Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Felicity Fiddle

Today I met Charlene at the local music store. She liked the first violin we looked at, a brand-new Strobel I've now named Felicity Fiddle. While she and the luthier were chatting, I picked up Felicity and the bow to see if I could get a noise.

I did. It wasn't too awful, even. Charlene noted approvingly that I was very careful; Tim, the luthier, noted approvingly that I was playing with the edge of the hairs, which is evidently the correct technique.

My first lesson was also today, at Charlene's apartment. She showed me how to hold the fiddle and the bow, and gave me a CD of fiddle tunes played at various speeds. My homework this week is: a) to listen to the CD every available moment, b) to practice clamping the fiddle between my chin and left shoulder with no support from my left hand (Charlene deftly rigged up a sponge shoulder rest for me, holding it in place with a rubber band -- "rubber bands are a violinist's best friends!" -- and also gave me a flannel cleaning cloth to help cushion the chin rest), and c) to practice holding the bow the proper way, resting on the thumb and pivoting up and down with pressure applied from the index finger and pinkie. My bow is equipped with another rubber band to help me find the best place for my thumb, and with a Dr. Scholl's style corn cushion to remind me where exactly to put the tip of my pinkie.

Evidently I have a very strong pinkie, probably from typing. This is a good thing.

So I've been listening and practicing between grading. The hardest part is holding the fiddle; Charlene indicated that I should aim to hold it for ten minutes, but the best I've managed so far -- I know because I downloaded a stopwatch application for my Blackberry -- is three minutes and thirty seconds, and that was distinctly painful. The angle feels unnatural, and the chin rest is really hard even with cushioning: my jaw and teeth start aching after a few minutes. I'll probably invest in a gel chinrest, which should help a bit. I've already ordered a digital tuner, due to arrive tomorrow.

I'm told that if I practice diligently this week, I may get to touch bow to strings next. (I have to admit that I've been cheating a little.)

After I first dropped Felicity back home, I dashed off to a meeting. When I came back, Gary said he'd gotten a big sound out of the fiddle. He was quite thrilled.

My other problem is that, as someone with virtually no musical training (and what little I had was decades ago), I felt like Charlene was speaking a foreign language. Interval? Fifth? Huh? Over dinner tonight, Gary -- who took seven or eight years of piano and has also had music-theory courses -- patiently explained the basics to me. I didn't even know what an octave was! He recommended that I either take a beginning music-theory course or invest in some variety of "Music Theory for Dummies" book. (I've now ordered that very item from Amazon.)

So this is going to be a lot of work. But I knew that!


  1. I am so excited for you- I've been watching this little saga with interest.

    My daughter began violin lessons 3 years ago, and sawed along until attending a fiddle camp, where she was introduced to a new genre and to the concept of playing by ear. She took off- fiddling has become a passion that she will have for the rest of her life- she is now 16, and plays for hours at a time.

    Hearing you express your fascination, I can only hope that you find a lot of joy in this endeavour.

  2. There are a couple of good on-line music theory tutorials that start from the very beginning. When you first posted about the fiddle stuff, I wrote a long comment that my internet ate. Anyway, good for you! Enjoy it, and don't get discouraged when you understand what's going on and your inner vision of what you would like to sound like doesn't match the sounds you actually make!

  3. Anonymous4:05 PM

    The Good Book says to 'Make a joyful noise unto the Lord."

    Rock out!


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