Fiddles and Violins: What’s the Difference?

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We’ve all heard the terms “fiddler” and “violinist” used interchangeably. Maybe you associate one term with specific genres or prefer to be called one over the other. You may also be confused as to why we’re quibbling over labels.

A Fiddle is Just a Violin–isn’t it?

Yes. A fiddle is a violin and vice versa. Fiddle refers to a style of playing rather than a completely different instrument.  However, the specifics are not that simple. Fiddle can refer to a number of different genres including country, jazz, rock, bluegrass, old time, and so many more. It can be a traditional acoustic instrument or an electric fiddle.

But what’s the difference???

“Fiddle” and “violin” are used to describe the same instrument in different genres of music. What most people call fiddling consists of traditional styles that were historically taught by ear and passed down between generations. This was music you would hear at a community dance, at house parties, or on the back porch. It was meant to be heard over a band before amplification and in some cases to simulate multiple instruments at once, so many techniques were originally intended to help the sound carry over a band or in a large space. For the purposes of this post, when we say “fiddle,” we’re referring to old-time, bluegrass, and similar styles.

When people talk specifically about the violin, they tend to be referring to classical players who were trained by teachers over an extended period of time. Classical music incorporates written music and was historically heard in churches, concert halls, small salons, and similar venues.

There are some additional differences as well:

Physical

While none of these adaptations are required to play one style or another, many fiddlers make some changes to their instrument:

  • Flatter bridge. Some players request their bridges to be less rounded to make string crossings and double stops easier to play.
  • Different bow hair. Many fiddlers (or players of other alternative styles) will use a combination of or completely coarser hair. Since these styles are more percussive and require more aggressive bow techniques, this helps keep the bow hair from breaking.
  • Flatter profile. This brings the strings closer together, again making string crossings and double stops easier.

Technical

Since these styles are different, the techniques vary too:

  • Positions. Classical violinists are all over the fingerboard while traditional styles require less shifting, almost never going higher than third position.
  • Alternative Bowing Styles. Fiddlers use percussive techniques such as chopping, while classical players have a less percussive type of bowing style.

Keep in mind that we’re talking about these genres in the broadest of terms. Some prefer to play more within one or the other, and many fall somewhere in the middle. Regardless of what genre(s) you prefer to play, we have everything you need to make playing your instrument enjoyable!

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Copyright © 2016 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

Summer Program Necessities

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Summer has finally arrived!

Excited yet?

In addition to the school year being done and the promise of warm, hopefully beach-filled days, many of you are getting ready for summer programs. Not sure what to bring? We have a few suggestions:

THE BASICS

  • Extra Strings. This may be the single most important item to bring excluding your instrument. In most cases you won’t be near a shop and you do not want to be in a bind because you didn’t have an extra A string. Bring at least a full set of new strings, and hang on to those old ones that may be less than ideal but better than nothing in a pinch.
  • An organized way to carry your music. Maybe you have a music pocket in your case that works just fine. If not, a messy pile on the floor you grab before running to rehearsal is not gonna cut it. Whether it’s a backpack, tote bag or something else entirely, make sure it safely fits those original parts.
  • Tuner/Metronome. Yes, many of you have an app on your phone. However, it is nice not to have to drain your phone battery. Plus, these metronomes and tuners can be much louder and more versatile. Go for a combo to take up even less space.
  • Peg Compound. This product is small but useful. It’s helpful in both summer and winter to help pegs grip and to lubricate them. When you are far away from a workshop, this can be an invaluable product.

THINGS THAT GET LEFT BEHIND

  • Water Bottle. Hydration is the key to success. You may not be rehearsing in the AC, and these programs, while rewarding, are also tiring and can take a lot out of you. Stay healthy and hydrated.
  • Sunblock. This is an important and easily forgotten item. You’ll be spending a lot of time outside. Stay protected! Playing a violin with a severely sunburned shoulder is not fun.
  • A Fan. AC is not a given in the dorms you are most likely staying it. Even a small box fan in a window can do wonders for air circulation.
  • Pencils. This is a no-brainer. You are a musician and need a pencil in rehearsal. Grab a package of them before you leave (and a sharpener if you prefer non-mechanical ones) so you’re not caught without one.

ONE LAST THING!

Before you leave, visit a luthier. Get your instrument and bow looked over. Be sure to let your luthier know if you will be going somewhere with a drastically different climate so they can prepare your instrument accordingly.

Have fun and work hard!

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Copyright © 2016 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

Non-Classical Careers: Booking Gigs

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Are you interested in breaking into a new genre of local music but don’t know where to start? Do you want to play indie rock, country, punk, metal, blues, ska, rockabilly, folk, zydeco, Celtic, funk, bluegrass or create something new? Have you been mainly a classical player or perhaps even jazz player and want to expand? Here is a short list of ways to get started in your local scene:

1. To play shows or find band mates, you have to go to shows. 

Don’t expect good results just from answering an ad on Craigslist. You have to put yourself out there and be part of the community. You need to meet people who already play the genre you are interested in. Don’t be a wallflower! Join a jam session, talk to the bands, compliment something about their set, and casually drop into conversation that you play an instrument and what it is. You never know; one of these bands might be looking for a violin, cello or upright bass player to flush out their sound.

2.  You will not be booked just because you can play. You will be booked based on what you know, or rather who knows you. 

Even after you have people to play with, you need to continue networking within the community. Talent helps but it’s not the determining factor. Actually, I think that’s a rule for life. Make sure that you are going to at least one show a week and that you are sticking to a genre and not just going to random shows that don’t connect with your vision. If you want people to invest in you, you first have to invest in them and the community. Have a good time, make some friends, connect on social media, and don’t give up.

