Our Autumn term begins Tuesday September 2024 from 2pm - 4pm.
at Mellor Brook Community Centre, Mellor Brook, Blackburn. BB2 7PR.
All strings players are welcome.

These group workshops enable enthusiastic fiddle players to meet weekly in a relaxed and friendly, tutor-lead environment to learn and play folk and traditional music. They learn through the playing of music primarily from the rich local repertoires of Lancashire and North-West England although we regularly dip into those of Britain in general and much further afield. They learn how to play the types of tunes commonly found in traditional music like jigs, hornpipes and waltzes, reels, marches, polkas and airs. Attention is given to reproducing the style of the tune by the use of bowing technique, ornamentation and variation, along with the phrasing and expression common in that style of music.

The workshops are open to fiddle, violin and all strings players of all ages and abilities but unfortunately they are NOT suitable for complete beginners. You should have some experience and your own instrument but previous experience of folk music is not a requirement nor is the ability to read music.

If you play, at whatever level, and would like to improve, come and join us. We plan to invite well-known players from other traditions to teach us at special one-day workshops held here in the beautiful Ribble Valley. We also hope to develop our playing abilities to enable us to perform at public events and to play for social dancing at country dances and ceilidhs.

The cost of attending the workshops for the 2023/24 season is just £120 per person for the Autumn term (12 weeks). A concessionary rate of £80 is available for those in full time education or receiving income related benefits.

For more information see below or contact me.

Learning by Ear

Learning by ear is an important feature of traditional music. It is the way in which much of our indigenous music, song and dance has been passed down from one generation to the next. Reading music can of course be useful and the tutor uses both approaches - often teaching music first by ear but providing notation later as an aide-memoire. Students vary in the ways in which they prefer to learn and the tutor will try to respond to different needs.
You may find it useful to bring with you a portable recording device. Most mobile phones incorporate a simple voice recorder which should be ideal. You might want to bring a pencil & paper too so you can make notes where relevant and you may also wish to bring a music stand for when we refer to notation.

Ability Levels

Ability levels are very difficult to define as everyone will have had a different level of experience and will learn at different speeds and in different ways. Indeed two players of apparently similar ability will find different aspects of learning and playing easy or difficult. However, the workshops are aimed at players and experienced players and not absolute beginners.

A Player is expected to be able to play the scales most commonly used on their instrument and a range of tunes of moderate difficulty, though not necessarily at 'dance speed'.

An Experienced Player will have a growing repertoire including most of the familiar dance forms: jigs, reels, hornpipes etc, which they can play at 'dance speed'. They will be expecting to improve their playing technique, widen their repertoire and develop a traditional style.

Audio samples.
To hear us play, click here -

When & Where

The Palatine Fiddlers usually meet for twelve weeks of each term from 2pm - 4pm on Tuesday afternoons. I look forward to seeing you there!

Autumn Term 2024: 12 weeks
     September - 10th, 17th & 24th.
     October - 1st, 8th & 15th.
     November - 5th, 12th, 19th & 26th.
     December - 3rd, & 10th.

Spring Term 2025: 12 weeks
     January - 7th, 14th, 21st & 28th.
     February - 4th & 11th.
     February - 25th.
     March - 4th, 11th, 18th, & 25th.
     April - 1st.

Spring Term 2025: 12 weeks
     April - 22nd, & 29th.
     May - 6th, 13th, 20th & 27th.
     June - 4th, 10th, 17th & 24th.
     July - 1st & 8th.

The workshops are held at:-

Mellor Brook Community Centre.
Whalley Road,
Mellor Brook,

Click here for a map showing where we meet.

This button will take you to the notation library for the tunes covered during the current term, just in case the melody has slipped your mind! For the notation of the earlier tunes, go to the Dots Archive.

Looking after your Fiddle & Bow

Cleaning - The Bridge - Pegs & Fine Tuners - The Bow - Replacing Strings - Cracks & Buzzes - The Environment

A well-made fiddle can last for a very long time. Even some of the earliest instruments made by the master luthiers of Italy are still played regularly and their sound qualities continue to be proclaimed, inspite of their age and what apppears to be their delicate construction. A fiddle's life is therefore directly related to the care taken to look after it. Changes in temperature and humidity and knocks and bumps, along with the occasional whisky or beer spill, can seriously threaten a fiddle’s health not to mention the fiddlers themselves! Genuine repairs and setting-up of the instrument are best left to a skilled luthier but there is a lot you can do yourself to keep your instrument in the best possible playing condition by:
           Regular cleaning - including the bow,
           Replacing strings,
           Straightening the bridge,
           Watching out for cracks developing,
           Listening for and solving the problem of buzzes and
           Storing your fiddle and bow in the best environment.

