How to play triplets

We started off  tonight looking at the mechanics of playing a triplet. We were working on triplets where all 3 notes are the same (sometimes also called a birl).  If you’re struggling to play them, it’s worth practicing them with the bow going in the same direction each time. It’s quite possible to always play them in the same direction, by slurring notes as necessary in tunes.

We learnt the reel In and Out the Harbour which has triplets in both the A and B parts of the tune.

We played this riff with the triplet starting on a down bow, and slurred the two quavers between each triplet on an up bow.

Triplet exercise for fiddle players

To get the effect of the triplet, the first (downbow) note in the triplet needs to be short and abrupt. Use pressure on the index finger to connect the bow with the fiddle strings at the start of that first note. The down bow should be fast and short, and stopped abruptly, while keeping the wrist really relaxed. The 2nd and 3rd notes in the triplet are produced by the hand doing a small ‘judder’ when the first note is stopped suddenly. We tried out this action using just our right hand, without holding the bow.

Bow hold

Bow hold for fiddle players
How to hold the fiddle bow
Photo ©Ros Gasson

We checked out our bow holds again. Here’s a link to more information (and photos) describing how to hold the fiddle bow. We got into pairs. One person held the tip of their partner’s bow while their partner played a long bow stroke, paying attention to their bow hold, and ensuring the bowing hand was slightly rotated anticlockwise.

Then we reminded ourselves of the thumb acting as a pivot in the bow hold. Because of this pivot effect, pushing down with either the pinkie or index finger will have a very different effect on the bow.

The role of the pinkie

We tried out playing a long A, and lifting the bow off the string at the top of the up bow. At the point the bow lifts from the string, the pinkie pushes down, and because of the pivot effect of the thumb, this allows the pinkie to take the weight of the bow. We tried this out again, this time lifting our pinkie off the bow as soon as the bow was back on the strings, and only using the pinkie when we were lifting the bow from the string. It’s important to make sure that the pinkie relaxes as soon as the bow is back on the strings – if there’s any tension in the pinkie, the muscles in the forearm will be contracted, which will affect the whole bowing action.

The role of the index finger

Then we tried out the converse action, of ‘digging in’ with the index finger. When we’re playing a triplet, it’s important to get the bow connecting well with the fiddle string, right at the beginning of the first note. This can be achieved by pushing on the back of the stick of the bow with the index  finger, right at the start of the note. We tried the action out without our fiddles to start with. It’s a very short sharp action – pushing down with the forefinger, and counteracting this by pulling up with the thumb at the same time. The result is that the stick of the bow bends under the increased pressure, bringing the back of the bow closer to the bow hair. If you’re getting the action, you can see this happen if you watch the centre of your bow.


We finished off the class by playing through Huntingtone Castle together. Several of us went to the session together afterwards – it was lovely to see some new faces!

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