Improving Beginners Class

Summer term 2020

Classes this term are continuing online. Contact Ros for more information

Thursday 4th June

Tonight we went over Cameron’s Got His Wife Again. Several people are struggling with the run down at the end of the B part. We looked at some strategies for ironing out problems like this. The first step is to identify the cause of the problem. There are several common reasons why a particular phrase is difficult to play

  • Are you certain how that phrase should sound? We often assume that a tricky phrase is a problem because we don’t quite have the run of notes under our fingers, but sometimes the issue is that we can’t hear how the phrase should sound. Checking you can sing it is a useful way to identify if this is the problem
  • What’s happening with your bowing pattern? Often finding an easier way to bow the phrase will help make it easier to play
  • Are you losing concentration on the tune as you approach the phrase? If we’ve identified a particular phrase as being tricky, it’s very easy to find that as the phrase gets close, we switch from hearing the tune to thinking about the tricky phrase, and wondering whether we’ll manage to play it OK. Just re-focussing on hearing the tune as you play can be enough to iron the problem out
  • When we have a tricky phrase in a tune, it’s very common to speed up as you approach the phrase. Sometimes just making a conscious effort to keep the pace steady at that point is enough to make it manageable to play the phrase

We played through Cameron’s Got His Wife Again, The Aird Ranters, and the Aird Ranters as a Strathspey

We also worked on the changes between the tunes in the polka set, and played through Egan’s Polka, Britches Full of Stitches and Bill Sullivan’s Polka

Thursday 28th May

We played through the Aird Ranters as a Strathspey and as a reel. We also played through Brendan Begley’s Polka.

We went back over Cameron’s Got His Wife Again and looked at some ornamentations – grace notes, chords, and also playing an anticipated lead note going back into the A part of the tune. We looked very briefly at the steps for learning to play with wrist vibrato.

Thursday 21st May

Tonight we looked at some basics of written music, and how the major scale relates from the page to the fingers on the fiddle fingerboard. We started off by looking at the structure of a major scale, and the intervals between each note, then looked at how to write this on a music stave. Find out more about finding the notes in the scale on the fiddle

We also looked at the difference between the rhythm of a Strathspey and a reel. We looked at the written music for the Aird Ranters, and noticed how the snaps are written down with a semiquaver followed by a dotted quaver.

Next week we’ll work on the set of Polkas – Britches Full of Stitches, Bill Sullivans and Aird Ranters.

Thursday 14th May

Tonight we worked on getting a fuller tone when we play. We worked on:

  • Using the weight of the arm resting on the bow to create a good connection between the bow and the string
  • Letting the whole fiddle resonate while we play – we need to be physically relaxed for this to happen. If you notice tension in your hands/arms/shoulders/neck when you’re playing, stop and stretch to get rid of it
  • Getting into ‘the zone’ when we play. It’s important to have our focus on the music rather than the physical techniques we’re using to create the music. We also need to be aware of our ‘inner critic’ who can sabotage our attempts to be in the zone

We’re all going to have another go at recording the Aird Ranters before next week. Everyone will send in their own recording and I’ll give some individual feedback before next week’s class

So we also looked at some things we can do that will help us make a recording that’s captures us playing at our best. Here’s some things to think about before you record:

  • Think about the space you will use to record. Soft furnishings tend to deaden the sound, and so do low ceilings. If you can find a room with a high ceiling, and minimal soft furnishings, it will help your fiddle to sound more resonant
  • Warm up, and stretch if necessary, to make sure you are physicaly relaxed
  • Make sure you’re confident with the tune. It’s helpful if you practice it with one bowing pattern at this stage, so you are just learning to play one version of the tune
  • Play the tune through a few times before you record it
  • Decide how fast you want to play the tune. It might be helpful to ‘hear’ the opening couple of bars in your head, and get your foot tapping at that speed before you start playing
  • Keep your focus on the music while you play – don’t let your inner critic take charge!
  • You might want to let the recording roll and play the tune through three or four times – this can help with getting bedded into playing, and forgetting about the recorder

