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Ryan & Brennish Thomson

Updated Feb 2, 2024

Piano accompaniment to Fiddle tunes

By Ryan Thomson

From Bill, via email:


Once before you helped me with a bowing question--now I've another--and maybe you even have the product I'm looking for.


Do you know of a piano tutor book or tape that teaches how to second for fiddle on the piano? My wife and I would surely like to get hold of such an item.


Thanks, Bill


Hi Bill,

You are in luck! I've got several suggestions for piano accompaniment: First of all, I play a lot of piano myself, and often get hired to play at dances to accompany the fiddler. I always bring along and use my own book, which is a Chord Encyclopedia for 1400 fiddle tunes. With it, the fiddler calls out the tune name, and then I look it up in the book, and know what chords to use on the piano or keyboard.


Now for the actual techniques of playing back up piano I've produced an instructional DVD video that starts right from scratch and teaches how to play good solid accompaniment to a fiddle tune. Its not even necessary to know how to read music to use this method. The title of the DVD is - Piano Accompaniment to Fiddlers, First Lesson, by Ryan Thomson.


Thirdly, I've written a very reader friendly book covering the whole gamut of how chords are made up from scales, and the relationships to various keys and so forth. Its written from two different viewpoints, one for folks who just want want to "look up" the answer to a music theory question in a table or diagram, and the other for those who like to understand the principles the the theory itself. This book is actually good for any type of music, classical, fiddle tunes, jazz, and more, and is written from the point of view of how accompanying chords fit with a melody. The title of it is - A Folk Musician's Working Guide to Chords, Keys, Scales, and More.


best regards, Ryan


Further note from Ryan: I've heard most of the best piano players in the US who specialize in back up for fiddlers at dances. Although I've had various periodic favorites, from either coast and in between, over the years, I keep coming back to Bob McQuillen from New Hampshire. To my ears he's simply the best I've ever heard or played with, the ultimate fiddler's friend. 


He has an incredible knack of simultaneously: making a fiddler sound great; and providing a wonderful forward momentum for the dancers. He avoids the sins of many "hot shot players," such as: showing off with fancy licks; competing with the other musicans; or playing too loudly. Not to mention, when we did a dance together as a duo, he was happy to help me carry in the sound system!


Although my own playing style differs from Bob's, I've strived over the years to keep my own piano playing fiddler friendly as well, and I guess I've succeeded because the other fiddlers just keep right on hiring me!

This article by Ryan J Thomson, 2004

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