Approach to Practice – Suggestions Please

Online Fiddle Lessons Forums General Help Forum Approach to Practice – Suggestions Please

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    Being “self taught”, and working from video lessons, I haven’t had the benefit of guidance and correction. Plus I’ve never played with anyone.

    For a long time (on whatever instrument) I dabble with, I just approach it for the fun and challenge. You can probably guess I have only had limited success, where I can play some tunes, but not consistently and I feel like a beginning kid sometimes and other times like a pretty fair player.

    A lot of it may be that I want to play it at full speed ASAP because that’s how I hear it in my head and it’s become my target. So mistakes get through, and I may get it mostly perfect on the 5th play-through in a row, like combing tangles out of hair or something. But the next day it’s fraught with mistakes again.

    Any suggestions about how to REALLY learn a piece?




    Steve SraderSteve Srader

    Once you can do it , overtime it will only get better , especially if it’s one you love , for example I have been playing Over the Waves for three years now and it just keeps getting better , I don’t think any of us are ever satisfied ! It gets more comfortable and fuller over time !


    Hi Gone workin’…I can’t remember how long you’ve been playing.  I think trying to get up to speed can sometimes be pretty difficult.  I’m self-taught too…these lessons on here with John teaching are the closest thing I’ve ever had to instruction.  I’ve learned a lot, but it does seem that some days you feel like you’re doing ok and then other times you just feel like a fiddling, tangled up mess.  It seems to come and go.  I’ve been fiddling now for around 12 years…I guess I have more good days than bad by now, but one of my secrets to that is to play stuff that’s not that difficult for me, to learn to substitute or rearrange a few problematic notes here and there if one passage keeps me from enjoying playing a tune (I come back to trying for the original a year or two later), and playing at whatever pace is comfortable and I can handle without going into a sweat.  That’s just me, just my way that works for me.

    I guess with us self-taught folks the whole issue is finding our own way…very hard to do in the beginning, but gradually you’ll see what’s working and what’s not…hang on…just remember it all gets better and the journey in and of itself will be fun and rewarding.


    Thanks folks. I’ve been playing around one year. I hear that you both just keep moving forward and by and by it gets better with good days and not so good days. That’s my experience too but I thought the bad days would have them impounding my fiddle. Yeah, I’m just trying to not backslide too much and get into bad habits that lead me smack into a brick wall after having imprinted it as something I do (wrong). I’m taking care as much as I can.

    Seems with fiddle music of all genres, it feels like dance music, and really gets my adrenalin pumping. I’m like a kid in a jalopy on a dirt road — I have to open ‘er up and try to keep from skidding into the cornfield. There’s something about this genre that gets the feet dancin’ and my arm and hands are rushing to keep up with the excitement.

    Anyway, thanks for the responses. 🙂

    • This reply was modified 4 months ago by Avatargoneworkin.

    That’s a great description!  We oughta wear seatbelts and helmets when we practice!


    DR. John has some excellent scales to practice for warm ups that has been VERY helpful to me by my becoming familiar with all the notes.

    Been using this fine site now for 5-6 years and still return frequently to look things over.

    Good luck!


    Oooh. Scales! Yes, I need that. I’ve only learned one and it really helped me improve. But I seriously need the other scales.

    Thanks for the tip, Ruckydoo! Didn’t know they were somewhere in the lesson list. This is a big help.

    And glad to hear you’ve gotten so much out of the site. I’m expecting that for me too.


    Hi Goneworking,

    I, also, am sef-taught.  I think one of the big tricks to making progress, is to listen carefully, and critically to your own playing.  It is important to develop a clear idea of what ‘you’ need to pay attention to.  If you can accurately diagnose where your learning effort should be focused, then it is much easier to develop effective practice routines.

    It is also important to be patient with yourself.  I know how frustrating it can be to set a playing goal and then find that it seems almost impossible to achieve.  When that happens, it is often the result of misjudging the ‘enabling skills’ that are necessary for the new playing skill.  Often a re-evaluation of how to identify and order the elements of your practice will initiate a break-through.

