Don’t want to become strung up on strings!!

Don’t want to become strung up on strings!!

Ok, I can play the concertina, accordian, whistle and piano by ear, but for some reason I don’t think I have the patience to learn a stringed instrument as I would become too frustrated and my fingers would hurt too much. I learned a couple of chords on the guitar… long forgotton but I would love to be able to learn the guitar and fiddle wihout smashing them into smithereens.
Any suggestions on how to get started? I have to teach myself as I wouldnt be able to tolerate someone looking at me repeating the same bar over and over and would rather learn at my own pace.

Its an SOS!!!

Re: Don’t want to become strung up on strings!!

I find this post really odd. I’ve always had the opposite problem. I wish I had the patience *not* to pick an instrument up and try and learn it. I’d get an awful lot more work done in my life!

Re: Don’t want to become strung up on strings!!

I know it is really weird. Ask me to play anything I’ll play it on any instrument. I picked up the button accordion at the age of 5 and started playing tunes I had heard. I don’t know what to make of it!

Re: Don’t want to become strung up on strings!!

No, I don’t mean that it’s weird that you picked up an instrument at a young age and began playing music. That’s perfectly normal, good on you. What I find weird is that you’re asking us how to teach yourself to learn an instrument you don’t think you have the patience to learn. It’s kind of like asking us what you should have for dinner tonight. It’s like: just have what you want to eat…

Re: Don’t want to become strung up on strings!!

No, it’s like telling us you want a hot drink, and all you have in the cupboard is coffee and tea, but you don’t like coffee but you want to drink it instead of tea, so what should you do? I dunno, maybe I just misunderstood your post.

Re: Don’t want to become strung up on strings!!

I can tell you what is working for me. I had my first “formal”--very mellow and laidback--lesson in late May. I have a wonderful teacher who really lets me set my own pace; he offers suggestions and also asks what I want to work on/have concerns with. Since you already play so many things by ear and know the tunes, I would think that you could do so much more on your own. I found the fiddle far less intimidating that I imagined. I myself also find the one-on-one with my teacher invaluable--oh, the hints he can offer!

I acquired a used fiddle from a violin shop, and it seems okay for a beginner. My teacher checked it out and says it is fine. I will probably replace the bow.

I went online and checked out these Websites, as well as The Session, for proper placement/suggestions, knowing that when I did finally find a teacher or someone to play with that I would receive all kinds of suggestions on how to do things, but I wanted to get started.

I picked up A Complete Guide to Learning the Irish Fiddle by Paul McNevin--has some great bowing exercises in it, along with history, reading music, and tunes.

I gleaned a bit from each of these, and somewhere I saw instructions as to where to put little pieces of tape (I use that not horribly sticky and definitely not permanent painting masking tape--it’s blue) where your first, second, and third fingers go. By the time your fingers know where the notes are, the tape wears off. I practice NOT looking at my left hand now, focusing on my bow.

I talked to a friend who plays about what strings she might suggest and went to Shar and ordered the Dominants.

Got a tuning fork and learned to tune the fiddle.

Went to the tunes section of this Website and picked out a couple of tunes and printed out the abc’s after looking at the site that explains the abc notation.

And then I just started practicing a little each day until I took my first lesson. I recorded some tunes my teacher played for me, and I also have a cd of one of his past band’s songs, and I downloaded the ASD. I learn the a part, and when I know the notes and my fingers find them easily enough, I work on the b part. The ASD is amazing. I never knew I could learn by ear so easily, and now I find that I am able to start picking out some tunes just by listening to them.

I’ve had three lessons now, ranging from about an hour or so to two. I play everything I’ve learned up to that lesson each time (review), he offers suggestions as to how I can start embellishing a piece and using ornamentation, leaving out certain notes, combining notes, etc., and I get the added joy of learning about where he learned the tunes and such. He’ll also suggest that I move playing a tune that I know on say, the G, D, and A strings, down to the A and E strings. Could have knocked me over with a feather when I found that I could do it. Then he plays along with me at a pace that I set. He is incredibly encouraging and patient; I am very eager and determined, so it works out well for me. He records some more songs for me, at speed and then slowly, and off I go to practice for two or three weeks until the next lesson. I know-- meaning I can play the tunes’ melodies through without stopping and at the proper rhythm and without sounding like a cat in a blender (though I have my moments!)--about 7 tunes now and parts of 2 or 3 others. I played a bit of a waltz I wanted to learn for my teacher, and he said, “Finish learning it and teach it to me next time.” So, I’ve learned it and can’t wait until the next lesson. But the majority of learning is on my own.

