For Students

Fiddle From the Ground Up

This is a beginning/early intermediate learning tunebook I put together for fiddle students. It includes sheet music and tablature for 30 tunes (and information about how to read those notation systems). It also includes 77 listening tracks that include each tune played slowly and up to speed and tutorial tracks for finger placement and embellishment techniques.

Fiddle From the Ground Up is available from my merchandise page.

Online Instruction

Not much can beat a live teacher, who can listen to your playing and give you personalized feedback, but there are some good online videos that can also help you out.

  • Check out my recordings, sheet music, and video lessons of tunes and techniques.
  • David Kaynor’s videos for Expert Village (on YouTube) are a great start for violin and bow hold, making a pleasant sound, etc.  David is a great contra dance fiddle player from Western Massachusetts.
  • Free online flashcards for learning note names on the staff, learning key signatures, etc.
  • Link to a printable PDF for flash cards that have notes on the staff on one side and the name and finger position on the other.
  • Online ear training games from Theta Music Trainer (free membership gives you access to early levels of all games).  I recommend Speed Pitch and Vocal Match for starting out.

Practicing

Nothing beats a good practice routine for helping student progress.  Tips for students and parents and downloadable practice sheets can be found on my Practicing page.

Instruments, Repair, Strings, Paraphernalia

  • If you are in the Northport area, I do some repairs and bow rehairing myself.
  • Instruments: I highly recommend Bill Dalbec’s 2nd Fiddle in Portland for instrument sales and repair. I also recommend David Begin’s Salt Bay Trading Company on Route One in Newcastle. David is phasing out repair work, but he will still have instruments, bows, and accessories for sale. In the Portland area, instruments can be purchased from Buckdancer’s Choice in Portland and Frost Gully Violins in Freeport.  The full size instruments I’ve owned have come from Uncle Henry’s and from Craigslist.  I got a great deal on them… but both needed some TLC before they were ready to go.  I definitely recommend only buying an instrument you can try before you commit to purchasing it.
  • Bows: Whatever you do, make sure the bow you get has real horsehair. I’ve played some nice bows that used carbon fiber instead of wood, but I’ve never used a bow with synthetic hair that didn’t sound awful. Make sure you loosen the hair when you are done playing. Bows need to be rehaired periodically. I’ve had my bows re-haired by David Holbrook of Liberty, Lynn Hannings of Pownal, and Bill Dalbec of Portland. I now rehair my own bow.
  • Strings: Thomastik Dominant synthetic core strings are perhaps the most common strings to see in use. I use D’Addario Helicore strings which are a bit cheaper and hold up to cross-tuning with less stretching. Strings can be bought locally at Salt Bay Trading Co. in Newcastle and Buckdancer’s Choice in Portland. Online I’ve used Concord Musical SuppliesAmazonElderly Instruments, and Shar Music. All of these dealers also sell other gadgets- tuners, shoulder rests, tuning forks, pitch pipes, etc.
  • Shoulder Rests: You don’t need a shoulder rest to play fiddle, but some people find that a rest makes it more comfortable to hold their violin. I use a Bon Musica rest. They are a bit pricey at $50 but have the advantage of being very adjustable – the whole metal piece can be bent to fit the shape of your body. Kun rests are popular and they make a collapsible model that fits in most violin cases. Some people, including professionals, just use a kitchen sponge held on with rubber bands or a washcloth or dishcloth. Try to experiment with different options before you buy!
  • Tuning Devices: An A 440 tuning fork is all you really need once you learn to hear if the strings are in tune with each other, or you can of course tune to an in-tune piano. An E-A-D-G set of pitchpipes will work well. Electronic tuners are popular and come in varieties that you either play near or clip on to the instrument. Clip-on tuners are nice for tuning in loud environments where another tuner might get “confused” by other noises and instrument sounds. Electronic tuners tell you what note your string is tuned to and whether that note is sharp or flat. Here is an online electric tuner (you need to allow access to your computer so it can use your computer’s microphone to pick up the sound of you playing) and online tuning fork (E659.26, A440, D293.66, G196). This same site has a metronome.
  • Rosin: I use Jade rosin by L’Opera. I like to think that it makes my playing smoother, but I may have just been taken in by the novelty of the green color… There is certainly nothing wrong with using your average golden brown rosin. Read more about choosing rosin here.

