View Full Version : learnin' the fiddle

May-13-2004, 7:04pm
I've just recently got the urge to play fiddle, but I'm not sure if I'll be able to get good at it, as I've been limited to instruments that you pick and fret so far. how long do you think it'd take a decent mandolinist to learn how to do a passable job on some of the old tunes? Anyone done it?

May-13-2004, 7:31pm
I started on mando and play a little (very very little) fiddle. I can hack through a few tunes fairly convincingly, but I end going back to the mandolin because I'm much more comfortable on that. I'd say if you want to, go for it, it is doable. Personally I didn't have too much of a problem with the left hand fingering as far as having at least passable intonation (keeping the instrument in tune is really key I've found) but the trouble comes with the bow. Go for it, and good luck!


John Flynn
May-13-2004, 7:41pm
I am convinced that the fiddle is the toughest instrument to learn, and the toughest to play well, in acoustic music. I know some multi-instrumentalists who feel the same way. You not only have intonation and bowing to deal with, but in old time, celtic and some other forms of music, the fiddle is often the lead instrument that carries to the tune. So you have to be nearly perfect nearly every phrase, for the whole tune.

I like the mando because it is the most versitile instrument. It can play chords like a guitar, it can play lead like a fiddle and it can even do rolls like a banjo. It can easily switch roles in the same tune. That equals more musical possibilites with easier basics. What a sweet deal!

Richard H
May-13-2004, 9:01pm
I've been having a go at the fiddle recently and really like it. How good am I? Well this a.m. I played about half hour for my 6 day old grandson and he gave me a thumbs-up smile after every rendition. Really.

Go for it, I say!

May-13-2004, 9:13pm
I just got one from my kid brother a couple of weeks ago.
Man, I suck.
10 minutes, tops. Then I grab the mando.

May-13-2004, 11:22pm
I'm trying. And I have to agree ... it's not easy. Wish I would have started a long time ago. Oh well. I'm glad I have started now, and I would guess it's going to take me a lot longer to learn to play the fiddle really well, than any other instrument I have ever tried.
I can hack through some slow tunes, but when the tempo picks up ... I'm toast.
If you are feeling like trying it ... I say go for it, and who cares how long it takes. Better to start now, than to wonder for ever how you would have done had you not tried.
I also think taking lessons is advisable, if you can. There are a lot of things you can do wrong when learning to fiddle. And above all, be patient ... it's going to take some time to learn how to hold the thing (and some physical conditioning), and bowing ... whoo hoo! Believe me, it's just not going to happen quickly.

May-14-2004, 2:50am
I would love to learn and play the fiddle sometime, but I'm not sure if I can invest the time that is needed right now http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/sad.gif

My ambitions would be humble though, I have no intentions of becoming a flaming bluegrass fiddler or an old-time speed contest winner http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif

I would much rather play some irish and old-time stuff in first position.

May-14-2004, 6:13am
The fiddle is a beast. I just can't bow, and like others have mentioned, that would be the hardest thing to learn...I think intonation being #2. Everyone I know who's tried the fiddle has said the same or similar.

Lets face it, there are really only so many ways to use plectrum, but there are tons and tons of bowing technique.

My best advice is to take lessons!

Tom C
May-14-2004, 6:31am
I tried once. I had trouble with looking at <s>fretboard </s> fingerboard from a different perspective. The left wrist felt twisted, and I couldn't bow. I think I could get used to no frets and smaller scale. It seems to up 1/2 step your fingers have to slightly touch one another. -Of course more at some places than others, but it gives you a good idea of where to fing that right note.

May-14-2004, 5:06pm
I started playing fiddle to learn more
about the old time fiddler in Monroe's
head. It's challenging, but there are so
many musical insights that come from learning it,
the phrasing, playing "vocally". And it's a hoot.

May-16-2004, 7:15pm
I agree with the others- it's hard. Bowing and intonation take lots of wrok, but, even if you never really get any good at it you will learn a lot about what drives the music. Trying to learn bowing and where to apply the emphasis will benefit everything else you do.
good luck

May-16-2004, 10:37pm
Definitely go for it!!! I started about 3 years ago, and went straight to taking lessons. I didn't want to pick up any bad habits, so i took about 5 lessons and had my teacher concentrate a lot on technique and different ways to phrase things. I may not be the best fiddle player now but I can play a few tunes at jams and have fun with it, and I've actually had compliments on my playing. I think the largest benefit for me though is the insight it gave me into mandolin playing. It'll give you different ways of looking at tunes you already know, and also help develop your overall style. I always find myself playing something on fiddle completely different than on mando because the bow is a totally different beast. But then I'll take that idea and see if I can translate it to the pick on the mando. Doesn't always work, but when it does it gives me more stuff in my mandoLick grab bag. Since we do a lot of improv in our music, that helps me tons...

