Playing the fiddle for a Gay Gordons

Playing the fiddle for the ceilidh dance 'the Gay Gordons'

Playing ceilidh dances

Tonight we spent some time working on the march we learnt last week. Terribus is a 2/4 march, and works well for the ceilidh dance the ‘Gay Gordons’. A typical set for a Gay Gordons might consist of 4 two-part 2/4 marches. If you want to add a real lift at the end of the set, you might choose to change into a 6/8 march for the last tune instead. If you’re paying for dancing, it’s important to be in control of the tempo, and to have a really strong rhythm, to direct the dancers. It’s particularly important to start the tune with confidence, so the dancers are really clear what tempo they’ll be dancing at, and where the dance starts. So we looked in detail at the first phrase of the tune, and what we can do to help create that confidence in the sound as we start to play.

The tune starts on an upbeat (the open A) Making sure that the first D (which falls on the beat) is played with complete conviction, will help the dancers be sure where the dance starts. You’re also aiming to create a really clear start to the note, and make it fall cleanly on the beat. So how can we achieve this?

Playing with a ‘bounce’ for dancing

We tried out using a hammer-on, playing a C# just before the D, which has the effect of emphasising the D note. As we played the D, we also added a chord, played with the open D below, played in a really percussive style. This further emphasises the D in the tune. We first learnt this  technique when we were playing Brae Roy Road. To create a bit of variation to the way you play this phrase each time, you can add the hammer on, or the chord, or both, or neither, each time the D appears in the phrase.

We then moved on to thinking about how to play the notes in the tune cleanly. Using the natural bounce in the bow will help with this. We tried out playing an open A, with short up and down bows in a stead6 rhythm. Using your index finger, you can ‘dig in’ to the start of each bow stroke, by pushing the stick of the bow down into the string with the 2nd joint. If you also pull upwards with the thumb at the same time, this emphasises the effect. At the point where the bow is pushed into the string, you can create a very definite start to the note, with a real emphasis. the hand relaxes as you go through the bow stroke, and at the end of the stroke, the bow bounces just clear of the strings, creating a tiny gap between one note and the next.

After the break we moved into the big room, where we had space for some of us to dance a Gay Gordons while we played the tune. After we’d done this, the dancers then the players gave some feedback. The dancers felt the music had a good strong rhythm to it, and they also found that knowing the structure of the tune  helped them to know whereabouts they were in the dance. The players noticed that watching the dancers helped with keeping a steady tempo…and that it was sometimes hard to remember whereabouts they were in the tune when they watched the dancing!

Playing the fiddle for the ceilidh dance 'the Gay Gordons'
Photo ©Ros Gasson

To end the evening, we had another go at playing vibrato. We first tried this out a couple of terms ago – there are some useful steps for learning the muscle movements that will create vibrato when we’re playing. Several people in the class are beginning to get a real feel for this!