A Fiddler’s Guide to Moveable Shapes from John Mailander

This slim volume from clever young Nashville fiddler John Mailander could be a life-changing experience for students of the instrument, especially if you are new to improvisation or band work.

Its unpretentious title describes the contents perfectly. A Fiddler’s Guide To Moveable Shapes is designed to convey this concept to players who are comfortable playing melodies on fiddle tunes, but feel lost when trying to make up solos, add accompaniment in a band setting, or feeling comfortable as an improvisor.

Closed positions are familiar territory for guitar, banjo, and mandolin players who typically learn chord shapes early on in their study of the instrument. From these shapes they learn where other notes related to the chord are located, and how to move these closed shapes up and down the fingerboard for other chords/keys. But many fiddlers focus solely on playing a melody, either of a fiddle tune or in orchestra or band situations, and may not always even be aware of the harmonic structure of what they play.

John’s book starts right there with a brief tutorial on chord theory and the circle of fifths. From there he moves to a discussion of double stops, in both open and closed positions. The examples are demonstrated in standard musical notation, augmented by images of the fingering positions he is covering on a photo of a violin neck. There are also examples of a couple of tunes, with suggestions for how to accompany others using tidbits from the music.

This is not a detailed instructional text, but more of a “think piece” type of book. If the notion of closed position chord shapes is new to you, this book will open up a new world of possibilities. His commentary on using the index finger as the Amazing Finger Capo could be a revelation as well.

Just so you can be assured that he knows of which he speaks, here’s video of John with his friend and frequent collaborator Nick DiSebastian on Silver Spire.

The book’s cover also has a dual purpose. The line illustration by John Fabke, and several of the images included in the book, also functions as a coloring book. Mailander helpfully includes a box of wooden pastel pencils with the book for your noodling or coloring pleasure, should your mind wander while working on your moveable positions.

A Fiddler’s Guide To Moveable Shapes will be available on September 10. $25 gets you the book, postage paid, or for $15, a digital download.

You can contact John online for ordering information, or for more information about studying with him, either in person in Nashville, or by Skype lessons online.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.