Absolute Beginners Class

If you’re unsure about any of the terms used here to describe parts of the fiddle have a look at the labelled diagram of a fiddle

Autumn term 2018

Thursday 15th November

Tonight we learnt the riff to accompany Angeline the Baker (the last tune in the Virginia Reel set). This riff is made up of 2 different chords. It starts on the A and D string played together, then shifts to the D and G string. If you find it hard to play chords you can play a single string (either the A or the D for the first chord, and either the D or the G for the second chord) So if you get completely lost in this one, playing a D will always be right!

There’s an A and a B part to this riff , and each part is repeated. In the B part the chord change to D/G happens slightly earlier than in the A part.

We played though each of the riffs in the set, and then practiced going from one riff into the next one. We also tried playing riffs for the first and second tune in the set along with Ros playing the tune.

We played through the waltzes and also L’Air Mignonne.

Thursday 8th November

Tonight we learnt the harmony part to Circle of the Ocean, and the waltz Leaving Lismore. We practiced playing the Circle of the Ocean harmony along with the tune. This will be the first tune n the waltz set at the ceilidh. For the dancers, one of the tutors will play a short introduction to the tune to set the pace. We worked on listening to the musical intro and starting the harmony in the right place and at the right tempo. We also had a go at playing the harmony while listening to the tune as it was played at the same time.

Next week we’ll learn the accompaniment for Angeline the Baker, the last tune in the Virginia Reel set

Thursday 1st November

Tonight we learnt the riff accompaniment for the second tune in the Virginia reel set – Can You Dance Tobacco Hill. We tried out playing the riff we learnt last week for Granny Will Your Dog Bite, and going straight from that into tonight’s riff.

We also worked on getting our feet tapping while we play. We tried out playing notes on the open D string in a steady rhythm, and tapping our foot to every note we played. This is the same as playing notes that are one beat long, and tapping the foot on every beat. Then we tried playing with a slower rhythm on the D, and tapping our foot twice for every note, which would be similar to how we would need to tap our foot to tonight’s riff, where all the notes are 2 beats long. We also played a faster rhythm on the D and tapped our foot on every second note – this is what will happen when we play phrases in the first riff where there are notes that are only half a beat long.

We finished off by playing though the waltzes that we learnt in the class last term. We tried playing without looking at our fiddles, and really focusing our attention on the sound and the rhythm of what we were playing. For folk who haven’t learnt the waltzes yet, we’ll have a chance to learn the notes when we meet before the class next week.

Thursday 23rd October

Tonight we went over the main phrase in the B part of L’Air Mignonne. We also learnt the riff to accompany Granny Does Your Dog Bite, which is the first tune in the set we’ll play for the Virginia Reel at the ceilidh.

We worked on playing the riff together, listening to the sound we were making, and finding ways to keep playing closely in time as a group. We also spent a bit of time looking at the written notes on the page, how to read what’s written, and then make sense of it on the fiddle. Find out more about the notes on the stave, and how they relate to the notes on the fiddle.

Thursday 18th October – mid-term break

Thursday 11th October

We learnt the B part of L’Air Mignonne tonight, and played through the whole tune together. For folk who had got the notes in the tune, we tried out playing with a down bow on the notes on the beat in the opening phrase. We worked on emphasising the notes on the beat, to help create a pulse in the tune. Using a down bow makes it easier to emphasise these notes.

Thursday 4th October

Tonight we looked at things we can do to help us learn to play more in tune. Here’s a few of the things we covered:

  • Regularly having a go at tuning your fiddle by ear, and using an electronic tuner to check if you have managed to get it in tune. You can tune by ear to a set of pitch pipes or to any ‘fixed pitch’ instrument such as a piano or keyboard. If you struggle to remember the pitch once you pick your fiddle up, try playing the note on the pitch pipes/piano, and singing the note to really internalise the pitch, before you try to find it on the fiddle
  • Learning to play chords: If you take a fiddle that is in tune and play any 2 adjacent open strings at the same time, the notes will harmonise. Try playing an open D string with an open A string. Once you feel comfortable doing this, try placing your first finger on the D string and play the open A string  at the same time. Make sure your first finger isn’t touching the A string  when you do this. When we place a finger on a string, it can be hard to know if you have the note in tune or not. Hearing the note along with an open string played at the same time like this can help us to hear if the note we’re playing is in tune or not – the open string note acts as a ‘reference’ for the ear, creating a harmony with the 2 notes played together. If you haven’t tried this sort of thing before, it’s not that likely you will immediately be able to hear whether you’re playing in tune or not, but the more you do this, and really focus on listening to the sound you’re making, the more familiar you will become with the sounds and harmonies
  • If you’re tuning your fiddle to a note from someone else, it can sometimes be hard to hear if you are in or out of tune if you both play the note at the same time. If you’re not sure, try getting the other person to play the note on their own, then you play the note as soon as they stop – it can be easier to hear a difference between the pitch of the 2 notes doing it this way.

