Bowing and bowing patterns

Today we looked at bowing patterns in a reel, and spent some time considering why we might chose to use particular patterns at any point.

We started the workshop by playing a D scale, using single bow strokes for each note. We could imagine these 8 notes are 8 quavers in a bar of a reel. We tried playing the same thing emphasising the upbow before the main beat in the bar – so emphasising the G and then the D at the top of the scale. We played round the scale a few times doing this, hearing the emphasised up beat connected to the down beat that followed it. We switched to playing all the notes in pairs of notes slurred together. We also tried out playing a down bow on the first note followed by 3 slurred up bows. To do this, we need to move the bow fast on the down bow, and move it slower on the up bow to fit the 3 notes in. Because of the difference in the speed of the bow this 1 down 3 up bowing pattern creates a loud note on the first note, which is on the beat.

Working on volume on the fiddle
Photo ©Ros Gasson

We learnt Cooley’s Reel. We looked at various bowing patterns we can use throughout the tune. We started off with a basic bowing pattern that allows us to keep a down bow on the beat. To do this we start the tune on a down bow, and slur the 2 quavers after any triplet or crotchet. Doing this creates a basic ‘structure’ to the bowing. If we learn enough tunes with this basic pattern embedded, it will become a habit which we no longer need to think about. If we allow this basic rhythm (emphasising on the beat) in our playing to become subconscious, it frees us up to think about adding variations into the rhythm, which makes the tunes more interesting.

There are several different reasons why we might choose a particular bowing pattern at any point in a tune:

  • The main reason is the sound – notes slurred will sound different to notes bowed with individual bow strokes
  • To keep the down bow on the beat – as the down bow has a naturally stronger sound, this can help to establish a pulse on the beat in a tune
  • If we play and 1 down 3 up pattern, or a 3 up 1 down pattern, it adds extra emphasis on the down bow (on the beat in the first pattern, and on the off beat in the second pattern)
  • There might be points in a tune where we find it easier to play the notes if we use a particular bowing pattern
  • To get the bow into position for the next phrase – if you want to play a particular phrase with a 1 down 3 up bowing pattern, you need to be at the heel of the bow for the initial down bow in the pattern. So you might choose to slur notes on an up bow immediately beforehand to bring your bow into position

When you’re practicing different bowing patterns, start off by establishing the pattern, then try switching to really listening to your playing with the bowing pattern, and see if you can hear what it’s doing to the sound of the notes. This will help establish a connection between the sound and the action. When you come to try out different patterns in a tune, you can work on hearing the bowing pattern in the tune as you play. This will help to get to a point where you can play tunes from your subconscious – fluidly  and with confidence.

We worked on the B part of the tune, establishing a basic pattern to get the down bow on the beat. Then we tried out adding in pushes on the up bows in the final run down at the end of the part. We also tried out adding a 3 up 1 down pattern, and then added in a lift on the bow before the down bow. We looked at some alternative bowings we could use in the A part of the tune to vary the sound