At the beginning of the last lesson series, I outlined a simple plan:
Play for at least twenty minutes a day, at least six days a week. It helps to do it at the same time in the same place.
Small steps, small wins. Focus on steady, incremental practice.
Celebrate these small wins. Be kind to yourself when you seem to fall short. Then just begin again.
I know that you’re just beginning, so you may still be figuring out the optimal time and place. But establishing consistent practice NOW is the best thing you can do.
One of the three obstacles to learning is the Physical Challenge. That includes:
Getting the form right for bowing and fingering.
Playing in tune.
Getting a nice sound.
Playing at a steady tempo.
Remembering to do everything on this long list!
It can be overwhelming. The best way to overcome physical challenges is to simplify complex problems into simpler problems. Learn and practice in small increments. I call this approach “micro-practice”.
Say you’re learning a new tune. If you always charge through the whole thing, it will be a struggle. You’ll be practicing the easy parts as much as the difficult parts. In this way, your progress will be slow, because you never give those difficult parts the attention they need. This can lead to frustration and the thought, “I’m not cut out to learn the fiddle.”
The power of micro-practice is that you learn to isolate each challenge of a tune. Difficult parts are broken down into small, easy-to-learn bits. Eventually, the small bits are put together into bigger bits and before you know it, you can play the whole thing. Here is an example of how Kerry Polka is taught with what I call “Learning Chunks.”
Notice that we start with two-note exercises (intervals). With a few minutes of practice, you can get to a point where you can do this with flow. Then we do a four-note exercise (A1-D0-1-0). Finally we do the whole first quarter of the A part. If at any point you get stuck, you simply break it down again and practice a smaller piece until it flows.
With this simple approach, you can overcome any physical or technical challenge. With FiddleHed, you will learn how to learn. Then you can continue to learn on your own with whatever music interests you.
“The way you teach by breaking down the song into part A and B and quarters is fantastic. And your patient and calm manner really helps.”
-Neil Farnall, age 40, London, England
The magical part is that if you practice a very small thing, it will start to sound like music. As a result, you’ll start to enjoy the sound of the fiddle. Fun happens in the present moment, not in some imaginary moment in the future. And if you wind up having fun every time you play, you’ll want to do it again tomorrow.
Does it make sense that if you practice this way, with enough time, you will eventually be able to learn the fiddle?
Here is a quick way for you to access the essential practice tools you need. Under each tab you'll find play-along tracks, tabs and condensed teachings to help you as you practice. This is an evolving idea, so let me know in a comment below if it could be better.
Here's a newer version of the Notefinder which is based on sheet music. If you're interested in learning to read, this will be an invaluable reference. I'll be posting lessons on this in 2020.
Note: the brackets indicate notes that are the same pitch but spelled differently. For example, AH3 (D#) sounds the same as AL4 (Eb). Without going into too much teory detail here, this will be determined by the key of the tune or piece you are playing.
Here's he original table version of the Notefinder. Sometimes people learn in different ways...
Sawmill tuning Notefinder
This is used to find notes in Sawmill tuning (when the G string is tuned up to A and the D string is tuned up to E). If you're a beginner...best to ignore this! Learn more about sawmill tuning in the Appalachian Fiddle course.
Here are some common scales used in fiddle tunes. Each runs through a series of variations: two bows legato, two bows staccato, four bows, tucka (4 shorts, two longs), hoedown (1 long, two shorts), throwaway bow, triplets, tremolo.
G Major, starting on D3
Practice a tune with its scale (Kerry Polka is in G major, so practice a G major scale). Practice scales before, during and after practicing tunes.
Always return to a good sound, even if it means playing quarter notes on the D string. You can do this! You just have to remember to pause on practicing the challenging thing and just get a good sound on single notes.
Why do this? Because it will bring you deep joy. And it will build your confidence which will inspire further practice.