Now that I've setteled on the fact that scales ARE useful, I'm wondering where I should start. I'm keeping it in first position for now, and can't really get that pinky reach to hit those higher notes.
As of now I've got G major (1 and 2 octave). D major, A major, and D dorian(?) any resources out there for those of us that are musically illiterate? (i.e. can't read sheet music, yet)
Planning on doing some looking around myself, but it doesn't hurt to ask around!
No. Scale books assume you can read music at a basic level. If you are going to do scales, it would be in your best interest to learn to read them.
Aerobics for Fiddlers is great, and has a CD that has audio tracks of all the tracks. You can use the CD to play by ear if you are that good, but, as usual, teaching cds are just too fast for most learners. Rip the CD to your computer and slow down the tracks to match your ability.
Work on the C scale. If your fingers are tight it can be difficult at first, but the scale will really help them loosen up and make you a better fiddler. Don't worry if you can't read musical notation. Just let your do-re-mi instincts be your guide. You can find the C to start with by doing the do-re-mi on the G string. It'll be Fa. Under your ring finger. Don't worry yet, either, if you can't hit the C atop the second octave.
One Idea for you, if you are not going to pursue reading standard notation, is checking on scale books/studies for the mandolin, which often have tablature notations. "Mel Bay's Mandolin Scales and Studies by Ray Bell" would be one such book with both standard notation and tablature.
I wouldn't try any scales other for the time being than those that specifically apply to your genre of music? OT music? Stick to the G, D and their related minors. Maybe A. Irish = the same. C scales and D dorians won't help you much in those genres.
Lots of old time tunes in C. Like Lonesome Fiddler, I'd go there next, after G, D, and A. Mixolydian of those keys are only one note different from the major scale. D, E, and maybe A Dorian might be useful, and only one more note different. I've been practicing F and Bb a little too, even though I only play one or tunes tune in each of those keys - but you still have to know where the notes are.
G D and A scales are the logical place to start. Then move on to two octave scales in those keys. Work with a tuner on and listen so your ear becomes trained along with your fingers. On reaching that pinky tone. If instead of putting your hand in a position to push straight down with the index finger to pick up that second tone place your hand so you have to reach back a smidgen to reach that second tone in the G D and A scales. THat will allow you that extra bit to reach with your pinky. R/
Louis, If I'm getting familiar with a piece of music I practice the scale that the key signature is of that tune. For instance, if the key signature is F# then you would practice the G Scale. Practice this and the Arpeggios for the G Scale. Printed instructional material will help. "THE FIDDLERS RED BOOK of SCALES & ARPEGGIOS" by Gordon Stobbe will be of benefit. Hope this helps...
If you're not reading the dots yet then, clipping on a tuner & getting a print out of the scale (writing the letter under each note) is a handy way to get the idea as you go. Matching the note to the tuner takes away some of the uncertainty for the first while until you tune in the ears & the fingers. It won't be long before you won't even bother with it, but it's a reassurance initially.
I second amwildman's suggestion on Aerobics For Fiddlers. You can, I suspect, learn basic notation from the first exercises as they show the notes and the finger to use. I read music, so can't vouch for the learning from the book. The book is good for dexterity (and I have played guitar and banjo for years, but the positioning of the noting fingers is sufficiently different to require a little work) as well as noting.
I second the advice to play along with recordings of the scales. This was one of the best things that I did as a beginner to help with intonation. IMO, the more you can focus on your ear, the better. If you're interested in Irish music, I found Paul McNevin's book/CD useful as a beginner-- it has first position scales for practice in notation and on the CD, plus a good selection of tunes appropriate for beginners.