Learning to read music can seem complicated. Especially if you have never learned a musical instrument before. But you absolutely don’t need to be able to read music to begin learning to play the fiddle! You can learn to play the fiddle ‘by ear’. Traditional music has always been taught and learned ‘by ear’. Tunes are passed on from one player to another, and down through generations. And it is easier than you might think to learn to play the fiddle by ear.
Playing music, and learning tunes, ‘by ear’ means just from listening to someone else play them. It is just as much of a skill as being able to read music. And for a fiddler playing traditional music, it is a really useful ability.
Having said that, many people who are learning the fiddle do want to learn to read music. And it is a very useful thing to be able to do. It can also help with other aspects of learning an instrument. It will also help if you want to learn other instruments in the future.
Teaching fiddle students to learn by ear
In my teaching, I am happy to teach people by ear, or from music. In fact, I almost always do both, since I think both skills are important. But if reading music seems intimidating at first you definitely don’t need to do so to enjoy learning to play the fiddle! I teach my students new tunes, by breaking them down in to short phrases, so that they can learn each short phrase separately. Then we join them together until they have learned the whole tune. Most of my students are amazed at how quickly they learn to play tunes ‘by ear’.
I then use their online workspace (see an example here), to share a recording of the tune at an appropriate speed so that they can play along.
Free fiddle video lesson
If you would like to have a go at learning a fiddle tune by ear, you can follow one of my free irish fiddle lesson videos, where I take you through a tune phrase by phrase, so that you can learn the tune slowly. If you can play basic notes on the fiddle, but have never tried to learn a fiddle tune by ear, then try this free irish fiddle lesson for beginners. I’ll take you very slowly through a lovely well-known Irish jig called Out on the Ocean, so that you can learn the tune! If you find the lesson useful, be sure to subscribe to my Youtube channel as I’ll be putting out more free Irish fiddle lesson videos soon.