Posted on January 15, 2020
The date might not be exact, but I’ve noted that a year ago today, I was starting consistent practice on my old cheap fiddle.
It didn’t take me long before I realized that the quality wasn’t going to be what I needed to learn on, but I remember purchasing a cheap one simply because I didn’t know if it was something I was going to stick with. I did have some lull time during the summer of last year – so this hasn’t been a full consistent one year. And I have off weeks.
BUT! I’m still practicing, and I never fully put it down. I think that means I’ll hopefully stick it out.
A Year in Review
I wanted to take a look back at all the progress I have made, even if I still struggle with tone and technical issues while playing.
I started out working through the EEI book, which I still feel was a fantastic beginner’s book. I really do want to revisit that book this year, and brush up on my notation reading. I think I’m to a point where if I picked it up, I could actually finish and play all the tunes in that book. It would be a nice thing to add to my Tune List.
In the beginning, I had a couple major issues that felt almost impossible to overcome.
First was the bow hold – I still don’t think my hold is 100% but at least I feel like I can hold the bow without strain. For a while, I was using the Bow Buddy to help out with that. Almost at the first month mark, I had a breakthrough on the bow hold, and it hasn’t been as difficult ever since.
The second issue I had was just not having the stamina to hold up the fiddle and play for a long stretch of time. When I first started, a tune or two was all I could manage before I had to give my arms a break. I’ve come a long way with that — though I still get some tension and pain if I push too long. I’m not quite ready for hour long practice, but I have been able to practice 30 minute blocks with short breaks and arm stretches.
The last issue I had was the lack of flexibility and reach in my left hand. I have small hands and short fingers, so reaching the D string is often difficult for me. It still is, but I feel like moving to a 7/8 size fiddle and just working at it over time has made a huge improvement.
Those seem like little things, but they were foundational aspects to overcome to continue practicing. When I look back on my first year, I’ll note those as a baseline of things I couldn’t do well, and could have been a turn-off from the whole thing, but I am quite improving on now.
In February, I got my Bunnel. It’s a fine little fiddle, and exactly what I needed to continue practicing where the cheap fiddle was failing. Things got a lot better at that point, and my practice was really consistent through spring and early summer.
I’m not sure what happened in late summer, but suddenly I just fell off the wagon completely. I failed to practice day after day, and was almost afraid that was it. I even went as far as to move all the content in this blog into a merge with my other blog, and claim this blog was done.
I’m also not sure what brought me back from that. Maybe it was because I’d invested in an AFM course that I’d hardly touched, but really wanted to. Whatever the reason, I came back to fiddling in August and I started doing things differently.
I began following the AFM track (which I still play), and learning how to memorize fiddle tunes. I mostly put away the EEI book, which means my notation reading has suffered, and I do want to address this.
I also started keeping an online Practice Log. This was a wonderful step in the right direction. It gives a purpose to this blog and keeps me accountable in a public sense. It’s also much easier for me to type out practice session thoughts and highlights than it is to hand-write them, and it saves on paper!
The Practice Log helped to keep me going through the months that followed, though I still have some practice consistency issues.
In September, I began building my Tune List. This has also been a valuable tool to help me see and review songs that I’ve learned. No matter how well I think I’ve learned a tune, if I don’t come back and revisit it, it’s very easy to forget them! I still want to improve on my Tune List page by adding sound bytes to it rather than printed notation.
In October, I invested in my Fiddlerman Master 7/8 fiddle. I’m still in love with this instrument, and am very pleased with the choice I made to purchase it. It’s far more violin than I am player, so I know it’ll probably last me a lifetime.
I can happily say that I haven’t had the urge to shop around and browse violins with the intent of purchase ever since. This is a good thing, because I think I’ve put just about as much money into this as I want to right now!
In November, I felt as if my practice was missing something, especially in the technical sense. I wasn’t really practicing scales or arpeggios, and didn’t have a direction when it came to practicing these kinds of exercises. So I joined Julia’s Violin Academy, and have been weaving in the technical lessons into my practice ever since.
For Christmas, I received a book of easy Celtic fiddle tunes. Since folk fiddle is the direction I really want to go, I know I’ll be putting this book to use this year. I wanted to note this here because I feel like this year’s tunes will be pulling from this book (once I finish polishing up the song I’m on now).
In January, I came around to the idea of creating a weekly practice plan. I call this my Fiddle Focus for the week. I write it up as a blog post at the beginning of the week, and reference the post every time I practice as a sort of checklist of things to touch on.
This has worked extremely well for me! I do allow myself a little wiggle room on busy or tired days to drop exercises if needed. But for the most part, I stick to the plan.
And there you have it – my first year of fiddling in review. All of my learning has been on my own, based on lessons and content I’ve found online. Hence, I remain the Net Fiddler.
Let’s see what this year has in store! I dearly hope that when I come to my two year celebration, I’ll still be playing and have seen some good progress!