Finding the notes

How do you find the notes on a fiddle? Many people will learn by ear. It can also be useful to be able to read music, and to understand what the notes are, and how to find particular notes on the fiddle.

What are the notes in a major scale?

Let’s start by looking at the notes that form a major scale. The first thing to work out is what notes are in the scale you want to play. It can be helpful to understand what’s happening by looking at the notes on a piano keyboard.  You’ll see there is a mix of black and white keys. The change in pitch between each note on a piano is described in ‘tones’. If you include the black notes, the interval between each consecutive key is a semi-tone (S). The interval between alternate keys is a tone (T).

For a major scales, there is set pattern of intervals between the consecutive notes in the scale. The piano keyboard is laid out so that if you start on a C you can play the major scale all on the white keys.  You’ll see from the diagram below that the interval pattern is T  T  S  T  T  T  S – this is the pattern for all major scales.

On the piano keyboard, you can see that as there’s no black key between the E and F or between the B and C – both of these intervals are semitones.

The diagram below show the pattern of intervals for the scale of C Major. The first tone jump is from the first note in the scale (C) to the second (D):

Piano keyboard, showing note names and intervals
©Ros Gasson

If you want to find which notes are in the scale of a different key, you can work it out using this pattern of intervals between notes. For instance, for the scale of D major, you would start on D as the first note in the scale, and start the interval pattern from there. So this is what happens:

Intervals between the notes in a D major scale
©Ros Gasson

As the intervals between each key on the piano is a semi-tone, it’s possible to work out that we need to play an F# instead of an F, and a C# instead of a C, to keep the pattern of note intervals correct for a major scale. So the notes that make up the D scale are D  E  F#  G  A  B  C#  D

Here they are on the piano keyboard:

Diagram showing the notes in a D major scale on a piano keyboard
©Ros Gasson

Playing a major scale on a fiddle

Once you have an understanding of how different scales are constructed, you can move onto identifying and playing these notes on your fiddle.

A fiddle, showing the bridge and strings
Photo ©Ros Gasson

If you look at your fiddle, the strings are tuned to the notes G  D  A  and E. The D scale will start on the D string. You might hear this referred to as playing an ‘open D’, which means the D string, with no fingers placed on it.

As a fiddle has no frets, we need to learn where to place the fingers on the fingerboard, in order to create the notes in the scale. Placing a finger on a string has the effect of shortening the section of the string that will vibrate when it is bowed. The shorter the string is, the higher the pitch will be of the note produced.

The diagram below shows the strings of the fiddle from above, and indicates where to place each finger on the string to play a scale of D major. You can see from this that the space between the fingers on the fingerboard isn’t even – these gaps relate to whether there is a tone or a semi-tone difference between the notes we’re playing. So the gap between the 2nd and 3rd finger is much smaller, because each of these jumps ( F# to G, and C# to D) is only a semitone.

Diagram showing fiddle fingerings for playing a D major scale
©Ros Gasson

If you want to find out more about basic music theory and written music, Sarah Northcott’s book ‘Beginning to Read Music’ is a helpful jargon-free introduction.