To teach American fiddling I’ve had to create a lot of the materials myself
How can learning the American fiddle make classical players better players?
American fiddle tunes are largely constructed of string-crossings, and studying this repertoire and understanding how the wrist and the bow arm are used immediately makes these easier. Also, at its core, fiddle music is dance music so you develop this heightened sense of where the pulse is. In classical music, my niche has been contemporary music, and I think composers appreciate my playing because I latch on to rhythm easily.
Can learning the American fiddle help players in classical ensembles too?
Absolutely. So much fiddle music, especially Bluegrass, is played with other people. It’s like a little chamber music experience, so you really have to listen to what everyone’s doing.
What are the differences between teaching American fiddle styles and teaching the classical violin?
With classical violin, we’ve got beautifully written etudes that go back hundreds of years and there’s been a lot more research on how to teach it. To teach American fiddling I’ve had to create a lot of the materials myself. I also do a lot of teaching purely by ear, and I get students working with recordings. I use written music, too, but notation can only express part of the picture – it can only get so much of the rhythm across.
What do you love particularly about the American fiddle styles you teach?
The rhythmic drive of the music – it’s what made rock and roll come alive in the 1950s.
Do you think more classical players will get into American fiddling?
It’s already happening – Mark O’Connor’s camps are filled with classically trained violinists, cellists and violists who want to learn more about the different fiddling styles. There’s going to be more and more of a blending of musics as we get further into this century. The definition of what a classical musician is is becoming more broad as well. More and more composers expect you to be able to improvise over a chord change, play in a blues style or execute slides. You gain exposure to those aspects earlier on in the fiddling repertoire, and it helps when you encounter them elsewhere.