Friday, July 29, 2016


This is certainly the hardest instrument I've tried yet. The worst part is that the learning curve is unusually steep right at the beginning.

With a piano or a recorder (or even a crumhorn) you can play a recognizable melody within an hour. And (depending on the instrument) your articulation may be horrible, there may be extra noises, whatever, but the point is you start from a position of playing something and then with practice play more complex things and play them more cleanly.

The violin may consume weeks just to get a sound -- let alone a melody. And to put all the basics together...when you can hold, bow, articulate, find the notes, shift and/or cross strings, and add a little vibrato...that's between three to six months.

It is in short a lot harder to fake it. It is possible to sound pretty playing with one finger on the piano. It is possible to sing along to two chords on a ukulele. There exists little equivalent on the violin; instead, you face day after day of doing decidedly un-musical exercises in hopes of one day being able to actually pick out a tune.

(Well, actually, it is only as dire as the above because the violin makes such unbearable sounds. Chopsticks on the piano may sound clumsy and trite but the student violin batters you with painful noises against which whatever melody may be there is all inaudible).

I've started experimenting with shifting (aka moving from first position to third, and back again). Which turned out to be impossible with my still insecure grip on the thing. So today I hung a shoulder rest on it and now I'm trying to get used to the way that changes everything else I'd hoped I'd already learned; the hand position is different now, the bow position is different, etc. I am confident I can dump the shoulder rest later, when I have a better overall command of the total, but for now it is going to speed up my learning process.

It is all slowly coming together. I'm really shifts and vibrato away from being able to fake a solo...well, if you don't care about being particularly on pitch! That will take, my current estimation is, forever. I don't think you ever quite stop finding places you can clean up your intonation. That said, in another month I'll be able to stop wincing all the time, in three months it might fool me, and in a year someone else might agree with me.

For now, the shoulder is still awkward. So I try to get my hand back to where it should be, and try to get the violin (and my posture) comfortable and stable, and that all takes so much concentration my bowing goes to hell. There's just too much going on at the same time here.

Speaking of which.

Finally got back to editing the laser files on the Holocron. And Inkscape demanded I update Xquartz, so I waited around for that to happen. And picked up a new wider-nib pen to make the new artwork go a little faster. But I'm still not going to get the lasering done this weekend; not with a clan get-together and ongoing recovery from a bug that had me lagging all last week (and then some).

Planning the next fanfic chapter. First scene is POV from a CRM archaeologist in Roswell, New Mexico. I'm still picking the archaeological site in question but I'm getting more and more intrigued by prehistoric. Very prehistoric -- try 10,000 to 15,000 years ago, with the first migrations of humans into the New World.

The next guest POV I do might go a little Jean Auel, is what I'm saying.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Holo Promises

The new MOSFETs arrived and I soldered one in to the prototype Holocircuit. The load sharing works now. It switches to battery when removed from USB, and according to the charge indicator light it is disconnecting the battery from the load during USB operation.

I still have to write the new software and find out if customizing can really be done with the small trio of buttons. And swap out the indicators for dimmer LEDs. I'm pretty tempted to rework the board for smaller components. Aside from the MOSFET and the Schottkey diode, I'm using the largest surface mount available. Now that I've seen the board, and assembled it, I have a better idea of the margins I need for clearances and so forth -- I can compact everything considerably.

Also made up artwork for the diffusion layer, finally. But even though the "bramble" artwork looks very nice, my heart was set on the "timelord" look, and that's still in the early stages on my drawing board.

Not getting a lot done after work, though. So unless I take a day or two off, I'll be surprised if I'm even ready for the lasers by this weekend.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

A Tautology

It takes time to get good at something.

Why is this tautological? Simple. "Good" is a contextual definition that in practical terms translates to the point at which the exponential curve flattens out sufficiently to reach a point of diminishing returns. Which is different for every context, of course.

The process of gaining a skill is an exponential curve; the most rapid "progress" is made at the start, between not being able to do a thing, being able to fake a thing, and being able to more-or-less do the thing. After that, most of the metrics you can apply (accuracy of work, time it takes, etc) show incremental improvement, with the work required to achieve each equal increment steadily increasing.

