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music geekery


Geeking out about fiddle rosin, Part 1

This is a super-late post, as I’ve been lagging a lot on blogging. But I want to clear out my Drafts folder in WordPress, so here we go!

If you follow me on Facebook, you already saw me geeking out about this, this past late December/early January. But for the rest of you, here’s a post all about how I’ve been able to test various kinds of fiddle rosin I got from Dara as a holiday present.

My fiddle teacher, Lisa Ornstein, had suggested that I get better rosin to improve my sound. Up till that point, I’d been using the rosin I got with the instrument: a block of d’Addario Natural Light.

She recommended Salchow, so I put that on my wishlist–both the Light and the Dark kinds, as I didn’t know which one I wanted. But for 2018’s Solstice/Yule/Christmas/fill-in-your-favorite-winter-holiday-here, my belovedest Dara got me five different kinds of rosin. What she got me included:

Pyramid of Rosin

Pyramid of Rosin

  • Salchow Light
  • Salchow Dark
  • Jade L’Opera
  • Pirastro Goldflex
  • Pirastro Schwarz

This, for the record, is a whole helluva lot of rosin. Lisa was deeply amused when I told her about this, too. Essentially, I have a lifetime’s supply of rosin here. But Dara maintained (and I agree with her) that it was appropriate to get a whole bunch of types to try out, so I could make an informed decision on which ones I liked best.

I did some preliminary tests when I got all of these, throughout the first couple weeks of January. So far I prefer the Jade, with a side helping of the Pirastro Schwarz. The Jade gives my instrument a nice clear bright sound, while the Pirastro Schwarz adds a bit more depth and nuance that I appreciate.

However, I learned that since multiple rosins on a bow at once can have different effects on your sound, I didn’t really properly test the Salchows and the Pirastro Goldflex. With the cloth I’m using to clean my strings, I can take care of this problem. If I very gently stroke it along my bow hairs, this helps eliminate prior rosin residue.

So now, for anybody who might find me when they’re looking up what sort of rosin to get, I’ll do a few more posts about my experiments with this stuff. (Particularly since I want to give the Salchows and the Pirastro Goldflex a better shake.) I’ll talk about all five types of rosin, cleaning the bow before switching to each. And I’ll record a sample of how I sound with each as well, to see if I can detect any differences.

This should be fun. Stand by for more to come!

Music, Quebecois Music

Fiddle practice, now with added winds

Just to check in on the whole fiddle practice thing, here, have a post about that, y’all!

Today my practice actually also involved winds, because I determined that I need to practice my arpeggios on my wind instruments as well as the fiddle. There are two goals here. One is to get better at recognizing those patterns in general, and the other is to get better at reproducing them quickly on my wind instruments, since those are the ones I’m most likely to be playing in session right now.

My main scales for fiddle practice, and their related arpeggios, are G, D, and A. These map easiest to fiddle strings tuning (G-D-A-E), and also, the vast majority of tunes at our session are in these keys. So they’re the ones I practice in the most.

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Fiddle geekery, and new question for the string players

(Doing this as a blog post instead of a post to Facebook, since this is really too long for a status update.)

Okay, so my monthly-or-so lessons with Lisa Ornstein have been going swimmingly. Yesterday I had another lesson with her, and we started talking about how to do string transitions so that I could start to do simple arpeggios and if I’m feeling really ambitious, really simple tunes.

The arpeggio drill has been good, letting me practice walking from the tonic, to the third, to the fifth, and then up to the octave, and then back down again. So yay!

We’ve also been talking about four types of string transitions:

  • Open string to open string
  • Finger on a string to open string
  • Open string to finger on a string
  • Finger to finger

And, Lisa’s advised me that when I’m doing scales in particular, and I’m coming down from an open string (the fifth) back down to the fourth on the string below, that’s an open-to-finger transition. And she’s got me doing a “stop, drop, and roll” thing that’s seeming to click well with my brain to try to make the scale as smooth as possible. I’ve just tried it today, and it’s gotten me the smoothest scales I’ve managed to play yet.

