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Okay, finally taking the plunge and going for some lessons... need some input, please.


Yaquina
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So, I have been restoring/cleaning/minor repairing violins off and on through the years, but I have never learned to play. I have always wanted to but life just got in the way. I am 41 years old and I am finally taking the plunge and taking my first steps to my goal of being a comfortable player (able to play a few songs) by the time I am 45. Is that an unrealistic goal?

As luck would have it, the music I want to learn to play is fairly simple stuff. I am an American history fanatic and do a lot of living history, so the things I want to play would be best described as 18th and 19th century folk. Anything that would have been heard in the Colonial villages or town squares; the tent cities of the Colonial Army during the Revolutionary War or around the campfire with the Corps of Discovery (Lewis & Clark Expedition). Here are some examples of songs that I would like to learn to play with some amount of clarity before the age of 45.

Jefferson and Liberty

Bonepart's Retreat/Charge/March

Mussette

Johnny has gone for a soldier

Soldiers joy

Miss Mcleod's Reel

Molly Put the Kettle On

Yankee Doodle

Shenandoah

etc...

So, what is your advice? Is there a specific kind of instruction I should be looking for? Should these tunes and ones like them be fairly easy to get a handle on?

I have been told by at least one experienced player that folk tunes like the ones I am wanting to learn are among some of the easiest to learn for beginners, in fact he made reference to at least a couple that are used as beginners exercises?

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Those tunes are indeed easy to learn. You'll pick them up fast. What won't come as quickly is facility with the instrument. Work hard though and by your 45th birthday you'll have some control over your bow and accurate intonation for fiddle tunes. Your goals are super realistic--you're going to have a lot of fun. Enjoy.

My one piece of advice is to find a good teacher. The better the teacher the better your experience will be.

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Most of the historic reenactors I have been around are sticklers for historic accuracy. If you are going to play old timey folk tunes in historic reenactments, you do not want to a teacher who will teach you proper technique :) . I doubt folk fiddlers 300 hundred years ago had much of any training at all.

In all seriousness, I would suggest taking some lessons from a teacher who teaches proper classical techniques, and then study with a second folk-fiddler who teaches by ear. Different skills and perspectives on music.

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So, I have been restoring/cleaning/minor repairing violins off and on through the years, but I have never learned to play. I have always wanted to but life just got in the way. I am 41 years old and I am finally taking the plunge and taking my first steps to my goal of being a comfortable player (able to play a few songs) by the time I am 45. Is that an unrealistic goal?

As luck would have it, the music I want to learn to play is fairly simple stuff. I am an American history fanatic and do a lot of living history, so the things I want to play would be best described as 18th and 19th century folk. Anything that would have been heard in the Colonial villages or town squares; the tent cities of the Colonial Army during the Revolutionary War or around the campfire with the Corps of Discovery (Lewis & Clark Expedition). Here are some examples of songs that I would like to learn to play with some amount of clarity before the age of 45.

Jefferson and Liberty

Bonepart's Retreat/Charge/March

Mussette

Johnny has gone for a soldier

Soldiers joy

Miss Mcleod's Reel

Molly Put the Kettle On

Yankee Doodle

Shenandoah

etc...

So, what is your advice? Is there a specific kind of instruction I should be looking for? Should these tunes and ones like them be fairly easy to get a handle on?

I have been told by at least one experienced player that folk tunes like the ones I am wanting to learn are among some of the easiest to learn for beginners, in fact he made reference to at least a couple that are used as beginners exercises?

+++++++++++

I don't know any of these songs. I assume they can be sung. ie. human voice songs, usually slow within violin note range.

Violin can do much more, fast notes, high notes.

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Yaquina ~ You might find this site interesting:

http://www.songofthewest.com/wst_page2.html

If you click on "Frontier favorites" in the first paragraph, and listen to the snips of some of the songs. These guys are thought to be quite "authentic," and you can hear the fiddle music (though I am sure you have heard much of this sort of fiddling).

You can tell that there is little vibrato, and also the fiddler holds the instrument not under his chin, but sort of up against his shoulder. These two are fun to watch! Is this the sort of thing you would like to do? The sound isn't much (on these songs), but the intonation is perfect. Always a catch!