Just as jobs expand to fill (usually, overfill) the time scheduled for them, and projects expand to fill the budgets assigned to them, the definition and attributes of a skill expand to require as much time (on average) to grasp as society is willing to budget for. If for some reason society had determined that surgery wasn't that worthwhile and two weeks was long enough to spend training surgeons, then that would be the state of the art in the operating room. Mozart had to put up with violinists who wouldn't make audition into a high school band. But in the same period, any serious scholar needed to learn at least four languages (two of them dead).

Putting it a simpler way, you aren't up against immutable laws of nature when trying to learn something new; you are up against the ability of human beings to make a competition out of anything.

I just picked up a lovely set of tools. I'm into tools, you know. Been doing carpentry and other kinds of craftwork for decades. This set of tools do not look as elaborate as some. There is no polish, no tight tolerances, no machined edges. They are in fact very little changed from their natural forms; rounded river stones, bits of antler. They are, in point of fact, neolithic.

And they are beautiful. So beautiful I just had to try them out only minutes after opening the box. And I took a few trial taps. And had some small success but saw how much improvement was needed. Thus sparking the essay above.

The violin goes slowly as well. I've been taking it to work; we have two mandatory breaks of fifteen minutes during the day, so I'm averaging about twenty minutes of practice a day by doing this. Twenty minutes is also about all I can take at one stretch. The left arm and hand position is still uncomfortable.

I've gotten to the point where I can play a simple melody. I've gotten there, in fact, two or three times. That is, when I get that far, I also realize there's a problem with my position (or some other element) and I have to go back and try to fix that. Which changes everything again, meaning I'm back to scales again.

Everything interrelates and everything is evolving. I had the idea that one needed to find specific points with the instrument, positions of the body, etc...and this is true but not quite in the way I thought. Instead your relationship even over a simple scale is changing constantly, and you have to remap your relationships to those landmarks on the fly.

At the moment I'm really pushing on hand position. Trying to get my fingers curled properly for just fingertips. Earlier, when I fretted I didn't care how many strings I pushed down at the same time. Now I'm trying to just have one finger in contact, and worse; to have that finger only contact the one string, leaving the others open.

And this turns out to be one of those things that "everyone knows" so it doesn't get talked about often enough. Thing is, most of the people who teach violin (in one form of teaching or another) learned as children. They learned when their bodies were more flexible. This is why I saw dozens of instruction sets that simply stated how the hand should be, as if that was all there was to it.

In fact, it is an unnatural pronation that is quite uncomfortable to the beginning adult player. I think I have a leg up here (fortunately!) in that I'm fairly flexible and have my rock climbing background. But now that I finally realize what the issue is, I've been able to track down some useful advice. And I'm now alternating stretching exercises between playing in a position that's uncomfortable enough I can only hold it for a few minutes at a time.

Related to this...yes, of course, everything relates...I'd have an easier time if I wasn't supporting so much of the weight on my hand. I'm propping up on the thumb at the moment which is wrong (and unstable). As much as I want to go without, I may have to play with a shoulder rest for a little just while I get this hand thing down.

And of course, when I'm concentrating hard on the fingers my bow is still sometimes straying from the Kreisler Highway. It all relates. It is pretty much impossible to get one thing nailed down and then never have to revisit it because the next thing you work on causes changes that propagate back.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

On the Rocks

Finally posted the big Croft Manor fight chapter. It didn't do many of the things I had hoped for it. POV is beginning to be a problem for me -- in this chapter particularly, and partly because I was trying to put across the idea of the Fog of War, I had dozens of POV characters each whom held only tiny parts of the whole.

I've been really sticking with Third-Person Limited here, so when I'm "seeing" what a random mercenary sees, he can only describe some guy jumping out at him; he has no way of knowing this is supposed to be Alister Fletcher, or someone totally different. And in keeping with the Fog of War, he doesn't know that Teal'c just took out his buddy; all I can describe through his eyes is if he is aware that his buddy isn't behind him anymore.

