What’s the best foundation if you want to play the fiddle? How about Celtic fiddle? How about electric rock fiddle? Why, Suzuki Book 1, of course.
A Gateway to Great Violin Technique for ANY Style of Playing
Whether you intend to join a rock band, play Jazz, Klezmer, Fiddle or Blues, join a community orchestra, or become a professional violinist, how you take your first steps on violin is of the utmost importance.
One of the bands I used to play fiddle in is a Celtic band called “Leaping Lulu.” Many of my students came to me because they heard me fiddling in town and wanted to learn to play like that. At first, if I had an opening, we’d set up their lesson time and we’d dive right in.
But it quickly became clear that these students had no idea what they were in for, nor what I was going to expect of them. They didn’t realize that I have a firm belief in teaching the fundamentals of classical technique before teaching other styles. (With my in-person students, I require Suzuki Book 1 before teaching any other style of violin playing.)
But these fiddle students weren’t prepared for this reality, and quickly became disenchanted with the whole idea. So I started interviewing the prospective students who were looking for non-classical instruction to better explain WHY they would start out working through Suzuki Violin Book 1 as a solid foundation to play ANY style they chose.
Once they realized that Suzuki studies were part of the prep work for their TRUE objective, and they could see the pot of gold at the end of a timeline, they all worked through Suzuki Book 1 very faithfully. And they all agreed that without it they would have foundered on their first few fiddle tunes and given up.
Instead, several ex-students have joined bands and are rockin’ their neighborhoods with fiddle and rock styles!
So You Want to Learn to Fiddle? Start with Suzuki Book 1
Want to know why I insist on teaching classical style with Suzuki Book 1 even if you just want to learn a few fiddle tunes?
The conversation I’ve had with many students will explain. It goes something like this:
I heard you play in your band the other night, and someone next to me told me you teach violin. Do you have any openings?
Yes, I do have an opening. But first, let me tell you what to expect if you choose to join my studio. I respect the goals and objectives of my students, and I will help you to achieve your goals. However, I believe strongly in using the fundamentals of classical violin to give you a solid foundation before we even start to tackle any other styles. Therefore, you will work through Suzuki Book 1 as a prerequisite to your fiddle lessons.
But won’t this take forever? My friends want me to play fiddle in their band right now.
Typically, it takes a grown person 6-9 months to work through Suzuki Book 1 up to my standards. As you are working through Suzuki Book 1, I can introduce you to some fiddle tunes and some basic fiddling tricks to help you in your band, but the main focus will be on your Suzuki materials.
Why do I have to worry about playing “right” if I’m not going to compete with classical players?
It’s not about what’s right or wrong at all. I require Suzuki Book 1 for my alternate style players simply because it gives you ALL the tools you will need to free you from the struggles of a self-taught fiddler. Once you have those basics, EVERYTHING is so much easier!
Classical technique isn’t “right”…it’s just withstood the test of time for what works and what doesn’t. It produces beautiful sound, precision and accuracy, with the greatest efficiency and least pain! You heard me play that tune the other night, “Catharsis” by Amy Cann, or the Orange Blossom Special? I can always play longer and faster than other fiddlers on those tunes because of my bow hand, and I learned that through classical study.
By working through Suzuki Book I, you will develop a solid foundation. Your bow hand will allow you to quickly adapt to any style, you will learn how to produce beautiful tone, you will learn to play in tune, you will learn how to use vibrato, you will be freer to focus on learning your fiddle tunes and worry less about your technique. It’s an investment of time to learn Suzuki Book 1 up front, but in the long run it will pay you back a zillion times over, guaranteed.
Suzuki Book 1 is the IDEAL starting point for any violinist for ANY style. You will acquire excellent ear training, good form, good posture, and good intonation. You will learn how to produce beautiful tone and get rid of the squeaks and squawks.
But fiddlers play by ear. I don’t want to rely on sheet music to fiddle.
Absolutely! You will learn all of Suzuki Book 1 by ear, and by the time you are through it, your ear will be highly trained and you will be able to pick up fiddle tunes with ease. We can supplement the Suzuki ear training with some harmony ear training to prepare you even more for harmonizing in your band.
But I see fiddlers on YouTube, probably even better than you are, and they hold their bow and violin wrong, and they still play fast and sound great.
Yes, this is true, but it’s all about how hard you want to work. These people became great fiddlers DESPITE their technique, not BECAUSE of it. You could say they are the exception, not the rule. By studying tried and true classical technique, you are simply increasing your odds of success.
Is Suzuki Book 1 the ONLY way for me to get that foundation?
Of course not. There are dozens of alternatives out there. I just happen to specialize in Suzuki Method. I like the materials, the progression from one song to the next helps to build technique in a very natural, logical way, and the ear training is great.
Practice Smarter, Not Harder
One of the major deficiencies I have noticed in my students who come to me to learn to play fiddle is their lack of knowledge on how to practice. They had become accustomed to the “jam session” mentality, where you sort of “pick it up as you go”, or listen to others play a tune enough times so that you can start to (sort of) imitate it.
It’s not their fault! I mean, anybody can practice often, but practicing well is a skill you have to be taught. So I devote part of every lesson to working out a practice plan that will bring the fastest results with the least effort.
If you haven’t already, you might want to read my story, where I share the frustration of years of bullheaded, hard practicing that got me very little results.
This belief that you have to be taught how to practice well is why I wrote the Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Practicing the Violin. It’s 31 pages of practicing goodness that will help you get the most of your practice time, whether your goal is Carnegie Hall or Branson, MO. Check it out.
If you’re ready to get started with Suzuki Book 1 so you can get on to the style you really want to play, take a look at my online violin lessons featuring Suzuki Book 1. It’s just the you need for every style of playing.
I loved this blog post! I have students say the exact same things to me, and I am constantly explaining, “yes, those fiddlers (or pop violinists) on youtube seem to play ok with poor technique, but you’ll progress so much more quickly and sound better sooner if you start with a good technical foundation.”
Thank you for articulating these important points so clearly and thoughtfully.
Nice to meet you, Brecklyn!
Yes, sometimes it is hard to convince students of what is best for them….and I find it REALLY helps if you have built trust with them…..so that even if they don’t like what you are saying, they believe you, and accept it!
Hi Lora, it’s been a long time since Logan. My quartet will be playing BYU a week from Tue. Are you in Provo? And what is Teresa’s last name who was with us and Robin Maydorth at UFOC back in ’94? Glad to see you doing well and teaching great kids!
Question Can I switch to the studio with face to face teaching the same way I am doing the online lessons? Do you have openings? I would really like to have you as my teacher to get me started right. I am having a problem with my ears and can not hear really good. Plugged up and popping all the time.
Carolyn, I have written to you privately about my private studio.
Regarding your ear problem, could it be allergies? Or perhaps you should see a doctor or even allergy or ear specialist? I’m afraid I don’t have any pointers for you regarding your ears.