A Fiddler's Guide to Techniques and Skill Levels

This syllabus is an excellent thumbnail description of  the development of fiddle technique. - GW

Absolute beginners

For students who have never played before. The emphasis is on developing a basic technique and working towards playing some simple tunes.The Absolute Beginners class starts in August/September to coincide with the academic year. Don't worry if you're reading this in October or November, because there is a second, new absolute beginners' intake in January. The absolute beginners' class is for adults (ages 14 up) who have never held a fiddle before. There are usually some fiddles available for the first few weeks of term for those who want to learn but are not sure about committing themselves to an instrument right away. 

The basics are taught in this class - how to hold the fiddle etc, as well as some very simple 'standard' session tunes such as 'Calum's Road', 'Skye Boat Song'.


  • Development of proper violin hold
  • Development of "correct" left hand position
  • Development of "correct" bow hold
  • The ability to use full-length bows on a single string, keeping the bow straight
  • The ability to produce a consistent tone
  • Development of first, second and third finger use
  • Co-ordination between bow and left-hand fingers
  • Basic understanding of simple rhythm
  • Ability to play a few simple, recognisable melodies at a slow pace


For students who have achieved the targets in the absolute beginners' class or for newcomers who have perhaps played a little in the past; or for people who have some basic knowledge of fiddle technique.


  • Continued development and honing of left-hand position
  • Continued work on bow hold and relaxed right arm
  • The ability to produce a smooth tone
  • The ability to cross the strings evenly
  • Development of correct finger positions for one octave in the keys of G, D and A major
  • The ability to articulate two-note slurs
  • Knowledge of simple time signatures (2/4, 3/4, 4/4)
  • Ability to play some basic fiddle tunes in contrasting tempi, e.g. waltz and march

Improving beginners

If you have perhaps played to a reasonable standard in the past; or you can play a selection of basic tunes.


  • Well-developed left-hand technique and nimble fingering
  • Comfortable playing on all four strings
  • Play with some depth in the tone
  • Fluency in string-crossing and well-developed bowing arm
  • Comfortable using slurs, in particular slurring across strings
  • Secure knowledge of simple time and understanding of 6/8
  • Good intonation and secure understanding of fingering across four strings for keys of G, D and A major - in particular, use of extended third finger and "close" and "wide" second finger
  • Ability to play at a reasonable pace a few contrasting styles, e.g. reel, jig, slow air, march, waltz

Lower intermediate

If you have recently played to a competent standard. Students should have a repertoire of contrasting fiddle tunes.


  • Fully developed and consistent technique
  • Good bow control with the ability to control tone production, dynamics, slurring, string crossing, etc.
  • Ability to play in a range of major and minor keys: C, G, D and A major; A, E, and B minor
  • Comfortable playing with all left-hand finger arrangements, especially fourth finger and "pulled back" first finger
  • Firm understanding of rhythm, e.g. dotted rhythm, triplets, Scotch snaps and all note values
  • Basic knowledge of ornamentation - grace notes and mordents
  • Ability to "phrase" a tune
  • Firm knowledge of fiddle styles and idioms, and the ability to play slow airs, waltzes, marches in 4/4 and 6/8, strathspeys, jigs and reels, etc. wtih fluency and accuracy

Upper intermediate

If you have clear experience in fiddle playing-

Targets: as for lower intermediate, with the following additions.

  • Ability to play in a wide range of keys including E major, F major, B flat major, D minor and F sharp minor
  • Some knowledge of third position
  • Development of vibrato
  • Ability to play in a wide range of compound and simple time signatures including 9/8 and 12/8
  • Ability to play with expression and phrasing
  • Well-developed knowledge of ornamentation, e.g. turns, cuts, double grace notes
  • Knowledge of all the main fiddle idioms, including 2/4/ pipe marches, 3/4, 6/8, hormpipes, polkas and strathspeys
  • Ability to play fluently in faster styles such as reels and jigs, close to full tempo


If you can play fiddle music to a high standard.

Targets: as for upper intermediate with the following additions.

  • Knowledge of all major and minor keys for playing fiddle music, including E flat major, C minor and G minor
  • Good knowledge of third position and basic knowledge of other positions such as second and fifth
  • Complete bow control and ability to articulate advanced fiddle techn iqeus, e.g. up-driven bow, cross slurring, 3-note slurring across the barline, birls, double-stopping, droning, harmonics, vibrato
  • Firm knowledge of advanced ornamentation, e.g. rolls and cuts, unisons, pipe ornamentation
  • Recognise and understand main characteristics of different Scottish fiddle styles, e.g Shetland, North East, West Coast, Borders
  • Recognise main features of non-Scottish fiddle styles, e.g. Irish, Cape Breton, Scandinavian, old-time American
  • Have understanding of time signatures such as 5/4 and 7/8
  • Some understanding of harmony and ability to improvise at a basic level
  • Ability to bow, phrase and ornament a tune in "your own" style
  • Ability to play fluently at the correct tempo in all fiddle styles, including slip jigs, slow reels, hornpipes, slow strathspeys and Irish reels

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