Fiddle For Dummies book cover

Fiddle For Dummies

By: Michael John Sanchez Published: 12-03-2014

Learn to play the fiddle? Easy.

Tackling a new instrument can be intimidating, but with this easy-to-use guide, you'll have no trouble at all! From selecting, tuning, and caring for your fiddle to mastering various music styles, Fiddle For Dummies walks you step-by-step through everything you need to start playing the fiddle like a pro. You'll discover how to hold a fiddle, master fundamental techniques, and take your skills to the next level. This title also features companion audio tracks and instructional video clips hosted online at Dummies.com to help further enhance your skills.

The fiddle is a popular instrument across many continents, and is a favorite for many because it is small and portable. Playing the fiddle can expose you to a range of musical styles from all over the world, such as Irish, Scottish, Celtic/Cape Breton, country, folk, bluegrass, and more. Plus, if you're already a violin player, you'll impress yourself and fellow musicians as you unlock your instrument to open up a whole new world of sounds.

  • Learn fiddle techniques and fundamentals
  • Select, tune, and care for your fiddle
  • Join the folk instrument movement and master the fiddle
  • Play fiddle music from all over the world

Whether you're a complete beginner or a violin player looking to branch out and try something new, Fiddle For Dummies will have you fit as a fiddle in no time.

Articles From Fiddle For Dummies

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57 results
57 results
Fiddle For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Cheat Sheet / Updated 03-10-2022

They say that practice makes perfect, and playing the fiddle is no different from other disciplines. Your fiddle playing will improve if you work on various drills and techniques during your practice sessions, including setting up your instrument and preparing to play, maintaining proper posture, positioning your fingers correctly, practicing left- and right-hand techniques, and establishing good bow movement.

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Understanding Sharp Key Signature to Play the Fiddle

Article / Updated 01-31-2017

Understanding key signature is essential when playing the fiddle. In music, a note can be sharp, which means it sounds a half pitch (half step) above the original note. The sharped note is represented by a simple ♯ symbol placed to the right of the note. The key signature indicates which notes in a tune are either higher (sharp) or lower (flat) than they normally are. If there was no such thing as a key signature in music, these notes would be the notes you’d play on the fiddle. As you start to learn different key signatures, the finger placements will vary from one key signature to the next. Credit: By Rashell Smith The key signature is always located to the right of the treble clef symbol and contains different symbols that tell you when to change the way you play a note. You’ll see either ♯ symbols, ♭ symbols, or no symbols. If there’s no key signature, the tune is in the natural state of musical notes, or the key of C natural. The notes associated with the key of C are A, B, C, D, E, F, and G. The A is a space away from the B (this is considered a whole step). The B is right next to the C (this is considered a half step, and your 1st and 2nd fingers should touch each other). The C is a whole step away from the D. The D is a whole step away from the E. The E is a half step away from the F. The F is a whole step away from the G. The G is a whole step away from the A. In C major, all the 1st-finger positions are similar, except on the E string. Do you see how the 1st-finger position on the E is lower than the rest? Notice that all the 2nd-finger positions on the D, A, and E are in the same position, but the 2nd finger on the G is in a different position. All the 3rd fingers are in the normal 3rd-finger position all the way across. Credit: By Rashell Smith When you’re playing in a certain key, you should constantly think about where your half steps are because they’re the easiest to miss. For instance, in the key of C, you’re always trying to be aware of the half steps B to C and E to F. Now if you add a ♯ to the key signature, that raises one note in the musical set A-B-C-D-E-F-G. The change would bring the F a half step higher, to an F♯. So now, the musical set of notes would be A-B-C-D-E-F♯-G. This would change the key from C major to G major. Credit: By Rashell Smith The difference between C and G major is only one note, which is F♯. In C major, the note is just F, while in G major, the note is F♯. This one difference makes certain songs sound a lot different and is very important to understand. The half steps in G major are between B and C and between F♯ and G. The first thing you should do when you look at a fiddle piece is check the key signature. Understanding the differences among key signatures helps you know exactly where to put your fingers down on the fiddle. Now if you add another sharp to the key signature, you’d have two sharps, which would be considered the key of D major. This is a very common key signature, and it means that you should play F♯ and C♯. Take a look at the D major finger positions. Look at how things relate to one another. For example, F♯ and G are half steps on the D string, and C♯ and D are half steps on the A string. This means that you play the notes very close in pitch, and your fingers should be close together on the fingerboard. Credit: By Rashell Smith When you look at the key signature, you’ll always be dealing with the same order of sharps. For example, if you see two sharps in the key signature, you’ll never deal with anything but F♯ and C♯. Everything goes in order and never changes! The order of sharps is F, C, G, D, and A. Adding another sharp to the mix would put you in A major. This means that you have to play F♯, C♯, and G♯ notes. Credit: By Rashell Smith Do you see how many notes are sharp in this key signature? With A major, it’s important to make sure your 3rd-finger positions are high on the G and D string. You can easily miss this, but it makes the song sound more in tune. When you learn to put your 4th finger (pinkie) down, your high 3 on the G and D should be touching your pinkie. If you don’t understand what is meant by the high 3, look at the G major finger placements, where the 3rd finger is on the G and D string. Compare this to the location of the 3rd finger in A major. The 3rd finger on the G and D strings is in a higher position. This is what you call a high 3rd finger. Here are the most common sharp notes used in music, along with the standard notes. Remember, notes start over again after the last letter in the sequence: A, A♯, B, C, C♯, D, D♯, E, F, F♯, G, G♯ About 99 percent of all fiddle tunes are covered by these five sharps; adding in a sixth or seventh is rare and more common in classical music. If you were to play each one of the notes in the preceding list, they’d sound the same as playing every note on the piano. This would include all the white and black keys, and it’s called the chromatic scale.

