Autumn term 2019
Thursday 10th October
Tonight we learnt the second part of the reel Put Me in the Big Chest.
We also looked at bowing the A and B parts of the tune so we start to build a habit of playing with a down bow on the beat, slurring 2 notes together on an up bow after any crotchet and triplet in the tune.
Find out more about this in this article on default bowing patterns.
There’s a mid-term break next week
Thursday 3rd October
Tonight we started off by working on learning tunes by ear. We played the 4 notes on the A string (A, B, C# D) to find the finger positions, then tried finding pairs of notes on that string that Ros played.
We learnt the A part of the reel Put Me in the Big Chest, and will learn the B part next week. We started thinking about the direction of our bows when we’re playing different notes in the tune. Reels are tunes that are often played for dancing, and for dancers it’s really important that they can hear a clear beat in the music. The easiest way to start creating a pulse in a reel is to ensure you routinely play a down bow on the notes that fall on the beat, as it’s much easier to emphasise a down bow than an up bow. In order to do this, it will be necessary to slur some notes (ie play two or more notes without changing bow direction). In the opening phrase of Put Me in the Big Chest we started on a down bow, and played individual bow stokes for each note, then slurred 2 notes together on an up bow from C# (2nd finger on the A string) to the top F# (1st finger on the E string).
We spent some time looking at how to harness the vertical action of the bow when playing a run of short notes. We placed the bow on a string, in the centre of the length of the bow, and allowed the weight of the arm to transfer onto the bow through the index finger. As the weight transfers onto the bow, you’ll see the stick of the bow pushes down towards the bow’s hairs. Once we’d got this action, we tried playing a note – just before the bow starts to move, the weight of the arm is transferred through the index finger into the bow, helping us to really ‘dig in’ to the note to give it a clear start point. As soon as the bow starts moving we immediately released the pressure with the first finger. If the hand and fingers are completely relaxed at this point, it allows the natural springiness of the stick of the bow to straighten the bow out again, lifting the bow slightly upwards from the strings. It’s possible to use fine control of the amount of weight used on the bow to control whether the bow lifts itself right off the string or not at this point. If it lifts just clear of the string it creates a tiny space in between individual notes, giving the music a sense of ‘bounce’, and also making each note sound crisp, with a very clear start and finish.
Thursday 26th September
We played through the scale of G, playing 2 octaves from the open G to the 2nd finger on the E string
We played through Egan’s Polka (played in the key of G). We tried out playing the opening phrase at the tip end of the bow then in the middle of the bow, then towards the heel of the bow, to see which felt the most comfortable. We noticed that playing at the tip gave a softer sound, and playing at the heel tended to create a harsher sound.
We looked at some chords that we can play in the first phrase of the tune, using the open D, A and G strings.
We tried out tapping our feet while playing. If you struggle with tapping your foot while you play a tune, try it while playing something really simple. We started by setting a beat with a foot tapping, then playing an open D string, tapping the foot on the first of each of 4 notes. Then we tried emphasising the note that we played as we tapped our feet, setting up a regular pulse in the notes. This is what we are aiming to add into our tune playing – the foot tap will give us an indication where the beat is in the tune, and we can choose to emphasise the notes on the beat to create a pulse in the tune. Once you can do this without thinking about it, you can start to play around with rhythms emphasing notes on or off the beat.
Thursday 19th September
Tonight we started by looking at the bow hold, and how the bow is balanced in the hand, and can pivot around the thumb. We looked at how to relax our bowing arm and hand, and allow the weight of the forearm to sit on the bow. When we play a long bowstroke, from the tip to the heel of the bow
We played the scale of G from the open G string, over 2 octaves up to the top G (2nd finger on the E string). We focussed on the tuning of the second finger, which is placed close to the 3rd finger on the G and D strings, and close to the 1st finger on the A and E strings.
We learnt the polka Egan’s Polka, which is in the key of G
Summer term 2019
Thursday 6th June
Tonight we played through the accompaniment to John Ryan’s Polka, Do Da, and Almond Bank. Next week is the last evening of the term, so we’ll be meeting up with the other classes to play together
Thursday 30th May
The fiddle class joined with the intermediate class tonight (while I was away under a rain cloud in Durness), and played through Ae Fond Kiss, and also learnt an accompaniment to John Ryan’s Polka
Thursday 23rd May
Tonight we went over the A part of the march Do Da, focusing on what we’re doing with the bow. We started off playing the first phrase in the tune thinking about which part of the bow we were using for each note. We played round the phrase several times, experimenting with playing using different parts of the bow. Then we repeated this thinking about the direction of the bow. We tried playing the phrase starting on a down bow, and using individual bow strokes for each note.
