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I know there are probably hundreds of posts about this already, but I like a personal touch...
I'm very new to this wonderful instrument, but not at all new to music. I play a bunch of other instruments, but have only in the past five weeks or so started my journey into that wonderful instrument we all love. I'm finding it to be a love/hate relationship. I love the instrument. I've not been more obsessed with an instrument since I was 11 and picked up the guitar. I hate that my brain hears all kinds of cool stuff I should be doing with it, but my muscle memory and skill level have quite a ways to catch up to that. I play mandolin in a band, so I know where my scales, modes, chords, etc should be. I know to keep my left hand fingers slightly angled, with pressure on the left side of the finger, and to play straight down on the notes with a curved finger. My intonation isn't even brutally terrible (well, I'm sure it is, but I am reasonably accurate when I verify my intonation with a tuner). It's this bow thing that totally defeats me right now (I know that will change).
To give some more background (and more verbal diarrhea), I have been taking lessons from a very competent instructor (a professional fiddle player/multi-instrumentalist), and have been loving it. My instructor seems to primarily be a folk musician, as opposed to the more Classical school of music. His students tend to play very well, and the instructor is a -very- expressive player. I would love to learn to play with such expression. However the bulk of my learning material seems to be Celtic/folk music in more of a Cape Breton style of playing, which is fine, because I have a deep seeded love for folk music, bluegrass, and all that stuff. But I have a few questions for you guys, that I might take advantage of a wealth of information:
1.) Are there many intrinsic differences in technical proficiency, and techniques employed in folk versus classical? In specific, will learning a more folky style inhibit my ability to learn Classical music in the future? I have no intentions of playing in a symphony, a cèilidh band, or anything like that. I like to write my own music, and I am looking to utilize the violin in my various band projects for original material. However in order to get there, I need to know how to play this thing properly, and I am as serious as my hectic life will allow to get there. I work as a kitchen manager by night, and as a dietary aide by day. My work life is pretty hectic. I have a 2 year old son, so he keeps me busy, too. But I can sleep when I'm dead, so I still put in about 2 hours or so of practice a day. Never less than 30 minutes, sometimes broken up in little 30 minute chunks.
2.) Are there ways I can optimize my learning for maximum efficiency? I know how to set myself a practice regimen, but I don't know what skills are most important to learn right away, per se. My instructor helps with that, but I can only squeeze in an hour session every two weeks or so. I work a lot, have children, and play in 2 bands, one of which is fairly active for a small town local band. I'm looking for a mountain of violin homework to crush through, but I need to know what to spend the most amount of time on. Obviously, the basics (detaché, intonation, playing ergonomically and efficiently) of technique need a lot of work therefore more time... But perhaps you guys and gals will have some rather interesting out of the box suggestions, or if nothing else, some awesome song recommendations to help me learn. I can only play Aunty Marie so many times before I drive my house nuts. Some other tunes that can help my technique in the early stages would be a blessing.
3.) Are there things that you, as an accomplished player, had wished you had practiced more of when you were first starting, to save yourself problems down the road?
4.) Along the lines of 3, are there bad habits you picked up that you wish you'd stamped out early? What would you recommend a novice do to correct that?
I realize the scope of what I'm asking is a little bit ridiculous... But I'm trying to use every bit of information I have at my fingertips to its fullest. I intend to get the Suzuki books, and working through them, but beyond my instructor telling me (whose opinion may or may not be subjective), how do I know I am playing the tunes properly, and with that amazing expression everyone talks about? Vibrato, and all the fancy bow strokes are quite out of the question for me until I develop the skills to employ them.
Thanks for wading through the sludge on this post, and many many thanks in advance for whatever sage advice you can impart on this initiate.
1. Yes, there are different techinques that are semi-unique to each style of playing. About the only way learning a technique in one could mess you up in another is because they're similar enough that you get them confused, and keep trying to do whichever one you learned first when you want to do the second. My teacher has been giving me wildly different music to practice with, with the specific intent of keeping me from getting locked into any one style. I'd say a wide variety of music styles (and their accompanying techniques) would do you much more good than harm.
2. Probably the best way to increase your efficiency is to combine multiple techniques into one.
For example, one of my exercises is what my instructor calls a "bow stretcher". You play with the entire bow, from frog to tip, on an open string, starting out as fast as you can while still maintaining a good tone. Then you do 2 beats per bow stroke, then 3,4,6,8,12,16,24,32... and back up to fast. I'm trying to get to 32 at 60 BPM. I'm currently at 20-24 at 50 BPM. The quality of tone matters a lot more than the speed on either end.
