Lessons By Key. As you will see below, some keys are much more popular and common than others… especially in the fiddling world where open drone strings rule. All 15 keys are represented here: up to 7 sharps and 7 flats plus all natural notes (C). Those versed in Music Mechanics (Theory) will understand that there really are only 12 different notes and keys, but even though a few of the keys overlap (like F# and Gb) and are enharmonic (same note/different name) equivalents, and may feel the same in your fingers, these are quite different to THINK in! An example would be thinking in C# as opposed to Db… the fingerings are identical, but note names and thought processes are definitely not! So it’s a good thing to try all 15.
Note: Of course, though there may be many advantages to learning how to play in every key, it is completely unneccessary to learn the awkward keys if you are not into it!… Why?… you can always tune your fiddle down a 1/2 or whole step instead, and then compensate your fingering and thinking to have the sound you make be in the key with the rest of the band! No worries, it is not as complicated as it sounds. Example: The band is playing in Ab minor? (yuk!)… simply tune your strings down a 1/2 step and then “think” a 1/2 step HIGHER (A minor = much more comfortable) to compensate and be in the same key as the band. It’s a neat & useful trick. Some might consider it cheating (and maybe it IS a little!), but there are other times when doing this actually allows you to play things that sound BETTER for the style.
My experience with this: a quick story… when recording LeeRon Zydeco’s first album, we were doing a song in Ab (better for LeeRon’s voice)… I struggled over a few different takes to get something that sounded decent and still be within the Zydeco style… I (and the band) was less than impressed with the results I remember, thinking it rather “ho-hum”… I asked the band to let me give it another shot and quickly tuned down a 1/2 step (Gb Db Ab Eb), which then allowed me to pretend I was playing in the key of A with all it’s nice drone strings! …the band was all smiles after just one take! It was exactly what everyone was looking for! As a side note lesson for you on Gig etiquette: I refrained from calling them idiots for being ignorant of the fact that it is impossible to have open string double drone fiddle-y sounding violin parts in the key a Ab, and just kept my mouth shut and let them think that I was some kind of genius fiddle wizard …or at least that’s the way I remember it!
Note 2: If you have a song or recording that you’d like to jam over but are not sure of the key or scale to use, just send me a quick note with a link to the tune (on YouTube, etc…) and I will be happy to help you out! Just use the comment form at the bottom of nearly every FJi page. I will then put your submission in our Fiddle Jam Interactive Song Key Archive (FJISKA) for other students to benefit from too!