Learning about tone and vibrato
Tonight we spent some time thinking about tone and vibrato when we are playing, particularly with respect to getting a sound we like from the fiddle’s E string.
We started the evening by playing through Rocking the Baby, then had a go at playing the two jigs from this term together in a set. The change into Rocking the Baby is worth practicing, as it takes you by surprise!
We learnt a new tune – The Arran Boat Song, which seems to have a hoard of other names and spellings, including ‘The Aran Boat’, ‘The Aran Boat Song’, ‘The Arran Boat’, ‘Erin Boat Song’, ‘Highland Boat Song’, ‘Push Off, Push Off’, ‘Put Off And Row Wi’ Speed’, and ‘Queen Mary’s Escape From Loch Leven Castle’ – phew! The tune has been written down in waltz time, and is commonly played as a waltz or slow air. I’ve also seen it written in jig time.
We worked on playing on the E string with a sweeter tone. E strings can be pretty unforgiving! We tried out carrying a little more weight of the bow in the hand, so the bow is lighter on the string. We also experimented with playing the long notes in the tune with some dynamics, by using our bow speed to add a crescendo to the middle of the note.
We also had a go at playing the Arran Boat Song in jig time
Fiddle hold and bow hold
After the break we went back to look at how we are holding the fiddle and bow. It’s important to keep both hands relaxed while playing, and avoid tension building up in the arms or across the shoulders. A relaxed playing position will help in developing good tone on the fiddle. Keeping the palm of the left hand nearly perpendicular to the floor, allows us plenty of space for the fingers to work on the fingerboard. The elbow can then be used to swing the whole hand across the fingerboard when we want to move from one string to another. In this position, our fingers drop down onto the string from above, making it easier to position them cleanly on one string.
We also worked on the different stages of developing a relaxed ‘wrist’ vibrato. We started off holding our fiddles a bit like a guitar. Using the right hand to hold the fiddle steady, we can work on the vibrato action with our left hand on the neck of the fiddle. It’s easier to keep your right hand and arm really relaxed in this position, as there’s no sense that it needs to support the fiddle in any way. We placed the left hand on the fiddle neck, hard up against the top of the body of the fiddle, with the hand in a playing position.
By building up each stage, we’re beginning to develop the muscle memory which will allow us to play with vibrato subconsciously. There are several steps to the process. It’s helpful to go through each of these steps on a regular basis, so your hand can begin to learn how to make each movement. Ultimately it will become a relaxed and fluid movement, which you can execute without thinking about it.
For wrist vibrato, the forearm is kept fairly still throughout. All the movement in the hand comes from bending at the wrist. Here’s more detailed information on the steps you can take to learn how to play with wrist vibrato.
At the end of the night we played through Leaving Brittany, a waltz we learnt in the class last term. We also played through the reel Roxburgh Castle, and the Eagle’s Whistle.