Playing Faster 1

Does playing faster come naturally, or is it a skill you have to learn? How fast is fast enough?

The answer to the first question is yes, it’s natural – but it’s also a skill. With persistence, you will play faster as the instrument and your favorite tunes become more comfortable. But you can also learn to play faster, and sooner than you might expect. That’s what this article and Playing Faster 2 are about.

As to the question of how fast you should play, this is a separate issue and will be addressed in Playing Faster 3.

Continue reading Playing Faster 1

What’s in a Scale?

Scales are probably the most useful note pattern to become familiar with.  Scales are simply all of the notes played one at a time up Scaleand down.  On the fiddle, one note per finger plus open strings will generate a scale.  All of the white keys of the piano form a scale of seven different notes before reaching the octave, the eighth note.  If you start on the A (220 beats per second) just below middle C, then the octave note is also an A because it is precisely double the frequency (440 beats per second) and sounds to our ears like the same note but higher.  (See article on the frequencies of nature in archives at left, from June 2015.)

If you are familiar with scales you can much more easily learn by ear, as it will help you group notes as you learn a tune, so that you don’t have to think about each note individually.

For beginners, scales serve many purposes, including  Continue reading What’s in a Scale?

A note to Intermediate Players

Intermediate players have different needs than beginners or advanced fiddlers.

If you are at the intermediate level, you know how to play a number of tunes, and have probably enjoyed playing with others in sessions or in a group.  You know the joys of playing and getting better, and look forward to going farther.

Stay tuned to this blog for a number of posts exploring ideas for you to consider.

A good starting point is to evaluate your goals now and then.  Are you most drawn to the social factors, building repertoire, playing better, learning a particular style of fiddling? Do you want to play for dancers, play gigs with a band, join in public sessions, perform with a large amateur group, play solo spots, enjoy private musical gatherings among friends, enjoy playing and exploring the music at home for yourself?  Future articles will address all of these topics.

The site can help you work on Continue reading A note to Intermediate Players

A Note to Adult Beginners

By the time you’re an adult, you’re  quite accomplished in many skills — at work, while driving, being with friends and family.  But when you pick up a new musical instrument, you start fresh.  It’s an exciting adventure, but also humbling!

In learning fiddle, you will blend the physical, intellectual, and emotional.
Physical:  Your body may not always operate the way you presume.  Be open to new discoveries.
Intellectual:  Think constructively.  Sometimes you need to understand how to do things, while at other times, you’ll find that overanalyzing can get in the way, because much of what you need to learn is nonverbal.
Emotional:  As your violin becomes your musical voice, you will have feelings about various pieces of music — these will often motivate your learning faster and truer than following all the rules.

You already know a lot, because

Continue reading A Note to Adult Beginners

Toe-Tappingly Good Music

No matter how beautiful the notes, it’s timing that’s at the heart of the music, so it’s no wonder many players tap their toes.  Notes played badly but with good timing still present a recognizable piece of music, whereas notes played beautifully but with careless or unanchored timing can be confusing to listen to, or even unidentifiable.
How do we make certain of good timing?

There are many angles to that question but for the moment, I’d just like to comment on how musicians reinforce the beat with physical movements, such as tapping feet.

Those who play with the clearest sense of timing move physically in some way, as they play.  Those who have trouble with timing Continue reading Toe-Tappingly Good Music

Learning vs Memorizing

Memorizing a piece of music is different from learning it. Musicians who rely on written music, and then memorize it, have taken only a first step toward learning it.

Learning a piece of music involves making it your own, not just remembering the notes.  It engages your feelings and thoughts about sound patterns, rhythms, tensions and resolutions.

Research shows that playing music involves many areas of the whole brain (see the previous blog post), whereas reading music focuses on the visual and language centers. When we learn a piece of music we give it a much broader dimension than we can when we read it.

Reading music is certainly a helpful skill — essential for Continue reading Learning vs Memorizing

Shoring Up Your Brain with Music!

Science tells us that learning and playing music develops our brains in ways that no other activity does.  Regardless of how good you get at your instrument, your brain is getting a lot out of it!musicbrain

For a quick and fun summary of the neurological benefits of music, take a look at this short animated video from TED.  It was written by Anita Collins, who has a Ph.D. in Neuroscience and Music Education.  More about this little video below.

There’s also an interesting online resource about the latest brain research as it’s related to music.  You can find it on Facebook at this link.  One project noted there reveals that MIT researchers just published findings that certain neurons in our brains are tuned in specifically to processing the sound of music, suggesting that music may have played an important role in the evolution of the human nervous system.  Taken together with the finding of musical instruments from as far back as 70,000 years ago, it’s clear that music is essential to human society.  (Note: another interesting online article about the brain and music can be found here.)

The short video from TED that’s linked above is based on neuroscientific research from the past few decades.  Scientists have been exploring, in real time, the correlation between things we do and activity in different parts of the brain.

Continue reading Shoring Up Your Brain with Music!

Writing a Tune

You can learn a lot from writing tunes.  It doesn’t matter if you think you can or not.  Just do it!  Allow yourself to write a few musicconstructionbad ones before you make a gem of a tune.

Here’s why you should try writing a tune:

  • It’s fun.
  • It’s easier than you think (see below).
  • You get a better sense of how tunes are constructed, by phrase and part.
  • You learn a lot about why tunes are written down the way they are, and why there’s always more to a tune than can be written.
  • You get to name your tunes after somebody or something important to you (or name it something silly).
  • You learn about how music is written down.

Here’s how:
Continue reading Writing a Tune

Complete Guide to Taking an Online Class

In this article:zoom

  • Key Words Used in this Article
  • Equipment
  • Lighting and Placement
  • Signing Up for a Class
  • The Class Page
  • Scheduling
  • Class Levels
  • Credits
  • Class FAQ
  • The Class Experience:  What to Expect
  • The Class Experience:  How to Get the Most Out of It

Key Words Used in this Article

I’m going to be talking about online classes in the context of so I’ll mention “Zoom,” the service we use to connect students and teacher (it’s easier and more reliable than Skype).  You can learn more about this at

We’ll talk about the “Class Page.”  There is a section below discussing this.

A “Tunelearning Page” is a presentation of sheet music boxed and labeled by phrase, with audio buttons for each phrase.  This helps students learn a tune more easily and musically.  You can find a number of Tunelearning Pages available on this site, but the format is also used sometimes to help class students work on a tune on their own.


As a student you don’t need any special equipment.  All new computers, laptops, tablets, smartphones (yes, you can take a class with any of these) are equipped with a camera and microphone.  If you have an old computer Continue reading Complete Guide to Taking an Online Class

Auld Lang Syne, the song and strathspey

Happy New Year!

Did you know that the usual melody for that “Auld Lang Syne” song we often sing New Year’s Eve was not the original melody for the song?

If you’d like to hear the song as originally intended by the songwriter/poet Robert Burns when he published it over 200 years ago, listen to the beautiful version sung by Mairi Campbell.  Her duo with Dave Francis is The Cast, which sang this version for the movie Sex and the City.

Here’s the original melody:

auldlangsyne1Burns collected the song, which was already old at the time, and added some of his own words to it, to create the song we know now.  The melody we’re used to singing Continue reading Auld Lang Syne, the song and strathspey