Practicing advice

I often get asked about practicing. Here are some ideas:

  • Do it! Make it easy to practice. Leave your fiddle out and in the way, so that you're tempted to pick it up and play.
  • Try to play every day or even several times a day. A few minutes twice a day is better than two hours once a week.
  • Practice mindfully and in small chunks of time. It's difficult to concentrate for long periods, and you don't want to practice without listening and concentrating or you'll practice your mistakes, which will then be harder to fix.
  • Break down difficult passages into smaller phrases.
  • Practice slowly. Speed will come on its own.
  • Enjoy the small victories. A good tone, or a nice string crossing is an accomplishment.
  • Finally, have fun with it, and don't worry too much about doing it right.

Happy fiddling! 

Is it possible for an adult beginner to get really good at the fiddle?

Yes, absolutely! I'm the proof. I started playing the fiddle when I was 30, and now I play professionally and teach.

However, "good" is a relative and abstract word. When you say "good," are you comparing yourself to professional players? If the answer is yes, stop doing that! It was never my intention to play professionally. I just liked playing and did it a lot. I enjoyed learning tunes and techniques. After a while, I got hired to play. This isn't unusual, but it's not something you can expect. 

There's a prevailing myth that in order to get any good at anything you have to start as a child. There's a grain of truth here. If you plan on being a concert violinist, it's best if you started young, because it takes a long time and it's a lot of work.

If, however, "good" means good enough to enjoy playing (and have others enjoy it, too) then it doesn't take very long at all. Some take to it right away. The first several weeks are the rockiest because it's not a natural thing to learn and you have to be willing to sound terrible for a time. It also takes dedication and discipline, qualities that adults possess more than children do.

Think of learning an instrument as a journey and not a destination. Even the most accomplished player knows that they haven't yet arrived at being the player they'd like to be. You can have enjoyment at every level. Enjoy being a beginner! When you draw the bow across the string and you get a nice full tone, that's no small achievement. And when you can play a jig, and it gets someone to tap their foot, that's no small achievement either.

It's a fun and rewarding journey. If you haven't yet embarked, perhaps it's time to do so. If you are already on your way, enjoy the trip!

What is the difference between a fiddle and a violin?

It's an age old question. Some pithy answers are:

"You don't spill beer on a violin!"

"When you are buying one, it’s a fiddle. When you are selling one, it’s a violin."

"A violin has strings, and a fiddle has STRANGS."

"A fiddle is a violin with attitude."

My absolute favorite, and I think the most accurate answer is:

"A violin sings, and a fiddle dances."

A fiddle is a dance instrument, it gets people moving. So when you play dance music on a violin - jigs, reels, hornpipes, polkas, and waltzes - you are fiddling. Which is why I call my violin a fiddle.

As far as the instrument itself goes, a violin is fiddle, but a fiddle is not necessarily a violin. A fiddle is a stringed instrument played with a bow. So a violin is a fiddle, which is the instrument I use - but so is a viola, and a cello, and a whole menagerie of related instruments: the hardanger fiddle, the rebec, the kit or pochette.  The old adage that "Nero fiddled while Rome burned" may not be true, but if it is, he certainly did not play the violin, as the instrument wouldn't be invented for another fifteen hundred years.  Sadly, the word "fiddle" has a bunch a negative connotations: "don't fiddle with that!" or "I fiddled away the time." For me, however, one of the most satisfying ways to spend time, is by fiddling. 

Some ideas for classes and workshops

Would any of these be of interest to you?

Fiddle Techniques. Each week we will take a popular session tune that you probably already know (and if not, you need to know!) and explore bowing technique to bring out the rhythm, melodic variations, and the many ways to ornament the tune: especially cuts, rolls, grace notes, and double stops.

Fiddle I Refresher.  You're ready for the next level, but it's been a while! We'll review the basics, and learn a new tune.  

Introduction to Playing in Sessions.  Perhaps you've been wanting to go to sessions, but you only know a few tunes and don't know the rules. Not to worry!  We'll cover session etiquette, putting together sets, starting and ending tunes, signaling to other players, and what tunes to play.  Open to all instruments.  A session follows the class.

Ornamentation Workshop.  We'll cover how to play the common ornaments for the fiddle: rolls, cuts, slides, triplets, grace notes, etc., and where to put them in the tune. 

Music Theory for Traditional Players.  We'll cover keys, chords, scales, modes, arpeggios, tune structures and more! 

Reading sheet music for the fiddle.  Don't be afraid of the dots! Many players don't read notation, but those that do have access to many great tunes. We'll go over the basics, and you'll be reading tunes in no time.  (Now stop reading tunes!)

Or, if you have ideas, I'd love to hear them!