Learning to play traditional fiddle

Beginners starting to learn to play traditional Irish or Scottish fiddle music often get frustrated or demoralised. When you are just starting out, it can feel hard! But with a bit of help you can be playing tunes in just a few months. And there are a few things that will really help you when you are just beginning to learn to play the fiddle.

Learn to play Irish traditional fiddle - some tips

Keep it simple…

When you are just starting to play, you will probably have an idea of how you want to sound. Maybe you have a favourite fiddle player, or a favourite tune that you want to learn. But at the beginning, as you begin to learn to play traditional Irish fiddle – keep it simple. Find a simple tune or two, and learn to play them well, in tune, in time, and at first without any ornaments. Learn the basics well first – walk before you try to run!

If you learn the basics well, using simple tunes at first, your playing will be so much better for it as you progress!

and keep it slow…

Fiddle music – whether it is Irish, Scottish, Scandinavian, Bluegrass or in many other styles – is often played fast!

When you are just learning, it is exciting learning to play tunes fast. But I strongly advise you to learn slowly at first. Tunes played well, and slowly are always better than fast playing which is full of mistakes, or which loses the ‘feel’ of the music that is crucial to good fiddle playing.

As you get better you may well learn to play faster – but even the best players play slowly too. Fast is not always better.

Trying to play too quickly is one of the most common mistakes beginners make.

Learn to listen, listen to learn

Learning to listen is almost as important as learning to play. Whether you are listening to a teacher, or to another player in a concert, or a pub, or listening to a recording of another fiddle player, listening to the music you want to learn will make a huge difference as you learn to play.

If you would like to learn the fiddle, you may already have some favourite players or recordings that you listen to. If you don’t, start listening to fiddle playing and try to find some that you particularly like – gradually you might find some styles appeal to you more.

In my teaching, I always teach players to listen carefully – to me, to other players and to recordings. It is a skill that can be learned, and is really important to progress as a player.

Want to learn to play fiddle? Find a good fiddle teacher!

Finally, get a good teacher.

I am obviously biased here, but there really is no substitute for a good teacher. Not all fiddle players — even the very good ones — are good teachers. So find someone who has experience, and who understands not only how to play well, but how to teach.

While you definitely can learn to play the fiddle by yourself, there are many good reasons to take some lessons with a good teacher.

Firstly, if you are a beginner you will improve so much more quickly with a teacher, and this in turn means that you are much less likely to get frustrated by your progress, and perhaps even stop entirely. Playing is meant to be fun!

Secondly, learning good technique will mean to you can progress further. Bad habits can really hold you back later on.

Thirdly, if you have been playing for a while, or you played before but stopped, you may find that your progress has plateaued – you just aren’t progressing as you would like. A good teacher can help you get to the next level.

Finally, a good teacher will motivate you, and make learning fun, not a battle!

If none of that has persuaded you, go and see what my students say about learning with me.