    This ‘music thing’ is, at least, a life long process and, for me, accepting and enjoying the process has become more important and satisfying than the end results (which as someone indicated above) are always changing and being refined.



    Excellent advice, Bill. I’m encouraged by this because it rings so true and important to hear. I have had a tendency to learn to play something and figure I will pick the technique up because I hit a snag. I couldn’t get away with that thinking with the violin though because there’s so many new things to learn to get a good, intentional sound, each of which seem to have really pushed my patience.

    The one time I did focus on learning a two octave scale to the point I could play it well and fast. . . and slow too, it suddenly opened up a bunch of songs, including one’s in my memory. I have yet to learn to read sheet music with any facility, but tooling around with songs in my head seemed to suddenly work, at least in the basic melody.

    So I’m very much on board with that advice, and you gave me some good solid reasons why it works the way it does. Thanks for sharing your experience. That’s been the missing part of taking up the fiddle — somebody(ies) to help guide me to the proper point.

    I’m also loving the idea of it being a journey not an end point. Great stuff. 🙂


    Start with a song/tune you already know. Something you can sing, whistle , hmm, etc. You already know how that tune is supposed to sound so just work it out on your fiddle.


    Thanks Joe. I really like that advice, in large part because if I already have the tune in my head all I have to do is find the notes as I draw the bow. I’m not a sheet music reader yet, and I’m just now on this site learning about reading tabs. I never saw tabs for violin before BGD.

    They had them for the guitar, but I always had to stop and figure out which finger goes on what string and I only really got off and running with it after the tune got in my head, which is the point you’re talking about being at for best effect.

    Thankfully John put tabs together with the video lessons which means I can hear the tune first and then after that look at the tabs — something that seems to be making it work.

    Thanks again. It’s about the music, however we get there.



    You are a racehorse, like me!  I was classically schooled in piano and viola as a child. Then, as a mother, I was a Suzuki Violin teacher to my son. That was a great experience for me because it awakened a deep desire to really learn to be a musician, and also because it taught me the value of breaking a piece down into small sections, perfecting those, and putting it all together.  In the Suzuki method, children learn the piece first by listening to it over and over, and then learning to play it by ear. Then the teacher teaches them the tricky parts or new techniques that are in it and the parent also has to learn them as well and play just those parts with their child while also incentivizing the student to look forward to their daily practice time. It works just like learning your first language as a baby.

    On this site John has done such a wonderful job of making the recordings for us to hear the whole song. I drive my husband crazy by playing them over and over to really learn the melody. He has also given us these awesome lessons that break the piece down into smaller parts and identifies anything that we need to pay particular attention to. So after I am familiar with the melody I begin the lesson. The trick is that I have to find ways to incentivize myself to learn one section at a time and not move forward until I have mastered the section. I use things like going for a bike ride or a hike to break it up so I don’t leap ahead, followed logically by eating ice cream as a reward for sticking to the plan. Sometimes I have to start with learning the end of the piece first and going backwards to the beginning to keep myself from jumping ahead!

    So experiment with learning chunks at a time. If you have to, buy ice cream. Whatever works for you.

    BTW, a friend of mine who was a professional cellist told me his method. He learned pieces backwards. He did this because it focused him on the particular measure at hand without worrying about what was coming up ahead, and because, in a performance setting, the beginning and the end of a piece are arguably the most important. You always end up playing the beginning a million times more than the ending, so he would even it out by starting with the last measure and gradually adding the previous measure, then the one before that, then the one before that, etc. until he got the the beginning.  So that is another approach you could try.

    So I recommend you tame that inner racehorse. It is worth the effort because it will serve to get you to your goal faster than by running full speed ahead. The trick is to find a way to have fun along the way.




    I do hear you and will try what you suggest about mastering a piece in segments. I just get caught up in the fun and before I notice one note leads to a combination of notes and suddenly I’m playing it for the eleventh time — with mistakes. So that’s a problem.

