Keeping a Fiddle in Pitch

Keeping a Fiddle in Pitch

Folks, How does one develop (or re-develop) the ability to finger their fiddle in pitch, get those fingers back on the proper spots after some time away from playing? Any exercises or techniques that can help? As a non-fiddle player, I am in a situation where I want to offer some advice, but I am at a loss. Thanks!

Re: Keeping a Fiddle in Pitch


I am of the opinion that there is no shortcut way to do this (but i could be wrong???).

I say this as a fiddle player who for some unknown reason will play one of his favourite fiddles for 3-6 months - get bored of it - and then switch to the other one.

I takes a good 2-3 weeks of session playing to re-adjust to a fiddle that you’ve played for years.

What i’m trying to say in roundabout way is that most fiddlers will tell you that every fiddle is different and you just have to know the fiddle instinctively.

If it is a beginner tho? you’ll get away with putting some sticky coloured dots on the finger board in exactly the correct places and letting them match up with these

I would say relax and with enough sharp/flat notes the person will autocorrect and eventually not have to.

Hope this helps?

Re: Keeping a Fiddle in Pitch

There no shortcut for developing muscule memory, It just take time and repetition.

Re: Keeping a Fiddle in Pitch

Hi Al Brown, Can you tell us the level of this person learning the fiddle?

Practise finger exercises. You can buy the exercises in any music store.

My teacher Terry gets me to play something called “perpetual motion” and I believe it does work with me.

I am an absolute beginner however with a strong knowledge of what pitch is (having played other instruments for many many years). A sticky line beneath the string - acting as “frets” a tone up from G,D,A and E.

I would post you my exercises but I don’t know the level your friend is playing. I await your reply.

Re: Keeping a Fiddle in Pitch

This is a strong intermediate player coming back from a break. I think part of the problem is that this person is, as many who play this type of music, used to playing in sharp keys, and we are in a situation where we are playing some stuff in C and F, so those F naturals and B flats are a bit unnatural feeling.

Re: Keeping a Fiddle in Pitch

Al, I find that when I am starting to learn a tune in a key that I don’t use a lot, I do a set of scales in that key before I work on the tune. It seems to set my ear correctly. And I do some exercises (maybe similar to flauta’s perptual motion) that check in on open strings so that I can be sure I’m not getting waaaaay off pitch during the runs up and down the fingerboard.

Robby B and the others are right; there is no shortcut, just a lot of effort.

Re: Keeping a Fiddle in Pitch

I really don’t think muscle memory is all that’s involved. In fact relying too much on muscle memory will get you into trouble.

It’s more a question of your ears being involved in telling your muscles where to put your fingers.

Otherwise, how is it possible to pick up a slightly different sized fiddle, or a viola, or a child’s fiddle, and play it in tune after at most a couple of bars in which to adjust?

The only advice you can give someone is to play, play lots, and listen carefully to the sound they are making. The last part sounds obvious enough but I’ve taught fiddle to enough students to realize that not everybody does really listen to the sound they’re making.

And then there are others whose ears - for whatever reason - don’t seem to be able to tell them when the note is not in tune. That’s another problem entirely.

Re: Keeping a Fiddle in Pitch

yes the ears have it ,i think,but you can help yourself a bit by checking notes against open strings.

Re: Keeping a Fiddle in Pitch

I think familiarity with the tune itself has a lot to do with it. You can run scales up and down with good intonation, then get out of whack when you try to play something where you have to hop around.

Personally, I prefer to practice a lot of tunes in a variety of keys, rather than spend my time on dry-as-dust fingering exercises. And if your goal is to play a particular tune well, why not get right to the point and keep playing that tune until you get used to it?

Re: Keeping a Fiddle in Pitch

As well as scales, the other thing is to listen to someone else playing it and then sing it. I get the song or tune much better if I listen, sing, do scales and play. Since I started doing that, I’ve had much less trouble learning songs and playing them in pitch.

Re: Keeping a Fiddle in Pitch

Stove Jones hit the nail on the head. You need to consciously listen carefully and fix bad notes actively ALL THE TIME.

The more you actively listen and fix now, the less active you will need to be about it later. Conversely, if you slack-off and don’t bother fixing your bad notes, the more out of tune you will be when you play later. Everything you play, and every time you pick up the instrument you are training yourself something (even if only a little).

Scales are good for this, because they allow you to not worry about many of the other distracting things (melody, rhythm) that you get when you play tunes. With a scale, you can practice playing in tune much more easily.

Re: Keeping a Fiddle in Pitch

Tuning up with electronic tuners doesn’t help, either. It’s not uncommon to see players religiously tuning their instruments with these gadgets - but that of itself doesn’t, and cannot, make them play in tune. For ear training it is much better to tune one string to a single source and then tune the other strings to that first string. As Steve and Georgi say, it’s all in the listening, coupled with active reaction to errors.

Most Irish tunes are in a modal scale with no flats or sharps or 1 to 3 sharps (rarely more). A slightly smaller number have 1 or 2 flats, rarely 3. So if you practice daily scales and arpeggios with those numbers of sharps and flats, over a range of two-and-a-bit octaves, you’ll have 99.9% of what you need for Irish traditional music - and that’s quite a small fraction of what musicians in many other areas of music have to get to grips with.

