Just a brief post to tell you how a beautiful handmade fiddle could be yours!
One of FiddleHed’s students has generously offered to give away one of the fine fiddles he has built. FiddleHed is buying a bow to complete the outfit.
Click here if you’d like to enter the win. You can enter more times, simply by visiting different parts of the FiddleHed site. You can also get 5 additional entries each time you get someone you know to enter. There is no limit to the number of entries you can earn in this free giveaway!
Contest ends July 21, 2019 5:00 pm PDT – Prize awarded July 22, 2019 5:00 pm PDT
Why are fiddlers happy people? … Because they are fretless!
Ok – Not the funniest joke in the world. It would fly right over a non-player’s head, but I’m sure you get it.
It’s been a few days since I removed my Don’t Fret from my fiddle and become fretless. The first day I felt pretty confident and rather pleased with my intonation without the use of this visual aide. I wasn’t perfect, but when I missed a note, I was able to guide my finger a bit up or down and hit the right note. Luckily, I have a good ear for pitch.
I missed my practice on Tuesday, and when I picked up my fiddle for practice on Wednesday, things did not go so well in the beginning. All of a sudden I wondered if I had done the right thing removing the Don’t Fret. However, after I relaxed a bit, my fingering and intonation improved.
The song I am currently working on requires the use of my 4th finger, and this is rather new to me. Try as I might, I could not quite get it right. The pitch was way off. Even looking at the finger board I could not visualize where my pinky should go, or what it should look like in relation to my third finger. I decided that it might help to put just a piece of tape at the fourth finger position.
I began looking around the house, and while I found all kinds of tape, there were none I wanted to risk sticking onto my finger board. I figured painter’s tape might do the trick, but I had none. I decided to check the internet and see what types of tape can be used without leaving a gooey or hard-to-remove residue on the finger board. After reading a few articles, I found graphic chart tape mentioned a few times, so I looked it up.
I decided on a product that received 96% five star reviews for ease of placement and removal, but most importantly for not leaving any type of permanent mark on the finger board. I ordered these tapes and had them within 24 hours…fast!
3 Mini Color Violin Fingering Tape for Fretboard Note Positions
The next thing I did was look up the measurements for placing tapes. I found a very good article and accompanying video on StringClub called Learn How To Put Fingerboard Tapes On Your Violin. You can read the article, complete with illustrations, by clicking the link above. Here’s the video.
How to Put Fingerboard Tapes on Your Violin - YouTube
I followed Todd’s instructions meticulously. I even made a template on a piece of card stock that I could hold against my finger board eliminating any chance of scratching it with a ruler. I placed the template on my finger board up against the nut, made a mark with a pencil at 4 and 1/8 inches, and placed a piece of tape over the mark. Easy peasy!
Armed with my 4th finger helper, I began playing. When I got to that 4th finger on the E string, and what should have been a B, a strange, unrecognizable note emitted from my fiddle. I tried again, same awful note. I double checked my template measurements. They looked correct. I wondered what was wrong when it dawned on me that I had placed the template on my finger board backwards! So, I I held the template against the nut, this time in the correct position, and relocated the tape. Quite a difference! With the help of that tape I was able to hit the B with my pinky.
I guess I will leave that tape on until I can hit that fourth position on a regular basis. I am happy now, but I am still not fretless, except for that one tape.
So many things going on this past week that I decided to bunch them all here under one post rather than making a bunch of smaller posts.
Probably the most significant development is I have removed my Don’t Fret from my fiddle!
I had been thinking about removing it for the past week or so. It was getting clearer to me that while I felt it was beneficial when I first picked up my fiddle, it was actually beginning to hold me back from progressing. In the beginning, when I didn’t have a clue where to find a note, the Don’t Fret was a visual aide. However, over time, I found myself not looking at it as much, until I hit a wrong note. Then, rather than letting my ear guide my finger to the correct note, I used my eye to direct my finger. It is when I realized this that I decided it was time to pull off the Don’t Fret.