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Putting It All Together: The Fiddle Checklist

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

With so many things to think about when playing the fiddle, how do you know whether you're practicing everything the right way? The following checklist will put you on the right path. It's split into six sections and includes the purpose of each technique. There are 30 techniques here, so it's important for you to focus on only one section at a time. Take a simple piece (like "Mary Had a Little Lamb") and work on these points. Good posture leads to good technique A straight back promotes a straighter bow. Using a shoulder rest leads to good holding habits. A proper fiddle level promotes better tone and bow straightness. Holding the fiddle at a 45-degree angle (more in front) helps you get to the tip of the bow. Good instrument setup leads to great tone Having your fiddle in tune helps achieve good intonation. A properly tightened bow helps you get the best tone and avoid bow bounce. Having enough rosin on the bow helps avoid bow wispiness. Good left-hand technique leads to great melodies Keeping your knuckles up helps intonation and your ability to play fast. Keeping your finger angles back helps you find notes efficiently. Using your fingertips leads to good finger contact and solid note tones. Keeping your hand still and only moving your fingers promotes finger speed/efficiency. Keeping your fingers curved and close to the fingerboard helps you find notes quickly. Hitting half steps/whole steps helps you play more in tune. Good right-hand technique leads to a clean sound Having your thumb curved in the groove helps restrict tension up against the bow. Having your pinkie curved on the button helps restrict tension up against the bow. Keeping your bow hand fingers on an angle helps you apply proper index finger pressure. A loose grip helps restrict tension up against the bow. Having your index finger over the stick helps you produce a clean sound. Keeping your knuckles on top of the stick helps to keep your hand relaxed. Using your index finger helps to phrase passages cleanly and musically. Good right-arm technique allows your index finger to speak A relaxed shoulder helps prevent bow bounce. An extended arm allows your smaller muscles to transition the bow. Adjusting your wrist and keeping it level helps prevent bow squeaks. Minimal arm movement allows you to get a cleaner sound when playing fast. Pivoting your elbow to the E, A, D, or G location helps keep the bow straight across the strings. Good bow technique allows your index finger to speak A consistent bow speed helps prevent bow squeaks and improper tone. Lightly using your index finger when changing bow directions allows you to get a clean and smooth sound. Getting to the tip helps you get a full and clean sound on the fiddle. Keeping bow hairs evenly on the strings helps you get the best tone out of your fiddle. Keeping your bow grip relaxed while going toward the tip helps you get a better transition sound. Don't get overwhelmed by everything on this checklist. As you progress, you'll find that this checklist will continue to help you, even when you have more experience. As songs get harder, you'll notice that some of these things are harder to do, even if you've mastered them with simple songs such as "Mary Had a Little Lamb." Try to become comfortable with at least 75 percent of these techniques (with one song) and then move on. Don't feel like you have to get everything perfect; moving forward and learning new material is just as important as dwelling on one thing. If you practice "Mary Had a Little Lamb" forever, you won't be good at anything other than that one song.

