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Playing the Fiddle or Violin

Updated on April 7, 2015
A typical violin or fiddle. These instruments come in 1/2, 3/4 and 4/4 or full sized to fit all sizes of musician.
A typical violin or fiddle. These instruments come in 1/2, 3/4 and 4/4 or full sized to fit all sizes of musician. | Source

Violin or Fiddle?

It’s not the instrument that is different, it’s the style of music.

A violinist uses the entire length of the bow and generally focuses on classical music.

A fiddler on the other hand, usually only uses the top half of the bow, and plays, well, fiddle music, which can range from Celtic style, to jigs, reels, waltzes, and more.

The Basics

The musician holds the instrument under their chin. Since the violin is a rather thin instrument, sometimes it is helpful to get a shoulder rest. This is a padded device that attaches to the bottom of the violin and helps it sit higher on the shoulder.

The instrument goes on the left shoulder, and the bow is held in the right hand. It’s important to hold the bow lightly. Obviously it has to be held tight enough it won’t be dropped, but don’t grab It with a death grip.

Faded Love

Getting Ready to Play

Prior to picking up the violin to play it, it will need to be tuned. It’s possible to tune to a tuning fork, another instrument that is assumed to be in tune (a piano is usually a good choice), or with an electronic tuner. It’s important that the violin be exactly in tune before it’s played, otherwise it will be very frustrating to play.

A violin bow should be loosened a bit when it’s not in use. This means it will need to be tightened before playing. A good rule of thumb is to tighten it three turns before playing, and loosen it three turns afterwards. Three strokes of rosin is also a good idea before playing. When you hold the bow up to a light, it should be dull, not shiny.

Inserting a new string into a peg.
Inserting a new string into a peg. | Source

Maintenance

If the bow seems to be slipping a lot while the violin is being played, more rosin is probably needed. It’s common for the violin to get covered in fine white dust. This is the rosin falling off the bow. Over time, it will collect on the strings too, and reduce their ability to vibrate. When this happens, take a dry cloth and rub the strings clean. They will make a really weird noise that will either make you laugh or scream.

You’ll know you need to change your strings when you start noticing rough patches on them. If you keep your fingernails short while you play, you can greatly increase the life of your strings. To change the strings, go read a blog written by someone who actually knows how... but here’s an overview from a fiddling expert who is a string changin’ amateur.

  1. Purchase a new set of strings from a music store. (or just an individual string if there is only one that is significantly worn out. I find my A, and E, stings wear out first, but usually I just change all four)
  2. Remove ONE string from your violin by unwinding the peg until it’s loose. Once the string is unwound, you can remove the metal stopper end from below the bridge. Don’t do like I just did a few minutes ago and unwind three of four strings and have the bridge fall out onto the floor. At that point, I remembered how you’re only supposed to change one string at a time...
  3. Replace that ONE string with a new one. Slip it into the slot below the bridge, then fit it into the groove on the bridge, insert the end into the hole on the peg and start winding. It technically does matter which direction you wind the string. I currently have three wound one way, and the other in the opposite direction. Don’t ask me why, it just turned out that way. I was in a big hurry to play it today, and the old strings were shot, so I hurried through putting on the new ones. I will probably re-string it properly at a later date, but for right now, it sounds good.

If your bridge gets tilted...

It happens. As you tune the violin, the bridge gets pulled on a bit, and can start to lean. Inspect your violin regularly by holding it horizontal at eye level. Make sure the bridge is perpendicular from the violin itself. If it’s not, it’s at high risk of snapping at the worst moment. To straighten it, grasp it gently with your thumbs and fingers on both sides, just below the strings. Use your other fingers to firmly hold the feet against the violin. Now, gently straighten it back out. Do this really carefully, because if you force it, you will probably break the bridge. Remember, it’s a very thin, delicate piece of wood.

Fiddling is amazing fun. Don’t be afraid to try it for yourself!

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