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Free Fiddle Tutorial

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Cathal Hayden

Cathal HaydenCathal Hayden comes from Pomeroy in County Tyrone, an area steeped in traditional Irish music. From an early age Cathal learned and played music with his father and other musicians in the area. He began his musical journey on banjo, winning All-Ireland championships at all age levels. He then began to concentrate on the fiddle and within a few years became All Ireland champion.

He recorded his first solo album ‘Handed Down’ with well known guitarist Arty McGlynn in 1988. This album featured the music that had been passed down to him, and demonstrated his unique style of playing to the full. In 1991, Cathal was the catalyst for the formation of Four Men and a Dog, a group that has since gone on to establish themselves as one of the top Irish Traditional bands of all time. The group have recorded five albums, two of which were recorded at Levon Helm’s studio in Woodstock and featured members of The Band.

Cathal recorded his second solo album during the summer of 1999. His fiery, virtuoso fiddle style is apparent throughout and his banjo-playing skills can be found on many tracks also. Arty McGlynn, Brian McGrath, Donal Murphy, Liam Bradley, Rod McVey and Seamus Begley accompany Cathal on this recording.

Cathal regularly teams up with Brian McGrath (De Dannan) and Eamon McElholm (Stockton's Wing) on tours of Ireland, the UK and America. They are occasionally joined by Martin O’Connor on box who also guests with Four Men and a Dog on their most recent album. Cathal also joins forces with Altan fiddler Ciaran Tourish on occasion to explore the Northern fiddle tradition.

Tuning the Fiddle

The four fiddle strings are E, A, D, G. You will notice that there are five notes between each string name so we can say that they are tuned in fifths. This makes the fiddle suitable for Irish music because practically every traditional tune can be played in the first position; there isn’t a need to move your left hand to reach notes, just your fingers.

The interval of a fifth has a very strong and recognisable sound and once you become familiar with it you will find tuning the fiddle a much easier task. (If you use an electronic tuner you should still try to absorb the sound of the fifth).

A helpful hint for tuning your instrument is to play the second half of the scale (soh, lah, ti, doh) on the string above the string being tuned when you are unsure. For example, if you are tuning the lowest string G to the D string and can’t decide if they are in tune, play D, E, F#, G on the D string and, when you are satisfied that you have played those four notes in tune, check the G’s against one another.

Play Video ⬇

Beginners - A Visit to Ireland

To recap: you have seen how the parts of tunes are normally put together, the next thing to look at is how the parts themselves normally work. They can be divided into two four-bar phrases or even four two-bar phrases. This is of use when it comes to learning tunes, because you can begin to see how bars and phrases are repeated within the part, and how you usually only have to learn five or six bars to have a whole eight-bar section of music. In this tune I have stopped after four bars in each part to emphasise the structure.

You can clearly hear the question and answer effect of the phrasing. You will also notice that you only have to learn six bars to play each eight-bar part.

A Visit to Ireland

Play A Part ⬇

Play B Part ⬇

Advanced - The Green Fields of Rosbeigh

Notice the two different ways I have played the same bar of music (bar nine and eleven). In bar nine I use a technique seen earlier where I delay the expected note G by repeating the F#, and, in bar eleven I play the G when it would be expected to happen but then cut it short and play a slide into the F#. These are two subtle variations (neither is the original melody which is BDEF#GF#GE); they are a good example of how the slightest change can have a noticeable aural effect.

The Green Fields of Rosbeigh

Play A Part ⬇

Play B Part ⬇

Play Full Tune ⬇