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The Fiddle Handbook

the fiddle handbook

"a superbly authoritative and entertaining style...an absorbing and fascinating read" David Etheridge; Performing Musician Magazine

"the highest production values I've ever seen in a fiddle book". Pete Bibby; Fiddle On magazine

"A humorous and addictive style"- KMJ Herbert, Amazon review

"..outstanding."-Roger Mace; Amazon Review

"..a fantastic book of its kind, a classic" -Charlie Simpson, Shetland Times

"I don’t even play fiddle but I was absorbed!"- Mike Adcock, Amazon Review

"It is a substantial book in every sense" -Rick Townend, British Bluegrass News Winter 2009/10

"a massive undertaking" - Bluegrass Unlimited

"extraordinarily good value. Every fiddler should own a copy"-Pete Cooper, FRoots

"...a really impressive and important contribution to fiddling literature."-Henry Sears (fiddler)

" Every fiddler/teacher I've show it to has wanted to buy it or borrow it."-Feydl, Amazon review

"A total joy!" -Grenville Horner (fiddler)

"It is wonderfully written" -Roger Snape (fiddler)

"I've never come across such a wide ranging, yet detailed publication about fiddle playing"-Paul Bonnett, (fiddler)

"excellent book..." -David Greely, fiddler (Mamou Playboys)

"such an informative book..." Sheila Iorwerth (Shetland fiddler)

"fabulous narrative..."Paul Saunders, musician

"Just great...a book to broaden horizons, entertain and challenge ..."John B, Amazon review

"a great overview of many different folk styles" David Hale, Amazon review

"The best compilation of fiddle-related topics I've seen anywhere."

-Frank Dooling (Amazon Review)

"What a cool book!"

-Kirsten Moros (Amazon Review)

"A mine of information...a great reference book and guide "

-Michael B Devenport (Amazon Review)

"A "must have" fiddle book...if I had only one fiddle book to a desert island, this would be it" -Chooch (Amazon Review)

"What a treasure...this book has it all"- Nancy (Amazon Review)

"I've never seen a finer resource for a fiddler..." -Dick Stanley (Amazon Review)

"In a giant library of music books...this one is on the top shelf. Spectacular job!" TM1223 (Amazon Review)

"The book is beautiful. Congratulations for this production" -Zai, Costa Rica

"An outstanding effort!" -Bob, California

'Fantastic fiddle resource" -Mrs Pope, Amazon review

"A very readable and witty writing style" M Otis , Amazon review

"A great single-volume resource" DH Bailey , Amazon review


"The Fiddle Handbook" is a treasure trove of information spanning the whole range of fiddle playing, from the spike fiddles of Africa and Asia to the Chinese Erhu, the fabulous Indian Sarangi and the mysterious Norwegian Hardingfele. It looks in detail at the most commonly played styles among today's fiddlers. From America there's Old Time, Bluegrass, Cajun, Western Swing, Country, Blues, Rock, Klezmer and Jazz, while from the British Isles there's Irish, Scottish and English, as well as a quick romp through Eastern Europe. Along with solid facts on the origins of different fiddle styles and the different instruments, techniques and repertoires involved, comes fiddlers' gossip, scandal and blatant speculation.

In The Fiddle Handbook you'll meet the first fiddle player to set foot in America; discover how Mary Queen of Scots escaped from 500 fiddle players, and who really wrote the Orange Blossom Special. In the company of the ghost of Cecil Sharp, we'll find out where it all went wrong for English fiddle playing at the Battle of Waterloo, and we'll uncover the crimes against music perpetrated by the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. We'll meet fiddlers on horseback, on the gallows, and on acid. We'll name the best fiddle player in the world, and the worst. We'll even find out what happened when the Devil came back to Georgia.

As if this wasn't enough there is a wealth of musical examples of ornaments, bowing patterns, scales, modes, exercises and complete tunes to give you a taste of each style, each one lovingly and faithfully reproduced on the accompanying CD. And finally, the fiddle handbook answers once and for all the hoary old question, 'What's the difference between a fiddle and a violin?' The answer, of course, is that fiddle players have more fun.

