Whether you rent or buy, the most important thing is to have a decent quality instrument. Learning the fiddle is challenging. You don’t need the extra challenge of playing a poor quality instrument that sounds bad, has poor action and does not stay in tune. It may seem cheaper in the short run, but it’s more expensive in the long run. Think of how much time you’ll be investing in playing. 

With a cheap fiddle, you will be more likely to get frustrated and quit. If you decide to buy a fiddle (instead of renting) than look to spend at least $350 on an instrument. It’s a good investment, not just financially, but for your peace of mind and well-being. Financially it makes sense, because if you stay with fiddling, you can spend less on other pastimes and forms of entertainment.

In terms of health and happiness, it’s hard to put a number on how much value music adds to your life. Relaxation, joy, fun, and new friends are some of the ways in which music brings well-being to a person’s life. If you start off on the wrong foot with a poor-quality instrument, then there is a greater chance that you’ll give up and miss out on this great joy.

Should I rent or buy?

In short, renting is a good option if you’re not quite ready to buy a fiddle. If you are trying to decide if fiddling is something you want to pursue, then renting one from a good local violin shop for 1-2 months is not a bad idea. Renting is an especially good option for small children who might quickly grow out of an instrument. On the extreme flipside of that, if you are 1000% sure you want to play the fiddle, renting might also be a good option. This is because you can make a better buying decision once you know how to play a little. 

Expect to pay $20-40/month to rent a decent instrument. Some shops will allow you to apply part of the rental money towards a purchase. 

The downside to renting is that often the quality of instruments is not that great. This is especially the case if you’re renting from generic music shops like Guitar Center where they also sell, keyboards, drums, microphones, tubas, kitchen sinks and whatever else they sell there.

Should I buy an instrument?

Another strike against renting is that rental fees add up quickly. An entry-level instrument can be bought for less than a year’s rental.

A good quality instrument can be re-sold for a substantial part of the purchase price. And some online dealers, like Fiddlershop (more on them below), will offer up to 75% of the value of the instrument on trade.

So the short answer: If there is a good violin shop near you then renting for a few months may be the best option. If not, then buy a decent quality instrument that can be upgraded later if you like.

Should I buy a used violin?

I don’t recommend this option for beginners. That’s because you don’t yet know how to play, and so it will be harder to make a good decision.

Once you get to a more intermediate level, you’ll have a better idea of what a good sound is. When something does not sound good, you’ll be more aware of how much of this stems from your technique and how much from the instrument.

Once you have played a while (let’s say you’ve learned 40 tunes), then you can start visiting violin shops and trying out different used instruments.

One advantage of a used instrument is that it has been broken in. The wood has settled and it has a nicer tone.

But I can’t afford a Stradivarius! How much should I spend?

Neither can I! But you don’t have to break the bank. You need a decent instrument with good tone that stays in tune. 

Here are a few outfits I recommend. Though these are made overseas, Fiddlershop sets them up by hand. So you get the best of both world’s; an affordable instrument that’s been adjusted and checked by a master craftsman.

 

Some good entry-level fiddles they sell:

Another nice thing about buying from an online dealer like Fiddlershop, is that they offer a return policy. So if you feel like you got the wrong instrument or that you just don’t want to continue, you can get your money refunded (I think with Fiddlershop you have to return it within 45 days).

What size should I get?

Most adults play full-size violins. If you have short arms and think you might need a smaller violin, then you can do an arm test. Hold the violin at your chin and stretch out your left arm. If the scroll reaches past your wrist, it is too big.

If I’m left-handed, should I get a left-handed violin?

The short answer is no. Playing a regular violin requires a high degree of dexterity with the left hand. The left hand allows you to play melodies. The only time I think it would make sense is if you’ve already mastered another stringed instrument, like guitar with a left-handed instrument. Otherwise, lefties and righties can both enjoy a standard fiddle setup.

Got a question?

Just ask in a comment below.


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.

Learn more about how to play in tune with drones here: Drone tuning the notes on the D string.

Here's a newer version of the Notefinder which is based on sheet music. If you're interested in learning to read, this will be an invaluable reference. I'll be posting lessons on this in 2020.

Note: the brackets indicate notes that are the same pitch but spelled differently. For example, AH3 (D#) sounds the same as AL4 (Eb). Without going into too much teory detail here, this will be determined by the key of the tune or piece you are playing.


Notefinder table

Here's he original table version of the Notefinder. Sometimes people learn in different ways...


Sawmill tuning Notefinder

This is used to find notes in Sawmill tuning (when the G string is tuned up to A and the D string is tuned up to E). If you're a beginner...best to ignore this! Learn more about sawmill tuning in the Appalachian Fiddle course.

G0-1-2-3-D0-1-2-3-A0-1-2-3-E0-1-2-3


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

  • 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.
  • 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.
    • 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 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 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 fundamental technique.
  • Practice everything more slowly than you naturally would play it.
  • Also, slow down your consumption of new lessons, techniques and tunes. Stay with one thing until it really sinks in.

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.

Last lesson complete:


Total course progres

Total modules complete:

All completed lessons

Here's a listing of all core lessons you've completed in the main course (modules 1.1 to 2.9).

Module 1.1


Module 1.2


Module 1.3


Module 1.4


Module 1.5


Module 1.6


Module 1.7


Module 1.8


Module 1.9


Module 1.10


Module 2.1


Module 2.2


Module 2.3


Module 2.4


Module 2.5


Module 2.6


Module 2.7


Module 2.8


Module 2.9

One response to “How to get a fiddle

  1. Jason,

    I’ve purchased a 4/4 full size Cecillo violin (fiddle), cost about $200.00 dollars. Came with two bows, extra bridge, Rosin, Shoulder rest.

    Good deal???

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