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Bluegrass, Old Time, and Country Fiddle Tips

Updated: Apr 26

New Tips Posted Each Week Here:


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.


There is extensive use of the extended range pentatonic scale (All the notes of the pentatonic scale however often they occur throughout a position. Check out this excerpt from my Zoom classes about extended range scales.


You will also hear some creative note choices including the Lydian Dominant Scale. This scale is the basis for the fiddle tune “Garfield’s Blackberry Blossom


Throughout the solo, Bobby Hicks mixes and matches slides that go upward, downward, and sometimes both directions. In this video, I also share a multi purpose Kenny Baker lick including how to play it in all the bluegrass keys.


Because this tune uses the 6 minor chord (G#m), I also explain how each major pentatonic and blues scale has relative minor scale that shares the same notes, just as the 6 chord is the relative minor to the 1 chord.


Other topics explored include, playing a tag at the end of a solo, Micro-improvisation, and transposing licks into four finger patterns.


Bobby Hicks is also heavily influenced by swing music. He often employs swing rhythms and a lilt in his playing that borrows heavily from the western swing era. For an intro to swing music, check out this excerpt from my zoom class: Intro to Swing Playalong




Four Practice Ideas from “Lee Highway Blues


Lee Highway Blues has an extended improvisation section that really gives a fiddler the chance to show off their hottest licks. This version by Michael Cleveland has over 1.5 million views and is chock full of great musical takeaways.


I’ve broken down my synopsis of this great improvisation into four categories, all with time stamped links to the examples. Let me know what you think!


Rhythms


Patterns:

  • Up Three Skip down and that in reverse (Down Three Skip Up) and again here

  • Patterns can be applied to any scale or note grouping. Here we see patterns over the minor pentatonic scale and Mixolydian pentatonic

  • If you like the idea of practicing patterns, try the following:

  • Groups of 5 over 4 (Up Five at a time)

  • Groups of 4 over 4 (Up Four at a time)

  • Groups of 3 over 4 (Up Three at a time)

  • Up Three Skip down

  • Up three down one


Bowings:

Licks


Bobby Hicks Fiddle Transcription: “Sitting Alone in the Moonlight”

Double Stops, mixing the Major and Minor Blues sounds, shifting and more in this latest transcription of Bobby Hicks!


Performance, Transcription, lesson, and analysis of Bobby Hick's solo on "Sitting Alone in the Moonlight" from the Bluegrass Album Album Band Vol. 2


The beginning of this solo is a series of successive “closed position” double stops. Closed position refers to the closest combination of two notes from an arpeggio. See an example of this in my video on Essential Bluegrass Double Stops


Intonation can be a major challenge with double stops. Use "Drones" to help with intonation. Practice double stops along with them to improve Ear or Pitch.


There is also a healthy mix of Major Blues Scales (A derivative of Major Pentatonic Scales)and Minor Blues Scales. Bobby Hicks, and any good fiddle player or singer use these different sounds to convey different feelings.


In this video, I also talk about the difference between Parallel and Relative Blues scales, and when to use each.


I love his use of the b7th and 9th together here. This colorful sound is also used in the tunes

  • Maiden’s Prayer

  • Washington County

  • Festival Waltz


I’ve transcribed and transposed that sound into all the bluegrass keys in a PDF called “Bluesy Double Stops”. The PDF is in my Bluegrass School and there will be a video Coming soon!


In the video, I also make a quick reference to transposition software, including the Transpose Google Chrome Extension and the Amazing Slow Downer


I’d also recommend “How to Play in Different Keys”. This video will guide you through playing 4 Finger patterns on an easy melody) It teaches playing in different keys from a less overwhelming perspective. It is an excerpt from my weekly zoom classes.


Often, I use this Playlist for practicing I,IV,V in all the bluegrass Keys. It's the song “Banks of the Ohio” which has a slow, predictable chord structure and is great for learning patterns or practicing backup.


Finally, I draw a ton of inspiration from the Bluegrass Fiddle Study Guide, which extracts just the fiddle solos from one of my favorite albums.




