Category Archives for "Fiddle Interview"

Well-Rounded Fiddle Education

A Well-Rounded Fiddle Education with Casey Willis

Fiddle Interview

It is very possible to argue that the fiddle is the most difficult instrument to learn that we cover here at StringVibe. By that logic, it's also possibly the hardest to teach, especially online. Even more difficult would be to provide a well-rounded fiddle education. 

Enter Fiddlevideo and Casey Willis.

The first thing we thought when we stumbled onto ​this site is that the videos looked sharp. The professional quality that is simply hard to find in today's world of home made "How To" videos is impressive. 

Once we started looking around the site in more detail we noticed the wide variety of styles, skill levels, and song types as well. ​

Most importantly, though, the teachers assembled are top-notch. The first instructor is Patti Ku​sturok, who is a North American Fiddlers' Hall of Fame member and a previous interviewee here at StringVibe. Along with Patti the team includes professional musicians Hanneke Cassel and Kevin Burke, and wraps up with Casey himself.

So why start a project like Fiddlevideo in the first place? Why pick the group of instructors he did? And what advice would he give to beginners to make sure they are able to reach their full potential? Check out the interview below to find out these answers and a few bonus sample videos from the site! ​

Interview with Casey Willis 

StringVibe: What made you decide to start "FiddleVideo" and why did you bring on the teachers that you have?

Casey: I'd have to say that the main reason I started the Fiddlevideo project back in 2011 was that I saw a need for a fiddle instruction website that extended beyond one genera. There were some really great fiddle sites out there when I first started this project, but most of them focused on one instructor or one fiddle style. I also realized that there were already a bunch of websites designed to teach folks just starting out on the instrument so it didn't really make sense to try to provide a similar product aimed towards beginners. I'd say those are the two main things I had in mind as I started the project. I lucked into a great studio space and then spent the next three years recording and coding. As far as why I partnered with Hanneke Cassel, Kevin Burke and Patti Kusturok, I can tell you that I was looking for folks at the top of their game and well-known within their respective genera. I've been so pleased with their contributions to the Fiddlevideo project. We have plans to take on additional teachers in more genera in the near future.

Is there a difference between a Fiddle and a Violin?

Not much. It depends who you ask, I would say. There are a few minor physical differences you might run into. Many fiddlers use a less-rounded bridge than a bridge designed to more classical specs. My bridge is slightly less rounded than a classical bridge, but not by much. I would also say that you are more likely to run into fine tuners in the fiddling world. I have a tailpiece with 4 fine tuners built in, and that might be frowned upon in the classical world. Finally, I've noticed that many classical players prefer violin strings with a more rounded, warm tone while many fiddlers prefer brighter-toned strings.Of course those are generalizations, and there are always exceptions. The main thing I would point to as a difference between fiddle and violin is the music that's played on the instrument. That's 90% of it

What is the biggest mistake you see beginners making when learning to play the fiddle? What should they do instead?

It's easy to want to skip the hard work/exercises required to establish good left and right hand fundamentals. This stage of learning is really slow, but spending time practicing exercises and then finding ways to incorporate whatever you are working on into a song is really important. Practicing intonation, fingering and bow hold can be boring, but if you focus on these elements as you practice simple songs, you will find that you make significant, long-term progress. You will thank yourself for doing all that practice once you have these fundamentals down. Spend some time making sure you have a good bow hold. Unless you can play a tune cleanly, in tune and will all notes sounding crisp, I wouldn't recommend speeding up. In fact, I would practice a tune only as fast as I could and still get all the licks out cleanly.

​Here's a free lesson covering basic bow hold:

4. What bad habits or mistakes do you see most often with professional, or very experienced players?

Having a good right wrist is critical to playing smoothly, and many players, even experienced players find this as a limitation when they wish to progress to the next level of play. If I were to pick one common trait among players who are really good but are having trouble breaking through to reach their full potential, I would say that the right wrist is where I see the most opportunity for growth.

Of course, when you get to the folks who make a living with their instrument, bad habits are few and far between.

Here is a free lesson covering some right wrist exercises:

Here's a free lesson covering some more advanced bowing exercises:

When a new player logs into "FiddleVideo", where should they start?

Well that depends on the level of the player. Many folks are well along in their playing when they sign up and will want to jump right into learning a new tune or two. I would recommend that players who are on the beginner level side should spend some time in our technique tutorial section to pick up some good fundamental exercises before tackling a new tune. One nice feature of the site is that you can sort by tune difficulty. Another thing to keep in mind is that while some of the tunes are more advanced, all lessons include a basic melody tutorial...that way, even beginner players can learn an easier version of a cool, difficult tune. New members to the site should definitely get accustomed to the user-defined video playback looping and speed controls. These features allow you to slow down videos and also loop a section that you would like to spend additional time with. Also, many new members find the sheet music and guitar backup tracks to be really helpful as they start in learning a new tune.

Thanks, Casey! ​

We loved how Casey stresses the basics. How many people do you know who have 'tried to learn' an instrument. How many jumped to playing too fast or too difficult of a song before mastering the basics of technique? 

In many cases the basics aren't fun. They are, however, essential.​ Start slow, play with good technique. It will set you up for a lifetime of enjoyment later (good instruction helps too)! 

