In this course, you’ll learn how to practice and play Irish fiddle ornamentation. The larger thing you’ll learn is how to practice adding variation to anything.

Are you ready to embark on a musical journey?

In the Irish Fiddle Journeys course, you will learn classic Irish ornamentation, like rolls and melodic variation. You’ll learn a key practice technique: alternating between the basic version and the variation in a “practice loop.”

This will help you to add variation and expression to anything: old-time, cajun, klezmer, and even classical music. Once you can play the variation with flow on a phrase,  you’ll learn how to apply it in tunes.

The deeper thing you’re going to learn is how to be a creative musician. How to transform daily practice. Instead of slogging through rote drills, you’ll learn to see learning and practice as a journey of exploration. How to play music instead of just stringing notes together. How to be a musical scientist, experimenting with different ways to play the same thing.


Before embarking on your Irish Fiddle Journey, I recommend that you make sure you’re confident with more basic techniques.

  • Review and practice the following left-hand techniques:
    • Low second finger, low first finger, fourth finger
    • Triads
    • G Major Scale Two Octaves
      • Master this!
  • Review and practice the following bowing techniques:
    • Slurs
      • Slur 2, slur 3, slur 2 separate 2
    • Fingering And String Crossing
    • Double Stops
  • Review all the Irish tunes that you love (or at least like ?)
  • Practice variations you already know
    • Follow this path: single notes > scales > phrases > tunes
    • We’ll follow the same path once we start learning Irish embellishment

Start with basic tunes

We’ll start by simply learning basic versions of some fun Irish tunes. This will help you to develop your technique as well as your musical vocabulary.

Learn variations in small steps

We’ll use the tried and true method of micro-practice to learn and master the feel of this music. This means that we’ll learn each technique and tune in small, manageable pieces and then do progressively more challenging things. We’ll start by playing an embellishment on a single note. Notice how we alternate between the note and the note with the embellishment:

D0-1-0  {D0-1mord}-0 0-0

Apply variation to scales

Then we’ll learn how the embellishments work and practice them on scales:

Apply variation to phrases from tunes

We will learn to apply these embellishments to phrases. Once you can do this with flow, then you’re in a good position to try it in the context of the whole tune…

First quarter:  D1-A0-0-D1-A0-0-{A1-3mord}1-0-1-{D2}3-A0


Map for the journey

I teach basic and variation lessons for all core tunes. Think of the core tunes as old friends that teach us new things when we re-visit them.

As we learn the basic versions of the tunes, we’ll also learn the following Irish embellishments:




Jig swing

Grace notes



16th-note duplets

Rolls (turns)

Melodic variation

A lot of these ornaments are very similar, which might be confusing and tricky at first. I want to encourage you to start by practicing just one thing. Don’t try too hard to figure it all out intellectually. Listen a lot to the play-along tracks to get the sound of a variation in your ear, then practice it a lot.

If you give your ears and hands time to slowly learn, then they will be a good guide when it comes time to add variation to tunes. 

Start with minimal variation

I have arranged most of the tunes in the course with a relatively simple amount of variation and with lots of repetition within the tunes (similar to how the basic versions are presented in the course). For example, the first and third quarters of these arrangements will usually be the same.


First quarter: D1-A0-0-D1-A0-0-1{A1-3mord}1-0-1-{D2}3-A0

Second quarter: A1-E0-0-{1cut}0-A3-1-3-{1-3-1}-0-D3-{1-3-1}-0

Third quarter: D1-A0-0-D1-A0-0-1{A1-3mord}-0-1-{D2}3-A0

The idea is that once you can do these versions, then you can start to add variation on your own. Adding variation is kind of like a choose-your-own-adventure book. For example, you could simple play the first quarter without variation, and then play the variation on the third quarter.

Eventually, I hope you’ll find your own voice with fiddling and learn to make your practice creative, fun and productive.

Essential teachings

There are three key practices for learning how to add variation to tunes:

  • Practice single repetitions of the variation VERY SLOWLY. Your hands need a lot of time to figure things out.
  • Alternating between the basic version and variation. We will do this on small 2-3 note bits as well as on scales, phrases and whole tunes. Practicing this way is the central idea I want you to learn in this course. It will help you to understand how variations work and bring flow to the music you make.
  • Record yourself. This brings awareness to your practice. You start to see where you could improve. It’s also a way to see if that particular variation idea is working.

