Dave playing with Edinburgh band Corra

image left: Gavin Brown


James Ford: private lessons in Newburgh, Fife

Fiddle: (Violin)

Of all the instruments out there, the fiddle – along with the Church Organ perhaps, requires pure dedication. It’s an instrument too that requires the most of ones listening skills.

Once tuned properly most instruments have set notes which play their pitch accurately. A piano has fixed pitch keys, a guitar frets, woodwind have pre drilled holes, brass have set lengths of tube (apart from the trombone which requires similar listening skills). Church Organ Console. The Fiddle is on a par with the Organ & needs commitment.

The fiddle though has no frets & relies only on accurate finger positioning to gain true pitch. Even the most un-musical can tell when this instrument is not played to pitch– perhaps proving that they are actually not so un-musical after all.

The fiddle belongs to the string family including the Viola, Cello, and Double Bass and has the highest pitch range in this class of instruments. The listeners ear is more sensitive at this end of the pitch spectrum to incorrect pitch & a fiddle player, with stings only a quarter the length of a double bass, has to be 4 times more accurate - to less than a millimeter.

A fiddle - from the fiddlers eye view: North Fife / Perth fiddle lessons
fiddle & bow: Abernethy tuition A fiddler must listen intently every split second of playing & has to adjust the fingers of the left hand in minute increments to gain the perfect pitch each note requires. fiddle bridge: fiddle lessons Newburgh

Advice for the beginner:

Buy yourself a fiddle!

You'll need to tune your fiddle to G, D, A & E. E being the highest (thinnest) string on the right as you hold it. Use an electronic tuner to help you..& / or a musical pal!

2 fiddles: Violin workshops Fife selection of hanging bows
close up fiddle tail-piece: play the fiddle, Fife
Now try a few exercises:
  • Rosin your bow. Just draw it accross a block. Available at any music shop. Don't touch the hair. Grease from your fingers ain't good on it & it will refuse to take the rosin. Pay attention to the ends of the bow.
  • Draw your bow across one of your 4 strings.
  • Try not to hit any of the others. Use the whole bow.
  • Keep the horsehair between the bridge & fingerboard..
  • Keep the bow perpendicular to the strings. Use a mirror to help you.
  • Keep pressure on the strings constant at both the tip & heel ends of the bow. You'll find you'll be using different muscles for each end.
  • Keep the speed of the bow constant. Listen to the note. It should not change in volume or tone.
An electronic tuner. The Yamaha is great - but doesn't turn itself off...can be annoying & costly on batteries
  • Now add a finger to the finger board to shorten the string. Use an electronic tuner to tell you if you hit a 'true' note & shift your finger up & down until you do.
  • Try to play a scale using 1st, 2nd, 3rd & 4th fingers on a low string.
  • Try the same on each string in turn.
  • Book a lesson - or workshop!
A squashed fiddle..
... James on Fiddle -

James ain't no Aly Bain, He's been playing fiddle since he was ~ 7, yet it remains an instrument he knows he'll ever fully master. It’s not really an instrument for a multi-instrumentalist… or jack of all trades…

But James has a special passion for this most challenging instrument & what he lacks in personal ability is compensated for by an appreciation of what is necessary & he is especially proud to infect beginners with the bug.

He played in Edinburgh folk sessions for many years, notably at the old ‘Green Tree’ in the Grassmarket (now Siglo). Having added a fifth string to his beloved fiddle – one handed on to him from his grandfather, he played harmonies as he was learning the tunes. The fifth string gives extra range & can enable the playing the tunes an octave lower to fill out the sound. 5 string fiddles are now fairly easy to obtain.

Fiddle tail-piece: Fiddling in Newburgh

Though in the Herculean Ceilidh Band for 9 years, he played fiddle only occasionally, but leads the tunes occasionally if he's the only fiddler in town...

James has given up the fiddle many times knowing he’ll never be as good as he’d feel happy with, but it always lurked it’s bent scroll again & demanded to be played. In March 2008 he taught his first fiddle student & feels he is in a position to get beginners started & nurture enthusiasm in advancing beginners.

Scroll & pegs of a fiddle Dave fiddling at a Bear Session, Newburgh

Weavers Hall, Bank Close, Newburgh, Fife
KY14 6EG

email: james

mobile: 07970 744986
landline:01337 842434

Dave J Ford peering through  ice sculpture