The start of the school year and a new season is right around the corner, and I’m thinking of ways to remind students of why they love this instrument. We need to harness the love and let it guide our daily practice. This can be difficult coming off of summer camps and informal schedules. Let me help!

Why did you choose the Fiddle?

I’m sure all of you have a story- maybe your parents picked the instrument and it stuck, or your child abandoned it and you decided to give it a try, or you heard someone play around a campfire or on stage. But often all these stories can be boiled down to this: you love the sound of the instrument, and the feeling you get when you make the sound. That is what needs to stay in focus. It’s the greatest gift that you can keep close to your heart. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves of how to get back to the simple truth of loving the sound and how it makes us feel.

Listen to your faves:

Make a playlist of all your favorite tunes and songs that have a fiddler. Actually, make lots of fiddle playlists- styles, tempos, tunes you want to learn, however you like to lump your favorites together. Listen all the time. In your car, while you’re cooking, working out, cleaning. Sing the fiddle parts. Figure out why you love that track. Is it the tone, the fills, the backup, the break that you love? In order to emulate your heroes, you need to be able to articulate what you enjoy about their playing.

Keep your fiddle case open:

Obviously, find a safe place in your home for your fiddle to live. But keep your instrument unpacked so you’re more likely to pick it up when you walk by and play a tune. It’s also one less step when it comes time to practice. Which leads me to...

Make an appointment with your fiddle:

Chances are, if you have an appointment with someone, you’ll show up. Practice can often be pushed off to the next day and then the next too easily. Establish a routine. My dad likes to practice in the morning for 15 minutes while the coffee is brewing and he’s toasting breakfast. His practice is taken care of for the day if he can’t get back to his fiddle, but chances are he’ll be motivated to pick it up after work because he didn’t get in as much time as he liked in the morning. And if you’re not a morning person, that’s okay. Just pick a time each day and set an alert on your phone so you know it’s time. It’s better to get your hands on your instrument every day for a shorter amount of time than binge practicing for hours every weekend.

What to practice:

My college professor told me to practice what I can’t do. I agree, that if you’re making the best use of your time, practice something that you can’t do yet. But if you’re trying to get back into the groove of practicing, I think you should play your favorite tunes. Make sure you’re playing the tunes that you think you sound good on, and that you feel content or happy when you’re playing. Give your hands and ears some love by playing tunes that you don’t need to work too hard for.

Here’s one possible way to break down of 30 minutes of practice:

5 minutes- warm-up by playing your 2 favorite tunes with a jam track

10 minutes- technique prep: work on your left hand and right-hand goals that pertain to the new tune you’re going to learn. Here’s an example: Left Hand- you’re going to work/learn a tune in D major so, play your D major maps, scales, say your note names out loud, review your 1, 4, and 5 chords in the key. Right Hand- you’re working your tone so you focus on keeping your bow parallel to the bridge on open strings and then add your D major scale to the mix so you can COMBINE both left and right-hand goals.

12 minutes- learn your new tune: maybe it’s just one phrase, but learn it really well and play it every time it comes around the tune. You don’t have to learn an entire tune in one day!

3 minutes- play your favorite tune again. Whatever is easy, as a reward!

The next day warm up by playing 1 tune in 2 minutes instead of 2 tunes in 5. Give those 3 remaining minutes to your new tune so you have time to review the phrase you learned yesterday and still have plenty of time to learn a new phrase.

Set goals:

Goals can be anything! Like, “I want to learn a new tune a week.” Or, “I need to learn chords to tunes I only know the melodies for.” And “I want to be able to jam this tune with my friends the next time I see them.” Often a social situation is a great motivator. No jam in your town? You could start one! Suggest to a friend so you can play together. Search out fiddle camps and festivals and put them on your calendar a year in advance so you can make sure to plan and look forward to an event!

Be a good friend to yourself:

Say positive things out loud to those voices in your head. Tell yourself that it’s never too late to start an instrument and you have a creative voice that you’re learning to express. Point out at least one aspect of your musicianship that’s improving, and remind yourself of what you’re working towards. Music is an art form and a gift that allows us to express what we can’t articulate. I’m proud of you for learning to make music!