Here's the table of contents...

fiddle handbook contents


And a couple of sample pages...

fiddle handbook

fiddle handbook

Think of the violin and your first impressions may be of the classical world, with its years of study, regimented lifestyles making ends meet in orchestras, and an overall serious mien. After all, this is culture; you’re not supposed to enjoy it.
Then there’s the fiddle, whose players, according to author Chris Haigh, are having all the fun and frolics that the exclusively classical guys can only dream of. High up on the fiddle’s long list of appealing attributes is the sheer number of musical styles open to players. The Fiddle Handbook takes a deliriously eclectic approach to this. Here you’ll find all you need to know about an inexhaustible list of styles, including Irish and English trad styles, Klezmer, East European and American. It also stops along the way to look at particular performers such as Stephane Grappelli, Kathryn Tickell, Dave Swarbrick and Ali Bain. A book that encompasses everything from Jean-Luc Ponty to the Chieftains, along with their histories and influences, is nothing short of the most all-encompassing book on violin playing I’ve ever encountered. Now all of this might seem like a very worthy treatise, but as usual with Backbeat’s handbook series you have a full two CDs worth of tracks illustrating the given examples and providing musical backgrounds as well as material to play as part of your studies.
There’s a terrific amount of information here, giving you the most comprehensive coverage of all ‘non-classical’ music, players and playing styles, written in a superbly authoritative and entertaining style, giving plenty of scope for study and inspiration. For violinists of any persuasion this is going to be an essential purchase for your musical library. But for any muso, there’s a lot you won’t have previously known here, making for an absorbing and fascinating read. Excellent stuff.

David Etheridge; Performing Musician Magazine


I usually leave the recommendation until the end of my Fiddle On reviews. In this case I'm putting it at the beginning. Buy it now, before it sells out.
The "it" I'm advising you to dig into your piggy bank for is Chris Haigh's Fiddle Handbook, a 304 page compendium of fiddle history, styles and wisdom that's as entertaining as it's informative.
The first 28 pages cover fiddle history, world fiddles and the basic of fiddling, packing in a lot of information from erhus to pickups, by way of the fiddler as rogue or devil. It could be dry; it isn't. The next 262 pages deal with thirteen fiddle styles from the home nations - Irish, English and Scottish, - to american (Old-time, Cajun, Bluegrass, Country and Western swing)via Kelzmer and Eastern Europe before finally ending up with Blues, Rock and Jazz fiddle. On the way it manages to be informative and entertaining at the same time. Each of these is richly illustrated with photographs and with tunes and examples - two CDs worth of the latter. Not having the space to deal with all thirteen styles; I'll use the English fiddle section as an example.

It starts with the ghost of Cecil Sharp at the London Fiddle convention haunted by the lack of English tunes being played. Then comes a discussion of style and repertoire in pre-Victorian fiddling (much more interesting than it sounds) before dealing with "the decline of English fiddling". (He doesn't leave us in the depths, however, but travels through the post-war folk revival, to English fiddle today. Then come the dots for, and discussion of, 6 English tunes.

The other dozen styles are dealt with in the same manner, the history and idiosyncracies first, then examples of the style. Whilst there's obviously not enough room for a fully comprehensive discussion of each style - Irish fiddle is despatched in 22 pages - what you get is an erudite and thoroughly entertaining introduction to each that's far more than a "bluffer's guide". And if you want to know more, there's a useful bibliography.
What more can I say? The Fiddle Handbook is attractive looking book with the highest production values I've ever seen in a fiddle book. Spiral bound to lay flat while you try out the tunes, don't let its overall gloss and the number of illustrations fool you - it's not a coffee table book. It's a book about the fiddle for fiddlers. Humorous, informative, entertaining, it can be read with fiddle in hand or by a fire on a cold winter's night. I refer you to the first paragraph.

-Pete Bibby ; Fiddle On Magazine


This collection of fiddle style information not only presents an excellent detailed analysis of how each genre began and developed, but also presents their current position in the world of fiddling. Each style is broken down into its important elements, and examples for playing special style-tunes and important licks are included in notation and on the accompanying CDs for those who appreciate aural learning. An excellent source for fiddlers (or those who appreciate fiddle music) to perhaps learn a bit more detail about their own favorite fiddle style as well as to appreciate the style elements of their peers. The book's cover, binding, materials, layout, graphics and general usability are no less than outstanding.

