Sunday, February 21, 2010

Man of Constant Sorrow

I have to say a special thanks to Stacey from Poplar Bluff who so kindly sent me two copies of Ralph Stanley's book Man of Constant Sorrow, My Life and Times.   One copy was especially for me, and the other copy was for me to give away.

I started on the book this weekend and am now on page 81.  I have a ways to go...  It is really a fantastic book!  It's like the story of a musician's dream, hard life, old times, mountain folks, and the history of bluegrass music all rolled into one.  The more I read of the book, the more I keep realizing how fortunate I am.

Although Stacey doesn't know this at the time of my blogging (he will surely read this and know soon), I have decided to "give" the book to a bunch of different people.  This wasn't a plan I came up with.  It just sort of happened.  One of my banjo students saw the book in my teaching room and asked about it.  I told him to take it home and read it, and then bring it back.  I have decided I will loan it to my students who are interested in reading it.  Since Stacey works at a library, I'm sure he will approve of this idea!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Fiddle / Violin Setup: What is it?

I get this question from time to time, and it is a very important one.  Especially since "factory setup" is so often listed on places like E-bay and other websites.  My definition of a factory setup is "the instrument looks like it might be playable."  That is far from what you want, especially if you are beginner and don't know anything.  You need to be sure your instrument is getting the correct setup for the type of music you want to play.  Most violin shops will give you a typical classical setup.  Although there is certainly nothing wrong with that, if you aren't playing classical music, you can go with a setup that will make playing much easier.  Likewise, if you take your instrument to a violin shop for a string change or other minor adjustment and the violin shop says "Your bridge is totally wrong!  We can cut you a new bridge for $60." run!  If it's working good for you, don't mess with it.  It will totally change your bowing arm position and possibly even your left-hand fingering due to the higher string height.

Here are the things that we look at when we look at setup:

Bridge Height - The height of the bridge will directly affect the height of the strings from the fingerboard. If the height is high, it can be impossible to play or hard to play. One of the reasons is that when you try to "fret" a note with your left hand, your fingers will touch another string if the strings are not close to the fingerboard. (This tends to happen anyway, so a decent string height is very important.)

Bridge Curvature - The curve of the bridge directly affects the position of your bowing arm, and also how easy it is to play double or single notes. A very curved bridge makes it easier to play single notes, but it also requires much more movement of the bowing arm to reach the E and G strings. A flatter bridge makes it easier to play double notes and requires less movement of the bowing arm. If the bridge is too flat, then it is too hard to play single notes. Generally, non-classical players strive for a bridge with less curve in it, but not flat.

Nut Height & Spacing - The height of the nut affects how hard it is to "fret" the strings. With a fiddle, the strings aren't overly stiff to begin with, but you really want to develop a light touch so that you can be fast when you need to be. Closer to the fingerboard is better as long as you aren't getting a buzz. The spacing of the strings will vary from instrument to instrument, and it generally is based upon the width of the fingerboard. Closer spacing works well for people with small fingers, and larger spacing works better for people with larger fingers...

Soundpost - The soundpost is the little piece of wood that looks like a dowel inside your fiddle. The position of the soundpost is paramount to good sound, and if you don't have a soundpost setup inside your fiddle, the top may collapse under the pressure of the strings & bridge. The soundpost is actually set inside the fiddle after the fiddle has been built. It is not glued. We use a special tool that we can get through the f-hole of the fiddle to set the soundpost up. Then we move it to the correct position if need be. There is a correct place for the soundpost, but that is not always where the best sound is. Usually, there is about 1-2 mm of play as to where the soundpost can be set. It is right behind the foot of the bridge on the treble side towards the outer edge.

Strings & Fine Tuners - The type of strings that you use will affect the playability and sound of your fiddle. You want to be sure to get flat wound strings. I only know of one or two companies that make round wound strings for fiddle, and in my opinion, they should just stop. These are impossible to play without squeaking...A LOT! Classical players usually use perlon strings, which are basically "fake" gut strings. These strings have more stretch in them, which is why classical players usually only have one fine tuner on their tailpiece. The more stretch your string has, the less the need for fine tuners. These strings are a little bit more susceptible to the humidity and temperature, which is usually fine for classical players since they generally play indoors only. Steel strings has less stretch and I would definitely recommend four fine tuners. In fact, four fine tuners are good for beginners regardless. It makes it so much easier to tune and less string breakage while you are learning how to do this. My personal recommendations for strings are these:

Steel - Super Sensitive Red Label for an economical steel string, and Prim for a great string with more sensitivity. This means that it doesn't take much bow action to get a sound. Pirastro Chromcor or Wondertone is also a good choice.

Perlon - The most common perlon string is Dominant. Mostly classical players use these. Crossover players tend to use Helicore or now Vision. I personally am using Vision right now. This particular brand is known for its fast stretch-in period, so you don't have to keep tuning and tuning and tuning like you normally do for perlon strings. I like the sensitivity and longevity of Vision. They are not cheap, though.

When you purchase your new or used fiddle, if the strings are not already upgraded, you should go ahead and pay for someone to do this for you before you take the instrument home. Keep the set that came on the fiddle as backups in case you break one.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Chris Talley Trio's New Website

Well, it's about time!  With the start of a new year and new gigs coming up, it was high time I got the website updated for The Chris Talley Trio.  Not only is it updated, but it also got a facelift.  It's actually not completely done yet, but it's well on its way.  Our new schedule is up and we have a new band picture.  If you have a moment, go out to The Chris Talley Trio's website and take a look!  You can even order our new CDs directly from the website. 

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Pictures from Sunday's Concert: Charlie & the Girls

If you missed the Hall Family's concert at the Methodist Church, you really missed a good one! If you haven't seen them ("Charlie & the Girls"), you should make this a destination this year. This family is full of talent and everyone loved their performance. Here are some pictures of the concert.  P.S. Look for Emily (the mandolin/banjo player) to perform with The Chris Talley Trio this year!

Snow Shovelling Samaritan

I just want to personally thank the person that shovelled our sidewalk off this morning. That was extremely nice of you! For those of you who don't know, we have two guys with broken backs that work here. This is a true act of kindness and I'm sure it was done by someone who knows this. Thank you!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Best Fiddler During the Superbowl

I admit it. I don't really watch football, but I love the commercials. In fact, I didn't see any of the football game. I went online to view the commercials after everything was over and done. Now, you have see this ad! This guy's pretty good on the fiddle: Best Fiddler During the Superbowl