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Bluegrass, Old Time, and Country Fiddle Tips

Updated: Nov 14, 2022

New Tips Posted Each Week Here:


Three New Practice Ideas

I’m incorporating some new ideas into my practice that I’d like to share with you:

  1. I’ve updated my Daily Practice Regimen - this is a playlist that I’ve made that takes two songs with simple chord progressions through all the keys that occur in bluegrass music. I like throwing on a pair of bluetooth headphones, finding some sunshine and plugging away at some fundamentals! Try pairing it with any of my Inspiring Practice Ideas, using major/minor pentatonic scales, or essential double stops or from Bobby Hicks “Four Elements of Good Bluegrass Fiddle Playing”

  2. I’ve created a Public Practice Journal where I write down ideas that I’d like to incorporate into my practice. I’ve backlogged some of my thoughts from four years ago!

  3. I spend most of my practice time focusing on improvisation, but lately I’ve been into playing fiddle tunes or transposing breaks from my Bobby Hicks YouTube Series along with a simple Country Train Beat that serves as my metronome.

In other news, I wanted to share with you my experience at the International Bluegrass Music Association’s “World of Bluegrass”

We shot a music video in Raleigh last week and Bluegrass Today already reported on it! This was captured at the convention center during the International Bluegrass Music Association's annual "World of Bluegrass" Festival.

Sammy Passamano runs the 615 Hideaway Record label that we signed with just a couple months ago. Grateful for all these guys!


If you’re looking to learn more about what “World of Bluegrass” is like, Check out my post “What I learned from the International Bluegrass Music Association’s World of Bluegrass”


I also think this YouTuber did a good job of snapshotting the festival - You’ll see a good mix of performances, jams, workshops, and some great footage of the exhibit hall.


IBMA World of Bluegrass: A Peek into the Week


The Awards show at World of Bluegrass is like the "Grammy's" of Bluegrass- We all get to drink champagne and pretend like we are important for a day! While this replay has not been posted yet, I highly recommend rewatching the past awards shows if you’d like to hear great music, feel inspired, and hear/see the big names in bluegrass!


Here’s a picture of our red carpet moment



I bought a 5 string fiddle in Raleigh- a revoiced John Silakowski.

I had heard about these instruments for years - some notable fiddles who play silakowskis include Brittany Hass, Casey Dressien, and Darol Anger.












The one and only Michael Cleveland was my NEIGHBOR in the hotel! We got to jam till 5 in the morning and he even invited my over one afternoon to do some twin fiddling!










Some of my first fiddle instructors: Billy Contreras, Jason Anick, Casey Dreissen, Jeremy Kittel, Bruce Molsky, Mark O'Connor, Darol Anger and Christian Howes.

I’ve cited this amazing cast of fiddlers as my first influences back in the days of the early Mark O’Connor Fiddle Camps.

Since then I’ve studied Kenny Baker and Bobby Hick’s playing extensively - I’ve even created a YouTube series on Bobby Hicks where I take a deep dive into his solos.

I also took excellent notes on one of his old DVD teaching videos:

Four Elements of Good Bluegrass Fiddle Playing

I’ve also written some inspiring practice ideas based off of the fiddling of Michael Cleveland.

Nowadays, I’m getting to jam and co-teach with many of my heroes.

Check out this video that just popped into my YouTube feed:

IBMA 2022 Jam / Train 45 / Micheal Cleveland / Jake Workman / Frank Solivan / Mike Mumford

It’s still a bit of a shock - I dove into this world just over a year ago and wrote about my own insecurities around performance when I was first getting to meet the big shots in the fiddling world.

You may have heard me talk before about drawing inspiration from my own heroes.

Any time we get to spend around the people we admire can be valuable in generating and maintaining motivation.

You may have also read my post on what I've learned from music camps where I share my detailed notes from 13 different music camps. Or watch it in video form:





How to Transcribe or

Learn a Fiddle Tune/Solo by Ear

Four Step guided process on how transcription is taught at the college level.


  1. Set a loop for the solo or tune using YouTube’s Loop feature, the Amazing Slow downer the free Chrome Extension, Transpose.

