Sandy, who is about my age (the best age!) has been taking fiddle lessons from me now for two or three months. Maybe even four. She's never played an instrument before. Knowing that if she invested a lot of money in an instrument, she'd feel obliged to stick with it, she bought a good new German fiddle.
We started out slowly, as I always do, just learning to pull the bow across the open strings. Then it was on to "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star." We just took it in pieces and Sandy had it down in about a month. She's very dedicated to her practice. This tune is on our Beginning Fiddle DVD so she had a reference. During this time we were also working on the A major scale.
Because Sandy is an adult and is not clamoring to play in a bluegrass band or even a bluegrass jam session, I veered away from the DVD at this point. I don't think "Cripple Creek" makes a whole lot of musical sense to someone who had never heard it. Instead, I started her on "Are You Sleeping Brother John." Since this tune is not on the DVD, Sandy had to memorize each section during the lesson. (I'm not sure why we didn't use a cassette player. Maybe she doesn't have one anymore.) Again, we took it in sections, doing only four notes at a time. In addition to playing the song on her fiddle (and since I told her not to write anything down), Sandy would sing the song to herself when she took her daily walk. Again, we had it down in about a month. And "Twinkle" kept getting better.
It was when Sandy was learning her next song "Mary Had A Little Lamb" that the ear training started to pay off. Sandy had mentioned that "Twinkle" was easier to learn than "Brother John" because you stayed on the same note for more bow strokes, so I'd picked "Mary" for exactly that reason. So I showed her the first phrase "Mary Had A Little Lamb" and when she had no trouble with those seven notes, I'd added the rest of the line. Then I told her the first part of the next line was the same as the first phrase. She played that easily. Then she did the most astounding thing: on her own, and never having played this song before, she played the last part of the song ALL BY HERSELF, "its fleece was white as snow." I was SO HAPPPY! And so proud of her. And she was happy and pretty pleased with herself. As she should have been.
And like I told her, this is how it's supposed to happen. When you learn by ear, especially if you've never played anything before, the first tunes almost have to be learned by rote---with the teacher showing you the notes. And if you stick with the "by ear" part of the program and don't write anything down, then your ear starts to develop and, sure enough, you start to hear where the notes are yourownself. And then you are on the road to being able to pick out other tunes---whole tunes---by yourself without the aid of a teacher. This is not to say that Sandy will be picking out "The Star-Spangled Banner" next week or even "Old MacDonald" but I'm sure the tunes she'll be learning will be much easier (we're fixing to start on Christmas carols from our "Christmas Fiddle Tunes" DVD) and she will be able to pick out parts of them by herself.
So to all of you out there, struggling with the fiddle (or any instrument), I hope Sandy's story encourages you to hang in there!!!!!!