Fiddle Tune Season – Part 1 – Why Teach Fiddle Tunes?

It’s January and that means… it’s Fiddle Tune season in my classroom!

Every year at this time, in all my classes, we get out the fiddle tunes.  I choose this time because it tends be down-time from school performances, so it’s great to give the students a new project that they all really enjoy. The goal is to learn and memorize one fiddle tune a year, and by the time they graduate they will have memorized a whole medley!

(Please note that I use ‘fiddle tunes’ to also mean Celtic music, as it is usually understood that fiddle music is played by other instruments as well.)

Why I Teach Tunes

Have you wanted to teach fiddle tunes, but weren’t sure how to go about it?  Or maybe you’ve been wondering, what value is there in teaching a simple 16-bar tune?  Maybe you feel that fiddle tunes are just ‘for fun,’ and you’re not sure what else to do with them?  I understand.  Before I moved to the East Coast and immersed myself in PEI, Cape Breton, Acadian, Scottish and Irish music, it was a mystery to me as well.  But now that I know a thing or two about it, I am so excited to share what I’ve learned with you!

Well, it turns out that there are SO many things you can teach with just 16 bars of music, I don’t even know where to begin.  I started writing this post thinking it would take me no time (I think that of every post), but there is so much you can explore by teaching tunes, that I’m actually going to need several posts!

Let’s start with a list of SOME of the many great reasons that I teach fiddle tunes. If this is something that you are interested in, follow my next few posts as I document this year’s fiddle tune season.

The Practical Reasons:
  • this is the one memorization project for the year for my students
  • the tunes are short, easy, and fun to memorize
  • everyone gets to all play the same thing, so that means they all get to play the melody
  • jigs are a great way to introduce compound time (6/8)
  • students learn to feel the beat in compound time
  • reels are great for exploring 2/2 time
  • you can introduce AABB binary form
  • the tunes provide a good opportunity to explore different time signatures and strong vs. weak beats
  • it’s a great time to introduce effective practicing through the Magic Speed Limit (future post)
The Creative Reasons:
  • because they are short and fairly easy, fiddle tunes are great opportunities to work on individual musical expression
  • because bowings aren’t given, it is an opportunity to talk about how to make bowing decisions and for students to write their own
  • they can explore ornamentation
  • they can learn simple variations
  • they can discover different styles and find one to get hooked on
The Reasons Related to the Practice of Celtic Music:
  • to explore the practice of a music that is very different from the music-reading practice
  • students learn first-hand about the passing on of an aural tradition, and the local variations that result from it
  • the teacher gets to play along or accompany instead of conduct
  • students learn that Celtic music is very diverse
  • students learn to play by ear
  • they learn that what is written is not set in stone
  • they learn about the very social aspect of the music
  • fiddle music is very accessible and inclusive of players with a wide range of ability
  • they can play with any combination of instruments
  • they’ll get their foot tapping!
Other Reasons:
  • it’s addictive!
  • there’s no end to the tunes you can learn, or the styles you can explore
  • you can get together with friends and play all night long
  • it’s a music that students can easily continue to play after they graduate (and after they are old enough to hit the sessions at the pub!)
  • the kitchen parties!

Wow, that’s quite a list.  And you can incorporate any or all of these things when you teach fiddle tunes, without taking up too much time.  What I do is layer on more and more elements for them to explore as they progress through each grade.

So, are you convinced of the amazing value of teaching fiddle tunes in the classroom???

Well, if I’ve already sold you on the first post and you just can’t wait to start those fiddle tunes with your class, you can download my fiddle tune sheets here.  I have chosen standard session tunes and each tune is transcribed for treble, alto and bass clefs – something that is next to impossible to find.  And don’t worry, updates are included, so when I add more tunes, it’s free.

So excited to write about this topic.  See you in Part 2!


Fiddle Tune Season Series:

Fiddle Tunes for the String Class

Part 2 – Introducing the Practice of Celtic Fiddle Music

Part 3 – There’s So Much to Learn Through Jigs

Part 4 – Memorization and Playing by Ear

Part 5 – Teaching Musical Expression and Creativity Through Tunes

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