Frequently asked questions


Fiddle or Violin?

They are the same instrument. The key difference is that fiddlers play predominantly by ear, learning tunes by listening and repeating. Violinist play mainly from sheet music. The playing technique is the same for both, so if you learn good fiddle technique to begin with it will transfer to classical violin if your musical tastes change later.

Do I need to read music?

It’s not essential, I will teach you to to play by ear. But reading music is still very useful – it allows you to find new tunes in books or on the internet, to keep sheet music as a memory aid, and to exchange tunes easily with other musicians. So if you want I will include music reading and theory in your lessons.

Do I need a fiddle?

Not initially. If you already own one that is great, but I would strongly recommend that you don’t go out and buy a cheap violin just to learn on. Cheap violins (below about £300) never sound good, and are notoriously difficult to play. If you buy one you will find you need to upgrade after about 6 months, so a better plan is to rent an fiddle until you are sure that it is the right instrument for you, then invest in a good instrument that will last you for the rest of your life. I’m a professional luthier, and I have a few fiddles that I rent to students for a nominal fee. These are student violins, so they don’t sound great, but they have been through my workshop and are carefully set up to make them as easy to play as much more expensive instruments. If you already have a violin and aren’t sure if it will be suitable, or perhaps you have one that has been in the loft for years and needs some work to get it back into playing condition, then I can advise, and carry out any work it might need if you agree. See my main website: gallowaystrings.co.uk for more information.

Do I need anything else?

You might need a shoulder rest for your fiddle, these are fairly cheap or can be improvised. We will establish exactly what suits your stature over the course of the first few lessons. You will also need a notebook and pen, an electronic tuner, and a recording devices of some sort so that you can record pieces in the lesson and go back over them at home. These days many mobile phones have recording facilities that are quite adequate, otherwise a simple handheld recorder will do the job.

How long does it take to learn?

A lifetime. I’ve been playing (with a few short breaks) for fifty years and I’m still leaning. That’s one of the joys of it, and something that keeps me interested and motivated. But realistically, to reach a reasonable level – to get to the point where you can join in with a pub session or perform at an open stage event – will probably take about two years, depending on how much you practice. Once you get to that stage I’ll be happy to introduce you to some of the local sessions, and mentor you through those nerve wracking first public appearances. Practice really is the key to everything, and in the early stages it isn’t about how long you practice but how often – you will progress much faster if you play for ten minutes twice a day than if you do two hours once a week.

Hopefully this has whetted your appetite, and you are now itching to get started! If so you can use the contact link to arrange your first lesson. I look forward to seeing you!