Bruce Molsky on Peghead Nation

I really admire and enjoy watching Bruce Molsky play the fiddle. I have watched and studied a number of his videos, and have even used a couple in my blog posts: It’s All in the Bowing, Playing Faster – Part 2, and Old Time Bow Holds. Not only does the way he convey how to play OT, but watching him play OT, is a great study. So, I decided to sign up at Peghead Nation for a month for his Old Time Fiddle course. The cost is $20 a month, and the first month is free as a new member. Signing up for a full year gets a $40 discount for a total cost of $200.

Bruce Molsky is “one of America’s premier fiddling talents” (Mother Jones) and a twice-Grammy nominated artist. The first permanent visiting professor in Berklee College of Music’s American Roots Program, Bruce is the go-to guy for the next generation of fiddlers. On the road 250 days a year, Bruce tours the world solo and with super groups Mozaik, The Jumpsteady Boys, the Old-Time Kozmik Trio, and as a trio with Aly Bain and Ale Möller.

On Bruce’s Peghead Nation page, it states his Old Time Fiddle Course offers:

  • In-depth lessons in a variety of Southern old-time fiddle styles
  • More than 60 complete tunes and songs
  • New lessons added every month
  • Lessons on singing with the fiddle
  • Notation, with bowing, for all lessons
  • Play-along tracks, with downloadable MP3s, so you can practice what you’re learning with Bruce
  • High-quality video with multiple camera angles so you can see closeups of both hands in action
In this introductory video from 2014, Bruce introduces the wonderful world of old-time fiddle, playing a number of great tunes and explaining how the music was passed down, and how he’s going to pass it down to you.

I dove right into the first lesson, Jenny Baker. This old-time tune is known in Ireland as a hornpipe called The Boys of Blue Hill and also as Twin Sisters by the great West Virginia fiddler Melvin Wine. This version is more of a square dance tune and was recorded in the 1930s by Kentucky fiddler Andy Palmer with the Jimmy Johnson String Band. Bruce talks about how, when learning fiddle tunes, it’s important to think of melodies the same way you think of spoken language.

Bruce’s version cannot be copied, but here is Jenny Baker being performed by Megan O’Neill, in case you don’t know the tune.

I was excited to start the lesson which is in 5 parts:

  • Jenny Baker, Part 1 
  • Jenny Baker, Part 2: B Part Melody 
  • Jenny Baker, Part 3: Bowing 
  • Jenny Baker, Part 4: Embellishments 
  • Jenny Baker, Part 5: Play-Along Track 

While the lesson was very thorough, I was somewhat disappointed with two elements:

  • The course description page mentions notation accompanies each lesson. Unfortunately for me, the notation is standard music notation and not tabs. Since I don’t read music, and have no desire to, the notation provided is of no use to me. I was hoping the notation would be both standard and tablature, similar to this image.
  • In addition, the course description mentions multiple camera angles so you can see closeups of both hands in action. I was expecting split screen and a good close view of the fingering. This was not the case, and I checked even the most recently added lessons, but the camera angles were repeated. I was expecting something more like this:

Unlike the split screen in the image above, the screen was more like the right side of the above image, so it was difficult to clearly see Bruce’s left hand finger placement.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I think Bruce’s Old Time Fiddle Course is good and is jammed packed with value, but perhaps not for me at the stage I am at. I definitely need to develop my aural abilities further and learn the association of tablature markings to their notes, and not just a place I put my finger. When I have better developed these skills, I think Bruce’s course will be invaluable for me.

In the meantime, I have a free month, so I plan to watch and pick up as much as I can on Peghead Nation’s tab (pun intended).

Leave a Reply

  1. That’s cool! Good luck with your theory. That’s a strong point of mine, since I majored in music education many long years ago. I’ll be really interested to know how this course goes for you.

  2. Interesting. You describe the course and your own experience with it so far very well – well enough to help others make a decision about whether it would be helpful to them. Let us know how the free month goes! You may surprise yourself.

    • Thanks, Susan. I also signed up for the THEORY FOR MANDOLIN AND FIDDLE with Chad Manning. Since I was already signed up for one course, this course was only another $10 for the month. I can benefit from learning more about theory.