Chest Fiddle

Chest Fiddle

Posted this at FIDDLE-L but thought I’d sic it on y’alls as well. I play fiddle for hours on end now if I’m so inclined - this really turned things around for me. If I only didn’t just suck as a fiddler!

I’d always get a bit of numbness in my left hand after playing for a while. I’d shake my hand out, make a point of not squeezing or pressing, etc. Nothing really helped, so recently I gave a shot at playing with the fiddle down low, which I’d monkeyed around with before - also played it like a cello for a long time. Then I cut out a shoulder strap of soft leather, tied it around the shoulder rest. Haven’t had any twinges in the last two months, and I play a lot, too. I’ve had to put in some practice to play in the upper positions, but it seems like a matter of developing new methods to get up there, more than
an insurmountable limitation. I play in flat keys a lot too, no
problems there.
Often I’ve wondered if I simply can’t hold the fiddle in the
"standard" manner - my Dad can’t rotate his upper arm much more than 45 degrees; perhaps my family are freaks? Or born cellists? Anyway perhaps this advice will be useful to people who are having trouble playing the fiddle under the chin. Also, did any old timers use straps or other apparatus to hold the fiddle against the body? Some of the dudes in old paintings look to be tucking the fiddle into their coats.

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Re: Chest Fiddle

That’s innovative, fair play to you! I was instructed early in life classical style so even when I want to monkey around with other styles of holding the fiddle I can’t. I know there are plenty of alternative styles, come on folks, lay it out!

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It’s a style that’s hundreds of years old, and works fine as long as you don’t need to climb out of the first position, and very little music in those days needed to. Even today you can find some folk fiddlers holding the fiddle against the chest.

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Sounds like you’d be a natural on the nyckelharpa:

http://www.musik.uu.se/ssm/stmonline/vol_2_1/Bost_Tern/pic30.JPG

Info here: http://www.nyckelharpa.org/resources/index.html

The nyckelharpa is a traditional Swedish instrument that has been played, in one form or another as it evolved, for more than 600 years….

The modern chromatic nyckelharpa has 16 strings: 3 melody strings, one drone string, and 12 sympathetic vibration (or resonance) strings. It has about 37 wooden keys arranged to slide under the strings. Each key has a tangent that reaches up and stops (frets) a string to make a particular note. The player uses a short bow with the right hand, and pushes on the keys with the left. It has a 3 octave range (from the same low "G" as a fiddle’s 4th string) and sounds something like a fiddle, only with lots more resonance. Earlier forms of the nyckelharpa had fewer keys, fewer (or no) sympathetic strings, and fewer melody strings, but often made more use of drone strings.

…The instrument almost died out during the first part of the 1900’s, but by riding the ‘green wave’ of the 1960’s and 70’s it has made quite a come-back…

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Glad you came in LH, yes, not ‘new’, excep to KR, and traditions not just to the chest but to the belly as well, and some did it with it upright on the knee or thigh, akin to the cello… Some of these traditions still persist, including in areas of Europe. In general they tend to confine the playing to first position… I recall one old time fiddler, North America, who also did it tucked almost into his armpit…

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I have a friend who can’t raise his fiddle anymore, his shoulder is damaged, and I was trying to get him to consider one of these alternatives… I’m still working on him. Some folks are stubborn. Fiddling means so much to him, but he can’t do it from the shoulder without a lot of pain, and moving it down would require just a few minor adjustments and he’d be able to play again. I’ll be paying him a visit next week and see if I can make a more convincing argument for the change… Wish me luck… ;-)

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"Nyckelharpa!" ~ yes, yes, yes, a lovely instrument…

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The fellow I saw playing it described it as "a cross between a violin and a battleship".

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I love it, that’s a great description of it. The only Nyckelharpa players I’ve known, and makers, had a good sense of humour… Thanks for the chuckle, always appreciated… :-D

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"The only Nyckelharpa players I’ve known, and makers"

…plural???

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Yup!!! Life has been kind… :-D

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Ah, I knew about chest fiddle before (I mentioned being familiar with old paintings/photos of fiddlers doing so), what I left out of my post is that I could never play without the thing flying all over the place, unless I wholly rested it under my left wrist, which I didn’t want to do. The strap holds it up enough so I can play comfortably - your pal really should give it a go, ceolachan. Nothing to be ashamed of.

I know an Old Time fiddler who rests the head of the fiddle on his thigh - always plays sitting down, too.

Seem to recall that baroque violin music goes up the neck on occasion. Like I said it’s no more difficult - or easy! - to do than with the standard grip, in most cases.

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Re: Chest Fiddle

Thanks for raising the issue Kevin. My friend hasn’t Internet access so I’ll print this out for him, just to show him he isn’t alone in pain. Yes, I’ve seen it in the sitting down position, which looked absolutely relaxed and effortless…and the music was great…

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I play with an Old-Time Fiddlers group and one of guys, 96 years of age, plays the fiddle on his chest. He’s actually still pretty good too! I asked him one time why he plays it that way and he said that was how he learned it. He never had anyone to show him how to play any other way.

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I took to playing the fiddle on my chest , well more like lower shoulder when I broke my right collar bone many years ago, I couldn’t raise the bow hand high enough to have the fiddle under my chin. Never went back, I play flat handed resting the fiddle on my wrist, still use the shoulder rest helpful for tuning under the chin but mainly stops the fiddle twisting around. Also helps with my left ear which used to suffer when playing a loud instrument.
I’ve noticed that some of the older trad fiddlers play flat handed even though they have the fiddle against the chin.
nick

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My dad, born in 1916 in the Ozark hills of Missouri (USA) of Irish people , was nicknamed "Fiddler" as a youngster and grew up playing for barn dances. He was and had an unusual fiddle hold. He sat, leaned forward resting the outside of his left forarm on his left thigh. The entire length of the fiddle rested on the inside of his forearm from wrist to elbow. Perhaps this is common and I just don’t know it. I can still see him in my mind playing in that position with those blue eyes staring into space seemingly entranced by the music.

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Pleas forgive all the misspellings and gramatical errors in the previous post, as I was trying to listen to someone who was talking as I was typing.