I practice nearly every day, anywhere from 15 minutes to hours, and like Dow, I would get a lot more done if it weren’t sitting right here beside me. I can’t stop playing it. Some days I don’t seem to be able to do very well on it, so I leave it and come back to it in a day or two, and it seems to flow much better. And I don’t wallow in frustration.

I found the post the other day on easy beginner fiddle tunes--printed it out and learned Britches Full of Stitches the other night. I enjoy it playing the fiddle so much that even when I become frustrated, I stick with it. I would definitely recommend looking at that list first for a start.

I am coming to this later in life, so anything that I take up now is because I really want to try it. Life and its responsibilities mostly determine the pace I set for myself. I still love playing the bodhran, and my daughters and I are learning the tin whistle. My eldest is a natural on the lever harp, and we are going to try to learn some songs to play together this summer.

I’ve always wanted to learn to play the fiddle and ITM. I don’t read music much at all--I can pick out notes. I certainly won’t be earning any money at it, and I don’t know that I’ll ever get to play as well as I’d like, but as I told my teacher, when I am 80, I want to be able to amuse myself by playing a tune. I only wish I could have started earlier in life.
: > )

Good luck!

Re: Don’t want to become strung up on strings!!

Thinking about what I anticipated as being the most frustrating and difficult aspect of starting the fiddle, it was where to place my fingers on the strings. The tape eliminated that frustration (there’s also a temporary stick-on thing called the “No Fret” available online). What I actually find hardest here at the beginning is moving my fingers as quickly as I’d like, consistent and proper bowing (duh), and not having as much time to play as I’d like…

Re: Don’t want to become strung up on strings!!

If you feel you really need to learn either guitar or fiddle, realize this. Like any instrument, they both probably take the same amount of total time to be proficient. But, you’ll probably make progress quicker on guitar, especially if you’re wanting to do rythm stuff. If you get frustrated easily, that would be my pick of the two for you. Also, strings are a lot cheaper. 🙂

Fiddle, as any unfretted instrument, is going to take a lot of work at the beginning. You just need to be aware of that. If you go this route, and get frustrated, DON’T BREAK THE FIDDLE. I’ll pay the postage and you can send it to me.

Another alternative is to just play what you play and have a whole new appreciation for the string people. I know I look at every instrument and want to play them all. But you can reach a point where you master none. Nothing wrong with that either. Just personal choice and acceptance of how much time you have to dedicate.

That’s my $0.02 USD.

Re: Don’t want to become strung up on strings!!

I started the fiddle at 42 years of age. My only prior musical experience had been the piano (forced upon me by well meaning parents but I hated every minute of it!) I am completely self taught (Kevin Burke’s “Learning Irish Fiddle” and Melbay’s “The Complete Irish Fiddler” with Peter Cooper) and I practice about an hour on a bad day and 2 to 3 on a good day. I can’t say the experience has been without frustration…but, I have had fun every step of the way. It is not nearly as intimidating as some would have you believe but it isn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination.

If you decide to go with the fiddle, go ahead and spend some money on a quality instrument. I’m not suggesting you drop 5 thousand dollars (or euros) on a fiddle..not at all. But, you should be willing to drop 5 or 6 hundred. The quality of the instrument will be something that will stand the test of time. You would be hard pressed to outgrow that level of instrument and….perish the thought…if you decide you don’t enjoy the fiddle, you can sell it for about what you put into it. If you get a cheap “starter” instrument you probably won’t enjoy the sound, it’ll frustrate the dickens out of you and you’ll be hard pressed to sell it because of its inferior quality.

