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

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! 

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