How to Practice Quietly

Feb 03, 2017

Hi, I’m Mitch Reed, welcome to my vlog. today I’m going to talk about how to practice quietly. Not something that I like doing, but you do have moments and times where you want to practice but there’s people in the house or maybe you’re staying in a hotel, maybe you get really inspired at like three in the morning when you get up and you make you a pot of coffee and you can’t sleep and you want to play your fiddle but you don’t want to wake anybody up. So this happens and it’s totally normal. And the thing about fiddling is that whenever you get that inspiration, you have to seize the moment, you have to take advantage of it and use that fuel to get better on the fiddle. Don’t let it just go away because those are the important magic moments that you need to keep on becoming a better fiddler.

So, of course, the first thing I would recommend is a mute and there’s a couple of different mutes, there’s one that I’m going to talk about that I don’t have with me. I actually used to have one and I lost it. It’s a metal mute so it actually looks like this. This is what we call rubber mute, let me see if I get the camera angle right so you can see the thickness of it, and what this does is it fits on the fiddle like this. See how it fits on there okay. So imagine this thing being metal and the metal ones are the quietest ones. So they really clamp on and they really absorb the vibration on the bridge. And that’s basically how it works is that sound starts here on the bridge of course because the strings are here, so the strings are vibrating, and the sound travels through the bridge and then there’s a sound post in here that’s like an electric cable that brings all the sound to the back of the fiddle and then once it vibrates the back of the fiddle which (the back of the fiddle is made of hard maple) it just shoots it out. The top is made out of spruce and it vibrates as well so it’s more flexible wood and the back is basically like a shield that kind of blasts it back out through the f-hole.

So this is the rubber mute. This one I totally recommend and I can even show you. So if you want to practice a tune, it can be anything you know…[2:40]… That’s kind of loud. That would wake somebody up for sure but it’d be good. It’d be a good kind of way to wake up. Okay. So I’m going to put on the rubber mute and I’m going to push it all the way down. So the rubber mute, what’s interesting about it is, depending on how far you push it down, is how much sound you’re taking away. So by pushing it really hard and going all the way down, I’m going to get the quietest effect. So here it is now…[3:23]

Sounds like a little mouse playing the fiddle. So if that’s too quiet, just kind of lift it up a little bit, that’s what I use when I’m in a hotel room and I have to practice and it might be a little too early and I know people are sleeping, so I’ll lift it up a little bit and get a little bit more sound but I’ll push it all the way down and that way I know I’m not bothering anybody. If I wake people up with that then…you know I haven’t even turned my TV set on, I know the TV would wake you up more than that would, so here’s just about halfway…[4:07]…alright.

So the thing about mute is you do lose tone. Some people that have a real tinny or shrill sounding violin will actually use a mute just to give it some warmth. So that does work. But if you have a really nice violin that you like the sound of, when you use a mute you actually lose some of that tone. So you do sacrifice tone for the ability to practice while people are sleeping and that’s just how it goes. So if that’s still too quiet or you just don’t like the tone, you can lift it up even a little bit more. So this is the mute with it just barely kind of on there, just sitting on the top…[4:52]…Alright, kind of sounds like it’s through an old telephone, you know? But hey! It works.

So the other kind of mute that’s not as harsh, you don’t have as much control but it gives an interesting sound, is just a regular orchestra mute. So you see these things are used in an orchestra if the conductor wants the violins or the violas to play a certain part…even the cellos….You put this in the middle. Let’s see how it goes if I remember correctly. So it goes like this on the fiddle…[5:33] It just fits on there. It actually looks like a little fiddle. So it goes on there and let’s see what it sounds like…[5:43] I really like the tone of this. It actually gives it some bass or some boost. It kind of takes away the aggravating highs…[5:55]. So if you have a (I hate to use the word but it’s going to come out: crappy fiddle) if you have a crappy fiddle that you paid you know whatever for, you might try this it might work. And then what’s cool about this is you can leave it on your fiddle, look at that. You leave it on you just slide it back and then it has no effect… but it’s always on there in case somebody shows up, “Oh! Somebody’s here, I don’t want them to hear me,” so you have that kind of thing, okay?

