Fiddle Contest

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    • #12484

      I’m preparing to play in a fiddle contest for the first time… Because there are time limits (3 songs in 4 mins) I am working out exactly what I am going to play. Is it important to play a simpler version first so that the tune is perfectly recognizable before going to into more complicated licks/versions?
      Any advice on playing in a fiddle contest would be appreciated. Thanks!

    • #12485
      Casey Willis

      Good question, NF. Here are my thoughts:

      When I judge a fiddle contest, I’d rather listen to a solid fiddler than a flashy, sloppy fiddler; end of story.

      So if you’re a beginner to intermediate-level player and time permitting, it’s a great idea to set a solid, basic version of any tune down in front of judges and then follow that up with your favorite advanced licks on the second time through. In my opinion, this approach is a whole lot better than trying to play an advanced version of the tune (with a ton of complicated licks) from start to finish and doing just an OK job.

      I’ve found that using this approach allows you to get your nerves out of the way on the first pass through the tune. You can can also settle into a solid tempo if you aren’t trying to play a bunch of advanced licks the first time through. Tempo is really important. If a player rushes or drags when they compete, it’s difficult to appreciate other elements of their performance.

      Remember that your nerves will really mess with your head when there is a microphone and crowd in front of you in a contest setting. The best way to prepare for that stressful situation is to practice with a metronome. You should practice your contest tunes at tempos that feel comfortable for each tune. For each tune, practice at a tempo that allows you to play all of your most difficult licks cleanly. Make a list of each tune you plan to play in each round. Mark your practice tempo down for each tune as your target tempo.

      Then practice without a metronme and try to hear the target tempo in your head for each tune as you play. Are you close to that target tempo when you check yourself after playing the tune?? If not, did you speed up or slow down from the tempo you set? Try to end up playing the tune at the same speed at which you started playing it.

      Also, try to play the tune at your target tempo from a cold start with the person who will be playing guitar backup for you. Practice lot with your backup guitarist. Play the tunes you plan to play in the contest. Play them in the order you plan to play them when you compete. Practice round one, two, etc.
      Check your tempo against your metronome after you finish each tune…are you close to your target tempo? If not, do you like the new speed better as you play with backup, or do you really need to be playing it at your practice tempo when all of your licks were clean? Was your round under 4:00 including pauses between tunes?

      So there’s my 2c on tempo and the value of practicing with a metronome/live guitar backup. Back to your question about whether or not you should play the basic melody before the advanced version or just play the tune with all the stuff you can cram into it from the beginning:

      Time permitting, I think that if you are a beginner to intermediate-level fiddler, it’s a good idea to lay down a basic version of any tune before moving to advanced licks on the second time around.

      As you play the basic melody, keep in mind that this is your opportunity to impress the judges with your technique and mastery of the fiddle. By avoiding advanced licks on that first pass through the melody, you can really focus in on your intonation, tone and phrasing. Be intentional in your choice of notes. Use this time to focus on these basic elements of playing the fiddle. Let the judges know you are a solid player…and remember your tempo…and feel the tune! Tasteful use of vibrato will really help you here.

      As a judge, I’m much more likely to overlook a small miss on an advanced lick if a tune moves me when I hear it played. Seriously…flashy licks pass…feel and groove last. And the basic melody is your opportunity to really connect with the judges. Get the basics right, and the rest will follow.

      If you’re an advanced player, ignore all of what I just said and play whatever you think will get you points with that particular set of judges.

      Peace and good luck,


    • #12486

      Thanks for taking the time to write all that down! It was helpful… I am an advanced classical violinist but I am new to fiddling 🙂 Though I can handle the “advanced” licks fine because of nerves (having mostly played in an orchestra) I think I will stick to a simpler version the first time. One other question I had related to that transition is – should I lay off on some vibrato? I read that it can make me sound too polished and “classical”?

    • #12487
      Roland White

      hi Casey & Newfiddler,

      Great thread with Champion players contest advice! Exactly how I practice except i don’t have my guitar player handy so I stay w/ the metronome.

      Regarding Vibrato it can really identify you as a classical player not a fiddle player. Over the years I have come to appreciate the sweetness of the tone of advanced fiddlers without going 100% Vibrato.

