About Fiddling: If You Can Hear It, You Can Play It!

Murphy HenryAlthough many of my recent blogs have been centered around banjo playing, it occurred to me today (while I was playing my fiddle) that this is the one place where I can write freely about fiddle playing! When I was writing my Banjo Newsletter column, which Casey has now taken over, (except that I’ll be writing for the 35th anniversary issue in November), my columns about fiddling were generally greeted with either a great big yawn, a loud groan (“Not the fiddle again!”) or a rapid turning of the page. I understand. BNL is a banjo magazine.

But this blog is for all the members of the Murphy Method Community and that includes fiddlers! So let me give you a quick rundown of my ongoing struggle with the fiddle, just to let you know where I’m coming from. (This is the “It’s All About Me” part. Feel free to skip ahead to the advice at the end!)

I have been messing with the fiddle for decades. Sometimes I love it passionately and play almost everyday. Sometimes I sorely neglect it and don’t take it out of the case for weeks. (Or years!) But nevertheless, like the poor, it seems to be with me always.

My fiddle journey started in high school when I took violin lessons for a couple of years. Of course this involved reading music, which I could already do, although not very well, from my piano lessons. But that was more or less a dead end. Then as my BNL columns chronicle, I toyed with bluegrass fiddle off and on for years. I was not a smashing success.

But five or six years ago, I once again got sort of serious about the fiddle. But this time, I did it differently. Instead of trying to learn somebody else’s version of a bunch of fiddle tunes, I decided to just play what was already in my head. I thought, “I’ve been playing bluegrass now for thirty years. I know how a lot of these tunes sound. I’ll just play them the way I hear them, and that will have to be good enough. It’s okay if they are not authentic, it’s okay if they are not perfect. They will be my versions and that will suffice.”

That thought was extremely freeing to me and has stood me in good stead until this day. And it sure made playing the fiddle a lot more fun!

So here’s my advice to all you fiddlers: Don’t be afraid to try to play the songs you hear in your own head. Simple songs are probably best to start with. “Happy Birthday,” “Mary Had A Little Lamb,” “Are You Sleeping Brother John,” “You Are My Sunshine,” “This Land Is Your Land.” One of my beginning fiddle students recently started working on “Danny Boy” on her own and is doing very well. And don’t forget “Amazing Grace.”

I found out that many of the standard Christmas carols are easy to play on the fiddle. (Much easier than on the banjo!) Since my own students were doing so well with them, we recorded an entire DVD called Christmas Tunes for Fiddle But, hey, you can probably pick some of these out by ear yourownself. (You might start with “Joy To The World.”) The main thing is don’t be afraid to try. Go for it. If you can hear it, you can probably play it!