Playing chords on the fiddle


Playing chords

In this workshop we looked at several different ways of playing chords on the fiddle – either as an accompaniment to someone else playing a tune,  or with a tune you’re playing yourself, when they can be played as a long ‘drone’, as a short accompaniment to a phrase within the tune, or as a percussive accompaniment.


We started off by looking at the bow hold, and its role in giving you control over whether to play one string or two at any given moment. We learnt the Irish tune ‘The Eagle’s Whistle’ playing with an open string played throughout the A part. We looked at playing the tune with slurred bow strokes, so the open string became an accompanying drone. Then we played with mainly individual bow strokes, which created a rhythmic accompaniment on the open string. It’s possible to add pushes on some of the up bows to add interesting rhythms. We also played around with leaving spaces in the tune. Then we tried out playing the tune up an octave. We focused on hearing the tune while doing this, and letting it come out of the fiddle without thinking about the different fingerings in the higher octave. Basic chords are formed from the 1st, 3rd, 5th and 8th notes in any octave (known as the arpeggio). Fiddlers only need to find 2 of these notes! Having found drones to accompany the tune, we split into 2 groups, and one group played the tune up an octave, while the other group tried to find chords to play as an accompaniment to the tune.


We learnt the tune ‘Egan’s Polka’. We added a percussive chord on an open D below the D in the tune. This involves letting the bow hit the open D, then ‘bounce’ off it almost straight away, allowing the D string to ring out. We also played around with emphasising up bows in the tune, and leaving spaces.


Playing chords on the fiddle
©Ros Gasson

We looked at common chord shapes. Where the first number is the finger on the lower string, and the second number is the finger on the next string up,  0-0, 1-1, 2-0 and 3-1 all create basic chords with notes a third or a fifth apart. 2-3 and 1-0 are other variations on notes from the arpeggio. Getting familiar with the hand shapes needed to create these chords allows us to make them readily while playing tunes.


We played through Spootiskerry, Leaving Lismore, and the Barrowburn Reel, looking at possible chords we could play