Tone-building And Looping

In this post, I’ll show you how to alternate between tone-building with looping. This to make your practice fun and productive.

Say you’re working on the first quarter of any tune. I’ll use Blackest Crow in the video.

Use the practice of tone-building to make each and every note sound good. Some tone-building techniques:

  • Throw-away bow, saw bow, staccato, and tremolo.

Make the first note sound good. Then the second note. See if you can maintain the good sound for the first two notes. Do your best to enjoy the sound.

Then continue in the same fashion, making the third note sound good followed by the first three notes. This is the essential practice of tone-building.

See if you can make the first quarter sound just 10% better. You can do this!


Achieving that, then loop on that piece at a comfortable speed.

If something sounds off, pay attention and see if you can find the culprit note. Pause on the looping practice and go back to tone-building until that trouble spot sounds a little better.

You can repeat the process for other parts of the song. But even if you do this for just the first quarter of the A part, you might find that the rest of the tune sounds better. This is because you took the time to become aware of the sound, and to focus your attention on this.


The tone-building process helps you to work out the mechanics of each step. How to move and place your fingers and the bow. This is where you have to be your teacher, paying attention to what is challenging for you.

Then when you start looping on that little challenge, your body and mind relax a bit. You move from thinking to playing in a state of flow.


And more generally, start to think about alternating between different things in your fiddle practice:

  • Alternate between easy and hard.
  • Alternate between a tune and its scale.
  • Alternate between a tune and a variation on the tune.

Over the next few months, I’ll go more into how you can make your practice more fun and productive with these kinds of alternation strategies.


Fun fiddle quiz!


Read more

Be Your Own Teacher

Fiddling With Flow

6 responses to “Tone-building And Looping

    1. Hey @BuffaloGal,

      Amber is a kind person who’s helping me to keep up with messages from all the Fiddleheds who are diligently practicing and have questions.

      Good question about the key. I started writing a post which I’ll publish later but share with you now. Hope it helps:

      Know your scales

      I’d start by saying learn the essential fiddle scales REALLY WELL:
      G, D, A major; E, D, A minor (Dorian)
      And then these: C, F, B flat, E major
      If you alternate between scale and tune with tunes you know, you’ll more quickly and intuitively be able to figure out the key for tunes you don’tknow. That’s why I always suggest that you first play the scale of a tune and then continue to return to the scale.
      More on this:
      What are the best scales to learn on the fiddle?
      Are scales really necessary?
      Drone on

      If you’re trying to figure out the key and scale of a recorded tune, start by finding the root note (first note of the scale). This is often (but not always) the first and/or last note of the tune.
      Play your best guess of what the root is as the recording plays. One note should sound the most “resolved.” For most (but not all!) fiddle tunes, there is one main root. And the most common root notes are listed above. It’s like you’re being the drone.
      Wait, what the heck is a drone?Find out here:
      Drone tuning the notes on the D string
      Drone Practice
      Drone Central

      Once you find the root note, play a major or minor scale (Dorian, Aeolian modes) and see if it sounds good over the recorded tune.
      Try this with each of these examples:
      Arkansas Traveller A part starts and ends on D. Yes! It’s in D major.
      Lazy Johnstarts on A (after pickup notes) but ends on G. Which is it?
      Swallowtail Jigstarts on G but ends on E. It’s in E dorian. How do you know if it’s a major or Dorian scale?Start by knowing your scales well (sorry if repeating this is annoying). Dorian scales are minor modes of major scales. Without going too deep into theory right now, minor scales have a “darker” more “haunting” feel.
      Finding the key from sheet music

      Look up the sheet music on the interwebs and use the “key signature.”

      This is a more precise method. In fact, you don’t need to know how to read, just use this handy legend:

      No sharps or flats: C major


      1 sharp: G major, A dorian


      2 sharps: D major, E dorian


      3 sharps: A major, B dorian


      4 sharps: E major, F# dorian

      1 flat: F major, G dorian

      2 flats: B flat major, dorian

      Warning: the recording may not be in the key of the sheet music! If that happens…more trial and error.
      Use technology ?

      There are apps that can figure this out. I haven’t tried them, but here are a few:
      AudioKeyChain: https://www.audiokeychain.com
      Chordec: https://apps.apple.com/us/wp-content/chordec/id649000766
      Tunebat: https://tunebat.com/Analyzer

      If you try one of these apps (or find another one), please come back to this article and leave a comment on how it worked. We learn together…Thanks!

  1. Jason, this is a great lesson! I always like to watch your new lessons; they ground me. I, and I think a lot of others, get discouraged if I don’t progress on a new tune as fast as I think I should. Your encouragement to just get “10%” better, is something I have been keeping in mind during this Fall Challenge, and it has really helped keep me ENCORAGED, and I’ve seen progress in myself…rather than getting discouraged when I can’t be “perfect” with a tune. Thanks!

Leave a Reply