Tag Archives: fiddle

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!

Making Music at M.I.T.C.H. Charter School

Every once in awhile, there is a collective sigh at Kennedy Violins when we hear of yet another school orchestra program being cut.  A few months ago, however, we were thrilled to get a call from Cami Galloway of the band, Virginia Real.  She was in need of violins to use for a workshop at a school that wanted to START a string program for their students.  We were thrilled to know that there were still schools out there that recognize the value of music. So, when Cami asked if we could provide the violins for the workshop, we didn’t have to think twice-of course we would!

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The members of Virginia Real

Over the next several weeks, we worked with Dee Grothe, the coordinating teacher for the workshop at M.I.T.C.H. Charter School.  There would be 78 students participating in the 3-Day workshop!  Wow!  She described how the hope was that the workshop with Cami would ignite an interest in the students and that an official strings class would begin in the fall.

Our team of luthiers worked for weeks to professionally set-up all the instruments that would be needed.  Then, a few days before the workshop started, our customer service team went to M.I.T.C.H. Charter School and sized each student so that they could have the proper violin and they got to take home their violins that day!  So, by the time the Cami and the Virginia Real band showed up, they students were eager and ready to go!

By all accounts, the workshop was a huge success!  By the end of the three day workshop, the students performed “Twinkle, Twinkle,” “Boil Them Cabbage Down,” and “Shortenin’ Bread.”  Many students expressed an interest wanting to continue and are going to get private lessons this summer!  According to Cami Galloway, “M.I.T.C.H. is truly showing innovation and the teachers, Dee Grothe, Dianne Wright and Kelly Shelton have corroborated together to help bring the band across the country to provide this opportunity for their students.”  We think that when school starts again in the Fall, M.I.T.C.H. Charter School will have no problem getting a string program up and running.

Students participating in the string workshop
Students participating in the string workshop

Cami Galloway and Virginia Real have done workshops like this across the country.  If you are interested in having them lead a workshop at your school or organization, you can contact them at varealband@gmail.com.

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.

A Violin is Brought Back to Life (Part 1)

A Violin in Pieces

I recently began a new project: putting together an old violin that had fallen completely apart. The instrument is an older German violin, probably made around 1930 – 1950.

Violins are similar to puzzles, in that they have many small parts that fit intricately together. They are also similar to puzzles in that they are actually designed to be taken apart if necessary.
Figuring Out What Goes Where

The type of glue used in making violins, called hide glue, is purposefully used because of its unique, not-too-strong properties. During times of extreme humidity or

Clamping Linings

temperature change, as the wood shifts slightly in size and shape, the glued seams will give way before the wood cracks. This saves the violin from becoming seriously damaged. Hide

Making New Corner Blocks

glue also ensures that the violin can safely be taken apart and put back together again when necessary. Heat and water will soften the glue, and seams can be safely opened and closed.

This violin had fallen apart probably because it was exposed to lots of differing temperatures and humidities over the years, and because hide glue naturally breaks down after a certain amount of time. As you can see, there is also a big crack on the top plate that will need to be repaired.
Stay tuned for future posts, and watch as this violin is brought back to life!

KV and the Stephen Foster Old-Time Music Weekend

The Stephen Foster Old Time Music Weekend has been held annually since 2005 at the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park in White Springs, FL on the banks of the beautiful and historic Suwannee River.  Each year SFOTMW holds classes and jams on fiddle, banjo, guitar, and singing.  To teach and lead these sessions, they bring in premier performers from around Florida and the U.S.  This year they had the privilege of working with the Orpheus Supertones.

In March, we were contacted by Chuck Levy, the director of SFOTMW, asking if we could make a donation to their upcoming auction which would benefit the scholarship fund.  As we researched their program, we were impressed by the passion that everyone shared not only for Old-Time music but also for furthering the music education of  SFOTMW participants.  So, we gladly donated a violin outfit in hopes of helping out their program.

Today, I received an e-mail from Chuck letting us know that the auction was a success and that they experienced a record number of enrollment during the weekend.  He also sent us a photo of all the participants.  Congratulations to SFOTMW for a successful weekend!  If you would like more information about the Stephen Foster Old Time Music Weekend you can check out their Facebook page for the latest updates.

Road trip — KV style

Last Friday, we packed up the van and drove to Hood River, Oregon — in the heart of the Columbia River gorge just outside of Portland. We set up our new booth at the Columbia Gorge Fiddle Contest, where we were also a sponsor. Friday night kicked off the event with a performance by The Callender’s. Their music helped set the tone for the eventful weekend.

Saturday was the main event. This was my first fiddle competition, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was trained classically, even though my family had a background in old time music. It didn’t take long for me to be impressed by the level of musicianship on so many different levels. There were fiddlers who spanned generations and even oceans to come to the fiddle contest. It wasn’t uncommon to find each member of an entire family carrying their own instrument, or groups of kids who made their own band.

Our booth was set up near the school gymnasium where the fiddlers warmed up and prepared with other musicians. Songs of all varieties emanated from the room. We talked with many new customers, and we were able to meet several customers who were competing on their instruments that were previously purchased from Kennedy Violins. One of our customers, Miss N, competed for the first time and made it into the final round in the Small Fry division. We were quite proud of her accomplishment. The two girls in this video are also playing on Kennedy Violins instruments. They competed in the Twin Fiddles division and took fourth place!

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The stories continue on with a young cheerleader playing a violin that was passed down through the family by her great-great-great-greatgrandfather, who met a new friend on Saturday and entered the Twin Fiddles Division on a whim.

The most popular question we were asked was, “What is the difference between a violin and a fiddle?” Basically, the only answer is, “The way you play it.” We have heard that some fiddlers prefer a flatter bridge so that they can play on more than one string at a time quite easily, but we haven’t had people specifically asking for this feature for their fiddle.

We had a great time and can’t wait to hit the road again with our booth and instruments. “Like” us on our Facebook page and watch where we’ll be traveling to next. We’re always looking for ways to meet current customers! Know of an event that caters to musicians? Email us and let us know!

Diverse Genres

There is a multitude of diverse musical genres that can be played on the violin, but some of the most popular are classical violin music and fiddle music.

With its rich history and complex form, playing classical violin music can be a challenging and rewarding experience. Playing with others in an orchestra is an excellent option once the necessary skills have been achieved. Opportunities to play as a soloist can range from recitals, alone or with a piano, or soloing with a full orchestra.

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There are many styles of fiddle music, and some of them include celtic, texas, bluegrass, and canadian. With fiddling, there are often different techniques involved depending on what style you are playing. There are numerous opportunities for playing different types of fiddle music, on your own or with others. Festivals, contests, and jams are just some such chances to play fiddle music.

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You do not have to limit yourself to one style, either. It is great fun to play a variety of different musical styles on the violin. Whatever type of music you choose to play, you will find it to be an extremely rewarding experience. Kennedy violins offers violins for any price category. Visit www.kennedyviolins.com to view our selection of instruments, and begin your musical journey today!