Thursday 7th May

We worked on the two Strathspeys The Aird Ranters and Cameron’s Got His Wife Again – they go nicely together in a set. We decided to challenge ourselves to make a recording together in the coming week for #NationalPlayAStrathspeyDay

Here’s the final mix of everyone’s recordings of The Aird Ranters

 


Thursday 30th April

We’ll be working on the Strathspey Cameron’s Got His Wife Again. Here’s some recordings to listen to for the class:
What do you notice about the sound of his fiddle? What do you notice about how he’s using his bow when he’s playing?
Aonghas Grant: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2P2a7XpyGoE The strathspey starts at 1m 50s. Aonghas is a fiddler in his 80s from the west coast. What differences do you notice in his playing, compared to Paul Anderson?
Another version. There’s no information about who’s playing this one, but it sounds to me like someone from Nova Scotia, or art least heavily influenced by the Cape Breton style of playing https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rsAHnzdyax8
It’s a big set of tunes, switching from the strathspey into a couple of reels, and then (very unusually!) back and forwards between strathspeys and reels
Tim MacDonald and Jeremy Ward. This is a very different take on the tune from a Baroque duo. Here they play the strathspey followed by a jig, and at the end of the set they play Cameron’s Got His Wife again as a reel rather than a strathspey (from 2m 38s). Have a listen to how the different rhythm of playing it in reel time completely changes the feel of the tune. Have a look at the fiddler’s bow and bow hold, too!

 


Thursday 23rd April

Everyone learnt the polka ‘Britches Full of Stitches’ in advance of the class.

Here it is played slowly

And here it is played faster:

Britches Full of Stitches – written music

Before the class everyone also listened to these 4 different recordings of The Britches Full of Stitches. See what you notice!

1)  Jackie Daly and Seamus Creagh Sullivan (second tune in the recording)
Fiddler and button box
2) Solo melodeon player
3)  Malarkey Brothers – full band
4)  Slàinte (1st tune)
Fiddle and whistle with accompaniment

 

In the online class we started off by talking through what we had noticed about these recordings – what the players do that gets feet tapping or some other response to the music, or things that  make the tune sound more interesting. This included specific technical things individual players are doing, playing styles, and  tempo, beat, use of different instruments, harmonies. We listened again to some of the recordings to hear some of these points. We also talked about the effect of people playing together – in the third recording of the Malarkey Brothers band the players are influenced by the drummer accenting the offbeats.

We had a go at playing the tune ourselves, and looked at some point in the tune where we can add chords to vary the sound. We also played through the Kings House, which we learnt last term.

We’ll aim to all learn 3 new tunes this coming term which we’ll cover in depth, with the option of some more tunes for those who are keen to widen their repertoire.

Spring term 2020

Thursday 5th March

Tonight we learnt a march called Corriechoillies welcome to the Northern Meeting


Thursday 27th February

Tonight we played through the Kings House and The Blacksmith’s Wife. We spent some time looking at our left hand action on the fingerboard. We revisited the hand position, with the palm kept fairly upright, allowing the fingers to drop down onto the fingerboard from above.

Ther positon of the lefthand on the fiddle fingerboard
Photo ©Ros Gasson

When we place a finger on the fingerboard we’re aiming to drop it onto the string, without pressing the string really hard onto the fingerboard. We’re aiming to make this movement while keeping the whole of the rest of left hand relaxed, so only tensing the muscles necessary to move that one finger. If your hand remains relaxed while you move a single finger, you’ll find all the other fingers in the hand are slightly curled over…and therefore ready to be placed on the string at any time.

We practiced just placing the fingers around on the D string, without playing any notes, allowing the left hand to stay as relaxed as possible.