We also learnt the Tune Ae Fond Kiss (page of the Fun Fiddle tune book). We started off by playing the notes in the scale of G, starting on the 3rd finger on the D string. We need to keep the second finger close to the first finger on the D string and the e string in this scale.
Thursday 16th May
We learnt the B part of Do Da tonight.
We also looked at the left hand position on the neck of the fiddle, and worked on keeping the palm of the hand vertical, and the fingers light on the strings. We tried playing the D scale while tapping a foot along with our playing. Learning to tap a foot while playing tunes gives a way to help control the tempo of the tunes we play.
Thursday 9th May
Tonight we played through Almond Bank, and then learnt the first part of a march called Do Da (page 8 of the Fun Fiddle tune book).
We looked again at using the movement in the left arm to position the hand above the relevant string. As you move your elbow over to your right, the fingers of the left hand move further left across the fingerboard. This allows the hand to maintain the same playing shape on any string on the fiddle, rather than stretching the hand/fingers to reach across to different strings. We’ll learn the B part of the tune next week.
Thursday 2nd May
We played through Almond Bank. We worked on getting a consistent tone from the fiddle, thinking about the weight of the bow. We played long open D notes, playing from the heel to the tip of the bow, and focused on keeping the bow lighter at the heel end, and gradually changing the relationship of the hand with the bow so by the time we reached the tip we were adding some weight to the bow.
We played a D scale, then played it with half the class starting off the scale, and the other half playing it as a harmony. We did this focusing on listening to the sound, and not looking at our left hand fingers at all.
We then learnt a harmony to the tune Almond Bank.
Thursday 25th April
Gica taught the class Almond Bank – the tune is on page 21 of the Fun Fiddle tune book.
Spring term 2019
Thursday 21st March
Tonight we played through I See Mull and The Reel of Tullochgorum. We tried out joining the two tunes together, playing I see Mull in D (starting on the E string) followed by the reel. When we played I see Mull we all played it in the top octave the first time round, then some people dropped down to the lower octave the second time though the tune.
We tried playing through the set focusing on listening to the tune as we played, then played it all again listening to the other players in the group – doing this really changed the energy of the sound, and improved our tuning too! We’ll play these tunes together at next week’s end of term get together with the other classes.
Thursday 14th March
We played through I See Mull in G (starting on the A string) then in D (starting on the e string. We spent some time looking at some embellishments that help to bring the tune alive, including grace notes and chords. We also tried playing the tune in the lower octave of D – to do this we started with the second finger on the D string.
We played through the Reel of Tullochgorum, and tried tapping our feet as we played, to establish where the beat is. Emphasising the notes where we tap our feet creates a steady pulse in the tune. To make it easier to start tapping our feet we tried tapping our feet while just playing one note repeatedly, then tapping our feet while playing a scale.
Thursday 7th March
To play fluidly, we need to reach a point where we’re no longer thinking about which finger is landing on which string. We need to take a leap of faith that our subconscious will mange this process. this becomes much easier to do if we can spend time playing and focusing on listening to the notes as we play them. Doing this builds up the necessary connections between the pitch of a note and where the finger is placed.
So tonight we played around with the D scale to help build confidence with learning tunes by ear. We played each of these exercises really listening to the notes as we played them, and aiming to play without thinking about where our fingers were going.
We started off by playing the scale (from the open D string up to the 3rd finger on the A string). If you’re not sure where any of the notes are, follow the link to find out more about playing the scale of D on a fiddle.
We followed this by playing a repeating sequence that worked it’s way up the D scale. Here’s the sequence:
- Open D followed by the next note in the scale (E, played with the first finger on the D string) then the D again.
- D, F# (2nd finger on the D string) and D
- D G (3rd finger) and D.
