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Feb 13, 2020 - 12:14:48 PM
166 posts since 4/15/2019

Can anybody give some advice on improvising? I can improvise on a guitar but just can't seem to get the hang of it on a fiddle. For one thing I have no idea how to figure out what key I am playing in. With the guitar I can tell when a change is coming and what chord it is going to be even if it is a song I do not know just by hearing it. How do I get there on this blasted fiddle?

Feb 13, 2020 - 1:28:21 PM
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2564 posts since 2/3/2011

Can you hum or whistle an improvised musical harmony or lead to a recording? The trick for me is to tap into that with my fiddle. When it's working, I'm feeling the intervals and moving my left hand accordingly. I don't know where that came from, but when I was starting it always came as a surprise when it worked. Over the years it's become more reliable, if often uninspired. I've also learned how to fake my way off of a poorly chosen or fingered note and onto a better choice. Mostly. It's really hard in keys I don't use a lot. If you can't hum or whistle like this, I don't know what to say except keep hacking away and await the miraculous..

Feb 13, 2020 - 2:38:03 PM

2040 posts since 10/22/2007

The key is easy. On average, the last note played, in the verse, and/ or chorus is the key.
Puzzling out a melody or some improvised break for me started from scale work. Chord theory for me came later. You could simply arpegiate the chords of the tune, but that ain't the melody.
In an interview with the great Johnny Gimble, he said somebody told him to get where if you can hum it, you can play it. That takes alot of focused practice time. At least it did for me. To me it's a language. I don't have as much old time vocabulary as i do bluegrass or country. I could even take stabs at blues, jazz, rock/pop and swing.  I'm not a purist of anything. That seems to limit my chances to play music. Best of Luck

Edited by - farmerjones on 02/13/2020 15:01:28

Feb 13, 2020 - 3:19:50 PM
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251 posts since 12/2/2013

Use this old post

Also here's a PDF listing many improv techniques in all keys, it usually goes over people's headsmiley

Feb 13, 2020 - 4:28:42 PM
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2612 posts since 9/13/2009

Originally posted by old cowboy

Can anybody give some advice on improvising? I can improvise on a guitar but just can't seem to get the hang of it on a fiddle. For one thing I have no idea how to figure out what key I am playing in. With the guitar I can tell when a change is coming and what chord it is going to be even if it is a song I do not know just by hearing it. How do I get there on this blasted fiddle?

Not sure what you are asking... but the instrument makes no difference, "just hearing" it works the same' as does improvisation. That is, key and chord changes are defined by sound. The only thing different is physically where notes are on an instrument.

Feb 14, 2020 - 12:56:42 AM
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1411 posts since 4/6/2014

Try pentatonic scales for a start, then add the differnet "flavours" over simple changes

Feb 14, 2020 - 8:09:24 AM
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130 posts since 1/30/2018

I suppose it make a difference what you are trying to improvise - back up to another musician? Coming up with a whole new tune?

If you are working with standard tunes you already know (can hum), start with the melody straight and simple, and your other doodly-doo's will come along when they're ready. Finding the key is a start, but it doesn't really tell you everything you need to know, at least not on fiddle. Start plain, and trust the tune to tell you what it needs.

Feb 14, 2020 - 10:22:41 AM
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4826 posts since 9/26/2008

I'm going to say what boxbow and farmerjones said boils it down pretty well. IF you want to take the time to learn the chords and theory and whatnot, by all means do. But if all you want to do is improvise, start small with playing actual songs/melodies you know but have never played. "Happy Birthday" Christmas Carols, old cowboy songs (see what I did there?),... The point being if you can pluck those melodies out of your head (pick a key, run the scale then play the melody) you are on your way to plucking out the melodies you make on the spot (improvising, no?). There's really not much more to it unless you are improvising over jazz changes or constant key changes where the melody gets ignored until the end (I know, I know, jazz is more than that). 

Feb 14, 2020 - 10:28:18 AM
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4826 posts since 9/26/2008

If you are asking about bluegrass, play that melody straight, learn some kick offs and learn some end tags. Nobody plays much melody anymore (lots of flash, little substance) and I can say from experience, folks appreciate it when you do.

