18

August

Best Beginner Fiddle

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By: Patrick Clark After playing for over 25 years, and teaching for almost 15 of those years, I've had the opportunity to try nearly every "brand name" student fiddle on the market.  I've found some amazing, inexpensive fiddles in my day.  But finding the best, most consistent brand, can be very hard.  When talking about "student" instruments, there are several factors that you have to consider. 1. Size (Is the student a child or an adult) 2. Price (There is a breaking point between student and advanced) 3. Manufacturer So, let's talk about the size first.  There are a lot of choices out there for fractional size student instruments.  Most, these days, are made in China.  But, let's be honest, how much sound can you really get out of an 1/8 size violin? Or, even a 1/4 size?  The answer is, not really that much.  Quality and consistency is very important but peeling paint off the wall like a 17 million dollar Guarneri?   Well just look at the price tag, it's probably an unrealistic expectation for a fractional size. The bottom line is, the instrument has to have a good, rich (enough) sound, and be set up properly.  It must be forgiving when you play it.  Set up is EVERYTHING folks!  The initial muscle memory put into the hands is FOREVER.  Therefore, when choosing an instrument to learn on for the first time, you may become very overwhelmed with the options.  And, chances are, you have no idea what you are doing or looking for.  A great recipe for OVERLOAD!!!! I spent about a year and a half working for Eastman Music Company, in California.  While there, my job was to travel all over the country selling Eastman's violins to violin shops.  I played HUNDREDS of student, step up, and professional instruments.  The constant that seems to be an issue with many student instruments is nut heights, bridge heights, and neck placements.  All of which, if you're not hip to these issues, may be overlooked.  I'll come back to Eastman in a minute. Price. Price! PRICE!!! If you're looking to buy, you're going to have to spend AT LEAST $500 or more for a DECENT STUDENT FIDDLE.  REGARDLESS of size.  There was an article that was shunned for calling some sub par instruments Violin Shaped Objects.  VSOs for short.  The author was RIGHT.  You might get lucky and get something for cheaper, but the old adage, "you get what you pay for," applies here. Now back to Eastman.  There are many instrument manufacturers all over the world.  I could tell you a few that I don't believe in, but let's not waste your time with negatives.  Eastman Music Company is the distributor AND manufacturer of their instruments.  This means that they have complete quality control over their product.  I've been a clinician for Eastman for almost 6 years.  A year and a half of those 6 years, I was an employee.  I left the company to pursue my passion for teaching and I currently continue to be a national clinician for the company today. My passion for education and demand of quality from my students, and business associates leads me to recommend Eastman violins/fiddles for the FIRST student instrument.  Every beginner I take, I put on an Eastman.  It has nothing to do with business loyalty or internal politics.  It has everything to do with quality.  So, in a culture where we feel the need to trust big names, Eastman, is one that you can trust.  The company has a customer satisfaction promise that is very fair.  I stand by them both as a clinician, and as a consumer. Best Beginner Instrument = Eastman Fiddle For more information about purchasing an instrument, or to consider renting, check out my book, "Fiddling, The Basics and Beyond."  

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18

August

Violin or Fiddle, That is The Question

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By: Patrick Clark The single most asked question I get from non-musicians is this; "What's the difference between a violin and a fiddle?" The first few times I heard it, as a very young boy, I thought, "really?  Are you REALLY, asking me that?" But then it started happening all the time.  That's when I realized, many people really DON'T know.  So, here's what many "fiddle" players, who are untrained, say. Although it technically is EXACTLY the same instrument, which it is, fiddle players flatten their bridge so that string crossings are easier. To this, I say, "hmmmmm".  For those of you who may be insulted by this, please, don't take offense.  You may not understand how tension works in relationship to the string heights.  So, allow me to elaborate a bit. Let's start with some questions. Q:  Which string, of the four strings on your fiddle, do you think has the highest tension? A:  Your highest (sounding) string, the E string. Q:  Which string, of the four strings on your fiddle, do you think should be closest to the fingerboard? A:  Your highest (sounding) string, the E string. Now, let's explain the relationship.  The higher pitch, the thinner the string, the higher the tension, the closer to the fingerboard it has to be.  Within reason of course.  Imagine for a minute, a trampoline. If your trampoline is not tight enough, when you bounce, you bottom out and your feet hit the ground.  If you're trampoline is too tight, you might as well be jumping on concrete.  The same principle applies for strings and their heights in relationship to their pitch. As you go from your highest to lowest string, you will encounter increasingly thicker strings, with decreasing tension, respectively.  Additionally, the wave length of the vibrating string is increasingly larger, string by string.  So, more room needs to be allowed for the larger diameter, lower tension, and larger wave length.  So, on my fiddle and any professional violinists instrument, you will see a gradual increase in bridge height as the strings get lower in pitch. This gradual compensation is also critical to the consistency in the feel of the instrument across the board.  The biggest issue with flattening the bridge is that the two middle strings, the A and D, sit much lower than they should.  The result is not only a difference in the feel and overall response of the instrument, but the wear on the fingerboard itself can result in frequent, costly trips to the luthier to have the fingerboard planed.  There are other issues that accompany such alterations but they are slower to present themselves.  Ultimately, you can see that I personally feel that it's a bad idea. So, the big answer to the big question is this; The difference between the violin and the fiddle is nothing when it comes to the instrument itself.  They are one in the same.  The word "Fiddle," implies that the style of music being played on the "violin," has its roots in some sort of ethnic or folk music.  It could be Swedish, Irish, Scottish, Country, Jazz, Bluegrass, Appalachian, or any other stye that is not rooted in what is generally referred to as "classical," music, or it's categorical derivatives. More information about fiddling can be found in my book, "Fiddling, The Basics and Beyond."

