Here’s a short list of everything you need to know about learning thefiddle or any instrument in a simple bullet point list. I’m givingeverything away right now. TODAY. If you don’t take another lesson fromme ever again but you keep and practice these things, you’ll succeed asa musician. Here’s the short list: You are a musician if you PLAY EVERY DAYListening is practice tooSing what you playPractice audiationBeginner’s mindGo slowIf you’re struggling, then change somethingRepeat 1000 timesMicro-learningLoop itBe your own teacherDrone onRemember to sound goodReview
Imagine a post-apocalyptic world in which the internet is gone but yourfiddle remains along with a printout of this document. You’ll be able tokeep learning music, even in this dystopian future!People come to FiddleHed because they want to learn fiddle tunes. Butthe stuff listed here is the heart and soul what I’m trying to give tostudents.I suggest you print the list above (or the handwritten list at the end ofthis little book) and post it on your refrigerator or somewhere you’ll see itevery day. Or better yet, write it out yourself:
You are a musician if you PLAY EVERY DAY.You’ve heard it before, now you’re hearing it again. When learning andinstrument, there’s a lot you have to learn, memorize and remember.Relax you left hand! Curve the fingers! Tuck in your elbow!But play every day is by far the most useful thing to remember. If youjust do this one thing, questions will be answered and things will fallinto place. If you practice consistently you’ll naturally learn better waysto practice. Your hands are intelligent; they’ll learn what they need tolearn if you just give them a chance.When in doubt, just practice. Don’t think about it too much! Just play asimple tune. You’ll learn more from regular practice than I’ll ever teachyou. If you can just do this one thing, you’re sure to find your way as amusician.But here’s a new spin on this idea. Besides fiddling, how else can youplay today? Can you transform a chore into play somehow? Maybe aconversation can be more playful. Tell some dad jokes (my specialty, andI don’t even have kids )Listening is practice too.This all-important fact gets forgotten, even if you’ve been learning,playing and performing for forty years! And then, all of a sudden, youremember to listen.
Do it NOW. Close your eyes and listen. I just took a break from writing anddid it myself. I heard a small plane fly overhead, the quiet hum of thecomputer, a car whoosh by, another car, some silence (also music) andthen some birds.Remember you can do this anywhere, any time, and it will make you abetter musician.If you’re playing with others, take a moment to listen to the sound ofthose instruments, to what they are playing. Listen to the ideas andemotions behind the music and in yourself. Listen to your mind andbody.Here is a listening challenge: Close your eyes and listen. Try not to label what you hear. This is hard to do! But try anyway. I find it’s easier whenthere’s a lot of different sounds, like in a train station.
Sing what you playIf you sing what you play, you’ll develop a better ear, which means you’llplay better in tune and learn tunes more quickly. With this practice theinstrument becomes an extension of your voice so that the music canflow with less analytical thinking.The process of singing and playing: Sing a phrase from a tune. Then play it on the fiddle. Keep alternating in a loop until it’s natural. Move on to a different phrase and repeat the process. Repeat the process using the entire tune. Advanced: Sing and play at the same time. Sing the melody while playing it on fiddle. Sing the melody while playing chords on the fiddle.Practice audiationAudiation is the process of “hearing music in your head.” When you’re walkingdown the street and you start humming a tune, that’s audiation. It’ssomething that everyone does unconsciously.
Intentionally practice audiation to improve your tuning and better remembertunes. This is because practicing audiation will help you to form a clearmental model of how each note sound. Audiation is closely related to theprocess of “Sing what you play”. The two modes can be practiced inconjunction.The basic practice of audiation: Play a note or a small phrase. Hear it in your head. Continuously alternate between fiddling and audiation.Besides improving your tuning and melodic recall, audiation is something youcan learn to practice anywhere. If you have a ten-minute break from work,listen to something you’re learning, pause the recording and then audiatethat. Visualize yourself playing that on fiddle.Beginner’s mindMost students are in a big hurry to not be a beginner anymore. They wantto learn more, do it faster. I encourage you to approach every new tuneand technique with curiosity, no matter what “level” you’re at. What can Ilearn from this tune? How can I use it to practice things I’m strugglingwith? How is it connected to other music and even other non-musicalthings in my life?Go slowMost students go way too fast, and they do it in two ways: They play things to fast. They learn new things at too fast of a rate.Remember: your brain is usually quicker than your hands. Your braingets the basic idea, gets bored and wants to move on. Your hands, armsand ears need a lot more time to learn something.