After I removed it, I played a couple of tunes. When I was a bit off on a note, it was my ear that led my fingers to make the adjustment, not my eyes as was the case when I had the Don’t Fret attached. I was actually surprised at how fast my ear guided my finger and found the correct note. I guess it’s harder to understand this concept (advice I heard from so many on Adult Starters – Violin/Fiddle) until it’s actually happening. I do think the Don’t Fret was helpful in the beginning, but I know removing it now is going to be even more helpful.
One member of Adult Starters, Ed Pearlman, offered a link to his blog and a post he wrote entitled Why Finger Spacing is > Intonation. I found this article very insightful, and I recommend it to anyone using any of the fingering/fret aides out there. As a side note, Ed’s website, fiddle-online.com looks like it has a lot of interesting and helpful nuggets. I will be exploring it more. I also like his motto, “I played it better at home”. This is something I’m sure all fiddle teachers hear all to often. Ed even sells a t-shirt with his motto; I just wish he sold it in 3x!
Yesterday, I had my third lesson with my teacher. The song we started with was Juliann Johnson, and I swear I DID play it better at home! We also started working on a new tune, Rock the Cradle Joe. Rock the Cradle Joe is an old-time tune, which has had many variations and lyrics over the years, and perhaps is descended from “Rock the Cradle, John” which was licensed by Laurence Price in 1631 in England. Most modern “old-time revival” versions of the tune come from the fiddle playing of John Watts “Babe” Spangler (1882-) of Meadows of Dan, southwestern Virginia, who recorded it privately in the late 1940’s, accompanied by his brother Dudley on guitar.
Here is a more updated version of the tune played by the Druckenmiller Band at the Maidencreek Old Time Music Festival in 2013. In this version, Betty Druckenmiller, on the fiddle, is my fiddle teacher. I have also uploaded the Tab version to the Fiddle Tune Tabs section here at FFOF which you can download.
Rock the Cradle Joe - Maidencreek OTM Fest 2013 - YouTube
Betty and Tom Druckenmiller, along with Norm Williams and Stacy Bechtel treat the audience to a wonderful ‘old-time’ tune during their closing concert at the Maidencreek Old Time Music Festival, 7/14/13, Blandon, PA.
Nest Saturday, Betty and Tom Druckenmiller will hold their 11th Annual Maidencreek Old Time Music Festival at Maiers Grove in Blandon PA. The Maidencreek Old-time Music Festival is a unique event to teach old-time music to musicians who play (or would like to begin) fiddle, banjo, guitar, mandolin, dulcimer and other instruments traditional to the music. Unlike other local or regional events, the festival emphasizes hands-on learning in the person-to-person way in which these tunes and songs were originally shared. The Maidencreek Old time Music festival is a full day, packed with nearly two dozen workshops, half a dozen concerts, and four master clinics.
I would love to attend, but unfortunately I am already committed to a Craft Show in New Jersey that weekend for our home business. Oh well, there is always next year.
But, on a better note, I will be attending the Quiet Valley Living Historical Farm Music in the Valley Day on Saturday, July 20th. Quiet Valley Farm is a living history museum preserving 19th century Pennsylvania German agricultural heritage. Period dressed interpreters portray descendants of Johann Depper, re-enacting daily life on the farm.
Music in the Valley features various groups performing traditional music at different locations on the farm. This is a wonderful opportunity to speak to the musicians and learn about folk instruments and traditional music. There will be informal presentations and just plain playing of music across the farm, including the open barn, the farmhouse back porch, a small stage near the gift shop, and possibly under the grape arbor near the bake oven. The day ends with an informal jam session. It’s great fun for visitors and musicians, too!
Of particular interest to me will be my teacher and her husband, Betty and Tom Druckenmiller, who will be dressed in period costume and playing old time tunes and rare song gems from the past. I hope to get some pictures I can post and maybe even finally learn how to operate my Q2n video recorder; maybe I can post a video, too!
Norm Williams, Betty Druckenmiller, Tom Druckenmiller
So, that’s about it for today. Hope you enjoyed, and as always, I appreciate any comments.
A few months back, FiddleHed created a Practice Toolkit section for his students which I have bookmarked and find very helpful. It was only today that I realized FiddleHed has made this section available to anyone, not just his paid subscribers. Since I refer to this practice area quite often, I decided to create this post to share Jason’s Practice Toolkit with you too if you didn’t know it existed.