Uncharted territory

And to make your Irish fiddle journey even more epic, we’ll explore some untraditional and uncharted territory. We’ll play jigs as polkas. We’ll learn to convert Irish tunes into Old-time tunes and vice-versa. We’ll learn ways to creatively practice with this music. And we’ll have fun along the way…


The intention of this course

The variations taught in this course are loosely based on the Sligo style of Irish fiddling. However, this is not meant to be a musicological study of Irish ornamentation. 

The intention of this course is to get you to play tunes (and all music) creatively. I want you to see that variation is not only an art form, but also a way to make the daily practice of technique fun.

Practice Toolkit

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.

Last lesson completed:

Total course progress

Total modules complete:


All completed lessons

Here's a listing of all core lessons you've completed in the main course (modules 1.1 to 2.9).

Module 1.1

Module 1.2

Module 1.3

Module 1.4

Module 1.5

Module 1.6

Module 1.7

Module 1.8

Module 1.9

Module 1.10

Module 2.1

Module 2.2

Module 2.3

Module 2.4

Module 2.5

Module 2.6

Module 2.7

Module 2.8

Module 2.9

Here are drones for the most common fiddle keys. A D drone can be used to practice tunes in D major or D minor (Dorian or Aeolian).

D drone

A drone

G drone

E drone

For drones in different keys as well as different textures and beats, go to: Drone Central.

Learn more about how to play in tune with drones here: Drone tuning the notes on the D string.

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.

Notefinder table

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 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.

D Major

G Major, starting on D3

A Major

D Dorian

A Dorian

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.

For more scale play-along tracks, go to Scale Central.



Short-short-short-short-long-long. Practice on D string:

Practice more: Fingering with Bowing Exercises


Long-short-short. Practice on D string:


1-2-3 notes per step. Practice D0-0-0-A0-0-0 with plucking:

Practice more: String Crossing Exercises


Long-short.  Practice G0-0-2-2-D0-0-3-3-3-3-0-0 with the 'swing double' rhythm:

Slur pattern

Slur two

Here we play two notes per bow. Practice D0-1-1-0 with slur two:

Practice more: Slur Two Exercises

Slur three

Here we play three notes per bow. Practice D0-1-2-2-1-0 with slur three:

Practice more: Slur Three Exercises

Slur four

Here we play four notes per bow. Practice with D0-1-2-3, first time downbow, then upbow:

Practice more: Slur Four Exercises

Slur two-separate two 

This forms a hoedown pattern (long-short-short). Practice it with D0-1-1-1:

Practice more: Slur Two-Separate Two Exercises

30-minute Tune Routine

  • Tone and scale warmup: 5 minutes
  • Interval warm-ups: 5 minutes
  • Tune: 20 minutes

Find all play-along tracks for intervals here: Interval Central

One Tune, One Scale, Ten Minutes

  • Play a scale for five minutes
  • Play a tune using that scale for five minutes
  • As a variation, just alternate between a tune and its scale for ten minutes

10-minute tuning routine

  • Practice individual notes with a drone: 5 minutes
    • So to practice D1, use an E drone. To practice, D2 use an F sharp drone
    • If you're unsure what note you're playing, then use the Notefinder (found in another tab with this Practice Tools section)
  • Practice intervals with a drone: 5 minutes

    • Pick a focus note to use as the drone
    • So if you are practicing D3-A0, play along with a G drone (for D3); this will help you tune that note

20-minute review routines

  • Single-drone routine
    • Review tunes that share the same drone note. So tunes in D Major, D Dorian or D Klezmer can all be practiced with a D drone.
    • Use the Tunes Listed By Root Note page as your guide.
    • Play the relevant scale before each tune you review.
    • This is a fun and refreshing way to review tunes.
  • Last 5-10 ten tunes
    • A simpler routine is to just review the last 5-10 tunes you've learned in a twenty-minute session.
    • Play the relevant scale before each tune you review.

Experiment combining or alternating routines.

