Playing rolls on the fiddle

Playing rolls in a jig

When playing in jig time, you can play a roll any time when there are three quavers played together on the same note, or a dotted crotchet. Once you can play a roll fluidly, you won’t hear any of the individual notes involved in the ornamentation. When you’re first starting to learn to play a roll, you will play the note that’s in the tune, followed rapidly be the note above, the note itself, the note below, and back to the note in the tune. If you want to play a roll where the note in the tune is a B (played with the first finger on the A string), the fingering for this would be 1-2-1-0-1. (To play a roll on an open string note,¬† you can play 0-1-2-1-0.)

 Learning tunes by ear

We got onto talking about what you can do where you are familiar with a tune, but don’t necessarily have all the notes right under your fingers. When this happens, it can be easy to become tense at the bits of the tune you are unsure about, which generally exacerbates the problem. If you’re playing in a large informal group, such as a busy session, you can try quietly feeling your way around the tune while others play it. If you’re in a slightly more exposed situation, it’s good to have something to fall back on, so you know you can play, but won’t put others off in the bits you’re not certain about. We tried the following exercise:

We played a short riff on the e string:

jig time riff01

Then we split into two groups – alternate people round the room played just the notes in the run down:

jig time riff - on-beats

At the same time, the people in between played just the f sharps from the riff:

Jig time riff - off-beats

Then we tried swapping round, so everyone had had a chance to try each of these two options. People generally found it much easier to play the run down, than the repeating f# notes. When you listen to the riff being played, the notes in the run down all fall on the beat. They therefore all tend to ‘stick out’, and sound more obvious. It’s a useful thing to be aware of, if you’re playing a tune where you’re not entirely sure of all the notes. In this situation, if you aim to get the main notes in the tune, it gives you a skeleton, and an idea of the main shape of the tune. It also helps with keeping a steady rhythm, even if some of the other notes are missing or wrong! If the tune is played round a few times, you can then begin to pick up any of the other notes in between that you’re less sure of.

Playing faster

Once we’d done this, we used the riff to try working on playing faster. We played it round several times together at a steady pace, then took the speed up a bit. Once we had settled into the new speed, we tried taking the speed up a little more. If the riff became too fast for anyone to play, there was always the option to revert to playing just those key notes, as we did in the previous exercise. We tried the same thing again, but this time we avoided looking at our left hand fingers while we were playing.¬† We were aiming to hear the riff in our head as we played, and to play it in a way that would make someone listening want to clap along or dance. We found that it sounded more fluid when we played it like this.

The Hen’s March

At the end of the evening we went back to the Hen’s March and worked on the opening phrase in the tune. We added in some vibrato on the lead G, along with a crescendo on the G, and a grace note as well. Then we added a hammer on on the D at the start of the first bar (playing from a C# to the D), and a chord with the open D string below.


To finish off we played through Teribus together.


There will be no class on Tuesday 18th February.