So I'm going to try to do most of the next couple chapters from Lara's POV. Not sure I want to get into the head of the Treasure Force Commander...err, whatever I'm calling him in the fanfic to keep the lawyers off my back.

Of course I'm thinking about opening the chapter with another one-shot POV; this being the owner of a small CRM firm, who can talk a little about the realities of doing archaeology for a living, particularly in the States.

Doing the research is a ton of fun, but at some point I just need to knock out chapters based on stuff I already know...and finish the thing before I get bored with it and pick up something new.

Like, for instance, the four pounds of obsidian flakes that just got delivered.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Pit stop on the Kreisler Highway

Yes, I'm still playing with that idea of a "Tomb Raider: Legacy" Main Title track. I just read a thesis by a fellow named Pieter Smal on "Unifying Elements in the Tomb Raider Trilogy game soundtracks." Of course the three Crystal Dynamics/Eidos games were composed largely by the same person, who gave them extensive continuity -- and as well, one of them was a remake of an earlier Core Design game, and Troels Folmann consciously stayed close to the original score.

The games are internally well-connected as well. In addition to the extensive re-use of a relatively small number of motifs, these different motifs often share melodic and/or rhythmic templates.

So there is a good bit of material to mull over from this paper; use of certain rhythmic elements like the tresillo, for instance. And one very important thing to think of; the incorporation in the Legend soundtrack of the Ailein Duinn, a traditional Scottish song. Of course the song is a wee bit overused already, including in a surprising number of games. But this lament is so thematically appropriate both to Lara coming back to England and her roots, and for her to reach closure on the disappearance of her parents, it is hard not to include it.

I also did a little research on the tin whistle/penny whistle/Irish whistle. I guess fork fingering is allowed on it, although half-holing seems more common, so my recorder instincts won't totally betray me there. However, it is also apparently rarely tongued for articulation, and there my years of the recorder are going to be a problem.

There are also various grace notes, trills and slurs to be properly idiomatic. And some very interesting notes about how shaping the airway is essential to achieving a pleasing tone. As always, there is more to learn than is visible at first glance. So move back any chance of me using the tin whistle in a recording by many more months of practice.

In re the fiddle, I brought it to work yesterday and that got me almost thirty minutes of practice over my break periods. I'm going to try that again tomorrow. I'm still experimenting with the basic hold and the hand position to try to get a comfortable and secure grip but most particularly get my hand somewhere that is comfortable enough to practice for longer than fifteen minutes (but allows me to reach the majority of the notes.)

I could probably use a tutor. But I can't see affording it, time or money (or, rather, the fuss of trying to schedule it, trying to get to the tutor, etc.) Plus I might have to search for a while to find the right kind of tutor. There's a sort of classical ballet flavor to violin classes and I don't learn well in that environment.

How to explain? The postures and moves of classical ballet are relatively recent and were developed by avid experimentalists. But they are now codified in a strict "do not question the old masters or their representative, your teacher" way that would make the most traditional Japanese craft blush. And violin appears to be taught the same way.

In defense, it is a difficult instrument. There's a lot that has to be grasped and it doesn't make a lot of sense for the student to waste time trying to reinvent the wheel. In fact, that's an even better defense; although the various holds and positions and etc. seem weird and arbitrary when someone attempts to describe them (or even show them on video) they actually make great biomechanical sense once you get into them.

But that's how I would want to be taught violin; how I personally need to learn violin; from finding what makes sense, what works. And I see a lot of people with books and webpages and the like who do approach it from this direction. I don't know if that would work well for a kid, but this old boy has quite literally decades of embedded neuromuscular experience in a variety of other seemingly awkward, even non-intuitive postures and motions, from cutting into wood on a lathe to climbing rock faces. I may lake the plasticity of a child, but I have a lifetime of potentially similar trained instincts I can leverage.

So I have a certain amount of confidence that I can self-instruct. I have hope I'm not going to get myself stuck in a sub-optimal "wrong" posture because I'm constantly questioning and experimenting, and I'm reading and watching instructional videos and observing performers to see how they are doing it. Still, I agree with the general consensus; young or old, and ultimately dependent more than anything else on how much practice time you can put into it, playing well enough to play with others/play in front of others is going to take at least a year.

