My journey with the fiddle was unplanned and started rather abruptly one Christmas morning about 4 years ago. I was surprised to get a fiddle as a gift, as I had never included that item in any correspondence with the North Pole, although I had not been particularly bad that year. In a way, I was not surprised, as it was something I had always wanted to do, but never taken that first step. I was lucky that someone else took that first step for me.
For some reason, I soon decided on a course of action to not only learn the fiddle, but to keep my interest high. I suppose I was aware that the biggest downfall with learning a musical instrument, or anything really, is that the initial flurry of interest, which does not result in instant proficiency and stardom, can then lead to disinterest and failure.
From the outset I decided that, I would learn to play, for my interest and my enjoyment only. I did not plan to be famous or make a career playing the fiddle. This would avoid losing interest in the future when the going was slow. I also decided that I would take it slow and give myself rewards along the way to keep my interest high. I was not going to quickly buy that new fiddle and take lessons right away only to get burned out and quit.
My first fiddle unfortunately was not very good. The fingerboard was warped and the tone was not good. I do not like to bring this up, as it was a gift, and was bought with the very best intentions. However, the point is, it was bought and given to me and for that I am very thankful. I took it to a music store and got it serviced, which helped little. Then I got it serviced at a luther and bought a new bow with real hair. That helped a lot. The point I make here is that you don’t need a good instrument to start with.
My plan was to do the best I could by myself, learn how to hold it, how to play the notes and learn some tunes. I was determined to learn some Celtic / Irish tunes from the outset and did not want to waste time with Twinkle Twinkle and Mary had .. Etc. I planned to do that as long as I could, before I got frustrated and/or disinterested. At that point I decided I would take some lessons to renew my interest.
So I stumbled along by myself for eight months before I started looking for lessons. I could not find a fiddle teacher so I took violin lessons. She was very accommodating as she agreed to teach me the fiddle tunes that I had been working on rather than violin. I learned all the basics of how to hold the fiddle, the bow and learned some fingering and bowing drills. This was good. The problem was that I learned the notes of a tune from a book, and then attempted to play a tune as I heard it recorded.
My violin teacher would always complain that I wasn’t playing what was written in the music. In classical music this is a no no. In classical music you must play the music exactly as it is written. She also kept calling me a fiddler player, as in “You fiddlers do this” or “You fiddlers do that”. At that point I did not really consider myself to be fiddler. So there was a bit of tension there, not to mention that I had a flexible schedule and she could never remember when my next lesson was.
The next fall, I suppose she was fed up with “fiddlers” and my weird schedule and she told me she did not want to teach me. I was a bit disappointed, but all in all the violin lessons were well worthwhile.
That turned out alright as I went out and found a fiddle teacher and moved on to some more relevant tunes and techniques. This time instead of not playing the music exactly as written, the teacher would always alter the sheet with his version of the tune. If I did not play it exactly as written it was not a big deal.
The next stage was to buy a better fiddle. I had struggled for three years with my original fiddle. I took my time trying out different fiddles at the store and took a good few months doing this. It was longer that I planned but the anticipation of that new fiddle offered some incentive. I took my time and picked out the one I wanted.
My instructor had told me I would not be happy with a fiddle less than three thousand dollars. He was probably right, but with my budget and skill I figured 800 was a better price. I have now what I consider and intermediate fiddle.
I also built myself a practice fiddle. I got an old neck and fingerboard and attached a piece of 2 x 2 hardwood to it. I then added the tailpiece, strings, bridge, chinrest, pegs and nut. This was great as it increased the time I could practise. I could sit with the family in the evening and fiddle away without making much noise. I could also carry it with me on work trips. I was playing an average of one to two hours a day.
Now after four years of playing, my next plan is to start attending some sessions and learning to play by ear. In the future I may buy that 3000 dollar fiddle.