I 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 fiddlecasebooks.com, 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 musescore.org. (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.
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 iTunes. I 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’!