- D A (open string) D
- D B D (1st finger on the A string)
- D C# D (2nd finger)
- D d (3rd finger) D
So you’ll see that we were working our way up the scale of D, and playing an open D string before and after each note. We then switched to a different pattern, as follows:
- D F#
- E G
- F# A
- G B
- A C#
- B d
In this pattern the first note of each pair is working up the scale of D, and each 2nd note in the pair is 2 notes above it on the scale.
Then we moved on to playing the arpeggio of D. An arpeggio is the notes from the scale that a guitarist would play to form the chord of D major. The notes for the arpeggio of D are D, F#, A and d. You can find the notes of the arpeggio of any scale by playing the first note, the 3rd note, the 5th note and the 8th note. These notes will always harmonise together. We played around with each picking random notes from the arpeggio to play, focusing on listening to one another to help us play them in tune.
You can hear the D scale played with different bowing patterns and rhythms, and the D major arpeggio in the video below.
We played through I See Mull and The Reel of Tullochgorum, and went over the B part of the tune in more detail.
Thursday 28th February
We worked on the reel of Tullochgorum this evening, particularly thinking about playing the tune with a down bow to emphasise the on beats. We also worked on getting our feet tapping while we played.
We finished off by trying out some different bowing patterns. we played the scale of D from the open D string up to the 3rd finger on the A string, firstly with individual bow strokes for each note (starting on a down bow on the open D). Then we tried slurring two notes together on each bow stroke like this:
Down bow: open D,E (1st finger)
Up bow: F# (2nd finger), G (3rd finger)
Down bow: open A, B (1st finger)
Up bow: C# (2nd finger), D (3rd finger)
Finally we tried playing what is known as a 1 down 3 up pattern like this:
Down bow: open D,
Up bow: E (1st finger), F# (2nd finger), G (3rd finger)
Down bow: open A,
Up bow: B (1st finger), C# (2nd finger), D (3rd finger)
Thursday 21st February
Tonight we learnt the Reel of Tullochgorum, which is in the key of D. We’ll do some work on the tune in the coming weeks, particularly with the bow
Thursday 7th February
Tonight we played I see Mull in the key of G. We started off by playing the scale of G across 2 octaves – starting on the open G string, and finishing on the G (second finger) on the e string. For the notes on the G and D strings, the 2nd finger is placed close to the 3rd finger. On the A and E strings, we need to place the 2nd finger close to the 1st finger. Once we’d played the scale a couple of times we tried playing again, really focusing on listening to the sound as we played, and trying to get the notes in tune. We noticed that while the lower octave was in tune, the tuning was less accurate on the 1st and 2nd fingers on the A string.
We played the 2 octave scale again. This time we split the class into 2 groups with one group starting off playing the scale and the second group playing the same scale as a harmony. The first group started the scale from the open G string as before. As they reached the third note (2nd finger, playing a B) the other half of the class started playing the scale from the open G string. Once we’d done this a couple of times, we moved around so that each person had someone from the other group on either side of them. We repeated playing the scale as before – each person was now harmonising with the person either side of them. This allows us to hear more clearly the sound of our own fiddle in relation to the harmonising note played by our immediate neighbours.
We had a go at playing I See Mull in the Key of G – starting on the first finger on the E string. Once we had played this through a couple of times, we tried playing the tune, and focusing more on hearing the tune, rather than thinking about where our fingers were going. For those who were confident enough to give it a go, we split into 2 groups and some had a go at playing the tune an octave lower – this requires a completely different pattern of fingering! The aim with doing this is to focus completely on hearing the tune as we play, and trust that our fingers will find the notes.
We finished off by playing through the tune without looking at our left hands, again aiming to focus on the sound of the music as we played.
Thursday 31st January
Tonight we learnt the B part of I See Mull. We worked on using the full length of our bows to help with creating dynamics in the tune.
To try this out, we tried playing all the notes on the A string (A, B, C, D) using just the centre section of the bow, then using just the tip section of the bow, then using just the heel section of the bow. We noticed that it’s much easier to control the bow when we use the centre section, that at the tip we get a gentler sound, and at the heel the sound tends to be quite raspy.
We then tried playing at the heel of the bow, and used our right hand pinkie to add a bit of pressure on the bow. Because the thumb of the bowing hand acts as a pivot, doing this has the effect of lifting some of the weight of the bow off the string, which helps us to play with a more mellow tone at the heel end of the bow. We then tried playing long bow strokes (from tip to heel) gradually adding more pressure from the pinkie as we moved towards the heel end of the bow. Doing this helps if we want to create a consistent sound throughout the bow stroke.
