You made theory a fun puzzle, a tool for opening doors to playing music more easily with others. That’s huge, moving people past the fear that ‘theory is hard or boring or won’t relate to what I want to play anyway.’ Then we immediately applied it – so important! People used the new information to start trying things that sounded good, even if they hadn’t processed the concepts yet.” — Susan Conger, music teacher and participant, 2014 Smith College workshop: “The Art of Groove”
Donna, thank you so much for the wonderful workshop. I really appreciate your ability to break the style down to the elements – exciting and inspiring. I love your approach to the tunes and your analysis. Thank you again for the hard work and passion for this music.” — Jim Garber, Poughkeepsie Québecois fiddle jam
Lessons for college credit
I teach fiddle and performance at Smith and Amherst Colleges in western Massachusetts. Mt. Holyoke students can receive credit through Amherst College but receive lesson funding from their own institution. A basic proficiency on the instrument is a pre-requisite for credit and there is a performance requirement. If you’re a Five-College student and aren’t interested in credit, I can teach you privately. Either way, I ask college students to attend local contradances often. That’s where they find the grooves!
I teach privately in Amherst and give workshops and residencies around the country (details below). Most of my private students are adult learners and many are returning to music after not playing for years. My motto is: “no shame, no blame.” Learning happens when we let our fear of failure fall away. A wise friend once comforted me with “If you do not know a thing, you simply do not know it.”
We separate the practical (and practicable!) skills, learning tune patterns with the left hand and rhythm grooves with the right. Then, combining hands, we use postural awareness to build tension-free and efficient playing techniques – key to future success in learning.
Students like my holistic approach. I sneak theory in painlessly, a tune at a time. Learn ten tune progressions in any key and you’ve explored most chord possibilities for that key. What seemed terrifyingly mysterious before becomes familiar and you grow mightier as a musician with every tune you learn!
Fiddling is such a specialty. To find the best instruction, you might have to look outside your local area. Skype allows us to give our daughter the very best fiddle teacher available – Ms. Donna Hébert. Lia is learning from a well-known fiddling expert on a weekly basis. The cost is comparable to our local violin teacher and I can be in the kitchen cooking dinner while a lesson is going on in the computer room. Donna teaches to our daughter’s level and then encourages her to progress with every lesson – I can’t even believe the improvement she has made! We love Ms. Donna and wish she lived next door – but since she doesn’t – online is the next best thing.” — Paula Hanes-Stetter, East Aurora NY
I use Skype online. Distance learning best suits players who have some skills already. A brand new player needs a ‘hands-on’ teacher to help them secure a reliable bow and instrument hold. The tech piece is not difficult. Download Skype and pick a user name. I’m “donnafiddler.” The slight time delay makes playing together difficult, but that hasn’t stopped any of my students from improving their skills. Bearing these technical limits in mind, this is an effective way to learn. Fiddlers really are a world-wide community. Check out the Facebook Fiddlers’ Association. Some friends and I founded it about fifteen years ago and it’s going strong with more than 5,000 fiddlers!
Students from the U.S., Canada, Australia, the Caribbean, Central America and Europe have worked online with me. With some it’s as little as one or two lessons but with others like Lia, it’s been seven years! Finding a mutually awake time with my Aussie student was tricky but we didn’t let that stop us. I use my iPhone to record tunes as I play them during the lesson and email them before we’re done.
How to take Skype lessons
- Send me an email outlining your skills, goals and interests. Include an mp3 of your playing if you like. Don’t be shy. I’ll listen and make notes with questions for you.
- I answer your email and we test the online connection, setting a lesson time. Lessons are available Mon.-Fri., 10 am – 7 pm U.S. Eastern standard time, with occasional weekend times available.
- We schedule lesson time/s, I bill you and you pay online through PayPal or by check, if you live in the U.S. I also offer a 15% discount for pre-paid ten-lesson learning blocks. Contact me for costs.
- During the lesson, you can present tunes or other agenda items – anything you want to learn. I watch and listen to you play and offer suggestions. I teach bowings and rhythms or break down a tune, phrase by phrase, recording it to send you.
- I record other new tunes and/or practice aids and exercises on my iPhone and email them to you before the lesson is over.
- If you read music, I also email you transcriptions for any new tunes. You’ll want the chord chart even if you don’t need or read the music.
You will need
- A computer with a Skype or Gmail account (free)
- A webcam (internal or external) and a high speed connection. DSL can be tricky; a broadband connection is best. We test the connection before I bill you so we know everything works.
Contact me to discuss your learning agenda today!
Workshops and residencies
Fiddling Demystified’s left and right-hand focus on learning regional playing styles uses ear-training to mine tunes for their finer points. For sight-readers, this method fills in the style details for each tune, breaking down right hand bowing licks and left hand ornaments into manageable lessons for teachers and students. There are rhythm and style motifs for each tune, setting each one authentically in its native ‘dialect’.
Residencies tailored to your organization’s needs can be structured around the following topics:
- Fiddling Demystified for String Players – learn tunes and style boundaries and simple arrangements
- Learning the Art of Groove – 2-note chords and rhythm patterns in three fiddle modes
- Improvisation & Grooveswapping – learn how to ‘fiddle’ with melodies and rhythms
- Fiddling with a French Accent – Learn the driven-bow syncopation that characterizes French-Canadian and Franco-American fiddling, along with the crooked tunes (l’airs tordus), cross/open tunings, podorhythmie or seated foot-tapping, turlutter (lilting the tune with the voice) and the joyful repertoire and rhythms of my Franco fiddling mentors, Louis Beaudoin and Gerry Robichaud.