When you’re reasonably familiar with these scales and arpeggios a useful next step for a fiddle player is this - and it’s guaranteed to heighten your awareness of intonation. First, you need another musician to help. Stand with the fiddle under your chin in the usually manner. Take your left hand away from the instrument and let it hang loosely by your side (if you’re nervous about doing this use your right hand to support the fiddle). Turn your face away from the fiddle and preferably shut your eyes so that you can’t see the fingerboard. The other person then tells you to place a finger on a specific note on a specific string (all chosen at random) instantly without trying to find it.

For a while you’ll probably be all over the place, but eventually with practice and concentration you’ll find your fingers will acquire their own spatial awareness of where the notes on the fingerboard without you looking at them and will go instantly and accurately to those notes. In my youth I was put through this training by my cello teacher, and I’ve always been grateful for it.

It is also a great help if you mentally “hear” the pitch of the note you’re told to play. This is a trick orchestral violinists use when they have to hit a note accurately at the high end of the fingerboard without any preparation. You not likely to get those difficult notes unless you mentally “hear” them first.

When you’ve got to the stage of playing in tune virtually all the time don’t think that’s the end of the story, beasue it isn’t. Throughout your playing life if you want to keep good intonation then you’ve got to keep working at it, otherwise it will certainly slip. Listening and concentration is all that’s required. Even professional orchestral players are just as capable of playing out of tune as the amateurs until the conductor shouts at them; then they get their act together pdq 🙂

There is a real danger in doing too much playing (whether it is in sessions, playing in bands, or in orchestras) without enough private individual practice that your technique in many areas, including intonation, can slip without you realising it. This can be a real problem for a musician on a busy tour, when opportunities for practicing may be few or non-existent. At the end of the tour he may be aware his technique has deteriorated and a few weeks of private practice may be necessary to get it back on line.

Re: Keeping a Fiddle in Pitch

That fairly reeks of wisdom and experience, Trevor. That blind note-seeking exercise seems like a good’un.

Re: Keeping a Fiddle in Pitch

I am certainly nae expert, but I like to have a totally silent place to practise, close my eyes and “feel” each note. If I think I am on pitch I check where I am against a tuner and adjust accordingly. I “adjust” where my ears think a certain note is. This really helps my pitch.

If I leave it for a week or more I am always out a bit more than normal.

Re: Keeping a Fiddle in Pitch

In my case, playing the mandolin for 10 years before getting a fiddle helped. My fiddle intonation is, almost 2.5 years later, still far -sometimes further than at other times - from perfect, but my fingers at least know intuitively where to go. I tend to take every opportunity, within the bounds of musicality, to brush over an open string, which gives me a reference pitch to work from.

However, if the fiddle is out of tune to start with, I’m as lost as a swallow in a submarine. Unlike on the mandolin, where I know immediately if a string is sharp or flat, and which one, if a string drops out of tune on the fiddle, I just keep adjusting my finger position to be in tune with the other strings. Then when I have to play the string open, it just confuses me.

Re: Keeping a Fiddle in Pitch

We haven’t been reading the title of this thread properly, have we?

What must be done is to place the fiddle in its case, heat the pitch to a temperature at which it flows easily (but not boiling), pour it carefully over the fiddle. When cooled, place a new copy of O’Neill’s “1001” in the case and add further unguents and perhaps dried leaves of shamrock or other herbs to choice.

Seal the case and present it to the Egyptian Department of Antiquities with the request that it be placed in a chamber of a pharonic tomb in one of the more remote parts of the Valley of the Kings - the tomb of Amenophis II (18th dynasty) will do nicely, thank you.

Re: Keeping a Fiddle in Pitch

Trevor’s been chewing on his rosin again.

Re: Keeping a Fiddle in Pitch

It’s something to do with being able to play the fiddle.

Changing between fiddles should make no difference.

Re: Keeping a Fiddle in Pitch

Great one Trevor, then put it in a time capsule for people to find a few thousand years into the future when they are studying us as ancient history.

Re: Keeping a Fiddle in Pitch

I like the recipe, sounds v. interesting. Wonder how it tastes?

Seriously though, try to keep your hand relaxed and keep on imagining the notes you’re going to play. I find a strong musical idea flowing through the mind really helps a lot.


Re: Keeping a Fiddle in Pitch

Trevor - Tar for that bit of advice.

Re: Pizzicato and Practise…

Try “pizzicato” in a SCALE, PLUCKING as LOUD as you can in the new keys (C and F) that your friend is now playing. It improves muscle memory and practise Pieces in these keys.

Terry Crehan, my teacher, says this is REALLY improves pitch also.

Re: Keeping a Fiddle in Pitch

Good news (for those of you who might still be visiting the thread). It turns out that trimming fingernails has a huge impact on fingering ability. Once the offending items (which had grown during the break from playing) were cut down to size, and not getting in the way, the pitch accuracy improved tremendously. Between that and some scales and practice (and thanks for all the suggestions above), I think we will be ready for our gig!