Listening Resources

The best way to hear fiddle music is to go out and hear some live. Find local concerts, dances, and sessions and enjoy! The DEFFA events listing is a great place to start.

  • Radio programs: Check out New Potatoes on WERU and The Thistle and Shamrock on Maine Public Radio. Both of these are available for online streaming, as are numerous other programs from around the country and around the world.
  • Recordings: There are heaps of fantastic recordings out there. Check your local library for starters! Many folks have recordings available at concerts and dances they play. Here’s my Annotated Discography of albums I particularly like.

Tune Books

While I’ve provided links to online sources for these books, I strongly encourage you to buy books locally. Salt Bay Trading Co. in Newcastle and Buckdancer’s Choice in Portland carry many of these books (with the exception of Airs Tordus) and are probably happy to order you something they don’t have in stock.

  • The Portland Collection, Volumes One and Two (a 3rd volume is being compiled) Contra dance repertoire, including both old traditional and recently composed tunes. These books are widely owned in Maine and are a good “in” to common repertoire.
  • The Waltz Book (four volumes) Lots of waltzes, many of which are widely played. Another common book to find on a Maine musician’s bookshelf.
  • New England Fiddler’s Repertoire Full of great classic New England tunes.
  • Airs Tordus/Crooked Tunes – a fabulous book of crooked Quebec tunes compiled by Guy Bouchard of Quebec City. Many of the tunes are on the Têtes du Violon CDs. Guy and Laura are fabulous folks and have a great catalog of Quebecois recordings for sale on their website,Trente Sous Zero.
  • Fiddler’s Fakebook  A source for tunes from classic New England to Irish to Scottish to bluegrass to old-time. This is a pretty common book for people to have but it is (in my opinion) almost too broad. If you get this book, also get recommendations from local players about which tunes are common in your area.
  • O’Neill’s Music of Ireland  THE printed source for Irish tunes. The print is a bit crammed and it has a regular book binding, not spiral binding, but this is the classic source for Irish tunes. The Mel-Bay edition linked here is what I have, but there appear to be some other editions that are cheaper; I’m not sure of the differences.

Online Sheet Music Resources

Many of the sites listed below offer ABC in addition to images of sheet music. ABC is a way of writing out tunes using characters from your keyboard and is an easy way to send tunes in a small file or write out a tune without staff paper. I am in the habit of writing out a couple measures of ABC on set lists so I can remember how a tune goes in a pinch.

  • Music Reading is a useful tutorial, complete with audio examples, for learning how to read music.
  • The ABC Project has a useful page of resources and introductory information, including a link to Five Lined Skink, the ABC freeware I use.
  • The Session is a great resource for tunes and information, with a focus on Irish style. Search for tunes, ABC fragments, recordings, artists, sessions, discussion topics… Want to find sheet music for the second tune on the fifth track of that new recording? You can probably find it here.
  • Steve Mansfield’s extensive ABC Music Tutorial gives you all the details of writing music in ABC. There is also a Part Two.
  • TuneBook Live! (formerly Richard Robinson’s Tunebook) contains sheetmusic, ABC, and midi of thousands of tunes from around the world. Here’s a link direct to the search page. This site also contains some useful ABC tools, including the ability to paste in ABC from somewhere else and get an image and a midi file.

North East Music and Dance Resources

  • DownEast Friends of Folk Arts (DEFFA) promotes traditional music and dance forms in Maine, publishes a print and online monthly newsletter of events in Maine, and hosts the DownEast Country Dance Festival in Topsham, ME in March.
  • Maine Fiddle Camp in Montville has two weekend and three week-long camps.  Not just for fiddlers! Guitar, banjo, mandolin, whistle, flute, accordion, cello… Great food, great tunes, and great fun for a heck of a good price.
  • Acadia Trad School in Bar Harbor has a week-long camp in July focused on Irish, Old-Time, and Acadian/Québecois styles. The faculty includes many internationally renowned artists.
  • New England Folk Festival Association (NEFFA) promotes traditional music and dance and hosts the NEFFA festival in Mansfield, MA in April.
  • Sing Out! Magazine’s Festival Listing can give you information about other festivals and camps around the US.
  • The Country Dance and Song Society, CDSS, promotes traditional music and contra dance, square dance, English country dance, sword dance, morris dance, and so on. They are based in Massachusetts but serve a wide geographical area. They have a great variety of books and CDs in their store and also run a great set of summer music and dance camps.