There are a lot of great books with sheet music of fiddle tunes out there – and I’ve been drowning in them for pretty much as long as I can remember. However, going to a jam session or fiddle contest, or even just listening to a recording will quickly reveal that, unlike with classical violin playing, what’s written on the page doesn’t often have that much to do with what’s actually being played. No one is going to play a tune the exact same way, and most individual musicians don’t even play a song the same way every time.
To a classical trained violinist, used to following sheet music more directly, this may seem really confusing. However, do not despair! The trick is to figure out a tune’s “core melody” or what I call its “skeleton” – the most basic melodic flow of a song. Once you’ve got that down pat, then it’s time to add fun things, like slides, double stops, trills and grace notes, driving shuffle rhythms, blue notes, whatever strikes your fancy! One of my teachers once told me he had a “tool box,” of licks that he could plug in to any song whenever he thought it would sound good. But whatever you add, keep the tune’s skeleton playing in your head no matter what.
Here’s a quick video in which I play the same song three different ways, demonstrating how I learn, understand, and then add to a song’s core melody. Enjoy! 🙂