Discovering techniques that make it easier to learn fiddle tunes by ear.

fiddleclipNary a week goes by at the Folk School when you do not hear the sweet sounds of fiddling coming from either the Community Dance, the Music Studio, Morning Song, a concert, a jam, or perhaps a lone fiddler out in Open House practicing a tune.

The Folk School has a great schedule of upcoming fiddle classes. Come immerse yourself for a week of all day classes with top notch instructors, practice amid the beautiful backdrop of the blue mountains of Brasstown, make new friends and eat food right out of the Folk School garden.

Here are the wonderful instructors we have scheduled for upcoming fiddle classes:

Cathy Grant

Cathy Grant

Cathy Grant

I had never even picked up a fiddle until I took Cathy Grant’s Beginning Fiddle class. I was terrified that the whole week be spent amidst a continuous cacophony of discordant beginners, but Cathy’s class was so fun & engaging. The curriculum was varied and did not depend on how quickly you picked up the lessons. Although my first love is the banjo, Cathy got me off to a great start and it was a totally enjoyable week. As a total beginner, I highly recommend it: Beginning Fiddle with Cathy Grant June – July 4, 2015 (Level 1). If you are beyond beginner, consider taking Continuing Fiddle (Level 2) with Cathy either sooner: Oct 12-18, 2014 or later: Mar 1-7, 2015.

Cathy teaches regularly at the Folk School. She grew up playing classical violin, discovered fiddling as an adult, and is now a full-time fiddle teacher and workshop leader. She plays in a variety of groups ranging from old-time, contra, and ceili bands to symphony orchestras. Cathy’s mentors are the fiddlers of West Virginia and Eastern Kentucky.

Michael Ismerio


Michael Ismerio

Already fiddling a bit and interested in really honing in on the Appalachian style? Experience the exciting rhythms, pulses, and drones that give Southern Appalachian old-time fiddling its distinctive sound in Michael’s upcoming class Appalachian Old-Time Fiddle on Nov 9-14 (Level 2). We’ll focus heavily on your bowing hand to get your muscle memory used to playing the rhythms, while giving your brain a chance to internalize the melody. All learning will be by ear.

Michael has been fiddling, teaching, calling square dances, and organizing events for the last 15 years in the exciting old-time music community in Portland, Oregon. He was a member of both the Dickel Brothers and the Government Issue Orchestra, two nationally known, old-time string bands. Michael also has two other classes coming up at the Folk School: 10th-Century Scandinavian-Style Turn Shoe Mar 22-28, 2015 and Old-time Jam Camp with Ben Nelson on May 10-16, 2015.

Check out Michael’s “Very Short Fiddle Lessons”

Rayna Gellert

Rayna Gellert (Photo by Jon Estes)

Rayna Gellert
Photo by Jon Estes

If you are comfortable with your fiddle and have at least 10 tunes under your belt, spend a week with Rayna Gellert to take your playing to a higher level. Her class, Intermediate to Advanced Fiddle Jan 4-15, 2015 (Level 3 & 4), will touch on Southern Appalachian historical context, enjoy listening sessions, and resolve to get more comfortable learning by ear. Focus on encouraging your bowing arm to be more versatile, rhythmic, and tonally rich while learning tunes in a variety of old-timey tunings.

Rayna has spent most of her life immersed in the sounds of rural stringband music, heartfelt gospel songs, and old ballads. After honing her fiddle skills playing at jam sessions and square dances, she began a life of traveling and performing. Her fiddle albums are widely celebrated in the old-time music community, and she has recorded with a host of musicians in a variety of styles, such as Robyn Hitchcock, Tyler Ramsey, Sara Watkins, Loudon Wainwright III, John Paul Jones, and Abigail Washburn. Rayna has taught at workshops, festivals, and fiddle camps across the U.S. and the U.K., including Swannanoa Gathering, the Festival of American Fiddle Tunes, Augusta Heritage Center, and Ashokan Music & Dance.

Visit Rayna’s tune page to get a sample of her fiddling.

Susan Conger

Susan Conger (Photo courtesy of

Susan Conger

Joining us for Scandinavian Heritage Week 2015 will be Susan Conger teaching Intermediate Fiddle Mar 22-28. In the company of newfound friends, you will enjoy special food, music, dance, and craft traditional to the region. In Susan’s class you will expand your fiddle repertoire and improve your playing technique. Learn lovely tunes and lively ones, including some from Scandinavia, and explore ways to bring the style of the music alive through your playing. Scandinavian Heritage Week honors the Folk School’s roots, inspired by “folkehøjskole” of these northern European countries.

Susan grew up playing classical violin, but as an adult was drawn to fiddle tunes she heard while contra dancing. In 1987 she followed the tunes and dances to western Massachusetts. Susan teaches fiddle and classical violin and plays for contra, English, and Scandinavian dancing. She is editor of “Along the River,” a collection of modern New England dance tunes, and has been on staff at various dance camps and festivals from New England to Seattle.

Visit Susan’s webpage

Fiddle class in the Music Studio

Fiddle class in the Music Studio

Upcoming Fiddle Classes

(in chronological order)

Continuing Fiddle with Cathy Grant, Oct 12-18, 2014 (Level 2)

Appalachian Old-Time Fiddle with Michael Ismerio, Nov 9-14, 2014 (Level 2)

Intermediate to Advanced Fiddle with Rayna Gellert, Jan 4-15, 2015 (Level 3 & 4)

Continuing Fiddle with Cathy Grant, Mar 1-7, 2015 (Level 2)

Intermediate Fiddle with Susan Conger, Mar 22-28, 2015 (Level 3)

Beginning Fiddle with Cathy Grant, June – July 4, 2015 (Level 1)

Music Levels

Level 1: Beginning (no experience required)

Level 2: Continuing (can play a few tunes slowly, a beginning fiddle class is advised prior to taking this one.)

Level 3: Intermediate (can play 10 or more tunes, not quite up to tempo)

Level 4: Advanced (you feel comfortable with the instrument)

Cory Marie Podielski
About Cory Marie Podielski

Cory Marie Podielski is a freelance graphic designer, photographer, and writer for the John C. Campbell Folk School. She has been writing for the Folk School Blog since 2012 and enjoys interviewing artists, musicians, and craftspeople. In her spare time, she enjoys playing the banjo, dancing, printmaking, playing in clay, and assisting in Folk School bread baking classes.