However you go about learning a tune, listening is always an essential part of the process. Listen to the tune several times before you try to figure out how to play it. Sing or hum along with the recording. Get the tune in your head.
The first step to learning a new tune is to figure out the key. If you can identify the last note, most of the time that will be the key. (You can also look at the standard notation for the key signature, or the number of #s listed before the first note: 3 #s = A, 2 #s = D, 1 # = G, none = C, 1 b = F, 2 bs = Bb.)
If you read standard music notation, use it along with listening to the tune. Some things that you hear don’t show up in the written notation. When there is a conflict between what you hear and what is written, always go with what you hear. Written notation is a skeleton of the tune, not the authoritative version. Don’t be afraid of variations that are played but not written down.
ABC notation is a useful tool that has been developed recently for sharing tunes via email and the internet. It provides the note names in sequence, with other markings that provide information about rhythm and meter. It can provide an easy way to figure out what the notes are in a particular phrase or section. Used in conjunction with recordings, you can just follow the sequence of notes, and don’t have to pay much attention to the rhythm and meter markings (numbers and symbols). The chart above shows ABC note names as they pertain to the fiddle fingerboard.
To learn more about how to use ABC notation, go to these websites:
Or check out the short tutorial found on the Old Town School’s Fiddle Tune Archive.
ABC Notation for Fiddle Tunes
A very handy internet tool is to copy one of the ABC blocks found below (starting with the X:) and past it into this online ABC Converter. Click submit, and the ABCs are turned into standard music notation. Then click the MIDI button, and your web browser should play the tune (as long as your settings for the .mid file type are for a player).