How to Write a Fiddle Tune 

1. Start with a 2-5-note pattern that sounds cool. 

I usually find these in random places. Some of my themes have come from jam session mishaps, Brahms’ sonatas, finger exercises, a rad riff I stole from someone else’s tune, or weirdo note patterns that no one else has used and so I decide to do something with them because they’re completely unique and un-used. 

2. Have a particular “sound” for the tune in mind. 

For instance: a super happy Scottish 1-4-5 tune; a heavy, Irish, minor 1-b7 tune; a driving major Mixolydian tune; a way-too-fast Bluegrass tune that stays on each chord for way-too-long; or maybe a drone-y old time-y tune with that distinctive usage of only 3 or so notes. 

3. Play your note pattern with a groove that fits in with your “sound”. 

Usually you’ll have to loop it a couple times, but the idea is, at some point, to naturally start going a direction for the next couple notes or phrase. Sometimes I’ll hear it going in an upwards direction or a downwards direction or it’ll be a twisty melody that stays near the other notes. Either way, by looping what you DO know, you set yourself up to hear the next couple sections. 

4. Continue with step 3. 

Remember how the phrasing goes in a fiddle tune. The first and third phrases are the pretty much same; the second phrase leads into the third phrase; the fourth phrase leads back into phrase one, and then later into the first phrase of the next part. You’ll want to make sure that your composing isn’t random… 

5. Only do the first three phrases for now. 

Make them interesting. If there are any cliché note patterns, switch them out for something more interesting; a note grouping that no one has used before. 

6. Finesse the connecting notes between phrases. 

Again, avoid overused connecting-note patterns. Think of something weirdo that creates the right kind of tension for the phrase being lead into and for where you are in the tune. 

7. Work on the fourth phrase. 

This one is special because it’s basically your main tension-builder of them all. The entire fourth phrase should basically be very different from the last three. It serves as a cool lead-in to whatever is coming next. I like to use syncopation, rhythmic dissonance, tension-notes, weird chord progressions, and other cool stuff to create this fourth phrase. My process for it tends to be more intellectual than strictly musical, and I use what I know about music theory to make an ideal connecting phrase that has a lot of interest for the listener. Usually you can tell a song was written by me when you listen to the unusual fourth phrases. 

8. Write the B-part. 

Enough said. 

9. Make the final tag (/phrase-leading-back-to-the-A-part) an awesome fireworks display of compositional concepts. 

Similar in regards to creating the fourth phrases, but a little more over the top. 

10. Write a chord chart. 

In my experience, back-up players don’t usually play the song how you heard it in your head, so they need to be told what chords to play… Never leave it to them to figure out for themselves; the result is usually not the “sound” you had in mind. So don’t give them the opportunity. 

11. And then you’re done.

My List of Extremely Nerdy Musical Likes and Dislikes 

Favorite key: Eb minor 

Least favorite key: G 

Favorite chord: tie between M9 and minorM7 

Least favorite chord: dominant 7 

Favorite chord movement: tie between 1-->b6 and b7-->5-->1 

Least favorite chord movement: M2-->5-->1 

Favorite mode: Lydian 

Least favorite mode: natural minor (you know, with those gross b7-->1 movements in the minor key) 

Current obsessions: minor pentatonic scales, ending phrases on 4-chords. 

In case you ever wondered any of these things...

Flatted Notes in Major or Minor Blues 

Here is my music-nerd-epiphany post for the day: 

You know how, in *minor* blues, the b5 note of the chord can be used in the scale for improv and etc...? 

And you know how, in *major* blues, the minor 3rd of the major 1 chord can be used? 

Using the b5 in minor has always made sense to me, but I've never been able to fully accept the use of a minor 3rd over a major chord as a viable note to use (still sounds cool, but I've never been able to explain it other than a #9). 

But get this, the minor 3rd in major, is the same note as the b5 in the relative minor key... So F natural (minor third) in the key of D major, is the same as F natural (b5) in the relative key of B minor. 

I can't think of any practical application for this knowledge off the top of my head (or the middle of it for that matter), but that's what makes it nerdy and cool...

The Ultimate Nerdy Musician's Guide 

1. Play air piano in front of your computer. Hands should be held at eye-level (keep eyes closed) and chords should be played on a slightly slanted "keyboard". Take note of the fact that inversions on black keys look the coolest. 

2. Practice in bathrooms. Make the excuse that they have amazing acoustics. 

3. Express euphoria at every altered note or chord tone. Screaming out "sharp 9!!" or "flat 13!" is considered appropriate to this end. 

4. Whatever room you practice in is automatically called your "studio". It doesn't matter what the ACTUAL name of the room is. If you use it to practice music in, it's your studio. 

5. Normal musicians aren't going to like you very much. Accept it, move on, and just keep calling out those sharp 11's... 

6. Learn to look like you know how to tune your instrument perfectly. This may be accomplished by making disgusted facial expressions when you think it may be off or stopping in the middle a song if you sense something's awry. Tune the instrument until the faces of those around you reflect musical peace. Then you know you've done a good job. Make sure to acknowledge the subsequent applause from the audience. They really loved it. 

7. I know you're perfect. But every once in a while, make a large mistake, just so that people are reminded of the fact that you are, even if just a little bit, human. 

8. Have a list of your favorite chords and intervals ready. Some other nerdy musician is going to ask. Make sure you are prepared. And if you don't really know that much about chords and intervals, google "extended music chords" and write down the ones with the most intelligent-sounding names. These are sure to impress. 

9. Learn to make small mistakes with a poker face, and make larger ones while screaming in anguish. You might be surprised at how effective this actually is... 

10. Nerdy musicians write Facebook posts to help other budding nerdy musicians. Because we need to keep the message going. 

If you have felt helped by any of these tips, and are interested in becoming a part of the expansive--yet invisible--musical nerd community, consider yourself welcomed with open arms...

My Experience at Centrum's "Festival of American Fiddle Tunes" 

So I had some pretty weird things happen to me at Fiddle Tunes... 

1. Wrote a completely diatonic tune. 

2. Had this 90-year-guy refer to me as "Mom" all week. 

3. Said "thank you" out loud to an automatic soap dispenser. 

4. Out of all the cups of coffee, I only managed to carry ONE across the floor without spilling it. Only one. 

5. Previously mentioned soap dispenser later took some form of revenge on me by dispensing some on my shirt sleeve. 

6. Got a lecture about the fact that I should learn to play in flat keys. *Runs through pizzicato Db scales and arpeggios (at 120bpm) pretending to be listening...* 

7. For about 30 seconds, I decided I didn't ever want to see another cup of coffee in my life. 

I don't know how that last one ever happened... Anyway, Fiddle Tunes was pretty fun; I'll probably be some semblance of "back next year"...