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How to Read a Few Musical Road Signs

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

If you play using sheet music, you'll most likely run into "musical road signs," or symbols that make you jump to various parts of the music. The purpose of these road signs is simply to avoid repeating large chunks of the written music and thus allow for much more music to fit on a page. Following are the most common road signs you'll see when following along with sheet music. They may seem confusing at first, but eventually you'll grasp them as easily as following a real road map and know when to turn left or right. Repeat signs Sometimes you'll see a symbol in music called a repeat sign. When you see this symbol, which looks like a colon followed by a straight line, you should go back to the symbol that mirrors the repeat sign (same symbol, just backward). This is written to extend the music and not to have to rewrite the same exact musical line twice. First and second endings Sometimes you'll find situations where you see a first and second ending in a song. The first bracket is the first ending of a section, and the second bracket is the second ending. You play either the first or second ending when you play the piece, but never one after another. By choosing the first ending, you play the music under the first ending bracket and then repeat to a certain spot (every first ending has a repeat). When you get to the first ending again, you skip the first ending and then play the second ending. You never play the first and second endings consecutively. So why would you choose to play either the first or second ending? In the case that you want to play a song for as long as possible, playing the first and second endings is appropriate. Sometimes in a fiddle piece, the song is so short that it makes sense to always play both endings. However, you may want to just play the second ending in a piece to get through it quickly. Because taking both endings requires a repeat, sometimes you may want to avoid that (like when you're in a hurry!), and in that case, you just play the second ending. D.C. al Fine Sometimes when you reach the end of a fiddle piece, you'll find another element of music — the term D.C. al Fine. This means that you should restart at the very beginning of the piece and end when you see the word "Fine."

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Finding Notes to Play during a Guitar Chord

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Understanding chord structure is very helpful for improvisation. The following list shows a range of chords with the three letters that make up each chord. All these notes are safe notes and work well if you play them while the specific chord is being played. The beginning of a chord (typically played by a guitar) is the best time to play any of the notes that make up the chord change. Understanding the timing when chord changes are happening is very important to improvisation and creating a musical sound. D major chord (D): Made up of notes D, F♯, and A G major chord (G): Made up of notes G, B, and D C major chord (C): Made up of notes C, E, and G A major chord (A): Made up of notes A, C♯, and E E major chord (E): Made up of notes E, G♯, and B B major chord (B): Made up of notes B, D♯, and F♯ F major chord (F): Made up of notes F, A, and C B♭ major chord (B♭): Made up of notes B♭, D, and F E♭ major chord (E♭): Made up of notes E♭, G, and B♭ A♭ major chord (A♭): Made up of notes A♭, C, and E♭ A minor chord (Am): Made up of notes A, C, and E B minor chord (Bm): Made up of notes B, E, and G C minor chord (Cm): Made up of notes C, E♭, and G D minor chord (Dm): Made up of notes D, F, and A E minor chord (Em): Made up of notes E, G, and B F minor chord (Fm): Made up of notes F, A♭, and C G minor chord (Gm): Made up of notes G, B♭, and D A major 7 chord (A7): Same as A major with G♯ B major 7 chord (B7): Same as B major with A C major 7 chord (C7): Same as C major with B D major 7 chord (D7): Same as D major with C♯ E major 7 chord (E7): Same as E major with D♯ F major 7 chord (F7): Same as F major with E A minor 7 chord (Am7): Same as A minor with G B minor 7 chord (Bm7): Same as B minor with A C minor 7 chord (Cm7): Same as C minor with B♭ D minor 7 chord (Dm7): Same as D minor with C E minor 7 chord (Em7): Same as E minor with D F minor 7 chord (Fm7): Same as F minor with E♭

