Bowing patterns in reels

Bowing patterns for playing reels on the fiddle

Tonight we spent some time working on developing a basic pattern for bowing reels, and also looked at a couple of variations for this, to shift the emphasis from the beat to the off beat.

Learning how to control the bow
Photo ©Ros Gasson 2013

We started off by playing through some bowing exercises for reels. We played up a D scale, playing each note twice, using single bows. If we start on a down bow, each full scale becomes the equivalent of 2 bars played in reel time. When all the notes in the pattern are quavers, playing a simple pattern of alternating down bows and up bows will always bring us back to a down bow on each on-beat and off-beat in the tune. If we add either a crotchet or a triplet into the notes, we need to slur two notes to get our bow back into the ‘down bow on the beat’ pattern. In the exercise we worked on slurring the two notes immediately after the crochet or triplet.

We learnt the reel ‘The Shetland Molecule’ by John McKusker, and worked on slurring 2 quavers together after each triplet or crotchet in the tune. Once this bowing pattern was established, we tried varying the pattern in a few places, to move the emphasis onto the off beat.

We revisited our bow hold, looking at the importance of keeping the bowing fingers, hand and arm relaxed. It’s particularly important to make sure that the thumb is slightly bent throughout the bowstroke, to prevent tension creeping into the bowing arm.

At the end of the evening we played through Jig Runrig and the Road to Banff