Play Fiddle by Ear


Friday, October 9, 2015
8:23 PM

How to Learn Fiddle for Free

Let’s talk about how to play fiddle by ear. To play fiddle by ear one of the important things to know is the key that you are playing in. I am no virtuoso but I know enough to have a very enjoyable playing experience with a band.

The best keys to play are G, C, D, E, F,and A, major because you can use open strings.The violin strings are tuned G D A E. The keys of G and C are easiest because all the strings can be played open. The key of A and E you would want to play on the A and E strings and use fingering on the lower strings.

When I play in flat and minor keys I am not as proficient but find the notes by ear and make fewer changes and hold the notes longer. This is just general information to give you an idea of how to approach the fiddle by ear.

Many worship songs use long slow notes with fewer changes. Playing fiddle is a light quick touch and is best in the keys of G, C, D. for beginners.

How to Play fiddle

What you do with the bow is as important as fingering the notes. Don’t over tighten the bow as it will create bounce and cause squeaks. Never touch the hair of the bow or the rosin because oil from your skin will cause squealing. And always take the tension off the bow when not in use to prevent the bow from warping. It costs around $50 to rehair a bow and that is the cost of good beginner bow, So unless you are an accomplished player with an expensive bow you will be served just as well by the purchase of a new bow. When you buy a used violin, the condition of the bow is just as important as the fiddle.

Kremona violin electric pickup

Learn to Play Fiddle

Some of the bow techniques I use are a long stroke then a short up and back and then a long stroke. This gives a nice country bluegrass sound. To play fast I use short strokes and quick finger work and use open strings. You don’t have to press hard but keep a light touch with just enough pressure so that you don’t squeal. Another bow technique I use is what I call “rocking the bow.” I play the lower strings open and then rock to a higher string where I will change the note. When combining the different bow techniques it makes for fun fiddle playing by ear.

Vibrato is achieved by quick back and forth movement of the wrist on your fingering hand. Accomplished players do this well, I am working on it.

If you are looking for a quality starter kit check this one out.

I highly recommend the Bunnel G2 starter kit if you can afford it. I own the Bunnel G1 and it is excellent considering the price. You can get an inexpensive Chinese lacquered violin that is good to see if you have the knack to learn. But if you want an oiled, violin with European design in an affordable starter kit this is the ticket.

The Bunnel G2 violin starter kit


How to amplify your violin in an affordable recommended way

I have a Kremona violin pickup that costs about $80 with Amazon.
It is easy to install and will not hurt or alter your violin.

Kremona has a pickup with a volume control but it is not highly recommended.

I have found that it is best to go through a direct box when plugging into a sound system. I have found a Direct box with a volume control that works for me. It costs under $30 at Amazon.

When I use this combination I get a clean sound without any buzz. There is good volume and you will want to tone it down.

This will also allow you to play through amplifiers and add effects, such as echo, chorus, and reverb.

Please check the links that are in the picture of the product if you are interested.

  My favorite fiddle styles                  

A volume control direct box

Texas Style

It has highly developed melody variations and jazz style backup from the other instruments. A little slower than old-time and bluegrass. An example would be Bob Wills. This is probably the closest to the style that I play and why I put it first.

Western Swing

This style originated from the popular swing music. It often brought on the powerful improvisational jazz soloists, like Jean-Luc Ponty and Joe Venuti.


A style originated by the “Acadians” a group of French settlers from Nova Scotia that moved to southern Louisiana because of harassment by the British. I love this music as it is accompanied by squeeze box and Yahoos that only Cajuns can do. They stayed isolated till the beginning of the twentieth century.


Bill Monroe brought out this musical style in the late 1930’s. He added improvisation and showmanship. This style is for the audience to listen to.

This style of fiddling comes from the Appalachian Mountains in the eastern United States.It uses model sounds and techniques.


Learn old time fiddle for newbies.

This style was pre-bluegrass string band. It had country dance rhythms. It included music from vaudeville, minstrel shows, and British Isles folk traditions. Some of the early 78 rpm country recordings and old fiddle songs were in the old-timey style.
Appalachian tunes and listening tunes unsuitable for dancing were also a part of the old-timey fiddle style.


In this style, the accentuations and melody are on an equal basis. Several scales and modes are used in Irish fiddle.
The Ionian mode (major scale), Dorian (a scale starting and ending on the second note of the major scale), Mixolydian ( a scale beginning and ending on the fifth note of the major scale), and Aeolian (natural minor scale) are equally common.

What to look for when buying a fiddle.

When buying your first fiddle you probably don’t want to spend a lot of money to find out if you will take to it.The Chinese make very inexpensive fiddles that quality violin makers call VSO’s. (violin-shaped objects). They are varnished as compared to oiled. Varnish is heavy and limits the sound from the vibrating tone woods.
If you are wanting to try your hand at fiddle to see if you can learn, a Chinese fiddle for about $100 is a good way to go.
Amazon offers some very affordable choices.
I don’t know about the $36 model. The one I started on was about $100. When I upgraded I was able to sell it for what I had bought it for.