Roger Mace; Amazon Review

This is an amazing book, packed to the brim with well-researched information about fiddle styles and their history around the world, and better still, it is written in a humorous and addictive style (by which I mean it was like a gripping novel - I just couldn't put it down). It is incredibly good value as it includes not one but two CDs illustrating the teaching examples in the text.
This book is one I thoroughly and completely recommend.

KMJ Herbert; Amazon Review


Treasure trove for fiddlers

The author’s introduction says it all: “This book answers once and for all the hoary old question ‘What’s the difference between a fiddle and a violin?’ The answer, of course, is that fiddle players have more fun. They’re the rascals, rogues, chancers and jokers of the violin world. They answer to no composer or conductor, and they make up their own rules. They play from the heart, from memory, from the noisiest corner of the pub.”
That’s what this book is all about; the world is full of fiddlers sawing away at Celtic, American, gypsy, blues, jazz, or everything in between. It’s a treasure trove of information spanning the whole range of the instrument, its relatives worldwide, their history, and a similarly wide range of styles and music.
Chris Haigh, from Huddersfield originally, is a respected and versatile fiddle player, composer, teacher and writer – as this work amply demonstrates. Early chapters take us through the development of the instrument and the basics of playing it, after which there are no fewer than 13 chapters each on the history, tunes and techniques of a distinct branch of the art. Each chapter concludes with a tutorial on the style in question, with notated examples to practice. In a sleeve at the back are two CDs, covering everything, so the author can actually be heard demonstrating all the tricks of these various musical “trades”.
Now, while I’m not much of a fiddler, I’ve long been interested in fiddling and fiddle music, and I can willingly state that this book is a ground-breaking, epoch-making work, unique in its treatment of the subject, and unlikely ever to be surpassed. In short, it’s a classic. Pretty much everything a fiddle player needs to know, or should know, about his or her native fiddle style is here, along with clear easy-to-understand tuition on all the other fiddle styles you’ll encounter in a lifetime of playing.
Non-fiddlers like me will find the comprehensive and detailed histories of the worldwide styles extremely interesting. Chris Haigh’s style is easy, almost laid-back, with an abundance of dry humour and some delightful yet though-provoking comment, and a wealth of super stories and anecdotes of the players all through the book. He’s fearless with criticism where he sees it appropriate, as for example on Scott Skinner: “… he introduced a strong element of elitism and snobbery, encouraging showy technique over emotion. When Irish fiddling today is compared to Scottish fiddling, much of the difference in contrast and approach can be put down to the influence of Skinner”.
Discussing the famed English musicologist Cecil Sharp, he notes: “When Cecil Sharp began to record and revive the rural dance tradition, he was already a couple of gener­ations too late, and even what little was left was only partially preserved. His collecting ignored what was left of the step-dancing tradition, and failed to reflect the diversity of repertoire of many players. He had no interest in the Newcastle hornpipe fiddle tradition, probably the most exciting and vibrant survival of English fiddling.”
I particularly enjoyed his accounts of what is revealed to be a common historical pattern – the decline of nearly every folk music tradition in its homeland, a period of stagnation often followed by its discovery by classical composers, and then a varying but usually sucessful post-war revival. While Tom Anderson laboured to save and rebuild our Shetland tradition many others did exactly the same elsewhere but the English fiddle tradition behaved differently, as the author records. Its decline is acutely analysed and its slow and hesitant revival outlined with the evident sadness of one whose native traditional music has not fared nearly so well as that in most other places. The developments – commercialisation, perhaps – that grew out of the various playing traditions are equally fascinating to learn, particularly in America – the land of invented tradition where, out of “old time”, emerged bluegrass, hillbilly, western swing and country – each one a title coined by recording and broadcasting moguls to suit a new musical sensation. As a distinct fiddling region of Scotland, Shetland receives honourable and generally suitable mention in the book: Tom Anderson, Aly Bain, Catriona MacDonald, Skyinbow fiddles.
One omission puzzled me, though: although Cape Breton fiddling is well covered, the rest of Canada is ignored. I would have thought the likes of Graham Townsend and Jean Carrignon were worth a mention, at least.
Otherwise, as I stated earlier, this is a fantastic book of its kind, a classic. It puts traditional fiddle-playing properly in a world-wide context, and gives it a sociological respect long overdue in many quarters. A copy should be in the Santie-sock of every young fiddler, for it gives valuable advice and affords fiddlers a valuable technical insight into other fiddle styles. Perhaps my favourite pearl of wisdom in the book comes early on, in discussing Irish pub sessions: “… if the other players are plodding carefully through ‘The Boys of Bluehill’ at half the normal speed, they may not be impressed if you launch into a high-powered ‘Mason’s Apron’ with all the trimmings … the general aim is to find a level at which most of the players can join in together”.
Chris Haigh knows his stuff, and has imparted it with ease; the world of traditonal fiddling is in his debt. Repay him by buying his book in vast numbers.

