Playing single notes or chords

Single notes or chords

The fiddle is a versatile instrument, and can be used to play either tunes and melodies, or drones and chords to accompany another instrument or singing. It’s also possible to play chords within tunes that you’re playing (this is sometimes referred to as ‘playing ringing strings’ or ‘double stopping’). Learning the techniques needed to play two notes at the same time on the fiddle will open up a host of possibilities for your playing.

In order to move the bow from one string to another, you will need to raise or lower the elbow of the bowing arm. Raising the elbow will move the bow onto a lower string, and lowering the elbow moves it onto a higher string.

In the early stages of learning to play, you’ll be focusing on how to position the bow so you play a single string throughout the full length of the bow stroke.

To be able to control whether you are playing a single note on one string, or two notes on adjacent strings, you need to develop a precise sense of your bow position relative to your fiddle strings.

Learn how to double stop with confidence

Learning to play 2 strings together will involve finding the exact angle for the bow to be sitting on 2 strings at once.

Start off playing each open string in turn, using long bow strokes. Starting from the frog end of the bow, play an open G right to the tip of the bow, focusing on avoiding hitting the adjacent D string. Then lower the elbow of your bowing arm until the bow sits on the D string, and play a long bow stroke right from the tip of the bow to the frog end. This time, you’ll be working to avoid the bow hitting either the G or the A string. It will be necessary for your bowing hand to move in a straight line keeping the bow in the same plane along its full length. Then move to the A string, and finally the E string.

As you get a feel for the different positions your bowing arm is in to play each string, you can shift to repeating this exercise without looking at your fiddle or bow. When you’re doing this focus instead on the sound of the notes you’re playing. You may well find to start with that things go a bit pear-shaped as you make this switch! But it will help you to focus on listening, and adjusting what you are playing based on what you hear. Ultimately you want to be able to do this instinctively as you’re playing.

Once you can play each of the open strings with confidence, you can start to explore the positions for playing on 2 strings at the same time.

Start as before, playing the open G string using a long bow stroke. Then lower the elbow of the bowing arm a little, until the bow is sitting on both the G and the D strings. Your bowing arm will need to be somewhere in between the position for playing the open G string and the position for playing the open D.

Your aim is to be able to play keeping the bow on both strings along its full length. If you’ve already become used to listening while playing the open string on its own, you can try focusing on listening to the two notes as you play. If your bow strays off the plane that’s needed to be in contact with both strings, you will hear that one of the two notes disappears.