The Bow

Make sure the bow is straight and has plenty of hair. The price of a rehaired bow is about the same as an inexpensive but usable new bow.

Fiddle tonewoods

The best tonewoods and most commonly used are high altitude sitca spruce for the top.
The high altitude or cold climate produces a tight narrow wood grain and makes the best sound. The backs and sides are made of curly maple. This is a beautiful wood with a grain that looks like curls. The more curls the better the wood for the violin.

I would appreciate any comments concerning this piece and am open to ideas and if I am incorrect about anything I would be happy to learn myself.

If you have any questions I would be happy to answer them. I will be promoting an excellent music company and showing affordable and quality instruments for beginners. I plan on adding video tutorials and product information so please stay tuned. All for you to discover your musical self.

Best regards,

Learn the violin for cheap at home.

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6 thoughts on “Play Fiddle by Ear

  • September 4, 2016 at 4:10 pm

    Hi Marty,

    This was a very enjoyable read. I’ve been meaning to play the violin for a while now, but I’ve been hesitating due to the price (they’re quite expensive in my area). Do you have any recommendations about which violin would be great for a beginner like me? I actually just want to learn how to accompany slow songs. 🙂

    Anyway, great post and I’m looking forward to reading more of your stuff!

    • September 4, 2016 at 6:18 pm

      Hi Peter, thank you for your response to my webpage. From my own experience i Had not played fiddle in many years and wanted to see if I still had it or could get it back. I found a lightly used fiddle in a pawn shop that I bought for $55. I played that for a couple years and was in a church worship band when I sold it for $50 and upgraded to a European style violin.

      You can find inexpensive violins to start with for under $100 at Amazon or in music shops.They are usually varnished as opposed to oiled finishes but playable. The one I bought was probably around $100 new.

      In buying a used violin make sure all the strings are in good order and that the bow is straight and has plenty of hair. The bow will cost $50 to rehair and that is the cost of a new inexpensive bow. Unless you are very fortunate and observant it may be just as well to buy a new inexpensive violin.

      Another thing to be aware of is the hair on the bow. Horse hair is best and I have seen synthetic hair that is too slippery to make the strings vibrate.

      I wanted to just play slow back up but am now able to play lead and faster tunes.

      Best wishes on your fiddle playin,


  • April 30, 2016 at 6:57 pm

    Hi Marty, great article on playing fiddle by ear. It particularly interests me as I have just picked up the violin again after many years of not playing. I was a classical violinist when I was young but am now exploring different techniques and music which is really exciting. I too need to work on vibrato again as I don’t seem to be able to do it anymore. I’d love to get good enough to play with a band some time and if I do get good enough would love an electric violin. Do you have any thoughts or experience with electric. Can you suggest any good value instruments which don’t cost too much but sound good? Would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks

    • April 30, 2016 at 7:47 pm

      The classical experience that you have will help you. As I said in the article I try to play in keys where I can use the open strings. I tried an inexpensive electric pickup that I would not recommend. It is called a mighty mini and needed a preamp and I got too much buzz. I used a multi-directional mic but sometimes it was not as loud as I like. Amazon offers an assortment of violins, including electrics, from beginner to advanced. I am not familiar with the electric violins.
      It depends on your budget as to what you can buy. If you are interested in quality European-style craftsmanship
      with oiled finish as opposed to varnish here is a company that I bought from and am happy with my purchase.
      “Kennedy Violins” in Vancouver Wa. has a website that is very easy to understand and has violins from just under $200 to in the $1000s.
      If you talk with them please say I sent you as I am trying to get an affiliate agreement with them. Thanks for stopping by and I would be happy to help or answer and questions.


  • April 30, 2016 at 5:24 pm

    Playing the fiddle seems extremely difficult, when did you get into playing the fiddle and how was your learning experience? It seems like a very interesting instrument to play as I only play guitar. What would you suggest for someone in my shoes looking to get into playing? Texas style is very cool makes me think of a few cool songs

    • April 30, 2016 at 5:52 pm

      Hi Blake, as a guitar player way back in the ’70’s I was around many guitar players and we played at a local tavern. I decided to try my hand at fiddle to add something to the bands I was playing with.
      It does take a knack and a feel for the bow on the strings.
      To start, I would play in a key where you could use open strings. Work on the bow technique and develop muscle memory.
      I would buy an inexpensive fiddle to start with as they are good enough to learn with. Amazon offers some good starter fiddles. I would probably go at least into the $80 range. With a new fiddle, as the bow should be as good as the fiddle. I know of people that have bought used fiddles that had bows that were warped or low on hair.
      A new bow and getting one rehaired both cost about $50.I would also try to get a horse hair bow.I have seen synthetic hair bows that seemed to be too slippery to make the strings vibrate. Thanks for checking my fiddle page out and I would be glad to help or answer more questions.


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