Charlie Simpson. November 20th, 2009 by shetlandtimes


A remarkably comprehensive book starting off with descriptions not just of the fiddle as we know it but many of its variations around the world.  There’s lots of technical information and guides to a range of fiddle styles including traditions from different cultures (Irish, Klezmer, Cajun etc), rock and jazz fiddle.  You’ll also find plenty of notated tunes and examples to have a go at and to top it all there are two CDs to hear how they’re supposed to sound, making it an excellent value package.   Chris Haigh certainly knows his stuff and is one of the finest and most eclectic players around.  I’d recommend this not only to fiddle-players from beginners to professionals but to anyone interested in the instrument:  I don’t even play fiddle but I was absorbed!  

Mike Adcock; Amazon Review


This is probably the book Chris Haigh has been waiting to write- or at least, the fiddle world has been waiting for him to wrtite. It includes sections about more national and regional styles and genres than most fiddlers wil come across in a lifetime, and touches on several others- Indian, for example- that do not have a section to themselves. Chris's enthusiasm, technical capability and curiosity about new and strange ways of getting music out of a fiddle come over on every page.

It is a substantial book in every sense. Sturdily built, to withstand being carted about and put in unsafe places while you try out some examples of your chose genre; it is also pretty comprehensive, considering depth and breadth of what might reasonably be considered to be "the fiddle". There's a whole lot here; Chris's writing style is light but effective, making the whole book very readable, even for non- fiddlers. The opening chapters cover (briefly) the development of bowed instruments, and what makes a "fiddle" and "fiddle playing". Then you get to the stylistic sections, each with a short but relevant bit of history, leading into some hints and examples of how to achieve a typical sound. There's something here for beginners and also for players; don't worry if (like me) you have difficulty with large swathes of written "dots"- each example is played by Chris on the CD set that comes with the book.

Luckily for BBN reasers, and for my review, bluegrass fiddle occupies a large central chunk of the book, being preceded by British and some other European styles, klezmer, and old-time and cajun fiddle, and being followed by western swing, country, blues, rock and jazz. Thus, starting in the middle, you can go as far as your personal taste suggests in either direction. In fact I read the lot, enjoyably educating myself in the process. Looking at the bluegrass fiddle section in detail, there is a good general history, with some details of the lives and styles of some of the great fiddlers, and also a bit about the fiddler's job in a band. The technique section starts with a nice "kick off" phrase, and goes on to cover double-stops, typical scales, backup and shuffles. There are, as you might expect, a lot of quavers (eigth notes), but have a listen to the CD and all becomes clear. It's not, and doesn't pretend to be, The Fiddler's Fakebook, but it does give some excellent insights into how to sound bluegrass.

