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. 

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

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

Kim H. asked this.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.


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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