Review of 2013

It’s been a really long time since I last updated my blog. I’ve been very busy at work last year and also have been equally busy pursuing a lot of hobbies.

I have been keeping up my music related hobbies including piano and violin practice. Due to lack of free time, I dropped cello for a bit, but I’m hoping to restart it again this year. So far I’m feeling I’ve improved in both piano and violin, but I am still not yet satisfied with my piano skills yet. I am still a bit weak at my sightreading which is preventing me from playing all the anime songs I enjoy, but I’m now learning songs from the music sheet and learning techniques to take the songs of the page into memory which I believe will take me that step further to playing the songs I want to play.

As for violin, I have been making good progress every week and I am just starting on learning a bit of vibrato. My teacher has also said I am almost ready to be able to start playing in an orchestra. I still am not happy with my intonation yet, although it is improving. I am quite good with sightreading, but need the practice so that I can play songs in tune and correctly despite any added pressure. This is so I can record myself playing easier. At the moment, there are too many mistakes that I can’t easily make my own piano and violin combination videos to post onto youtube.

At the beginning of last year, I had the problem that I was struggling with trying to memorize all the simply music songs on my playlist. I recovered my playlist, but due to work being too busy, I have been struggling throughout this year to keep up with all the songs.

Apart from music, I’ve been quite into making a lot of stuff. I got into some hobby electronics and built several headphone amplifies and some speaker amps. I even built a couple of tube amplifier kits and fabricated my own PCBs to make my own CanAmp headphone amp clone which I’m proud of. I also designed and build my own metronome for music practice. I then moved on from discrete electronics into some PIC chip programming to try make some other projects included a test project to play a ham radio greeting with my call sign on a buzzer in Morse code.

I also got into 3D printers as they have become popular lately. Around the middle of last year, I bought a RepRap 3d printer kit from MakerFarm of the 8” i3 Prusa. It is a laser cut kit and it took me about 2 weeks to put it together. I bought my kit around the same time as another person at work bought the same kit, so we worked together to debug issues until we got it working. It was a lot of work and looking back, there was a lot of trial and error needed to learn how to get it printing decently. The printer kept falling apart while printing or something would happen that would cause the prints to fail and I’d have to try figure out how to fix it. Thanks to that, I wasted a lot of time, but also learnt a lot of how to fix all of the issues. Now I can keep it running fairly reliably since I know it inside out. Recently I modified the kit to add automatic bed levelling and it involved updating the firmware to enable the feature. It turned out that the newer firmware had bugs in it, so I had to make some changes to it to get it working on my printer.

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Leaving Singapore for Japan

My flight from Singapore was from 8am in the morning, so I woke up at around 5:30am and got a lift from Kyoko to the airport.

It was not very busy at this time of the morning so we got to the airport quickly. The temperature was pretty much the same. I had a shower in the morning so I would be fresh for the flight.

This time the check-in counter was indeed for Japan airlines.

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Heading to Singapore for Japan Trip

I left home about 11-12am for my 3pm flight getting a lift from my dad.

It was a little confusing finding the checkin counter as the Japan airlines flight number wasn’t displayed but apparently was actually operated by Qantas airlines. It took quite a while to progress through the queue to check in my baggage.

After checking in, I said bye to my dad and I went to wait outside the boarding gate. This is the plane I went on.

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Online Violin Jam Session

I did an online violin jam session with other beginner violinists around the world (mainly the US) on Saturday night. We used Google Hangouts (part of Google+) and it was suprisingly good. We were able to play songs we shared with each other and some Suzuki songs in sync and we also took turns playing some of the songs we’ve been working on.

It was really interesting to see what other violin beginners were learning, and I realized the Suzuki songs really sound quite nice! I’ll have to try play some more of them for fun.

Fortunately google released a Google+ app update on the iPad that adds Google Hangouts support, so it was really easy to set up. I just connected my Blue Yeti USB condenser mic to my iPad and I mounted the iPad onto a music stand faced at me. :)

I’m looking forward to doing another one, but I’m going on holidays soon, so the next one for me may be after I come back.

Violin Sightreading

Last night so I did some violin sightreading of a piece that was on a facebook violin beginners forum.

They are planning on getting a group on Google hangouts (from Google+) to play it, but I think they may have issues with latency that will prevent us from playing in sync.