It's definitely worth dipping into some of the other sections; at least old-time, western swing and blues, as all these have some great ideas how to loosen up and play inventively, which are relevant to bluegrass. But I was also very interested in the sections about the British/Irish styles. which must have been the basis of of the American folk fiddle canon. Jazz fiddle too links in; it's known that several of the leading early bluegrass and western swing fiddlers listened to Joe Venuti, whom Chris credits with inventing (or at least being the first to record) the syncopated shuffles that make the Orange Blossom Special sound. I'm also beginning to see stylistic elements that must have come from the Eastern European musicians who emigrated to the USA in the 1800's; often known as "Hunkies" (Hungarians-n the immigration staff had never heard of Bulgaria, Slovakia, Slovenia etc).
Their music must have been heard by the ex- British settlers. Similarly, if the "American" fiddlers listened to Joe Venuti, they may well also have admired the 78's of Michael Coleman- Irish music first recorded in New York. (I'm working on this thesis- more later)

The only section that struck me as having been skimped is the one giving information about the author- a tiny paragraph on the last page. Luckily this can readily be supplied by visiting www. fiddlingaround.co.uk, which has details about him, his bands and his music. From my own personal knowledge Chris, as a person, is modest, even nonchalent; it's the fiddle in his hands that speaks, sparkles and lights up whatever musical event he's playing at. His mastery of the multiple styles covered in The Fiddle Handbook is legendery among fiddlers; do look out for his gigs.

-Rick Townend, British Bluegrass News Winter 2009/10


The Fiddle Handbook is a massive undertaking that covers the role of the fiddle in various musical genres ranging from jazz and western swing to klezmer and rock music. The section on bluegrass features a brief history along with biographies of Bill Monroe and fiddlers who were members of his Blue Grass Boys. Also featured are examples of bluegrass fiddling. The section covering old-time fiddling includes examples of traditional tunes such as “Old Joe Clark,” “Fisher’s Hornpipe,” ”Greenback Dollar,” and “Granny Will Your Dog Bite?” Audio examples are also featured on a pair of CDs included with the book. The Fiddle Handbook is a valuable source of information covering just about every aspect of fiddle music—a must acquisition for any serious music library.

-Bluegrass Unlimited


Chris Haigh, a well-informed, irreverent and amusing writer as well as a fine fiddle player, has packed the 304 spiral bound pages of The Fiddle Handbook with so much useful information on fiddle music of various kinds that I’d defy any reader, however expert, not to find something new and interesting here. Well designed and clearly laid out, the handbook includes dozens of photos and other illustrations and no fewer than 169 written music examples, including complete tunes, all of them performed by Chris on two accompanying CD’s.

The opening sections explore the history of the violin and its precursors, describe various other types of “bowed lutes” from around the world such as the Indian Sarangi, Chinese erhu and North African Rebab, and then get down to the nitty gritty of buying a fiddle and learning to play it. Chris recommends using a shoulder rest: “this frees the hand to move up and down the neck from first to ninth position (easier said than done of course, but let’s think positive)”. He also includes a handy section on amplification, weighing up the pros and cons of ordinary microphones, close up mics, pickups and electronic and midi violins.

The bulk of the book consists of chapters on Irish, Scottish, English, klezmer, eastern European, American old time, Cajun, bluegrass, and western swing, and finally country, blues, rock and jazz fiddle. Each includes fascinating historical and background material and biographies of significant players of the past and present, proceeding to practical examples of the bowing and left-hand techniques associated with each style. Chris has a knack of drawing in the reader with an arresting image or situation. “The year is 1700 and William McPherson is in trouble” is how he begins the Scottish chapter, going on to describe the tale of that famous fiddler’s execution as “just one example of the way in which the fiddle is woven deep into the fabric of Scottish history, myth and folklore”. Country fiddlers, he notes, “are actually bluegrass, old-time, Cajun or western swing players who have sold, or at least temporarily rented, their souls to the devil, or perhaps Mammon”.

OK, there are some omissions here, like Swedish and Finnish fiddle, but the handbook provides an excellent overview of most other European and North American traditions. To become a half-decent player in any of them, of course, even assuming basic, transferable fiddle playing skills, can take five to seven years of serious listening, practice and music making, while a single inherited (or adopted) tradition can be a vehicle for a lifetime’s playing and artistic expression. Discovering the diversity of what’s out there, though, is a good thing- and not just for the work-hungry professional fiddler. Fiddle music is a rich and colourful world, and there can be few more knowledgable and entertaining guides than Chris Haigh. Retailing at between £15 and £19.99 including the CD’s, The Fiddle Handbook is extraordinarily good value. Every fiddler should own a copy.