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10 Encouraging Tips to Get Out of a Practice Slump

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Everyone who first decides to learn fiddle is highly motivated in the beginning. But how do you keep that spark alive to progress and build skill? It's easy to fall into certain traps and find yourself stuck in a common practice slump. The following list gives you some tips on practicing most effectively and will help you maximize your potential: Keep your fiddle in plain sight. One small thing that can make a difference in how much you practice is to have your fiddle out in plain sight. Just seeing it throughout the day may make you want to pick it up and practice more often. Leave it out of the case as much as possible and put it in a room where you have lots of foot traffic. Don't have a time requirement. It can be easy not to practice if you tell yourself you have to do it for a long period of time each day. Playing for five minutes is better than nothing, and doing this often can really add up! Focus on quality practice instead of quantity. Practicing for many hours a week without concentrating is less beneficial than 15 to 20 minutes a day of focused, quality practice. Don't feel you have to practice for long hours each week — 15 to 30 minutes of quality practice every day goes a long way. Put your progress into perspective. It's easy to look back at the previous week and get frustrated because you feel you haven't made enough progress. Try to think back six months or even a year ago. Can you do certain things you weren't able to do back then? This is how you should look at your progress, and not on a week-to-week — or even worse, day-to-day — basis. Go to a music bookstore. You can find a lot of sheet music and music books in many bookstores. Also, search your area for "local music stores" and ask them about their selection of books. You may find something that looks really fun to play, which can add a spark to your fiddle playing. If you don't have a music bookstore near you, you can always search for books online. Give yourself a break. Just like you take a vacation from work, it's totally fine to take a vacation from the fiddle. Don't let a busy schedule discourage you; there will be times when you won't be able to practice much. Look at it like you're running a marathon. One way to look at playing the fiddle is to compare it to running a marathon. If you try to run too fast at first, you'll get tired and eventually quit. The same thing goes for the fiddle. It's easy to give too much effort at first and then not live up to the standard you set for yourself in the weeks and months to follow. Pace yourself; it takes time to develop skill. Play for fun. Take time to play just for the fun of it. Lock yourself in a room, put all your stress on the shelf, and play some wonderful music on the fiddle. Go back to some old songs you haven't played in a while and see how beautiful you can make them sound. Remember two steps forward, one step back. Understanding the two steps forward and one step back methodology can really help you. For every two good things you've done on the fiddle, there always seems to be one thing you can't quite get right. This is completely normal and unavoidable. As long as you continue to play tougher songs that require more technical aspects, you'll struggle at times! Search online to get inspired. Go to the Internet and search for anything that might inspire you. It could be going to YouTube and searching for "cool fiddle licks" or checking out some fiddle performance videos of a favorite song. Sometimes, seeing one video inspires you to start practicing again.

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Tips to Improve Your Sound with Various Fiddle Techniques

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Playing fiddle involves all kinds of cool techniques, such as slides, grace notes, turns, and drones. Understanding how to do these techniques is one thing, but making them sound good is another. Check out these tips to help you improve your sound. Slides To improve your slides, it's important to have a relaxed left hand. It's also important to keep your hand still while sliding into notes. If you aren't able to do the slide without moving your lower hand, you have too much tension in your hand or you don't have good hand position. Grace notes To improve your grace notes, try placing your fingers on the tips of the strings. This will help you because the tip of each finger is where you can use the least amount of pressure and still get a clean sound. By pressing just hard enough with each grace note, you'll be able to play them faster with less effort. Turns Try making sure your finger angles are back when doing turns. If you reach for notes at all with your left hand, you'll find it difficult to find notes quickly for turns. Having a still hand and using the tips of your fingers are keys to getting fast and clean-sounding turns. Drones Make sure you have your thumb curved in the bow hold while doing drones. It's easy to press against the bow with your bow hand, which causes a stiff and screechy-sounding drone.

