Note-Reading For Fiddlers webinar – August 12, 2020
Here’s a replay of the note-reading webinar with indexed questions. Thanks to all who attended and asked questions. 🙏
• Intuitive Note Reading 11:40
• Which which notes should I learn to read first? 22:37
• How do you balance between sight-reading and playing by ear? 30:44
• How do note lengths & rhythms work? 35:18
• How do dotted notes work? 39:51
• How do you go about learning a new song? 45:18
• Is there a resource you can recommend for simple sheet music for fiddler? 54:42
• How do I count cuts, rolls and other embellishments? 58:21
• How do you read higher positions on the fingerboard? 1:06:05
• What is cut time? 1:11:29
• Sometimes the stems on notes point up, sometimes down. Why? 1:13:36
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.
- I recommend you start with the basic finger positions on the D string.
- First learn the note names: D (D0), E (D1), F# (D2), G (D3).
- Play the The Note Name Game on the D String to make this fun.
- Then learn to read the notes.
- Use the exercises in this lesson: Reading Notes On the D String
- Once you’re comfortable with that, learn the notes in this order:
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?
- Find a wide variety of folk tunes and songs here.
- 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…