Your fiddle will be easier to keep clean if you only hold it by the neck and in the area of the chin rest.The rosin from your bow leaves a thin layer of dust on the belly of your fiddle, that’s the top to you and me. Wipe it off (along with the sweat!) each time you finish playing, with a soft, lint-free cloth. I use a good quality duster that has been washed a few times. Don't forget to clean the stick of the bow too before it goes back in its case. Rosin is slightly acidic and if it is left for even short periods of time it can attack the varnish. In extreme cases it can even restrict the vibration of the belly of the fiddle in the same way it does when it builds up on the strings.

You can remove the build-up of rosin on the body with a special fiddle cleaner. Some cleaners polish as well as clean, smoothing away fine scratches. You can also buy special fiddle cleaning cloths, impregnated with polish that is released when you use them. Whatever you do, don't try to clean your fiddle with household cleaners as they can contain abrasives and solvents that can easily destroy the varnish. And don’t use the cleaners anywhere near the strings or the bow hair. Ideally use a lint-free cloth for the neck, strings and fingerboard - the parts you touch with your fingers. Wipe the strings with the cloth and then pull it gently between the fingerboard and the strings to remove any rosin build-up. The strings will stay playable for longer if you wash your hands before you touch them.

You can occasionally give the fingerboard a clean using a soft cloth and a drop of methylated spirits. Make absolutely sure that the spirit does not come into contact with the body of the instrument as it will destroy the varnish finish. So keep the bottle well out of the way and don't allow the cloth you are using to drag over the body. When you change the strings, with the strings remeoved it's an ideal time to wipe the finger board with a drop of lemon oil, it's good for the wood.

It is a good idea to remove the rosin residue from your strings from time to time. Rub a cloth down along the strings a few times from the top of the fingerboard to the bridge. Don't push too hard and damp the strings too with one hand because they can really screech when you do this. If the rosin cannot all be removed then you could try doing the same thing with a drop of methylated spirits on a cotton bud. This will definitely remove the rosin and anything else too. Like the varnish for example, so be very careful to keep the cloth away from any other part of the instrument. For safety's sake you could wrap another dry cloth over the body to protect it.

Over time, dust and dirt will find its way inside your fiddle. To clean it out, pour in half a cupful of dry, uncooked rice and carefully shake it backwards and forwards around the body a few times. Then turn the violin upside down and let the rice run out. Most of the dust will be removed.

The Bridge
The shape and function of the bridge, developed over centuries, is to support the strings and to transmit their vibrations to the body of the instrument. It is this action that is is essential to the tone of the instrument. The bridge is shaped so that the back surface which faces the tailpiece is absolutely flat, and the surface which faces the fingerboard is arched. The back of the bridge should be in an upright position in relation to the belly joint. This is why it might appear as though the bridge is leaning towards the tailpiece. This makes sense as the tendency of the bridge is to warp in the direction of the fingerboard due to the constant tuning of the strings. The strings should not be allowed to dig too deeply into the top of the bridge as this will reduce their ability to vibrate freely. Most E strings come with a thin plastic sleeve over the string designed to prevent the string cutting into the top of the bridge. If fitted correctly it will not have any noticeable effect on the sound. Other than simple adjustment to the position and angle of the bridge, the fine tuning of the bridge should be left to an experienced luthier. You may not know it but in Old Time music, from the Appalachian Mountains in the USA, the fiddle players often cut their bridges almost flat to allow them to play more than one string at a time more easily!

Pegs & Fine Tuners
It is the tapered shape of the pegs that allows them to be secured easily in the pegbox. However they can become worn or distorted with continual use and because the wood of the peg box may be softer than that of the pegs themselves, the holes may become bigger too. Dealing with these problems are best left to a reputable repairer or luthier but keeping the pegs moving freely without squeaks is something anyone can do. Each time you replace your strings check the pegs are moving freely and apply some peg wax where neccessary according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Fine tuners do not require much maintenance. If one does get a little stiff, the tiniest smear of vaseline on the threads of the screw usually solves the problem.

The Bow
The development of the bow to it's modern form was perfected by François Tourte (1774-1835). After a painstaking search he came to the conclusion that pernambuco wood was the ultimate material for bows given it's weight, strength and elasticity. It grows in South America and Pernambuco is in fact a region in Brazil. Tourte introduced many features of the bow we now consider as standard and established the optimal length of the bow at 74 to 75 cm. Although now it is quite common for a bow to be made from other cheaper woods too and more recently from carbon-fibre, a well made pernambuco bow is still a prized possession and comes with a high price tag.

