Would adding frets to a violin make learning faster? posted by Desiree D'amico

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Re: Would adding frets to a violin make learning... on August 27, 2009 @ 8:35 am
by James Hesford James Hesford is currently offline. Click to send a message.
I played guitar for years and then started to play the cello and later violin. Playing without frets was difficult at first - I realized that with a string instrument the frets have to be in your head. Later I started to teach, mainly late starter string players - most of them had not played an instrument before and some of them had no musical concept of the semi-tone division of the fingerboard. So there were two problems here (actually more) - their intonation (tuning) was awful, their geography (knowledge of where the notes are) was dreadful. Also. because of the way the violin is held (under the chin). the left hand was, most of the time, stressed, in a state of tension.

As a late starter you need to take a completely different approach to learning. Teaching also - a teacher cannot just regurgitate what their teacher told them when they were learning as a child and expect a late starter to copy what they do like a child would. A late starter (as a broad bench mark - someone who is not a kid) has lost much of their ability to parrot and needs to rely on 1. spacial awareness, 2, intellect.

Most purist would kill me for what I am going to say now - putting frets on a violin (I will tell you how to do this cheaply later) gives the student a. a concept of the semi-tone division of the fingerboard - the geography is memorized quickly. b. a concept of good tuning.

If you buy a cheap violin and ask a violin maker (luthier) to fret it like a viola de gamba ie using gut or nylon it will not be expensive. The violins I have seen that are fretted have been electric and quite expensive.

Later, when you have got used to the geography and tuning you can take them off. There will be a period of readjustment because the fingers play on the fret position rather than behind it.

Another tip - rather than playing the violin under you chin - play it on your knee - like a small cello or small viola de gamba - upright rather horizontal - this is how I play it. If you have played guitar for a long time this position will be much more natural to your left hand and you can achieve a good sound quicker.

The bow is completely alien to a guitar player and needs alot of attention. Playing in this way (upright) it is best to learn a baroque cello bow hold. This seem to work best for me. It is different to a violin bow hold - the fingers are more at right angles to the bow rather that angled as with a violin bow hold.

Another small problem - the violin is tuned in 5ths and not 4ths (and one third). Don't try to tune the violin in 4ths - the string tension will be all over the place. Tune it as it is meant to be tuned and deal with the geography - it won't take long

I would encourage you to take the frets off later (like taking off the stableizer (cant spell it) wheels off your kids bike) - the beautiful sound of a violin is, in part, due to its fretless nature.

Hope this is helpful
If you want to check out my website jameshesford dot com - you can hear the violin played as I have described above.

Kind regards and good luck

Kind regards


On August 26, 2009 Desiree D'amico wrote:
I've played guitar for almost 6 years now, self taught. A few of my friends are starting a new indie experimental band and need a violinist (guitar slots filled up fast!) I'm dying to be in a band again, but the only hitch? I don't know how to play the violin. At all.

The thing i've heard that is the most difficult is finger placement. it's easy on guitar because there are frets. well i found this fretted decal online. (http://www.frettedfiddle.com).

My question is, would these frets really work in helping me apply what i know from guitar to the violin? I'm not looking to learn the "proper" way, i just want to be able to add some sound to the band.

any input would be greatly appreciated!