Old Time Fiddler’s Learning Path

For those who do not know much about this interesting style, Old Time Fiddling is generally from the 1800’s or earlier and often features alternative “open” tunings that can change from song to song.  Its primary use as a single-instrument dance accompaniment requires players to have a deep sense of rhythm or “groove” and have a mastery of dynamics and bow accents in their arsenal of techniques and tricks that offset the often single-chord harmonic limitations inherent in the tunings typically used in Old Time songs.


Old Time Fiddler’s are a special breed.  Often you know very little of how music works or even what the names of the notes you are playing are!  …but the tunes you play are WAY-COOL in my opinion!  The average Old Time Fiddler will most likely have a good ear and quite a bit of playing experience already, and are usually a bit of a renegade as personality types go.  Even though I personally came from the opposite end of the musical spectrum initially,** I am definitely hip to doing things in your own way!  …it is a cornerstone of the Fiddle Jam Method and you are most welcome here!!

If you are an Old Time Fiddle specialist and have found your way to this page, it’s a good bet that you are now simply desiring to know more.  Maybe you are looking to get more stylistically current?  As stated, Old Time tunes are generally from the 1800’s or older.  A “next step” for many Old Timers, Bluegrass, though still ancient sounding to most, is a much more modern invention (1930-40’s) that mixed blues with “mountain” music, and played it hard and fast, and by comparison, was more for listening than dancing.  Though still pretty simple harmonically, it typically uses three-chord (I-IV-V) backups that are ofter “tater-ed” creatively using double string drone notes.

Music notation might also be foreign to Old Time Fidders who often only know a finger number system we call “Fiddler’s Tab.”  Bluegrass players are often “non-readers” too, but since they most often stay in standard G-D-A-E tuning, have developed their own system of Note Names and Finger Numbers.  You’ll often find both these systems under our traditional Staff Music Notation examples.  It is good to know the differences between these and will do a player no harm to be familiar with all three systems.

Of course, if you are looking to jump right in to more historically current styles, you’ll find 100’s of lessons in the FJi Library to appease you!

Check out these preparatory lessons:

  1. Note Name/Finger Number notation
  2. Fiddler’s Tab notation
  3. Major scales prep
  4. The note number system
  5. That Fiddle Sound

Then try these subjects:

  1. Bluegrass Section
  2. Tater
  3. I-IV-V

Further Studies:

**Side note from above: As I’ve mentioned in various videos in the FJi Library, my personal fiddling style trajectory took a turn when I heard Old Time fiddle master Bruce Molsky for the first time at an American String Teacher Conference (ASTA) back around 2002.  I thought that I had the groove thing “down” after decades of being a Blues-Rock-Zydeco-Fusion violinist until I heard Bruce creating grooves with a single violin that were as deep as any Led Zepplin tune!  Pretty cool.



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