    Playing backwards. That must certainly remove any advantage of playing to the musical tune and focuses on the segment. I can see where it would be a good trade off if one is really focused on mastery. I think with classical music the tunes are so long that one might not get to the ending so often as the beginning when studying it. With fiddle tunes the basic melody is fairly short and often simple — certainly by comparison, which is one of the reasons I like the fiddle — instant gratification.

    I nearly always get to the ending because with an ABAB or something it’s very similar one end to the other. Admittedly I’m more or less a beginner and can err on the side of toe tapping for its own sake, playing music to blow away the fog that tends to cloud around me when I’m too casual. At this age it takes activity to feel good and alive.

    But I really do need to be more disciplined if I’m expecting to take it to the next level. Frankly I’m at the point I’m beginning to frustrate myself and need to start learning embellishments and crazy bowing and all the real core things that make this kind of music soar.

    Scales too — and variations on a theme. That’s the ticket. Thanks Carol. Anytime you have a cool idea, please share it because I’m something of a blank canvas.





    Hi Goneworkin 🙂
    It kind of depends on how much time you are willing to dedicate to practice every day. I usually make sure to play half an hour, even on busy days (although it can become longer without notice!!!) I think making sure you practice every day is of HUGE importance!!!! I have to be very purposeful with this because I’m scatterbrained 🙂 and although I’ve been playing six years I notice a definite slide in my skill when I miss a couple days!
    Secondly, I use the first fifteen minutes of my practice to just play my favorite tunes- whatever strikes my fancy (although, as you learn more songs it can be helpful to keep a kind of rolling list, if you know what I mean, to make sure you practice every tune you want during the week. I just find this approach too confining, so my first fifteen is just plain fun!) then, I am very hard on myself during the second fifteen minutes and I play the piece I’m working on and the scales contained in that tune, over and over (even if I’m getting super frustrated!!!)
    And then I play one more tune, my favorite, something I’m really good at, just so I’m putting it away on a good note (get it?? 😉 ) it’s just something that works for me and makes me more excited to take it out the next day!
    Hope that helps!!!! 🙂


    Hi Kaeleigh!

    It makes perfect sense to me to play stuff I’d gotten a bit of proficiency with. I’ve found the fiddle to be a humblin’ contraption even in the best of times but particularly when I’m trying out new stuff . . .  And as you say if I have grown lax and haven’t played songs I had under my fingers a bit I do backslide. Is it about 2 days when the glimmer wears off? Sounds about right.

    Your 6 years of practicing is very helpful to hear because I’m still only operating in binary: It works or it doesn’t. The level I’m at is I have to just keep hammering on the door till it opens and how long that takes is anyone’s guess.

    The good news is I definitely love playing like you clearly do (I really relate to your saying you start out playing tunes you like and Time just sorta gets away from you).

    I just thought of another thing that challenges me: Because of all the fun tunes and great lessons here putting them within reach, I’m like a kid in a candy store and find myself hopping around from tune to tune before I really get good at any one. But the problem is it’s so fun that it’s hard to turn the fun knob down in favor of discipline. . . so far. . . I still hold out that I’ll settle in and focus.

    Well, thanks for the look at what it’s like to have some experience and what you’ve learned to do to keep fiddle ready. (BTW, I really love your videos. Six years well spent if you ask me!) 😀




    I use TuxGuitar software to learn new music.  I can basically site read mandolin tabs and play right to the fiddle.   Tux Guitar tabs are everywhere, or you can create your own.

    I set the tempo to about 1/2, and choose (for instance) maybe the first 4 bars, set to repeat.  It can also repeat, but get faster each time if you want.

    After I’ve mastered the first 4 bars (maybe 6-8 times thru) I’ll add another 4 or 8 bars.  I add sections, increasing the total number of bars I know until I’ve learned the whole song.

    In a familiar key, I can learn a song in about an hour this way…

    Nancy ParkerNancy Parker

    It takes 20 Hours 😊

    note:  Instructions start at 09:30 on minute counter.




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