Why I Love the Fiddle
It's Been Around a Long Time Folks
Also known as the Violin, the fiddle is that instrument that can sound like a cat caught in a clothesdryer when played improperly. Well, it can sound like that at other times too, especially if you don’t like the style of music. For the most part though, the fiddle and ‘fiddling’ as the musical pastime is called, has been around for centuries and is loved by many.
Fiddle music is well known in a lot of social circles. It’s fun, and makes one think of Grandpa doin’ the jig, and families having fun together. Fiddling is its own style, love it or hate it, though who really hates it? I mean, who can really object to wonderful tunes like the St. Anne’s Reel, or The Girl I Left Behind Me?
Fiddle tunes and styles are as different as the musicians themselves. Take a common tune like the St. Anne’s Reel, every fiddler has their own unique spin on it. To the untrained ear, they probably sound alike, but each fiddler probably has a slightly different way of bowing, timing, and embellishing with extra notes. It’s all part of the fun.
Stepdancing, which is an art and a sport all in one, is another big part of fiddle culture. As I write this hub, I’m listening to a CD tribute to the great fiddler Don Messer. It’s wonderfully happy music that can’t help but lift your spirits.
Learnin' the Ropes, or Rather, Strings
Learning to play is not as difficult as most people think. When I started, at age 12, I already had a firm grasp of music in general because I had already played the recorder (now there is an instrument that could be forgotten in my opinion), and the piano. I could read music, I could understand timing, and I had a good enough ear to tell when something had gone awry (though that is generally attributed more to genetics than to training).
I was also tall enough to start with a 4/4 or Full sized fiddle, as opposed to having to start with a ½ or ¾ size. This was money saving for my parents, as they wouldn’t have to buy me a new instrument when I grew out of the first one.
I had a few different teachers who taught me slightly different methods. I’ve also done some experimenting and embellishing of my own.
The great thing about a fiddle, is that while it can sound bad, really, really bad, it’s also possibly to get a wide variety of good sounds from it.
You Could Play it Too!
If you are thinking of taking up this instrument, but think it’s too hard, think again. It’s not that hard, it just requires more patience than something like the piano, or even the guitar. With the guitar, you have the luxury of frets. You simply find a chord chart, pick the chord you want, and place your fingers as indicated on the diagram. Give five or six strings a strum, and you’ve got music. The fiddle on the other hand is a little trickier. See, you have to place your fingers in the proper position on your own. If you’re off by a fraction of an inch, your note will be off by a fraction of a tone. If all your fingers are out just that little bit, and you are playing alone, no one will know, but if some fingers are here, and others are there, or if you are attempting to play in a group, you’ll find out quick what it sounds like to be out of tune.
You will have to learn to hear when a note is correct and when it’s not. You’ll have to correct the tune by sliding your finger up and down slightly until you are in tune. While this is going on, you’re also trying to saw a bow up and down to make your note. No wonder some people are really bad at it.
In my opinion, anyone can learn the fiddle, but it is best if you have some other musical knowledge. It’s also not an ideal instrument for a really little kid, because they won’t have the fine motor skills necessary to form the notes and bow the strings. Not to mention, frustrating them right out of the musical starting gate may make them want to avoid instruments long term and that is just sad.
Start your kid on a piano (or the dreaded recorder) or maybe even a guitar, then move on to something more complicated like a fiddle.
For me personally, guitar or drums are my stress relief, piano is my, ‘I feel like some music so I’ll play this’, and fiddle is my art. I hope you find yourself having a good time with it too!