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Practice Toolkit

Here is a quick way for you to access the essential practice tools you need. Under each tab you'll find play-along tracks, tabs and condensed teachings to help you as you practice. This is an evolving idea, so let me know in a comment below if it could be better.

Here are drones for the most common fiddle keys. A D drone can be used to practice tunes in D major or D minor (Dorian or Aeolian).

D drone


A drone

G drone

E drone


For drones in different keys as well as different textures and beats, go to: Drone Central.

Here are some common scales used in fiddle tunes. Each runs through a series of variations: two bows legato, two bows staccato, four bows, tucka (4 shorts, two longs), hoedown (1 long, two shorts), throwaway bow, triplets, tremolo.

D Major

G Major, starting on D3

A Major

D Dorian

A Dorian


Practice a tune with its scale (Kerry Polka is in G major, so practice a G major scale). Practice scales before, during and after practicing tunes.

For more scale play-along tracks, go to Scale Central.

Rhythms

Tucka 

Short-short-short-short-long-long. Practice on D string:

Practice more: Fingering with Bowing Exercises


Hoedown 

Long-short-short. Practice on D string:


Triplets 

1-2-3 notes per step. Practice D0-0-0-A0-0-0 with plucking:

Practice more: String Crossing Exercises


Swing 

Long-short.  Practice G0-0-2-2-D0-0-3-3-3-3-0-0 with the 'swing double' rhythm:


Slur pattern

Slur two

Here we play two notes per bow. Practice D0-1-1-0 with slur two:

Practice more: Slur Two Exercises


Slur three

Here we play three notes per bow. Practice D0-1-2-2-1-0 with slur three:

Practice more: Slur Three Exercises


Slur four

Here we play four notes per bow. Practice with D0-1-2-3, first time downbow, then upbow:

Practice more: Slur Four Exercises


Slur two-separate two 

This forms a hoedown pattern (long-short-short). Practice it with D0-1-1-1:

Practice more: Slur Two-Separate Two Exercises

30-minute Tune Routine

  • Tone and scale warmup: 5 minutes
  • Interval warm-ups: 5 minutes
  • Tune: 20 minutes

Find all play-along tracks for intervals here: Interval Central


One Tune, One Scale, Ten Minutes

  • Play a scale for five minutes
  • Play a tune using that scale for five minutes
  • As a variation, just alternate between a tune and its scale for ten minutes

10-minute tuning routine

  • Practice individual notes with a drone: 5 minutes
    • So to practice D1, use an E drone. To practice, D2 use an F sharp drone
    • If you're unsure what note you're playing, then use the Notefinder (found in another tab with this Practice Tools section)
  • Practice intervals with a drone: 5 minutes

    • Pick a focus note to use as the drone
    • So if you are practicing D3-A0, play along with a G drone (for D3); this will help you tune that note

20-minute review routines

  • Single-drone routine
    • Review tunes that share the same drone note. So tunes in D Major, D Dorian or D Klezmer can all be practiced with a D drone.
    • Use the Tunes Listed By Root Note page as your guide.
    • Play the relevant scale before each tune you review.
    • This is a fun and refreshing way to review tunes.
  • Last 5-10 ten tunes
    • A simpler routine is to just review the last 5-10 tunes you've learned in a twenty-minute session.
    • Play the relevant scale before each tune you review.

Experiment combining or alternating routines.

