Learn to Play Fiddle

Information and tips about fiddling

August 10, 2016
by elancan

Fiddlequest Makes it Easy

Using Fiddlequest as a Fiddle Teacher


FiddleQuest, designed and created by Duane Whitcomb, is a curriculum resource for teachers, a practice tool for students and a useful accountability process between teacher and student. Each Module moves smoothly up the learning gradient. The modules are called Levels and each contains 12 assignments.

There are four categories of skills offered. Songs, scales, improvisation and sight reading. For a student to complete all the assignments in one level means doing 48 assignments.

That seems like a good deal of work to get done. At the same time there are built in learning tools online for the student to use. It includes a recognition and validation process to encourage and reward the student for successful completion.

Similarly, it makes it easy for the teacher to keep track of what the student is expected to do. I’ve been using a journal with my students and writing their assignment on their workbooks. Even so, stuff slips through the cracks and gets missed. The FiddleQuest system just makes everything easier to keep up with.

Learning is more fun and fulfilling for the student. Some of the burden is lifted from the teacher. Neither student nor teacher must be continuously obligated to figure out what’s going on and what they have to do next.

I recently started a 10 year old student on this program.The next week her father told me she had increased her practice time spontaneously. After two more weeks I could hear a major improvement in her ease of playing all her tunes, including those outside the program. Also she was playing in tune better.

Content is in the Levels

Part of the curriculum is improvisation. It is fiddle oriented, and that makes complete sense. My own effort in this behalf was an occasional foray into the call and response technique I learned from Darol Anger. FiddleQuest handles improv by playing a background chord progression that lets the student play along. In this as in the other modules, there are three speeds to use.

In the module for scales Duane Whitcomb follows a principle that I have obsessed over, even though it may be contrary to current teaching standards. On the two octave scale he has the student repeat the tone center, or note at the end of the first octave, so that it sounds the beginning of the second octave.

When this is not done, in playing the two octave G scale, for example, the student will typically lose the sense of tonality and modulate to an A scale as soon as they play the A string. I have heard and seen this many times from students who arrive in my studio after being with another teacher.

Once the student is completely familiar with the fingering of the two octave scale, we can make a run for it. Or, make a run out of it. In this drill the student plays the notes, without repeating the tone center, from the lowest to the highest, and then back.  For this exercise speed is the goal.

The songs, or tunes in the program are popular fiddle tunes. You hear them at contra dances, at bluegrass festivals and fiddle jams.

In short, the program is a total bargain for the student at $15 a month, and costs nothing for the teacher. The student who comes through the curriculum is likely to be a hot fiddler, and a good violinist, too.