Fiddlers Need Friends

fiddlers-friend-coverI like practicing the fiddle. Actually, I do a lot more practicing on my own than I do playing fiddle with others. And I do love a good tutor, exercise book, and DVD course. A kind friend let me borrow his Suzuki Method books back in the beginning, which I very much appreciated. I did try them out, but I found that what I really needed was something tailored more to the fiddler, and fiddle music. What I eventually found was a small booklet chock full of exercises ‘specially for fiddlin’ chops, called The Fiddler’s Friend–Forty Fiddle Exercises to Improve Fingering and Bowing, by Mr. Randy Miller. Randy is a musician, author and publisher who’s been playing sessions and dances for over 40 years, and publishes on a variety of music related topics. His work can be found at, where you can also order The Fiddler’s Friend. He also leads the monthly session at McNeill’s Brewery in Brattleboro, Vermont, second Wednesdays at 7 pm.

The exercises in TFF seem to be organized from easier to more difficult, and there is an index at the front of the book that sorts each exercise into categories. For example, exercises targeting the first finger of the left hand are grouped together, as are those targeting the second, third and fourth fingers, and there’s also a group targeting bowing skills. Likewise, each exercise as written throughout the book has an illustration of a hand or a fiddle bow next to it showing what the emphasis of the exercise is, so you can easily find something appropriate on the fly. Bowing and fingering patterns are also written into the notation, and you are encouraged to follow these suggestions closely, as doing so should yield the best results. The author also says to “play the exercise(s) first at a slow tempo. Repeat several times, increasing the speed each time.” That’s good advice, and I would add that playing slowly enough to perform the exercises without mistakes is also key, and that you should not increase speed until you can do so.

One caveat–because there are no audio files accompanying the book, one needs to be able to read music at at least a basic level to use it.  I can read music at a basic level, fortunately, but I do better with something to play along with, so I have transcribed some of the exercises into a program called MuseScore, which will create a PDF (or .png, or jpeg) of the notation and also convert it into an mp3 file that you can play along to. MuseScore is free and can be downloaded from (There were a couple kind members of one of the fiddle-related forums online that shared some files of this sort with me awhile back, but I’ve since made a few more. If anyone is interested in them contact me via the contact form on this website.)

Here’s an example of one of the exercises from the book, called “Nimble Minor Pt 1.” They all have interesting descriptive names like that. This one targets the second finger and bowing. An MP3 can be found HERE.24-_nimble_minor_pt-_1-1.png

Now, as I mentioned audio does not come with the book. However, there is apparently an app for Mac iOS (8.3 or later) available on iTunesI have not used this app, so I can’t review it here, but it looks like it includes video clips of Mr. Miller playing the various exercises so that you can hear how they should sound and possibly even play along. If I manage to get a chance to use the app I’ll tell you what I think. the cost is $24.99, but I’m sure it’s worth every penny.

I highly recommend this book as an aid to finer fiddlin’! Go get it and start practicin’!



Spotlight on Flute!

We recently have been visited by a new member who plays the flute. She’s pretty much only played the silver concert flute so far, but has bought a simple system, 6-hole flute as well. This got me thinking about how beginners/new converts to Irish music don’t always know what their new instrument is capable of, given that they put in the hours for practice, of course! (Hint, hint, Ms. McA!) So today, for our newest member, I present a number of fine players of the flute in the Irish tradition:

First up, Katherine Mcevoy. I fell in love with her playing because of her collaboration with Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh and Mícheál Ó Raghallaigh on the album Comb Your Hair and Curl It.

Of course, no flute player list is complete without Matt Malloy, former member of the The Bothy Band, Planxty, and The Chieftains. He is widely considered the man at the apex of Irish flute playing. Here is just one of I am sure many hundreds of examples of his playing to be found on YouTube. He’s playing at a fairly moderate tempo here, and you can really see what all his digits are up to:

Here’s Harry Bradley, who I first heard on an album with fiddler Paul O’shaughnessy called …Born For Sport. Looove his easy style and his variations.