The Practice Toolkit consists of:
DRONES – A drone is a sustained reference pitch that helps you stay in tune and acts as a backup while you play. If you practice with a drone, you will more easily notice when you drift out of tune. Using this direct feedback, you will get much better at playing in tune.
COMMON SCALES – The better you know your scales, the more quickly you can pick up tunes. Each of the scales here run through a series of variations.
METRONOME TRACKS – Metronome tracks of 60, 70, 80 and 90 BPM and a progressive track that starts at 60 BPM and increases in 10 BPM increments up to 100 BPM.
COMMON RHYTHMS AND BOWING – Shuffles and Slur variations and patterns
PRACTICE ROUTINES – Structuring practice sessions
NOTE FINDER – Finger position and corresponding musical note for each string.
ESSENTIAL TEACHINGS OF FIDDLEHED – Jason’s philosophy and method of teaching.
TECHNICAL REMINDERS – Posture, bowing tips, left hand fingering tips, and more.
MASTER PRACTICE LIST – For this section, you do need a FiddleHed account. Jason does have a Trial Membership.
I do hope you find FiddleHed’s Practice Toolkit as helpful as I have. I would be interested in hearing your feedback.
In Straight Talk, I wrote about how I have been working on straight bowing. Recently, as an additional aide, I bought a Bow Right teaching tool.
The Bow Right is advertised as the perfect tool for developing a sound bow technique. It’s stainless steel guides are positioned above the strings between the bridge and fingerboard, and it is attached to the sides of the violin with plastic fittings held securely underneath with a rubber elastic ring. Once in place it will not damage your violin, however caution must be used when attaching and removing the Bow Right so you don’t scratch the finish of the violin.
Once set up, you place your bow between the metal bars and allow the device to guide your bow at the correct angle. Immediately, I felt the difference. Like most beginners, I tend to use too much shoulder and not enough wrist when bowing. This results in crooked bowing. The Bow Right forces me to use less shoulder and more wrist by encouraging correct wrist action.
Previously, I had been using my practice mirror, sitting at a 90 degree angle to check my bowing pattern for straightness, but I found this difficult as I had to keep turning my head, which in itself threw off my posture and my bowing. With the Bow Right, there is no need to contort myself, nor is there any guess work. I am free to concentrate on the feel of bowing straight as I train my muscles to move in the proper way.
I guess you could use the bow right for hours on end, but my preferred method is to attach it at the beginning of my practice. I then bow at least twenty long bow strokes on each open string followed by scale work with rhythms and variations. I know when it is time to remove the Bow Right when I can consistently bow without my bow touching the two rails of the Bow Right. I continue my practice session without it, and if I find myself drifting back into crooked bowing, I reattach the Bow Right for a while. This way I am not becoming dependent on the Bow Right, but using it as a tool to slowly and methodically increase my bowing muscle memory.
I had been looking at the Bow Right for some time, but was hesitant to buy it, not because I questioned it’s value in learning how to bow straight, but because I felt somewhat embarrassed as it is marketed to beginning children. I decided to write a post about it at Adult Starters – Violin/Fiddle and was pleasantly surprised at the amount of responses I received encouraging me to use it, and even more surprised at how many adult starters have used it!
Now, that I have gotten over my embarrassment, I am so happy I purchased this learning tool. It definitely is helping me to learn how to bow straight. If you are a beginner, and struggling with bowing straight, I encourage you to look into the Bow Right.
As always, if you enjoy this website and decide to purchase the Bow Right, please consider using my link to Amazon. Whatever small commission I make goes directly back into maintaining this website. Thank you.
I received an email from Jason (a.k.a. FiddleHed) about developing confidence which I thought was so good, I decided to share it here. I have read this article before, and it’s valuable links, but as I read it again, it became apparent that I probably should re-read this periodically, especially when I get in a rut or am feeling discouraged.
Jason Kleinberg – a.k.a. FiddleHed
It’s important to develop a sense of
confidence in what you can do on your instrument. If you’re always doubting
what you are doing, this very doubt becomes an obstacle to playing well.