Click here for more practice routines

  • You are a musician if you PLAY EVERY DAY
    • Find a consistent time and place to practice. Make it a habit, like brushing your teeth; that way you spend no energy in deciding to practice or not.
    • Learn more: How To Practice Consistently
  • Listening is practice too.
  • Slow down.
    • This is cliché music teacher advice, but it's what most students need to do.
    • Learn more: Slow Down To Speed Up
  • Sing what you play.
    • Singing or humming (if you're shy) will help you to play in tune as well as remember melodies.
    • It can also be a lot of fun to alternate between singing and playing a phrase to song.
    • Learn more: Singing and Playing Practice
  • Practice audiation.
    • Audiation is hearing music in your head. Actively practice this.
    • Learn more: Audiation
  • Loop it.
    • Whatever level you're at, you can benefit from looping small bits and phrases.
    • Not only will it help your technique, but it will unlock your creativity and bring you joy.
    • Learn more: Looping Practice
  • Micro-learning.
    • Learn in very small increments.
    • Single notes > bits > phrases > tunes
    • Learn more: Micro-learning
  • Drone on.
  • Be your own teacher.
    • Make up your own exercises.
    • Record yourself and listen back. This way you can pinpoint what's most challenging.
    • Learn more: Be Your Own Teacher
  • Remember to sound good.
    • 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.
    • Learn more: Remember to Sound Good
  • Practice Just To Practice
    • Don't fixate on being great or perfect. Good is better than perfect.
    • The moment you pick up the fiddle and play you have "made it".
    • Learn more: Practice Just To Practice

Here are a few technical reminders to remember as you practice.

Posture reminders

  • Curve left-hand and right-hand fingers.
  • Bend right thumb.
  • Bend right arm and wrist.
  • Use minimal energy.
  • Left-hand fingers land on tips, not pads. This makes for more precise playing.

Bowing tips

  • Take time to focus on bowing during each practice session.
    • Get the best possible sound on single notes using long bows, throwaway bow, rhythms. Even just a few minutes of this will drastically improve your sound.
  • Use less bow.
    • This is a rule of thumb for fiddle tunes, especially for when things are difficult.
    • Continue to practice long bows. This will improve your overall sound.
  • Play in the middle of the bow. This is the sweet spot.
  • Use no extra energy or force for double stops.
    • It's more a matter of getting the bow perfectly balanced between the two strings.
    • Again, playing with less bow will help with this.

Left-hand fingering tips

  • Keep fingers down when possible.
    • For example, if you are rapidly playing D1-2, it is easier if you keep D1 down while fingering D2.
    • Practice this on scales.
  • Practice Little Lift
    • Don't lift left-hand fingers too high. Let them just hover above the string.
    • This allows you to play faster, better in tune and with more ease.
    • Practice: two-note intervals (like D1-2), scales, tune phrases, whole tunes.
      • Keep your awareness on Little Lift as you practice more complex things.
    • Take a lesson on Little Lift.
  • Practice challenging intervals
    • Your fingers need a lot more time with things than your brain (which gets bored more easily).
    • Find the most challenging interval from a tune, like D3-A1 in Oh Susannah, and practice that until you can play it with ease and joy.
    • Use the exercises from Interval Central to go deeper with this.

Check in with the body

  • Is it relaxed or tense? Are you breathing evenly?
  • If you notice you are tense and not breathing evenly, simply pause on what you're currently practicing and play a single note. Make it sound nice. See if your body is more relaxed now.
  • If you can play a single note with a relaxed body, then try more complex things: 2-note intervals, scales, simple tune phrases, whole tunes.
  • Keep returning to single notes as a way to center yourself, relax and enjoy the process.

Little pauses

  • If you find that sound is sloppy, try adding a little pause in between the notes. This gives your fingers time to find the next note. This is especially helpful with string crossing.
  • Take a short lesson: A Little Pause
  • Practice the "Stop n' Rock" exercises from String CrossingApply this idea to more complex string crossings.

Slow down

  • Students of all levels can do this to improve their fundamental technique.
  • Practice everything more slowly than you naturally would play it.
  • Also, slow down your consumption of new lessons, techniques and tunes. Stay with one thing until it really sinks in.

Take short breaks

  • It's easy to get caught up in practicing and not notice that the body is stiff and sore.
  • Take short breaks to move, stretch and breathe.