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18 November 2008

ONE AND A HALF MILLIMETERS! 1.5 lousy millimeters!!![More:]So a few years ago, I quit violin lessons because I felt like I was never going to be even remotely good at the thing. More specifically, my hand position never felt right, and I just couldn't play fast or even get all the notes when I wanted to, especially in the fourth finger. I kept asking my teacher for corrections, and never seemed to get it.

So last month a new teacher convinces me to resume the lessons, looks at my instrument and thinks something is off. I take it to the greatest place in the world (Rutman's Violin in Boston), where they say that the angle of the neck is off, it was improperly repaired last time by someone else when I first inherited it, and that the strings are 5 millimeters away from the fingerboard, when they're only supposed to be 3.5. It gets restored, I resume lessons, and for the first time ever I don't feel like a moron. Well playing the violin anyway. The difference is amazing. I can haz music now. Woo-hoo!

All for a lousy 1.5 millimeters!!

Sorry, had to rant, thanks. Ok, I'm done now.
:-) these things can make a lot of difference! Mr Alto recently picked up the violin again after a long period not playing it, and was struggling - for a birthday present, I took his violin (which is a hundred years old and had never really been professionally looked at in the past 20 years) for an overhaul. The fingerboard was bending the wrong way and now it's got a new fingerboard he's improving in leaps and bounds, and he can haz music too.

The cat doesn't like it when either of us plays, though (I play viola) - he yowls along with the music. Or does this mean he actually does like it?
posted by altolinguistic 18 November | 11:45
They diddled her fiddle (but ever so little) and now Melismata's a star!

The cat doesn't like it when either of us plays, though (I play viola) - he yowls along with the music. Or does this mean he actually does like it?

Well, considering the material viola strings are made from, maybe he's lodging a protest.

posted by Atom Eyes 18 November | 11:53
Oh yeah! I thought I hated playing guitar until I found out that the action on electric guitars was lower and thus easier for my small hands. I still love my eBayed 3/4-size classical, warps and all, but if I want to play for longer than 3 minutes I need my electric.
posted by loiseau 18 November | 11:55
You can take some pride, Melismata, that you may have actually improved over time without having touched the instrument. The lessons sank in, and you listened to music in a more learned way. Did you have those little moments, even briefly, when you contemplated what could have gone wrong or wished you hadn't given in? All those contribute to learning. I have played guitar for 35 years, and some of my biggest leaps in improvement came just after time away from the fretboard.
posted by Ardiril 18 November | 12:18
That is awesome!
posted by Specklet 18 November | 12:42
Funny you mention that, Ardiril. During the time away, I also worked intensely on music as a handbell choir director, which involves a lot of picking out voice lines to help the players. When I picked up the violin again it was like "hey! This music thing isn't so hard anymore!" :) But you're right, I think I've retained a lot from the old lessons, and having the improved strings makes it that much easier to pick up where I left off.
posted by Melismata 18 November | 12:52
I am very impressed. Good for you and the autos too!
posted by rainbaby 18 November | 12:56
Kick it with the epenthetic schwa: elevate the eləbow! (sorry, that's an old violin joke between me and Ms. Dollar, my first teacher)

I recently picked up my (great-grandfather's) violin after a good ten years off (though I've ramped up my guitar practicing in the last year to about three hours a day) and I've had such a great time pouring my heart into my fingertips, it's meditation, it's the only way I know to touch the divine within me (easy there, Wino, that's not what I meant).

I understand music much better than I did when I last played the fiddle, and though I don't aspire to professional play, I would like to be able to ace Massenet's "Meditation" from Thas, if only to have the same signature piece as Louis Farrakhan.
posted by Hugh Janus 18 November | 13:08
Dan Fogelberg, who, even if you can take or leave his songs, was no slouch on the guitar. He credited a lot of it to learning on a guitar whose action was WAY too high. This gave his left hand a lot of strength.
posted by danf 18 November | 13:45
1.5mm can be a huge matter on a flute. But that wasn't as big a revelation for me as someone pointing out that (1) it is possible to be allergic to brass, and (2) my mouthpiece had exposed brass, and (3) those people that are allergic to brass, I am one of them.
posted by Wolfdog 18 November | 14:13
Having struggled through two years of violin lesson my hat's off to anyone who can master that wooden beast. Well done!
posted by trinity8-director 18 November | 14:31
It's astounding how much subtlety there is to a musical instrument. I have been the sole owner and sole player of my trumpet and I took it in to a very good repairman because one of the valves was sticking. This was the first maintenance done on the horn in 25 years. He buffed a valve, replaced some felts (he gave me the old ones marked with which valve they came from) and had me try it out. It wasn't sticky, but it still wasn't right. The best description I had was that one of the valves felt like it wasn't coming up fast enough - like my finger moved faster than the valve instead of the valve pushing my finger. He put a strap around the slide on the valve, tugged it a tiny bit and ta-da! Totally fixed. I mean, night and day difference from that one little adjustment.
posted by plinth 18 November | 14:32
Man, do I ever know about this stuff. I play many strings, do setups, and work daily with repair people of fretted, orchestra, brass and woodwind instruments.

I get many complaints a day from people about their instruments. While many of them I am sure are operator error (countless kids complain about not being able to play their instrument, then I bow/toot/pluck it just fine) I come across some seriously neglected dogs in need of attention.

A couple of mm in string height can make all the difference in the playability of a violin--especially if you are using steel core strings as opposed to Perlon-core. A low action takes much physical strain from the job.

I myself do many professional string bass setups. What comes from string shops set to MENCE standards I find unplayable. Sometimes its no wonder the failure rate in music ed is so high.

What makes matters worse are the Chinese Brass and Woodwinds. Unfortunately, many parents are unaware of the difference and once they see the 99 dollar flute or trumpet online they can't imagine getting an American or Taiwan (they usually rock) made instrument for five times the price. The sad part is, kids with the Chinese instruments always drop out--and grow up saying things like "Oh I was never any good at music." Sigh.

Chinese string instruments are another beast. While you can get cheap trashy violins from China some of the world's best come from there also. They have had a trained Luthier culture that is nearly a century old. How do you tell a good Chinese violin from a bad one? Price.
posted by sourwookie 19 November | 01:05
i have had to have the action fixed on my bass so long, the strings are so old, they're haunted. Need to find me a low B as well as a strap for an accordion i have never really gotten to screw around with, and a flute i have not gotten even to try.
i have always wanted to try the violin.
Few things fall in that tonal range and i'm glad you get to make beautiful music.
It's good to feed the soul, yours and others.
Thanks for adding to the music in the world.
posted by ethylene 20 November | 06:01
Oh, how tired I am of anxiety about ordinary things. || Finished Flight last night