Thursday, January 3, 2013

"Discovering Rock Violin" - Book Review

While reading through Discovering Rock Violin by Chris Haigh, I couldn't help thinking to myself, "I wish I had this book when I first joined a metal band." It addresses many problems the aspiring rock violinist faces at the beginning of their career - what kind of parts should I write, how should I play, what kind of gear should I use? While I was left to guess and wrangle my way through these issues with only the help of my band's guitarists and the indie musicians my college town had to offer, this book walks you through much like a seasoned veteran would take an amateur under his wing. Not only is it instructional, but also very down to earth, relatable, funny, and an interesting read with extra tidbits of history and exclusive interviews sprinkled throughout.

"[T]he bad news is that no one is going to tell you what or how to play, there is no rule book for rock violinists and basically you're on your own. The good news is that no one else in the band, or indeed in the audience, can tell you that 'you're not doing it right'. This book aims to fill that gap".

The book is first an instructional book, but also features interviews, history, and an overview of notable bands within each given genre of rock. It presupposes a basic ability to read music and shows you the different ways violins are used in each different genre of rock by showing samples of styles, chord progressions and techniques commonly employed by that genre. The segments of sheet music are  accompanied by a CD with audio and MP3 tracks. Folk, blues, jazz, progressive rock, metal, country, and pop all have dedicated chapters with histories and overviews of the genres, and a player spotlight showcasing a specific player's rock violinist journey and impact on the genre. Haigh also delves into the gear necessary for being a rock violinist, with an overview of different types of violins, pickups, amps, and pedals. And at the end of the book is a little bonus: a list of the top 20 rock violin solos of all time!

Of course the section that piqued my interest was the section on metal, and I was pleased to find that it was very accurately portrayed, comprehensive and entertaining to read. "It's a land populated by trolls, orcs, dragons, warriors, and Nordic Gods . . . . Band names like Slayer, Hellhammer, Venom, Anvil of Doom, Extreme Noise Terror, Possessed, Morbid Angel, Bleeding Oath and Carcass all suggest that this was not what your parents had in mind when they presented you with your first 3/4 size violin." Haigh features genres from black metal to folk metal, gothic metal, and death metal, and has interview segments with Pete Johansen (Sirenia, Sins of Thy Beloved), Olli Vanskaa (Turisas), Lyris Hung (Hung), and Mark Wood (Trans-Siberian Orchestra). The interviews offer some interesting insight into the social implications of violins in metal;  Pete Johansen explains that the instrument's historical pagan associations make it not as unlikely a choice for metal as it may seem, and Olli Vanskaa discusses the metal violinist as being a subversive force in the status quo of rock music. I found this an altogether fascinating and enjoyable read!

Discovering Rock Violin is a goldmine for aspiring rock violinists, and will help you not only in your playing and writing abilities, but also in making you well-read and educated in the history and styles of the kind of music you are playing. So whether you plan on starting or joining a band, or just want to fiddle around on your own time, this is a great guide for transitioning your classical violin skills into rock violinist awesomeness.

Available for purchase through Amazon or Hal Leonard.

Chris Haigh's homepage: