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Learn basic fiddle techniques by learning popular traditional tunes, with lots of technique tips and advice on how to get that fiddley sound.
Chad Manning is a Bay Area bluegrass, old-time, and swing fiddler who plays with the David Grisman Sextet, the David Grisman Bluegrass Experience, and Laurie Lewis and the Right Hands. Over the years he has toured with many bluegrass greats such as J.D. Crowe, Curly Seckler, Alan Munde, and Tony Trischka, to name a few. Chad also finds great joy in teaching and working with all levels of adult fiddle students. He and his wife, Catherine, teach more than a hundred students at their studio in Berkeley, California.
Learn the A part of the popular old-time tune “June Apple” and how to play it with the “Nashville shuffle” bowing pattern. With Notation
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FIDDLE BASICS Get started with these introductory technique lessons for both hands, with helpful exercises as well as essential advice on tuning and caring for your fiddle.
FIRST FIDDLE TUNES Learn a bunch of great fiddle tunes, from popular bluegrass and old-time favorites to lesser-known gems, with advice on how to make them sound “fiddly.”
SCALES AND CHORDS To learn to improvise on the fiddle, or accompany others with chords, it’s important to learn simple music theory on the fiddle.
BLUEGRASS SONGS AND TUNES Most fiddlers concentrate on learning fiddle tunes, but if you’ve been to any bluegrass jams, you know that they include lots of songs as well as mandolin and banjo tunes, so it’s good to know how to play solos (or breaks) on songs and other kinds of melodies.
CHORD INTENSIVES In these in-depth lessons on chords, you’ll learn a couple of double stops on each string for major chords in the the keys of D, G, and C, some exercises to help you practice them, and some ways to work on transitioning between the chords.
IMPROVISATION AND SWING In these lessons, Chad talks about his philosophy of improvising with lots of concrete examples and exercises for coming up with variations on the melody, improvising on the chords, etc.
MORE FIDDLE TUNES
Cluck Old Hen The fiddle tune “Cluck Old Hen” is an old-time classic. It uses the A minor pentatonic scale, so Chad starts by making sure you know that scale, and then breaks down the melody of “Cluck Old Hen” phrase by phrase. After you’ve learned the melody, Chad shows you some layers to add, including hammer-ons, double stringing, double stops, and a bow sweep. He also gives you advice on giving a nice attack with your bow to the hammer-on and shows you how to anticipate the beginnings of phrases.
MORE TECHNIQUE In the midst of learning tunes, it’s always good to review your technique and make sure you're addressing any technical deficiencies you may have. In these lessons, Chad answers some student questions about technique and gives advice about various issues that may come up.
Practice Techniques In this lesson, Chad gives you advice about practicing and improvising. The first thing he talks about is the importance of practicing with a beat or groove in mind, tapping your foot or using a metronome, or finding some way to establish a tempo whenever you practice. Chad also talks about hearing what’s coming next, hearing a little ahead of where you are, whether you’re improvising or playing a melody.
THE PHYSICS AND PHYSIOLOGY OF FIDDLING In this lesson on bow technique, Chad shows you that fiddling is a very natural thing for the human body to do, and that the motion of the arms, in concert with the bow and violin, is designed to match what the body naturally wants to do. He talks about the physics of fiddling—the balance and momentum of the bow—and shows you that by following the natural physiology of the human body and the path of least resistance in arm movement, you can make your bow motion smooth and natural.
FEELING THE PHYSICS OF FIDDLING Chad continues his lessons on the physics and physiology of fiddling with more bow work, giving you a series of awareness exercises that will help you connect more deeply with the balance, momentum, and weight of your bow and the tension of the strings. In addition to helping you feel the physics of fiddling, these exercises are also great warm-up exercises. He also gives you a series of expressive bow exercises that will help you apply the awareness exercises to actual musical phrases.
EVEN MORE FIDDLE TUNES
East Tennessee Blues A fun and popular old-time tune played in the key of C, “East Tennessee Blues” has a bit of a ragtime flavor. You’ll learn to play it by alternating single bow strokes with the Georgia shuffle bowing pattern. The B part of “East Tennessee Blues” has a lot of held notes that begin with slides, and you’ll learn how to attack the beginning of the slides to really give them a bluesy feel.
Farewell Trion The old-time fiddle tune “Farewell Trion” is in the key of C and has three parts, the second of which has an extra half measure. The tune has become popular in old-time music circles lately, and Chad learned it from the fiddling of James Bryan. You’ll learn the melody and bowing and get advice on using short bow strokes on some of the quick single-bow notes.