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Developing Great Practice Habits

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Practicing isn't always easy, especially if you don't have the right mind-set in place. If you follow the steps outlined here, you'll improve both your technical ability and your musical ability. What to do to prepare for your practice session Make sure your fiddle is in tune. Find a place that's quiet, with no distractions. Set an amount of time that you're going to practice and stick to it. What to do in the first third of your practice session Choose at least two drills to work on. Work on drills for five minutes, focusing on repetition. Focus on doing the drills properly. Choose a song that you'd consider to be easy, and try to focus on technique. For example, if you're doing the wrist drill, try to focus on bending your wrist in the easy song. Pick another song and work on your finger placement. You can do this by using a tuner, which will tell you whether you're placing specific notes in the right spots. What to do in the second third of your practice session Choose a harder song to work on. Focus less on your technique, but anytime you hear an unwanted sound, try to think about why it may have happened. Identify one or two problem spots in the song and practice these spots over and over until you get them right. Play the song all the way through to the end. If you have time, do this process with another song. What to do in the final third of your practice session Get into a more musical mind-set. This is the time to think less about technique and more about just playing. Choose a medium to difficult song. Focus on the rhythm of the music and the ornamentation. Try not to focus on how you sound but more on whether you're following the music properly. Once a week, record yourself playing a song. Keep this recording in an archive that you can listen to later. Listen to the recording in three months' time. Do you see how you're improving? Because this area of practice is about musicality, make a goal of playing for at least one other person. It doesn't have to be each day or even each week, but once in a while, playing for someone else will really help improve your playing ability.

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How to Use Your Arm When Playing the Fiddle

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Using the small muscles in your arm is important when you play the fiddle. Because you use your shoulders and big muscles for a lot of things, your instinct is to use them to extend your arm too. Unfortunately, doing so causes irritating sounds like bow squeaks (a most unpleasant sound!), bow bouncing, and other problems. The following steps show you how to use your arm properly when bowing back and forth. Put your bow at the contact point. Place your elbow at the exact height of the fiddle and place your bow on the D string. Extend your entire arm and move the bow about 1 inch from the contact point. This is the only time you should move your entire arm in the bow stroke. After this you’ll keep your elbow and arm in the same position for the rest of the bow stroke. Go all the way to the tip of the bow, but don’t use any of your upper arm to help extend your arm out. You can watch your elbow to make sure it stays in the same place. There should be no shoulder or up-and-down elbow movement in this step — only forearm movement. As you start to go back in the other direction from the tip of the bow, bend your wrist. As you bend your wrist, you’ll be tempted to move your upper arm and shoulder as well. Don’t do this until you reach 1 inch from the contact point. Use your elbow and upper arm to get back to the contact point. To do another bow stroke, repeat from Step 3. If you do Steps 4 and 5 incorrectly in this drill, you’ll have done what is sometimes called the gradual arm extension, which means extending and moving the arm at the same time. This promotes using the proper muscles instead of big muscles, causing bow bounce and crooked bow movement. It’s important not to move your shoulder and upper arm at all after you get past the 1-inch point. Coming back the other way, don’t bend your wrist and move your arm at the same time. Remember, it’s all about the small muscles, so be very deliberate in doing all the preceding steps This feels weird, but don’t worry, you’ll get the hang of it with enough practice. You should do a few arm extension drills on the fiddle to really make sure you’re doing the arm extension properly. Your first option is a drill called the wall practice. Just follow these steps: Put your bow at the contact point. Put your elbow up against a wall at instrument height. Keep your fiddle still and practice moving the bow back and forth. Don’t move your elbow from this position. This helps you not to use your upper arm and shoulder when playing. Another good drill for proper arm extension is called the armchair drill. Here’s how to do it: Put your bow at the contact point. Find an armchair or hard surface that you can put your elbow up against. Keep your elbow in place and practice going all the way to the tip of the bow and back. This drill helps you not to rely on your upper arm and shoulder to move the bow. You should bow by moving your arm 1 inch when you’re going away from the contact point and 1 inch coming back to the contact point. Technically, the wrist drill doesn’t have you moving your arm in the stroke, but the arm extension drills do have you moving it 1 inch. The other drills are still very helpful to understand how you shouldn’t rely on your shoulder and upper arm to bow.

