Taking  Lessons

A good teacher can very quickly correct bad habits and get you focusing on the right stuff. Having somebody watch what you’re doing, correct mistakes as they happen and show you, in the moment, the correct form and phrasing, can be well worth the fee. I took weekly lessons for about three months when I first started playing the fiddle. My teacher Laurie insisted on the correct intonation. She showed me what it felt like when I was in tune vs. when I was not and she made it clear that there were certain things I simply had to get right if I wanted to be a decent fiddle player. Once I felt I had the basic technique, I stopped going for weekly lessons. I found it was more efficient to learn fiddle tunes by ear and work from a book. But every so often, I will seek out a good teacher to help get me to the next level.

How To Work With A Teacher

If you want to get the most out of an in-person lesson, it pays to have a specific goal in mind. I took a few lessons with Phil Salazar who is a great fiddle player in Southern California. I asked  Phil to help start playing in higher positions up the neck. That was my only request and Phil delivered. He gave me some great exercises and good songs with high notes to challenge me. Plus, he invited me to this really great local jam session! Music camps can be a wonderful place to learn, but in the group setting, the lessons can be more general and often focused on learning songs. At a camp, you really need to take the initiative with the teachers if you want to get specific advice. Don’t be shy. Ask for what you need. The last day of the Targhee Camp, I pulled Darol Anger aside and asked him to just watch me play and give one thing to work on for the next year. ( He took me into the mens’ room for my private lesson. We had a big laugh about that). The camp was great, but that one moment was the icing on the cake. He immediately saw the problem. “You aren’t getting enough sound out of the fiddle. Raise your elbow up. Get a little more weight on the bow from your whole arm. Practice songs that have big long bows, like Tennessee Waltz.” Ok, now any kid taking Suzuki violin lessons probably would have had his elbow in the right place but my weird technique was largely based on watching Vassar Clemments videos. I told this to Darol and he cracked up. He said, “ Oh my god, don’t study Vassar’s technique. Only Vassar can do it the way Vassar does.” That one slight correction made a huge difference. Darol gave me one more great tip which I talk about in the How To Learn post . He said, “work on one thing at a time or you’ll drive yourself crazy. You need to feel like you are improving”. This was sage advice coming from a real sage. I’ve taken it to heart. The point here is this. It can be incredibly valuable to sit down, in person, with a teacher. However, the more specific you can be about what you want to learn and where your want to improve, the better. 

On-Line Video Classes

This is what I love most about the internet. The Online learning resources for music are fantastic. There are a lot of options but the two big players in the acoustic/bluegrass world are Peghead Nation and Artistworks. They are both great. Whatever you play, even if you just sing, you’ll find a phenomenal teacher. The instruction is brilliant and both sites are loaded with all kinds of fantastic videos, play along tracks and relevant info. I tend to gravitate back to Peghead because for  $25 a month, I don’t feel too bad if I’m not using it regularly and I mainly use it to learn specific tunes. Artistworks is a little more spendy because you have the option of actually submitting videos for the instructor to view. It is pretty cool and daunting to have a pro you idolize see you play and respond directly. It’s the best of both worlds: individual instruction and videos. For Fiddle players, I recommend spending some time on Darol Anger’s Academy of Bluegrass class simply because he offers up a wealth of incredible content. He has spent a lifetime playing and teaching all levels. Darol’s class is great for both beginners as well as more advanced players. He starts from the beginning and goes really deep in variety of styles. If you are a real beginner, it’s great because you can submit a video and he’ll watch it and correct your technique. As I said above, you really want to get the the fundamentals right early on in your process. Every so often I join back up and spend a month checking out whats new and downloading charts. Here are links if you want to check them out. 


Youtube Lessons

It is incredible what you can get for free on Youtube. I’ve learned a lot from very generous teachers who post  lessons. If you want to learn a song, chances are pretty good somebody has posted a lesson on Youtube or you can find a bunch of different versions of bands playing it to look at. If I find a fiddle solo I like, I’ll use an on-line mp3 converter to download the track and use Amazing Slow Downer to learn it. 

The Amazing Slow Downer 

This is without a doubt, the most useful learning tool ever invented. It’s a phone ap that lets you take MP3s and slow them down. For learning fiddle tunes or studying different solos it is as advertised, “amazing”. Go here to check it out. 

David Bernard

Author David Bernard

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