailed by wrong notes

“jokes” — 60 jokes making fun of every kind of musician!  Perhaps the most useful article of all!

**Have any favorite articles you’d like to recommend?  Leave a comment!**

©2018 Ed Pearlman

Clarifying and Embodying your Tune Map

In the last article we talked about learning a tune starting with the ears, instead of with the eyes or brain. This is not merely about “learning by ear” but about taking a very practical break from the quantifiable — the written notes, names of notes, rules and regs — to allow the ears time to process a tune, its phrases, the beat notes, the pathways it follows to get you from one beat to the next. The ears know a tune long before the brain has a clue.

We are not merely advocating “feeling” instead of “thinking.” By all means, use all you’ve got! But there are traps people fall into, and we’re trying to avoid them. The brain is fully capable of micromanaging and obsessing over details it can’t really understand, while ignoring the key moments and the bigger picture that we really need it for. Many people read music and drill the notes until they feel they get a tune down, but they usually neglect to recognize that the reason they got the tune was because they allowed their ears and hands time to learn it (meanwhile the eyes and brain took all the credit! O, the injustice!).

The bottom line, as mentioned in the last article, is that what we think most about is what we are able to verbalize. Without good words, we have a hard time thinking about, respecting, and developing the job done by the ears and hands (i.e. actually play the fiddle!).

“Ear map” were the words we came up with and emphasized in the last article. To learn a tune, we have to map it out with our ears.

The words for today are “clarify” and “embody.” After mapping out the tune with our ears, we have to clarify the map, and embody the tune in our hands.

Think of how an artist draws a portrait. The first step is

Continue reading Clarifying and Embodying your Tune Map

Troubleshooting 4 — More Bow Control! (2 of 2)

In our last article we discussed ways to improve your bow control, especially if it’s getting in your way sometimes.  Here are a few more tips on that subject.

About videos — the “TechVid Groups” mentioned below refer to the  technique videos available on fiddle-online.com.  There are ten videos in each group.  You can work with them in real-time or at your own pace to make use of the exercises while being reminded of what to aim for.  Written descriptions are only a rough sketch of what to do.  In fact, often videos are not even enough — many times I’ve seen people not really discover the personal context for using these exercises until they had a lesson.  If you want this kind of help, a one-off  online lesson can be arranged via the Credit Store.

Below are suggestions for handling or preventing the following problems:

Troubleshooting 3 — Bow Control Problems (1 of 2)

In our last article we did some troubleshooting for annoying sounds and how to stop or prevent them.  This time, and in the next article, we’ll continue troubleshooting bowing but focus on restrictions you may feel while trying to use the bow.  Your bow is your voice, where all your timing and music come from.  Bow control is at the heart of enjoying your playing.

About videos — many of the exercises described below correspond to technique videos available on fiddle-online.com.  These videos allow you to work in real-time or at your own pace to make sure you learn and make use of the exercises while being reminded of what to aim for.  They can be very helpful because verbal descriptions are only a rough sketch of what to do.  In fact, often videos are not even enough — I’ve had many students discover that it takes a personal context to apply these ideas to their own playing.  If you feel this way, a one-off  online lesson can be arranged via the Credit Store.

Below are suggestions for handling or preventing the following problems:

  • Problems with timing or coordination between left & right hands
  • Rough bow changes and disconnected notes
  • Trouble playing near the frog
  • Weak or noisy start to your notes

Continue reading Troubleshooting 3 — Bow Control Problems (1 of 2)

Troubleshooting 2: Sound Problems

In the last article we talked about building awareness of your right hand and use of the bow that can help you diagnose your own troubles when you make sounds you don’t like or for times when you don’t quite feel in control of the bow.  This time we’ll get specific about troubles that happen and what you can do to help fix or prevent them.  We’ll start here with troubleshooting the making of annoying sounds, and in the next article, we’ll focus on troubleshooting bow control and physical restrictions you might be feeling about your use of the bow.

