Playing chords in tunes

Playing chords in tunes

This week we did some more work on playing chords within tunes. We learnt the four-part 2/4 march Walter Douglas MBE. We worked on adding some percussive-style chords using an open A string in various places in the tune. I’ve marked some chords you can try on the music – the phrase repeats throughout the tune. You can try out playing the chords on all the marked notes in the phrase, or just on some of them.


How to control chord playing

Rather than using movements of the arm to change the bow angle, you can control whether or not you play a chord simply by using more weight (which comes from the bowing arm) on the stick of the bow from the index finger. To do this successfully, you need to get into the habit of playing with your bow on the string where the melody notes are, and as close as you can to the string which you want to use to play the accompanying chord or drone notes. So if you want to work on using drones on the G string while you play melody notes D string, start off by focusing on playing cleanly on the D string, with the bow hairs as close as you can get them to the G string without hitting it. Once you can do this, adding a bit of weight on the bow through the index finger will be enough to push the bow hairs down on the the G string as well, creating the chord.

There are several benefits of creating chords in this way:

  • It’s much easier to control a change of weight from the arm than to keep the bow at a very precise angle that would be needed to create a consistent chord along the length of the bow. As well as being used to having fine control of our fingers, the finger is immediately next to the bow stick – whatever you do will transfer to the stick directly. To impact on the bow, a change in the angle of the upper arm ¬†has to be transferred through the elbow, wrist and finger joints, which adds several possibilities for inaccuracies to creep in.
  • The impact on the bow is instantaneous, which makes it easier to be confident with timing of the chords you play – you can be sure the chord will start just when you want it too, which is particularly¬† important if you’re playing percussive style chords.
  • If you’re playing faster tunes, and wanting to switch between chords/no chords for individual notes, it’s much easier to manage at speed if you’re using a change in the weight of the arm resting on the bow to achieve this effect.

We spent some time playing a simple note sequence on the D string (DEF#G), and adding an open G drone below it. We used separate bows for each note, starting on a down bow on the D. To start with, we focused on playing long slow notes, and getting the G drone to really resonate . It helps to watch the strings while doing this. On the G string, you can clearly see it vibrating. Played up the DEF#G, then left a 1 beat rest before returning to the D again. We aimed to have the open G ringing out through the length of that rest beat.

Then we worked on controlling which notes we chose to accompany with a drone. We played an open G only with the notes on the down bows (so with the D and the F#), and then switched to just playing the open G with the notes on up bows (the E and 3rd finger G). We tried splitting the class in two, and one half payed the chords on the up bows, while the other half played the chords on the down bows.

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