How to Accompany on the Fiddle

by Steven J. Miller
The fiddle and violin are the same instrument, with different playing techniques.

The fiddle and violin are the same instrument, with different playing techniques.

Polka Dot RF/Polka Dot/Getty Images

Learning to play an accompaniment part on the fiddle requires expert knowledge of music theory and a strong fiddle technique. Fiddle accompaniments can be written out in their entirety, or consist of a collection of chord symbols over which the fiddle player must improvise. Daily practice will enhance your ability to improvise and play accompaniments. With the right practice plan, you can develop your skill to perform accompaniments with style as a professional would.

Items you will need

  • Metronome
  • Circle of fifths chart (See Resources)
Step 1

Memorize the major and minor key signatures. Learn the number of sharps and flats in each key by memorizing the circle of fifths.

Step 2

Develop competence playing major and minor scales on the fiddle. Scales are the basis for playing all tonal music. Most fiddle playing requires an understanding of tonal scales. Memorize the scales and increase the speed until you can play all 24 major and minor scales in less than two minutes. Do this by using a metronome, starting at 60 beats per minute and increasing the speed gradually.

Step 3

Learn how to identify the four types of triads. Triads consists of major, minor, augmented and diminished chords. A major chord consists of a major third between the root and the bass and a minor third between the third and fifth. Minor chords are major chords with a lowered third. Diminished chords are minor chords with a lowered fifth. Augmented chords are a major chord with a raised fifth.

Step 4

Learn about the four main type of seventh chords: dominant, minor, fully-diminished and half-diminished. The dominant seventh consists of a major triad and a minor seventh. Minor triads have a minor triad and a minor seventh. Fully-diminished seventh chords have a diminished triad and a diminished seventh, while half-diminished chords have a minor seventh. Sevenths are calculated by the distance from the root.

Step 5

Read chord symbols by looking at the letter and the quality of the chord. For instance, a C7 indicates that you must play a C dominant seventh chord. A chord with two notes, such as C/E, means that you will play a C major chord with an E in the bass. Cm7 indicates to play a C minor seventh chord.

Step 6

Learn to play chords on the fiddle. To play an interval, choose two notes on adjacent strings that you can easily finger with one hand. Pull the bow across both strings simultaneously. Use the chord symbols in the music as a guide for what pitches are acceptable to play. Play accompaniment accents by changing the chords on the first and third beat in common-time and the first beat in triple-time. Play three notes, by simultaneously playing three strings with one bow.

Step 7

Add some grace notes right before the main beats to spice up the accompaniment. When possible, echo the melody by playing fragments of the soloists line, either in time with the soloist or immediately after. Work with the soloist to create a sort of conversation within the song.

Step 8

Run up and down major and minor scales, depending on the key, to help add an exciting, melodic element to the background. Find a proper balance between playing too many notes and too few on the fiddle. In general, if your part becomes more interesting than the soloist's, you are playing too much.

About the Author

Steven Miller graduated with a master's degree in 2010. He writes for several companies including Lowe's and IBM. He also works with local schools to create community gardens and learn environmentally responsible gardening. An avid gardener for 15 years, his experience includes organic gardening, ornamental plants and do-it-yourself home projects.

Photo Credits

  • Polka Dot RF/Polka Dot/Getty Images