There are three main challenges to learning an instrument:
A lot of people start off learning an instrument with the best of intentions. They buy an instrument, books, and a music stand. They play their first few notes. Though it doesn’t sound perfect, they are excited, optimistic and looking forward to fiddling.
Maybe after a few days of picking up the fiddle, they miss two days of fiddling because of a busy weekend social schedule. That’s followed by a big day at work on Monday. When they get home they are too tired to practice. The day after that they finally have time to practice. But they have gone three days without playing. Now when they pick up their fiddle, it seems they have forgotten everything. Instead of making progress, they are treading water, and in some cases going backwards…
With this setback comes an emotional downturn. If it happens a few times, a person might conclude, “I guess fiddling is not for me.”
How can this pitfall be avoided?
There is a simple and at the same time deep fiddlosophy which will set you up for success: Play every day. Success, by my definition, is just daily practice. After all, what is a musician? A musician is just a person who plays music every day. Doesn’t that make perfect sense?
But if it’s so simple, then why doesn’t everyone do it?
The problem is that most people don’t have a practice strategy. They only want to play when they feel like it. If you only practice when you feel like it, then it will be difficult to establish a daily practice habit. But if you make it a habit, you won’t have to decide whether or not you should do it. It’s less work for your brain. And with a good practice strategy, you won’t rely on your emotions to practice. You’ll just pick up your fiddle and DO IT EVERY DAY.
A key part of my teaching fiddlosophy is that students experience joy from the very start. Even though you are not yet playing actual fiddle tunes, I encourage you to enjoy where you’re at and what you’re doing right now. Simply enjoy the sound of playing these exercises and duets on the open strings.
Once more, here is our simple plan:
Play for at least twenty minutes a day, at least six days a week. It helps to do it at the same time in the same place.
Small steps, small wins. Focus on steady, incremental practice.
Celebrate these small wins. Be kind to yourself when you seem to fall short. Then just begin again.
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'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.
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.
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.
G Major, starting on D3
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.
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.