Here’s a replay of the note-reading webinar with indexed questions. Thanks to all who attended and asked questions. 🙏


Notes & further learning

Here’s an outline of how I answered the question along with further learning links. I added some additional links and corrections.

To see video answers to the questions, click the links above. 

Do I really need to learn to read sheet music?

Mike (Frank’s fiddle) asked: In reality, how much fiddling is done from music and how much simply by ear or just having fun? I like the idea of learning to read music and to just pick up some sheet music and play from it, but as a fairly mature (61) novice fiddler, am I going to just divert my time and enthusiasm into something that is just a nice to know? In reality, how much fiddling is done from music and how much simply by ear or just having fun?

  • You don’t have to learn note-reading.
  • In fact, I suggest that when beginners learn to play without reading.
  • But it can help you learn tunes more quickly.
  • Tabs don’t give you rhythmic information. Or bowings and expression.
  • Also, you’ll find sheet music more often then tabs.
  • You can mark up sheet music with a pencil. This can aid your learning.
    • You can bracket difficult parts.
    • You can add slurs and other expression markings.
  • Further learning: Reading Sheet Music for Fiddle Tunes: Tips and Strategies

Understanding notes on the staff

  • Lower sounding notes like D0 are placed lower on the staff. Higher sounding notes, like A3, are placed higher on the staff.

Which which notes should I learn to read first?

Kim H. asked this.

How do you balance between sight-reading and playing by ear?

John from Texas asked this.

  • First off, what is sight-reading? It’s reading and playing written music you’ve never played before.
  • Because I’ve been reading for awhile, I’ll sight-read to tunes as a way to determine if it’s a tune I want to learn.
  • If you’re new to music notation, then sight-reading a whole tune will be difficult.
    • I recommend listening to recordings to decide which tune you want to try.
    • When it comes time to read a tune, do it in very small steps.
  • If I decide to learn it deeply, I work through the tune, part by part.
  • So just like all of you learning on FiddleHed, I’ll learn the first quarter really well.
  • Here’s the key step: once you memorize a small piece, look away from the music. 
    • If you’re new to reading, you want to memorize just the first few notes once you figure them out.
  • Then I loop on it until I can play it in my sleep. I think I actually do play in my sleep when I practice late at night.
  • Then I look to see if the first quarter is repeated anywhere.
  • Then I learn and memorize the next bit.
  • I don’t necessarily memorize the whole tune in one sitting.
    • Some come faster than others.

How do note lengths & rhythms work?

See these lessons for more on note lengths and reading rhythm:

How do you go about learning a new song?

Steph, on a sailing boat, locked down in Panama asked: How do you go about learning a new song? 

So you’ve got no prior knowledge of it, you heard it a couple of times and thought “that’s nice, I want to learn that”. How do YOU go about recreating it? If there’s sheet music available, do you download it for a look, at least? Or do you go by ear, and try to emulate it as best you can? 

  • By ear
    • If no sheet music is available…
    • I listen to a recording, take mental note of the different parts.
    • I’ll work through the tune, part by part. It can be pain-staking.
  • Sheet music
    • I’ll look for music online or in books I have.
    • Though I’m pretty good at reading fiddle tunes, if I want to learn it for memory I have to learn in small chunks.
    • Then I use the incremental approach I described earlier.
  • A combination of listening and reading
    • I read and listen to different versions.
    • I create a simple version of my own.
      • I try to look for ‘hidden repetition’ and then simplify written music.
    • Once I can play a simple version, I find creative ways to practice it.
    • To me, this is the heart of fiddling. Taking a melody and experimenting with it.

How do I count cuts, rolls and other embellishments?

Adrienne, Seattle: How do I count a “cut” in Scottish fiddle tunes? 

I’m looking at the first measure of Pigeon on the Gate and am completely lost. Happy to send the music to you.

  • I have not studied Scottish embellishments. 
  • Most embellishments are not included in the counting.

Here’s a version of Pigeon on the Gate from a site called folk tune finder. Notice that the turn is not counted.

What are some resources for fiddle sheet music online?

Folk tune finder

  • Find a wide variety of folk tunes and songs here.

The Session

  • Find Irish tunes here.

Let me know in a comment if you have a resource you like.


How do you read higher positions on the fingerboard?

Joe from Los Angeles asked this.

  • First off, in most fiddle music you do not need to shift to a higher position. This is a more advanced technique. But it’s necessary for classical music, jazz as well as some bluegrass.
  • Notation for higher positions works on the same principle. Notes that are higher on the staff have a higher pitch.
  • When shifting is required, the finger position will be indicated (unless it’s extremely advanced music, in which case the player figures this out on her own).
  • Here’s an example of a shift that happens in the Bach Double.

If you have a question about note-reading that’s not answered, please ask it in the comments below. Thanks…

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