5 Great Fiddle Tips

The Left Hand

(if you’re right-handed)

1 – Left hand finger pressure

Don’t press the left hand fingers down too hard.

There’s a tendency to do this when playing under pressure, or playing a tune you find really hard.  Or it could just be a bad habit that’s developed over time.

The best thing is to use just enough pressure to get a good, clean note.

The benefit of this is it makes your grip lighter and more relaxed, allowing for greater playing speed as well as more fluency in your playing.

Try playing something simple, like a scale, with the lightest possible pressure on each note.  Concentrate on how it feels for each finger.

2 – Slides (the technique, not the tune type)

Slides are a great addition to traditional tunes.  A slide occurs when you move the left hand finger along the string, keeping up the pressure on the string whilst bowing at the same time.

Listen to Martin Hayes’ playing for lots of examples of slides.

When executing slides, it’s important to:

Not press any harder with the left hand finger than you need to, whilst also making sure you don’t put too little pressure!

Hit the right destination note – in Irish music, slides go upwards in pitch – from a starting point to a destination note.  The location of the starting point doesn’t matter too much, but the destination note does.  So, for example, if you’re sliding up to G on the D string, you can start from F or F sharp, or somewhere in between, but you’ve got to finish on G, or it’ll just sound out of tune.

Remember that there is no set-in-stone rule when it comes to the length of the slide, or the amount of time it takes you to do it.  Some players like long, slow slides (Martin Hayes!) and others like short, quick ones.  The tempo of the tune will also be a deciding factor.

3 – The neglected little finger

The left hand little finger/pinkie is very much underused in comparison to the other fingers, leaving it less accurate/weaker/less able to move independently.  When it’s required for use in a tune, we can often hurriedly play it, hoping that it’ll go vaguely in the right place.  The little thing feels like it has a mind of its own, but we can have more control of it by devoting some time to relevant exercises.  Here are some that will help:

Try to keep all left hand fingers close to the fingerboard – unused fingers just hovering above the string.

4 – Don’t grip too tight

Improve playing speed and fluency by not gripping the neck of the fiddle too hard.  If you use a shoulder rest, it should be easy to hold the instrument between your shoulder bone and chin, meaning the left hand is free to play notes without being restricted by having to support the fiddle.

5 – Improving intonation and little finger strength

To generally improve intonation try playing a tune you know well in a more difficult key.

Here’s an example using the first part of the polka Davy Davy Knick Knack – firstly in the normal key of G:

And here transposed up to A.  To make it more difficult and give the little finger a challenge, play all the asterisked notes with the little finger.  No open notes!