Three Approaches to

Taking a Solo/Break


Having a prepared solo in your favorite key is one thing, but you will find more often than not the need to "fake" a solo on a tune that maybe you've never heard before or a key you haven't practiced it in.


What do we do in those moments? I recently gave some feedback to a student of mine who learned and executed a FANTASTIC solo on a Bluegrass standard. I told him that it sounds great - the next step was to work on transposing and “mining” that solo for licks that can easily be reproduced in other keys. Here is a snip it of my feedback to this student:


"Transposing is a lot more common in bluegrass than in old-time or celtic music because of the vocal element- each singer will choose a key that's best for them.


A lot of these quite elaborate breaks were PLANNED for the recording or group that the fiddle player was with (You'll hear Bobby Hicks and Kenny Baker pretty much hitting the same notes as in the recording in live settings)


This doesn't transfer well to a bluegrass JAM setting where the tune might just as well be called in B or G...


The big takeaway is that if you don't have a regular group of people to play with, its good to spend a lot of time transposing and working on flexibility"


In my Wernick Method Bluegrass Jam Classes, I talk about three “Levels” of soloing


Level 1: Chord Tone based soloing

Also called a “Placeholder solo”, this method can be used even if you don’t know anything about the melody.


The strategy here is to lock in to the guitar player’s left hand, watch for the chord changes, and play chord tones that match what you see. (Root, third, and Fifth are the safest) This is where practicing arpeggios come in handy!


Level 2: Licks Based Soloing

This is a very common approach that many players use in jams where they are unfamiliar with the song that is being played. The same strategy of locking in to the guitar players left hand apply here. Watch the chord changes, but explore outside of chord tones.


Try playing scales like the Pentatonic Scale, or the Major Blues Scale, or really any cliche/stock bluegrass lick that fits the chord change.


Level 3: Melody Based Soloing/Embellishment

Most players want to quote the melody in some way. If you are familiar with the song, or train your ear to pick up melodies quickly, you will want to “nod” to the melody or base your solo off this.


The best way to pick up melodies more quickly is to… well…. Learn a bunch of melodies! But don’t forget to Transpose them so that you are prepared if the song is called in a different key. The more melodies you learn, the quicker you will develop pattern recognition, which is the key to quick learning.



What Do I Play Over Love Songs??

(All Two of Them)

For most people, getting the “Blues” in Bluegrass is challenging enough.


The genre is filled with songs about heartbreak, unrequited love, time in prison, somber gospel numbers, old work songs, and feeling lonesome.


We spend a lot of time working on making those sound good, but what do we do with the pesky two or three straight up love songs in the genre?


“I asked my love to take a walk

Just a little ways with me

And as we walked and we would talk

All about our wedding day


Darling say that you'll be mine

In our home we'll happy be

Down beside where the waters flow

On the banks of the Ohio”**

**May or may not be an example of a real love song


It really irks me when bluegrass musicians play really bright, major ideas over darker bluesy songs. But it’s even worse when they play dark bluesy lines over a quaint love song! At best it pulls you out of the song, but at worse it sounds corny and cringe-worthy. Not to mention it’s a totally misrepresentation of the contributions of black Americans to bluegrass music.


So I set out to listen to nothing but a set of bright, happy, encouraging or romantic songs and I made a list of all the tasteful ideas that can be put to practice. Here are the tunes I listened to:


Blue Ridge Cabin Home

Your Love is like a Flower - Bluegrass Album Band

Keep on the Sunny Side - The Whites

Little Georgia Rose - Audie Blaylock and Redline

Pride - Frenchie Burke (Doesn’t fit the bill perfectly, but a lot of these Ideas are great examples)


And then I came up with this list of musical Ideas that I hear in these songs that fit the feeling of the songs:



6ths and 9ths - Suspensions create that lofty feeling. These are colorful notes and should be thought of as the bright equivalent of the darker b3, b5 and b7 colors that we often use over darker, bluesy songs. Example: Over an A chord, deliberately play F# (6th) or B (ninth). Try sliding into these notes starting a half step below


Maj 7 - Rather than using the b7 as it is so often used in darker songs (Coming from a mixolydian or blues sound) , err on using the major 7, not as a point of arrival, but as a passing tone to brighten up the scale and overall feel of the song. At the end of a phrase, you can hit the maj 7 and 9th before resolving to 1 to further brighten the song and hint at the major scale.