Swannanoa Waltz Rayna Gellert’s “Swannanoa Waltz” has a beautiful and simple melody. In this lesson, you’ll learn to add layers like double-stringing, hammer-ons, and pulses to the “Swannanoa Waltz” to give it a nice waltz rhythm. Chad also talks about getting an old-time tone by adding a little pressure to your bow and slowing it down a bit. He also shows you how you can play the tune in ADAE tuning, and how to adjust your fingering on the lowest string when you do.
Red Wing “Red Wing” is a fiddle standard that all fiddlers should know. It’s commonly played in the key of G, which is the key you’ll learn it in this lesson. Chad walks you through the melody of each part phrase by phrase, showing you his bowing as he goes. You’ll also learn some double stops you can add to the basic melody as well as a couple of swing-style variations to the A part that use augmented and diminished chord arpeggios.
Squirrel Hunters The old-time fiddle tune “Squirrel Hunters” was introduced to the bluegrass world by John Hartford and has become popular at jam sessions. It’s in the key of A Mixolydian and has an unusual chord progression, with each part ending on a D (IV) chord. Chad walks you through the melody of both parts of “Squirrel Hunters” showing you some drones and slides you can add to the basic melody. He also shows you some different ways to improvise on “Squirrel Hunters,” including varying the bow patterns and using target notes in the melody.
Hawks and Eagles The old-time fiddle tune “Hawks and Eagles” is a one-part square dance tune in the key of D that has some interesting syncopation and bowing. Chad shows you the syncopated phrase at the heart of the tune it before he walks you the melody and bowing, which includes some cool “pulses” and double stringing. He also shows you the melody in the lower octave.
Kentucky Mandolin This Bill Monroe instrumental is in the key of G minor, which means you’ll mostly use the Bb major scale to play it. Chad shows you the Bb scale without the sixth step of the scale (Eb), since the melody doesn’t use an Eb or E. Then he walks you through the melody, phrase by phrase, showing you his bowing as he goes.
Milk Cow Blues A medium tempo western swing blues in the key of A, “Milk Cow Blues” mostly uses the A major pentatonic scale, along with some blue notes and a couple of cool triplet licks. Chad walks you through the melody, showing you how he articulates the bluesy slides and bows it with a swing phrasing. You’ll also learn a couple simple variations, using unison drones and double stops.
The Old North Woods Sam Bush’s beautiful waltz “The Old North Woods” is in the key of G minor, and mostly uses the G natural minor scale. Chad starts by reviewing the G natural minor scale in two octaves and playing the whole tune through. Then he walks you through the melody of both parts of “The Old North Woods.”
Josie-O Chad learned the old-time tune “Josie-O” (also called “Josie Girl”) from the fiddling of the great bluegrass and old-time fiddler Art Stamper. It’s a three-part tune in the key of G, and the third part goes to E minor. Chad walks you through the melody, phrase by phrase, showing you his bowing and how to add double-stringing below the melody. The second part has some long stretches up to the B note on the high E string, so Chad gives you advice on making the stretch.
Quail Is a Pretty Bird The fiddle tune “Quail Is a Pretty Bird” comes from Missouri old-time fiddler Gene Goforth, by way of John Hartford (the melody is also very similar to Edden Hammons’ “Sandy Boys”). It’s in the key of A, with two parts, and the scale uses a couple different versions of the seventh, sometimes the G# and sometimes a note in between G# and G.
Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss The old-time fiddle tune “Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss” is a popular square dance tune in the key of D. It includes some typical old-time anticipations and bow pulses (or pushes). Chad walks you through the tune, phrase by phrase, showing you his bowing and some of the ways he accents the melody and attacks notes in different ways.
Faded Love Bob Wills’s “Faded Love” is a Western Swing fiddle classic, a great tune that is often played in harmony with one or more other fiddlers. Chad starts by showing the basic melody before showing you some of the fourth finger unison drones that give the tune its distinctive sound.
Sail Away Ladies There are a lot of versions of the old-time fiddle tune “Sail Away Ladies,” but the one recorded by Uncle Bunt Stephens in the 1920s is a great way to learn some Southern-style old-time bowing. It’s a simple melody, but the bowing and rhythm of the phrases can be tricky.
The High Road The fiddle tune “The High Road” was written by fiddler/mandolinist/singer/songwriter Tim O’Brien many years ago, and has become a bit of a bluegrass standard. It combines sounds from a lot of styles: old-time, bluegrass, Celtic, blues, and even Klezmer. It’s in the key of E minor and the second part has a couple of unusual chords and note choices.