A bow usually holds around 150 hairs. It is said that the best hair comes from the tails of wild Siberian stallions. Others say that the mare's tails are more suitable as they are always drenched in urine! I don't know about that but I do know that fine bowhair also is imported from other parts of the world too, including Hungary and Canada. If the bow is in regular use it may lose its capacity to hold the rosin properly. The fiddler should notice the bow's difficulty in producing a good tone. It is then you should take advice from a experienced maker or repairer before considering replacing the bow hair. A good bow should be able to keep the tension on the hairs without overtightening the screw and be flexible without the need for unnecessary weight from the right hand. When the bow is laid on a flat surface without tension, the stick should be touching the surface for approx 2/3rds of its length.

Wipe the excess rosin off the hair with a cloth as you would your instrument and you can remove the hard build up of rosin on the hairs at the frog by scraping them gently with a finger nail. Occasionally the tensioning screw may become stiff and a general clean and lubrication of the threads with a smear of vaseline can often cure this problem.

Replacing Strings
Strings don't last forever and the tonal qualities of them all change over their lifetime. If you do play regularly you will notice when the sound quality of your instrument changes, this is often a reminder that it is time to consider changing a string or all of them. There is no firm rule when you should do it. I play every day and I tend to wear out the As first so I change my As and Es every couple of months but the Gs and Ds last a little longer. If you are playing regularly I would suggest changing them every six months to begin with. If you notice them wearing within this period then you should consider changing them sooner next time. If one string breaks, the new one may sound very different to the others so it is often a good idea to replace them all at the same time. If you do change them all, only replace them two at a time. This will prevent the soundpost and bridge from coming loose. Start with the two strings on one side of the instrument first. Loosen them using the pegs and remove them. Replace the lower one first (either the E or the G) as the middle two strings are strung above the outer two in the peg box. Make sure the loose ends of the strings don't catch you in your eyes or scrath your fiddle's varnish. Replace them by attaching them to the tailpiece first and push the other end of the string through the hole in the peg and start to wind. I always overlap the string with itself on the peg shaft. This ensure it will never come loose. The pegs for the E and A string wind in a clockwise direction to tighten them, the G and D string pegs go anti-clockwise. Hold the slack part of the string tight as you wind it in towards the peg making sure the string winds up the peg shaft towards the outside of the peg box but not in contact with it. Guide the string into its position on the bridge and into the groove on the nut and if it is an E string, make sure the sleeve is positioned correctly before putting the string under tension. When all the strings have been replaced check the bridge for position before tuning. If you have any problems please just ask.

Cracks & Buzzes
A good instrument that is well looked after is less likely to have problems of this nature but older instruments, where their history is unknown can sometimes be prone to cracks or buzzes. This can be due to changes in temperature or humidity loosening parts of the instrument over time or it could be just the winding of a string coming loose. The solution, if it is a crack that is slowly appearing, is to contact your local repairer immediately. Buzzes, however, can often be identified and rectified by a thorough examination of the instrument. It could be something simple like a build up of rosin on the strings but it might be something much more serious. If you have any problems of this nature please let me know.

The Environment
The effect of changing levels of humidity on a fiddle can be critical. The amount of moisture held by the wood of an instrument reflects the humidity of the air around it. When the air is dry the wood shrinks and when the air is humid or damp it swells. Sudden changes in particular can have a detrimental effect and can cause the wood to crack. The ideal level of relative humidity for wooden instruments is around 55%. Although it is almost impossible to keep an instrument perfectly acclimatized, you can avoid major damage to instruments by not placing them too near radiators, or in very hot or frozen cars. Avoid places where there may be sudden changes in humidity and temperature and try to store the instrument in a room where the relative humidity is between 45-55%. To help you do this many modern fiddle cases come with built-in hygrometers.

When you are travelling with your instrument, by whatever means, make sure you have it in a good quality case to prevent it from the inevitable bumps and knocks and always make sure the case is clearly identified with your name, address and contact number. The safest place for your instrument, in a car, is behind the front seats. Don't leave it for all to see though, so if you must leave it unattended, lock it in the boot. If you are on a train or a bus always keep it where you can see it. A good fiddle can be a substantial investment so always insure it separately or include it, if you can, in your household insurance. You may need to have it valued to insure it and I can recommend The Violin Shop at Poulton-Le-Fylde who did this for me recently. Most importantly, make a note of your fiddle's distinguishing marks or, better still, take several photos of it so if, heaven forbid, it does go missing, you can easily identify it.

© Fiddlemusic 2023