Harmonics - Naturally these are the brightest sounding notes on your instrument. Throw some of these in, especially in a swing context, but also at the end of a break to create that “flashy, brilliant” sound.


6th to unison/ Unisons - Double stops of 6th and root -> unison double root are great, bright sounds in the keys of G, D, and A


Arpeggios - Arpeggios, like the waterfall arpeggio, create a spaciousness. Try arpeggiating a maj 6 chord for even more of this feeling.


Triplets - (As in the intro to the tune “Big Sandy River”) - this playful rhythm can lighten up a song and give it the lilt it needs to compliment the lyrics


Wide intervals - You will hear this a lot in Western Swing, wide intervals, whether as separate notes or as double stops, create spaciousness.


Constant flowing 8th/16th notes - Keep a constant running stream of notes from the major pentatonic or major scale to hint at the happy dance music where bluegrass music has its roots before people's feelings got involved.


Swing hits - Bobby Hicks was king of this sort of playing- big band style swing rhythms can give a great lilt to the song. Try this on chord tones from the major 6 arpeggio


b7th and 9th - Play these two notes as a double stop to emphasize the feeling I mentioned earlier with 6ths and 9ths.




Use this Scale Over Fiddle Tunes and Bluegrass Standards


What do June Apple, Red Haired Boy, Little Maggie, Old Joe Clark all have in common?

Well, these tunes and more are built from the Mixolydian scale/mode.


^^Warm up your bow arm/fingers and boost your improvisation skills ^^

and groove with this play along instructional video.

For this one, I invited my friend Christian Howes on to the channel. He has been a friend and a mentor to me for years and now we work together!


Mixolydian is a major scale with a flatted 7th note.


In G, this is: G, A, B, C, D, E, F (Normally F# in G major) , G (all natural notes, not sharps or flats)


You can darken the sound a bit by sliding into the major third or flattening it completely, which pushes it towards the Minor Blues scale.


You can hear this in tunes like "Love, Please Come Home", "Gonna Settle Down" and "Gospel Plow"


Brighten it by arriving on the note "A", which is referred to as the "9th"


This brighter note is often harmonized with the flat 7 (In this case F)


Examples of this sound can be heard in tunes like , "Maiden's Prayer" or "Festival Waltz", "Sittin' Alone in the Moonlight"


Fiddle Tunes based on this sound are:

-Red Haired Boy

-June Apple

-Big Mon

-Wheel Hoss

-Scotland

-Stoney Lonesome

-Northern White Clouds

-Old Joe Clark

-Clinch Mountain Backstep (Banjo tune)


Bluegrass Standards Based on this Sound:

-No Hiding Place

-Ain't Gunna Work Tomorrow

-Dark as the Night, Blue as the Day

-Cry, Cry, Darlin

-Little Maggie

-Love Please Come Home


Subscribe to Chris's Channel for more awesome play alongs:


Or check out his Bluegrass play along playlist:


"Play along in Bluegrass fiddle style- lessons for easy to advanced. These Bluegrass play along lessons give you the ability to play back short phrases and develop your ear, technique, along with nuances of the Bluegrass fiddle style."


Fiddle Tune Play along:

"Play along with me to develop fiddle licks, phrasing, rhythm, technique, & more on fiddle, violin, viola, or cello"



How to Become a Stronger Improviser

Bluegrass is a bit different from other fiddle styles in that the genre's emphasis is on SONGS.


That means 90% of fiddle playing in this genre is improvised "back up" to a singer or other instrumentalists taking improvised (Or planned) solos.


Solos are short and melody based but usually include licks, tricks, and blues/swing influenced improvisation.


Learning the language of bluegrass involves transcription, listening, some common licks, and common scales (Pentatonic, Major and Minor Blues) and double stops.


