Good fiddle tunes to practice sight reading?

Good fiddle tunes to practice sight reading?

Hi guys!

I’m new here and looking for a bit of advice. I’ve just passed my grade 2 fiddle exam (Scottish Traditional) but I’ve started learning to read music which I’m struggling with. I’m a lot worse at reading notation than playing by ear, so it’s frustrating as anything. I’m just about graduating from nursery rhymes, and I can’t read notation on the G string. But Someone at a ceilidh last night gave me the sheet music to Mingulay Boat Song which I eventually figured it out so I can’t be that bad, and it was a lot more fun working my way through a slow pretty stuff tune ploughing through the endless boring ‘melodies’ you see in beginners’ books.

So I’m looking for slow stuff that’s on the D, A and E strings, first position, sounds good and is easy to sight read. Any ideas? Any help is much appreciated!

Re: Good fiddle tunes to practice sight reading?

The vast majority of the tunes on this website can be played first position on the D, A and E strings. Are you having trouble reading the pitch of the note or the rhythm/note-length? If it’s the pitch you want I’d search some polkas (they generally have less notes than reels or jigs) and just click the "sheet music" button and give it a try. Books teaching how to read normally make up tunes with only a few notes to get used to reading and add one note at a time but if you’re looking for actual tunes I’d just start working your way through them. It’ll get easier the more you do.

Re: Good fiddle tunes to practice sight reading?

I’m doing okay with the pitch, I’m just struggling a bit with rhythm and note length. I play it over and over until it sort of starts to sound like a tune and then eventually it clicks (which I think is the idea!). Do I just pick any tune that sounds fun and hope it’s not too hard?

Re: Good fiddle tunes to practice sight reading?

Pick tunes you can sing/him/whistle already. They will be easier to play as you will know what they should sound like.

Re: Good fiddle tunes to practice sight reading?

You could go a step further than minjackpot’s suggestion and find the sheet music for a tune a tune that you *already play*. Then you can study the dots on the page and try to figure out how the different note values (crotchet, quaver etc.) correspond to the lengths of the notes you play.

One of the principal skills you need to develop for reading music is that of *counting as you play*. This eventually becomes second nature but, to begin with, it might help to count out loud. I can well imagine, for someone that has only ever played by ear, this is quite an alien concept, since you have never before had to associate music with numbers.

Re: Good fiddle tunes to practice sight reading?

What everyone else said. Have a look at melodies you already know (and can play at a level where there’s no doubt about note lengths). Sight-read them until it feels natural. Then choose something else.

Re: Good fiddle tunes to practice sight reading?

Ace, thanks! I might go look up all the tunes I learned by ear and then forgot a few months later…

Re: Good fiddle tunes to practice sight reading?

What I’ve found to help is :-

Notes on a page where the notes are not ‘too crowded’.

No decorations shown on the tune.

The notes have the same rhythm pattern throughout the tune.

Listen to a recording of the tune to hear how the tune sounds when played.

Re: Good fiddle tunes to practice sight reading?

You might consider learning ABC at the same time as notation and keeping a library of tunes in abc format on your computer. Download ABC explorer and paste in the abc. It will show the sheet music but also the ABC. You can edit the ABC to change things, like add ornamentation or to change a few notes to make it match a different version you may have learned or heard. You can also get an idea of how time signature works by hitting the play button and hearing the tune played back in midi. It will give you a general idea of how the notes are spaced apart. It tells you what the notation is representing in audio format, but it’s not going to play it with lilt or great phrasing, you still have to come up with that on your own, using the midi just as a guide to tell you what’s written on the page. You will grow out of needing it, no doubt but it’s always there as a handy tool.