  2. Use any of the previously mentioned software to slow the solo or tune down to 60% or less

  3. Tap the Macro-Beat (Big beat- the same beat that you would tap your foot to if the song were played at regular speed) and speak the rhythm.

  4. Start to sing the contour of the melody, gradually improving pitch accuracy with each repeated listen. (See Pitch Fundamentals)

  5. Learn ALL pitches and rhythms before picking up the instrument.

  6. Pick up the instrument and work out small phrases (1-3 beats worth of notes) at a time.

  7. A word of warning - It’s tempting to jump to this step early, but often if you skip the holistic pitch/rhythm learning process, phrases you work out on your instrument will be forgotten by the time you get to phrase 3, 4…

The most enjoyable transcription process for me is to sit down in a quiet place with a cup of coffee and listen as many times as I need to for the entire tune or solo to be in my head.

“I want to know every note in my head before I touch my instrument”


How to Practice Creatively

Q&A with @Austin Scelzo



The main focus will be to demonstrate how I practice playing through chord changes, voicing double stops, incorporating rhythms/bowings, transposition, and microimprovisation.

These skills make up not only my own practice routine, but the central curriculum to the Bluegrass Country and Roots School:

https://www.austinscelzo.com/bluegrass

Quick 6 Minute Shuffle Workout and

New Pentatonic Scale Resource


My most successful video on YouTube has over 22k views now. It’s been pretty neat to have folks approach me at music festivals who I’ve never met mentioning that they’ve learned a ton from my YouTube Channel!

With all the new eyes on my channel, it’s been a little nerve wracking to think about what to put up next. It threw me into quite a paralysis until my mentor encouraged me to not overthink- just share simply and regularly.

That’s why I posted this Quick 6 minute shuffle workout yesterday- it’s actually a snip it of my weekly hour zoom classes.

My hope is that it will serve as a simple example of how we can combine our practice - working on harmony/chord change recognition, rhythm and feel, bow hand, and double stops all at once. It’s a great accompaniment to my “Essential Shuffle Bowings” resource. It provides a practical example of how you might consolidate your practice time.

I hope it inspires you!

And here’s another resource I just finished creating: a fingerboard map for minor pentatonic scales. It’s my attempt at helping folks see symmetry in finger patterns and ultimately help people to sound better, faster! Check it out for yourself


You’ve heard me talk about drawing inspiration from my own heroes. Any time we get to spend around the people we admire can be valuable in generating and maintaining motivation.

You may have also read my post on what I've learned from music camps where I share my detailed notes from 13 different music camps.


Fiddler Extraordinaire - Jason Carter

I had the special pleasure of hanging out with five time International Bluegrass Music Association’s Fiddle Player of the year, Jason Carter- most known for his work with Del McCoury and the Travelin McCourys.

I’ve been a fan of his bluesy, powerful fiddle style for a while, so it was awesome getting to chat with him at Thomas Point Beach Bluegrass Festival.

Watch him, Laura Orshaw, and Bronwyn Kieth-Hynes tear up this triple fiddle (originally famous guitar solo) on Jerry Reed’s “East Bound and Down”

Triple fiddles on the Jerry Reed tune "East Bound and Down"

Since I love his playing so much, I thought I’d share some inspirational clips with you that I discovered of his twin fiddling over the pandemic.

Twin Fiddling on One of my favorite new Bobby Hicks Waltzes “Angel’s Waltz”

Classic twin fiddle Monroe kick off to “My Little Georgie Rose”

Or this Monroe bluesy classic “Dark as the Night, Blue as the Day”


If you love this as much as I do, check out this Unbelievable 1 Hour FREE twin fiddle concert with Jason Carter and Bronwyn Kieth Hynes released mid pandemic. This is GOLD and not a lot of people are aware that it’s out there on Facebook for unlimited replay!


Twin Fiddling

Twin fiddling is a texture in bluegrass or country music where fiddles or play the melody in harmony.

Bill Monroe, the Father of Bluegrass Music, loved the fiddle and employed two and sometimes

even three fiddles at a time in his band.