Tara Diamond. From Northern Ireland, here playing a couple Flings with her husband, Dermot. Lovely stuff.

Patsy Hanley. Playing one of my favorite jigs. I’ll let you guess which one.

And there are SOOOO many more amazing flute players out there. This list is a little random, but a good discussion of fine fluters can be found at

You can look forward to spotlights on other Irish trad instruments as well, so keep coming back!




Strike the Gay Harp

I was listening to an album by Kevin Crawford called In Good Company today, and this one jig stood out to me, and it turns out it’s because my musician friends play it at sessions. It’s called Strike the Gay Harp, and I love it. It has three parts, in the key of D. Here a link to a recording of my friends playing it, and a few videos from YouTube for your viewing and listening pleasure. Tell me what you think of it! I’ll post a vid of me playing it soon! But first–

My friends playing Strike the Gay Harp.


Dance Workshop in the works!

Hi folks! I am pleased to announce that the LVISS is hosting a dance workshop on June 28th, during the regular session time! In short, we’ll be demonstrating fiddle and dance styles, and having a dance workshop to teach you the dances themselves! Very basic overview, but should be loads of fun! Brought to you by the LVISS and The CT Cultural Heritage Society. More info below and on the workshops page.

FIDDLE M.A.D.!  Irish Fiddle Music and Dance Workshop

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 28TH, 5:30 – 8:30 PM (Please pre-register)

DeCice Hall, 1365 Northampton St, Holyoke, MA 01040


Dan Foster


Courtney Jay TCRG

Join the Lower Valley Irish Slow Session and our special guests Dan Foster and Courtney Jay TCRG as they introduce various styles of Irish fiddle music and Irish dance, and provide a chance for you to “get your feet wet” by teaching you to dance along! Solo step dance and group dance styles will be covered. Please wear comfortable shoes and clothing. This is primarily a dance workshop–no music will be taught, only shared! There will be a $10.00 suggested donation.

Bring a snack to share if you like, as there will be a short break. Liquid refreshments will be provided.

Space is limited, so please pre-register by sending your name and number of guests to

Dan Foster is a specialist performer and tutor of Irish and Scottish fiddle music, who honed his playing style under master musicians in Ireland before emigrating to New England from his home in the British Isles.

Courtney Jay TCRG is a champion Irish step-dancer who established her own Irish dance academy “Scoil Rince Luimni” in 2014 after studying under dancing masters in the Munster region.

Tommy Coen’s Reels

I recently learned two reels from my fiddle teacher, both called Tommy Coen’s reels.

According to “The Fiddler’s Companion:”

Coen was born in Urrachree, East Co. Galway, but moved with his family to Salthill, just west of Galway City, in the late 1920s. He started out as an accordion player, but later switched to the fiddle and it is for his skill on the latter instrument he is remembered. Coen worked as a conductor on Connemara buses and is said to have been inspired by the local scenery when composing his tunes. Flute player Mike McHale was overheard to tell a story about Coen during a concert at the East Durham Irish Arts Festival in 2000 (communicated by Mike Hogan). McHale was a boy who had picked up the tin whistle, and was entertaining himself by noodling around with it during his bus ride on his way home from school. Hearing him, the vehicle’s conductor approached him a asked, “Can you play that thing?” McHale answered, “A couple of tunes, Sir.” “Well then” said the conductor, “My name is Tommy Coen, will you come to the back of the bus, I have a fiddle under the seat.” Later, according to his student Séamus Walshe (Taylors Hill, Galway), when Coen’s health failed he returned to accordion playing, “putting his fiddle playing into the box. I think he wrote a total of about six tunes.

In this video, I know the first as Tommy Coen’s (or Sean Ryan’s,) and the second as Tommy Coen’s #2. I learned them both in G minor–not sure what key the video has them in. Really nice playing here, though. Enjoy!