Top 10 Tips For Beginners

Here are some tips for the beginner fiddle player

1. Get Comfortable and Relax

  • Take a moment before you pick up your instrument to calm yourself and prepare mentally for what is ahead, be it a 5 minute practice or a performance piece.

2. Tune Up

  • Playing in tune can sometimes be difficult; don’t make it harder on yourself by starting off with you open strings out of tune! Make use of tuners, a piano, anything that will give you a good “A”, and you will see the results in your improved tone. I like to start with the “A” string and move down tuning in fifths, and then come back and finish with the open “E”.

3. Get Some Tape on Your Fingerboard

  • One of the quickest ways to train your fingers for fiddle playing is to temporarily mark your fingerboard with the first 4 finger positions in first position. Take four thin strips of tape and slide them one at a time under the strings towards the neck marking off your 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th finger positions. For example, under the “A” string, the tapes should be at “B”, “C#”, “D”, and “E”. Make sure your tapes are placed correctly for proper tuning!

4. Getting the Right Bow Hold

  • There are two main ways to hold your bow, the beginner’s bow hold and the professional bow hold. Start by laying your fingers across the top of your bow, and bring your thumb underneath to grip halfway between the silver ferrule and the horse hair on the outside of the bow’s frog. Your fingertips should drape over the top of the stick and face downward slightly towards the screw. This is the beginner’s bow hold.

5. Practice Up and Down Bows on Your Open Strings

  • It is important to start working on bow control immediately. If you are learning to play Irish fiddle you will soon be bowing lots of triplets and cuts, which are some trademarks of that genre. Practice your bow pushes and pulls while moving between the open strings and alternating your bow rhythm. Do not clench the bow –  guide it in a straight line up and down across the strings. Bow from your wrist and your elbow, do not bow from your shoulder.

6. Getting Rid of Crunching, Squeaking, and Scraping

  • If you are experiencing unwanted noises from your fiddle at first, do not be alarmed. You are not alone! Often, getting rid of crunching and squeaking and other unintended noise lies in bow control. Bowing is a continuous mix of balance and friction, and also one of the hardest aspects to master. If you are getting a crunch, try lightening you bow pressure. If you are getting a squeak, try applying more bow pressure or check your bow’s position on the string. Your bow should lie across the string intersecting your f holes.

7. Experiment With a Shoulder Rest

  • Shoulder rests can be used to give the player a better hold and posture for the fiddle. Attach it to the underside of your fiddle and seat it across your shoulder, clamping your chin to the chin rest. With a good hold, you should be able to support your fiddle in standard playing position without your hand. Shoulder rests are not for everyone. My advice is to experiment with a couple different styles and try to find one that is comfortable before moving forward without it.

8. Finger Hand Posture

  • With your fiddle supported by your neck and shoulder, bring your playing arm up from below and let the neck fall between your thumb and fingers. Your arm should curve slightly, with your forefinger away from you and your pinky finger turned inward towards you. Position the inside of your thumb and the bottom knuckle of your forefinger just below your first tape marking on the neck, giving you enough room to play that first note. Do not grasp or clench the neck – you have just created a nest with your hand for the fiddle to rest in.

9. Synchronize Bow and Finger Movements

  • Begin with playing scales, focusing on aligning bow moves with finger moves as you go. This can be hard at first but does get better with time. Start on the open “D” and go from there: 1st finger to first tape “e”, 2nd finger to 2nd tape “f#”, 3rd finger to 3rd tape “g”, open “A”, 1st finger to 1st tape “b”, 2nd finger to 2nd tape “c#”, and end with 3rd finger to 3rd tape “d”. Now go back down.

10. Practice

  • This single word could be the most powerful tip in the list and it is key to your development as a musician. Learning the fiddle or violin –  whether it be Irish fiddle, classical, or bluegrass fiddle – takes loads of practice hours. My advice is to practice in 20 minute increments in the beginning so as not to become overwhelmed. The basics are what is important: proper bowhold, bow balancing, playing posture, and scales. These are the focus points for the beginner fiddle player.
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