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Fiddle me this

As some of you know, I’ve started to learn fiddle, and I’ve been working hard at it. I’m taking an online course from the “Brainjo” guy, Dr. Josh Turnkett and taught by Adam Hurt. I’ve taken banjo classes from Adam at Midwest Banjo Camp and I’ve had a chance to participate in jams fiddled by Adam. He’s a top drawer player and teacher. The course is taught by ear through a series of sequential videos and is based on neuroscience – how humans learn.

I went into this planning to give it my best shot, but I confess I wasn’t confident I was going to be able to pick it up. Somewhere deep down I suspected fiddle was just too difficult. As I’ve begun learning the basic skills I’m ready to change that assessment. I’m now sure I can learn this thing.

The course started out with some scales and scale fragment exercises and then moved right into tunes. I’m working on the basic version of the third tune now, Wish I had my Time Again. I’ve shared a great version of this tune on this post.

Here’s what I’m finding so far. I’m finding it easy to pick up the tunes, that is finding the right notes and quickly learning the sequences. I’m also finding it easy to do the bowing in the prescribed manner. While the sound of my playing still needs plenty of work, it’s starting to sound a lot more like music than the industrial accident scene I started with.

Intonation is something which I know will improve with time. Since fiddle is a fretless instrument, you need to be pretty accurate in fingering the notes. In the context of a tune, it’s easy for me to hear when my intonation is off and I’m trying to correct myself on the fly, although sometimes this is difficult when I’m also concentrating on learning the melody.  Eventually my fingers will find the right spots all the time.

Drones have been my biggest struggle so far. I can now find the right planes to play two strings at once consistently. I find it easier to drone the string lower in pitch than the melody than the one higher in pitch than the melody. This is because it’s easier to get my fingers out of the way of the drone string when they’re closer to my hand. However, I’m getting there and I’m doing some drone practice every session.

I’ve been practicing in short sessions, 15-25 minutes and I try to do 3 or 4 sessions each day. Meanwhile, I don’t want to neglect my banjo playing so I’m finding a little banjo practice time each day as well. I’m pretty sure playing fiddle is going to improve my banjo playing too.

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