Beginner practice journey

Hey there fiddler!

This is the first annual ThanksFiddling Anti-Black Friday Celebration. Yeehaw!

This group lesson is for fiddlers who are working Module 1.4 or higher.

We will be using call-and-response to learn a new tune. This is a fun way to develop your ear.

I will go slow, because a lot of folks find this challenging, especially if they’re used to using tabs and sheet music.

Don’t worry if you don’t memorize the tune in this lesson. I’ll add tabs and sheet music. This forces you to rely completely on your ear. A little bit of struggle will level up your fiddling 💪🏽

Two ways I can help you level up your fiddling

  1. Sign up for the FiddleHed newsletter below.
  2. Sign up for the Free Two-week Trial. You’ll get full access to all courses and group lessons. Plus, I’ll send you some free lessons tailored to your current skill level.

Thanks for being here 🙏

Video replay

Specific preparation for this lesson

Technique to learn or review

Beginner scales

Call-and-response practice

Go here for further ear-training: Call-and-response Central


D Drone

G Drone

A Drone

Warm up

  • Fiddle Yoga
  • Tone-building
  • D major

A part 1st half

  • Alternate plucking and bowing
  • Mental practice
  • Loop small bits
  • Loop whole 1st half

A part 2nd half

  • Loop small bits
  • Loop whole 1st half
  • Staccato
  • Sing then play

B part 1st half


B part 2nd half

  • Slowly learn with forwards chaining
  • Backwards chaining
  • Learn more: Chaining

Whole tune

  • Review parts first
  • Loop on whole tune with D drone
  • Loop on whole tune with play-along track


At the end of the journey, I touch on some variation ideas

  • Transpose
  • Add slides
  • Irish embellishments
  • Double stops variations

Learning chunks - Don't look until you've watched the video!!!

Down By The Sally Gardens

Thanks to FiddleHed Cindy Rossi for introducing me to the tune.

Full audio

Sheet music – learning version

Sign up for an All-Access Subscription to download sheet music and audio.

Sheet music – performance version

Chord shapes for backup

Another way to play A Major:


Here are some fun projects you can do to learn this more deeply.


G Major starting on G0 (same fingering), or starting on D3 (different fingering).

A Major starting on A0 (same fingering).

Document your journey

Over the next few weeks, practice Down By The Sally Gardens. Make a “Day One Video”. Then make “Day 8” video and “Day 14 videos”.

Send it to a friend or family member. Share on the Student Video Exchange.

Learn more: Document Your Fiddle Journey


Alternate between playing the scale (D Major straight up and down) and improvising. In this case the scale acts as the tune.

Take a tune and alternate between that and improvisation with the D Major scale.


A Travel Guide For Your Practice Journey

What the heck is a practice journey?

This is a practice session in which you focus on one thing, but integrate other things you’ve learned into the practice. You can take a journey on your own or with others. The process of alternating and returning to a focus point is known as Interleaving.

I hope that when you and others students take these live lessons, you’ll put this into practice on your own. Take a practice journey every time you play…

Why take a practice journey?

Taking a practice journey will make your solo sessions and group meetups more fun and productive. If you enjoy the practice today, you’re more likely to do it tomorrow. Fun is not overrated.

This structure will help you to remember things you’ve learned. The spaced repetition strengthens neural connections. 🧠

Practice creatively

Practice is a creative act. How can you find a new way to practice the FUNdamentals?

Approach daily practice as a kind of improvisation. This mindset will carry over to improvising on tunes and in groups. Even if you don’t want to improvise (as in soloing or jamming) you can practice creatively as a form of improvisation.

Think of everything on this page as a suggestion. If you don’t do anything I suggest but have a good practice session, then just keep doing what you’re doing. If any of these suggestions are helpful, work them into your own routine.

Let me know if you come up with a fun or productive way to take a practice journey. That way we can learn together.

A general guide to practice journeys

Below you’ll find a generalized structure to organize your practice creatively. See the the Group Lessons Central for more specific Practice Journey outlines (with video replays and supplemental content).

Find your boat: What will you focus on? ⛵️

  • Possible focus points:
    • Scale or a technique (bowing, vibrato, timing, tuning, etc.)
    • Tune
    • Reviewing older tunes and techniques
    • Improvisation and variation
  • Though you have this focus point, you will integrate other things you’ve practiced into your session. These are stops along along the way.
    • After each stop, you’ll return to the focus point and continue the journey.
  • Pick the focus point before the session
    • Single-player journeys
      • This can be done before you start.
      • I tend to repeat journeys a few days in a row so that they sink in.
        • Each time I learn new things and add them to the journey.
    • Multi-player journeys
      • Everyone decides on what they will focus on for the next session.
      • That way you can practice throughout the week.
        • In this way the practice journey is framework for group practice but also for individual practice.
      • Support each other throughout the week.
        • If you’re struggling or have questions, reach out to others in your group.

