Fiddle bowing with a flexible wrist

Playing fiddle bow strokes with a flexible wrist

Tonight we focused on playing our fiddles with a relaxed and flexible wrist in our bowing arms. We got into pairs and one person played the reel Lay Dee at Dee, while the other held their elbow steady. This pushed us to use the wrist more in moving the bow. One person then held the bow steady in front their partner, so they could move their bowing hand up and down the shaft of the bow, paying particular attention to keeping the wrist supple. The wrist is effectively ‘leading’ the bow’s stroke. As we reach the end of the bow, the wrist leads the change from an up bow to a down bow, so when the arm is still travelling up at the end of the bow stroke, the wrist is already starting to bend to change the bow to a down bow.

We then played through the B part of Lay Dee at Dee, and worked on using our wrist action in the section of the tune which crosses from the E string to the A string and back. With a flexible wrist, it’s possible to use a clockwise circular motion with the hand to keep the bow moving from one string to the other. This will allow us to have much cleaner control over the bow, so we can play the notes more crisply, and have more precise control over our timing. It will ultimately help us to be able to play the tune faster.

After this we worked on our technique for playing percussive chords in the B part of Braeroy Road. We were using the open D string to play a note and octave below the Ds in the tune. We bowed the C# before the D on an up bow, and moved up close towards the heel of the bow. We then allowed the weight of the tip of the bow to drop the bow onto the open D string as we played the D in the tune on a down bow. We spent some time practicing using our index finger to push into the stick of the bow, using the added pressure to create a chord on the adjacent string. We tried this out while playing an F# on the D string (2nd finger), using the open A string to create the chord. We also worked on playing this chord in the B part of Bill Sullivan’s polka.

How to develop a flexible wrist action for bowing when playing the fiddle
Photo @Ros Gasson 2013

To finish off, we reminded ourselves of the steps for learning to play the fiddle with vibrato. Practicing this for a few minutes each day will help to build muscle memory for the vibrato action, making it easier to integrate it into tune playing.

At the end of the class we played trough the Shetland Molecule together.