Tennessee Mountain Fox Chase “Tennessee Mountain Fox Chase” is a three-part “crooked” old-time tune in the key of C. “Crooked” means that the parts aren’t an even eight-bars long. In this case, the first and second parts each have an extra half measure. The third part has some typical old-time bowing patterns with more slurs and bow sweeps.
Margaret’s Musical Mecca You’ll learn one of Chad’s original tunes, “Margaret’s Musical Mecca,” in this lesson. It’s a fun tune in the key of A, with some old-time bowing and drones.
Rabbit Hash Chad learned the six-part old-time tune “Rabbit Hash” from the fiddling of Tricia Spencer and Howard Rains, who recorded it on their album The Old Texas Fiddle, Vol. II They recorded it in the cross tuning of GDGD, but you’ll learn it here in standard tuning in the key of A.
“Rabbit Hash” Harmony In this lesson, you’ll learn a harmony part for the fiddle tune “Rabbit Hash,” which you learned in a previous lesson and which comes from the fiddling of Tricia Spencer and Howard Rains.
Dance All Night Chad’s version of the old-time fiddle standard “Dance All Night” comes from John Lusk, who was the fiddler with the African American string band Gribble, Lusk, and York. The trio were recorded in the 1940s for the Library of Congress, and “Dance All Night” is from their first 1946 recording.
Green Valley Waltz Chad learned the old-time fiddle waltz “Green Valley Waltz” (also called “Green Valley Trot”) from the playing of bluegrass fiddle legend Chubby Wise. It’s in the key of G, using mostly the G major pentatonic scale, with some bluesy thirds. Chad walks you through the each part of “Green Valley Waltz” in this video, showing you the bowing and bluesy phrasing, and giving you advice on bowing and attack.
MORE BLUEGRASS SONGS AND TECHNIQUES
Letter from My Darling In this lesson, you’ll learn a solo to the bluegrass classic “Letter from My Darling” based on the solo fiddler Bobby Hicks played on the Bluegrass Album Band’s recording. Chad walks you through the solo phrase by phrase, giving you advice on bowing and phrasing as he goes. He also shows you a version of the solo with some drones and double stops.
Backup Fiddle in Bb Chad uses Tim O’Brien’s recording of Hazel Dickens’ song “A Few Old Memories” to show you some ways to play backup on a slow song in Bb, using capo positions and simple melodies that outline the chords of the song. He starts by showing you a pentatonic scale in capo position that you can use to play backup lines on the Bb, Eb, and F chords, and then gives you examples of the kinds of lines he would play in those positions. He also shows you how to embellish simple melodies with slides, hammer-ons, etc., and how to listen to the singer and play backup between their vocal phrases.
Blue Ridge Cabin Home The bluegrass standard “Blue Ridge Cabin Home” comes from Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs and has become a jam session favorite. In this lesson you’ll learn a fiddle solo to “Blue Ridge Cabin Home” in the key of A that is based on the solo that Bobby Hicks played on the Bluegrass Album Band recording of the song.
The Chop In this lesson, Chad shows you how to play the primary accompaniment technique used in bluegrass fiddling: the chop. You’ll learn the simple version, played on the backbeat, that is essential to know for playing in a bluegrass band, as well as a more complicated version, developed by Darol Anger and other contemporary fiddlers.
Someone Took My Place with You The fiddle solo, played by the great Benny Martin, on Flatt and Scruggs’ recording of “Someone Took My Place with You” is a classic, with some cool double stops, slides, and must-know bluegrass fiddle licks in the key of A. Chad walks you through the solo, phrase by phrase, first without double stops and then with them.
Nine Pound Hammer In this lesson, you’ll learn a solo to the bluegrass standard “Nine Pound Hammer” in the key of A. Chad starts by showing you the basic melody and then how to add variations, including unison drones, blue notes, and an ending lick, to create a bluegrass fiddle solo.
Bluesy Bluegrass Vocabulary in G Chad shows you some typical bluesy bluegrass fiddle vocabulary in the key of G that you can use in solos and in your backup. Starting with a pentatonic scale “G run” and a couple of bluesy sliding licks, he shows you how to build on simple licks to create longer phrases. Then he demonstrates how he uses those licks to play backup by playing along to a recording of Ricky Skaggs singing the bluegrass standard “Another Night.”
Don’t Give Your Heart to a Rambler Fiddler Richard Greene’s solo on Tony Rice’s recording of the bluegrass song “Don’t Give Your Heart to a Rambler,” is a classic. The recording is in the key of Bb but in this lesson, you’ll learn a solo in the key of A based on Richard Greene’s solo, which uses the pentatonic scale along with some bluesy thirds and sevenths.