Fiddling by the Numbers

Fiddling by the Numbers

1. “You gotta love it!” The more fiddling is number one in your life, the more you’ll get out of it.

Every time you take your fiddle out of the case and play, it’s the most important thing in your world.

The fiddle player is the number one player in any band. You are the soloist.

2. Repeats: AA and BB, bars that repeat. If a bar repeats with one note difference, be aware of it. Repetition is essential to music, and the heart of dance music.

Most tunes have two parts, the A part and the B part. Usually they contrast. Often some section is found in both parts. Same as and different than are both expressions of two.

Two gives you the power to analyze, to find those similarities and differences. Use two often. Two happens automatically in fiddle tunes anyway. Grow conscious of when you are playing the A or the B part, and whether you are playing the part the first time or the second.

Every two beats there’s a slight accent or emphasis in sound. That accent drives the dance, makes toes start to tap.

Rhythm in two’s, taken twice, creates the universal pattern of the four beat. The two remains irreducible.

3. Three is the basic unit of practice, the discipline of drill. When you go over your tunes, just to keep them fresh, play them three times. The first time, the continuation, and the final time.

When you do that drill you are using the Law of the Cosmos, the Law of Three. Everything in the created universe has a beginning, a middle and an end.

When going over a tune the first time, use three as the plan of learning. 1. Find out where the fingers go. 2. Play the bow indications accurately. 3. Put 1 and 2 together at a slow enough, and steady pace to play with good rhythm and still be accurate.

Use three for difficult moves. Play the hard part, usually just a few notes. Play it again. Play it the third time, and move on. Find the next hard part and do the same process. This is the most fundamental practice technique there is. It’s used and recommended for all instruments, and voice also.

4. Rhythm reveals the significance of four. Four beats to a bar, four bars to a section, four sections to a tune.

Some tunes, like Cripple Creek or Sally Gooden, have only two bars to a section. Old Joe Clark is typical of tunes that have four bars to the section. Two sections to the A part and two to the B complete the picture. When you have each part repeated you have AA, BB–four parts to the tune.

As I’ve been going through the Money Tunes project I’ve taken the two bar tunes and tweaked them into four bar tunes. All you have to do is make two different endings for the two bar sections. Then you have four bar sections. I’ve come to realize I like four bar tunes more than two bar tunes.

Bigger Numbers

When I’m serious about learning a new tune, I’ll focus on playing through the tune fifteen times as a starting point. I’ll make three times through the basic unit. Then, repeat that unit five times.

I keep a counting system handy. It’s a footed bowl of Sumerian design with five silver dollars in it. It reminds me of the value of repetition and the antiquity of music discipline.

Somewhere I read that fifteen is a pattern that breaks through stuck conditions. I’m not sure what that means, but I took it as a discipline for my fiddle practice. In this case, not knowing the tune is the stuck condition. Or, not changing and further developing the tune is the stuckness. Usually the problem dissolves before the fifteen is done, but I continue to fifteen to make sure it doesn’t come back.

Getting Your Hundred

A few years ago I did a project that required massive practicing. My objective was to play 100 tunes 100 times in one year.

The discipline meant selecting a tune and playing it 100 times in a day’s practice routine.

By this means I was able to play 10,000 repetitions of tunes. That’s a really powerful number.

I would start in the morning, either with a tune I already know, or a brand new tune. My unit of practice was to play through the tune five times. Then I would pause to move a marker into a bowl to mark that unit as done.

For tunes I didn’t know, I had to pay attention to how many times I had played through the tune. For tunes I did know, I could simply stroll to the next room, then the next, playing the tune once in each room. Then by returning the same way, I ended up in the first room playing the tune the fifth time.

The markers I used were silver dollars. I wanted to symbolize the value of my effort and discipline. Sometimes I used silver half-dollars. Liberty walking, Ben Franklin and John Kennedy all have a special meaning in my life. The Walking Liberty 50 cent piece was a particularly powerful coin in the 50’s. Even then, silver dollars were not in ordinary circulation.

The process took less than a year. I really got into it. It raised my playing to a higher level.

I don’t know where I would find the time now. Occasionally I set out to do my hundred. Sometimes I get through it. More often I stop at fifty. It still feels good to put in a solid day playing through a tune 100 times.

Most of my students have heard about this, and I believe I wrote about it, too. But I don’t know of anyone who has emulated me on this.

On the other hand, some of my students have done the drill of playing a tune fifteen times. I notice the improvement in any tune they put through this process. In this case, they will be sure to play through the tune fifteen times in one day.


The Fiddle Gig Book is now available. It was put together in response to requests from fiddlers. You asked for the chord charts to all the tunes in the book, 43 Fiddle Tunes in Tab.

At $9.95 it’s as good a bargain as I can do right now. If I make it a digital product, I can charge less. But then, you wouldn’t get the spiffy comb binding!