We also looked at playing I see Mull in the key of D, which involved starting on the 1st finger on the E string, rather than 1st finger on the A string. For this key change, all the fingerings will be exactly the same as playing in the key of G, but we are playing them on different strings (E & A strings, rather than A & D strings). The note we start on (1st finger on the E string) is an F#
Next week we’ll try playing the tune an octave lower on the fiddle. This will still be in the key of D. Our start note of F# played an octave lower is played with the 2nd finger on the D string. So this shift will involve finding completely different finger patterns.
Thursday 24th January
Tonight we learnt the A part of the tune I See Mull. We are learning this tune in the key of G. Up until now we’ve played tunes in the scale of D, where the second finger is placed close to the 3rd finger on the A string. Have a look at the notes in the D scale and the finger positions we use to play them. When we play in the key of G, the second finger position on the A string moves so it is close to the 1st finger rather than the 3rd. So before we started to learn the tune we played the notes on the A string that we’ll be using in the tune:
A string (no fingers)
B (first finger on the A string)
C (second finger on the A string, placed close to the second finger)
D (3rd finger on the A string)
We learnt the first half of the tune, and noticed the way the tune is in phrases:
2nd phrase (this phrase is left ‘hanging – it’s clear there’s more of the tune to come)
3rd phrase (which is exactly the same as the first phrase)
4th phrase, which brings the A part to a musical full stop
For people who had found the notes of the tune, we tried using the speed of the bow to change the dynamic (or volume) in the tune as we played. We also tried playing the notes with and without slurs between notes (two notes played without changing the direction of the bow).
We’ll learn the B part of the tune in the class next week
Thursday 17th January
Tonight we revisited some of the basics of the bow hold, and explored the differences between playing close to the bridge or over the fingerboard, and playing at the heel, tip or middle of the bow.
We played the notes A, B, C# (with second finger close to the third) and D on the A string, starting on a down bow. Then we focused on playing with the bow perpendicular to the strings. Read more about how to keep the bow straight.
We then looked playing in tune. When you’re practicing playing, and place a finger on a string, it can be tempting to do this hoping it will land in the right place, and hoping that you can fathom out what to do about it if your note turns out to be flat or sharp. I suspect that if we play in this way, as soon as we play a note that’s out of tune, our ear effectively ‘recalibrates’ and it becomes hard to work out what pitch the note should be. So we tried playing A, B, C#, D and pausing before we placed each finger. In the moment we paused, we tried to hear in our head the pitch of the note we were about to play. This allows us to be aiming for a note of a very specific pitch, and made a big difference to the tuning within the group.
We tried playing A, B,C#, D playing two notes to each bow stroke. This is often referred to as slurring two notes together. To do this we need to make sure we’ve got enough bow left to fit the second note in before we change bow direction. We also tried playing the same notes with a pattern of one note on a down bow followed by 3 notes on the up bow. This required us to move the bow fast on the down bow, and slower on the upbow. The result of changing the bow speed is that the 1st note (on the fast down bow) sounds much louder than the three notes played on the slow up bow.
We finished off by thinking about effective ways to practice. With learning to play a complex instrument like the fiddle there will be times when you need to focus on the physical aspects of learning a new technique. At other points you will be trying to ‘bed’ this new technique into your playing. These are 2 quite different processes. To learn the physical movements we need to be thinking about exactly how we’re moving and analysing what is working or not working. When you’re ready to try the technique in a tune, you’ll want to shift your focus much more on to listening to the sounds in your playing. It can be helpful to get into the habit of deciding before you practice which of these two things you’re doing
Thursday 7th June
Tonight learnt the jig Rocking the Baby, which is in the key of A. We worked on emphasing the notes on the beat, and playing the tune with quit a dotted rhythm. We then looked at adding chords into the A part (playing the open e string). We also worked on the final phrase in the A/B part, playing it stacatto, at the heel end of the bow, lifting the bow from the string between each note.
Thursday 31st May
We worked on the Eagle’s Whistle, looking at ways to embellish the tune. we added chords (using the open D string) in the A part of the tune, and also added grace notes, hammer-ons and an upbeat push on the bow in the B part.
