What about contest style fiddling?

“I teach Texas Style or ‘contest style’ fiddling. Most of my fiddlers jam quite often and almost all also play guitar. I am not sure my kids would fit into the bluegrass perspective.”

From what you say, not many of your students might find this class “for them”. But it’s also true that being able to “fake” solos and do tasteful backup on songs that come up at a jam is a skill that some “contest style” fiddlers might want to add. This skill is less about well-practiced technique than just getting out in a bluegrass situation and “learning how to play shortstop” where, while there are ground rules, no one really knows just what’s going to happen. Depending on what sort of jamming experience a student has had or wants, this kind of opportunity might be helpful.

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Is fiddle notation or tab used at Wernick Method classes/camps?

Either way, tab or standard notation, is just fine as a way of learning solos that someone else has created. But in bluegrass jamming, people have to “think on their feet” and learn to come up with solos based on their ability to follow chord progressions with notes that fit in the chords, and put in melody notes or pre-learned “licks” where they can. So we actually don’t use written notation at the camp at all, but work on developing ear skills. Since you are already a singer, you probably can already find melodies by ear, and that’s the kind of thing we encourage at the camp. Since we keep the tempos nice and slow, learning to solo this way gets a chance to happen at an easy pace, and there are lots of chances to try solos on good but simple bluegrass songs.

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What about chords on the fiddle?

“I am being taught to play fiddle as a lead instrument and I don’t understand about chords on the fiddle.”

This is typical, if that’s any comfort. Our teachers have taught the basics to a lot of fiddlers, even though many of them don’t play fiddle!

“I thought arpeggios were just extended chords broken up into single notes the fiddle can play, and a way to beat into the brain just which notes are acceptable choices when everyone else is playing a certain chord.”

That’s exactly right.

“But you say I need to learn honest-to-goodness chords on the fiddle.”

More experienced fiddle players learn which pairs of adjacent strings might BOTH have acceptable notes (one might be an open string, while the other is stopped), and then you actually would have a 2-note chord.

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How should fiddlers prep for jam class or camp?

The advertised requirement is “able to change smoothly between simple chords”. A fiddle doesn’t exactly chord, but a fiddler needs to be able to follow simple chord progressions, and be aware when the song is on a G, or on a D, etc. That allows for playing of correct backup notes for either bowing or “chopping”, and if she ventures a lead, using licks that are most easily categorized by what chord(s) they go with.

Important: For bluegrass jamming, it is not really sufficient for a person to know only how to play tunes and lead lines. This is where bluegrass and other kinds of music differ: All instruments are expected to play backup, for which there is no printed music available. You just have to watch (the guitar player’s left hand) and listen for chord changes, and play something appropriate, even if it’s a single note for each chord.

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