A Well-Rounded Fiddle Education with Casey Willis

It is very possible to argue that the fiddle is the most difficult instrument to learn that we cover here at StringVibe. By that logic, it’s also possibly the hardest to teach, especially online. Even more difficult would be to provide a well-rounded fiddle education. 

Enter Fiddlevideo and Casey Willis.

The first thing we thought when we stumbled onto ​this site is that the videos looked sharp. The professional quality that is simply hard to find in today’s world of home made “How To” videos is impressive. 

Once we started looking around the site in more detail we noticed the wide variety of styles, skill levels, and song types as well. ​

Most importantly, though, the teachers assembled are top-notch. The first instructor is Patti Ku​sturok, who is a North American Fiddlers’ Hall of Fame member and a previous interviewee here at StringVibe. Along with Patti the team includes professional musicians Hanneke Cassel and Kevin Burke, and wraps up with Casey himself.

So why start a project like Fiddlevideo in the first place? Why pick the group of instructors he did? And what advice would he give to beginners to make sure they are able to reach their full potential? Check out the interview below to find out these answers and a few bonus sample videos from the site! ​


Interview with Casey Willis 

StringVibe: What made you decide to start “FiddleVideo” and why did you bring on the teachers that you have?

Casey: I’d have to say that the main reason I started the Fiddlevideo project back in 2011 was that I saw a need for a fiddle instruction website that extended beyond one genera. There were some really great fiddle sites out there when I first started this project, but most of them focused on one instructor or one fiddle style. I also realized that there were already a bunch of websites designed to teach folks just starting out on the instrument so it didn’t really make sense to try to provide a similar product aimed towards beginners. I’d say those are the two main things I had in mind as I started the project. I lucked into a great studio space and then spent the next three years recording and coding. As far as why I partnered with Hanneke Cassel, Kevin Burke and Patti Kusturok, I can tell you that I was looking for folks at the top of their game and well-known within their respective genera. I’ve been so pleased with their contributions to the Fiddlevideo project. We have plans to take on additional teachers in more genera in the near future.

Is there a difference between a Fiddle and a Violin?

Not much. It depends who you ask, I would say. There are a few minor physical differences you might run into. Many fiddlers use a less-rounded bridge than a bridge designed to more classical specs. My bridge is slightly less rounded than a classical bridge, but not by much. I would also say that you are more likely to run into fine tuners in the fiddling world. I have a tailpiece with 4 fine tuners built in, and that might be frowned upon in the classical world. Finally, I’ve noticed that many classical players prefer violin strings with a more rounded, warm tone while many fiddlers prefer brighter-toned strings.Of course those are generalizations, and there are always exceptions. The main thing I would point to as a difference between fiddle and violin is the music that’s played on the instrument. That’s 90% of it

What is the biggest mistake you see beginners making when learning to play the fiddle? What should they do instead?

It’s easy to want to skip the hard work/exercises required to establish good left and right hand fundamentals. This stage of learning is really slow, but spending time practicing exercises and then finding ways to incorporate whatever you are working on into a song is really important. Practicing intonation, fingering and bow hold can be boring, but if you focus on these elements as you practice simple songs, you will find that you make significant, long-term progress. You will thank yourself for doing all that practice once you have these fundamentals down. Spend some time making sure you have a good bow hold. Unless you can play a tune cleanly, in tune and will all notes sounding crisp, I wouldn’t recommend speeding up. In fact, I would practice a tune only as fast as I could and still get all the licks out cleanly.

​Here’s a free lesson covering basic bow hold:

4. What bad habits or mistakes do you see most often with professional, or very experienced players?

Having a good right wrist is critical to playing smoothly, and many players, even experienced players find this as a limitation when they wish to progress to the next level of play. If I were to pick one common trait among players who are really good but are having trouble breaking through to reach their full potential, I would say that the right wrist is where I see the most opportunity for growth.

Of course, when you get to the folks who make a living with their instrument, bad habits are few and far between.

Here is a free lesson covering some right wrist exercises:

Here’s a free lesson covering some more advanced bowing exercises:

When a new player logs into “FiddleVideo”, where should they start?

Well that depends on the level of the player. Many folks are well along in their playing when they sign up and will want to jump right into learning a new tune or two. I would recommend that players who are on the beginner level side should spend some time in our technique tutorial section to pick up some good fundamental exercises before tackling a new tune. One nice feature of the site is that you can sort by tune difficulty. Another thing to keep in mind is that while some of the tunes are more advanced, all lessons include a basic melody tutorial…that way, even beginner players can learn an easier version of a cool, difficult tune. New members to the site should definitely get accustomed to the user-defined video playback looping and speed controls. These features allow you to slow down videos and also loop a section that you would like to spend additional time with. Also, many new members find the sheet music and guitar backup tracks to be really helpful as they start in learning a new tune.

Thanks, Casey! ​


The Final Note

We loved how Casey stresses the basics. How many people do you know who have ‘tried to learn’ an instrument. How many jumped to playing too fast or too difficult of a song before mastering the basics of technique? 

In many cases the basics aren’t fun. They are, however, essential.​ Start slow, play with good technique. It will set you up for a lifetime of enjoyment later (good instruction helps too)! 

We are really excited about the site that Casey has put together, we are really, really excited that he wants to grow and include more genres to make it an even greater resource. 

If you are a fiddler of any skill level, and you haven’t already, we recommend you jump over to the free lessons and check them out!