Check out this video for ideas on using “The Amazing Slow Downer” --->




If 90% or more of your playing in a bluegrass, country, or folk setting is improvised, it makes sense to spend a significant portion of your practice improvising.


Many people fall into the trap of learning a complicated break in one key, or a difficult fiddle tune, not realizing that in a real time setting- this may make up less than 10% of what you will play in any real bluegrass setting.


If you really want to improve as a bluegrass fiddle player, here are some practice ideas that will transfer to your playing


  1. Practice Extended Range Scales, which are taking the notes of a scale and playing them as they occur throughout the range of one position, without shifting the hand. IE: D Major pentatonic on a Fiddle/mandolin would be A B D E F# A B D E F# A B.

  • Explore the sound of this scale over a train beat, or a one chord vamp (Offered in the “Chords and Progressions Section of the Free Bluegrass Backing Tracks Website**

  • Combine pentatonic, blues, mixolydian, and other types of scales with bowing like the Georgia, Nashville, or Straight Shuffle.

  • Pay attention to where you feel fluency and mastery vs. discomfort improvising, whether that has to do with bowing, fingering, or tempo- and consistently push back against this over time. (IE: Raise the ceiling of your ability to improvise/think quickly)

  1. Practice Double Stops over a song or chord progression

  • I focus on smooth transitions between open or closed voicings on double stops, which you can see explained in this video. Open voicings like to move to other open voicings and closed voicing like to move to other closed voicings

  • Try playing one double stop per chord change, and see where the closest next double stop would be in the next chord change (This is called “Voice Leading”) Find out what area of the instrument you feel like you are uncomfortable voicing chords and push back against this.

  • Try smoothly transitioning from one double stop to the next, but restrict yourself to two strings at a time

  1. Practice Micro-Improvisation

  • Take a small, easily digestible phrase from a song or fiddle tune and try to play it in 10 different ways, switching bowings, rhythms, or notes, while still keeping the integrity of the phrase intact.

  • Construct your own break by combining micro improvisations on the singer’s melody.



**Free Bluegrass Backing Tracks allows you to play common fiddle tunes, songs, and chord progressions over professionally recorded backing tracks. You have full control over the speed of playback and can change the key using this amazing extension: “Transpose”




I hope these tips inspire your next practice session!


Essential Country/Bluegrass Fiddle Bowings Play Along


You Play Country Bluegrass Fiddle w Austin Scelzo

The key to sounding authentic in country and bluegrass fiddle music is to master the rhythmic feel.


Both draw their influence from a train beat, sometimes referred to as a “country shuffle”, which you can see broken down in this video. As you can see, this drummer has a constant movement/stream of notes on the snare drum, with an accent on the “backbeat”


Of note, this beat is straight, not swung, meaning there are even eighth/sixteenth notes as opposed to “lilted” or swung eighths/sixteenths.


Essential Country and Bluegrass Bowings:

  • Nashville Shuffle (Two slurred, two separate)

  • Georgia Shuffle (Three slurred, one separate)

  • Straight Shuffle (All separate, accent on the backbeat)

  • 3, 3, 2 Shuffle (three slurred, three slurred, then two separate)

-(In the video above, the drummer describes this as the "Bo Diddley Beat"


Often, these bowings are mixed and matched, especially going in and out of the straight and georgia shuffle.


The shuffles can be used as an accompaniment technique, using double stops and chord tones, or as a rhythmizing tool to incorporate in your improvisation to make melody lines more authentic sounding.


Check out the video above for a guided practice session on how to incorporate these shuffles into your playing.




Satisfying, Interesting, Invigorating,

and Enjoyable Practice



I've had a lot of folks recently ask about what my practicing looks like.


I've learned a lot over the years about how to make the process more engaging and fruitful.