Then we worked on playing around with harmonising notes and rhythms on the fiddle together. we used the notes from the arpeggio of G major. we started off keeping it very simple and restricting ourselves to just an open D and G. We tried playing DGDGDGDG in a rhythm together, to get the feel for it. Then we played together, still using just these 2 notes, with all of us choosing our own changing rhythms, and deciding when to change from one note to the other.

We played around with this format, adding in the B (2nd finger on the G string) and then the G played with the third finger on the D string. By this stage we had four possible notes we could play, and were each choosing our own rhythms. We tried playing relly listening to others in the group, and playing repeating patterns, sometimes in response to what we were hearing someone else play.

We noticed that when playing like this it was much easier to relax into the music, and pay more attention to what we were playing, without worrying without getting anything wrong. Being fully relax into the music is often referred to as being ‘in the zone’. This is the mental state we are ultimately aiming to achieve when we’re playing tunes – everything becomes so automatic that we don’t need to pay attention to how we’re creating the music – our focus is simply on the music that is coming out of the fiddle. This allows the music to flow much more naturally.

 


Thursday 20th February

We spent the evening working on the Blacksmith’s Wife jig. We revisited the dotted jig rhythm, playing it on an open string to get the feel of how the bow moves. We focused on the opening phrase of the tune, playing the main two beats in each bar with a long dawn bow for the 1st beat followed by a long up bow on the second beat.

We looked at things we can do to help make it easier to play tunes faster. It’s important to reduce the length of bow that you use for faster notes. For a jig played at speed, some of the notes might only be using half a centimetre or less of the bow from start to finish. It becomes quite hard to be precise with the bow it we try to maker these small movements at speed just using the forearm. If you watch player who are playing fluently at speed, you’ll see that most of the action for moving the bow in runs of faster notes is coming from the wrist/hand/fingers. This makes it much easier to have really fine control over exactly what the bow is doing.

Have a look at this video of Blazing Fiddles playing a set of reels – five fiddlers all playing together. It’s some sound. But watch carefully how they are moving their bowing arms when they play the faster runs of notes. You’ll see lots of hand/wrist action, with fairly minimal movement of the forearm, and 5 very relaxed bow holds!


We also talked about the difference that playing ‘in the zone’ can make, to the overall sound of the fiddle, and to the musicality of what we’re playing. It’s only once we’re fully relaxed, and feeling that the instrument is an extension of ourselves, that we can focus purely on the music and allow it to really flow. This is a very different ‘state’ to how we play when we’re grappling with learning a new technique. It’s really helpful to be aware that where we put our focus when we’re playing can completely change the way the music comes out.

At the end of the evening we played through the accompaniment that we learnt  in the absolute beginners class for the march ‘Loch Ruan’. We looked at what is happening with the chords changing (from G to D), and looked at how with this knowledge, and knowing the notes in the arpeggio that make up each chord, we could play around with the accompaniment and change it. As long as we change between playing notes in the d chord and the g chord in the same place as the original accompaniment, it will fit with the tune.  For next week everyone is going to have a go at coming up with a different version of the original accompanying part that we learnt


Thursday 13th February

Mid-term break


Thursday 6th February

Tonight we learned a new jig called the Cailleach a’ Ghobhainn (The Blacksmith’s Wife). We looked at the jig rhythm, and different ways of playing that make the tune sound quite different. It’s worth listening to different players playing jigs, and seeing if you can distinguish what sort of things the players are doing with the tunes that helps to create their own style of playing.

Have a listen to these 2 players. They’re playing the same tune, but you’ll notice plenty of differences to how the tune sounds

Here’s an American player playing the Irish tune Morrison’s Jig. She has quite a straight style of playing the rhythm of the tune

And here’s an accordionist playing the same jig. It’s much faster here, but she’s playing the tune with a much more ‘dotted’ style:


Thursday 30th January

Tonight we played through the Kings House, then spent some time investigating ways to improve our tone when playing. We started by  trying 3 different ways of playing:

  1. playing long notes on an open D string, thinking about keeping the bow perpendicular to the string as we played.
  2. playing the same thing, but really focusing on the sound we were making.
  3. playing, and hearing the way we wanted the note to sound as we played.