So the first mute I have ever even heard of was I went to this great fiddle player's house, Len Harrington, he’s from Lafayette. He used to play in a band called Filé and another one called Couche Couche. He was a really neat guy. He moved from here, I don’t know where he is now but I used to go to his house and just visit with him and listen to him play and he had a fiddle that he claimed was just a little too shrill for him, you know? He found it, well…he bought this old house and he found this fiddle in the attic, you know. Classic story and the fiddle was you know probably played by a violinist more than a fiddler. It had more of a shrill sound like a cutting sound and he was looking for the warmth that a lot of fiddle players are looking for in a violin. So he actually he would use this which is just a clothespin and this can actually give some interesting tones. So what you do is you just put it on your bridge like that…[7:43]. Sorry, I’m dyslexic so I have a hard time seeing, feeling which way to go. So okay, you got that on there and you can try it anyway like right now I have it pinched on the high strings side…so it will take more of the highs off so you’re going to get a real bass sound…[8:00]…alright. So watch this, I’ll put it now on the bass side and this should take some of the bass off a bit…[8:19]. Yeah, so here we go…[8:21] Alright!

So again that’s just something that most people have around their house. I don’t think this is quiet enough to play while somebody is sleeping, I think it could probably still wake them up. But if somebody’s in the other room watching TV and you just don’t want them to hear you practicing because you’re trying new stuff, you know? And I totally understand that! When I practice I don’t really like people to listen to me either because when I practice that’s when I’m going to work on stuff I’m not very good at and you know things that I’ve done in the past that I remember kind of messing up on and I’m going to go back and I’m going to maybe break it apart. Or try to figure out why am I having a hard time with it and so I don’t want people hearing me do that either. So I totally understand you know for those of you out there who were asking about this.

There’s another trick too that I do sometimes when I’m traveling and I’ll get inspired to play the fiddle and its kind of late in a hotel room but I don’t have a mute with me or I want to try some things and I don’t want to hear a muted sound, I want to hear a fiddle you know but I want it to be loud. Now you have to have a pretty good fiddle to do this but the other little trick is this, it’s just tuning your fiddle down, and I don’t have a particular pitch that I’m tuned into, you can say B flat maybe, so if you bring your D string all the way down to a B flat. I usually just do this because the lower you go, the lower you can get the strings to go in pitch but remain at a good quality where they’re not muddy, not too muddy. That’ll bring the volume down and this works well. So I’ll just give you a quick example of what I mean by that. It’s kind of ridiculous but it does work…[10:37]. If you’re new at the fiddle this might throw you off because you might be used to using a tuner and stuff so I’ll show you anyway…In case you ever hear a crazy-sounding fiddle, it’s me staying at a hotel next door to you…[10:55]. So let’s see…I actually like doing this. It just really changes things up; it’s like you’re playing a different instrument. Like I said, I didn’t really tune into a certain pitch, I just brought it down. If I go any lower with the G string…[11:43]…it’s not going to sound very good. So for this particular fiddle, this is about the lowest I can go…[11:50] okay. Still kind of loud, this feels kind of loud…[12:06]

So the other thing I’ll say real quick too is loosening your bow. If you loosen it more than you would normally and then just play a little bit lighter, you might avoid playing double strings just so you can practice melodies and stuff without being heard by people or bothering people or whatever. So now you can hear…[12:32]…It’s really fun because it just totally changes the sound, you know?

Again playing waltzes, playing soft, single strings, tune your fiddle down, might not bother anybody at all. These are the tricks that I use and hope I’ve helped you out. If you have any questions feel free to leave me a comment or email me but like I said this is what I use. Now some fiddlers just don’t care and they just play until the manager calls the hotel and says you know, “one more time and you’re going to be sleeping in your van,” believe me I’ve been there. Alright, well thanks so much for joining me today. Stay inspired, keep on fiddling, no matter if there’s somebody in the house that doesn’t like your fiddling or thinks you need to practice more or whatever, don’t listen to them. Just have fun, play when you’re inspired to play, play every day, and love every minute of it because that’s what I do and that’s what you should do. Okay, have a fantastic day. Thank you so much.

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