I think I screwed up the counting as it’s meant to be in 6/8 time and I didn’t even look at the time signature before playing it. I also missed out all the repeats! Oh well. :P

I’ll have to practice it along to my metronome and see if it improves.

Bought a Zoom G1X for my electric violin!

I just bought a guitar pedal (Zoom G1X) for my electric violin (Yamaha SV-200). Now my electric violin makes a lot of funky sounds when playing instead of a boring amplified tone.

I’m more a fan of my acoustic violin, but I found I enjoyed playing a song and have it coming out as a screeching guitar distortion sound or as an acoustic sound in a large concert hall reverb which sounds quite nice.

I find playing in an electric violin harder because every mistake is amplified, so you have to play cleanly or everyone can hear you accidentally brush on the wrong string or when you’re playing out of tune.

Does anyone here have an electric violin? Do you have any hints on different ways to play it?

Second Cello Lesson

Currently I’ve decided on doing cello lessons about once a fortnight and have a 1 hours session with my violin teacher where half is for the cello lesson and the other half is for the violin lesson.

I had my second cello lesson yesterday and I learnt quite a bit from it. I had practiced my bowing and as a result my bowing was quite good when I played some open strings for my teacher.

However, it seems that I was not bowing straight and in the ideal area to make the strings vibrate more resonant. My teacher corrected my bowing arm movement as I bowed so that when doing a full bow across the strings, the bow would be still straight.

I also did some exercises from my cello book to practice string crossing which is a lot more challenging on cello as the difference in movement to perform a string crossing on the tip and on the base of the bow is quite large.

I was then shown to sit up straight on the chair as I was slouching and shown the proper position to finger the cello strings. Apparently my arm was too far back to hold down the strings properly so after being shown to simply shift my entire arm forward, it was much easier to finger the strings. I had to keep in mind to keep the thumb behind my 2nd finger and use it as a pivot when switching between the 1st and 3rd & 4th fingers on the strings.

We then worked on a few simple pieces involving the notes on the D string and also some on the A string. I was taught some finger exercises by simply pressing down the string with my fingers and lifting them to strengthen them. I think this is especially important for the 4th finger which is quite weak.

So I have a lot of stuff to practice on the cello. I plan to practice it slowly and ensure that I use good technique and make a good tone rather than playing up to speed.

I’m really enjoying learning the cello.

Fixing up my cello

When I initially got the cello, I had a play around with it initially and managed to break the A string the following day when tuning. The pegs were slipping and that resulted in the broken string. I tried replacing one with another spare A string but broke that too!!

Anyways, I took it to the music shop that I bought my violin from and the repair man took a look at it for me. Apparently the cello had been through a lot and had even had major repairs made to it in the past. He refitted all of the pegs and fixed a crack for me. Suprisingly enough the repairs only cost $20, although the replacement A string cost me $50! There was some buzzing when I received the cello, but it seems to be gone after the servicing.

After getting it serviced at the music shop I have had no more issues with the cello. :)

My first cello lesson

I had my first cello lesson last Thursday!
Learnt how to hold between my knees and adjust the height the cello to the right height.
I also started on some fingering on it. Seems that the hand position is different and is important because you have to use your little finger to hold down the string too, and if you don’t have the hand position right, it’s too difficult to push the string down with the little finger.
Did a little bit of bowing too, but that was more on the difference between violin and cello bowing.

About my fast violin progress and jam sessions

My violin teacher often says that I’m progressing very quickly almost every lesson. She says most people usually spend 2 years before they get to where I am. Still, I think I have to be careful with progressing too fast as my technique can and often does suffer if I don’t practice enough. At the moment, I have to practice quite a bit to keep at the pace I’m at. I think the ability to identify what I’m doing wrong and self correcting (which I learnt from Karate) is helping a lot with learning the violin techniques. Being able to hear when I’m playing something out of tune is also very helpful. I blame my out of tune piano for that useful skill.

A couple of weeks ago I did a jam session with Joseph on his Oud and viola with me on the piano and violin. It reminded me that I still need to work on counting correctly when playing. He showed me how to count and play to a metronome. I’ve decided to ignore my piano teacher’s advice of not using a metronome and have begun to use one in my practice. My violin teacher asked me to start practicing to one too, so I am starting to incorporate one in my practice. I think playing to my own timing too much has made me unable to play along to someone else’s timing.

I remember another friend showed me the same counting techniques previously. I wish I did something about my counting issue then instead of leaving it till now. It has improved since then, but I’m still not happy with it.