Click here for more practice routines

It takes a minute for the notefinder image to appear. Thanks for your patience 🙏

  • You are a musician if you PLAY EVERY DAY
    • Find a consistent time and place to practice. Make it a habit, like brushing your teeth; that way you spend no energy in deciding to practice or not.
    • Learn more: How To Practice Consistently
  • Listening is practice too.
  • Slow down.
    • This is cliché music teacher advice, but it’s what most students need to do.
    • Learn more: Slow Down To Speed Up
  • Sing what you play.
    • Singing or humming (if you’re shy) will help you to play in tune as well as remember melodies.
    • It can also be a lot of fun to alternate between singing and playing a phrase to song.
    • Learn more: Singing and Playing Practice
  • Practice audiation.
    • Audiation is hearing music in your head. Actively practice this.
    • Learn more: Audiation
  • Loop it.
    • Whatever level you’re at, you can benefit from looping small bits and phrases.
    • Not only will it help your technique, but it will unlock your creativity and bring you joy.
    • Learn more: Looping Practice
  • Micro-learning.
    • Learn in very small increments.
    • Single notes > bits > phrases > tunes
    • Learn more: Micro-learning
  • Drone on.
    • Practicing with drones is pleasurable, and so you’ll be more likely to play every day.
    • Drones will help you play better in tune.
    • Learn more: How To Play In Tune With Drone Notes
  • Be your own teacher.
    • Make up your own exercises.
    • Record yourself and listen back. This way you can pinpoint what’s most challenging.
    • Learn more: Be Your Own Teacher
  • Remember to sound good.
    • Always return to a good sound, even if it means playing quarter notes on the D string. You can do this! You just have to remember to pause on practicing the challenging thing and just get a good sound on single notes.
    • Why do this? Because it will bring you deep joy. And it will build your confidence which will inspire further practice.
    • Learn more: Remember to Sound Good
  • Practice Just To Practice
    • Don't fixate on being great or perfect. Good is better than perfect.
    • The moment you pick up the fiddle and play you have "made it".
    • Learn more: Practice Just To Practice

Here are a few technical reminders to remember as you practice.

Posture reminders

  • Curve left-hand and right-hand fingers.
  • Bend right thumb.
  • Bend right arm and wrist.
  • Use minimal energy.
  • Left-hand fingers land on tips, not pads. This makes for more precise playing.

Bowing tips

  • Take time to focus on bowing during each practice session.
    • Get the best possible sound on single notes using long bows, throwaway bow, rhythms. Even just a few minutes of this will drastically improve your sound.
  • Use less bow.
    • This is a rule of thumb for fiddle tunes, especially for when things are difficult.
    • Continue to practice long bows. This will improve your overall sound.
  • Play in the middle of the bow. This is the sweet spot.
  • Use no extra energy or force for double stops.
    • It's more a matter of getting the bow perfectly balanced between the two strings.
    • Again, playing with less bow will help with this.

Left-hand fingering tips

  • Keep fingers down when possible.
    • For example, if you are rapidly playing D1-2, it is easier if you keep D1 down while fingering D2.
    • Practice this on scales.
  • Practice Little Lift
    • Don't lift left-hand fingers too high. Let them just hover above the string.
    • This allows you to play faster, better in tune and with more ease.
    • Take a lesson on Little Lift.
  • Practice challenging intervals
    • Your fingers need a lot more time with things than your brain (which gets bored more easily).
    • Find the most challenging interval from a tune, like D3-A1 in Oh Susannah, and practice that until you can play it with ease and joy.
    • Use the exercises from Interval Central to go deeper with this.

Check in with the body

  • Is it relaxed or tense? Are you breathing evenly?
  • If you notice you are tense and not breathing evenly, simply pause on what you're currently practicing and play a single note. Make it sound nice. See if your body is more relaxed now.
  • If you can play a single note with a relaxed body, then try more complex things: 2-note intervals, scales, simple tune phrases, whole tunes.
  • Keep returning to single notes as a way to center yourself, relax and enjoy the process.

Little lift

  • Don't lift your left-hand fingers too high off the fingerboard. You only need to lift them about a millimeter.
  • This saves energy and will allow you to play with more ease and speed.
  • Practice: two-note intervals (like D1-2), scales, tune phrases, whole tunes.
    • Keep your awareness on Little Lift as you practice more complex things.
  • Take a short lesson: Little Lift

Little pauses

  • If you find that sound is sloppy, try adding a little pause in between the notes. This gives your fingers time to find the next note. This is especially helpful with string crossing.
  • Take a short lesson: A Little Pause
  • Practice the "Stop n' Rock" exercises from String CrossingApply this idea to more complex string crossings.

Slow down

  • Students of all levels can do this to improve their technique.

Take short breaks

  • It's easy to get caught up in practicing and not notice that the body is stiff and sore.
  • Take short breaks to move, stretch and breathe.