Camp Prep for Novice Fiddle Players (mandolin prep on other side)
I am being taught to play ﬁddle as a lead instrument and I donʹt understand about chords
on the ﬁddle.
This is typical, if thatʹs any comfort. We teach a lot of ﬁddlers the rhythm basics.
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.
Thatʹs exactly right. A chord means any two or more notes which harmonise together. If you are
playing arpeggios of the “acceptable notes in a chord”, then any one or more of those same notes
can be used. If youʹre playing two at the same time, that can be called “a chord”, but one is
sufﬁcient to be passable. The notes in a chord are: the FIRST, THIRD, and FIFTH note of the
scale the chord is based on. Example: for a C chord, use the 1st, 3rd, and 5th notes of the C scale.
Those are: C, E, and G.*
To follow chords in bluegrass, you mainly need to know what notes are “acceptable” choices
behind each of the chords. The choices change as the chords change.
On our Slow Jam DVD, we start out with a bunch of two chord songs. They use G and D chords.
For those two chords, the acceptable notes are (for G:) G, B, or D, and (for D:) D, F#, A. So, for
instance, as the song changed from the part backed by a G chord, to D chord, on the ﬁddle you
could note a G and then an A. Or a G and then a D. Or .... a D and then a D!
When you look at it that way, the technical end is pretty simple, but you do have to keep the
“acceptable” choices in mind, and as you follow the chord changes, make sure to “stay legal”.
This kind of thing gets much easier the more you do it, to where after a while you can almost stop
thinking about it, while still doing it correctly. Thatʹs why I strongly recommend our Slow Jam
DVD. The chord changes are shown right on screen, and as the songs go by, you just follow
along. The DVD has 17 standards, all played slowly, and the entire chord vocabulary is G, C, D,
and A. Play along enough with that DVD, and youʹll be able to ﬁt right in at the camp, and set
your sights on more than just the basics of “being legal”.
Are there suggested ways to improve learning chords?
Pick two chords that are commonly played in the same song, and practice switching between
them. At ﬁrst, once youʹve made the chord, pick the strings one by one to make sure theyʹre all
clear. Then change the chord and do the same. Then back and forth, and in time, more quickly.
With practice, you will deﬁnitely get it.