Here are some Great Examples:

Twin Fiddling:

Triple Fiddle Tunes

Or check out this playlist of twin fiddling live videos


Recently, I had the incredible honor of playing some twin fiddle with Grammy award winning, International Bluegrass Music Association 10 years in a row “Fiddle Player of the Year” Michael Cleveland on our latest single, Wanderlust. Give it a listen on YouTube

Or read more about it here:

ROCK HEARTS RELEASE DEBUT SINGLE ON 615 HIDEAWAY RECORDS

“Michael Cleveland and Rock Hearts fiddler, Austin Scelzo, twin on the first fiddle break and Michael has his way with the second fiddle break”

For I time, I considered making a series dedicated to twin fiddling because I love it so much! I love working out a twin fiddle part with friends- It takes a lot of thought and patience but it surely pays off!

Here are some tips to get started:

  1. Start with SONGS rather than fiddle tunes (Songs tend to have less notes and are a better starting point)

  2. Find a definitive melody to base your twin part on

  3. Harmonize the melody above, as a singer would. (You can start by singing the harmony part and recording it- then try to find the notes on your instrument) Many don’t recognize that the harmony parts on fiddle are exactly the same notes as a regular harmony singer would sing.

  4. For a third part, harmonize the melody below- Again using the same strategies as above. If you’re not familiar with harmony singing, check out my harmony singing tips

Cajun and Old Time Fiddle



Reporting from Ashokan’s Southern Week! This is where I first discovered Country, Cajun, and Old Time Fiddling.

“Jay Ungar & Molly Mason host a fun and friendly full-week of Southern traditional music from the Bayou to the Blue Ridge Mountains and beyond.”


Many of the old time and Cajun Fiddlers here are able to sing and play at the same time

Watch this example for the 3,3,2 shuffle and straight shuffle.

Check out this must see cajun classic performed by Doug Kershaw and Mark O'Connor

Talk about energy!!

And here are some classic Cajun tunes:

Dewey & Rodney Balfa Oh Madeleine

Canray Fontenot: Barres De La Prison (1983) (Check out the alternate tuning on this one!)


There are many ways to do this, but one of the common ways would be to use the straight shuffle. (Although you will here all the bowings in my “Essential Shuffle Bowings”)

Hear these or find the sheet music here (includes Nashville Shuffle and Georgia Shuffle)


(From Essential Shuffle Bowings) AustinScelzo.com/sheetmusic

Straight Shuffle



Three Ways to Improve your Phrasing

Listen to 30 seconds of absolutely perfect phrasing in the last chorus here:

Blue Ridge Cabin Home


Note the compliment to the banjo solo and the varied phrase lengths/starting points after each sung line.


Bobby Hicks was a total natural- and if you love his playing as much as I do check out this series where I nerd out like crazy on his playing: Bobby Hicks Series


If you’re like me and didn’t grow up soaked in this music, or are just looking for better ways to improve your practice- I wanted to share 3 ways I practice working on great phrasing like the above example.


1. Focus on length of phrase - Are all of your musical ideas the same length?


If all of your ideas start and end in the same place, they can sound mechanical. Try mixing short and long ideas. Don’t underestimate the power of just two or three notes that are well timed.



2. Vary the Shape of the phrase - Are all of your musical ideas going in the same direction?


-Mix this up by starting some ideas on the lower two strings, and others on the upper strings.


-Mix both ascending and descending lines.


-Try a “U shaped phrase” that starts low, goes high, and returns low, or the opposite.



3. Change where the phrase starts - By changing up where your first note begins, you can keep it interesting to the listener. There are a few ways of doing this.


-Start Phrases on the last word of the sung phrase - This is more challenging to do and involves either knowing the song really well, or successfully predicting the end of a phrase.


Adding a double stop or colorful notes (7ths, 6ths, 9ths…) feels really great to play on the last word because it essentially is acting as a harmony to the end of their phrase.


-Start the phrase after the last word of a sung phrase - This is easier to do on the fly, because you can wait until after they finish a phrase/sentence and respond to it. There are many options that can provide more interest here.


What is the purpose of this all this?


Well, if you practice deliberately starting on different parts of the beat, then in your improvisation you will feel totally free to start phrases anywhere.


Ideally you are starting in different spots each time- that keeps it interesting to the listener.


