Step Two: Learning to Read Fiddle Tablature

Click here to return to Step 1: Acquiring and setting up your new fiddle.

Intermediate fiddlers: Click here for an in-depth lesson on hand an finger positions.

Tablature is basically a type of musical notation that is specific to the instrument for which it is written. Whereas traditional notation is more general, tablature may contain such specific information as what string to play, and which finger to use. The purpose of this post is to explain how to read fiddle tablature.  I provide fiddle tablature for all of the tunes on this website and it is a valuable learning tool. In addition to the tablature, I also provide the general notation. If you already know how to read notation, you can use this as a "Rosetta Stone" to help you learn tablature, and visa versa. The following is a diagram showing the fingering and spacing for fiddle tablature.  I use a "Don't Fret" sticker on my fiddle to show my finger placement.  Click here to purchase your own "Don't Fret" sticker. This sticker was created by Phil Coonce, who is also a subscriber. I highly recommend his sticker for beginning fiddlers. This is an online fiddle lesson for fiddle tablature. is your best source for Bluegrass, Old-Time, Celtic, Gospel, and Country fiddle lessons. I have provided links to the tablature, some notation and practice MP3s to accompany the following videos. Feel free to print out the tablature and notation if that would be helpful to you. The tablature is also shown within the videos as I teach.

First, Let's Tune!

First of all, it is important that your fiddle be in tune!  You can use this video to tune with me. The actual tuning begins at 1:00 into the video.

Introduction to Tablature

Next, learn the basics of fiddle tablature.  This video will show you exactly what the tablature means in a very easy-to-understand way.

Seven Major Scales Practice

In this next video, I go through the seven most important first-position scales to learn for bluegrass, old-time and celtic fiddling: G, A, Bb, B, C, D, and F.  These scales will help you with your tablature reading and your fingering practice.  Scales are also a great way to warm up your fingers! You may listen to the MP3 below for extra practice.

Tablature (1 page)

Tablature and Notation (2 pages)

MP3 #1: "Scales Practice," 100 bpm with fiddle. Scales are G, A, Bb, B, C, D, and F

Timing and Bowing Patterns

In this video, I step slowly through 12 lines of timing practice. These include common bowing patterns such as dotted eighths and sixteenths (used in hard swing), the shuffle (used in cajun fiddling), and the double shuffle (the hokum shuffle used in the Orange Blossom Special). The second video is strictly for practice, at 75 beats per minute. This can be very challenging!

Tablature (2 pages)

MP3 #2: "Timing Patterns," 75 bpm with fiddle

Now you are ready for Step 3: Learning tunes! The first free tune is "Old Joe Clark." In this lesson, I teach both a beginner and intermediate version.  This is especially good for shuffle bowing practice. The next free tune is "Boil Them Cabbage Down," in which I step you through increasingly complex bluegrass bowing techniques. After learning these two tunes, you are ready for anything I can throw at you here at!

Return to the Start Here page to scroll down and begin learning your free tunes!


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