By Michael John Sanchez

Because you need to be able to read music quickly to play fiddle tunes at the speed they’re supposed to be played, understanding how notes relate to one another is helpful. Understanding musical intervals, the distance notes are from one another, is a quick way to work up speed without necessarily relying on the letter or notation of the note.

Having a complete understanding of what letter (A, B, C, D) corresponds with each spot on the lines is great, but it can be confusing when you begin jumping from note to note.

Here are two music notes: one on a space and one on the line above it. This is called a musical 2nd. These notes represent different fingers you’d put down on the fiddle.

[Credit: By Michael Sanchez]
Credit: By Michael Sanchez

The first note you see is an F (D2), followed by a G (D3). What you see in the parentheses is referring to the string and finger you use. So F (D2) means that the first note is known as the letter F, and in notation form, you play it on the D string with your 2nd finger (middle finger) placed down.

In the second example, G (D3) means that the note is known as a G, and you play it with your 3rd finger (ring finger) on the D string. Do you see how if you go from F (D2) to G (D3), you’re basically moving up one letter/finger?

If you didn’t know that the second note was a G, you could think of it this way instead, which is what you can think of as thinking in intervals:

Music note    F + 1 = G

In other words, if you’re on the letter F and you go up one spot on the music staff, you’ll be at G, which is F+one space. G follows F in the alphabet, right?

String & finger number    D2 + 1 = D3

Here you’re on the D string with your 2nd finger down, moving up one notch on the musical staff with your 3rd finger. You don’t have to know that it’s a G, only that you go up one letter.

Got it? Instead of having to know the note is a G, you can just tell your brain to put one more finger down, which would be a 3rd finger. This approach works well for some people who may struggle to get the hang of reading music.

[Credit: By Michael Sanchez]
Credit: By Michael Sanchez

Look at the first two notes on the staff and notice how they go from a space to the space directly above. Anytime you see this happen (also line to a line), the notes represent the interval of a 3rd. Do you notice that the note goes up two letters?

Here are a couple of examples. This can be confusing because finger notations are being mixed with music notes, but hang in there!

Music note    D + 2 = F

Or

String & finger number    D0 + 2 = D2

If you’re on the letter D (D0) and a note you encounter is a space above (a 3rd), you’re going up two notes. This would mean the note is D + 2 (F) or D0 + 2 (D2).

If this still doesn’t make sense, think about the musical alphabet (A, B, C, D, E, F, G). Look at the letter D. If you were asked to go over two places to the right, wouldn’t you say the letter F?

Take a look at the second set of notes and notice that instead of going up two spots, you’re going down two spots. The first note in this example is G (D3), and you want to figure out what the second note is. Because it’s going down two spots, the same rule would apply as in the earlier example, only the opposite:

Music note    G – 2 = E

String & finger number    D3 – 2 = D1

If you’re on the letter G (D3) and the next note is on a line down (a 3rd), you can think of it as G – 2 = E, or D3 – 2 = D1. Again, you don’t need to know that the note is E/D1 because you can rely on looking at it in interval 3rds.

Look at where the open strings (no finger numbers) are on the staff. You can use these spaces as markers and then count up and down from them. So, one notch up from D (D0) is D1, followed by D2 and then D3.

It’s important to understand both the letter (A, B, C, D) and the notation of the notes (A0, A1, A2, A3). The letter will help you begin to learn about key signatures — how notes are changed into sharps (♯) and flats (♭) — and the notation is helpful in understanding what finger to put down and on what string.

Take a look at the last set of notes. This is a little trickier, as you must jump from the D string to the A string and start the musical alphabet over. The first note is G (D3), and the second note, going up two spots, is B. Here’s the musical math:

Music note    G + 2 = B (the first one is A because the alphabet starts over, followed by B)

String & finger number    D3 + 2 = A1

Here, you’re on the letter G (D3), and you see that a note is two spots above (line to line), so you jump a string from 3rd finger to 1st finger. Going up two notches from 3rd finger takes you back to 1st finger. You also jump from letter G to letter B because the musical alphabet starts over again after the letter G.