DAY 4 – Rockygrass Academy

The final day of Rockygrass Academy began with one-on-ones. It was great to give more personal time to a couple students — especially on the recurring themes of chords and backup variety.


• If you’re new to chords, you must learn the 1, 3, & 5 scale degrees of the given chord. Take a fiddle tune book out and open to a random page. Check the chords and find one doublestop version on the low two strings for each chord. Set your metronome to beats 1&3 and follow chords for the tune, “chunking” on beats 2&4.

• To vary your non-chopping backup, learn a few shuffle-esque patterns (eg. the double shuffle, or one with an emphasis on 2&4). Even make up your own. Play through some chord changes without changing the pattern. Once that’s comfortable, begin to mix and match the patterns. Then add passing notes to change chords. Throw in some long notes once in a while for variety.


We started with the basics of posture and form. Here are a few tips I thought would be helpful:
• Bowhold — Keep all fingers of bowhold curved and no finger joints locked (especially the thumb); Use your pinky for balance.
• Fingering arm/hand — When not using fingers, keep them over the fingerboard and ready to use; Bring your elbow under the fiddle (this will help get your fingers over the fingerboard); Don’t collapse your wrist (this will make shifting tough).
• Other — A shoulder rest can be your friend, helping you hold the fiddle with your chin & shoulder and not your left hand; When tightening the bow, it should never be straight but retain it’s curve towards the hair.

Tune = Angelina Baker (D)Crooked Still - Hop High - Angeline the Baker
• We learned the most basic form of the melody first. Next we added some 8th note variations to the melody.
• The faster 8th notes lead our focus to bowhand fluidity. I showed the class how to force the wrist to remain still (by bracing it with a wall or doorway) so we could use wrist movement only. Looser wrist = easier fast passages.


• We memorized doublestops for the two chords in the song: D & G.
• We “chunked” the chords on beats 2 & 4 (a ‘chunk’ is when you hear the tone of the notes).
• We played two different shuffle patterns and mixed and matched them.
• We learned to “chop” the chords on 2 & 4 (a ‘chop’ is only percussive sound, no notes).
• Finally we opened a door to the world of interval patterns….I’m talking about how the violin is tuned in 5ths and that if you understand the interval, it’s like a shortcut to for learning new licks and chords in new keys — just by doing the same fingerings on different strings….


* Not today…no time with the student concert, singing in the river, and end of camp BBQ.

Well, Rockygrass Academy has come to an end…now on to the festival. Thanks to all my students for such a great week. I played my own solo workshop set (and was joined by Darrell Scott and Bryn Davies) on Saturday. After that, Steve Earle & the Bluegrass Dukes (Tim O’Brien, Darrell Scott, Dennis Crouch, and myself) closed the evening to a wet crowd of music troopers out in the rain.  Thanks to all that stayed for the set.  We had a great time.

see you next camp/festival!


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