I want to learn to play the fiddle.
January 29, 2009 8:50 AM   Subscribe

I haven't picked up my violin in years, and would like to start playing again - but I want to play Scottish and Irish fiddle, and maybe a little Appalachian old-time fiddle, too. Resources?

I played classical violin as a kid/teenager and became reasonably proficient, but I haven't even touched the instrument in at least ten years. I need to ship it out here and see what my fingers still remember, but I'm thinking that at the very least I'll need some hardcore instruction, since the music styles involve a whole host of techniques I'm not really familiar with - double stops, rolls, those fast quivering triplets. How do I find an instructor who can teach me this style in my area (northern Colorado-ish)? I know about Rocky Mountain Fiddle Camp, and hope to go this summer, but would love to get going before then.

Also: Anything I need to do equipment-wise? Do I need to get a flatter bridge or steel strings right away?

And finally: Where can I find more of the music I want to play, and learn more about the history? I don't even know if I'm describing it the right way - I think want to play folk music (traditional or contemporary) with Scottish and Irish influences - waltzes and marches and the slower Appalachian/old-time reel tunes. Yeah, I want to play Ashokan Farewell. Basically, I want to sound like the Deadwood soundtrack - what am I looking for, and where do I find it?
posted by peachfuzz to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (15 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
This page has a bunch of tunes from various countries (seems focused on the British isles). I found it while searching for music to play on a concertina. It's just melodies, no chording, but definitely a fun place to start and look around. The Session also seems to have a good collection of tunes, although it's not working right for me at the moment--maybe you need to be logged in.
posted by that girl at 9:03 AM on January 29, 2009

Don't worry about the technical or equipment side of things for the moment - get your hands on your violin, and focus on getting your fingers back in gear. Play whatever you used to play, and play it often. The rolls and the triplets will come eventually. For now, just try and shake out the rust!

It would probably be worth your while to get in touch with The Colorado Old Time Fiddlers' Association. They have a listing for a few teachers, but even if none of those people work in your area, you could ask them for any leads they might have for you. There are lots of bits and pieces of fiddle instruction kicking around on the internet, but absolutely nothing beats the relationship that you can develop with a good teacher. It's part of the magic of learning folk music, methinks.

In the meantime, here's a little Brittany Haas for you - she's a stunning example of the newest batch of Appalachian-style fiddlers. Poking around on the "related" YouTube links should help you to find more examples of what it is you'd really like to play, and more players to inspire you!
posted by Hellgirl at 10:01 AM on January 29, 2009

A good way to learn is with a teacher or a group of people trying to learn together, and a great way to find these kind of people is at a session--The Session lists not only tunes, but sessions in cities around the world. See if there's one nearby, go listen, and ask if anyone's offering lessons. It also helps enormously to listen to a lot of the music, and if you can, try to emulate the style on your own. If you work from sheet music, try especially hard to find a recording by a human so you can get a feel for how the style is applied.

I played for three or four years (through FSU's music department, which offered an elective class in irish fiddling). I used my normal violin that had gotten me through orchestra in high school, though after the second year I had the action lowered (bridge flattened) to see if it helped (I didn't notice any difference).
posted by VeritableSaintOfBrevity at 10:08 AM on January 29, 2009

MusicMoose.org has some free fiddle lessons.
posted by RussHy at 10:19 AM on January 29, 2009

I don't have specific fiddling resources but I also picked up my violin after a long time and discovered that my student-grade violin was just about unplayable after it had sat in its case for years. The neck had somehow gone crooked and it would have been difficult for me to reach higher positions accurately (I was told). Be sure to take it to a violin shop and get a once-over to make sure it's still in good shape (as well as the bow) so that you aren't struggling with the instrument itself.