What a strange species we are, to be so attracted to things that take a significant fraction of our lifespan just to reach the same point millions of other human beings have already reached.

Monday, July 11, 2016

A few musical notes

Felt inspired and full of energy... hour before work ended for the day. It's that last hour that's the killer (why I'm moving towards a 35-hour week instead).  I miss ten hour days. Ten is no harder than 8, but it gives you either more pay or a longer weekend.

Put in 20-30 minutes on the fiddle today. Still working on that coordination -- rather, the sequence. According to a study I read, takes 20-40 milliseconds for a string to "speak" from when the bow is applied. You need, however, to be on the correct string and have the fingers in the right position before that happens. And the problem is, starting the bow is a shorter motion than moving the finger or, worse, moving to bow to a different string. The study didn't go into that, but looking at the graph the former is in the range of hundreds of milliseconds, and the latter I'm betting is much longer than that. Like a finger on the piano keyboard, these are ballistic motions; you need to start them well before they are required to be complete.

So you can't just start them both at the same time. You do that, you get squeaks and squeals. You have to anticipate by a fraction of a second. Of course I'm making it harder (much harder) on myself by not using a detache bowing, but trying to do this within the change of direction.

Over the weekend dreamed up a possible motif for my proposed Tomb Raider: Legacy OST (original sound track). Made a quick recording in Reaper off the keyboard (yay! Got some more use out of the Behringer!) Assuming I get that far, I will be doing at least the Nathan McCree motif on my Clarke pennywhistle. But will it take me long enough to get around to it that I'll be able to do a fiddle part as well? Unlikely, either way.

On the way back from the grocery store sung "My Dog Has Fleas" (aka the open-string pitches of standard/soprano ukulele tuning.) And when I got in, a quick check on the uke showed I was right on pitch with all of them. So I think I may have absolute pitch. Far from perfect, however (again, I have indirect evidence I'm only sensitive to 30 cents or more for absolute. Relative, the tuner tells me I'm sensitive to within the limits of the display). I'm still using the Snark every time I practice on the fiddle; it clips right to the headstock so it is easy to look and see if you are on pitch.

Also over the weekend, I borrowed back the Morrow Project CBR and Medkit long enough to stick new batteries in them and to try to do a short video demonstration of the electronics. It did not go well. I couldn't get the display to show up properly on the laptop's built-in camera, and I was awful; rambling, disjointed, uncoordinated. I supposed I could play around with recording a new narrative and doing a bunch of edits to splice the new material together with some better pictures, in-progress construction pictures, etc. But that's a lot of work and my channel has nearly no hits.

Otherwise, I have a buyer in Germany for a couple more M40's, I'm waiting on a new MOSFET for the Holocron (plus four pounds of obsidian flakes), I'm three to five hundred words away from completing the next fanfic chapter, and I got as far as taping a fresh sheet of paper to my drafting board for new Holocron art.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

The Hunting of the Snark

Several lost days there. Spent the weekend curled up on the couch, and more than once this week came home from work and went directly to bed. Finally managed to order new Holocron parts today, and I have hopes of making a quick video of the Morrow Project CBR before I hand it back.

As well as a violin video. I slipped on my intent to document the first critical week, but I can still put one in at an arbitrary "a little over a week." (Considering how lax I've been on practice).

To work on my intonation I picked up a clip-on tuner (my Korg tuner wasn't responsive enough for this anyhow). Researched several different brands, they all are flimsy and use tiny watch batteries that don't last very long -- the usual "choice" of modern consumer products, where the only variety that's offered is strictly cosmetic. Otherwise everyone "competes" by making the exact same choices (and probably has them built by the same factory in Taiwan anyhow).

So dropped by the one surviving local music store (outside of Guitar Center) and got a Snark. It is easy to read, stays nice and tight on the headstock, responds quickly. And is roughly as accurate as my own hearing.

