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Prelude - Tangled Up in Strings

Sam Link
Aug 23, 2019


This is an ongoing series detailing one librarian’s journey to learn an instrument using Artistworks from RBDigital, available freely through Greater Clarks Hill Regional Library. Their experiences should not be taken as universal.

It’s been a running thing among family and friends that if an instrument has strings, I can play it, and for the most part that’s true. This isn’t bragging – it’s that strings follow universal rules from instrument to instrument, so figuring one out is mainly a matter of learning how it’s tuned. Techniques, similarly, jump from instrument to instrument, and inform your playing when you move. As an example – clawhammer banjo playing on a regular guitar lends a distinctly percussive rhythm effect. It’s all one big family of instruments, and I can play anything from a ukulele to a sitar.

Except – oh, that’s a big “except”. Let’s sit with it for a minute.

Ready to move on?

Except.

Violin. It’s held at a funny angle, it’s tiny, and it has no frets, the bow is held differently than a double bass or cello. I have studiously avoided violin for years. That’s been fine, too. No style of music I’ve been interested makes heavy use of violin, except for…

Deep breath.

Bluegrass, Irish folk, Klezmer, traditional Jewish music, jazz, Roma folk music, Hungarian folk music, early blues, Appalachian traditional music…

So, yeah, avoiding violin didn’t matter except all the times it did for the understanding of music. But I still was intimidated by the instrument, and the notion of learning classical violin first to move on to folk music sounded horribly dull, but finding a “fiddle” instructor seemed daunting, plus lessons cost a lot of money. Plus, while I have multiple guitars, a banjo, electric basses, an upright bass, mandolin, and a few ukuleles, I’d never picked up a violin.

Then I was looking at Artistworks, and saw “Fiddle Lessons”, and realized that the only excuse I had now was my lack of a violin.

I went down to my friend John in Reference. John is a wealth of information, musical skill, and random objects. “Hey, do you have a violin I can borrow to do a project about Artistworks?”

“Sure! I’ll bring it in tomorrow.”

Final excuse: Vanquished.

So, equipped with a borrowed flea market violin, a new bow as the one in the case has some mechanical issues, and my library card, I’m setting out to learn to fiddle.

The Cast

  • Me, a librarian, musician, and computer programmer
  • Brunky, a Flea Market Violin with a Brunkow’s Music label in the case.
  • Carbon, a carbon fiber Fiddlerman bow
  • Buster, a fiberglass Glasser bow included with Brunky; has a busted tensioning screw
  • Darol Anger, fiddler extraordinaire and Artistworks instructor