It’s useful to practice switching between these 3 different ways of playing. In the early stages of learning to play you’ll spend a lot of time playing the first way – focusing on thinking about technique, and thinking about how you are moving your hands/arms/fingers to create a certain sound. It’s easy to get stuck in this way of playing, which because of it’s focus on what we’re doing physically, tends to mean we don’t hear much of the detail of the sound we’re making. To progress with creating a sound you like, it’s important to be able to really hear the actual sound you make, so you can decide if there are particular aspects of that sound that aren’t yet the way you want them.

Playing while focusing on listening also helps us to build up a repertoire of knowledge that relates the way we’re moving to the sound that we’re making. As you develop this, it will become possible to hear a piece of music sounding the way you want to play it, and your experience will allow your body to be able to re-create those sounds from your fiddle.

It’s really useful to get into the habit of practicing switching between these different ways of thinking while you’re playing, so you are actively deciding what you’re doing when you’re practicing. If you want to work on physical technique, put your focus on the physical movement you’re making. When you want to assess how your playing is coming along, and find out if the new technique you’re working on is beginning to bed in, focus on listening to the sound you’re making. And when you want to play tunes for other people to listen to, focus on hearing the music you’re playing, in the way you want it to sound.

We also tried playing each other’s fiddles, and playing with each others bows. It can be useful to do this – some fiddles are inherently more difficult to play, or less naturally resonant. Bows can feel heavy or light – some will just feel as if they are more reliably going to do exactly what you want them to do.

We finished off the evening working on the opening phrase of the King’s House, thinking particularly about how we were using the bow for each note. We started by playing the 2 leading notes with very short bow strokes, played very close to the heel of the bow, followed by the C# (2nd finger on the A string) moving the bow right from the heel to the tip. To do this, we have to move the bow pretty fast on that note, which creates a big strong sound-  just what we want, and this note is on the beat and is the opening note of the tune itself.

Thursday 23rd January

Tonight we learnt the B part of The Kings House. We’ll do some more work on this, and the whole tune, next week.

At the end of the evening we played around with notes from the scale of G that harmonise together. First of all we found the notes that make up the G arpeggio (also called the G chord). These notes are G, B, D and G – in the bottom octave on the fiddle we played the open g string, the 2nd finger on the G string (which is the note B), the open d string, and the 3rd finger on the D string (which is the note G). Any one of these notes from the arpeggio will harmonise with any other note from the arpeggio. So we then tried each playing any note we liked from the arpeggio, changing to another arpeggio note whenever we wanted to. We tried out listening to the overall sound of everyone playing together like this.

 


Thursday 16th January

Tonight we began by looking at the action of the bow when we take a long bow stroke, and what the bowing hand needs to do to help create an even clear sound for the full length of the bow stroke. The thumb of the bowing hand acts like a pivot. When we place the bow on the string near the tip of the bow, most of the weight of the bow is held in our hand. When we place the bow near the heel of the bow, most of the weight of the bow sits on the string. So if we do nothing to affect the bow weight, we tend to get a very ‘whispy’ uncertain sound at the tip end of the bow, and a rather heavy raspy sound towards the heel of the bow. We can use the index finger and the pinkie of the bowing hand to affect the weight of the bow on the string.

The fiddle bow hold, seen from underneath
The fiddle bow hold, seen from underneath Photo ©Ros Gasson

We put down our fiddles and tried holding our bow while supporting the tip by laying it on our outstretched left hand. It’s then possible to gradually add downward pressure with the pinkie of the bowing hand.  As the thumb acts as a fulcrum, doing this will start to lift the weight of the tip of the bow off the supporting hand – at some point you’ll find that all of the weight of the bow is held in the bowing hand, and the tip is no longer resting on the other hand.