Some of the best tips I've learned from Tom Heany's "First, Learn to Practice"


​​





I think of practice in a few ways:

-Learning (Listening or reading new material or concepts - Cognitive based... Sometimes without an instrument)

-Rehearsing (Repeating learned material- motor skills based)

-Exploring (Using learned material in new ways - Some combination of the two)


Here's what that looks like on the day to day:


-Learning

  • Listening to a fiddle tune, song, or break, without my instrument, at 50-75% speed on repeat (usually a chunk of 30 seconds or less)

  • I sing or hum rhythm and contour first, before worrying about matching the exact notes

  • After listening several times, then I start to add more precise and correct notes in my singing

  • If possible, I try to imagine where the notes lie on my instrument, OR I air bow the rhythm

  • Listen to a live performance and hum a cool rhythm or lick I heard into my Voice recording app

  • Listen to a recording of my practice/rehearsal, Identify things that I like and things I don't like

  • In this practice, I often hear things that I would have played or meant to play, and I make mental note of it.

  • With VIDEO, I look at my bow hold or posture and take mental note

-Rehearsing

  • If working on a particular tune, break, or song, I set a loop (Using the Amazing Slow Downer) for under 60 seconds, usually just 20 or so...

  • I adjust the settings to go 1% faster on each loop, then I start at about 60-70% and work my way just past 100%

  • In this practice, (If you set it slow enough to start) you enter a sort of flow state where you can almost passively watch your hands moving faster and faster

  • Putting Scales through patterns

  • Running a bunch of tunes that I know with a metronome/drum machine

-Exploring

  • I explore a scale, bowing, or rhythm in new ways by using it in the context of creative practice. Often I run through a playlist like this one with a specific focus or set of intentions in mind

  • If it's phrasing, I focus on interplay with the singer, or creating deliberate musical phrases through pauses.

  • If its scales, I focus on one or two scales and build a sense of what feeling that scale creates (Dark/somber or bright/cheery)

  • If its rhythm, I focus on new rhythms or common melodic rhythms within the style of music I am working on.

  • If its bowing, I focus on just one bowing or a combination of two bowings and stick to just those

  • If I want to work on timing and tempo flexibility, I set one song on repeat and have it go 5% faster each time. That way, I gradually work up to being able to improvise at fast tempos, but also gain sensitivity to slower tempos.


The best book I read on practice was this:


Excerpt from Tom Heany's "First, Learn to Practice"


Check out the free preview and buy the book here (90 something pages and only 5 dollars on kindle!)



How do you like to practice? Did you find any of these strategies interesting?



Bobby Hicks Bluegrass Fiddle Transcription:

"Your Love is Like a Flower"


"Your Love is Like a Flower" is a great bluegrass standard to know and study because of its simple melody and slow-changing, predictable chord structure. Check out this new Transcription of Bobby Hicks' solo!

If I were to choose one bluegrass break to study and transpose- it would be this one. The chord progression and melody are reusable in many different contexts.

Try transposing this into four different finger patterns by starting the melody on each finger. This will put all the keys under your fingers quickly.

Click Here for more on this series: Bobby Hicks Series



Bobby Hicks Bluegrass Fiddle Transcription: "Take Me in the Lifeboat"

Check out this Performance, Transcription, lesson, and analysis of Bobby Hick's solo on "Take me in the Lifeboat" from the Bluegrass Album Album Band Vol. 2


Some great content in this solo, including:

-Major Blues Scales:

-Essential Bluegrass Bowings

-Shuffle Bowings

-Major Pentatonic Scales

-Essential Bluegrass Double Stops

You'll also find tips on how to transpose for yourself:

-Transpose Google Chrome Extension

-Amazing Slow Downer

-How to Play in Different Keys

-Bluegrass Fiddle Study Guide

Through meticulous practice, the process of Transcription can help develop musical language.

The best way to benefit from this powerful form of practice is to transpose and break down the ideas in a way that is transferable to other musical contexts.

For example, you may notice that this solo's chord progression is identical to at least three other bluegrass standards:

-"On and On"

-"I'll Never Shed Another Tear"

-"Unclouded Day"

Have you ever had success transcribing another fiddle player's work?



