Bowing chords on the fiddle


How to bow rhythmic chords on the fiddle

This week we spent some time looking at different ways to bow chords on the fiddle, to get a rhythm  in behind the tune.

We started off by playing through the slow reel from a couple of weeks ago. Then we learnt a new reel called Iggy and Squiggy. This one works well at a fairly fast pace. It uses the fourth finger a lot in the B part, combined with triplets and some rapid string crossing – it’s a good tune for a left-hand workout!

To keep our basic bowing pattern of starting the bar with a down bow, we slurred 2 quavers on an up bow after each triplet in the tune. We’re aiming to develop a ‘default’ pattern to our bowing which is played subconsciously. Once the down bow at the start of the bar has become a habit, it then becomes easier to vary it when we want to add different rhythms into a tune.

Keeping a relaxed bow hold

We looked at another way to help develop a relaxed bow-hold. first of all we shook out our bowing hand, to relax all the muscles. Then we placed our bows onto our fiddles in the usual playing position, holding the bow between the thumb and middle finger only. After this. we laid the other fingers gently onto the stick of the bow, without bringing any tension into the hand or fingers.
Bowing chords on the fiddle

The stick of the bow should sit in the first joint of the first finger (the joint nearest to the palm of the hand). This allows he first finger to be used to help control the direction the bow is traveling, so we can keep it perpendicular to the strings. The fingers should be spread out a little, and the whole hand should be slightly rotated anticlockwise, so that the back of the hand is pointing a little towards the tip of the bow. This gives us a basic relaxed playing position which will allow the wrist to be flexible when playing. The first finger and the pinkie can be used to help control the bow, using the thumb as a pivot.

How to bow rhythmic chords

There are several different ways to bow chords on the fiddle, which gives us some different options as to how those chords will sound.

In the last phrase of the B part of Iggy and Squiggy we tried playing an open D string to create a chord on each of the notes were playing on a down bow. If the notes of the tune (which are all on the A string at this point) are played with the bow positioned very close to, but not touching, the D string, then we can create the chord on any notes we choose just by using a bit of pressure on the index finger to bring the bow hair in contact with the D string. Playing the chords in this way adds a stacatto, almost percussive, rhythm beneath the tune.

A different way to create the chords using the open D string is to use a circular wrist action. We’ve tried this action out before when we’ve been playing tunes that switch backwards and forwards from one string to another. The wrist moves in a small clockwise circle which results (in this tune) in an up bow on the A string and a down bow on the chord. The wrist action can be modified slightly, so that instead of changing from one string to the other, we’re switching between playing the note on the A string, and playing the note plus the open D string. Creating the chord in this way allows the open D to ring out after we’ve played the note, so it sounds different to the previous method.

We ended the evening by playing through Leaving Brittany. We then played Aird Ranters, Barrowburn Reel and Spootiskerry in a final set. Next week we’ll look at some options for bowing Spootiskerry.