There are definitely different bridges you can get if you think you'll be playing lots of double-stops, that have a flatter curve. But I would wait for that until you've regained some proficiency because otherwise you'll be hitting strings you don't mean to. So in essence I second Hellgirl's recommendation to just get playing with the setup you are used to and progress to making changes later.
posted by cabingirl at 10:52 AM on January 29, 2009

I found a great fiddle teacher on Craig's List - it's worth a shot!
posted by robinpME at 11:16 AM on January 29, 2009

If you're looking to teach yourself, you might consider books from Elderly Instruments.

They have a selection of Irish Fiddle Tunes, Scottish Fiddle Tunes, Basic Fiddle Instruction, Old Time Fiddle Instruction, and so on. In addition (and this might be the most helpful thing), they have a typically well-versed staff who can help you pick what is best for you.
posted by plinth at 11:40 AM on January 29, 2009

NPR had a story last week about saving and sharing old timey music: The Field Recorders Collective
posted by TDIpod at 12:04 PM on January 29, 2009

posted by K.P. at 1:34 PM on January 29, 2009

Your ear is your best tool. Old Time fiddlers didn't have music training, and rarely could read music, but they knew the music of their community and had it in their head... and if they were real musicians they managed to get it into their fiddles.

You need to listen to a lot of traditional fiddle music, which was usually played by folks with no classical trraining. You can find huge amounts on the web, a good thing since many of the best good recordings are decidely non-commercial. After a whiloe the style youove will take over your brain and your cerebellum-finger waltz will take it from there.

First of all, Youtube is an amazing source for fiddlers - if we had that back in the day (I'm an old-timer who plays old time...) it would have made learning much easier. You need to see how the bow works - look for patterns in the bow and rythym - appalachian has these obvious figure eight loops, texas is straight long bow, cajun has a specific look in the bowing. Don't worry about trills and ornaments, work on a good bow rythym. There are forums as well. Just keep listening until you know the music you want to have come out of your fiddle, which is merely a box with strings and wood that channels your sound.

You don't need to set up the fiddle much differently than you already have it unrtil you know what style you are obsessed with. Most fiddlers don't use a shoulder rest, but it isn't a sin if you do.

Listen - Listen- Listen to the old recordings or newer recordings in the syle you find best. Style is everything. find the music that grabs you and go for the rythymic essence. It may take some time... but it comes.
posted by zaelic at 3:39 PM on January 29, 2009

Response by poster: Wow, incredible resources so far, guys. Zaelic - wonderful comments; that's exactly the kind of how-do-I-know-I-need-to-know-that thing I...well, need to know.
posted by peachfuzz at 4:41 PM on January 29, 2009

Here's some cajun style... one of the musics that is still keping on...

Darn near everything that was recorded in the old days - the 1930-40 - has been rereleased. Since these are older folk recordings it often is legal to download them : put a fiddleer's name in googleblogs and see what comes up in various MP3 blogs. Several archives have a lot online: Kentucky, for example. not mention this: too much.
posted by zaelic at 5:09 PM on January 29, 2009

Homespun Tapes. I've gotten some terrific guitar instruction from Homespun videos, so I imagine their fiddle lessons are just as good. They have video samples for most of the DVDs, so you can see what you're getting.
posted by tdismukes at 8:20 PM on January 29, 2009

You might want to download Audacity. Lots of fiddle music is very, very fast and complicated; until you have a teacher who can slow it down for you, Audacity's a good way to artificially slow down songs (without changing the pitch!) to figure out the melody. While it's really tempting to go to the Session and download sheet music, that can be dangerous for those of us with a classical backround. Fiddle music played in a classical style is pretty, but it doesn't have the heart that all the improvisations and flourishes give the real thing...
posted by ubersturm at 6:52 AM on January 30, 2009

Response by poster: Update: I got my hands on my violin, and it shocked me that my fingers still remember the notes and that sight-reading is still completely natural (but yikes, gotta work on bowing..and shake the rust out overall). The instrument sounds okay, though the pegs are a little wobbly, so I think I need to take it in for a once-over. I've got lots of good local recommendations for teachers and sessions...I'm really excited about this! It feels really damn good to play again...thanks for your help, everyone!
posted by peachfuzz at 6:27 PM on February 20, 2009

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