We are really excited about the site that Casey has put together, we are really, really excited that he wants to grow and include more genres to make it an even greater resource. 

If you are a fiddler of any skill level, and you haven't already, we recommend you jump over to the free lessons and check them out! 

Patti Kusturok Interview

A Patti Kusturok Interview about Old-Time Fiddling and Learning to Play

Fiddle Interview

We've interviewed a fair number of excellent musicians here at StringVibe, but we've yet to speak with anyone from that is a North American Fiddlers' Hall of Fame member. That changes today, thanks to Patti Kusturok

Patti's has won multiple national fiddle championships, performed worldwide, and teaches upper level fiddlers near her home in Canada. Her "365 days of fiddle tunes" can be found on YouTube and is possibly the greatest list of such songs that has ever been put together. If you can't find something to play in that list, you can't find it anywhere! 

Even with all these accolades, her newest project may be the one that has us most excited, though.

See, we have struggled to find quality fiddle lessons online. While guitar lessons are a dime a dozen online, fiddlers seem to have restrained themselves in large part. Patti has joined several other high quality fiddlers at FiddleVideo.

​In this interview we ask Patti a little about her new venture, about her "smooth" style of play, how to learn the instrument and for advice to beginners.

At the end of the interview we've also included a video from FiddleVideo that you can check out to see the amazing quality of the site! 

Interview with Patti Kusturok

StringVibe: There seems to be a wide variety of opinions as to the difference between a fiddle and violin, what is your take on it? 

Patti: The difference between a violin and a fiddle is the style of music played on the instrument. There is no physical difference between the two, but when you refer to classical music, most players call their instrument a violin. For old-time and folk music, it’s more often a fiddle. However, Itzhak Perlman calls his instrument a fiddle, so who’s to say who’s right or wrong?

You've been noted many times for your 'smooth' style of play. What can a new fiddler do to develop this quality in their playing?

I think the smoothness comes from having a really loose bowing wrist. I honestly don’t know how I developed this, but it’s something I’ve always had comments made about. I also allow my fingers to move on the bow as I play, and it feels like the bow is just an extension of my arm. I can’t really explain it. I encourage my students to work on their wrist and do whatever they can to loosen it up; wrist circles, shaking it out, “waving goodbye.” I also get them to play the string crossing parts of Devil’s Dream with their right elbow on the back of a chair and really focus on keeping the arm as still as possible and just relying on the wrist. Reminding ourselves that the fingers CAN move on the bow is key.

What made you decide to team up with the other artists at FiddleVideo for your online teaching efforts?

​Casey Willis approached me and asked me to join the FiddleVideo team, and once I saw what it was all about and noticed the professional presentation of the site, I was hooked. Being in the company of Kevin Burke and Hanneke Cassel, and of course Casey himself as a part of the web site is an honour. I had been tossing around the idea of doing some online video lessons myself, and when Casey made the offer it just seemed like a win-win situation. I could do these lessons I was hoping to do, be a part of a stellar team, and I don’t have to worry about the technical aspect of it. I am excited about his vision for the site for the future and am thrilled to be involved.

Is there a piece of advice that is commonly given to beginners that you feel is bad? What would you say instead?

​Hmmm…this is a tough one. What might seem like an amazing tip to one teacher may seem like rubbish to another. Teaching philosophies differ. I have an 8-year old student who had been taking lessons for three years, and in all that time, the only song she had in her repertoire was Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. That’s ALL she did for three years!!! The fact that she still wanted to play after that to me was astounding. Since starting with me in September, we’ve increased her tune count to about 8 or 9, and she is hungry for more. I understand the concept of perfecting something before moving on, and respect other teaching philosophies, but I believe that there is no cookie cutter way of teaching music. We have to constantly adapt to different learning styles, language barriers, and other roadblocks that may arise. Being a flexible teacher is key. Not everyone can learn by ear and not everyone is a visual learner. We have to find what works best for each particular student and adapt.

If you were starting all over would you learn to play online or with a local coach, or a combination of the two?

I would not recommend starting learning how to play the violin online. I believe that you should be one-on-one with a teacher to get the proper technique and to learn the rudiments properly. Sometimes we teachers have to physically adjust the instrument, move fingers around on the bow, and be there to troubleshoot. There is always so much going on at any given time that the student can easily forget about left hand placement while focusing on the bow grip. I teach a lot of students on Skype, and won’t take on raw beginners, just for these reasons. Once the basics are learned, then by all means branch out and take advantage of online lessons (like FiddleVideo, of course!) to broaden your ability. Also, I cannot stress enough about the importance of listening to the music. I honed most of my skills by playing records and tapes by the hour, and playing along with them as well. With my teacher, we would site read fiddle tunes at almost full speed, and that’s how I became a good reader. Having an ear and the ability to read are equally important, in my opinion, but not having an ear would be disastrous.

There is so much to take from that interview. From bowing techniques, to the difference in teaching philosophies (You don't have to stick with one you don't like!), and the benefits of a live teacher verses exclusively learning online!

We want to thank Patti for taking out the time to provide such quality and detailed answers, you can find more about her at her site, PattiKusturok

Also thanks for the preview video goes to Casey from FiddleVideo, the lessons he, Patti and the other artists are putting out are definitely worth checking out for any skill level fiddler!