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18

August

The Finger Tape Debate

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By: Patrick Clark As I walk into a classroom, private lesson, or master class, I'm analyzing, thinking, and planning.  Each clinic I do, each lesson I teach, and each student I encounter, all present their own challenges.   One of the things I notice is the variety of teachers, especially in the classroom, that use/don't use finger tapes on their beginning students.  There seems to be a large debate regarding finger tapes amongst the teaching community, so I thought I would chime in a bit. First, let's talk about the private teaching sector, then move onto the group/classroom teaching sector.  There are three general situations that I deal with when teaching privately.  They are as follows; 1. Beginner Student (Never Played Before) 2. Transfer Student (Has taken lessons, but decided to try me, or has been referred to me.) 3.  Self-Taught/Group Taught Only With complete beginners, both fiddle and classical, I've been starting with finger tapes for the first three fingers.  My students do very well with this.  Their pitch, because I hound them, usually is very solid.  I then begin to take away the finger tapes, one at a time, starting with the third finger tape.  My philosophy with this take away process is that they establish the FEELING of the distance between their second and third finger. I recently attended a workshop put on by Barbara Barber, and her suggestion was to never put on a second finger tape.  She suggested only first and third.  Again, the feeling aspect is still there but in a way, she's saving a step in the process.  A short cut, if you will.  My only caveat is that the smallest, 3-4 year olds, may not have an ear that is developed enough to grapple with the idea.  Another concern with this age group is that there is so much to pay attention to in the beginning, that the lack of at least some finger tapes could result in a frustrated, overwhelmed, and ultimately discouraged student.  I believe there is some security, at least in the beginning, of knowing where the fingers should go.  Over time, we develop the ear and wean the student off the tape.  Thus, solidifying muscle memory.  I will be experimenting with this in the future and I will let you all know what I come up with. For the last two items on my list above, the decision to add or take away finger tapes is completely subjective to the age, level, and maturity of the individual student.  So, let's touch on the transfer students.  Many, definitely not all, but many, students that I see in the transfer stage have left hands that are so out of place, they struggle to play well.  I spend a large amount of time fixing this.  In this instance, there is so much work going on to change muscle memory, I put all three, or even sometimes four, finger tapes on.  I do this because the correction of the muscle memory can be so difficult at first, making them hunt for the note without finger tapes, might send them over the edge, and I would lose them.  The last thing any music teacher wants is for a student to quit. Finally, in regards to the classroom.  I really believe that by the time a student is in an orchestra situation, they are old enough to do SOME self analysis.  Therefore, the use of a first and third finger tape ONLY, could be suggested.  This is only my opinion.  I have seen classroom teachers for beginner level, middle school orchestras use no finger tapes.  I would be very nervous about doing that.  I'm not saying it's wrong, I just don't think I would be comfortable doing that.  I would love to know what some of the teachers out there think about this. Additionally, in regards to Learn Fiddle Online, put on all four!  Unless you are taking private lessons, there's no way I can reach out and touch you and remind you of everything while you play along with the video. Eventually, you can begin to slowly take one tape away at a time, as you get comfortable with the instrument.  I will say that you shouldn't leave the tape on terribly long because you may stop listening as closely as you should. For instructions for installing finger tapes, take a look at my book, "Fiddling, The Basics and Beyond." I would love to hear what your experiences have been with this at any level, or in any situation.  So, please, let me know what you think posting on our Facebook page.  Facebook.com/LearnFiddleOnline  

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