The FiddleHed lessons are taught in a style I call “Incremental Learning”. We learn small pieces of things and then put them together into bigger pieces. It’s like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. And as we learn we try to work right at our edge. This means we practice something that is challenging enough for us to grow without frustrating us so much that we want to stop.

Here’s another way to look at it: The whole process involves moving from something simple to something complex and then to something simple again.

Say you’re learning a fiddle tune. Fancy that! The first thing you learn is the first note, and then the second note. Learning each of those is a simple thing. Putting them together we get a more complex thing. But after you play that complex thing a few times, it will become a simpler thing. That two-note pattern will soon feel like one thing. Does that make sense?

If you’ve been fiddling or playing music awhile, you will want to move through tunes more quickly. So maybe you’ll learn the first bar of a tune (for example John Ryan’s Polka):


and then you’ll learn the second bar:


After you feel confident with these two bars, you’ll put them together into a two-bar phrase:

At first, this may feel awkward. You may have difficulty with the transition. Or it may be tricky to remember one part after playing the other. But if you practice this larger piece with looping, it will soon become one thing.  You won’t be thinking about each note, about each separate bit of information. It will be recognized by your brain as a single thing.

This is deep. But more on the spiritual implications later in the post (f’reals)…

Here’s a slightly different way to look at the same process. You start with two simple tasks, let’s say patting your head and rubbing your belly. You practice each simple task until you can do it. Then you do both simple tasks at the same time. You are now multi-tasking. It’s tricky and challenging at first. Maybe you can’t quite do it, so you go back to practicing your head-patting (which needs work!) and your belly rubbing (you are naturally talented at this one). Then you return to multi-tasking and by golly, you can now do it. With a little more practice, the act of patting-your-head-and-rubbing-your-belly miraculously goes from multi-tasking back to single-tasking.


Until it becomes super-easy. Then it doesn’t seem so miraculous anymore. But it still is!

This process applies to other things, such as learning bowing. Slur two-separate two is hard to learn at first.

  • Start by playing D0-1-1-0 with separate bows.
  • Then play D0-1 once with slur 2 in a downbow. Do this a few times. Then loop it.
  • Then play D0-1 with slur two, take a pause and play D1-0 with separate bows. Repeat this a few times.
  • At a certain point, your mind and body will probably just start to play D0-1-1-0 with slur 2 separate 2. Eventually, this will feel like one action instead of a series of parallel actions.

So there are a few deeper things to consider here. Wherever you are at in your journey as a fiddler, you are currently doing something miraculous. You just don’t recognize it as such. Perhaps getting a decent sound on an open string doesn’t sound like that big of a deal any more.

But it is!

And in some ways, it’s a good thing that this doesn’t seem like any big deal (though it is). You wouldn’t want to rest on your laurels after just getting a good sound on the open strings, right? You’re going to want to learn new and more challenging things. Like left hand-hand fingering. Or playing a klezmer tune along with a faucet drone:

Here is a simple breakdown of how the process flows:

  • Start with simple pieces or simple actions
    • Single notes
    • 3-5 note bits
  • Add complexity
    • Put together two simple pieces
    • Add something to the simple piece
      • Bowing like slurs or double stops
      • Rhythmic variation
  • Return to simplicity
    • Either the smaller piece for further work, or the larger piece has become simple through practice.

And now for the spiritual dimension. First of all, what does spirituality mean? My personal definition: seeing that you are not an isolated unit but that you are part of the something bigger (whatever you want to call it). To know and feel the connection you have with the Universe ?

When you take this incremental approach to learning, you see, over and over again, how things connect and then form one thing. A melody is made up of thousands of parts, yet, it feels like one thing. As humans, we usually feel like separate beings, yet we all are connected in mysterious ways.

You don’t need to know this to play music (and you wouldn’t want to over-think it). But it can deepen the experience of listening, learning and playing music.

What is challenging you now? Can you find a way to break it down into simpler things? When those things become easy, try to integrate them into a more challenging thing. See if you can notice the moment when that challenging thing starts feel like one thing. Can you do that?

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7 responses to “Simple/complex/simple

  1. I’m barely one year in to fiddling and am thrilled at how this has reignited musical skills I learned nearly 50 years ago as a Music major, but never used in my career. (I’m recently retired.) So this lesson hits me deeply, and gives me yet another reason to be very thankful that I came across FiddleHed.

  2. This was a great little lesson to learn! After 26 years of being stagnant with my fiddle, I have decided to pick it up. To my surprise, the couple a years of fiddle lessons came back and I played a scale right off the bat! It took me longer to tune my fiddle and rosin my bow! Which now will come easier.
    Now I am ready to practice, practice, practice. And my hubby just said to me, it is really something that you just picked it up and played anything. Remember that! Those that get frustrated, that frustration is all part of the journey!
    I am so excited to keep going! Baby steps turn into Big people steps eventually!!
    Thanks for this uplifting message!