When we take a bow stroke, if we want to create an even sound from one end of the bow to the other, we have to work on taking some of the weight of the bow into our bowing hand as we get towards the frog end of the bow, when we’re playing an up bow. We also need to be able to add some weight to the bow (when playing a down bow) as we get near the tip end of the bow, to ensure the bow maintains a good connection with the string. We worked o doing this while playing a long open A note. When we do this, the pinkie is tense as we reach the heel end of the bow on the up bow. It’s important to get into the habit of relaxing the pinkie as we play the down  bow. You’ll find there’s a point around a third of the way down from the heel of the bow where you no longer need the pressure to be maintained on the pinkie.

We started learning  the Kings House, which is a pipe march. We started off by playing through the pipe scale of A, which has a flattened 7th note (so we play a G natural instead of a G sharp). We played up the scale from the open A string, and played the G natural with the 2nd finger on the E string close to the first finger position.

We also looked at some of the decorations we can put into the tune, with hammer-ons, grace notes and chords


Autumn term 2019

Thursday 28th November

We played through all the tunes we’ve learnt during the term, and decided to put together this set of tunes:

Do Da (march)
The Aird Ranters (strathspey)
Put Me in the Big Chest (reel)

We worked on the joins between the tunes, and also on the ending for the reel

Thursday 21st November

Tonight we played through put me in the Big Chest. We also looked at how some basic rhythms are written down in music. We looked at crotchets (one beat) quavers (half a beat) and triplets (three notes in one beat). We each tried writing out a rhythm using a combination of crotchets, quavers and triplets, and then tried clapping the rhythms we had written out.

You can find out more about reading the rhythms in written music on the  reading music page of the website.

Thursday 14th November

Tonight we played through all the tunes we’ve learnt over the last couple of terms. We tried putting the Aird Ranters into a set with Put Me in the Big Chest. We also looked at some of the basics of reading written music. We looked at how the notes are written on the stave. Have a look at the reading music page to find out more about this.

Thursday 7th November

Tonight we learnt a Strathspey called The Aird Ranters. We talked about the Fun Fiddle stramash that will be held on 30th November.  We’ll have an opportunity to pay some of the tunes together that we’ve learnt throughout the term. Next week we’ll play through all the tunes we’ve learnt this term

 

Here’s a video of Fiona Cuthill from Glasgow playing the Aird Ranters. She plays it once at speed, then again much more slowly so you can see what she is doing

 


Thursday 31st October

Tonight we worked on the reel Put me in the Big Chest.

We spent some time playing with bowing patterns. Using the scale of D (playing an octave from the open D up to the d that is the 3rd finger on the A string, repeating this d then playing down the scale to the open D string) we started off by playing each note on a separate bow stroke. Then we tried to emphasise the notes on the main beat (the open D and open A on the way up the scale, and the 3rd finger d and 3rd finger G on the way back down the scale). We can use a faster bow stroke, more weight on the bow, or playing closer to the bridge to emphasise these notes. we can also think about playing the other notes a bit quieter, so the emphasised notes are more obvious. We added in tapping our feet on the notes we were emphasising.

Then we tried playing the same scale using different bowing patterns. We started off by playing notes in pairs (2 notes to each bow stroke) starting with a down bow on the open D and E. Then we tried slurring 4 notes together on each bow stroke (playing D, E F# and G on the first down bow). The last bowing pattern was to play the scale using 1 down followed by 3 notes on the up bow. Once we had tried all of these out, we tried continuing to play up and down the scale, and choosing for ourselves which of these bowing patterns we would play at any point

We worked on the first half of the reel, looking at where we need to slur a pair of notes after crotchets, to help maintain a bowing pattern that keeps a down bow on the beat in the tune.

We also worked on the triplet int eh second half of the tune, thinking about the sound we want to create with the triplet

We played through Mairi’s Wedding and Egan’s polka


Thursday 24th October

Class taught by Mairit – learnt Mairi’s Wedding (in E)


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:

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.