Pete Cooper; FRoots


...it completely ballsed up my plans for the particular Saturday that it arrived: basically, all the crucially important things I had been supposed to do that day went out the bloody window because I couldn't put the book down. It's brilliant! Obviously exhaustively researched but also eminently readable and shot through with just the right amount of well-judged humor.

...Another thing that puts the book in a class of its own is its appeal to non-fiddlers. The other two members of one of my current musical projects, Trio la Luna - an accordionist and double bassist are both desperate to get their hands on a copy after I showed it to them.

...a really impressive and important contribution to fiddling literature.

-Henry Sears (fiddler)

This is a book that I highly recommend. I liked it so much that after renewing it from the library twice I decided to purchase it. Not a book of pieces, but a book about history, style, technique, and ornaments that relate to the many different styles: Cajun, bluegrass, Irish, Scottish, English, Klezmer and others. Comes with 2 CDs. A real bargain for the fiddle player/teacher/musicologist. Every fiddler/teacher I've show it to has wanted to buy it or borrow it.

-Feydl (Amazon review)

Just wanted to tell you how absolutely wonderful your book is..... A total joy! I read a review in froots and then bought it. Simple!

-Grenville (fiddler)

I am so pleased with it and it will be well used - thank you for writing such an informative book. I will certainly recommend it to others.

- Sheila Iorwerth (Shetland fiddler)


What a great piece of work, even for non-fiddlers like me. Great tunes and fabulous narrative. And a clever format too.

-Paul Saunders

"I agree with all the previous 5 star reviews. A book to broaden horizons, entertain and challenge, but presented in a very accessible and entertaining way.I am relatively new to the violin (grade 4) but this book has given me a whole new instrument to play and a great deal to keep me interested for years to come"

-John B. Amazon review


"This loose-leaf book with its included CD's is the best single source I've ever seen relating to fiddle playing, history and short histories of all the elements of fiddle playing."

-Frank Dooling (Amazon Review)

"A wonderful Bargain. I've never seen a finer resource for a fiddler when it comes to presenting and elucidating the history and methods of the various popular styles available to one of intermediate skill. Only country and jazz seem a bit short-changed, with no popular tune examples. Perhaps this was for copytright reasons. But even they have well-explained samples of their particular approaches and, with study and memorization of the chords, set a player up to begin jazz improvisation. All that and the author's always funny and sometimes laugh-out loud humor makes this a wonderful bargain. Thank you Mr Haigh.

-Dick Stanley (Amazon review)

"Chris Haigh has done the musical world a great favor by writing this book. Many people who learn to play the violin are curious about the fiddling world, the non-classical side of violin playing, but they don't know where to begin, nor do they understand the finer points of distinction between fiddling in different styles or from different geographical locations. Many classically-oriented violin teachers haven't explored the fiddling world so they can't help their students very much. Chris Haigh has created a great resource for people to learn more about all the various fiddling styles and regions. He has done so in a well organised manner, providing lots of music examples in the book as well as on the accompanying CDs so each point is clearly explained and demonstrated. Everybody who want to be a more well rounded violinist as well as people who simply are curious about the fiddling world should buy this book!"

-DH Bailey (Amazon review)



Now you know you really have to buy it! It's widely available in shops and online.

Pages: 304
Size : 27 x 22.8 x 2.6 cm
Musical examples with audio tracks; 169
Illustrations; 54, including 15 colour

ISBN : 0879309784
EAN : 9780879309787
UPC : 884088264833
Medium : Hardcover (ringbound, inside a spine) with double CD
Recommended Retail Price : $29.99/ £19.95

The Fiddle Handbook is published by Backbeat/Hal Leonard



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Chris Haigh is a freelance fiddle player based in London. His playing covers a huge range of styles, all played with commitment and authority. He has played on over 70 albums. He has two book published by Spartan Press; "Fiddling aroud the World" and "Any fool can write Fiddle Tunes", and "The Fiddle Handbook" is published by Backbeat/Hal Leonard. His most recent book is "Exploring Jazz Violin" published by Schott .











te fiddle handbook


by Chris Haigh


off the wall


By Chris Haigh