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Better Banjo Through Fiddling

For the past year or so, the idea of learning to play the fiddle has become a growing fascination. Approaching five years of playing the banjo in March 2013, the "devil's box" seems like the next logical step in my old-time musical education. This winter, I've finally decided. As a Christmas gift from my wife, I'm now on the hunt for a solid, entry-level instrument.

Considering how many fiddlers I know, playing with others is not my main goal in learning a second instrument, but rather to improve my ability to accompany a fiddler on banjo and further understand the music itself.

Picking Up the Melody
Learning the basic melody of a tune can be difficult at times with a banjo. I've considered learning to become a world-class whistler or investing in a couple harmonicas to better pick up melodies, but a fiddle seems most fitting. After all, old-time music is primarily "fiddle tunes."

Improving My Ear
While I've gotten much better at getting away from learning tunes from tablature, it's still a crutch. The best way I can think of to break free is to learn the fiddle entirely by ear. Not only will it enhance my ability to pick up melodies on the fly, it will help me recognize how the banjo can pair with fiddle without copying someone else's arrangement.

Honing My Banjo Skills
Everything I've read and the people I've talked to say learning the fiddle will improve my banjo playing. There's no shortage of good fiddlers in my area, but there does seem to be a lack of rock-solid banjo players. I'd like to help change that. Expanding my general knowledge of the music can only help.

One area in particular that troubles me is hearing the chord changes in a tune when played solely by a fiddle. Oftentimes, our local jams will devolve into a couple fiddlers and me playing tunes — usually ones I don't know. Without a guitar or bass around, it's tough for me to recognize the chord structure.

Down the road, I would like to learn to read music, as I own the Milliner-Koken Collection of American Fiddle Tunes and would like to finally put it to use.

What say you, readers? How many of you play both banjo and fiddle? How has the fiddle shaped your banjo playing? Sound off in the comments!


  1. Sounds like a great idea to me. I've been playing fiddle for 20 years and recently bought a banjo. I know I will now become the brunt of every banjo joke I've ever told..... but it was worth it.


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