Feb 15, 2020 - 3:16:59 PM
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169 posts since 1/31/2013

My suggestion is first know the melody of any tune and observe where the chord changes are. Then know the arpeggios of the key of whatever chord is happening at the time ( if it's the G chord you need to know the G arpeggios up and down the scale) When the chord changes to C you need to know the arpeggios of the C chord, etc. Observe that in the melody when the beat lands the note that sounds will probably be an arpeggio note of the scale of that chord. If it's a different note then the resultant sound will suggest a chord change.

Then you need to know how to move up and down from one arpeggio note to the next: start on the beat of one arpeggio note and end on the beat of the next. An example in 2/4 time would be: BABC D (beat lands on B and then on D)…. or DEDC B… or GF#GA B… or BCBA G . Combine them GF#GA BCBA GF#GE D etc. Do these all over the scale up and down. Sometimes you have to jump over a note to make it work out ( example DCDF# G). Once mastered, combine these riffs with the ones of another chord. And so forth.

This is just a tool to train your fingers and your mind towards improvisation. Doing these exercises shows you how melodies are built and enables you to create your own or modify the melody of the tune at hand.

Feb 15, 2020 - 5:01:48 PM
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2040 posts since 10/22/2007

Good guitar players, have a grasp of chord theory in as much as they'll know the IV, V, and ii, iv, in all the usual keys, like G, D, A, E, C, & Bb. If the terminology like I, IV, V, does ring a bell, Google " Nashville Numbering."

A fiddle is laid out in 5th so it's really good for establishing patterns. If one can suff out the I, IV, V double stops in the keys of D & G, the key of A should seem logical. I guess if it doesn't jump right out, find a mandolin chord chart. Note as a fiddler one can only play two adjacent strings from a mandolin chord at once, but also give one the location of the 3rd note of the chord.

I've said it before, the chords of a song/tune are not the melody. But there is a high probability, the melody note is within the notes of the chord. This is why people recomend knowing the chords of the tune. It's a way of finding the note. Some tunes, the notes are more easily found by walking up or down the scale of the key. As Chickenman mentioned, the scale could be a 5 note scale (pentatonic) or an eight note octave scale. So there's some more tools.

Feb 16, 2020 - 8:02:42 AM

4260 posts since 6/23/2007

Playing guitar should give the person a "feel" for which key a tune is being played in. And this "feel" should work on fiddle or mandolin as well. Quite often the first few notes in a tune are "pickup" notes leading to the first note of the melody, and that first note is usually the note for a chord in the key for the tune. Take the tune "Big Sandy River". The "pickup" notes are usually "E - F#". Then comes a "G" note, the first note in the melody, and the key the tune is to be played - "G". There are other ways of accomplishing what I described, but they just ascend or descend to the melody.

For some tunes, there are no "pickup" notes. So the first note will be a note for the first chord in the tune.

Note there are no "always" in music. Just usually/commonly/generally happenings.

There is a website "Fiddlers Companion". When a person has questions concerning a tune, this is the place to go for answers. It is a large database with the tunes in alphabetically order. Useful information for specific tunes.

Feb 16, 2020 - 9:28:16 AM
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9763 posts since 12/2/2007

Since you mentioned the Fiddler's Companion I checked and "Big Sandy River" is in A, just as I thought. It was composed by Kenny Baker and Bill Monroe and its definitely an A tune, not in G.

Feb 16, 2020 - 7:02:13 PM

2201 posts since 8/23/2008

Improvising on the fiddle is my favorite activity in music, and I'll have a go at any genre. Before I began improvising, I already had a very good knowledge of music theory, there for, I always knew which notes that make up the chords, but then I needed to know how to find them on the fiddle. Apart from the fiddle techniques that should be practiced to create interest ( bowing, double stops, shifting etc ), the most important aspect would be the ability to 'hear' what is being played, ie, which key or mode the music is in, what is the chord progression, how does the melody go, all without someone telling you. Phrasing and dynamics will also be an important consideration, but don't wait until you think you have all these aspects down perfect, go out and make improvisation a social activity.

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