The way that we really allow ourselves to play with more rhythmic variation is by practicing deliberately starting ideas on the word, the beat after the word, and in between the word and the next beat.


Once we have practiced all of those different things, then we can play more musically and with more and more freedom in our improvisation.


“Old Time Rollick” Takeaways

It’s as fun as it sounds - I’ve been to the “Old Time Rollick at The Ashokan Center twice now -

Once in 2019 and another time in 2022 - the online one in 2020 was fun too!



I thought I’d share with you some common tunes and some tips on Old-Time music today.


First and foremost, music camps in general are great ways to motivate, inspire, and guide your musicianship at any point. There are workshops for all levels on different instruments and you might even be like me and skip the workshops to jam all day!

Dig through my posts in Fiddle Tips and Inspiration or Mandolin Inspiration for my notes on previously attended camps and workshops


Here are some of my thoughts on how the Old-Time Music jamming scene/expectations are different from bluegrass and country music

  • The emphasis in Old-Time jamming is tunes, not songs, so there is a lot less transposition.

  • Many jams stay in the same key for a long time- fiddles use cross tuning where they change the tuning of their instrument to AEAE, AEAC#, GDGD, or DDAD and banjos use alternate, modal tunings for certain keys.

  • Rather than solos, a tune is played over and over until you see the foot - a universal signal to end the song.

  • Jams tend to be bigger, with several concentric circles. The inner circle usually consists of stronger players who call the tunes and hold down the groove, but others are welcome to join in outer circles.

  • Old time Musicians have a HUGE repertoire of tunes, and the tunes they know are often regional or even generational. It’s a good idea to have a list of tunes you know in each key. Feel free to check out mine here: List of Tunes and Total Repertoire


What’s your experience with Old Time Music? I’d love to hear from you or know what camps you plan on attending!


What I’ve Learned from Fiddle Camps

I owe so much of my musicianship today to the mentorship of the experienced, selfless musicians who have passed on knowledge to me.


I’m so excited to be joining their ranks, teaching at Fiddle Hell online this weekend (April 7-10, 2022)- so in the spirit of gratitude, I thought I would share with you what I have learned at past music camps.


I’ve hyperlinked my free form notes from these events in case you want to get a sense for some of what you might learn this weekend at Fiddle Hell!

“Fiddle Hell Online will have 180 live workshops to learn from, 35 live concerts to enjoy, and 35 live jam sessions to join on Zoom, for fiddle, mandolin, cello, guitar, old-time banjo, & singing. Info and registration (and discounts) at https//FiddleHell.org.”


Creative Strings Workshop

Notes from a Great faculty- Alex Hargreaves, Robert Anderson, Jason Anick, Nicole Yarling

Andy Reiner shares that Chords in bluegrass are open (so thirds can be either minor or major)

He also recommends improvisation practice where you switch back and forth between Melody and two measures of improvisation


Martha Mooke’s Multi Style Strings Symposium

Jeremy Kittel recommends

- Isolate fiddle specific bowings and drill them as you would any lick/scale you are trying to incorporate.

-Reharmonize the i chord with bVI for cool sound

-Chopping and singing is a legitimate solo option


Martha Mooke recommends…

-"Shimmer" effect pedal recreates contemporary pad synth church sound effectively.

-You can use GarageBand, logic, or mainstage to replace pedal boards- go directly from audio interface to computer- computer to amp

-Expression pedals are useful for changing parameters of effects with foot

-Line 6 wireless transmitter is the way to go, freedom to move about the room beats cables any day


Dave Eggar recommends….

-Communicate to singer songwriters, visual, or dance artists with EMOTIONS, not techniques (they don't know what most classical terms mean)

-Fiddle tunes sound great with drums, expand your opportunities as a musician this way

-Pull influences from a variety of genre sources by naming specifically what it is you like about a performance/technique

-Imitate singers with the bow and adjust bow speed to breath


Regina Carter recommends…

-Sing more, include singing along to solos with passive listening (while doing dishes, laundry, etc)

-It is possible to improvise in a harmonically complex situation by singing first - then playing (ear is ahead of instrument)

-Play hard in the string, slightly more loose bow hair, imitate voice

-When working on blues with students, be conversational (practice talking/singing and bowing at the same time. Play like you talk)

-Improvising words and melody to the blues is an excellent comprehensive creative practice.