We learnt the first half of the tune L’Air Mignonne. We’ll be playing this tune for a Gay Gordons at the ceilidh in December

 

Thursday 27th September

Tonight we worked on bow control and tuning. We started off by looking at how to control the volume of the notes you play on the fiddle. We played through the riff accompaniment to the march Loch Ruan. We’ll be playing this for the Gay Gordons at the ceilidh in December.

We then focused on the position of the second finger. In a D scale, we play with the second finger close to the third finger on the D string (this note is an F#), and close to the third finger on the A string (playing a C#). We tried playing placing the 2nd finger close to the first finger – on the D string this produces an F, and on the A string the note is a C. Then we tried playing D (open string), E (first finger), F (2nd finger close to 1st finger), F# (2nd finger close to 3rd finger), G (third finger)

We then learnt to play the scale of G Major, starting with the third finger on the D string (which is the note G). On the A and E strings we need to place the 2nd finger close to the 1st finger for this scale. The scale ends on the 2nd finger on the E string (which is also a G note). Find out more about the structure of a major scale and how to work out where the notes are on the fiddle

Thursday 20th September

We played around with the scale of D, firstly finding the notes, and playing the scale together. We then split into 2 groups. One half of the room played the scale, and the other half of the room started playing the scale as the first group played the F# (2nd finger on the D string). this created a harmony. We then tried moving around so that everyone had someone from the other group on either side of them. We repeated the same exercise

Summer term 2018

Thursday 7th June
Tonight we learnt the harmony part to the waltz Circle of the Ocean. The tune is played in a set of Fun Fiddle waltzes along with Leaving Lismore. We’ll play them together at the family ceilidh in November. Next week we’ll work on playing from the harmony part of Circle of the Ocean and changing straight into the Leaving Lismore tune.

We worked on playing tunes focusing on hearing the tune in our head as we played, and allowing the fingers to find the notes on the fiddle. We also looked at the difference between practicing, when we need to be analytical about our playing, and ‘performing’, when we need to put the analysis aside, and focus purely on the music.

Thursday 31st May
We learnt the second part of Leaving Lismore. We revisited our bow hold, and looked at how to keep the right hand soft, and able to interact with the stick of the bow, rather than in a firm fixed grip.

Thursday 24th May
Tonight we worked on the waltz Leaving Lismore, and learnt the A part of the tune. You can download the music from the repertoire page on the Fun Fiddle website.

Thursday 17th May
Tonight we worked on playing the tune Chicken Feet together, and beginning to shift our focus so we had some awareness of hearing others in the group playing. Doing this allows you to begin to think about staying in tune and in time with other people you are playing with. We worked on blending our sound together, and instead of looking at out left hand on the fingerboard we became more aware of the other players.

We also worked on thinking about our bow direction while we play. We played the D scale, starting off with playing one note to each bow stroke, starting with a down bow on the open D. Then we tried fitting 2 notes into each bow stroke, so the pattern becomes:
Down bow: D/E (open D, and first finger on the D string)
Up bow: F#/G (second and third fingers on the D string)
Down bow: A/B (open A, and first finger on the A string)
Up bow: C#/D (second and third fingers on the A string)

After this we tried a pattern that creates an emphasis on the first note – we played one note on a down bow followed by 3 on an up bow. Because the timing for all 4 notes remains the same, we have to move the bow much faster on the down bow to get from the heel to the tip. This gives us the full length of the bow to fit in 3 notes on the up bow. The bow has to move much slower on this up bow, to allow us to fit in all 3 notes. The result of this is that the first note, with the faster bow movement, becomes much louder than the following 3 notes.
So this pattern is:
Down bow: D (open D, with bow moving fast)
Up bow: E/F#/G (first, second and third fingers on the D string, with bow moving slowly)
Down bow: A (open A, with bow moving fast)
Up bow: B/C#/D (first, second and third fingers on the A string, with bow moving slowly)
When you’re working out how to fit the 3 notes into the up bow, aim to change from the first to the second note when you’ve travelled about 1/3 of the way along the bow and the second to the third note when you’re 2/3s of the way along the bow.

Thursday 10th May

Tonight we went over the tune Chicken Feet again. Once we had the tune, we tried playing it without looking at our fiddles, which pushed us to really listen closely to the music we were creating. You might also want to try playing with your eyes shut, which would allow you to focus on what you hear even more closely.

We also talked about learning to manage the ‘self-talk’ that can often get in the way of effective learning. We may not even be aware we are doing this as we tussle with picking up a complex new skill.

What do you notice happening when you can’t pick up a phrase of a new tune in the class, or when you find that something you thought you could play well yesterday has completely vanished? Do you find yourself thinking you’re probably  not very musical, or that you can’t learn by ear? Or do you notice another unhelpful story that you tend to tell yourself when things go wrong?

