How to play notes cleanly on the fiddle

How to play notes cleanly on the fiddle

At the end of last week, we ended up with a question: “How do you play notes that sound crisp on the fiddle?” We looked at some techniques we can learn that will help with this, in the class tonight. We started off by thinking about what it is about the sound of musical notes that makes them sound crisp and clean to the listener. Some ideas that came up included:

  • the notes are in time
  • the notes aren’t rushed
  • the notes have a definite start and finish
  • there’s a ‘shape’ to the notes
  • there might be a small gap between one note an the next
  • the notes are expressive
  • the notes have a good tone, creating a sound that’s pleasing to listen to

We used the tune we learnt last week to look at some of these attributes. We started off by talking about learning how to play at a steady tempo. Becoming confident that you can hold a tune at whatever tempo you wish to play it is a skill that can be learnt over time.

It can be useful to try to play along with a metronome. If you’re doing this, and you tap your feet while you play, it’s helpful understand what’s happening with your foot tapping before you try this out. If your playing follows the tempo that your foot is tapping, you’ll need to work on tapping your foot in time with the metronome in order to be able to play in time with it. If on the other hand, your foot tapping is following your playing tempo, then you can aim to match your playing directly to the metronome’s speed.

How to play notes cleanly on the fiddle
Photo ©Ros Gasson 2013

In the class, we tried out starting off playing the tune at one tempo, then moving to a new tempo at the start of each tune part. The group was following one person for this exercise. Initially we found that although we all changed quickly to the new tempo, there was a tendency to immediately slide back towards the previous tempo we’d been playing at. We were also working on tapping our feet while playing, to help with establishing the beat.


Playing with ‘bounce’

We then went on to work on using the vertical action of the bow in the bow stroke, to create ‘lift’ in a run of notes. As we draw the bow across the strings, the bow can be slightly compressed downwards, by using the first finger on the back of the stick to transfer the weight of the arm into the bow. Releasing this pressure part way through the bowstroke will make the bow ‘bounce’ out of the  end of the bow stroke. By varying the pressure applied, and the point at which we release that pressure, it’s possible to vary the slight gap in between successive notes, created when the bow lifts just clear of the string.

We concentrated on the B part of the tune, and tried out using bowing patterns to create emphasis on the beat. The Shetland style ‘1 down 3 up’ bowing pattern can be used on the runs in this tune to great effect.

We also had a go at using chords to create emphasis. In the A part we have already tried out creating a percussive chord on the beat, on the opening D in the tune. This week we tried playing a chord in the B part, playing the D and F# (on the E string) together. We played these on the offbeats in the string-crossing section at the start of the B part.

We tried out using various bits of technique together to create a different effect. On the opening D of the tune we used increasing bow speed, hammer on plus a chord with the open D below, to create crescendo in the note, giving it a ‘shape’.

To finish the class we played through Cooley’s Reel together.

Next week we’ll learn a polka, which will give us a chance to do some more work on developing those crisp notes!