May-17-2004, 10:03am
Oh yeah, if you have the time (you'll need it + a private space) it's worth it, IMO. Bear in mind I'm an old-time player focusing on southern fiddle tunes and the like. I can play in standard tuning, but I like to use a lot of cross tunings to facilitate and accentuate (translation: help) bow work and that droning fiddle sound I love. Some tunes sound "better" one way or another.
The key to playing fiddle is staying relaxed and loose. Your ears and fingers can learn intonation. But your bow arm and fingering hand have to be relaxed and comfortable to get that groove and phrasing.

Playing mando was an enormous help for me, mainly cause I knew a bunch of tunes that I could move over to fiddle. The fingering comes easy. Bowing works itself out one way or another (at least for old-time fiddlers). You just have to stay after it. That and get a decent bow.

May-17-2004, 11:42am
I started playing fiddle six months ago after falling in love with that old-time sound. The notes are in pretty much the right place but, as everyone else notes, the right hand is a challenge!
I'm not to the point where I'll play in public, but I'm pretty happy with my fiddling progress. I say if you want the sound, give it a try.

May-17-2004, 1:42pm
I think that learning to draw good tone with the bow early on helps alot. Speed, like learning mando, is tempting but distracting. Focus on drawing tone.

And, having another fiddler to play with and share/learn tunes from is a great experience. Nothing like twin fiddles on some of those dance tunes. Fills up a space. Great way to build confidence AND relax at the same time, letting the main fiddle carry it and second fiddle doing the best you can.

May-17-2004, 4:44pm
A nice bow is good... I have a bow that might be good, but someone told me it was a viola bow, and someone else told me it was a 3/4 size cello bow. Regardless, it's the right length, but it's heavier and/or has a different center of mass, so it's much hard to play with than a regular violin bow (and I'm told there are huge differences between a bad fiddle bow and a really good one, which I'd poo poo at one point, but seeing as I'm getting fairly snobby in my pick use I believe now).


May-18-2004, 1:01pm
I don't think it's ever too late to learn a new instrument. You ain't never gonna be MarkO anyways, so just enjoy whatever you have the time to learn. Get a teacher if you need to. I always wanted one, but couldn't find any with a country or bluegrass background. But even if you can't get a teacher, don't let that stop you. There a zillions of good fiddle books and cd's that I garontee will teach you alot. Hang out with folks who play and need a fiddler... http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif that's how I got better at it.

I'd say get a decent fiddle AND bow as soon as you can. It'll help you struggle through the paces better than a student violin.

Shana Aisenberg
May-23-2004, 9:08pm
Go for it! It's a lot of work, and can be occasionally frustrating, but worth it in the long run. I didn't feel that the left hand posed much problem, I knew where the notes were from playing mandolin, and my ear knows when they're out of tune. The bow, that's a whole nother story. As one of my beginning fiddle tudents once said, "I think I need two lessons, one for the fiddle, another for the bow".

Since so much of our mandolin repertoire is fiddle based, I feel that I've gained tremendous insight into playing better mandolin and guitar as a result of playing fiddle. Plus when you do get a tune going on fiddle, it's a lot of fun.


May-24-2004, 9:19am
Trying to learn to play a fiddle after learning on a mandolin, is one of the most painful things I've ever tried.

I can bow just fine, I can get the intonation pretty close, but the timing of getting the fretting finger down before the bow switches directions is virtually impossible.

With a pick there is a delay between when the pick starts to move and when it plucks off the string and the sound starts. With a bow the instant it starts to move the other direction there is a sound.

In my case that sound is that of the note before and then my fretting finger comes down to the new note an instant after. It sounds like a huge pile of ****.

I've come within a nanosecond of smashing the thing on the ground numerous times.


Pete Martin
May-24-2004, 1:51pm
If you start on the fiddle, definitely get lessons in the beginning from a player whos sound you like. The bow is extremely tricky, but it very much easier if you get help.

I dropped playing mando for 10 years to get decent on the fiddle, and am now back to playing both. The fiddle gets sounds you can only approximate on the mando. It is so much fun, but hard! Best of luck and let us know how it is going.

Jun-11-2004, 2:46pm
"...I dropped playing mando for 10 years to get decent on the fiddle..."
I think that's what it takes. A very hard instrument to play well.
Now I have to decide if I am willing to put away everything else to do it, my time is too divided up as it is to make much progress.

Your mileage may vary,

David M.
Jun-18-2004, 1:43pm
You MUST go for it. It's not as hard as these folks above have said. I picked it up by ear and watched lots of fiddlers. Never took lessons. The trick is to get the bow hand and wrist relaxed and flexible. Flowing easily with the bow strokes. It'll come. Enjoy.

Just sent you a p.m. about a fiddle I know of for sale. Old Magginni copy that's in great shape.