How to Practice Seconding by Yourself

May 28, 2017

Hi, I’m Mitch Reed and my vlog today is on how to practice seconding by yourself on the fiddle. Seconding is what the Cajuns call when you play chords behind a melody. So when you’re backing up the accordion, or another fiddle, or the vocals, you would second or some people call it playing the chords or comping; there’s all kinds of words for it. Down here, most of the people, the term you hear is seconding. So that’s just, you’re backing up another lead instrument with chords.

When I teach private lessons, a lot of people ask me, “well how can I practice that?”. Because, you know, it’s hard to back up a melody, it’s hard to play your chords and then play along with a record or you know really you’d have to go to a jam session to practice that…which those are all good things to do.

But if you’re still maybe at a beginner level and you’re playing at least six or seven tunes, you’re not ready to go to jam yet, and not quite sure how to play along with a recording or a record. I wanted to share with y’all an easy way you can start to practice your seconding and your chords.

So the first thing to do is to learn your chords. So I’m tuned down, Cajun tuning, which I usually…I’m always tuned that way. So that’s D-G-C-F. And what I’ve done is I’ve taken my iPhone or any smartphone you have and I’ve recorded myself playing a melody at a decent tempo, you know, something not…it doesn’t have to be too fast. It’s something at a good tempo that you can second along with when you play it back. So I’m going to…I just wanted to share this with y’all. This is how I actually practice. If somebody writes a song or wants me to work on the song and wants me to learn really both the melody and the accompaniment, this is how I work on it.

So there’s two ways you can go about this. So what I did first was I took my smartphone. And what you’re going to need is, you’re going to need to find, on an iPhone, you need to find the Voice Memos app, which looks like this if you can see it. And on another type of smartphone, most of them have… Android has some kind of voice record or whatever. So what you do is you take that and you record yourself playing a melody. So it could be anything that you’re working on, something that you feel pretty good about so you can play it at a decent tempo.

So what I’ve done is I’ve recorded Mon Vieux Wagon which is a real common fiddle tune. Now what you do need is you need to know your chords. So maybe even before you try this, make sure that you can switch quickly from a G chord to the C chord to a D chord to an F chord. Those are the four chords that are most commonly used in a Cajun fiddle tuned down to Cajun tuning.

So you may want to do that first, just practice your G. So this is my G…[3:42] And the C…[3:46]. The D…[3:52]. And then the F…[3:56] Okay. Pick a tune, so I picked Mon Vieux Wagon. Even if you don’t know the chords, this gives you a chance to play it and, you know, try different chords, see what sounds good, and just trying to use your ear. It’s all about exercising your ear and getting confidence with your ear. This music is…well the tradition, it’s handed down by ear. So it’s not written down. There are people now you can get lessons with that can explain it and give you the theory behind it. But the real tradition is just people picking up an instrument and trying to play along with recordings and jam with other people and that’s how it works.

So what I’m going to do is I’m going to show you how you can practice your seconding. So I’ve already recorded Mon Vieux Wagon on my iPhone. I have it laying on a flat table because this will help the microphone to come out and be loud. So I’m going to lay it flat and…let me just make sure I got all this…okay. So I have the volume all the way up. That’s the other thing that’s important. Make sure your volume is all the way up. If you have an iPhone there’s a little icon, a little speaker icon, in the upper right corner. You want to make sure that’s blue. If it’s white, it’s just going to come out the headphone jack. It’s not going to come out the actual speaker. A lot of people get frustrated with that. So make sure it’s blue. Then you just hit play and you play along.

So I know the chords already for Mon Vieux Wagon because I’ve recorded it. So I played it in the key of C so I’m going to start on the C chord and then it goes through a G. And that’s it. It only has two chords. And then, because it’s a two-step, I’m going to play a shuffle. So I’m going to play that, I call it that, “I’m happy you’re happy” rhythm. So it’s that, you know…[5:55 ]Okay?

Now I may have to play a little softer when I do this because I have to hear the speaker, okay? And I’m going to show you in a little while another technique you can use if you can’t hear it. But I just want to show you a quick and easy way you can do this without having to make a big production, okay. So here I go, I’m going to play it…[6:20]…and there’s the G…[6:26]

All right. So I just did one pass through the tune. Two A parts, two B parts. You can record it as long as you want and you can even do multiple songs one after another and this is a great way to practice seconding. Even if you don’t know the chords, this gives you a chance to just fool with different chords and see which ones blend and how they go. That’s kind of a skill that you need to develop anyway when you go to a jam session.

Okay… So I’m going to show you another technique that you can do with this. Say for instance you can’t hear. Your complaint is that “okay, I’ve tried, I just tried this, I can’t hear the music. My fiddle’s too loud or whatever.” So what you can do is, if you buy a smartphone or you have a smartphone, we all have these. These are earbuds. So I use this technique a lot when I’m traveling with BeauSoleil and I need to learn a new tune or I need to practice a tune, practice the fiddle part and so this is a technique that works for me. It may not work for everybody but I’d like to share this with you.

So what I do is I take my earbuds and I only put the left earbud in my ear. I leave the right earbud out. Because what I need is with this ear I need to hear the fiddle acoustically. But I put the earbud in the ear where the fiddle is because the fiddle is going to be really loud. So this way, I’m kind of creating this balance. So this way, the fiddle is not too loud because I have this earbud in the left ear, and with my right ear that’s kind of pointed away from the fiddle I can hear the violin. Okay, if I explained that right hopefully.

So now, you still need to kind of come up with a balance. If you have the volume all the way up the music might be too loud. So you may need to come down with it. But figure out, we all hear differently, so figure out what works for you. So what I do now is, again I just play that recording…[9:11] Okay. This is a good thing. So remember the icon in the upper right, the little speaker icon on? This is only on the iPhone that I’m talking about. If it’s blue it’s going to continue to come out the phone. You have to hit that until it’s white and then it will come out the earbuds, okay? That’s an important thing because it frustrates a lot of people. Okay.

So, here we go…[9:40] Ok, it’s a little loud, I’m going to turn it down. I know you can’t hear the melody right now because it’s coming through my earbuds. So I turned it down a little bit just where it’s not crazy loud and then I’m going to play my fiddle and try to basically balance these two sounds…[9:57]…ah it’s perfect. So I can hear the melody in my ear… And I can hear my fiddle… If I need the melody to be louder… I can just play it out on my phone… So this is a great way to practice… All right.

So I just wanted to share that with you. That’s what The Vlog is this week. It’s all about practicing and it’s all about doing this every day, doing some kind of technique. You don’t have to second every day. I still feel like the most important thing in Cajun fiddle for a fiddler to do is learn your melodies. Learn all your…I would start with your standard, what I call standard melodies. So those are the melodies that you’re going to hear going to a jam session or most of the tunes that you’re going to hear on the current recordings. But learn the standards first. Learn your melodies because there are still…I feel like there’s still not enough fiddlers that know the true melodies of tunes. And when I say melodies, I mean what the accordion is playing when they kick off the tune or even what the singer’s… the melody that the singer is singing in a song. So it’s really important to learn that. So I always say practice that, that’s the most important thing, and then the seconding. And you don’t have to do the seconding every day but you definitely want to practice it at least once a week in some kind of way. If it’s doing what I just showed or going to a jam session or playing along with the record, you can even just play through your chords without accompanying a melody just to practice switching from chord to chord.


So hope this all helps. It’s what I use on the road. It’s my little secret, my little technique. Stay inspired, keep on fiddling, and hope to see you out there soon. Thanks so much. Have a great day.

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