Like tuning, changing strings is a necessary evil! Let’s talk about what to aim for and what to watch out for, as you change strings. We’ll start with the 7 Ideas to Keep in Mind, talk about How to Change Strings, and then go into the Whys & Wherefores for those interested.
7 Ideas to Keep in Mind
1. Change only one string at a time – the bridge can actually fall down if you take all the strings off at once*. Of course, if you break a string, you may only need to replace that one. Try not to let strings go longer than a year before changing them — you may not notice them losing their vigor but you certainly will notice how nice they sound when you change them!
2. Roll the strings neatly onto the correct pegs, with one layer of string**. The more neatly the string is rolled on, the more likely you’ll have enough space to Continue reading Changing Strings
A technician is someone who is driven to explore and master the familiar. An artist is one who is driven to explore and manage the unfamiliar.
Once an artist explores the unknown and corrals a piece of it into their work, it becomes familiar, and the artist becomes a technician seeking to master it.
Whether artist or technician, everyone needs to learn the vocabulary of their art, the technique, in order to know the possibilities of expression within their field. The more vocabulary they have, the more they realize how much they have to say. Beginners too appreciate the possibilities of expression, even if they’re not ready to say very much yet. In fact, these possibilities are what generally make someone want to learn in the first place.
I know an artist who achieved a level of accomplishment that drew many students and apprentices to his studio. One of these learned so well that she produced work that confused people as to whether the teacher or she had made it. At first, this artist was annoyed that his student had taken on his techniques and not developed her own. But then, he realized that the reason he was annoyed was that he had become only a technician and forgotten to move ahead with his art. He needed to dig into the vein of his own creativity to explore new, unfamiliar territory, new ideas and techniques that he could develop and master. He actually felt grateful to that student for inadvertently alerting him to his own plateau, and he went on to produce a great deal of new and amazing work.
These definitions of artist and technician are not limited to any particular field. I think of Elon Musk, for example, as an artist driven to explore the unfamiliar, manage his ideas, and then master them with a blend of new and old techniques of design and manufacture. High-profile (and wealthy!) creators often delegate much of the technical part so they can move on to their next project.
However, the skills of the artist, Continue reading Artist and Technician
It’s normal to have some nerves about performing. Performing is live, and anything can happen. You need to be alert, so naturally your nerves need to be geared up to some extent. The only people who don’t get nervous at all are those who don’t care.
But to those who let the nerves get the best of them, I have a simple suggestion — make your performance be about the music, not about yourself.
I’ve seen lots of suggestions about combatting stagefright, ranging from mentally undressing the audience to taking drugs. Most of these bits of clever advice miss the point.
The point is that your music has something to say to your listener, even if you can’t verbalize what that is. What is your music saying? It’s certainly not about how many mistakes you might make, what you’re wearing, how many listeners there are, or whether somebody misspelled your name.
Find out as much as you can about your music before you perform it. It’s impossible to find out everything, whatever everything might even mean, so when it’s time to play, go with whatever preparation you had time for, and convey the feel of that music to your listeners.
Who wrote the tune? When? Why? How has the tune been used? How did you find it? What did it mean to you when you heard the tune, or played it? One of the reasons I like to talk to an audience is
Continue reading Stagefright
Fiddle-online.com has pioneered a mix of live online workshops with interactive sheet music — if you haven’t tried a live event, here’s what to expect.
We use Zoom to connect; you can learn more about it at this link. It’s high quality and easy to use. Once you sign up for an event, you’ll have access to a link, as well as learning materials. At class time, you’ll simply click to join the group.
Types of Live Events
There are several kinds of live events on fiddle-online.com — the monthly Sunday guest concert/workshop featuring top players from around the world, the Thursday tunelearning workshops with Ed Pearlman, which are centered around a monthly topic (see the past workshops page for a list of monthly topics), and the Wednesday classes which are 8-week sessions aimed at particular levels (starting with beginners in Sept and progressing to Intermediate level 2 in the spring). When a new session is available for signup, there is an info button on the Current Workshops page.
Live Event vs Materials-Only
Learning materials for workshops are available 24/7 online, starting from the moment you sign up and lasting until at least 30 days after the live event. After a live workshop is over, a teaching video is posted for review, and for those who missed the live event. A performance video is also available from the concert/workshop. In addition to these videos, of course, you have access to
Continue reading Live Workshops — what to expect!
There is a kind of musical memory that everyone can learn and improve, and it’s not about how many tunes you know.
A good musician, while teaching a lesson or engaged in a rehearsal, can listen to an entire set of tunes, and yet keep in mind which parts were solid and where improvements can be made, noting ideas to heighten the impact of a phrase, smooth out a transition, fix a note mistake, change a bowing to bolster sound or timing, adjust a distracting ornament, and so on. A good lesson or rehearsal will include the chance to outline and work on all these points of improvement. And it’s only possible with a good musical memory.
