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Brendan Booher

How to Practice for Fiddlers!

July 11, 2012 at 6:40 PM

It is often a question that students have in their minds, and I will answer it in short.

Doodling (playing around on your violin) is what often makes up a lot of any student’s practice time, but is this really quality practicing? Yes and no.

In my experience from watching a vast number of students develop their skill through the years, I have noticed that those who mix up their practice time with fundamental exercises, tunes and some goofing around are the most successful at obtaining their goals (written in order).

I recommend that immediately after picking up your fiddle (hopefully it is hanging on the wall. Seeing your instrument out where it will catch your eye encourages more time spent with it), you should get right down to the basics.

1. Bow exercises

2. Long slow bows on open strings, graduating to short fast bows

3. Your chromatic scale

4. Basic to complex major scales

5. Known (memorized) tunes

6. Tunes still in the learning process (you should always have something new to work on. Keep yourself challenged!)

7. Fiddling around with tunes adding in improvisational ideas.

8. Trying your hand at your own song creations.

Having goals is a good idea, and recording yourself every so often to see where you’re at will help you know more what you need to work on. You need to have a critical ear also, as you listen to yourself play. Also, obtaining recordings of fiddle and violin greats is an excellent way of getting inspired, and encouraging more effort. You will get out of your instrument the time that you spend playing it, and how you spend that time makes a whole lot of difference! Practice properly and you will play quality music. – Brendan Booher


From Trevor Jennings
Posted on July 12, 2012 at 12:20 PM
I like it. As a folk fiddler/orchestral violinist (in alphabetical order!) these are what I aim for. If I'm short of time then it's the first 4 I go for, ending up with one or two Irish/English tunes I know well. Practicing improvisation is very important, as it is with "playing around" with a tune.

The basic difference between your list and that of a non-folk music violinist is that the latter would change "tunes" to "pieces".

If I may depart from the topic a little, one composer who straddles the interface between folk and classical is, perhaps unexpectedly, Paganini. He composed a set of 36 2-movement short sonatas for violin and guitar, known as the Lucca Sonatas - he lived and worked in Lucca when he was younger. These sonatas each comprise a slow movement followed by a quick. In most instances the quick movements are, I'm pretty sure, mostly based on folk tunes, or popular tunes of the time, well known to Paganini. The tune of the second movement of the 9th Lucca sonata in particular is found in a popular ballet of the time "La Fille Mal Gardée" by Hérold, and also turns up in Scotland as the tune "Mrs Winter's Delight", in England as the "Bristol Polka" (which is how I play it), and even found its way to Newfoundland.

The sheet music of the Lucca sonatas is not easy to find - I'm still looking - but most of Paganini's violin/guitar output has been recorded on a 9-CD set by Luigi Bianchi and Maurizio Preda. The Lucca sonatas I referred to are on disks 4 and 5 of the collection. The set is easily obtainable on-line, both as CDs and as mp3 downloads (see Amazon).

From Brendan Booher
Posted on July 13, 2012 at 2:34 PM
Thank you Trevor! That is very informative to me. I always learn more than I can share!

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