Learn to play reels faster

 Learn to play reels faster

Learn to play reels faster
Photo ©Ros Gasson

At the start of term several people in the class asked about learning to play tunes faster. Reels are often the tunes where speed is a problem, particularly if you want to be able to play for dancing. There are several aspects to learning to play reels faster – being able to get your fingers around the notes is one of them, but generally not the thing that is tripping folk up when they are learning. Having techniques that enable you to keep a steady rhythm with the bow is crucial – if the tempo and rhythm stay strong, straying off the tune doesn’t necessarily cause a problem. If the notes are right but the tempo or rhythm falters, the musical spell is definitely broken! Having our bowing under control will allow us to develop a strong beat in our playing. Learning to hear the tune in our heads as we play (whether or not we’re playing the tune!) allows us to move away from concentrating on fitting in individual notes, and to focus more on the rhythms and patterns within the music. It will allow the conscious brain to give up being in control, letting the subconscious take charge This is when we can experience the ‘flow’ state, where we’re open to developing a more fluid way of playing.

We learnt Cooleys reel, which is an Irish tune that sounds great at a good pace. We’ll spend some time working on this tune as a way to look at some of the things we can do to start playing reels faster and with confidence.

Once we’d learnt the tune we looked at what’s happening with the bowing. One thing that can make an enormous difference to being able to play tunes well at speed is having a basic ‘structure’ to the way we will bow a tune. We’re aiming to develop an underlying pattern that will naturally emphasise the beat (so generally we’d be playing a down bow on the beat). In these early stages, we’re also looking for ways to make it as easy as possible to get our bow around the tune. Once the basic pattern is ingrained, you’ll play new tunes with that pattern without thinking about it. At that point, you can turn your attention to adding different bowing patterns to tunes at points where you want to vary the rhythm away from emphasisng the beat.

Developing a basic pattern to our bowing also means that when we first learn a new tune, each time we play it we’ll be playing it with the same bowing pattern. Doing this greatly reduces the amount you need to learn to play that tune well. If you have no idea what direction your bow is going in, the chances are that each time you play the tune, your bowing pattern will vary, which makes it a much more complicated job to learn to play the tune with complete confidence.

We worked on starting the reel on a down bow, and playing a down bow on each on beat in the tune. For reels that are all quavers, if you wanted to establish this basic bowing pattern, it would work fine to play every note on alternating down and up bows – we’d always end up palying a down bow on the beat. Not many reels are that simple! Crotchets or triplets will disrupt the flow of up and down bows, unless we find a way to bring the bow back into the basic pattern.

So our basic pattern could involve slurring 2 quavers together either before or after any crotchets or triplets in the bar. Cooley’s Reel is a great tune for working on this, as there are crotchets and triplets in both parts of the tune. I’ve added slurs onto the written music to show where we were playing them in the class tonight.

We’ll do some more work on this tune next week, looking at ways we can vary this basic pattern to add interest to the rhythm. So – shock horror…we’ve ended up with some homework! Feel free to work on being able to play the tune with this basic bowing pattern for the class next week.

At the end of the night we played through Fionn’s and the Eagles Whistle