Challenge yourself to not only play a tune or part of a tune, Continue reading Musical Memory — more to it than you might think!
Now that there are about 100 articles available to you here, I’d love to hear from you about the fiddle-online blog. I tried that “surveymonkey” thing, which theoretically is great because it’s easy for people to submit answers to me — but nobody (not one person!) actually tried it! (If you want to try it, here’s the link.)
So just email me! Please take a moment to let me know your thoughts.
–How often do you read these articles?
–What topics have you found most helpful or thought-provoking?
–Have you used the Search box or the Archives to find past articles? Or the recent links in the column at the left?
–Any suggestions for topics you’d like to read about or other ideas about the blog?
Without much fanfare, fiddle-online makes available performances and teaching 24/7 of some of the top contemporary fiddlers. As with everything at the site, it’s available a-la-carte and at a very low cost (80% of which goes to the guest artist, so an excellent cause!). See below for info about cost and logging in, etc.*
Below are some descriptions and links to more info about guest workshops by great players with varying styles of expertise: Scottish, Cape Breton, Irish, Quebecois, Old-timey, gypsy jazz and klezmer.
For the list and links, click Continue! —
Continue reading Guest Treasures
Most fiddlers and violinists use a shoulder rest, but some struggle with finding the right one or adjusting it to their needs.
There are players who prefer not to use one, usually for reasons to do with convenience or authenticity: Old-style fiddlers didn’t use them, poor players couldn’t afford them, it’s more natural to just pick up the fiddle and play than to stop and attach an accessory first, and some say they feel the vibrations better without a rest. Sometimes I go without it myself, if I need to quickly pick up the fiddle and play, but it doesn’t feel good to do it for long, or I have to keep adjusting my position so I don’t overuse certain muscles and get a cramp or strain.
I recommend that students use shoulder rests for two main reasons: better physical health, and to allow the left hand to do its job.
Health-wise, it’s better for your body to play with both shoulders kept down in a natural position, and for the chin to stay back in its normal position rather than jut forward to accommodate the chinrest. Neither shoulder nor chin should apply pressure to squeeze the fiddle in place; that’s a recipe for muscle strain and misalignment.
As to allowing the left hand to do its job, take a look at the article about the joints of the left hand and arm, called “Controllers of the Left.” Without a shoulder rest, the left hand tends to feel it needs to help hold the fiddle up, and this usually involves collapsing the wrist to use the palm as a support. Some traditional players do this, though one constantly touring fiddler told me she taught herself to straighten her left hand because her hand was getting numb — the collapsed wrist was cutting down on circulation. There’s an interesting theory that before the chinrest was invented (1820), players kept their left hand in one place, with the thumb halfway up the neck, allowing them to move up or down the fingerboard using the thumb as anchor, but that is a whole other technique of playing.
With a shoulder rest, Continue reading Shoulder Rests
Performing does not just mean playing while a bunch of people watch. You’re performing a tune any time you try to play all the way through it. But this is nothing to shy away from or build up as bigger than it really is — a performance could be for your teacher, or in a session, or even playing along with a recording on fiddle-online.com.
Perfection is not an issue when performing; in fact, “perfection” should be off the table. The goal in performing a tune is to get through it in time. How well you actually play it is for you to judge afterwards. Once you know you can finish what you start, whether a tune, a part or even a phrase, you can practice, polish, hone, develop your musical ideas. If you know you can get through the tune in time, you can play it with and for others, enjoying their company, enjoying the music, and learning what you need to work on in order to play it better.
A big part of practicing is strategizing for how you plan to play through, or perform, a tune — regardless of how well you know the tune. Don’t wait for that elusive moment when you think you know it “well enough to perform,” that future time when you plan to have all the notes nailed down. You wouldn’t want to nail a bunch of wooden boards securely in place without an overall plan for where they actually fit.
To strategize for performance, start at the beginning. Continue reading Strategizing for Performance
Last time we talked about finding the support materials you’re looking for to learn different styles of tunes on fiddle-online.com with a bunch of links to the Scottish tunes you can find here.
This time we’ll provide easy links to find lots of other styles of tunes. When you look at the Past Workshops, you can also check out tunes based on the types and purpose of tunes, such as tunes to help you learn by ear, tunes to help learn ornamentation, a set of tunes teaching higher finger positions, and a group of tunes focused on syncopation.
Below are links for audio and info about learning Irish, Old-timey & other American trad tunes, jazz fiddle, Scandie, Quebecois, Cape Breton, and klezmer tunes!
Looking for Irish tunes? Check out the following: Continue reading Links to Learning Tunes – part 2