The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #27331   Message #755904
Posted By: Malcolm Douglas
28-Jul-02 - 11:10 AM
Thread Name: Help - violin or fiddle?
Subject: RE: Help - violin or fiddle?
Exactly as Jeri says; there isn't much to add to that, though I daresay I'll try anyway. Since this is a longish thread brought back from the dead, we're bound to get some repetition of the usual clichés; that business about beer, for a start. I can tell you right now that anyone spilling beer on my fiddle needn't think that I won't mind; I've known instruments spring their joints from that sort of treatment.

So far as learning is concerned (since John asked), I taught myself the basics from listening to, and watching, others. I already played other instruments a bit (self-taught) which helped; once I'd got through the cat-on-barbed-wire phase in private, I'd take the fiddle to sessions and just join in with it discreetly on a few tunes I knew; gradually, as you get better at it and more confortable, you can play more. You learn just as much, if not more, though, from not playing and just listening; and watching exactly what the experienced players are doing. That will help you with a lot of things, including bowing patterns. A lot of beginners seem to want to lead tunes before they're ready for it; I'd advise against that. Following will teach you more, and at less risk of embarrassment!

I wouldn't actually recommend self-teaching from scratch, though. You'll learn more quickly, and probably acquire fewer "bad" habits which you'll later have to un-learn, if you have guidance from an experienced player or teacher. Many "classical" style teachers, though, will want you to learn in a way that may not be appropriate for the music you want to play, so try to find a teacher who either specialises in traditional styles or who is sympathetic toward them. I'd be a technically better player if I had done that. The same goes for reading music; wish I'd learned when I was a lad; no chance at my school, though, which was heavily classically-oriented and just assumed that we all knew the basic principles (I didn't) so I laid off music until I could go my own way. Pity, really.

Now, I realise that many people live in places where decent teachers are thin on the ground and opportunities for playing with others are very limited. Play along with records if you have to; I've done it myself, and it helps; listen carefully and you can often tell where the bow changes direction, for instance. Sessions are the best bet, though, where you can really learn (though not everyone does, alas) about group dynamics and how to listen to what everybody else is doing. You may not find a session that plays the kind of music you're most interested in (most round my way are Irish-style, so my playing still sounds a bit like that) but it's all grist to the mill.

Not a thing to be undertaken lightly, as the early stages can be very discouraging. You really have to want it, and put in a great deal of practice; it's worth it, though. Don't even think about alternate tunings (which you may never need) until you're comfortable with the standard tuning; bear in mind, too, that many fiddles dislike being re-tuned all the time, and may sulk for days. Some can be damaged by too-high string tension. Oh, and get the best bow you can afford; it's as important as the fiddle. I played for years with cheap bows and have only just got a really well-balanced one. It makes life so much easier.