Working with D and A String Notes on the Fiddle - dummies

By Michael John Sanchez

You will need to be familiar with the notes on the D and A strings to play the fiddle. If you remember from the notation, notes are identified by the string and the finger number.

Now it’s time to put a few progressions into action! Here’s how to set up to pluck a progression:

  1. Hold the instrument properly with your chin and shoulder.

  2. Place your left-hand thumb in the correct position.

  3. Put your hand high in relation to your neck so that you’re playing notes with your knuckles up.

  4. Twist your left hand so that the right side of your hand is 1 inch from your neck.

  5. Put your right-hand thumb on the corner of the fingerboard.

  6. Get ready to grab the string with your right index finger and to pluck some basic notes on the D and A strings.

Here is the following progressions in notation form. The letter signifies the string you want you to play, and the number refers to the finger number.

Progression #1

D0 D0 D1 D1 D2 D2 D3 D3 A0 A0 A1 A1 A2 A2 A3 A3

Progression #2

A3 A3 A2 A2 A1 A1 A0 A0 D3 D3 D2 D2 D1 D1 D0 D0

Now listen to what these two progressions should sound like. Playing these progressions together is what’s called the D major scale.

Try plucking along. Avoid plucking any one note faster or slower than another note. Because playing with no fingers down on A/D isn’t that hard, your tendency may be to rush and play notes faster than the timing suggests.

Tucking the half step close

The distance between the notes that you’re required to play (the 1st finger E and 2nd finger F♯) is called a whole step. Notice how wide the space between your fingers is. The more you play these notes, the more you’ll feel comfortable knowing how wide a whole step is, and eventually, you won’t need your stickers.

The space between your 2nd finger F♯ and 3rd finger G is called a half step. You place your fingers right next to each other, a closeness that is often not pointed out. Here’s an exercise to help you understand how close your fingers should be:

  1. Make sure your D string is in tune.

  2. Hold your fiddle on your chin and shoulder.

  3. Place your knuckles high with your fingers angled back.

  4. Place your 2nd finger down on the D string and match this pitch with the tuner; it should read “F♯.”

  5. Leave your F♯ down and find the G with your 3rd finger using your tuner.

  6. If you have big fingers, you’ll notice your fingers are almost on top of each other; if you have smaller hands, you should notice a slight space.

This spacing is very important to feel moving forward. Whenever you play in the key of D, you should keep your 2nd and 3rd fingers very close together as you lift them up and place them back down.

[Credit: By Rashell Smith]
Credit: By Rashell Smith

Plucking to “Mary Had a Little Lamb”

An easy song that you can play on the fiddle that requires playing only on the D string is “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”

The “R” you see in the notation shows spots where you do nothing in the music. This is called a rest. For now, just know that these are spots where you don’t play anything for the same length of time as you would play any of the notes.

“Mary Had a Little Lamb”

D2 D1 D0 D1 D2 D2 D2 R D1 D1 D1 R D2 D2 D2 R

D2 D1 D0 D1 D2 D2 D2 D2 D1 D1 D2 D1 D0 R R R

Follow along with “Mary Had a Little Lamb” to get a good feel (again) for playing the piece properly in rhythm.

You can always use your tuner to make sure you’re putting your fingers in the right spots. Don’t get overly technical with this though, as it’s impossible to hit every note perfectly. Try to get within the range of 15 degrees, but keep in mind that this is difficult for the beginner. Obviously, the closer you are to the correct note the better, but remember that you’re dealing with a fretless instrument.

Ninety-five percent of the people who go through this process are tempted to try to use the bow. If you really want to become a great fiddle player, take at least a week or two and master the fundamentals before attempting to play these progressions with the bow.