Fiddlewidget for String Teachers

Activity 5-Navigating the Fingerboard

Time required: 15 minutes


1.Diagrams of the fingerboard with the note names, and if possible, the scale degrees easily shown. I don't believe there is anything better than a Fiddlewidget for illustrating this, but you might find something in a book for the note names part of it.

2.The instrument that we are demonstrating, i.e. violin, viola, etc

This is where it gets instrument-specific, because instruments are tuned differently, with different intervals across the strings. It's a little neater with classical orchestra instruments like violin, viola and cello because the open string intervals are all fifths.

Even the bass is tuned in fifths, but the fifths move in the opposite direction. So an orchestra teacher can combine instruments more easily than I can in a bluegrass class, where banjos, guitars, dobros etc are likely to show up, and some people might even play left handed.

But however the class is configured, these are the points to take home from this section-

Finding chords, or little pieces of chords, to play with the melody can be done several different ways. The more ways you know to do this, the quicker you will be at figuring this out on the fly in a real time jam session or improv situation.

    1.One way is to think in terms of the names of the chords, like a guitar player would strum through a tune in a songbook. You learn a chord pattern, associate it with a fingering pattern on the neck, and just go there, when the music calls for that particular chord name. You're thinking of a chord name and using that fingering shape.

    2. You might also learn a chord as far down the neck as possible, say, the first or 2nd fret, in which all of the strings are "covered". Banjo players do this all the time, and also guitar players using barre chords noting all the strings, or fiddlers when they play two-note "double stops" on the fiddle. Then, if you learn one chord down near the nut, you can slide that up the neck to play other chords with the same fingering shape.You're still thinking of a chord by its note name, but now you are moving that pattern up the neck where it will give you a different chord that you want.

    3. Another way of thinking about it is to think in terms of the scale degrees, 1 through 7, and keep in mind the scale degrees needed for the common chords; 1-3-5 for the 1 chord, 4-6-1 for the 4 chord and 5-7-2 for the 5 chord. This will work in any key, because any note in the scale will always be in the same position relative to all the others. The Fiddlewidget map illustrates this really well, probably more clearly than any standard diagram that just shows the note names.

Demonstrate this for the class, going from one chord to another, and talk them through the thinking process while playing the chords. Then, if the class has their instruments, assess by having them do the same chord changes while thinking through what they are doing.

For this activity, I chose the example tune with only two chords, G and D. If I'm teaching fiddle players, I would show them a couple easy places to play those chords, like the open G and D strings for the G chord, and the open D and first finger A on the G string for the D chord. I'd also show them that sliding the open G chord one string to the right will give them the D chord (open D and A strings).

I don't have the 4 chord in my example tune, but if I did, I'd point out that sliding the 1 chord one string to the LEFT results in the 4 chord, for any key. And sliding the 4 up the neck to the next higher numbered finger (two half-steps) will also give the 5 chord. That's usually enough to keep my fiddlers prowling around for hours.

I usually end the discussion here and give them some tunes and chord progressions to play with as homework. You can find tons of these in any beginning guitar songbook.

The next time we get together as a class we can talk about finding harmony parts that fit with a melody line.

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