You could also just download the midi version on this site and play it back in a media player on your computer but it doesn’t have the little ticker moving over the notes as they are played which is pretty helpful to have. And I really think the process of working with the ABC notation will familiarize you with sheet music more as you can see that G2 is played twice as long as G and G2 might represent a quarter note in the dots and G2 would represent an eighth note. If you see patterns like | x2x x2x xxx |, you might come to see that and know it’s a slip jig, or see | xxxx xxxx | ("ditty ditty ditty ditty") or | x2 xx xxxx | ("bum ditty ditty ditty") or | x2 xx x2 xx | ("bum ditty bum ditty" | or | x2 xx xx x2 | ("bum ditty ditty bum") and recognize it as a reel.

Re: Good fiddle tunes to practice sight reading?

Use a metronome and set it to a slow speed to get note values. It took me a year of practicing daily to be able to sight read efficiently, but now I don’t learn by ear as quickly! Made my ears lazy.

Bricksy

Re: Good fiddle tunes to practice sight reading?

Another thing to mention - and this is probably stating the bl3361n obvious - is to keep in mind that the note values are only *relative*. A quaver or semiquaver, on its own, need not sound any different from a minim or semibreve. It is only when the different note values are put next to each other, in different combinations, that we get rhythm.

So, something that might be useful is to take a familiar tune and break it down into short sections (say, half-bars, to start with) and see how the rhythm of that section corresponds to the notes on the page. That way, you will begin to familiarise yourself with the most common rhythmic figures - e.g. 4 quavers; 2 quavers and a crotchet; a dotted crotchet and a quaver etc.

Re: Good fiddle tunes to practice sight reading?

With sight reading it’s not a matter of finding ‘easy’ tunes. Don’t worry about that. It’s simply a matter of practice. Grab any music and play it. Work out what the written note is and work at it until you have worked out the whole tune then grab something else and do the same. Doesn’t even have to be music specifically written for fiddle; scales arpeggios , tunes, music from anything and anywhere. It’s really just a matter of putting in the time. You say you can’t read "notation on the G string" and it’ sounds as if you intend to ignore it, I’m not a fiddle player so I don’t know if there is something special or odd about the G string but it I think it would be a very bad idea to ignore it, it’s the same as any other string surely, and you need to be able to read everything.

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Re: Good fiddle tunes to practice sight reading?

Just an addendum: There could be a problem with playing music you already know very well. You may have the notes in front of you and think you’re sight reading them well when in fact you aren’t, as you already know the tune, if you see what I mean. Playing stuff that is new to you (even if you listen once to a recording to get an idea of it) will force you to do more work; to actually associate the written notes with their position on the neck. You’ll have to think more about what each note actually is, rather than skim over it because you already know how the tune goes.

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Re: Good fiddle tunes to practice sight reading?

I’ve found that sight reading becomes easier as you begin to recognise the pattern of a common cluster of notes on the page, which means you’re able to read ahead a little bit. Otherwise, you’re focussing on individual notes all the time and can be taken by surprise by the next one - especially if it doesn’t go where you think it was going.

It might be worth writing out a few arpeggios in the first position (say, starting with D and G major, and D, E and A minor). Play these up and down until you find they fall under the fingers: start slowly and evenly and not worrying about speed, which will come when it’s ready. Then do the same with four- or five-note runs in these keys. After a while you’ll find yourself playing them while thinking about the state of the nation and the price of fish, at which point some phrases will be available semi-automatically, leaving you more able to home in on the tricky bits.

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Re: Good fiddle tunes to practice sight reading?

I would suggest learning to read while playing a piano. Not only will you learn how to read, you can learn a lot of music theory.

The layout of the piano keys is very visual and easy.

You’ll have the full, chromatic set of notes.

You can see the note relationships for a particular key, for example on the white keys, the key of C-major:
- whole-step, whole-step, half-step, whole-step, whole-step, whole-step, half-step

You can work out what modes are.

Also, spend time figuring out how chords work: major, minor, I-IV-V chord changes, circle-of-fifths.

Re: Good fiddle tunes to practice sight reading?

Kerry’s Polka, Down By The Sally Gardens.