Workshop and Jam Levels

Fiddle Hell is intended for beginners, intermediates, and advanced players. Please understand that Fiddle Hell is not for novices who are new to their main instrument and can't play any tunes yet.

We've given a lot of thought to how best to describe fiddling experience levels for workshops and jam sessions. Our four levels, introduced in 2017, are approximations that you can use as guidelines to pick your workshops and jams. 

If you're not sure about your level, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to discuss it, ask the desk staff or instructors when you check in, or just find the sessions where you're comfortable once you're at Fiddle Hell. There are several very helpful workshops early in the weekend 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 other acoustic instruments than these, please This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. first to ask about these if you haven't been to Fiddle Hell before.

We request that any accompanying instruments only play styles and tunes they are familiar with, and ask before joining jam sessions. 

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

L1 = 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.

L2 = 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.

L3 = 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.

L4 = 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 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 Adv 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 fiddle style being taught. If you have considerable facility on fiddle, 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 fiddle, 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. 

Beginners are invited to sit in the front of L1 workshops; L2 players, in the front for L2 workshops; and so on.

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

Naturally, the session leaders pay attention to who shows up and how well they're 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, 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 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. 

In the workshop and jam listings on the full schedule, the sessions are listed in order of level for each time slot.  For example, you'll see L1 sessions before L2 sessions before L3 sessions before L4 sessions.

Online, you can look at the full schedule, one day's schedule, or a filtered schedule, based on Days, Types, Times, Instructors, Styles, Levels, Instruments, and Locations. For example you could search for fiddle workshops that include New England style and are at L2 or L3 levels. The results may not always show up in the exact order you expect, but it's a lot easier than scrolling though all the sessions.

Here are labels you'll see online and in the program:

COMMON TUNE LIST (CTL) = Teaches or uses one of the New 52 Common Tunes, or the Original 52 Common Tunes.  We have recorded two 2-CD sets of these excellent tunes, played both up-to-speed and slow.

CONCERT = Sit back and listen.  Many of these have three instructors playing, for about 20 minutes each.

DANCE = Contra dance session, or other dancing involved such as step dancing.

DROP IN = A teaching session where your questions are answered. Drop in for a few minutes or stay the whole time.

FLASH MOB = Gather between regular sessions to play a great tune together.

FLASH MARCH = Gather between sessions to stroll and play two great tunes.

FLASH GORDON = The hero of a space opera adventure comic strip that began in 1934.

FOOD = Descriptions of what food and drink options are available, where, and when.

KIDS = Primarily intended for kid fiddlers (ages 5-18, say).  Of course, kids are welcome to attend any sessions they want at Fiddle Hell.  Adults may attend kids' sessions, but hang out in the back and play it cool.

TEACHERS = Addresses how to teach a particular technique or skill (e.g., jamming, improvising), for FH attendees who are teachers or would like to teach.

TEENS = There are two short teen meetup sessions, which don't conflict with any other sessions.

TIME INFO = You won't actually see this term, but if you search for sessions with this Type, you can find out about registration opening times, store closing times, etc.

WARMUP = At the beginning of Friday, Saturday, and Sunday is a gentle warmup session led by Ellen Carlson.

F, M, G, B, V, F5, HD, Harm, OM, Any, Trad, etc. = Fiddle, Mandolin, Guitar, Banjo, Vocals, 5-String Fiddle, Hammered Dulcimer, Harmonica, Octave Mandolin, Any instrument, Traditional instrument for the style, etc. Shows what instruments are more-or-less expected at these sessions. For example, a F M session will be aimed at fiddlers but is also appropriate for mandolin players. A C session will be for cellists - bring your cello (or arrange to borrow one free from Johnson String Instruments).

The instrument(s) the instructor is using are listed in square brackets after the instructor name (e.g., F M C L2 A. REINER[F] means Andy's teaching on fiddle, even though mandolins and cellos are also invited. If you're in doubt about your instrument for a particular session where it's not listed, just check with the instructor.