Above all…have fun. If you don’t enjoy it, don’t torture yourself. Get a teacher, give it a second try and then, if you still don’t like the instrument…let me know…I’ll pay the freight plus a small “finders fee” for the fiddle!!

Re: Don’t want to become strung up on strings!!

Your point about finger pain from stringed instruments is very true, you also need to spend time building up strength in your muscles in your fingers. Sticking bits of tape on a fretless instrument does work well, but you’ve got to be carefull it doesn’t end up being a crutch to your playing as it’ll hurt you when you take them off and you lose all your newfound skills.

As with all stringed instruments, finger exercises are very important and should really be done from the start. Scales etc also help. Guitar has it’s issues though, I remember trying to wrap my fingers into my first 3 or 4 chord shapes infuriating. But, like all instruments, the first 6 to 12 months are the worst and you just have to keep going

Re: Don’t want to become strung up on strings!!

I beg to differ with nofrets, or at least clarify. One makes more progress initially on guitar than on fiddle. Just like you can make more initial progress on a whistle or bodhran. Some instruments have low entry thresholds, and are easy to start on.
BUT, that only works up to the point of becoming a mediocre player. To become proficient on any instrument you have to make a major commitment to mastering it. Whether that be drum, whistle, guitar, fiddle or whatever, there is no subsitute for hard work.
One thing I will say, is that some people are not well suited to play fretless instruments--it takes a good sense of pitch, which not all people are born with.

Re: Don’t want to become strung up on strings!!

Dear Gaelic writer

I have been learning Irish fiddle for 2 and a half years, and now at the grand age of 46, can now read music, play most tunes or at least have a stab at them without them sounding half bad, and the other night I actually played 3 tunes “without the dots” in an actual session without falling apart and forgetting everything! I agree with you about Paul McNevin, his notes and music are easy to follow and I have used him as a substitute when my immensely patient and incredibly gifted teacher has not been available for my weekly “fix”. Like your good self, I find the fiddle an incredibly satisfying and rewarding thing to play, and also like yourself, once I start playing, I just can;t seem to stop!!But I will echo the other contributions by saying that I do agree that it is not just the hunger to play the thing that you need, but also you need to put in the hours and not give up too easily. I also find there are times, particularly if I have had a draining day, that no matter how long/short a time I play, it just sounds like a bag of spanners, so I, too, go off and do something completely different, and either come back to it later or the following day… but oh, when you master that tricky roll or bowing, its like being transported to your own personal Nirvana… I just love it to bits!!

Re: Don’t want to become strung up on strings!!

Dear madame bonaparte,

I am just a few months shy of my 49th year on this planet, so I find your comments very encouraging! I derive such a pleasure from working and working and getting something right and sitting back and saying, “Whoo, I did it!” It is the same feeling I get when I know that the line I just wrote for a client or for one of my stories hit the mark. Yes, Nirvana! And when the family notices (how can they not? Poor things have to endure the same tunes and mistakes over and over and over!) and makes a comment like, “Mom, that sounded really good,” well, then I know that my “crazy idea to take up the fiddle” perhaps isn’t so crazy after all. Even a little thing like picking up the bow and testing the strings and being able to say, ooh, that A is flat and realizing that it is flat right off gives me a small feeling of accomplishment. I don’t know that I’ll be playing in any sessions within the next decade (with my bodhran, yes--fiddle will have to wait a bit). But, oh my is it ever fun. Just wish I had more hours in the day! I look forward to the day that I can play with other folks, though I must say it is a blast to play along with my teacher. What a joy to find someone so encouraging. Who knows, maybe reading music is just around the bend for me, too. I did just remove the tape where my third finger goes!

Go for it, Sarfly!

Re: Don’t want to become strung up on strings!!


I think we have the same view point on this. I did state that it would probably take the same amount of time to become proficient at any instrument.


I will admit that I have much more in common with many of the contributors here than I thought. While I took some violin lessons for a couple years as a teenager, I just started back a couple years ago at the age of 48. I truly am having the time of my life playing fiddle. If you can work on the “not getting frustrated” worry that you conveyed, you can’t go wrong adding a stringed instrument to your reportoire, whether fiddle or guitar.

Best regards!