If you’re struggling, then change somethingMaybe you’re getting bored. Or maybe you just can’t get something.Sometimes it’s best just to change something about what you’repracticing or the way you practice: Add variation Add dynamics slow/fast loud/quiet Sing then play Audiation Change something external Walk to a different room Sit down or stand up Close your eyes If all else fails, just take a little break, or stop for the day It will most likely be easier when you return.Repeat 1000 timesStudent: Ha ha Mr. FiddleHed, that’s funny. Play it 1000 times. Good one.FiddleHed: No joke! Repeat a thousand times. I learned this from EarlScruggs.
This is a simple way to become a master. But remember to approach itas a human instead of a robot. Pay attention. Adjust how y ou practicethat one thing. Add variations to make it a creative practice. This willmake it interesting, fun and productive.After playing for over forty years, I can still take a simple tune like KerryPolka and play it for an hour. Not bragging, just saying!Micro-learningThere’s an overwhelming amount of things to remember and practicewhen you learn an instrument. Don’t panic! Start with something very,very small. Get a little bit better at, then a little better still. Then do thenext small thing. String together small things until a bigger thing startsto sound good.This is the essence of micro-learning . After you’ve learned a tune youmay encounter new difficulties. Return to micro-learning to work it out.Pinpoint what is actually difficult and practice that.
Loop itOnce you have slowly worked out the technical details of a scale, exerciseor tune phrase, the next step is to slowly and continuously play that in aloop. This will bring flow to what you’re doing. It will start to sound likemusic.Loop on one little thing until it feels and sounds good. Then loop on thenext little thing. Then put together those two little things and loop thatbigger thing. This is the very essence of practice.Be your own teacherPay attention to what you do. Ask yourself, “Where could I improve?”Track your practice with audio recording and journaling. Take notes onwhat needs to improve and what has gotten better. Refer to that the nextday so you can consistently work on the same problems and challenges.Ask yourself, “How can I best learn this? How can I best practice thisproblem?” Make up exercises to practice things you struggle with. Loopthem, play around with them making it fun.Ask yourself, “What do I want to learn?” Write that down, but don’t be in ahurry. It might take a few years to get to some things on your wish list,but you can eventually do it if you practice consistently.Remember: even if you already have a teacher, you can be your teacherevery time you play.
Drone onPracticing with drone tracks will improve your tuning. It’s also a nice wayto make practicing on your own more fun. Tuning notes with drones If you’re practicing a scale, practice tuning each note with it’sown drone until it sounds in tune. So if you’re trying to tune up D1 (first finger on D string)you’d use an E drone. Use F sharp drone if you aretuning up D2, etc. One drone, many tunes Play one drone track and use it to practice different tunesthat use the same root note. So with a D drone, you can play tunes in D major, D minor or Dklezmer: Oh Susannah Arkansas Traveller Shady Grove Hava NegilahRemember to sound goodMost people can make a good sound on their instrument but simplyforget to do it.Take breaks from working on tunes and new or challenging techniquesto focus on sound. Play single notes until it sounds nice. You are bringingthe awareness of sound into your playing. Try to also relax your body andbreath while you’re at it.
Next, bring this good sound to something a little more complex, like ascale or small phrase from a tune. Continue in this way until you canplay the challenging thing with a better sound. Shoot to make it 10%better. That’s something you can do! You just have to remember to do it.ReviewIt’s fun to learn new things. But if you keep charging off into the new youmight forget how to play an older tune you loved. Or you might lose theability to do some useful technique that you stopped practicing.Take time return to techniques and tunes that you haven’t practiced inawhile. In this way you can build on what you’ve already learned insteadof treading water, floating from one new thing to the next.You could review things based on different time spans, reviewing whatyou did: Today Fingerprinting : say and play the first part of each tune youplayed. The past week The past month the past 2-3 months The past year
How do you remember what you did so you can review it? Make a masterpractice list of tunes and techniques, look over that when you decide toreview.Some great things about review: You enjoy these older tunes even more now that you can play alittle better. You hear them in a new and fresh way. As you learn new techniques and concepts you can apply them toolder tunes.That’s it (for now). But don’t forget the very first thing: Play every day .