Tips on Learning Old Time Fiddle

David Bragger, an old time musician, instructor and co-founder of Tiki Parlour Recordings, offers seven tips on learning to play old time fiddle.

David Bragger

After inheriting his great-uncle’s fiddle, David’s obsession for old-time began. Traditional old-time fiddle and its mesmerizing bowing style have been his passion for two decades. Today, David is a go-to-guru for learning old-time fiddle, banjo and mandolin. He has students all over the world and is in great demand as a workshop teacher at traditional music festivals.

As in my earlier blog post, It’s all in the Bowing, David asserts the key to playing old time fiddle is in the bowing – the pulse, phrasing, bow-rocking, and limitless variations. These are key to creating that infectious, exciting, and mysterious music that we call old time. David offers these tips for unlocking the mysteries of old-time fiddling, which is very different than other fiddle genre.

  • Listen, listen, listen. Listening, constant listening, as much listening as you can to good old time fiddle music, especially the legends of yesteryear and today’s masters of this genre is all-important. The more we listen, the more we’ll begin to recognize the bowing patterns of these great old time fiddlers.
  • Slavishly imitate a mentor. Find an adept old time fiddle teacher and then imitate his every move. Watch his moves and bowing techniques. Strive to imitate every nuance in his style.
  • Bowing is everything. Most old time fiddle tunes are dance tunes; folks want to kick up their heals and have a party! The rhythm is central, and the rhythm comes from the bowing style. The pulse, phrasing, bow-rocking, and limitless variations need to be learned to create the music on your fiddle.
  • Learn by ear. Musical and tab notations tell you what notes to play, but your ear tells you how to play them! Train your ear to listen to more than just a song. Feel and see every note, every phrase and how it is played.
  • The downbeat is paramount. Unlike most other fiddle genres, the downbeats (1 & 3) are the most important. They create the rhythm.
  • Keep your instrument out of its case. No one can practice or play their fiddle if it is kept in the case all the time. Keep your fiddle handy. You’ll find you pick it up more, especially in those off moments when something suddenly clicks in your mind and you just have to grab your fiddle. A big part of playing old time is making it a lifestyle, not a hobby.
  • Don’t try to be unique. Learn the tried and true of old time fiddle playing. As time passes, you will be drawn to your favorite bow patterns, melodic variations, drones, and syncopations which will mark your playing.

If you haven’t watch the Bruce Molsky video I posted in It’s All in the Bowing, take a few minutes to watch it now. And, here’s a video of David Bragger playing and then teaching Cripple Creek, including bow patterns. Just watch his classic old time fiddle style.

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