Or vice versa. I found at least on intervals my ears were guiding me to as fine as the tuner could measure. But with a little help from the tuner, I explored getting the "singing fifth." And, yes...getting it to actually sing is a little finer than the tuner can adequately display (one could improve that tuner vastly by using a logarithmic scale). But once I hit the exact pitch -- yes, even on silent violin you can clearly here the next string over vibrating in sympathy.

Other than that intonation is still going slowly and I'm not even tempted to leave First Position. And I can just barely put vibrato in selectively, and that only on the easy strings. The only reason I'm trying to do it at all is because it changes my finger position, which changes how I hold the violin... Everything connects on this. Everything.

I can muddle through my first tune enough so it isn't horrifying to listen to. But based on this, I'm months away from being able to play an arbitrary melodic line. And years from being able to make it sound nice.

I don't remember struggling like this on other instruments. But I'm pretty sure I did. I know there must have been days when I looked at the awkward positions necessary for ukulele chords and was sure it would be a long time (if ever) before my fingers could do that.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

For want of a Niall

I'm taking a couple of sick days off from the Holocron. Mostly resting, but also working on the fanfic. This is a big fight at Croft Manor, which was originally thrown in to put a little action into a chapter of archaeological discussion. But said chapter ran long, kicked the fight scene into its own chapter, and so that had to grow larger as well.

In the original Legend/Underworld canon (aka, the first trilogy of games produced by the studio Crystal Dynamics) Amanda sends the Doppleganger into Croft Manor to steal back the Wraith Stone. My head canon is Amanda tried earlier but was stymied by the house security (one of the in-game excuses for using Doppie is that she passes for Lara on a retinal scanner).

And in my fic, this first attack takes place while members of SG-1 are visiting.

See, this is what is exciting about cross-overs. Like AU stories, you've established a change. It may be a small change (there are a large number of fanfics in which "Harry" Potter is born a girl. And for whatever reason, many of them get rather lemony as well -- usually involving Hermione. But nevermind!)

The fun is that changes cascade. It is almost never a matter of replacing each occurrence of one name or gender or hair color or whatever but otherwise retelling the same story. Instead, events diverge, proceeding inexorably from that first change.

Of course one reason is that fanfics are by their nature fix fics; they are an author's response to another's work, and they may chose to comment on or to change elements of that work. This ranges from exposing some of what one might consider poorer choices in the original, to completely changing the spirit. (This may be why in, say, Harry Potter fanfics, Voldemort rarely survives much past the Triwizard Tournament.)

This is a dialog that happens within original works as well; many works of science fiction and fantasy were written to ridicule or overturn existing genre conventions. Or to introduce elements that had been previously lacking (c.f. feminist science fiction, the New Wave, etc., etc.)

The other reason is because this is the fun. The fun of all the alternate history and What If stories. Make one change, whether it is Lee victorious at Gettysburg or the Enterprise showing up in orbit around Caprica, and see what follows.

(Personally, for me this is practically the point. The original canon Harry Potter universe is all about how special magic is and how useless muggles are. Making Harry...err...Amaryllis Potter the (other) young ward of Bruce Wayne means that muggle skills and muggle ways proceed to kick ass.)

Unfortunately I'm not really doing this. There's no specific linkage of events that causes my Amanda to send a full team of mercenaries to get the Wraith Stone back. If this does come out of anything, it is from something that far predates Lara's awareness of the Stargate program.

It comes from the fact that in this universe, both canons are true. At least, as much as is possible to reconcile them. The Stargate and the Goa'uld have always been part of Lara Croft's universe, waiting for her to explore the right tomb to find them. And Amanda and the Wraith Stone, Excalibur and Mjolnir and Natla have always been part of the Stargate, SG1 universe; again, just waiting for the heroes of that show to discover them.

Oh, and one other thing. In my particular universe, the fusion I've chosen for this specific work of fiction, people aren't idiots. Actually, in the SG1 universe military people are surprisingly competent (of course "by TV standards" is a low bar, but still). And so are scientists, by and large. What's been the biggest problem for me in the majority of the fic is my efforts to admit history, archaeology, paleontology, geology, evolutionary biology, etc., etc. to the competence club; to assume that archaeologists would probably have noticed if, say, the Great Pyramid of Cheops at Giza had gone flying around the galaxy ca 3,000 BC.