Prepare for the trip 📦

  • In other words, warm up. This is like packing food and supplies before leaving on a trip.
  • Play an open string with a drone track.
    • Relax your body and breath.
    • Enjoy the sound.
    • Advanced players: don’t underestimate this step.
    • Student groups: Do this step together.
  • Simple scale or tune
    • Student groups can do this independently or together.
      • If done together, then one person is unmuted and the others follow.
        • Take turns being the leader.
    • Learn Some Easy Tunes!

Set sail ⛵️

  • Practice the focus point: tune, technique, review or improv.
  • Simply play through it a few times.
  • What was challenging about this?

Side-trip 1: Sharper focus on challenges 🐪

  • This is your first stop along the way.
  • Focus on the challenging part you identified earlier.
  • Loop it
    • Loop on a difficult piece until it flows.
    • Shoot to make it 10% better.
    • Learn more: Practice Loops
  • Change the loop length
    • Playing short loops allows for greater focus on what’s actually difficult.
    • Playing longer loops allows you to integrate the difficult part back into a larger piece.
  • Chaining

Return to the boat ⛵️

  • Once more, simply play through the focus point a few times.
  • Was the challenging part any easier?
    • Shoot for 10% improvement.
    • You can do this!

Take a break 🏝

  • Take a short break.
    • Stretch, breathe, move around.
    • If you’re in a group, pause to chat.
    • This is a form of kindness to your body and mind.

Side-trip 2: Related technique 🚕

  • Practice something different than the focus (but related).
  • If your focus is a tune, then work on a scale, bowing technique, ear-training, tuning, timing.
  • If your focus is a technique, then practice a tune.
  • Add variation or improvise

Return to the boat ⛵️

  • Once more, simply play through the focus point a few times.
  • Can you integrate the focus with something you did in the side-trip?

Side-trip 3: Variation ✈️

  • Transpose, add variation, improvise with the focus point
  • Transpose
    • Easier: Start on a different string (same fingering)
      • Switch to the appropriate drone note
      • For example, Hector The Hero starting on D0 (D Major, D drone)
    • Harder: Start on a different fingering
      • This means you have to map the entire tune or exercise to a new set of fingerings.
      • For example, Hector The Hero starting on AL1 (B flat Major, Bb drone)
  • Add variation
    • Beginner
    • Advanced
  • Improvise

Continue… 🛣

  • The practice journey never ends!
  • Continue alternating between the focus point, side trips and short breaks until you are almost ready stop for the day.
  • Save a few minutes for the wind-down.

Side-trip: Add variation to the tune (advanced)

What variation did you add to the scale in side-trip 1? How can this be added to the tune?

Add variation to one small piece.

  • Then alternate between the basic and variation

Then try to add variation to other parts using the same process.

Side-trip: Improvise

Use the Tune/Improv/Tune format

  • Play the tune, improvise, then play the tune again
  • The Improv can simply be scale practice.
  • Play with small bits from the tune.
    • Change the note order.
    • Add rhythms.
    • Add other variation.
  • Always return to playing the tune simply.

Side-trip: Play a set

  • Try to play the tune a few times and then seamlessly shift to a different tune.
  • To succeed at this, practice the transitions between tunes.
  • Start with conventional sets, like 2-3 polkas, or 2-3 reels.
  • Try more unconventional sets, aka medleys

Side-trip: Practice note-reading


  • If you’re learning to read music, then practice intuitive note-reading on this tune.
  • Play the first quarter. Loop it until it flows.
  • Then play while reading the first quarter.
  • Alternate between looking and not looking at the sheet music.
  • Variations:
    • Alternate between singing the piece, with and without reading the sheet music.
    • Audiation: Alternate between auditing the piece, with and without reading the sheet music.

Side-trip: Practice backup (intermediate)

  • Play the chords with the melody. Use play along tracks.
    • Start with single quarters.
  • Practice singing the melody while playing backup (advanced).

Wind-down 🕰

  • Short recap of the practice journey
    • Briefly review and practice all the things you’ve done in this session.
      • This is more spaced repetition.
    • This will creates new connections in your brain. It will help you to internalize what you practiced and learned.
  • Play a simple scale.
  • Play an open string with a drone.
    • Relax the body and breath.
    • Get a good sound with this one note.
    • Enjoy the sound!
    • End on a High Note
  • Give thanks for this music. 🙏
  • Reflection

Further journeys

I lead group lessons in which we do this together. These are recorded and archived with outlines so that you can take the journey again on your own or with a practice group. See the “Archived Practice Journeys” tab on the Group Lessons Central page.

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