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Learning Fiddle Tunes by Ear & from Written Music, & Combining Methods Effectively

Learning Fiddle Tunes by Ear & from Written Music, & Combining Methods Effectively

Learning Tunes II ~ Listening: Finding Sources of Music

Here we take a look at how to find music for your  listening pleasure and tune learning examination. I also present a far from complete list of fiddlers I think are worth listening to; obviously there are many more!

Finding the Best Listening Sources

If you learn primarily from written music, I hope you were convinced by the exercises on the previous page of the importance of listening for really learning to fiddle (or to play fiddle tunes on any other instrument). If you learn primarily from written music and skipped over the previous page please consider going back to it before going any further.

In order to make the best use of your listening time, who and what will you listen to?

I am a contra and square dance musician.  I've been playing for dances since the early 1980s. I started out playing hammered dulcimer, and still play it for dances. But these days I play mostly fiddle and piano. I have observed that many (probably most) contradance musicians these days listen mostly to other contemporary contradance musicians if they listen to traditional music at all—even when they’re learning a French Canadian reel or a Swedish waltz.

It's important to listen to the musicians from one's own tradition (or from a tradition one would like to learn). But musical traditions exist in time as well as in geographic regions. If you listen only to those musicians you're missing so much that contributes to the richness of  musical traditions. If that describes your listening habits, consider broadening them; it will likely be very rewarding in terms of enjoyment and its effects on your playing.

Here are some likely sources of enjoyment and inspiration for your playing.

  • Go to contra and square dances and listen to the music. Regardless of the style it will probably be fun, and you'll probably learn something.
  • If you're lucky enough to have old timers around playing the music, get to know them, listen to them, and if possible try to play music with them. They'll probably be happy to have younger musicians interested in their music!
  • Look for recordings of previous generations of contradance musicians, and musicians from the various traditions contradance music has borrowed from, including the previous generations of those traditions (e.g. French and English Canadian, English, Scottish, etc.). You may want to play in New England style for the dance, but it’s nice to know something about where the tunes came from.
    • These days one of the best sources of recordings of older fiddlers is YouTube. There are lots of recordings to be found there. If you see that I got a tune from a particular fiddler, look up that person's name in Google and in YouTube and chances are good you'll find something.
  • A couple notes on listening to old-timers. You may find some of them hard to listen to at first. Recording quality is often not great. They may sound kind of scratchy and even out of tune. Some of them weren't recorded until they were quite old.  But even some of the younger ones may sound a bit odd. The old-time fiddlers often had somewhat different scales that we think are out of tune. But once you get used to it you'll probably start hearing how they use it to create moods and effects that aren't part of the standard scale.

Who to listen to is subjective and to some extent a matter of taste. But here are some of the fiddlers I'd recommend checking out.  If your favorite fiddler isn't in the list, check him/her out anyway. It's far from a complete list, compiled from the Tune Sources page of this web site with a few additions. The emphasis is on New England fiddlers and Canadian fiddlers from  related traditions.

  • New England Fiddlers, including a couple from elsewhere who play in a reasonably New England style, a couple New England French fiddlers, and a couple who play other instruments but are worth listening to.


  • Canadian Fiddlers. Many Canadian fiddlers have styles and repertoires that overlap considerably with those of New England fiddlers. I've also included a couple French Canadian fiddlers.

The last page of this section has some useful sources for learning tunes by ear. Click on the Next Page icon.



The NH Old-Time Fiddle Website covers a variety of topics related to traditional music and dance of New Hampshire and surrounding areas.

Designed & Edited by Peter Yarensky


Contact & About Page + Site News

Use the Menu (upper left) to navigate. Here are the main topics covered on this web site.

  • Fiddle Tunes! Tunes in abc notation and in PDF format.
  • abc Notation . Music written out in text form that can be displayed as standard notation and played back for proofreading or tune learning. Section includes:
    • abc tutorial on basics of using abc notation & links to web sites that document/teach abc, sources of music in abc, & to abc reader/converter software.
  • Learning tunes by ear and from notation, a discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of each, differences in what is learned, combining the use of both kinds of learning with relevant links.
  • About Fiddle Music. General discussion of fiddle-related topics, starting with choosing chords for a tune.
  • Lamprey River Band. About the transition from the Dover dance to the Durham dance with schedule information.



Learning by Ear, from Written Music & Combining the Two