Bluegrass Fiddle Study Guide


I want to share with you a resource that I made for my own study and haven't released to the public yet! It's called the "Bluegrass Fiddle Study Guide". It's basically all of my favorite bluegrass fiddle player's solo/breaks on the Bluegrass Album Band Vol. 2 (An incredible bluegrass album if you haven't check it out!) I isolated each break so that I could slow them down and repeat them in my practice- or just listen to them in the car!



Bluegrass Fiddle Licks: “The Waterfall Arpeggio”

Transposition is a way of "mining" a lick for more information.

It requires a deeper level of understanding and takes some diligent practice but it can reap great rewards!

This lick helps us understand arpeggio-based improvisation and which passing tones we can use in between each note.




Bluegrass Fiddle Transcription - Bobby Hicks "Is it Too Late Now"

Bobby Hicks was one of Bill Monroe's "Bluegrass Boys" and his contribution to the bluegrass fiddle playing world has inspired generations on fiddle players. I have been studying his playing for years. His playing is so iconic that many refer to his musical ideas as "Hicks Licks" There are a couple of great ones here- check it out!



If you are looking to dive deeper in your playing and unlock more fun at that next jam session, you'd love our weekly Zoom classes.

Tab and Notation on Essential Bluegrass Instrumentals


I've learned a ton from this book- I used to keep it by my bedside and read, listen to, or play the tunes in bed before I went to sleep. Sometimes I would read it like a book, trying to hear the melodies in my head even without my instrument!


Learning Instrumentals can be useful- even if instrumentals aren't called in bluegrass jam circuits that often. Why? Well, they tend to unlock important finger patterns, help you navigate different keys, build technique, and they also expand your rhythmic vocabulary.


"As Bill Monroe is commonly lauded as "the father of bluegrass music," his tunes are standard repertoire and should be studied and memorized by any serious student of bluegrass.


This book is a collection of transcriptions in notation and tablature taken from classic instrumentals recorded over a span of 40 years, from the early 1940s to the early 1980s. It functions as a "fake book" for bluegrass students to learn the original melody or to study Monroe's playing style. The melodies were played by mandolin, fiddle, twin fiddles, or triple fiddles, and are grouped accordingly.


Generally included with the fiddle melody is a transcription of the mandolin break. These transcriptions, along with the discography, will be an important resource for any student of bluegrass music."


I love extracting fun rhythms from instrumentals and incorporating them in my backup. (These are called "Melodic Rhythms") You can practice this with Extended Range Scales and challenge yourself to use that rhythm in a bunch of different contexts.



Shuffle Bowing - Get in the Groove with the Nashville/Simple, Straight, Georgia Shuffle

I came from a classical background- the biggest two stumbling blocks to playing non-classical music for me were learning how to improvise and learning how to groove.

I've had some amazing teachers along the way who have broken down those two barriers in a sequential, non-overwhelming, easy to follow way.

Check out this video on how to incorporate common bluegrass bowings into your playing- it's the easiest way to start grooving and contribute in a unique and satisfying way!


Snip it from the last Zoom class, now part of the Bluegrass Country and Roots School

There's another online zoom class tonight at 8PM. I hope you'll consider joining.

Here's tonight's agenda (8-9PM EST)

-C, G, D, Minor Blues

-F, C, Bb Major Pentatonic/Major Blues

-Kick offs

-Common Fiddle Rhythms

-How to internalize bowings and scales so that they come out in your playing






My head is full of inspiration from last week at the International Bluegrass Music Association's "World of Bluegrass". Check out this amazing moment from the award show:

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


AWESOME Right? I remember learning that electric guitar solo on fiddle when I first started playing.



Motivation Booster and how to have More Fun with Music

Looking for a little motivation booster? I thought I'd share with you some tips that help me stay naturally motivated to play music every day.

Here's the first - Keep the instruments out of their cases! Bonus, you can see my fancy 5 string Jordan Electric Violin here. Who can name that VIP musician in the top right corner?


From my 12 Tips for Staying Motivated or Generating Motivation

7. Keep the instrument out of its case

-If possible, keep the instrument out of its case at home. Why? Studies show that we pick up healthy habits more quickly when they are EASY. Leaving the instrument out of its case helps remove a layer of resistance against practicing. Every time we see our instrument out, we get that little nudge to play!

