Power to the Fiddle Tune List

Getting the Most out of Your Fiddle Tune List

Footed-bowl for holding coins
Fiddle Tune List Maker

My first fiddle tune list was stored in my fiddle case. It listed the tunes I could play. My intention was to have the list handy when meeting new musicians to play fiddle tunes with. There were not a great many tunes on the list, maybe three dozen at most.

In those early days of fiddling I found a newsletter, the Grassometer, devoted to bluegrass music. It had a list of Top Ten Fiddle Tunes that I summed up as BSROCM—(BS Rock’em).

That expands to: Bilem Cabbage Down, Bill Cheathum, Blackberry Blossom, Sally Gooden, Salt Creek, Soldier’s Joy, Cripple Creek, and Mississippi Sawyer.

That fiddle tune list is not exclusively bluegrass. It simply includes popular tunes that have been played by hundreds, maybe thousands of fiddlers. It’s still a good list.

The Fiddle Tune List and the Intention

The Tune a Month calendar from Fiddler magazine inspired my next list of tunes to play. And I learned and recorded all those tunes, except Yellow Rose of Texas, on my album, A Fiddler’s Year. This was a case of looking at a list of tunes, 12 in all, and making a plan to learn them for a particular purpose

Another source of tunes to learn also came from Fiddler magazine, (as did the Tune a Month Calendar.) They published results from a survey that asked what are your favorite twenty tunes. Because so many tunes tied for places, they ended up with  a lot more than twenty.

100 Tunes 100 Times Equals 10,000

Then, there was the year I started my 100 tunes 100 times project. The idea was to choose one tune of the selected hundred, and play it 100 times in a day. Furthermore, complete the 100 tunes in a year. The total repetitions is 10,000, which is s powerful number. It took will power and perseverance to get through the whole 100 tunes.

Some were tunes I already knew. These got new licks and variations added in. Some were new tunes. I usually had the tune by heart when the 100 times was completed. It was over the top, and it raised my level of playing ability.

Keeping the Count of Fiddle Tunes

I kept track of the number of repetitions by location at first. I started playing the tune in the front room of my home, then moved into the living room for the second go. Next it was the kitchen for the third. Then, back to the living room, fourth, and finally in the foyer for fifth. 

When I completed the five play throughs, I took a silver dollar and placed it in a Sumerian footed bowl, a reproduction from the Smithsonian Institution.

Footed-bowl for holding coins
Footed-bowl for working the fiddle tune list

When I reached five silver dollars, that was 25. Do this four times and you get 100. The silver dollar was a way of subconsciously validating my effort. Perhaps it worked. I still use this method to count my practice. Only now I use six silver dollars and six repetitions. Two tunes three times each is an easy way to go, since three is the most used number in my area for jams.

So Many Tunes on So Many Lists, So Little Time

My list has become lists at this point. Different genres, different intentions, different purposes have a say in what tunes are on a list. How I choose new tunes for a list is influenced by these factors:

• if a group I meet with wants to add a tune to our repertory,

• if I hear a tune played that I especially like

• if the tune is prominent in something I’m reading about fiddling or fiddlers then the new tune may be added.

In recent years I’ve found many fiddle tune lists online. There are many. One, for example, is the compilation of tunes on the two CD collection ofd tunes from Fiddle Hell, by David Reiner. A good list and CDs to have whether you go to Fiddle Hell or not.

I ask my students to keep a list handy for me to check and review from time to time.  “Ok, let’s play Liberty.” If there’s a tune on the list they really don’t care for, they can drop it. I’m still of the opinion that fiddling is mainly about fun.

Recently, the Wednesday group, Jonesboro Station, went over our list. We jettisoned just a few. Most are keepers. There are a few tunes on the list I don’t feel confident to lead, and Kathie starts those off.

List of fiddle tunes played by Jonesboro Station

I hope you get the flexibility and usefulness of fiddle tune lists. “What list is in your case?”  and “Don’t leave home without it.”

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