In any case, this chapter brings the general military competence of the SG1 universe, as well as my general slant towards improved realism (but only when and if compatible with telling a good story) to an armed attack on Croft Manor.

It ain't going to be Home Alone. Stupid tricks don't actually work against even poorly trained gunmen (well, not often enough to risk). And you don't fire off automatic weapons indoors without someone getting hurt. I mean to maim one of my cast before this is done.

Ah, but sigh; I have no real battle plan, no good overall flow. Just a bunch of character "bits" I want to do. Half of which are, well basically, those same Home Alone kinds of gags. The cake is getting divided at least four ways here.

So none of this is unfolding organically from the original assumptions. Instead my choices are thoroughly constrained. I'm leveraging the architecture of the manor itself for every bit of plot convenience I can get from it, and as well forcing each essentially isolated encounter to fall the way I want it to fall instead of developing in any logical way.

One day. One day I will write a proper AU/cross-over, in which I really do defend how each battle came out different because of my original nail.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Oh, now this is just silly

I've been practicing scales on the fiddle. For a couple of days now. Which is not a lot less time than I've actually owned the thing, as it was delivered only this last Monday.

It's about time I introduce my violin. Cecilio CEVN solid-body electric violin in metallic black. Mine is outfitted with perlon-core "Alphayue" strings from Thomastik Infeld. Paid about $130 on Amazon, which is a low price for a stringed instrument and an amazing low price for one of decent quality.

It's wood, despite the spacey appearance. Ebony fingerboard, friction tuners, fine tuners in the tailpiece, standard violin bridge. In fact, if you ignore the holes (and the missing half of the upper bout), it has the same physical layout of a "real" violin in all detail. This is important, because a lot of technique depends on being able to establish a relation between parts of your body and landmarks on the violin.

I'd heard all sorts of horror stories about squeaks and squeals, and I was expecting to have to struggle for a while to get the hang of bowing. Well, clean articulation is still a ways in the future, but for a simple stroke -- I got a good tone the first time I put bow to strings. And after about a week, I'm only hitting two strings/the wrong string when I get tired and lose focus.

Of course in the trade-off, I was entirely unprepared for how complicated and potentially uncomfortable the process of merely holding the thing is. I've found the bow hold without any particular difficulty, but I'm still having trouble with the violin itself.

I also thought fingering was going to be an adventure. The part I didn't know if I could do at all, in fact. Well,  I apparently can. But when you think about it,  I can whistle and sing more-or-less in tune, so it only makes sense that I can hear when my fingering is more-or-less in the right place (and correct it when it is not). The muscle memory for putting the fingers down in the right place to begin with is happening, too. I don't regret at all my decision to omit the crutches of tape or other markings.

What again I did not expect was the almost indigestible confusion over fingering schemes. I was seeing all sorts of strange charts and graphs, all sorts of apparently clever work with numbered fingers and color-coded strings, and none of it was making any sense.

Until it finally clicked. And what's more, it clicked why I was seeing such a complicated mess of what looked like willfully obtuse approaches. See, the assumption in most of the teaching material I was seeing is that you are not just teaching violin, but also teaching the very first instrument, as well as music theory and how to even read music. And teaching it to young people who may also lack coordination.

But I've played piano, and recorder, and ukulele (none of them well, mind you...) The uke, like the guitar, often sidesteps traditional notation by going direct to tabs, short for tablature. Which is basically a drawing of the actual strings with numbers for which fret you want to hold down. The recorder as I encountered it uses standard sheet music, with a fingering chart used to translate the necessary motions of your hands to the desired note.

Both can also be played by ear. I mostly learn tunes by ear, in fact. Which means I'm not really thinking "I need a G# here," I'm thinking "The next tone in this melody is a major fifth up from where I am now." The fun trick on uke and guitar, in fact, is that the strings are different intervals apart, meaning you have to remember how many steps you need to add depending on which string you are going to before you know which fret to use. But this comes quickly.