Creative Strings Workshop Online

Christian Howes recommends that you “Record yourself and make judgements about your musical ideas, separate from your execution of them”


Fiddle Hell

Bluegrass jamming with Tony Watt and Laura Orshaw

  1. Solos often start to left of whoever kicks the song off

  2. Everyone gets one song-

  3. Talk to person next to you about not wanting to solo

  4. Kick off person often gets 2 solos

  5. Orphan chorus- chorus without a verse indicates end of song

  6. Lead singer looks up at end of every chorus

  7. Repeat last two lines


Andy Reiner recommends that you learn solos from people who don’t play your instrument


Rob Flax recommends the Primacy of the Ear book



Darol Anger’s Artist Works Series

Darol Anger recommends learning melody -> Harmonize it -> Follow it loosely

Double stops on the chords

  • Bottom two strings

  • Middle strings

  • Top Strings


Creative Strings Workshop (Ohio)

Christian Howes recommends Harmonize chords to simple tunes without looking them up

Also, there are two blues scales

  • Major and minor pentatonic ->

  • Major and minor blues scale

Strings without Boundaries String Summit

Jeremy Kittel on the Blues: Blues notes are behind b7 and b3 slow slide


Train Sounds with Pattie Hopkins Kinlaw 5th and 7th, or 3rd and fifth, or seventh and 4th

Single shuffle = *low low high high

Double shuffle =*low low high low low high low low high low low high low


Jeremy Kittel on Playing over Changes

Switch to blues scale over V

For half diminished, play DOM a major third below

E Harmonic minor over B7


GYPSY JAZZ with Dwayne Padilla

String based approach to American Jazz

Reimagined american Jazz with string instruments because Django and Stephane


Learning Rock Solos with David Wallace

Transcription under slow speeds is king

Learn the top ten rock solos of all time


Berklee Mark O’Connor Summer String Camp

Billy Contreras and Jason Anick talk the history of jazz and swing…

It Started with the Blues…

Mix of African rhythm, 20th century harmony

Swing- bepob - modern….


Swing era guitar would comp four to a bar

Bass more linear, less arpeggiated

Added chords

Common chord progression IV V I became ii V I

3 and 7 comp and are guide tone

Long tune, short solo section


Bebop era 40-50s

Things got faster

Dance music---> listening, musicians music

More virtuosity

Band would play same stuff during day and bebop in night

Trading started here

Short head and most of the tune improv


Celtic Martin Hayes and Jeremy Kittel

“Feel is so much more important than anything else in this music” It cannot be notated

Singing tunes makes playing them more organic and solidifies them in memory


In Ireland, people didn't have recordings, they had to vocalize them!

Also, people used to have music as a hobby, they would sing them at work


Casey Driessen

Chopping is 50-60 years old

Richard Greene bluegrass fiddle player played with Bill Monroe started chopping

  • Started from him being lazy and throwing down bow to wait for chord

  • Darol Anger learned next

  • Turtle Island String Quartet

To chop

  • Bottom four inches make sure rosined

  • Take good bow hold and then turn hair away

  • Gravity take bow

  • Don't press on bow

  • Violin gets in way of bow

  • Pinky on top of bow

  • Wrist and arm rather than

  • Pivot from forearm and pinky to pivot balance point and push out

  • Playing notes means straight now/chop

Three places to chop

  1. Toward Bridge tighter

  2. Middle

  3. TowardFingerboard

Triplet

  • bow drags straight toward bridge

  • add a little weight just to get it skipping

  • Flat hair

Bruce Molsky talks the history of old time music


4



Bobby Hicks Bluegrass Fiddle Transcription: “Big Spike Hammer”


Big Spike Hammer is a goldmine of transposable, all-purpose bluegrass fiddle licks

It’s also a great break to learn the key of B (B for bluegrass!)


In this performance, transcription, and analysis of Bobby Hick's solo on "Big Spike Hammer" from the Bluegrass Album Album Band Vol. 3, you’ll hear a mixing and matching of the Major Pentatonic scale and Major Blues Scale.