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Workshop and Jam Levels

Fiddle Hell workshops and jams are intended for beginners, low and high intermediates, and advanced players. Please understand that Fiddle Hell workshops are not oriented to novices who are new to their main instrument and can't play any tunes yet. Of course, even if you're a newbie, you can still listen to concerts and jams, or sit in on an workshop.

We've given a lot of thought to how best to describe experience levels for workshops and jam sessions. Our four levels are approximations that you can use as guidelines to pick your workshops and jams for in-person Fiddle Hell Festivals. 

If you're not sure about your level, ask in the Community under the topic "Questions about Workshop & Jam LEVELS," or just find the sessions where you're comfortable once you're at Fiddle Hell. There are several very helpful workshops early in the four days if you've had little experience learning by ear or jamming. Some jams are up-to-speed; others are slow.

Fiddlers are welcome, and so are mandolin players, violists, cellists, banjo players, guitar players, and singers. For musicians playing acoustic instruments other than these, Fiddle Hell is a chance to join in as well. 

Please read through these four levels, and the advice that follows.

SPECIAL NOTE for ONLINE Fiddle Hells: The situation is different, and the levels below can be relaxed. There are more concerts online (with no levels), and at workshops and jams, you have a front-row seat and nobody else hears what you play. You also have replays for 3 months including the ability to slow down any sessions to 1/2 or 3/4 speed. We encourage you to sign up, especially beginners!

 Level 1 Beginner  Knows 8 tunes or more; working on basics of rhythm, tone, intonation, bowing, repertoire, playing by ear; would like to play with others; has fun! In workshops: expecting simple tunes, taught slowly, with help on technique and style. In jams: expecting easy and common tunes, s l o w tempos, and more guidance on jamming basics.

 Level 2 Low Intermediate  Knows 20 tunes or more, can play at a reasonable speed (mainly from memory) in one or more traditional styles, working on technique, on going beyond the basic tune, and perhaps on jamming; has fun! In workshops: looking for simpler tunes, taught more slowly. In jams: expecting well-known tunes, slower tempos and more direct guidance.

 Level 3 High Intermediate  Knows 40 tunes or more, can play up to speed (usually from memory) in one or more traditional styles, working on technique, on going beyond the basic tune, and perhaps on jamming; has fun! In workshops: looking for more challenging intermediate tunes, taught more quickly, with a focus on stylistic aspects. In jams, expecting a broader range of tunes, faster tempos and less guidance.

 Level 4 Advanced  Knows larger repertoire in one or more traditional styles, plays with nuance (from memory) within these styles, has generally solid technique, has a fair amount of experience playing with others; has fun! In workshops: looking for a relatively fast teaching pace, challenging tunes, and a focus on ornaments, variations, and nuances of style. In jams: expecting fast tempos, challenging and wide-ranging tunes, and little guidance. About 10% of FH attendees are professionals, and several of the Advanced sessions will focus on career-enhancing skills.

In addition to the tune counts above, there are at least three separate aspects of levels that you may wish to balance in choosing workshops, including technical facility on the instrument, ability to learn by ear, and familiarity with the musical style being taught. If you have considerable facility on your instrument, and are fast at learning by ear, but are not familiar with the style being taught, it's reasonable to attend L3 or L4 workshops. If you are very new to learning by ear, or have limited capability on your instrument, stick with the L1 or L2 workshops to start, even if you're quite familiar with the style. You don't have to think of yourself as being at an inflexible level; you might be L1 in some traditional styles or types of sessions, L2 or L3 in others that you are more familiar with. 

Sometimes, sessions are for mixed levels, such as L1 L2. In that case, the L1 players may find some parts of the workshop to be a challenge, and the L2 players may find some material to be a bit slow-paced. We ask for your patience here, from both points of view!

Naturally, the teaching artists pay attention to who shows up and how well they seem to be absorbing the material, but leaders do try to teach or lead at the "advertised" levels. To give an example, even if an L1 player sits in on an L4 workshop and asks basic questions, it should remain an L4 workshop, with a fast pace and less hand-holding. Conversely, if an L4 player joins a L1 workshop, it should remain an L1 workshop, with a slower pace and more time for questions. Please speak up if you’d like something explained or repeated, especially in lower level workshops. Even at L3 and L4 jams, the leader should announce names and keys of tunes.

There are often clues to the level of a session in its title or description.  A "slow jam" should be just that; one described as "up-to-speed" or "no holds barred" will be more challenging.

Of course, if you find a session to be too difficult or too easy or are not enjoying it for any reason, please head off to a different one. Or take a break and relax. 

Some workshops and jams mention the Fiddle Hell Common Tune List. These sessions teach or play one or more tunes from our alluring list of 104 tunes in various styles, described here.  We have recorded two 2-CD sets of these excellent tunes, played both up-to-speed and slow.

Session listings will show tracks labeled ~Fiddle, ~Mandolin, ~Guitar, ~Banjo, ~Cello, ~Vocals, Any instrument, Any Lead Instrument, etc. These indicate what instruments are more-or-less expected at these sessions. To see what instrument the artist is using to teach, look after the artist name in the session description (not in the artist bio). For example, "Andy Reiner Teaching Artist ~fiddle".