Category Archives: Fiddle

Summertime Practice Motivation

ShadowVio

 

Maintaining a practice habit during the summer months can be a challenge. Between teacher and student vacations, limited or no school programs, and the general schedule shift of the summer months, music sometimes takes a lower priority than it does during the rest of the year. A lot of students put their instrument in a case and don’t take it out again until fall.

Here’s a few ideas for motivating your own practice this summer:

-Keep your instrument accessible. Make sure your case doesn’t get covered with the swimming gear or put in the closet behind the hiking packs. Keep your instrument in a place where you spend a lot of time so it is ready to go whenever you feel like practicing.

-Find unique ways to practice fundamentals. Grab a stick during a nature hike and practice your bow hold. Practice long, smooth bow strokes timed with the rotation of a sprinkler. Use the whir of an ice cream maker as a metronome for Schradieck finger exercises. There are fun quirky ways to incorporate music all around us!

-Learn some new summertime tunes that might be from a different type of music than you typically play. My grandparents always requested I play “Memories” from the show Cats when I traveled with them so that became my summer song one year. Pick up a fiddle song or baroque number and give yourself a new challenge.

-Bring your instrument on vacation! Family members often enjoy hearing your progress and playing for new people can be a fun change of scenery. While it can be intimidating to strike up a tune in the middle of a campground full of people, it’ll be a far more welcome sound than another motorhome generator. Music is a community event and you might attract other musicians who want to join you.

And speaking of joining other musicians…

-Follow and use a social media hashtag like #PlayHomiePlay (started by ThatViolaKid) or #100DaysofPractice (Hilary Hahn’s hashtag for motivating 100 consecutive days of practice) or #MakeShareMusic (Kennedy Violin’s hashtag for Make Music Day) to join other musicians who are sharing their practice and music. Online communities are often not our first idea for sharing practice, but they can be a valuable resource and provide awesome motivation.

Do you have other suggestions for summertime motivation?

Jayden Halverson Wins Wisconsin State Fair Junior Fiddler’s Contest on a Kennedy Violins Gerard

Congratulations to twelve-year-old fiddler Jayden Halverson for winning first prize in the 2015 Wisconsin State Fair Junior Fiddler’s Contest! Jayden is in her fourth year playing the violin, currently studying Suzuki Violin School, Volume 4.

We are proud to share that her winning performance was played on one of our favorite instruments, Kennedy Violins’ Anton Gerard Violin. We hope the Gerard continues to support Jayden throughout her bright future as an award-winning musician.

Gerard Violin
Jayden Halverson and her violin teacher, Kathy, hold her first-prize award and blue ribbon after winning the Wisconsin State Fair fiddling contest.

We would also like to thank Jayden’s father for sharing Jayden’s success and satistfaction with the Gerard with us:

“We are so amazed by the sound of [the Anton Gerard Violin]. Directly out of the mail the instrument sounded so wonderful and played so smoothly. I was amazed that after a few months of playing the sound just keeps getting more depth and soul. Not only does it sound amazing, but the finish and one-piece back make this violin look as rich as it sounds. My daughter absolutely loves her Gerard! She took this fine violin all the way to the winner’s circle. This year she and her Kennedy violin won first place in the Wisconsin State Fair fiddling contest. ”

– Chad Halverson

Again, congratulations to Jayden! May your musical journey lead you to even greater heights.

Sincerely,

The Kennedy Violins Staff

Forget the Map at Home!

A Guide to Improvisation, by Katie Lubiens

You don't need sheet music on this journey.
You don’t need sheet music on this journey.

Improvising? That sounds scary! Making up the music as you go? But where’s the sheet music? Who even improvises anyway?

As a classical violinist, these were all questions I asked myself when confronted with the thought of improvising.  I never was taught to improvise.  As classical musicians, we always have our sheet music to guide us, to show us the direction we should go.  Going forward into the musical realm without sheet music seems like going on a roadtrip without a map.  Where do I go?

Surprisingly, I’ve discovered, improving is all around us as musicians.  Even classical musicians improvise, too!  There are so many musical genres to experiment with which do teach you to improvise and foster those creative juices that make new music happen.  From blues jams to Irish sessiuns, from jazz club improvs to bluegrass jam outs, there are endless outlets for practicing improvisation.  Without sheet music, how do we know what to play?   Especially when improvising with other musicians.