6. Hang out with people who feel similar to you/play the same music

Find people who love the music you love and hang out with them. These people will make you want to practice more because you know that the direct result of your practice means MORE FUN with these friends of yours.

9. Get a good pair of headphones or speakers and respect listening to music

We have gotten used to hearing music through terrible mediums. It hurts me to hear music played through these projector systems in most school classrooms. Develop a deep love and appreciation for music by investing in a good pair of headphones or a speakers system and transform the way you experience music. I love my beyerdynamics. They make my feel like I am right there next to the musicians.

If you're looking to have more fun and freedom in your fiddle playing, I hope you'll consider joining this week's Tuesday night online class!





Practicing in Beautiful Locations

Do you enjoy practicing? I once read a book by James Clear called "Atomic Habits". He mentioned that our positive habits are reinforced when we associate them with a pleasurable experience. That's why I spent this week practicing in beautiful locations! - I felt the warm sunshine and cool breeze at Rocky Neck State Park Beach, dangled my feet over the boardwalk at the Mystic seaport, and found this stunning spot in Rhode Island.

My Beautiful Practice Spot this Week - "The River Walk" in Providence Rhode Island


I've grown to love practicing, and I often couple it with being outdoors. Even then, sometimes it's hard to generate the motivation to practice. I find the best motivation builder to be either PLAYING music with others, or working on a project. I really believe there is a fundamental difference between "practice" and "play" and that it's important to have a balance of both. That's why I wrote about it in my blog "The Difference Between Practice and Play"

What do you think? Have you ever tried practicing in a beautiful location?

Speaking of practice, would you consider joining my guided practice sessions on Monday nights? My hope is to share with the world that practicing can be engaging and fun!





Try this 6 Minute Playalong to Boost Your Improvisation Skills


Do you enjoy practicing? I can't wait to pick up my instrument when I'm finished writing this email! I try to incorporate some element of creative practice into my routine every day. Usually, that means picking a key, a scale, or a tune as a "canvas" for creative practice.


One element of generating the motivation to do so is to be around creative people. I just returned from a rehearsal with one of my best friends, a PHENOMENAL guitar and mandolin player.

He inspires me with his effortless creative control of the instrument. Here is Tom playing the Kenny Baker tune "Ashland Breakdown"


I find that I can draw creative inspiration from all sorts of people- visual artists, poets, and philosophers. Anyone who regularly engages in creative work. I've learned that creativity is a muscle and it takes training to grow!






Watch a Blind and Half deaf Grammy Award Winning Fiddle Player Captivate a Crowd



Michael Cleveland won the International Bluegrass Music Association's "Fiddle Player of the Year" TEN times. He was also born blind and hard of hearing. His playing is a total inspiration and his story is even more impressive. Check out the documentary about him called "Flamekeeper".


I spent the morning studying his bowing and timing on the famous tune "Sally Goodin". This one has tripped me up for years. It has 10-14 different variations, many of which are expected to be quoted in some way in performance of the tune. I was inspired to dig in again by my friend Bruno, a New York native who "Tricked" some southerners in Nashville with his impressive "southern sounding flare". He said after folks had finished dancing to the tune, the guitarist in the jam of all strangers said "Where are ya from, boy?"


When Bruno answered "New York", the campsite went silent.


Bruno said "Way up in the catskill mountains!" The guitarist grunted and said "Mhmmm, must be real nice up there... well, anyway that's some mighty fine fiddlin', boy"


What's the key to "mighty fine fiddlin'?" Well, one things for sure- it will take PRACTICE!

Here are some tips on bowing: Shuffle Bowing - Nashville, Straight, and Georgia also Three Essential Bluegrass Bowings


Want to access resources like these in a neatly organized way, receive my feedback, and join a community of learners?

Check out the Bluegrass, Country, and Roots Online School

We have weekly zoom classes from 8-9PM EST on Tuesdays

Sign up here

Hope to see you there!

-Austin






Another Transcription in the books!