The ability to read sheet music can help you to learn and play the tunes that you love.

Do you want to read sheet music?

“Yes, but last time I tried, it didn’t make sense. I was totally frustrated and went back to just playing by ear.”

A lot of fiddlers are intimidated by note-reading. It doesn’t seem worth the effort. They look at sheet music and see something like this:


And then feel like this:

A natural way to learn note-reading

I get it. A lot of fiddle books and violin methods briefly tell you the rules in the first two pages of a book. Then you’re thrown into the deep end of the pool. You’re expected to magically be able to read the notes after this quick brief instruction.

I’ve come up with a natural way for you to learn note-reading called Intuitive Note-reading. You don’t need to learn a bunch of terminology. You’ll rely on the brain’s natural ability to read patterns.


Intuitive Note-reading

  1. Learn to play 
  2. Learn to read what you’ve already learned to play
  3. Learn rules and theory once you’re able to read

For example, you could practice your reading skills with Kerry Polka (A Part, First Quarter). Learn each part using the tabs and play-along track. Once you have it, then look at the sheet music snippet as you play.




First quarter: A1-D0-1-0-A1-D0-1-0

You will be able to read sheet music if you learn in small steps.

Note-Reading Strategies

  • Intuitive Note-Reading
  • Micro-practice
  • Finding patterns
  • Singing and audiation
  • Consistent daily practice


  • Mix note-reading in with the practice of other things (Interleaving)
  • Start by reading easy or familiar tunes
  • Learn from sheet music with audio that exactly matches
  • Use a pencil to mark up sheet music
  • Write what you read
  • Manage your emotions (doubt and frustration) by adopting a Growth Mindset
  • Learn to let go of reading and just play 

In this course, you’ll learn how to use these strategies. You’ll also practice note-reading with progressive exercises.

In addition to these specific note-reading exercises, you can use any of the LearningChunks™ to practice note-reading.

Two ways to use these lessons

You can learn to read as you work through the main course:


Or, you can work through these lessons using the outlines below:

Lessons listed by type

This might be better for intermediate to advanced fiddlers. You can practice what you need depending on what you really need help with.

Note Name Game lessons

For the record, the first lesson explains the game. Then we just play the same game with notes on other strings. If you make it a habit to learn the note names as you go, then it may not be necessary to take the other note name game lessons.

Intuitive Note-Reading Lessons

Note-reading practice


All tunes with sheet music videos

Learn to intuitively read sheet music with these animated videos:

Your brain will naturally learn to understand sheet music if it can see and hear music patterns. This is the principle of Intuitive Note Reading, which you’ll learn about and practice in this course.

All the lessons listed here have similar sheet music videos at the bottom of the page.

Bile ’em Cabbage Down

Britches Full of Stitches

Buffalo Gals

Constant Billy – Basic Lesson

Cluck Old Hen

Cripple Creek

Danny Boy

Dennis Murphy’s Polka

Down in the Valley

Elzic’s Farewell

Farewell to Whiskey

Foggy Dew – Basic Lesson

Freight Train

Freres Jacques

Girl I Left Behind Me

Golden Slippers


Harvest Home

Hava Negilah

Hector the Hero – basic lesson

Hobart’s Transformation

House of the Rising Sun

I’ll Fly Away

John Ryan’s Polka

Joy to the World

Keep on the Sunny Side

Kerfunken Jig

Kerry Polka – Basic

Kesh Jig


Lazy John

Lilting Banshee – Basic

Little Liza Jane

London Bridges

Lover’s Waltz

Maison de Glace

Man of Constant Sorrow

Mary Had A Little Lamb

Ode to Joy

Oh Susannah

Old Joe Clark – Basic Version

Red River Valley

Shortnin’ Bread

Soldier’s Joy – Beginner Version


Tam Lin – Basic Lesson

Tennessee Waltz

The Butterfly

The Wind That Shakes the Barley

Tobin’s Jig

Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star

Wabash Cannonball

Wagon Wheel – 1st break


Waltzing Matilda

When The Saints Go Marching In

Whiskey Before Breakfast

Will the Circle Be Unbroken

Wildwood Flower

Your Cheating Heart


“Do I really even need to be able to read sheet music?” 

Short answer: It’s not absolutely necessary. Some of the most gifted and influential musicians never learned to read….Tommy Jarrell, Robert Johnson and Mozart (on second thought, I think this guy could read a bit).

Learning to read can accelerate your learning. This is especially true if you can play the same tune for memory. The note-reading skill allows you to form better mental models of the tune. This will help you to remember it, see repeating patterns and make connections.

Note-Reading can improve your practice. As you’ll learn in the course, if you cultivate the note-reading skill, it will allow you to more easily flag difficult parts. It will also allow you to add your own slur markings.

Learning to read music can open new doors. It will allow you to learn from books or sheet music downloaded from the internet. The note-reading skill can also open up new opportunities that you may enjoy: New tunes, new styles, and new experiences, like playing in bands or a community orchestra.  


8 responses to “Note-Reading For Fiddlers

  1. Looking forward to diving into this session! I’m a pretty strong sight-reader, and it’s been both a blessing and a curse. It affords me the opportunity to learn new tunes, but on the flip side, I’ve become to use it as a crutch. If I can’t figure out a tune by ear, I fall back to the sheet music to help me out. It may be my Achilles heel to memorizing tunes. Thanks!

  2. Interesting reading the comments above. I started learning just on 3 years ago, learning by ear, but am now working on learning how to read music because the tunes are starting to get jumbled in my head.

    I’m ok once I have the first few notes and the rhythm of the ones I’ve learned, but sometimes 2 will get mixed together in my head, especially if they are a similar beat, start on the same note, and/or I learned them around the same time. I’m hoping that learning to read will enable me to refresh my memory when I go to play something I haven’t played for a while so I can get started without muddling things up.

    Something others might find useful; I’ve found Musescore quite handy as I can either type the notes in, or import the sheet music, then play along while watching where I’m up to. They also have quite a bit of sheet music already there. You can slow the speed while learning and set it to loop sections like Jason does when teaching. It’s free software.

  3. I’m starting to get to the stage (7 months in) that I find I would like to start reading the notes on the page as well as the tab version, but I don’t want to halt my progress with playing. Should I wait a little longer before I start trying to get to grips with the notes, or should I dive in and risk stepping back a stage or two?

    1. Agreed! I learned to sight read as a kid – but haven’t played in 30 + years.
      Now that I’m diving in – I’m way to dependent on sheet music to help me remember tunes. Great feedback!

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