Violin/Violin accompaniment


Hello and thank you for your time. I am a beginner/intermediate guitarist. I've played for about 5 years with a focus on modern Christian worship. My daughter is 13 and has been learning/playing violin for 5 years. She can read music and knows her scales.

Most of my experience is with running into problems and researching the solution. I read your response to accomani,ment by ear and was familiar with most of what you were saying about constructing major/minor scales. I still have  ways to go in music theory and will probably purchase the book you suggested to that reader.

My daughter and I are trying to play music together with me playing rhythm with small single note fills (not sure if that's the right term) and she switches between melody and single notes over guitar arpeggios during the intro and the bridge. The problem is that she isn't trained in chords and is used to playing whatever is on the lead sheets. The lead sheets I get are from Ccli and are written for piano. If she plays all those notes in the verses, it is too busy. I'm trying to help her figure out what to play during the verses to strengthen what I'm playing and still be interesting.

Do you have any advice as to what I can read or what I need to learn to help our arrangement? I read what you said about the violin playing two notes out of the chord at a time. Is that what I need to figure out for her.

Please excuse my ignorance and thank you for your time and patience.

God bless,

Hi Rob,

The honest answer to your question is to get rid of the lead sheets altogether. What you're asking her to do is actually quite mentally challenging, especially for a 13 year old. Having to pick and sift through many notes on a sheet of music is very confusing, and usually what we do in this instance is just to throw it out completely and just use the chords. It sounds very scary, but it's actually very simple.

The problem with playing single note accompaniment with a piano sheet is that there are so many notes to choose from. Since the piano uses 10 fingers and pedals to sustain sounds, there are sometimes three to four lines of "fill in" parts to supplement the melody and bass. If you haven't been taught how to read this music, it all looks a giant mess. All of these harmonious and supplemental parts are written in a way that someone who's trained to read it can make sense and see which lines are which, but even still, there is often a great deal of overlap between harmony lines and melody lines. Since we don't have all these fingers to do what the music says, we need to simplify.

What's actually happening on the piano music is that there are underlying complimentary lines of music that fill in the gaps between longer notes and add harmony to the main melody, but all parts are actually using the same chord. The main melody might be building off of the root, the primary note of the chord. Not every single note of the tune is part of the chord. The notes that don't fit into our triad are called "passing tones", and they're like stepping stones from one chord to another. Usually they are somewhat shorter in duration than the main notes (because they don't really fit in the chord and we don't want them being held long enough to clash). If the main melody is working out of one note of the chord, an accompaniment line can be written from using the remaining two. This is where your chord vocabulary comes into play. You know where you are, where your next target is (the next note you're going to) and stepping on notes in between to get there.

Here's an exercise the two of you can try together so she can learn to play outside of the melody. It takes an ear to learn to play harmony. You can't play what the melody is playing, and there's often no one to follow, so you have to learn to hear what is good. It all goes back to the scales. This is where we use Modes. Chances are she hasn't been taught Modes. Most people don't understand them and are afraid of them (or they don't know how to explain them in a way that the student can understand enough to utilize them). They're actually quite easy.

You play your C-scale on your guitar:

She plays the C-scale on her violin, except she starts on E:

There we have a nice, harmonious, complimentary sound. You played your C Maj scale, which in Modes would be called the C Ionian (Ionian corresponds the regular Major scale). She played what is called the E Phrygian, which is fancy talk for "Play the C-scale starting on E". And there we have an entirely new line of notes that we can choose from to make our accompanying lines. We can do the same with the 5th degree:

You play the C-scale on your guitar:

She plays the C-scale on her violin, except she starts on G:

It sound a little funky, but it still works. You played a C Ionian, and she played a G Mixolydian. The nice thing about Modes is that I don't have to commit to one or another throughout the song. I can start out using the scale starting on the 5th, but I can drop down to the 3rd if I want, and if the melody moves out of the 1st and uses the 3rd, I can use the root. So, we end up with this wonderful tapestry of notes weaving around each other. Do this for all the chords in the music. You'll find that some of the notes you're playing make excellent passing tones to the next chord.

If it helps, here are Modes in a nutshell. You don't need to know all of this information while you're playing, but this is how it works, and it may help both of you to make better lines in your music. When you're using Modes, each note (degree) has a name:

1 - Ionian
2 - Dorian
3 - Phrygian
4 - Lydian
5 - Mixolydian
6 - Aolean
7 - Locrian

We use a simple mnemonic aid to remember them: I Don't Play Lyke My Aunt Lola. Instead of memorizing 72 new key signatures, which is the approach most teachers will take, all you have to do is keep the same key as the major and start on a different degree. A Mode is nothing more than a major scale that has been moved off of its traditional root note and started somewhere else. We keep the same sharps and flats, we just start in a different place.

I hope this helps. If you're having trouble, sing or play the song "Do A Deer" from "The Sound of Music". When you get to the part that says "So...a needle pulling thread..." you're now singing the C-Scale in its different Modes!


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Jessica Vaughan


I can answer general questions about the performance of and history of country, bluegrass, rock, swing, dixieland, folk music, and early jazz, and also more specific questions pertaining to classical and non-classical-music fiddle and violin playing such as: technique; music theory; style; ear training; feel; tradition; culture; authenticity; execution of various types of fiddle tunes; improvising solos, fills, and breaks; minor repairs; general maintenance/upkeep; and violin/fiddle lessons. I CANNOT ANSWER questions about instrument worth, value, name, brand, age, authenticity, maker/production, major repairs, restoration, or anything to that affect.


As a fiddler, I was 3rd in the State of Ohio in 2007. I am also a session musician who is hired by recording studios to play on the cds of recording artists and for stage performances. Though classically trained, I have a preference for country, bluegrass, rock, and swing. I am also a guitar player and vocalist. I have a college degree; however, instead of pursuing a career in law I have been a private teacher and performer for over 10 years. I play by ear, I read music very well, and I can also improvise. I have played in bands ranging from bluegrass to punk rock to heavy metal to classical orchestra.


For my actual fiddling education, I began my classical instruction at the age of 9 and studied under Mr. Keith Holliday (currently of the Akron Symphony Orchestra, the Ohio String Quartet, and the Divertimento String Quartet) through high school. I studied privately, for many years, under Mrs. Simma Korostyshevsky, former Master Violinist with the Toledo Symphony. My education in musicianship is in that I have also played the piano since the age of 5 (of which I play ragtime, stride, and pop/rock), the trumpet since the age of 10 (of which I am a member of Bugles Across America), guitar since the age of 16 (country and rock), and electric bass since the age of 16. I also received instruction from my mother, Ms. Shirley Ann M. Walker, M.M.

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