Younger students who have already learned to play the violin by ear present unique challenges and rewards to fiddle teachers. If the child has been trained through the Suzuki Method, the transition to fiddling is often painless. Learning by ear is already a habit and Suzuki students generally have extraordinary memories for tunes. Things to watch out for are a strong, relentless vibrato and using too much bow. Suzuki students are trained to use long, powerful bow strokes near to the bridge for a big, beautiful tone, but this will slow them down on fast fiddle tunes and make them sound too classical. Since vibrato is actively discouraged in the faster fiddle tunes, you will have to keep reminding students not to use it as they learn tunes at slower tempos.
Traditional Classical Training
I’ve taught both younger students with traditional classical training and older folks who learned the violin many years ago. Fiddling can be a great loosening up for violinists who only ever learned to play notes off the page. The memorization, harmony, backup, improvised bowings and ornaments will all be new territory. For classically trained students it can be exciting but also overwhelming. I’ve tried starting an advanced violinist off with a hard, exciting fiddle tune but it is almost invariably an exercise in frustration. Fancy Irish reels have complicated patterns and are hard to memorize. I’ve learned to start even the most accomplished player on very repetitive, easy to remember tunes. You don’t need to pick tunes with only high 2s but a straightforward, easy rhythm is usually appreciated. Once these players have developed their memories you can move on to whatever they’re interested in.
Adult Fiddle Students
Adult students of the fiddle are out to have fun. This doesn’t mean they are not serious and hardworking - some are - but they are usually lovers of folk or Celtic music who are looking for a fun hobby. Many great fiddlers taught themselves as adults and some still do but more and more folks these days of all ages are looking to make the learning process easier - and fun - by finding a fiddle teacher. In addition to demonstration, explanation, and critique, I often find myself encouraging, reassuring, and sharing stories with these students. Adults tend to get frustrated easily - after all, they can drive a car, balance a checkbook, raise children, but feel foiled by the fiddle. It helps to remind them that all fiddle playing starts with some squeaks and that in time they can develop their memory and muscle control. In addition to “buck up” speeches, adult students are empowered by knowledge. When a student asks a question go into detail with your answer - if you don’t know the answer, give a good guess and look it up so you’ll have it ready next time. Areas which seem to require endless discussion include the positioning and movements of the bow arm, the sources and solutions of squeaks, scales and key signatures, types of tunes and styles and how to recognize them, in addition to the usual stumpers like vibrato, string crossings, and shifting.