Katie Lubiens performing with The Seseseisiunists.
Katie Lubiens performing with The Seseseisiunists.

Here are a few pointers when learning to improvise: 

  1. The most important thing to know is what key you are playing in.  It can sound great when everyone is playing something completely different, but they must be playing their own unique parts in the same key for it to work.
  2. Think of the scale, then play itterations of the scale.  I like to play the scale aloud before trying any kind of improvising so I really get the notes in my ear and fingers.  Then try playing the scale up and down, jumping around with different arpeggios, and always keeping the tonic, dominant and 7th in mind.
  3. Take turns.  Most improv music works best when everyone takes turns being the melody.  When it’s not your turn at the melody be sure to keep the energy up.  Long notes mixed with off beat rhythms are easy on the tonic or dominant.
  4. Practice some cool licks at home.  Most improv artists aren’t actually making it up as they go.  Usually, they have practiced some licks which they made up at home and can transcribe them into any key to play while performing in an improvising scenario.
  5. Perfection is not the point.  Improvising teaches you to be adaptable.  Adapting to your current musical situation makes you a stronger player and shows you that the imperfections are what make improvising so thrilling.
  6. Don’t be afraid!  Although you can feel put on the spot while improvising, recognize that everyone else recognizes that you are improvising.  It is not meant to be perfect.  Once you get used to improvising, you will begin to feel the powerful energy in making up music with your peers as you go.

Like anything, improvising gets better the more you do it.  I promise you, if you try you, will find that creating your own music with others in the moment is one of the best adventures you can embark upon. The moment when you close your eyes and listen to yourself creating music together, making it up as you go, and you hear that it sounds beautiful and harmonious, you will find pride in yourself like never before.  So, go ahead, make up the directions to your next adventure and forget the map at home!

**Check back soon for more in depth imrpovising tools and tips!

Violin and Fiddle: Are They the Same?

Fiddle players get a lot a lot of flack for being lazy violinists while violinists get teased for being snobby fiddle players. There’s even a joke: “What the difference between a violin and a fiddle? A fiddle is fun to listen to.”

So, what is the difference between a fiddle and a violin? At it’s core, nothing. Violin and fiddle players use the exact same instrument. The only difference that could occur is in the “set-up” of the instrument.

Itzhak Perlman, world famous violinist
Itzhak Perlman, world famous violinist.

Amplification set-up: Violinist tend to play in orchestras, quartets, trios and do not often have to use a mic to be amplified over other instruments. Fiddle players, on the other hand often play with bass, guitar and drums and often need a “pick-up” or microphone of some kind to amplify themselves over the other instruments.

String set-up: There are hundreds of kinds of violin strings. Each violinist or fiddle player will have their particular kind of string they like to use best. In general though, fiddle players prefer a steel string for their direct and clear sound. Violinists can talk for hours about different kinds of strings and why they use the type of string they do. It might be one of the reasons why violinists are considered snobby.

Bridge set-up: Often fiddle players have their bridge shaved down because fiddle playing has a lot of chords and double stops. Having a lower bridge helps to keep the strings on a more level plane, making it easier to hit chords. The classical violin style is associated more with single notes so having a more arched bridge is preferred.

So, what’s harder the violin or the fiddle? Violin players and fiddles players, while using basically the same instruments, have entirely different skill sets. A fiddle player is striving to often play super tricky rhythms and lots of doubles stops (playing two notes at once) and chords (playing three to four notes at once). A classical violinist, will be striving to produce clear tone, vibrato and learning the different positions on the violin.

I travel often and without fail whenever I am walking through an airport with my violin on my back a get the questions, “Is that an instrument?”. My response is always the same, “Yes, a violin.” I would say about five out of ten times the response back is, “Oh, my grandfather played the fiddle. Do you fiddle?” I always want to respond yes to this question, but instead I say, “I can fiddle.” I can fiddle and in fact I enjoy fiddle music but I was trained to play classical violin and know that my fiddle playing methods fall short compared to the great fiddle players.

The reality is that In whatever genre of music you play, being proficient at it requires practice, dedication and skill. This has very little to do with the instrument and more to do with the heart, focus and love of the genre of music you are playing.

Mark O'Connor-world famous fiddler.
Mark O’Connor, world famous fiddler.