Music Education

Learn Basic Technique for Old Time Fiddle playing

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Holding The Instrument

Holding the instrument properly is the basis for anyone wanting to start off on the right foot. To begin, be sure that the fiddle is placed between the chin and the shoulder. If you can hold it in place with out using your hands and without it slipping, the position should be correct. If it is not right, the result will be the fiddle slipping down in front of the player. This can be very uncomfortable to hold. It can result in a lack of volume and poor tone quality. It can also restrict the freedom of bow movement, leaving you with a screeching sound when playing. A wise investment is a shoulder pad, which gives the player a more comfortable holding position when playing the instrument. The shoulder pad will also allow the wood to vibrate more, giving the fiddle better carrying power and a more natural, freer tone.

Getting used to holding the instrument takes time. It has to feel natural to you whenever you start to play. In fact, a good way to get used to it is to hold the instrument for 20 minutes a day. This allows the arm and shoulder muscles to get used to this position so it will feel natural. You can do this when you are watching TV, listening to the radio, or just taking a quiet moment of relaxation.

Hand Position

You want to have a straight wrist when playing so as to allow the most comfort when moving the fingers. You do not want it tucked in underneath the fingerboard, nor do you want it sticking out, both of which cause discomfort and tension. When playing, you want curved fingers, not flat fingers. Flat fingers can result in poor tone, missed or miss played notes, and damping strings that you want to sound. You may have to accommodate individual physical characteristics here depending on your hand shape and finger lengths.

In terms of the thumb, it should be low to the fingerboard and as out of the way as possible. This is to help keep the hand as free from tension and immobility as possible. If it is high to the fingerboard, there is a lack of flexibility in the hand, adding unnecessary tension to the hand and the whole lower arm.

In terms of finger positioning, we must be sure that the wrist is stationary and acts as a support for the fingers. This allows for each finger muscle to memorize where it is to go and the movements required of it when playing in different keys. If there is a change in finger position, it must come from the fingers, not the movement of the wrist.

Proper Bow Grip

To hold the bow, you want each finger of your bowing hand to be in contact with the bow at the low end of the bow, on the inner tip of the frog. The thumb should be placed between the second and third fingers of the bowing hand to provide a firm, balanced grip. Lifting the pinky or ring finger off, or tucking one or more in behind the other fingers leads to tension and poor playing.

Though the wrist is generally in a straight line with the lower arm, the wrist and arm must be loose and flexible so as to allow for maximum freedom of movement when playing.