Learn to play the fiddle

Learn to play the fiddle

The String Circle fiddle class met for the first night of term this week. We’ll be learning various aspects of fiddle technique throughout the 12 week term.

Tonight we learnt the Shetland reel Lay Dee at Dee. We looked at bowing, and  tried out slurring 2 notes either before or after the crotchets in the tune, to keep a bowing pattern with down bows on all the on-beats. In the A part of the tune, we looked at playing a percussive open D along with the Ds in the tune itself. In the B part, we worked on the section with string crossing between the A and E strings.

We tried out using a circular wrist action to get the bow crossing from one string to the other. To do this effectively, you need to play the notes a little further up the bow than your usual playing position. The weight of the bow can then be used to allow the bow to tip over from the E string and onto the A  string.

We also tried out playing up and down a D scale, while thinking of something unrelated to what we were doing. We were aiming to allow the playing to be taken care of by the subconscious part of the brain. It’s worth trying this out at home. Try playing something you are really familiar with ( a scale, or riff, or a tune you know really well). Find something to watch that will keep you absorbed – looking out of the window, if there’s something happening outside, or watching the tv with the volume turned down might work. Playing round your chosen piece, while getting your conscious brain absorbed in something else, will mean that the subconscious will have to take over dealing with playing the fiddle. This will give you an idea of how it feels to play in a way that will allow the music to flow more naturally. When we first start to learn to play the fiddle, the conscious thinking part of the brain takes over. As we play, we’re analysing and thinking about everything that goes on, as we grapple with where to put the bow, which finger is going down next, whether we are playing in tune and in time, and a myriad of other details. The overall action of playing doesn’t flow well when the brain is working in this way. It’s similar to when we learn a skill such as reading – in the early stages, when we read out loud, the words came out in a rather stilted way, as we were having to consciously work out what each word on the page was. As we became more familiar with the shapes of common words, we learnt to read more fluidly, from the subconscious rather than the conscious.

We talked a bit tonight about effective ways to practice. Here’s a link to the blog post I mentioned about practicing without your instrument. There are loads more interesting blog posts on the same website, covering all sorts of aspects of the psychology of music, playing and learning.

Next week we’ll do some more with the tune we learnt tonight.