But how do you do that? Maybe if you
just say “I am good at the fiddle” a hundred times a day you will become
confident. But at some point, you just might not believe it’s really true. What
will really make you feel confident is when you successfully take on a very
small challenge and have a small victory. If you do this over and over again,
day after day, you will gain confidence in your ability.
How to develop confidence with small victories:
Start with something small. Simplify further if that’s too challenging.
Practice until you feel confident that you can do that simple thing.
Congratulations! You have just “made it” as a musician. But don’t get too comfortable. Start the process over with a new small challenge.
If you want to get good at shooting
a basketball, you start by getting really good at lay-ups under the basket.
Once you feel confident there, you move to a point further away and practice
shooting from there. If you want to learn to meditate, start by doing it for
one minute a day. If you want to eat healthier, start by eating two cookies
instead of three after dinner. And with the fiddle, you want to start by
getting a good basic sound on an open string, and then progress to more
You are creating a good habit of confidence when you Work At Your Edge. In essence, you are learning to overcome a small bit of fear and uncertainty every time you play. If you do this regularly, then you will be better able to face the uncertainty and fear that might arise.
You not only have to build up
confidence in your overall career as a fiddler, but you also have to build your
confidence each time you start a practice.
Here a step-by-step process for warming up which will help you gain (or re-gain) confidence in your fiddling:
Start with getting a good sound on open strings
Play with drone
Attention on breath
Then get a good sound on single fingered notes
Play with drone
Move on to Intervals (two-note exercises)
Start with two bows on each note
For example, D3-A1 can be practiced in a sequence D3-A1-A3-E1
Add variation to the sequence
Start with your best tune
Go to current tune or technique you are learning
This is a suggested course you follow as beginner. To learn more about how to practice this way read Micro and Macro Practice.
Even if you’re more advanced, it’s
good to approach each practice session as a beginner. Every time you play, it’s
like you’re re-living your journey as a fiddler. You may not exhaustively need
to run through all these steps. Design some form of warming up that works for
Most beginners are in a hurry. They
heard a recording by Mark O’Connor and want to sound like that. They take on
challenges that are too big and than can’t understand why they don’t sound
good. They play too fast because they are too focused on the goal instead of
the process. The goal is just there to keep you moving.
It took me a long time to learn all this because I had to figure it out on my own (and because I’m a slow learner). I only recently discovered that there is a whole science of learning called deliberate practice. (Also, my post: Deliberate Practice) This is how I have been teaching for years (just didn’t have a name for it). If you start now with deliberate practice, you can make much faster progress than I did. Not that progress is the end-all-be-all of making music. It’s the music itself that I love, the connection to people and the universe and the process of learning. I’m not complaining, but just pointing out that I was never taught how to practice. This is the most valuable thing you can learn from FiddleHed.
It’s been eight days since my last post! The reason for this hiatus is twofold. After a ten day bout with an upper respiratory infection which seemed to zap so much of my strength and energy, today is the first day I am feeling somewhat better. I have had more days without practice during this period than all the days off since I started learning back in February. However, the days I have practiced during this period have been devoted to something very important, straight bowing. Yes, very important, but inspiring little to post about here this past week.
Straight bowing continues to elude me unless I play very slowly, and as much as I do this, the moment I increase tempo, my bow begins to slide up and down, in an out, emitting less than desirous and sometimes down right awful sounds. While I know this is very common among beginners, and even haunts many well into the first few years of learning, it is the largest source of discontent and lack of confidence I seem to experience thus far. I can deal with physical fatigue, overcoming the death grip, less than perfect intonation, and so much more, but those other-worldly sounds that are the result of not bowing straight are driving me nuts! While I would never do it, I get visions of taking this frustration out on my violin.
I have touched upon and written about this topic before here, and in the past week I have read more articles and watched more videos on this subject. I have examined the physicality of straight versus crooked bowing, how the human anatomy is not designed for straight bowing and the necessary adjustments we need to make to overcome this. I have read and watched scores of exercises, techniques, tricks and gimmicks folks have used to overcome this dilemma, from the scientific to the practical to the bizarre. Really? Using an inverted egg carton to learn straight bowing?
