Improving Beginners Class

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:

1st phrase
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
Mid-term break

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.