Lessons from Master Practitioners

Yesterday on the way home from an evening in Auburn, I stopped in to visit a musician friend for a fiddle lesson. I tried to learn the fiddle nearly 30 years ago, but found out I was more suited to the mandolin. Now I’ve got 29 years of mandolin muscle memory in my left hand and an excuse to start practicing deliberately on a different instrument. That was why sitting down with someone who knows my mandolin skill and passion was a shortcut to getting better on the fiddle.

Not that getting better will come quickly. It will require lots of deliberate practice, but now I have a fighting chance of doing it the right way.

What my friend showed me was some of the basics, and then a basic exercise I can also do on the fiddle.

  1. Start on the G string and bow down and up until the tone is even and clear. Shift to the other strings and repeat until all four are even and clear.
  2. Going back to the G string, use a down bow to play G, then A, then G all the way down and back up. This helps adjust my mandolin muscle memory so I get the A tuned right. Repeat for the other strings.
  3. Starting again on the G string, play G, then B, then G all the way down and back up. Repeat for all four strings, and then do again for C, and finally D. That’s all four fingers on the left hand on separate notes, getting the tuning right.
  4. Start back on G and do scales of 2, 3, 4 and 5 notes (G, A; G, A, B; G, A, B, C; G, A, B, C, D). Repeat for the other strings.
  5. Do 4 again in alternating steps (G, B, A, C, D and back down the same way). Repeat for other strings.

It will probably take me half an hour to do this today and may take longer in the coming weeks. But by the time I leave for vacation, I might be doing these exercises in 20 or 25 minutes. The speed isn’t the issue. It’s the deliberate practice. I won’t get to 10,000 hours on the fiddle in my lifetime, but in a year I bet I’ll be able to keep up with the people in Avon without feeling inadequate. And maybe someone will want me to play in their band.

Maybe Colleen would like to start going to String Band over in Geneseo again. I should try to be up to speed by September when classes start again.


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