The best of luck!! Shirley

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Dance Music. My greatgrandaddy was the best dance fiddler in four counties, and he knew very few tunes. He did have a couple of good horses, however.

Good response Marie. My Grandfather was a fiddler and it was all about the neighbors getting together on weekends to play. A different life than most of us know today, but memories can be made anew. I'm glad to hear that a new fiddler is being born here. Let's give all our encouragement. I would go with the standard recommendation of getting a good teacher to show you how to hold the instrument properly and to gain your composure. To start, it is more about getting a grip on the instrument. Think of it like getting on a horse for the first time. There are pointers a man wants to know to avoid hard landings. A competent teacher will help you avoid having to 'unlearn' bad practices.

Yaquina, I applaud you on your venture that will very likely become an inspiration for others to follow.

Ken

PS: You mention Lewis and Clark, wouldn't it be fun to know more about that violin that made it along on the trip and was mentioned in the diaries as bringing 'fine music which was enjoyed by all' around the evening campfire.

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Good response Marie. My Grandfather was a fiddler and it was all about the neighbors getting together on weekends to play. A different life than most of us know today, but memories can be made anew. I'm glad to hear that a new fiddler is being born here. Let's give all our encouragement. I would go with the standard recommendation of getting a good teacher to show you how to hold the instrument properly and to gain your composure. To start, it is more about getting a grip on the instrument. Think of it like getting on a horse for the first time. There are pointers a man wants to know to avoid hard landings. A competent teacher will help you avoid having to 'unlearn' bad practices.

Yaquina, I applaud you on your venture that will very likely become an inspiration for others to follow.

Ken

PS: You mention Lewis and Clark, wouldn't it be fun to know more about that violin that made it along on the trip and was mentioned in the diaries as bringing 'fine music which was enjoyed by all' around the evening campfire.

Wow, what a kind response! Thank you, your comments really made me feel great. :)

I have been studying the Corps of Discovery for most of my life. I have read every word of the journals several times (not the abridged versions either) and find the whole endevour absolutely astounding; enough that I have been working on a book regarding the men and what they accomplished. The fact that a violin was with them on the trip has always facinated me. Little is said about the instrument with the exceptions of a few mentions in the journals. I have always wondered how Cruzatte took care of the fiddle under such incredibly horrid conditions. The rain, cold, heat and damaging conditions must have wreaked havoc on that poor fiddle. Here are a couple of quotes from the journals.

"In the evening Cruzatte gave us some music on the violin and the men passed the evening in dancing singing &c and were extreemly cheerfull.” M. Lewis, June 9, 1805.

"...The party that returned this evening to the lower camp reached it in time to take one canoe on the plain and prepare their baggage for an early start in the morning after which such as were able to shake a foot amused themselves in dancing on the green to the music of the violin which Cruzatte plays extreemly well...." W. Clark, June 25, 1805/

"matters being thus far arranged I directed the fiddle to be played and the party danced very merily much to the amusement and gratification of th natives," M. Lewis, August 26, 1805.

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Wow, what a kind response! Thank you, your comments really made me feel great. :)

I have been studying the Corps of Discovery for most of my life. I have read every word of the journals several times (not the abridged versions either) and find the whole endevour absolutely astounding; enough that I have been working on a book regarding the men and what they accomplished. The fact that a violin was with them on the trip has always facinated me. Little is said about the instrument with the exceptions of a few mentions in the journals. I have always wondered how Cruzatte took care of the fiddle under such incredibly horrid conditions. The rain, cold, heat and damaging conditions must have wreaked havoc on that poor fiddle. Here are a couple of quotes from the journals.

"In the evening Cruzatte gave us some music on the violin and the men passed the evening in dancing singing &c and were extreemly cheerfull.” M. Lewis, June 9, 1805.

"...The party that returned this evening to the lower camp reached it in time to take one canoe on the plain and prepare their baggage for an early start in the morning after which such as were able to shake a foot amused themselves in dancing on the green to the music of the violin which Cruzatte plays extreemly well...." W. Clark, June 25, 1805/

"matters being thus far arranged I directed the fiddle to be played and the party danced very merily much to the amusement and gratification of th natives," M. Lewis, August 26, 1805.