My bowing looks straight when I look down at my fiddle or into my practice mirror, so why do I hear those sounds and why does my bow ride down over my fingerboard or more often drift up towards, and sometimes over, my bridge? I know it has to have something to do with my mechanics, but it looks correct. Could my eyes be deceiving me? This is the exact thought that popped into my head a few days ago. My bowing looks straight to me, but the sound and traveling bow tell me differently.
I decided to change my position in my practice mirror from looking straight into it to sitting at a 90 degree angle with my bow arm shoulder facing the mirror. I began to play open strings, and to my surprise, what was revealed to me in this new position which looked like straight bowing when looking down at my fiddle actually was quite crooked when I glanced to my right into the mirror. My bow was crossing the string on an angle with the tip pointing towards my left shoulder, not quite as severe, but in a plane closest to the red line number 3 in the picture below.
Immediately, this showed me why I keep pulling my bow up towards the bridge when playing. Now, granted, trying to observe all this in the mirror is a bit difficult, but there was no mistake about it what I was doing. It never occurred to me before that the angle of my bow when looking down at my fiddle or directly in front of the mirror was almost an “optical illusion” and was not straight bowing at all! But, how do I begin to correct this?
One thing I have been working on the past few days at the beginning of each practice is to slowly bow twenty long strokes on each open string carefully checking in the mirror that my bowing is straight and adjusting it when I begin to go off track. During this exercise, I pay attention to the movement and feeling in my hand, wrist, forearm, elbow and shoulder. This slight change in movement and feeling is different from what I was feeling before, and I am trying to replicate this new movement and feeling with each stroke during this open string exercise.
After the exercise, I turn away from the mirror and begin playing the open strings concentrating on my form. If I feel my bow traveling, I either stop for a moment or return to the mirror. Eventually, I do this same routine with a tune I already know and don’t have to think about too much on the left fingering side of the equation, stopping or returning to the mirror when I feel the bow sliding or hearing the thin sounds returning. It’s not the most entertaining exercise, nor does it make for a very fun practice session, but it is needed to help me improve my straight bowing. And, when I can get through more of a tune before going crooked, I feel more confident.
So, that’s what has been going on the past week plus. As always, I would be most happy to hear your input, especially if you struggle with straight bowing and how you work at it.
I haven’t picked up my fiddle in 4 days! Today, I will finally have some time for practice. Last weekend was very good. I even recorded a new tune on Monday, Angeline the Baker. Then, everything began to fall apart. I was out of state for two days for a wake and funeral, came home to eight wholesale orders for our home business, and developed a summer chest cold that just seems to be zapping all my energy.
I felt like I was on a good roll coming off the weekend and this would be a good week with my fiddle, but it just wasn’t in the cards. So, today, I will get back on track! My current tune is Julianne Johnson.
I can say one thing. I don’t have any of that “guilt” that I haven’t played in four days or the “fear” that somehow this is the beginning of the end like I did when I first started and missed a day. Granted, this is the longest stretch in five months, but sometimes life gets in the way, I guess. The only thing I can do is pick up where I left off and move forward.
Not much else to report, so I will stop writing, tune up and have a practice session. Just wanted to check in since I usually don’t go this long between posts either.
Angelina Baker (often referred to as Angeline the Baker) was written by Stephen Foster and published in 1850. He wrote it for the Christy Minstrels, a black face group formed in 1843. As Wayne Cantwell writes on his website, it was not one of Foster’s more popular songs. In fact, in 7 years it earned him a whopping $16.87, which would be equivalent to about $543 today!
Stephen Foster 1826-1854
The song’s original lyrics tell of a slave who was in love with a beautiful young slave named Angelina Baker. He was the best worker until he met Angelina and fell in love, but now his heart is broken and he laments because Angelina is gone; she has been sold, and he is left with only tears and destined to play the jawbone (an improvised slave percussion instrument) to pass the time..
The title of the song probably evolved into Angeline the Baker as the lyrics were changed away from the original and versions can be found mentioning:
She won’t do the baking because she is too stout, She makes cookies by the peck, throws the coffee out.
and in another version of the lyrics, a line says:
Her father was a baker, they called him Uncle Sam.