The violin has four strings each a fifth apart. If you break down the typical violin fingering chart down to the most basic element, you see that each possible fingering position is a half step away from the last.

Um, d'uh. Unless you are doing non-Western music, the half step is the smallest legal definition between available tones. Now, if you look at the chart that gives where each finger should start in first position, second position, etc., you notice something else. The spacing between the fingers changes.

That is to say, between these "home positions" lie either a half step or a whole step. And here's the fun part. Those steps occur in the same pattern as in the two most-used Western scales (skipping for the moment the whole concept of the "melodic minor," okay?)

Oh, but it gets better. If you start on an open string, that home position of the fingers in First Position are exactly the scale tones of a major scale starting on that tonic. And since the strings are a fifth apart, you can play a major scale starting on any of the three lower strings without moving your fingers from that home position.

Just for icing on that cake, the little finger falls on the fifth degree of that scale. Meaning it falls on the same note as the open string next to it (tuned in fifths, remember?)

It all falls together. The reason there are scales is to collect consonant tones, tones that sound good together. Melodic sequences are usually written within the notes of a specific scale. This is why we practice scales; it makes it easier to know which notes are probably going to be needed to play a melody (once we've discovered what key it is in). That's why notation uses key signatures, it allows you to know which notes you will need and makes distinctive (using accidentals and the like) the exceptions. And that's why this system of First Position et al on the violin; it presets your hand to find the notes that are most likely to be called for within a particular melody.

Obviously there is going to be a lot more to that. Accidentals aside, there's the whole thorny matter of temperament. Let it just be said that in actual performance you will be adjusting those finger positions.

Here's another little bit of clarity. Since each string is the same length (their frequency is determined by a combination of stiffness/weight and tension), the same fraction of each string has the same harmonic relationship to the whole. Which means that major third is the same distance up the fingerboard regardless of what string you are stopping. Again, d'uh; guitar fingerboards have horizontal frets. But the way the violin charts is presented obfuscates this simple relationship.

(That, and the nature of the hepatonic scale, in which seven unique notes are used to cover the legal possibilities in eleven distinct tones; so other than Cmaj and its relative minor, no scale -- and no finger position -- goes simply "A, B, C, D." Dmaj, for instance, has two sharps, meaning it goes "D, E, F#," etc.)

Oh, yes. And all that guff about "first position, third position?" It's the same repeating pattern of half and whole steps. All that changes is your fingers move higher up the fingerboard; your index starts where your ring finger had been, etc.

Everything about the violin is a matter of rubbing the head and patting the stomach. And chewing gum at the same time. Everything interacts. The violin is literally balanced between collarbone and the lower joint of the index finger. So you can't refine your position without making sure you are also capable of fingering. You can't practice bowing until you know you can find a repeatable position (because you are depending on, again, muscle memory to set the bow at the right angle to the angle of the instrument).

And you can't refine that position of the fingers, find your home marks by the feel of the thumb and the slight brush against the scroll and so forth if you are going to have to change that fingering position in order to allow vibrato.

So even though all the books say don't you dare even think about vibrato until after you've mastered fingering out to fifth position, I went ahead and attempted it just to make sure I wasn't learning a hold and fingering technique that was going to be a problem for me down the road.

The books also say it will take months -- six months, one of them said -- to achieve vibrato.

I did it today. It took about thirty minutes.

Now, it isn't clean vibrato. It's playing hob with my intonation, and my bowing (already unsteady) is getting downright jerky when I do it. Plus the violin wants to slip off my collar when I do it. But it was also a total success in that it gained me new insights into how my hands and limbs and instrument are supposed to be arranged.

And, yeah. Thirty minutes. I can tell by just how horrible "Twinkle, Twinkle" sounds that it is going to be months before I can actually play anything. But all the basics seem to be there. And discovering them has been -- at least as compared to any reasonable expectation -- ridiculously easy.

(If you want to hear just how bad I sound on my first three days with the instrument, I recorded the experience for posterity, and it is up on my YouTube channel)