Then I tried to get a bit ambitious, and this is where the question for string players who follow me comes in.

I’ve been toying with “Frere Jacque” since it’s a real simple little children’s tune, and I figured playing with something like that to start with would be within my capabilities. So we did a bit of that in yesterday’s lesson, applying to it the same techniques I’ve done in workshops learning session tunes: i.e., breaking it down into pieces and thinking about how to play each piece.

I also asked Lisa when I should be changing bow directions, and she told me, I should change direction when I change notes. (IMPORTANT NOTE: I already know just from observing fiddle players in session that there are plenty of times when this is not in fact the case, and just from screwing around on my own instrument, I discovered that oh okay playing a bunch of notes on a single stroke is apparently how you do slurs? But for purposes of this question, I’m assuming I need to keep it simple for my newbie self and stick to “change directions when I change notes.”)

Given this, and given breaking “Frere Jacque” down into its constituent pieces, it seems to me like the bowing pattern gets a little weird and I’m not entirely sure how to handle it. The pieces look like this:

1st piece: Fre-re Jac-que, Fre-re Jac-que (Down-up down-up, down-up down-up)
2nd piece: Dor-mez vous? Dor-mez vous? (Down-up-down, down-up-down)
3rd piece: Son-nez les ma-ti-nes, Son-nez les ma-ti-nes (Down-up-down-up-down-up, down-up-down-up-down-up)
4th piece: Ding-dong-ding, ding-dong-ding (Down-up-down, down-up-down)

So it’s the 2nd and the 4th pieces that are confusing me a bit, because those are tuples, not doubles. And I can’t do two down strokes in a row, right? So should I go down-up-down, up-down-up? That would seem like the right thing to do, but I am not a hundred percent sure.

Any string players want to advise me?


Are musicians better language learners?

I got into an interesting online discussion with Dara and our friend Rod, pertaining to recent research indicating that early musical instruction in childhood contributes to one’s language skills, by improving one’s ability to recognize meaningful sounds and reject noise.

As I am both a language geek and a music geek, you can imagine that this subject is of interest to me! So I went googling and found this article from back in February of this year, which talks a bit about this. According to this article, people who have early musical instruction have a better shot at learning languages even in adulthood.

Now me, I don’t know how well I match up to this, but it’s very interesting to consider nonetheless. I started playing flute in fourth grade, which would have been the year I turned ten. By age 12, I was in middle school band and I pretty quickly took over the first chair of the flute section, holding onto it until my eighth grade year when I was trumped by the girl who could play oboe.

I didn’t get to take language classes until high school, though. By then I’d had six years of school band, and it’s a very interesting question as to whether that musical instruction helped me out learning German. I had interest in German regardless–but it’s worth noting that I chose German partly because a) my dad had been stationed in Germany when he was in the Marines, and b) Elvis had been in Germany. He even had a bridge in one of his songs in German, and that was a not inconsiderable part of why I chose to take German instead of, say, Spanish. Even then, my language interest had a musical connection.

The language interest stayed with me into my adulthood and has certainly formed a significant part of my computer experience, since I do a lot of testing of stuff localized into other languages. A big part of that is pattern recognition, especially if the thing I’m testing is in Japanese–I have to rely on visual pattern matching just because Japanese characters don’t parse as ‘letters’ to me. So it’s a different kind of pattern matching than, say, on our German or French sites, where I know enough of the words that I can actually understand a good bit of what I see.

But that’s also visual pattern recognition. Part of what Dara and Rod and I talked about had to do with how this plays against aural pattern recognition in music–and whether the ability to learn patterns aurally in music affects your ability to match patterns visually, and vice versa. Does ability to read sheet music help you when you’re trying to learn to read a new language? Does ability to pick up on the structure of a song, or on a smaller scale certain repeated patterns of notes, help you identify recognizable patterns in spoken language? Do they all play well together in your brain?

