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

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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