How to play reels faster

 Learning how to play reels faster

Tonight we spent the evening looking at what we can do to help us to be able to play reels faster. When you’re learning to play the fiddle there are a lot of different things to think about. Many people struggle with learning to play reels  at speed. There are various things we can do with our playing that will help us to be able to play faster while keeping our speed under control.

Bow control

At the start of the evening we learnt the reel Ramnee Ceilidh by the Highland piper Gordon Duncan. It’s a fairly straightforward tune, but it has some interesting things going on with the rhythm, which make it a bit more of a challenge play at speed. We worked on the following points:

  • Using our wrist to move the bow in short bow strokes. We practiced playing a few notes crossing strings, using a clockwise circular wrist action to move the bow from one string to the other.
  • Using very short bow strokes when we are bowing a run of quavers in a tune. We practiced doing this while playing up and down a D scale.
  • Minimising the vertical movement of the bow when we’re moving from one string to another. We looked at a short part of a tune that moves between the A and E strings as an example. When the tune was on the A string, we played with the bow very close to the E string. When the tune moved to the E string, we still kept the bow very close to the A string.
  • Minimising the amount of movement of our left hand on the fingerboard. When we were lifting our fingers between notes, we tried just lifting them clear of the string and no more. There are often times in tunes when we can keep a finger in place on the string, as we’ll return back to that note again.
  • Keeping a steady tempo by tapping a foot. It’s helpful to have some distinction between the beats and the offbeats. We could do this by tapping one foot on the beat, and the other on the offbeat, or a heel on the beat and a toe on the offbeat.
  • Playing without consciously thinking about what we are doing – learning to listen to the tune we’re playing as we play it, and allowing the subconscious mind to be in charge!
  • Thinking about how we phrase a tune. Getting our feet are tapping helps us to start to emphasise either the beats or the offbeats in a tune.

Learning how to play reels faster, in the string Circle fiddle class, Edinburgh

We tried playing up and down a scale at speed, working on playing it subconsciously rather than thinking about what our fingers and bowing arms were doing. We also played through Roxburgh Castle. We started very slowly, and  each time we played through the tune we played it a bit faster, using some of these techniques. We’ll spend more time during the term trying out techniques that will help us to speed up  reels, and still keep a steady tempo.

We finished off the evening by playing through the 3 tunes we have learnt this term in a set.

The written music for Ramnee ceilidh is on the music page on the website. Here’s a webpage with several different bands playing Ramnee ceilidh.