We also had a look at jig rhythm. We’ll learn a new jig next week
Thursday 24th May
We learnt the tune The Eagle’s Whistle, which is in the key of G. The tune can be played in the lower octave, entirely on the D and G strings. There’s plenty of scope for adding in chords to the tune.
We also tried playing the tune up an octave (starting on the 3rd finger on the D string)
Thursday 17th May
We learnt the second part of L’air Mignonne, and did some work on playing chords.
We worked on using the transferring the weight of the arm into the bow. Once you can do this you can use it to gain control over chord playing.
We practiced playing with the bow on the open D string, and very close to the A string (which is the string we’ll play to add a chord). You can chose when the chord happens simply by adding some weight into to bow – this is enough to get the bow hairs to play the second string as well, without having to change the angle of the bow to hit the A string. It allows you to play with much more fine control over which notes you chose to add chords to, simply by changing how you use the weight of your arm.
Thursday 10th May
We learnt the first part of the French Canadian tune L’air Mignonne (or Cute Wee Tune). We looked at ways to add chords into the tune, and how we can use those chords to play around with the rhythm, pushing the emphasis from the main beat to the upbeat. We’ll learn the second part of the tune next week.
Here’s a video of the band Imar playing it at the start of a set of tunes. Notice the A and B parts of the tune aren’t repeated.
Thursday 3rd May
Tonight we worked on the Wren, looking at decorations we can use in the tune, and how to introduce dynamics. We also played through the tunes for the parade on Sunday
Thursday 26th April
Tonight we learnt the tune the Wren by ear. We’ll do some more work on the tune next week
Thursday 29th March
We played through our repertoire from this term, particularly focusing on bowing. We also looked at some of the chords that can be added into these tunes, and worked on how to play chords on the fiddle.
Thursday 22nd March
The class learnt the tune Old Joe Clarke
Thursday 15th March
Tonight we played through The Reel of Tullochgorum and Put Me in The Big Chest. Then we played the scale of G (2 octaves).
We learnt the tune Ae Fond Kiss
Thursday 8th March
In tonight’s class we played around with the D scale. We played the D arpeggio – the open D, F# (2nd finger on the D string), open A, and D (3rd finger on the A string). We also found notes in the arpeggio in higher and lower octaves (playing a low A with the first finger on the G string, a high F# with the first finger on the e string, and a high A with the 3rd finger on the e string). The notes in the arpeggio are the notes that make up the D chord, so they all harmonise with one another. We tried playing around with these notes, with all of us chosing any note in the arpeggio to play, and listening to how the notes blended together in the group.
We played the D scale as a round – half the class started the scale, and the second half of the class started 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 on the overall sound of the group playing together.
We also played through the notes in the scale of G, over 2 octaves, starting on the open G string.
Thursday 1st March
Tonight we worked on the bowing for Put Me in the Big Chest, focusing on playing with a down bow on the beat.
Thursday 22nd February
Tonight we learnt the reel ‘Put Me in the Big Chest’. We worked on emphasising the notes that fall on the beat, aiming to play these notes on a down bow.
Thursday 15th February
Thursday 8th February
Tonight we worked on embellishments we can add into tunes. We tried playing a hammer on, a simple grace note, and a percussive chord.
Here’s Hanneka Cassels demonstrating how to play a hammer on.
We also played around with the scale of D, playing it as a ’round’ so half the class was creating a harmony over the original scale.
After the mid-term break we’ll be learning the reel ‘Put Me In The Big Chest’, which has a triplet in it. This is three notes played very fast. Here’s Bruce MacGregor showing how it’s done:
Thursday 1st February
Tonight we worked on the Reel of Tullochgorum, looking at working out a bowing pattern that gives us a down bow on the main beats in the bar. We also looked at adding chords into the tune. The written music is in the new Fun Fiddle tune book.
Thursday 25th January
We worked on our bowing tonight, revisiting how to transfer the weight of the arm through the bow, to help the bow connect with the string.
Thursday 18th January
For the first class of this term we learnt the Reel of Tullochgorum. Here’s a video of the tune being played by Fiona Cuthill of Glasgow Fiddle Workshop. She plays it once at speed, and then a second time more slowly.
We focused on playing the tune with down bows on the beat. We’ll do some more work on this tune next week.