Tim Talbot writes, When one hears minstrel songs, slave empathy does not usually come to mind. But through several of his songs (Old Folks at Home, My Old Kentucky Home, and Angelina Baker) Foster showed that, regardless of popular white nineteenth century beliefs, plantation slaves had feelings too.
This was the first tune I learned from my teacher. It is a very simple tune utilizing only 6 notes – 3 on the A string and 3 on the E string. I haven’t recorded in a while, so I thought I would record this. Here is my simple playing of Angelina Baker.
And, here I am playing it closer to tempo.
And, here it is played by the Turtle Creek String Band.
Turkey Creek String Band - "Angeline the Baker" - YouTube
If you would like to download the Tab version, I have it posted here.
With the car problems I experienced last month and a previously scheduled craft show on another Saturday, yesterday was my second lesson with my teacher after the first one six weeks ago. A long time…
I made the sixty-plus mile trip down to Blandon, PA on a gorgeous, but a bit warm and humid, morning listening to a few of my favorite fiddle tune CDs. The last three miles of the trip were the worst as the traffic slowed to a crawl as the 27th Annual World War II Weekend was being held at the Reading Regional Airport just down the road from Meadowood Music where I have my lessons. As I sweated out this delay, both figuratively (hate being late) and literally (my air conditioner died the day before), I arrived in the nick of time and hurried into the old 18th century building known as Meadowood Music.
After catching my teacher up on what I have been working on the past few weeks, along with what was going well and what was not going so well, she suggested we play Angeline the Baker together, the song she left me with at the end of my first lesson. I was pleasantly surprised and pleased when she told me I had done a good job on the tune, especially with the notes on the E string and that my intonation throughout the song was good, too. I did remind her I had six weeks of practice! LOL
Turkey Creek String Band - "Angeline the Baker" - YouTube
She talked about how many Old Time songs are divided into two parts, an A part and a B part, and that most times the A part is played twice before moving to the B part which is also played twice. While there are exceptions, this pattern is quite common and is conducive to dancing, which is so common with Old Time fiddle music. She went on to say that it is not uncommon to keep playing this pattern for perhaps up to fifteen minutes at a dancing event.
She suggested we play the tune together in this “repeat” pattern from Part A to Part B a number of times, both to get the feel for what it is like to play a tune continuously, and because it would be good practice. She warned me before hand that I shouldn’t be surprised if I had difficulty when starting to repeat a part, and she was right! The first time through Part A I was fine, but when I had to repeat Part A I started to have some difficulty, and the same was true when I had to repeat Part B. Betty explained that it would take a short time to re-train my brain since it was used to going straight from Part A to Part B without any repeating, and she was right again. After a few more tries, I was making the transition to repeating parts more smoothly.
Next, she began teaching me a new tune, Julianne Johnson. This tune is attributed to Emmett Lundy of Grayson County, VA. Emmett started fiddling in his late teens, and his primary influence was “Old man Green Leonard.” Greenberry Leonard (1810-1892) lived in Old Town, just a few miles north of the Lundy home place. Although he was never recorded, Emmett and others declared Leonard as the best fiddler in the region. The older musician didn’t like to share his tunes but Lundy “caught” them anyway by hanging around Greenberry Leonard as much as he could. Emmett was recorded playing Julianna Johnson in August 1941 when Elizabeth Lomax interviewed and recorded Lundy for the Archive of Folk Song, Library of Congress. You can hear the original recording at Slippery Hill, a fantastic site for rare fiddle tunes and information.
Emmett Lundy 1864-1953
I immediately liked this tune. I did reach overload trying to learn more than the first few phrases, but by then my lesson was quickly coming to an end. Betty played the entire tune through while I recorded it on my phone. After the trip back home, I worked at writing the song in tab format which you can see and download in my Fiddle Tune Tabs section. And, also on that page is great rendition of this tune played by Larry Hadsall which I am posting here in case you don’t make it over to that page.
Larry Hadsall plays Julie Ann Johnson - YouTube
With a craft show scheduled for our home business on June 22nd, my next lesson won’t be for four weeks on July 6th. I’m already looking forward to it! I better get started on learning Julianne Johnson.