If you become aware of any patterns like this, it’s unlikely they will disappear through force of will. Rather than trying to stop this sort of thing from happening, you can see if you can find a different and more constructive way of thinking about the problem.

So if your habit at the moment is to tell yourself you can’t learn this tune, you could replace that with telling yourself that you haven’t learnt the tune yet. Or if you tell yourself that you’ve never been any  good at music, you might switch to telling yourself that this is the first opportunity you’ve had to learn to play an instrument, and you’re noticing it’s taking you a little longer than other people because you’ve never done it before.

Our thinking patterns can have an incredibly strong impact on what we are able to achieve. See if you can identify anything that’s hindering effective learning for you.

Thursday 3rd May
Tonight we worked on how to create different sounds. We looked at how to transfer the weight of the arm into the bow, and explored different ways to increase the volume of our playing:

  • moving the bow faster
  • adding the weight of the arm to the bow
  • playing with the bow closer to the bridge
  • playing with the heel of the bow

We can also decrease the volume of a note by:

  • moving the bow slower
  • taking some of the weight of the bow into the hand
  • playing with the bow closer to the fingerboard
  • playing with the tip of the bow


Thursday 26th April
Tonight we went over the riff to accompany the March Loch Ruan. We worked on tuning, playing a D scale together, and then in harmony, really focusing on hearing the sound of the notes. We also worked on creating a better tone from the fiddle, thinking about:

  • keeping the bow perpendicular to the strings
  • making a connection between the bow and the string at the start of the note
  • Using the position of the bow between the bridge and the end of the fingerboard, to change the quality of the sound
  • Using different sections of the bow (tip, middle or heel end) to create a different quality of sound

Thursday 29th March
We spent the evening working on Chicken Feet, and looked at how to add dynamic into the notes, and play the tune so it flowed.

Thursday 22nd March
The class learnt the tune ‘Chicken Feet’

Thursday 15th March
Tonight we learnt the first part of the the tune Auld Lang Syne. We also played through the notes in the scale of D, focusing on tuning

Thursday 8th March
In tonight’s class we played around with the D scale, and tried playing it as a round – half the class started the scale, and the second half of the class started playing the scale when the first group were playing the F# (second finger on the D). At the end of the night we split the 2 groups up, and alternated around the circle, so each person had someone either side of them who was playing different notes. We tried playing while focusing in the overall sound of the group playing together

Thursday 1st March
Tonight we played through The Fairy Lullaby

Thursday 22nd February
Tonight we played through the D scale a few times. We each focused on the sound we were making as we played, and tried to identify any problems we could hear. This is a useful skill to apply to any practice playing – being able to approach practice analytically will help you to learn to hear problems, and work out possible solutions to help you create the sound you want to make.

We learnt the tune ‘The Fairy Lullaby’ by ear.

We also worked on bowing – particularly exploring ways we can change the volume of the bow stroke:

Makes the note louder Makes the note quieter
Move the bow fast Move the bow slowly
Play with the bow close to the bridge Play with the bow close to the fingerboard
Play close to the heel of the bow Play close to the tip of the bow
Add the weight of the arm to the bow Take some of the weight of the bow into the hand

Thursday 15th February
Mid-term break

Thursday 8th February
Tonight we worked on keeping the bow perpendicular to the strings throughout the bow stroke. We also played the D scale, and then looked at how to transfer the weight of the arm into the bow, to help the bow hair to really connect with the fiddle string at the start of the note.

We also looked at how to let the weight of the arm transfer into the bow, which can help create a good connection between the bow hair and the string

After the mid-term break we’ll learn the tune ‘The Fairy Lullaby’

Thursday 1st February
Tonight we looked at how to tune the fiddle using the fine adjusters. Click on the link to find out more about how to tune your fiddle.

We tried out playing the notes in the scale of D, starting on the open D string.  Find out more about scales and how to find the correct finger positions for the scale of D.

We also learnt an accompanying riff to play with the tune Loch Ruan, a Fun Fiddle favourite. We revisited the bow hold, and fiddle hold, and spent some time working on playing this  riff in time with one another in the group.

Thursday 25th January
We spent some more time going over the bow hold, and how to move the bow and keep it perpendicular to the fiddle strings throughout the length of the bow stroke.

We also played open Ds, working on keeping a steady tempo with the notes, and playing in time with each other.

Thursday 18th January
In our first absolute beginners fiddle class this term we looked at the bow hold and how to hold the fiddle.

Bow hold for fiddle players
How to hold the fiddle bow
Photo ©Ros Gasson

We also tried out playing the open strings, using the full length of the the bow to play each note, and working on keeping the bow perpendicular to the fiddle strings throughout the length of the bow stroke.