Playing tidily

Playing tidily

We started off the evening with each person in the class sharing 2 things they would like to be able to do better by the end of this term. Something that came up several times, and hasn’t come up in previous terms was ‘playing more tidily’. We’ll spend quite a bit of time investigating it this term.

Here’s a list of the topics that were brought up:

  • playing tidily
  • bowing
  • hitting one string cleanly
  • tuning
  • playing with the pinkie – tuning
  • controlling the bow when crossing strings
  • tone
  • character in tunes
  • rhythm
  • bowing
  • avoiding stiffness
  • twiddles – having a ‘twiddle model’ (how do you know where to put those grace notes?!)
  • playing fluidly along with tunes
  • how to bow tunes
  • how to remember tunes you’ve learnt

Playing tidily involves being absolutely confident that you can make your bow hit the string at exactly the right time, and that you will hit either 1 or 2 strings  as you chose. Most of this is down to having really fine bow control. When you’re first learning to play, the fiddle bow feels like a very long stick that has a mind of its own! So how can we control it with confidence? We started off by revisiting our bow holds. It’s important that the bowing arm, hand, and fingers remain relaxed throughout the bow stroke. Adopting a good fiddle bow hold allows us a surprising amount of control over the bow throughout the length of the bow stroke.

How to hold a fiddle bow
Photo ©Ros Gasson

We worked on our bowing action, using the flexing of the wrist to keep the bows troke fluid as it changed direction. We got into pairs – one person held the other person’s bow in front of them, in the position where that person would normally hold it themselves to play. The other person then used the stick of the bow as a guide for their hand, going through the motion of full bow strokes to get the feel of using the hand and arm together, and allowing them to flow in a straight line. We tried this out on our fiddles, bowing a long open D.

In pairs again, one person gave the other feedback to help them find out how to keep the bow perpendicular to the strings throughout the length of the bow stroke.

Then we tried bowing short notes (using alternating up and down bows) on open D, with pulse on down bow.

We learnt La Valse des Pastoriaux (The Waltz of the Young Shepherds) which was written by the Breton fiddler Jacky Molard. We looked at cuts, and grace notes in the first couple of phrases in the tune. We put a grace note in between the 2 Bs. You’ll commonly hear  grace notes played in between 2 identical notes – it helps to separate them distinctly. You can play the 2 identical note on a single bow or a slurred bow – each gives a slightly different sound. You can also speed the bow up significantly at the start of the second note in the pair, which helps to give a really clear distinct change from the first note to the second

Several of us headed up to the Diggers to play in the session after the class.

We’ll spend some time working on this waltz again next week. The written music is on the music page of the website.