Another exercise I have is what I'll call Schradieck #1, although I invented it on my own and millions of people before me did, too. You play the first 5 notes of the major scale (open, and each of the 4 fingers, all on one string) and back down again.
Once you have mastered both of those independently, you can practice doing them together, changing the number of notes you slur in one bow, partly according to how quickly or slowly you're bowing.
In general, combining exercises like that is one way to increase your efficiency. Make sure you really have mastered the pieces first, though. Spending a lot of time practicing doing multiple techniques badly is NOT a good idea.
Contrariwise, a great deal of violin playing is about "rub your head and pat your stomach" type activity. Getting the two hands to do very different things (sometimes at very different tempos) is a challenge, at least for me. One way to do that is to do things non-intuitively: Don't automatically play more notes one the slower bow strokes, and don't always do something like go up the scale on a down bow and back up it on an up bow. Do things like two notes per bow, then three, and so forth.
Another exercise good for practicing unrelated actions - bow on an open string, while playing some one-string song you know well (I tend to use "Ode to Joy") on a different string. Play/hum the song in your head. It is surprisingly difficult at first to do that and keep up one long, continuous, smooth bow stroke.
3&4: I can't respond to these as "an accomplished player" because I'm not one. I'm a six-month-old. (Although, like you, with a long background of music.) I don't have either of those problems, and I don't expect to, because I specifically told my teacher I wanted to avoid that. In particular, I didn't want to use "beginner" techniques that I would have to unlearn later to do it right. (Learning intonation with tapes vs by ear would be one example.) I'd recommend you try to spend as much time with your teacher as possible making sure the techniques you're practicing are correct, and learning new techniques. Make playing songs (with the teacher) something you do only to check technique.
I have a problem with my right shoulder (torn rotator cuff or something similar) and it has severely limited my practice time the last month or two. I had asked my teacher to prioritize my technical practice, so that if limited time kept me from doing all I wanted, I could at least be getting the most good out of my time. I finally played a couple of the songs I knew after about a month of nothing but 10-15 minutes of technical practice each day, and the improvement was dramatic. I was confident enough in my intonation that I could watch my bowing, and the improvement in tone (from the last time I'd played it) was quite noticeable.
So if you have limited teacher time and limited practice time, I'd spend it on mastering the techniques you know, and make sure you know the wrong ways to do any new ones, as well as the right way to do them, so that you don't heavily practice mistakes.
If you already play an instrument, I'm sure you know the way you build speed is to practice slowly. Trying for too much speed too soon means you start practicing making mistakes, and after a while, you can very very quickly make mistakes.
It's the same with techniques. Try to learn too many too fast, or too many at once, and you'll get very very good at playing badly. Truly mastering each one before combining it with others will pay you much more in the long run, even though it's excruciatingly boring.
I knew there was something I'd forgotten...
Music: there are several simple songs on this site, if you want something to play other than "Aunty Marie" (which I've never heard, but I get the idea).
I'd recommend getting MuseScore, if you don't already have it. They have a large library of sheet music, and both the software and the music are free. The music is NOT, unfortunately, organized by difficulty. (Don't limit yourself to just violin music - Musescore can change instruments, transpose, all kinds of neat stuff, so if you like the song, take whatever's available, and transmogrify to fit. (Warning: There's a learning curve with Musescore, though.)
I did a Google search for "free beginner violin music" and got quite a few hits. One site in particular, http://www.8notes.com/, has a pretty fair assortment, and it IS broken up into beginner, intermediate, etc. You'll probably have to manually transcribe it into Musescore (or something similar) if you want to modify it, though. I think all of theirs are just PDFs.
Thank you tremendously for your input. That's pretty much what I was looking for. Between my two jobs, my hours are all over the place, so getting more instructor time may not be a possibility, hence the need to really kind of optimize my practice time. I will take these pointers to heart. I like that bowing exercise, especially combined with scalar motion on the left hand. Many cheers to you! This bowing thing is tough. It really makes me appreciate the frets and picks I have when I'm playing my guitar or mandolin. The "rub your tummy pat your head" exercise of bowing a note, and playing/humming a one string melody is brilliant.
Thank you again. Now I've got new tools to drive the house nuts with!