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How to Use Your Index Finger When Playing the Fiddle

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Making use of your bow hand index finger is one of the most useful concepts to master to play the fiddle— and the hardest. When you’re transitioning, or changing directions with the bow, you only use your index finger. The actual transition should have nothing to do with the other fingers or muscles. Using your index finger on your bow hand is what lets you play fast and efficiently. If you think about it, something has to help power the bow from point A to point B. Something also has to help power the transition when you run out of bow and have to go back in the other direction. You may think that the most comfortable way to transition the bow is by using your shoulder, upper arm, or forearm. You may think any of these will do, but that isn’t the case. Using anything but your index finger will restrict you from getting the type of transition that will sound as smooth as butter. Using your index finger is like nothing you’ve ever done before and will feel very unnatural at first. Give it some time. Although it may not be noticeable to the naked eye, the motion of the index finger is similar to a wide U shape. This motion is a lot easier to recognize when your finger isn’t actually on the bow. What you won’t see when your finger is on the bow is that it’s pressing down into the stick and adding weight onto the strings (for louder sound). This pressing down action applies to both up and down bows. Credit: By Rashell Smith You should have a relaxed bow hold while you’re using your index finger. A common tendency is to tense up multiple muscles rather than just the index finger. Check this out to see in detail what’s happening with the index finger during the bow stroke on the fiddle. Even if you understand the importance of the index finger, it takes more than that to master the ability. It can take weeks or even months to start feeling and hearing a difference in sound. Doing the index drill After you understand what the index finger should be doing, you need to work on muscle memory. Do so by doing the index drill on the fiddle: Set your bow at the contact point of the strings. With a relaxed and proper bow hold, press your index finger down into the stick three times. Don’t change anything with your bow hold as you press down. Make sure that you aren’t moving the bow hairs at all while doing this but instead that you’re bringing the stick down into the hairs. Don’t be afraid to flex the stick down into the bow; it’s made to withstand the pressure. Pick up your back fingers (middle finger, ring finger, and pinkie) after (you do this after you press down three times). Do this three times and remember that the violin is helping you hold the bow up. This can help separate what the index finger and back fingers should be doing. They don’t work together at all! Don’t rely on these fingers at all to press down into the bow. Repeat from Step 2 in the middle of the bow and at the tip of the bow. Watch yourself do the index drill in the mirror and make sure you see no muscles moving in your upper arm as you’re pressing. Focusing on your thumb As far as pressing, guiding, and moving the bow, you shouldn’t use your back fingers at all. The most important two fingers that you should use to do the index drill are your index finger (applies pressure) and your thumb (absorbs the pressure of the index). Try picking up a sponge with just your index finger and thumb. If you were told to squeeze the sponge, you wouldn’t have to use your back fingers to do that, right? The same concept applies to putting pressure down into the bow with the index drill and bowing in general. You don’t have to use all your fingers to apply pressure to an object. So what exactly should your thumb be doing during the index drill and with bowing in general? If your thumb isn’t at all on the bow, the bow will fall over as you apply index pressure. So basically, your thumb is holding the bow up for you as you apply pressure down with your index. Focusing on your pinkie An important part of playing the fiddle is having your pinkie curved, which helps create a flexible movement of the bow. Do this properly right off the bat, as it can be hard to fix later on. Here are some things that can happen if your pinkie isn’t properly curved: You may cause tension in the bow, which will lead to bad sound and the inability to play fast. You’ll rely on your pinkie instead of your index finger to guide the bow. Although you won’t notice the difference at first (using the index or pinkie to guide the bow), you’ll find it difficult to create a clean sound in harder songs later on down the road. You’ll struggle to play at the frog down the road, which will restrict your ability to use the entire bow. Normally, when you finally start to do use your index finger properly, your pinkie or thumb is always next in line to be improperly used to guide the bow. Don’t let this happen to you, as you need to keep your thumb and pinkie curved while using your index finger. Here’s a great drill that helps with pinkie flexibility on the fiddle.

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