I’m no researcher. But I can say this. It does all feel connected to me–I’ve absolutely noticed it all seeming to tie together as I’ve been studying French the last couple of years, as I’ve posted about before. Listening to a lot of Quebec trad improves my ability to aurally pattern-match words, and at the same time it’s got the song structure of the genre working in there too. Not only is Quebec trad heavily call-and-response driven, there are also distinct structures to songs, like the ones where you sing the last line of a verse and have that same line roll over to become the first line of the next verse.

And I’ve absolutely noticed that words or phrases I learn as part of a song have a much better chance at staying with me, too. They’re the ones most likely to pop out at me when I’m slowly stepping my way through reading something in French, or when I’m listening to a brand new song as well. Or if I’m reading the lyrics to a song, too.

Plus, I’ve been trying to use pattern recognition to learn to pick up tunes by ear in a session environment, too. It feels like a very similar skill to matching words–because there’s a definite grammar of how note patterns work in trad tunes, and I find myself slowly trying to learn that grammar and match it up with what I need to do on my flutes to make the correct noises. It feels exactly like trying to pick words that make sense out of spoken or sung French.

And I love the lot of it! Anybody else out there have similar experience?


Check it out, a cittern!

Shortly after I put up this excerpt from Victory of the Hawk, in which Kestar gets to see a sketch of his great-grandfather Riniel playing what is essentially a cittern, I decided “well hey, it’d be nifty to actually show the Internet one!”

My plan was to point you all at the joint site of Éric and Simon Beaudry, which they’d put up a few years back to promote their album Le sort des amoureux. There were some loverly pics there of the Beaudry boys, and in particular some featuring Éric with a cittern. That plan, however, failed miserably when I discovered that the site had gone down and the domain had gotten snurched by a registrar in Japan. (That the site is down is known to the Beaudrys, as I discovered in a conversation on Facebook that involved words like “the next album”, words that are highly relevant to my interests, but which digress from the immediate point of this post.)

BUT, my friend Ellen, who y’all will remember is participating in the work on the Bone Walker soundtrack, dropped a bomb on me. In that she does in fact own a cittern. And this past weekend, when she came over to do some recording work, she brought it with her! And told me we could babysit it for a while, since she hasn’t played it in ages! So check it out, this is what a cittern looks like!

Ten-Stringed Twang

Ten-Stringed Twang

And for those of you who are instrument geeks, the instrument’s a Sobell. Made by this gentleman, or so I am informed.

My immediate goal with this: try to figure out how the hell to tune it. Ellen said she had no recollection whatsoever of how it had been tuned before, so I had to turn to the Intarwebz for help. That led to learning that there is apparently quite the range of ways people tune their citterns, including GDADA, GDAEA, GDAEB, CGDAE, DGDAD, DADAD, and more. I thought GDAEB sounded promising, since that’d be adding an extra fifth on top of the GDAE tuning I already know.

Only problem there: B, apparently, was too much for the high course on this thing. It popped one of the strings when I tried to make it up to B. AUGH. And Ellen ruefully admitted that the current set of strings was probably older than her 13-year-old, so the instrument’s long overdue for a restringing regardless.

So Plan B: take it to Dusty Strings, ask for advice on how to tune it and what strings to use, and go from there. (Oh DARN oh DARN an excuse to go to Dusty Strings! Whatever was I to DO? I know you feel the burden this placed upon my soul, Internets.) This proved highly instructive. The guy I talked to at the store promptly took measurements of the strings currently on the instrument so he could identify their gauge, and then measured the length of the scale on it too. That led him to recommend that I tune it in DGDAD.

And I wound up buying individual D’Addario strings of his recommended gauges, which turned out to mean a mix of light and medium strings. So this’ll be an interesting experiment all around.

