Many of my classical violin students who are crossing over to learn fiddle run into problems when they try to equate classical practice with fiddle practice.

The two, while they seem the same on their face, have different top priorities, and if you can define what your priorities are for your practice sessions, it will really help to guide you for success.

Classical players are taught to read music (or play by ear) EXACTLY. Every bowing, articulation, and phrasing should conform. It is part of the discipline that turns violin students into accomplished violinists and musicians. My adult beginner violin students are especially diligent in this regard.

However, when they begin to take up fiddling, and they try to apply those classical principles to their fiddling, they experience frustration and find their progress halted.

The solution is simple: Define your priorities for each, and keep them distinct.

Priority #1 for fiddle practice: No Do-Overs

When fiddling, the primary objective is to be able to play your tunes NON-STOP, uninterrupted playing. So in other words, we want QUICK RECOVERY. If we make a mistake, you keep going. Of course, we try to improve our accuracy and learn the correct VERSION of the tune, but the most important skill for fiddlers is quick recovery and learning the concept of “no do-overs”.

This helps prepare us to perform and not get wrecked by a few mistakes. It also helps us become solid jammers.

Priority #2 for fiddle practice: Versatility

When you go to a jam, people will be playing different versions of EVERY TUNE you know. Be prepared to lay low and blend, or maybe you will be invited to showcase your version of the tune. That’s part of the oral tradition–sharing and influencing others.

Many students learn a tune one way and they are locked into that one way of playing it. This is natural for beginners, but we need to recognize that it is a weakness we want to overcome. We want to be able to turn things upside down and still play, using the basic tune as the glue that holds it all together. Easier said than done, but if you practice with this in mind, and maintain flexibility and willingness to adjust, you will grow as a fiddler.

I learn one version of my tunes to play in Flagstaff AZ, and a whole different version of tunes for Oregon. And DRASTICALLY different versions if I’m playing with old time southern fiddlers. If I’m the odd man out (so to speak) and my version is totally different, I don’t play loudly and ask the whole group to change for me. (well, ok, sometimes I have done that, and I regret it) Instead, the better response is to listen, play softly, and see if you can blend and match the local flavor.

Just let it wash over you, soak it in, and try to “hang on”.

I don’t mean to imply that fiddle practice has no rules or discipline. Of course it does! Fiddlers practice scales and arpeggios. Fiddlers practice double stops. But if you are starting out as a classical violinist exploring fiddle, try shifting HALF of your fiddle practice sessions toward playing with continuity, with good rhythm, and with no do-overs. The other half can (and should) be devoted to studying the notes, cleaning things up, fixing string crossings, and maybe even planning out specific fiddle bow patterns that work better than others.

See Fabulous Fiddle Fundamentals to learn more about fiddle bowings, ornaments, and stylistic playing.