About videos — many of the exercises described below correspond to technique videos available on fiddle-online.com.  These videos allow you to work in real-time or at your own pace to make sure you learn and make use of the exercises while being reminded of what to aim for.  They can be very helpful because verbal descriptions are only a rough sketch of what to do.  In fact, often videos are not even enough — I’ve had many students discover that it takes a personal context to apply these ideas to their own playing.  If you feel this way, a one-off  online lesson can be arranged via the Credits Store.

Keep in mind that squeaks, scratches, and other weird sounds happen to everybody.  The worst thing you could do is to stop playing in the middle of a tune and try to fix these sounds, first of all because unless they are a regular occurrence, they are just a mistake, not a flaw; and second, because by disrupting the continuity and timing of a tune just to chase after a stray sound (or even a wrong note), you may well have hurt your playing with a worse mistake than the one that’s already water under the bridge.  Make a mental note about the problem, and see if it happens again in the same place (this helps build awareness and is a great performance skill).  If it does, there may be a technical problem to address — a trouble to shoot!

Below are suggestions for addressing and preventing the following problems:

  • squeaks
  • scratches
  • whistles
  • shaky bow or inconsistent sound
  • thin or timid sound

Continue reading Troubleshooting 2: Sound Problems

10 Ways to Build a Good Bow Sound

In the last article we did some troubleshooting for physical problems, and that’s not only useful for easing or overcoming problems but also for preventing them.  The same applies this time — for bowing and sound problems.  You can always come back to these for reference, and also refer to corresponding technique videos on this site.

This article will focus on 10 ways to improve basic bow awareness.  This provides a foundation for fixing most any bowing or sound problem.  The next article will troubleshoot more specific problems such as squeaks & squawks, bouncy bowing, hitting wrong strings, thin or inconsistent sound, disconnected bows, running out of bow, difficulty playing fast, timing problems, coordination between left and right hands, trouble playing near the frog, trouble crossing back and forth between two strings, trouble playing two strings at once.

Let’s start with the heart of the matter — three variables that make for a good (or bad) bow sound.

Keep in mind that understanding an exercise has little to do with allowing your ears and muscle memory to really learn its benefits.  Doing it, at least a few times in a row, gives your ears and hands a chance to get the feel of it and get something out of it.  Working with the videos is helpful because they give your eyes something to besides get in your way!

About videos — many of the exercises described below correspond to technique videos available on fiddle-online.com.  These videos allow you to work in real-time or at your own pace to make sure you learn and make use of the exercises while being reminded of what to aim for.  They can be very helpful because verbal descriptions are only a rough sketch of what to do.  In fact, often videos are not even enough — I’ve had many students discover that it takes a personal context to apply these ideas to their own playing.  If you feel this way, a one-off  online lesson can be arranged via the Credits Store.

The Heart of Your Bow Sound.  There are three factors that are at the heart of a good (or bad) bow sound.  You can fix your own squeaks, whistles, scratches & other annoying sounds by becoming more aware of these three variables — bow pressure, bow speed, and distance from the bridge.  There’s a ratio between the first two — generally, more pressure and more speed go together, and less pressure/speed work together as well.  Notice that playing closer to the frog automatically adds pressure, and playing closer to the tip removes weight/pressure from the bow, so your sound can change simply by moving the bow.  These relationships all change, though, depending on the distance from the bridge (which is why staying in the middle makes it easier to have a consistent sound).  Playing close to the fingerboard requires less pressure, and close to the bridge requires more pressure.  Squeaks, whistles and scratches happen when these rations get out of whack.  If this seems like a lot to think about, remember that the whole point is not to overthink it, but rather to teach your muscle memory and ears to handle these things for you, and to help you troubleshoot when there’s a recurring problem.

Below are 10 practical games/exercises to help you get a feel for these issues, so you can play better, and be able to diagnose the cause of unwanted noises or movements you may find yourself making.

Continue reading 10 Ways to Build a Good Bow Sound