+++++++++++++++++

A thousand miles (enjoyable) journey begins with a single step.

Buy a decent violin if you don't have one.

Tune it and play some notes in a beginner's book such as Book 1 of Suzuki, or Vol.1 of Hohmann

Soon you will know what you need (teacher, instruction, practice etc. a desire for improvements)

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A good teacher is pretty much essential but you can't tell who a good teacher is by how they play, someone can be a great player and a miserable teacher. I think finding a good teacher is actually very difficult. Suzuki training might be an indicator but that is absolutely no guarantee and someone with no suzuki training could end up working much better. If you live near a conservatory and money is an issue, I would save money and go with a graduate student or doctoral candidate. I think a good teacher of an adult in the first lesson will go over basic posture, bow hold, getting a good tone, and possibly left hand position. If you still take violin ten years from now a good teacher will still be talking about posture, bow hold, getting a good tone, and possibly left hand position what changes is that instead of playing twinkle you will be doing caprices. I think you should find someone who gives you a clear assignment of what to practice for the next lesson, if they don't offer an assignment ask for one, and if they still can't I would advise finding a teacher who can, having an assignment, knowing what you need to work on between lessons, will make progress much more rapid.

Depending on your ear, physical flexibility/acuity, and whether you actually practice 1/2 hour each day, I think it would be totally possible for you to learn the songs that you have mentioned within a year, probably not a lot of flourishes, vibrato, or fancy bowings, but good intonation and pleasant to hear melodies.

Best of Luck!!

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Most of the historic reenactors I have been around are sticklers for historic accuracy. If you are going to play old timey folk tunes in historic reenactments, you do not want to a teacher who will teach you proper technique :) . I doubt folk fiddlers 300 hundred years ago had much of any training at all.

In all seriousness, I would suggest taking some lessons from a teacher who teaches proper classical techniques, and then study with a second folk-fiddler who teaches by ear. Different skills and perspectives on music.

I did American Civil War reenacting for a while and found that funnily enough, the guys who were rabid about accuracy in military matters didn't know enough about music to have a clue about what was period and what wasn't! I kept trying to educate my audience, but they'd always ask me to play "Ashoken Farewell", etc.! At any rate, I agree that if this was my goal I'd try to find a teacher who specialized in folk fiddling. You probably would not need a lot of classical violin technique, just the basics, and would probably want to spend time learning to pick up tunes by ear, as well as from sheet music. I know a couple teachers who work that way in my area, teaching Scottish fiddle to adult beginners, with good success. I think what you want to achieve is definitely doable with some work. Good luck! -Steve

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Hi,

It would help if I knew what area of the country you live in, I have several client who specialize is Scotish fiddle and the ilk, after you get started look into the summer music camp that Jay Unger and Molly Mason run in Ashokan N.Y. (hense the name of their song). google Jay Unger and Molly Mason and that should get you to their home page.

Reese

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Hello Yaquina,

I started taking lessons when my daughter began Suzuki Volume I only to get an idea of what it would be like for her. Well, five years later she is making her way through Volume V and I am lagging behind in Volume IV. I'm skipping the Bach Double first movement because of the fast bowing needed (I am 57).My teacher has me working on the slower second movement and I almost have it. At my age vibrato is difficult to learn but seems to be occuring naturally. Suzuki is the way to go for older students in my opinion. Once you have completed Volume I, many of these fiddle tunes should be easy and the more technique you learn the more tunes you will be able to play. Suzuki method contains all the skills needed to play any style of music. A teacher who is good with children will also be good with an adult. My teacher is sympathetic and understands that it is more difficult for adults to learn for a variety of reasons. Learn your Twinkles and you will be on your way. Good luck.

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Go to http://www.nashvilleoldtime.org/index.shtml and ask for a password to their mpg files. They're sticklers for old time accuracy. I played with them some years ago. They have a big "Breaking Up Winter" shindig comming up in March with special guest teachers. I got to fiddle along side of Alan Jabbour and the late Art Sampler. Great group of folks at NOTSBA .

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