1. “You gotta love it!” The more fiddling is number one in your life, the more you’ll get out of it.

Every time you take your fiddle out of the case and play, it’s the most important thing in your world.

The fiddle player is the number one player in any band. You are the soloist.

2. Repeats: AA and BB, bars that repeat. If a bar repeats with one note difference, be aware of it. Repetition is essential to music, and the heart of dance music.

Most tunes have two parts, the A part and the B part. Usually they contrast. Often some section is found in both parts. Same as and different than are both expressions of two.

Two gives you the power to analyze, to find those similarities and differences. Use two often. Two happens automatically in fiddle tunes anyway. Grow conscious of when you are playing the A or the B part, and whether you are playing the part the first time or the second.

Every two beats there’s a slight accent or emphasis in sound. That accent drives the dance, makes toes start to tap.

Rhythm in two’s, taken twice, creates the universal pattern of the four beat. The two remains irreducible.

3. Three is the basic unit of practice, the discipline of drill. When you go over your tunes, just to keep them fresh, play them three times. The first time, the continuation, and the final time.

When you do that drill you are using the Law of the Cosmos, the Law of Three. Everything in the created universe has a beginning, a middle and an end.

When going over a tune the first time, use three as the plan of learning. 1. Find out where the fingers go. 2. Play the bow indications accurately. 3. Put 1 and 2 together at a slow enough, and steady pace to play with good rhythm and still be accurate.

Use three for difficult moves. Play the hard part, usually just a few notes. Play it again. Play it the third time, and move on. Find the next hard part and do the same process. This is the most fundamental practice technique there is. It’s used and recommended for all instruments, and voice also.

4. Rhythm reveals the significance of four. Four beats to a bar, four bars to a section, four sections to a tune.

Some tunes, like Cripple Creek or Sally Gooden, have only two bars to a section. Old Joe Clark is typical of tunes that have four bars to the section. Two sections to the A part and two to the B complete the picture. When you have each part repeated you have AA, BB–four parts to the tune.

As I’ve been going through the Money Tunes project I’ve taken the two bar tunes and tweaked them into four bar tunes. All you have to do is make two different endings for the two bar sections. Then you have four bar sections. I’ve come to realize I like four bar tunes more than two bar tunes.

Bigger Numbers

When I’m serious about learning a new tune, I’ll focus on playing through the tune fifteen times as a starting point. I’ll make three times through the basic unit. Then, repeat that unit five times.

I keep a counting system handy. It’s a footed bowl of Sumerian design with five silver dollars in it. It reminds me of the value of repetition and the antiquity of music discipline.

Somewhere I read that fifteen is a pattern that breaks through stuck conditions. I’m not sure what that means, but I took it as a discipline for my fiddle practice. In this case, not knowing the tune is the stuck condition. Or, not changing and further developing the tune is the stuckness. Usually the problem dissolves before the fifteen is done, but I continue to fifteen to make sure it doesn’t come back.

Getting Your Hundred

A few years ago I did a project that required massive practicing. My objective was to play 100 tunes 100 times in one year.

The discipline meant selecting a tune and playing it 100 times in a day’s practice routine.

By this means I was able to play 10,000 repetitions of tunes. That’s a really powerful number.

I would start in the morning, either with a tune I already know, or a brand new tune. My unit of practice was to play through the tune five times. Then I would pause to move a marker into a bowl to mark that unit as done.

For tunes I didn’t know, I had to pay attention to how many times I had played through the tune. For tunes I did know, I could simply stroll to the next room, then the next, playing the tune once in each room. Then by returning the same way, I ended up in the first room playing the tune the fifth time.

The markers I used were silver dollars. I wanted to symbolize the value of my effort and discipline. Sometimes I used silver half-dollars. Liberty walking, Ben Franklin and John Kennedy all have a special meaning in my life. The Walking Liberty 50 cent piece was a particularly powerful coin in the 50’s. Even then, silver dollars were not in ordinary circulation.

The process took less than a year. I really got into it. It raised my playing to a higher level.

I don’t know where I would find the time now. Occasionally I set out to do my hundred. Sometimes I get through it. More often I stop at fifty. It still feels good to put in a solid day playing through a tune 100 times.

Most of my students have heard about this, and I believe I wrote about it, too. But I don’t know of anyone who has emulated me on this.

On the other hand, some of my students have done the drill of playing a tune fifteen times. I notice the improvement in any tune they put through this process. In this case, they will be sure to play through the tune fifteen times in one day.


The Fiddle Gig Book is now available. It was put together in response to requests from fiddlers. You asked for the chord charts to all the tunes in the book, 43 Fiddle Tunes in Tab.

At $9.95 it’s as good a bargain as I can do right now. If I make it a digital product, I can charge less. But then, you wouldn’t get the spiffy comb binding!