Interview with Duncan Gardiner of Fiddlesticks – Part 3

Today’s post is the third and final instalment of my interview with the wonderful Duncan Gardiner of Fiddlesticks.

If you missed the first two parts, check them out here:

In this final instalment Duncan provides insight into the musical development process with Fiddlesticks, and shares his top tips for budding guitars and composers.


So once you’ve been around all of the schools in Australia, and all of the kids between Kindy and Year 8 have heard everything, is there a plan to develop a new show or anything like that?

Look I’m not sure. I definitely think there could be scope for that, but if not I could see myself doing something with a guitar quartet. There could be something really rich happening there. So I have ideas of doing the complete history of Western music in 60 minutes. There’d be someone playing bass guitar, someone playing classical, some doing a steel string, or an electric, someone doing some other little plucked string like a mandolin or a requinto or a banjo or something and doing a show like that.

I’m sure things like that have been done, but kids seems to identify with a certain performer. There’s always like a typical cello girl – that sounds so terrible. But there always seems to be a certain type of young girl who always sees themselves as or just dreams of playing the cello. It seems be the same type of girl every time as well.

Certain kids just respond to different instruments. There are some kids that just want to rock out on the guitar and really associate with the electric guitar, some respond to the classical guitar. So I can see, if not a new show with Fiddlesticks, more in the future.

Have you been writing any more material for Fiddlesticks?

Yeah, so often on the tours we have an evening concert for the public to come along. So we’re constantly developing that repertoire, just to really find the best mix of music. There is not a lot of original music for our trio, so I do a lot of arrangements. We might find arrangements online, but the chords might have been simplified or the harmony simplified so I find it’s best if I just arrange it myself, that way I usually totally happy with the outcome.

I’ve been arranging a lot of pieces as well, and a lot of pieces that were originally for guitar and cello and adding a part of violin. Or pieces that were written originally for guitar and violin and adding a cello part. And I’ve been adding a lot more of my originals in there too. So I find myself pretty busy!

Do you give any top tips to any of the kids in the audience about learning the guitar or any other instrument?

We tell them that it’s important to find a good teacher and to practice regularly. Those sorts of things. They don’t generally ask for advice on how to play the instruments, some of them don’t even have music classes at school.

We tell them it’s never too late to start. We tell tem Rachel started to play the violin when she was three, and all the kids gasp. Some of them might think well why bother I’m in Year 12 now. Well we tell them they can start anytime. And we tell them we have students that are adults too.

For the benefits of the blog readers, do you have any top tips for budding guitarists?

If they’re already learning there’s that old expression practice makes perfect – I would say that’s incorrect. Practice makes permanent because how you practice all the time is how you play all the time. If your practice is full of mistakes, your playing will always have mistakes. So practice the right way, instilling good habits into your playing.

I think people tend to think that you have make your playing and your sound like someone else’s. In this day of YouTube and iTunes and Spotify and whatever it is that people are listening to music through they go to these sites, and perhaps base their interpretation on someone else’s. I think, especially if they’re doing music for fun, people should really just try to be imaginative with their interpretations. Have fun with it!

All these other guitarists already exist, who are you? There’s already a Karin Schaupp. We don’t need another Slava, because we already have him. Who are you and what is your interpretation?

And what about folks that are just making their first forays into composing for the guitar – any top tips there?

A lot of the time I have composed music, or have discovered a composition, through improvising. I think that’s such an organic way or writing. Starting improvising, just play random chords that aren’t really even chords and see if you like the sound and move from there.

Another way is to think of the tonal or timbral effects of the guitar, the wonderful percussive sounds of the guitar. Obviously the guitar is so colourful, even if you’ve already written a piece think about the extremities of super tasto and ponti and the different sounds….The guitar is just so varied.

I think it’s great if we can include more of the guitar family, like bass guitar, maybe double the bass. I’d love to see soprano guitars in every guitar ensemble. You could do something with that. You could write to explore the different registers the different guitars have. And capos make anything sound sparkly and nice!

And another one – often you come across pieces of music that were written by a non-guitarist, which feels just so awkward to play. Try you ideas on the guitar and see if they enhance the natural sound of the guitar. If it has chords that are just so difficult to play and sound tonal dead or dull then it’s not going to sound that great. You want something that will enhance the sound of the guitar, something that resonates with the guitar.

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