Practice Notes February 19, 2019

It’s been raining a lot in the Bay Area. It’s been nice. I’ve been hibernating, catching up on work, detoxing and practicing a lot ?

Here are some notes I’ve taken from my practice in the last two months. It’s fairly longwinded so I’ll summarize briefly here, and then start blowing wind. (That sentence didn’t come right, but it made me laugh, so I’ll let it stand.)

  • I’ve been practicing a lot of old-time music in the AEAE tuning. Also practicing them in a “fiddle raga” format.
  • Lots of A major pentatonic scale practice with patterns and variations.
  • My current mantra: Practice just to practice.


I’ve been learning a lot of old-time tunes and practicing them in a fiddle raga format. I’ve also been reviewing some Irish tunes.

I’m starting to work on the Fiddle Ragas album. Specifically, I’m figuring out how I want to arrange the tunes and record them. I’m recording myself playing the tunes and then cutting out different variations using a music recording software called Reason. That way, I can go back and listen to all the ideas.

Here’s the “flowing eighth notes” variation from The Blackest Crow fiddle raga:


I’ve been doing a ton of scale practice in the key of A major and minor. Mostly the pentatonic scales. These are easier scales, I’ve taken a lot of the simple melodic variation patterns and used them to create more involved variations.

In case you haven’t taken my lessons on Melodic Scale Variation, I’ll explain my shorthand system for representing and practicing patterns. In the notes below, the numbers refer to steps of a scale. So 1-2-3-1 on D major would have the first step of D0-1-2-0 followed by D1-2-3-1 (here the numbers refer to finger positions). In your own practice, I recommend starting with the 1-2-3 melodic variation and mastering that.

The longer patterns start to look mathy ? It actually makes sense if you just hear it and then try to do it. See the video above for examples of how some of these sound.

    • A major and minor pentatonic
      • 1-2-3 pattern
        • Add slur 3
      • 1-2-3-1
        • First two steps on A pentatonic: A0-1-2-0 | 1-2-E0-A1
        • Adding slur two-separate two bowing
        • Adding slur 3-slur 3-slur 2 bowing for polyrhythmic feel
      • 1-3
        • Skipping a step
      • 1-2-3-4
      • 1-2-3-4-5-4-3-2
        • Adding slur eight or slur sixteen
        • Second variation: 5-4-3-2-1-2-3-4 going up, 1-2-3-4-5-4-3-2 going down.
      • 1-2-3-4-5-4-3-2-1
        • Similar to the last one, but a nine-note pattern.
        • Second variation: 5-4-3-2-1-2-3-4 going up, 1-2-3-4-5-4-3-2 going down
        • Adding slur three or slur nine
        • Add an offbeat accent to the second note of every pair.
  • After all these patterns, I return to simply play the scale up and down with a nice sound.
  • Pedal patterns
    • These are patterns in which every other note is the same.
    • Example: D1-0-2-0-A0-D0-2-0
    • You can practice these here: Pedal Exercises I

Four ways to practice melodic variation on a scale

  • Forward up / reverse down
    • D0-1-2-0 going up, A3-2-1-3 going down
  • Forward up / forward down
  • Reverse up / reverse down
  • Reverse up / forward down

Assorted practice notes

Testing how well you know something

Adding a slur pattern to a phrase or tune is a way to test how well you know something. Another test is to play it with a metronome. Playing at a faster tempo is another good test.


Play everything on a different string if possible. With the DADA tuning, I’m trying to transpose every exercise and tune to the higher or lower octave. In standard tuning (GDAE), try simply practicing things on a different string with the same fingering.

Find points of resistance

I’ve been noticing when there are things that are more difficult. There are certain resistance points I come across in exercises or tunes. The biggest thing I’m working on is the transition between strings. This is challenging because of the new tuning, which I’m not used to. It forces me to break certain habitual patterns. Beginner’s mind!

Practice just to practice

Over the last month or so, I’ve been more amazed and grateful for the fact that I still really enjoy practicing music. There are some days when it feels like a “should” before I start. But even then, once I start I’m all in. There’s something joyous about the act of practice itself.

Why does speeding happen?

I noticed that I tend to speed up while working on a challenging thing. Why? I know that I’ll be able to do it if I slow down. But then, to borrow a term from traffic school, I start to “velocitate.” I’m tempted to look this up on the internet to see if there is a scientific reason for velocitation. Instead, I’m just going to sit with the question and see if any insight comes naturally.

Other practices

And while we’re at it, here are some other things I’m actively practicing:

  • Meditation
    • Always a morning session, even if it’s short. Trying to do it at least one other time during the day.
  • Coding
    • Learning to code javascript with a phone game called Grasshopper.
    • I’m now on level two and the puzzles are starting to get hard ?
  • Intermittent Fasting
    • Different people have told me about this. Last fall I was visiting family for Yom Kippur which is a day in which you don’t eat until sundown. At around 11:30 am, I still had not eaten. I just decided, “Well, I’ve never done this ritual, but I’m just going to try it today. I felt the most hunger around 1:30 and then it started to subside. I went for a run. By the end of the day, I had this very nice sensation in the body. It’s hard to describe, but it’s a feeling of lightness and clarity.
    • Intermittent fasting is when you don’t eat for a short period of time, like twelve or twenty-four hours. I did it on a whim last October, and believe it or not, really enjoyed how it felt. Plus, they say it’s healthy (whoever they are).
    • So now I’m doing this every Monday. I missed a few times, mainly while traveling. It’s been good.
  • Yoga 
    • I’ve studied yoga for years, but I recently learned some new things at a good yoga studio in Bali called The Practice. They have an online course, so I’ve continued learning using that.

How can you find a way to enjoy practicing today?

Further reading and lessons


How To Make Scales Fun

Pedal Exercises I

More Fiddle Ragas

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4 responses to “Practice Notes February 19, 2019

  1. “Velocitating” – never verified this – Josie Quick, a professional Denver, CO fiddler who teaches in the area – claims that the tendency to speed up when we are nervous is because we use our heartbeats to calculate rhythm and when our heart races we track with it. But that’s just nerves (I bow shake, ha ha!) – on Irish tunes, I velocitate on purpose as it builds intensity and lots of super awesome fiddlers do it – its like feeling the groove and just busting out, ha ha. I also like the rebelliousness of velocitating – its funner to do it because I’m not supposed to do it. And people seem to like it, so there. I’m doin’ it. Jazzy style: Learn the rules and then break ’em.

  2. “I noticed that I tend to speed up while working on a challenging thing.”

    Even in my first month, I’ve noticed I do this, too. I have to consciously remind myself to slow down. I figured it was just a “beginner’s thing”.

    Then there was the time I drove down Rt 95 to Florida. A few minutes after I got off the highway, a trooper pulled me over for speeding. I was doing 71 in a 55mph zone and didn’t even realize it. I told the trooper I had a velocitation disorder, but he didn’t buy it. I paid the ticket!

    I am so enjoying Fiddlehed, am learning, practicing, and glad I joined. Thanks, Jason.

  3. I love all this. This is the end of my first month of starting to learn fiddle and I love it. Mornings are for meditation and yoga, evenings are for fiddle practice and other fun. As a bonus, my rescue dog has been cured of her separation anxiety. Every time she sees me pull out the fiddle, she gets up and goes into another room ?