Once I get it restrung, then I get to figure out how to play it. Hunting for chord charts for a cittern turned out to be a Challenge, as the only chord charts I could find on preliminary Googling were for different tunings and therefore not immediately useful.

BUT! I discovered an app called Fretter, available for both Android and iOS, which I daresay will solve this problem nicely. This app’s a clever little beastie and will let you specify all sorts of different tunings for all sorts of different instruments, including custom tunings. The Android app (which I can now play with, thanks to my new Nook HD!) appears to be cleverer than the iOS version in that it can let you do truly custom instrument settings, as opposed to the iOS one, which just lets you specify custom tunings on the instruments it knows about.

So I’m going to play with this app and see if I can get it to generate enough basic DGDAD chords to cover the various Great Big Sea songs I know. If I can get it to give me G, C, D, Em, Am, and Bm, that should be a lovely start.

This is going to be fun. 😀

(And oh yes, if the Beaudry boys do ever put out another album, buy the hell out of it. Especially if Éric breaks out his cittern.)

Quebecois Music

More music geekery

And now, in no particular order, some more points of general geekery regarding my ongoing passion for Quebecois music:

One: this morning, I stomped all over 375 calories on the treadmill while listening to Les Charbonniers de l’Enfer’s live album. They made for excellent workout music, and I feel I should get calorie bonuses for trying to sing along with “Les turluttes”, even if I couldn’t keep up in the middle part where they’re all singing together rather than doing call and response. Hell, I have trouble keeping up with that part when I’m not on the treadmill; the operative phrase there is “breath control”!

Two: I am amusing myself transcribing lyrics out of the liner notes of Le sort des amoureux, the Beaudrys’ album, on the theory that if I have them in a file on my phone, I can read along when I’m listening on my commute, and improve my ability to understand these lyrics as words. However, as I type all these French words into TextEdit on my MacBook, I’m discovering a couple of things. One, TextEdit’s spellcheck is doing amazingly well with French words, and two, I’m actually understanding some of these phrases without having to throw them through Google’s translation engine first! More or less, anyway. I am pretty sure I just figured out that this one verse is a mother telling her children they don’t have a father anymore.

Three: Speaking of lyrics, I’ve been looking through the English translations available for Le Vent songs up on their site, and about died laughing when I realized what “Les métiers” is actually about: a girl with multiple lovers, and why their occupations all suck. Except for the fiddler. Of whom she says, “he shall practice on me / he can play the fiddle, I’ll be making music”.

And here I’d gone and added that song to my Francophone Favorites and Le Vent Favorites playlists on the strength of its sweet and perky-sounding performance alone. I had NO IDEA. Lesson learned: Le Vent are apparently periodically quite a bit more bawdy than they actually sound. WOO! ;>

Four: The Le Vent Symphonique album is growing on me hard. I’m finding the blend of the band’s instruments and the orchestra more awesome each time I listen to various tracks, and while I still want to be in a crowd doing “Cre-mardi”, I’m nonetheless seriously grooving on the energy of the orchestra behind the band in that song in particular. I also happened to observe that a few video snippets of this performance are actually on Le Vent’s site, here, and WHOA AND DAMN I wish there was a DVD of this. I would be buying the HELL out of that.

Also, it is amusing to play Spot the Piccolo in the various tracks as well! Piccolo players, represent!

And last but not least, speaking of my piccolo: I am now also amusing myself trying to transcribe M. Demers’ fiddle solo from “Lanlaire”. I wanted to do this just by way of exercising my ear. Last night, though, I found a very nifty little app for the iThings–a thing called Tempo. You can use it to play with the tempo of a track out of your iTunes library, and slow it down without losing pitch. Which is AWESOME. I kicked “Lanlaire” down to about 70 percent speed, and am now trying to inch my way through the fiddle solo to see if I can better figure out the notes that way.

Some sound quality is lost, but the pitch is still on target, and it’s very odd hearing the song that slow, especially the footwork! But I’ll have great fun trying to see if this app can help me figure out the solo. \0/