      Somewhere in their playing there is a place of sweetness of tone and clarity that stand above, but doesn’t go into full blown vibrato. These players on a longer note will add a bit of vibrato but not for the whole note, more at the end of it to sweeten it up as an ending phrase. But clarity and in tune will get you more points that overdoing the V. Good luck and in the words of one of my fav fiddlers Byron Berlin, “Play your best and Have Fun.”
      Roland FV Moderator

      • This reply was modified 4 years, 5 months ago by Roland White.
    • #12506

      Hi again,

      I have another “fiddle contest” question. In addition to the typical contest (with age divisions, etc) I am hoping to enter a “hot bow” contest that allows more freedom with technique (hokum, for example) and style (any genre is allowed). I have ideas for which tunes to use as my “fast” options but I am unsure about my “slow” tune… Any ideas about a slow tune that can still be played with some fancy bowing techniques or at least has something “different” that would make it stand out? Any help is appreciated. Thanks!

    • #12511
      Roland White

      Hi New Fiddler,

      Good question you pose there. I really don’t have any answer for that other than maybe listen to some Scottish bowing in their slow tunes as they have more technique in that style of paying. Or consider tunes with harmonics or intricate moving double stops with good intonation and pitch as I would think are challenging for bowing as well as the tone. I think the sentiment is the same for to much Vibrato, especially constant and fast, rather than slow and wide. You can get a good idea by listing Casey on FV with his waltz tunes or to fiddle contest waltzes on You Tube to get an idea the style.

      Good luck and most of all have fun, Fiddle on, Roland

    • #12513

      Thanks for your reply… I was thinking the same thing about the Scottish tunes… Maybe John McAlpine’s Strathspey because it is pretty slow yet very interesting 🙂

    • #12543
      Patti Kusturok

      Hi NewFiddlier,

      I competed in fiddle contests from the age of 7 up until the age of about 27. I found that the older I got, the more nervous I got, which is probably why I stopped when I did.

      When students show an interest in competing, I always tell them to make sure they prepare their tunes to the point where they can play them in their sleep. I found that if I had to think about certain tough passages or licks, I could easily go off the rails and hit the ditch.

      I saw also that you mentioned vibrato. For waltzes, vibrato can be beautiful. If it’s used too much in the faster tunes, you’re right, it does tend to come off as “classical” sounding. I know it can be difficult to tone it down, much like trying to get a singer who uses it to hold off. It almost becomes a part of you and it’s tough to turn it off.

      When I judge, I’m looking mainly for intonation and danceability, or “feel.” If it’s out of tune, it’s tough on the ears. If it makes me tap my foot and groove in my chair, that’s a good thing. I love to hear the fiddlers’ personality shine through and hear their take on the tunes. It shouldn’t be something simply regurgitated from a sheet. The beauty of fiddle music is that it can be open to the individual fiddler’s interpretation and it’s neat to hear the different styles come through.

      Mainly though, remember that a fiddle contest is supposed to be fun, not something that makes you want to throw up! A first place win doesn’t mean that that particular fiddler is best, it’s simply the result of the opinions of three (or however many) people on that given day.

      Good luck to you!


    • #12577

      I’m thinking of entering a scottish fiddle contest as a novice. I’m not sure that I’m ready, but its all for fun anyway. no expectations of winning.
      I have some questions maybe someone can answer.
      The contest has an Air(2x), pause for judges, March(2x), Strathspey(2x) and reel(2x) without a break.
      I assume (2x) means that each tune gets played in entirety 2 times. That seems like so much. If I play Scotland the Brave, the last measure has a repeat sign. Is that the second time or will I actually play it 2 more times?
      Can I play the second time in a different key?
      Is it bad form to play for example a tune in A major then a tune in D major then another in A major? should they all be in the same key? should they all be a different key?

      When someone plays the march in some of the videos I’ve seen, they “march” along with the tempo. Is this required or expected?

      I hate to be annoying, but inquiring minds want to know.

    • #12578
      Roland White

      Hi Renjenn, That sounds really fun and you have really great questions. I think a lot of them can be answered from a set of the rules and to talk to judges to see what the proper format is. That will give you a lot of guidance. Also tune in YouTube you might find some Scottish Fiddle Competitions and this will be your best live resource. You might do a general google search to find some contest videos.

      Welcome to FiddleVideo and Good luck with your contest. Best regards, Roland, Moderator

    • #13867

      In any contest, if you can talk to a judge ahead of time, long ahead preferably, or someone who has placed well in previous years, you can get an exact idea of what is expected. Once I made a horrendous mistake in a contest. I thought “trick fiddling” meant tricky with the music. Oh no, they expected schtick like you were Irwin Rouse, playing the fiddle behind your back, over your head, etc.

      Get the low down before you get down with your tunes.


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