3. Not every non-classical musician reads music. Get comfortable with improvising.  

A lot of genres outside of classical are about improvising around the skeleton of a song idea instead of playing a part that is written down. There are other kinds of music notation; in country they have the Nashville number system, in jazz they sometimes have chord charts, and rock songs can be created in a group setting and then performed immediately. Those systems provide a guide but it is up to the players to get creative. Remember that a lot of musical styles outside of classical were created by the working class who couldn’t afford an education in classical music and theory. That folk spirit is still very much alive in these genres and you must learn to play with your ears by both listening to the music and listening to your band mates.

4. You are going to go further if you can play both acoustic and electric. 

Sure, in traditional bluegrass and Celtic music it is generally frowned up on to use an electric instrument. However, many of these traditional genres are becoming more progressive by adding electric instruments and many other genres (such as rock) almost always require electric instruments. If you have the ability to play acoustically and electrically you will have more options, especially if you want to join an indie rock band or play in a band with drums and other electric instruments.

5. When you go to shows, BRING EARPLUGS. 

I can hear you say, “But it’s a solo acoustic guitar act. It can’t be that loud.” Then you get to the show and they run that acoustic guitar through a distortion pedal with 12 loop pedals that spiral out into a deafening wash of noise that will follow you to sleep that night. If you see a drum kit or a guitar, put the earplugs in.

6. When you didn’t pay a cover fee and someone says “We are taking donations for the bands….”

Put at least $5 in. A “cover” is what a bar would charge for admittance. When you go to an independent show, there may not be a “cover” but instead a “donation.” This isn’t considered an option–this is often the only compensation a musician might receive for their performance! You could be in their shoes one day, so pay it forward.

7. Are you at least 21 years old?

This can make a big difference as a lot of places, especially in the city, only allow people over 21. If you are under 21, you will have to get creative. Trust me, there is an all-ages show somewhere out there and, more often then not, it’s happening in the basement of a church, apartment, art gallery or VFW hall. Most of these shows will not be clearly posted , so you are going to need to do some sleuthing.

If you are in a city the answer is easy: Find places where the art kids hang out and make friends. Go to an independent record store, bookstore, or coffee shop and get a job there if you can. If you can’t, then become a frequent customer. Once there, you will be able to immerse yourself in new information.

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Copyright © 2016 · All Rights Reserved · Amer Koudsi

Teaching Alternative Styles: An Interview With MYRO Director Kevin Oates

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In this blog, we would like to introduce you to Kevin Oates. Kevin is the founder/director of the Maine Youth Rock Orchestra (MYRO) based in Portland, Maine. While some people might think that this is an oxymoron, MYRO (a 501(c)3 non-profit organization) is an ensemble that focuses on the same classical string techniques as a “traditional” orchestra but in an alternative music environment. Founded in December of 2013, MYRO has grown from 12 students to 25 in the top touring ensemble and has recently formed MYROCK (Maine Youth Rock Orchestra Classics for Kids) for its younger students. Since its formation, MYRO has performed with 25 local and national musicians and bands with styles including rap, metal, folk and soul. This past April, MYRO became the first youth orchestra in the country to tour with a nationally signed band, performing nine shows on the East Coast with folk rock band The Ballroom Thieves.

Kevin was clear to state that because his ensemble is performs alternative styles, this does not mean that the students are not required to demonstrate a high level of technical proficiency on their instrument. The ensemble holds auditions similar to any district or all-state ensemble, requiring students to demonstrate three octave scales, two excerpts in contrasting styles (classical repertoire only) and a sight-reading example. Kevin focuses on the development of tone and intonation while maintaining consistent bowings, advanced techniques such as ponticello and glissandos and even encourages his students to improvise. He has found that his students are gaining confidence and musicianship skills while having the opportunity to perform for sold-out crowds. He has also noticed that these skills are translating into the students’ traditional orchestras. After recording an EP and debuting a video on NPR, it’s not hard to see why the students love what they do.

When asked how a classroom teacher can try to replicate MYRO’s results in a school setting, Oates encourages other teachers to use alternative styles within their ensembles. By using either pre-existing arrangements of popular tunes or arranging the song yourself, the benefits of modern music with your students can be substantial. Oates points out that many popular songs are in “difficult” keys for string players; use this as a teachable moment. Chances are that many students know the melody and with careful listening will naturally make adjustments to their intonation. Using original keys also provides your students the option to use the artist’s original track as a play-along, tuning their ear and training their aural skills while listening to the music they are most familiar with.

If you want to arrange the music yourself, Oates suggests taking the following steps:

  1. Transcribe the melody
  2. Find your chordal bass
  3. Add harmonic support and experiment with switching the melody between different voices
  4. Selectively add expressive techniques to heighten the natural emotion within the song

While this is certainly a lot of work, Oates says the reward of seeing your hard work translated by your students is well worth the effort. If this seems daunting, Oates suggests trying arrangements done by Larry Moore (which can be ordered at Johnson String). Varying in difficulty, these arrangements are true to the original piece and still include the technique that you, as a teacher, are trying to instill in your students.

Utilizing alternative styles with your students is a great way to connect the classical musicianship of a trained player to the music they love and already listen to on a daily basis, and your students will have fun while they do it. Isn’t that what music is all about?

Click here to learn more about Kevin Oates and the Maine Youth Rock Orchestra. Also be on the lookout for his latest projects:

American Youth Rock Orchestra, a nationwide YouTube-auditioned orchestra set to launch in 2017.

Empire Youth Rock Orchestra, a youth rock orchestra to be based in New York City starting in September, 2017.

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Copyright © 2016 · All Rights Reserved · Justin Davis