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 pitch 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.

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 keyboard picture below shows 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 any 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 (the thickest string) D  A  and E (the thinnest string). 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. Shortening the string makes the pitch of the note higher.

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


And this is what the D scale sounds like when played slowly on a fiddle:

On the fiddle you can play into a lower and higher octave of the D scale, by moving down to the G string, and up to the E string.
Here are the finger positions for all the notes on the fiddle that fall within the scale of D:

D Scale - fingerings for all notes on the fiddle

And here are those same notes marked on sheet music, showing the note names (above), and the string used (below). Each set of 4 notes is played on one string:

All the notes on a fiddle in the scale of D major

This shows which fingers are placed for each note in the scale. A zero (0) is an open string, played with no fingers down:

Sacle of D major, showing fingering as played on a fiddle

Here’s the same information showing the fiddle fingerings written onto the stave:

Fiddle fingering written on the stave


Once you know the TTS TTTS pattern of pitch jumps that creates a major scale, you can find any major scale on your fiddle. Here’s the names of all of the notes from the open G string to the 3rd finger on the E string on the fiddle. The gap between each of these notes is a semitone. You can see that each finger has 2 possible positions on each string:


All the semitone notes marked on the strings of a fiddle
©Ros Gasson

From the diagram above, and knowing the pitch jumps we need to create a scale, it’s now possible to work out the finger positions for any scale you want to play. Here are the notes for the scale of G – you can start with the open G string and play the G scale across 2 full octaves on the fiddle.

2 octaves of notes in the G scale
©Ros Gasson

Starting from the first finger on the G string, it’s also possible to play 2 full octaves in the Scale of A.

Where to place fingers to play 2 octaves of notes in the A scale on the fiddle
©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.