Below is a short summary of what we covered in each class over previous terms. Written music for tunes is available on the Fun Fiddle repertoire page
Summer term 2021
We’re looking at jig rhythms and marches this term
Thursday 27th May
Tonight we looked at some practice strategies that are helpful with learning to play tunes better, and being more confident we can play them to sound the way we want the first time we play them through.
We went over the joins between the 3 marches – Terribus, Campbell’s Farewell to Redcastle and Loch Ruan, and then played the whole set of tunes, playing each tune twice through.
We ended the evening looking at some specific problems individuals were working on, and possible routes to resolve them.
Thursday 20th May
Tonight we worked on the three marches: Terribus, Campbell’s Farewell to Redcastle, and Loch Ruan, joining them together into a set that would work well for playing for the Gay Gordons dance. We practised the joins between each of the tunes. We also went over the riff accompaniment for Loch Ruan for those who don’t know the tune
We also spent some time looking at how to access the zone state. The route to do this will be different for different people. People often access it through different senses – some people focus on hearing the music, others have a visual route to accessing the zone (perhaps seeing the music on a stave, or visualising something that they associate with the tune, such as the place they learnt it, or the person they learnt it from). Other people refer to feeling an emotional connection with the music as they play. Once we access the zone state, we also need to know how to be able to avoid being distracted back into thinking about the mechanics of playing.
We tried playing a short phrase from Campbell’s Farewell to Redcastle, focusing on hearing the music as we played. We tried playing the tune making sure we weren’t focusing on watching our fingers or bow. Then we tried playing the same phrase while actively looking at something distracting such as a picture or looking out of the window – doing this can help distract the conscious thinking part of the brain enough to ensure the subconscious has to take on dealing with playing the music.
Thursday 13th May
Tonight we looked at putting the Road to Banff and Snug in a Blanket together in a set. We also spent some time looking at how to build up to playing the jigs faster. We worked on bringing the action of the wrist and the hand into creating the shorter notes in the jig rhythm. Moving our control of the bow further into the hand helps to gain more precise control of small bow movements. We looked at spending some time working on making these physical movements, and then shifting our focus on to listening to the sound created by the movements. Once we can link the sound to the action, we’re aiming to hear that sound within the tune, and let our subconscious deal with making the action happen to create the sound. The more we’re playing using ‘muscle memory’ rather than conscious thought about our physical actions, the easier it becomes to play faster
We’ll learn a 2/4 march called Terribus for next week
Thursday 6th May
Tonight we focused on looking into how to access a ‘flow state’ (you might also hear this being referred to as being ‘in the zone’). Most of us will probably have experienced being in a flow state in some other context. Think about any activity you particularly enjoy that routinely allows you to become so absorbed in it that you lose track of time and the real world worries are left behind. This is what we mean when we refer to being in the zone.
Learning to play music has a lot in common with learning a new language. Just as with spoken languages, we use music to express ourselves. In learning to play, we’ll go through a similar process to learning a new language – in the early stages of playing, there seems to be a lot to learn – we’re grappling with trying to remember the notes, the rhythm, and how to play these on the instrument. With the fiddle, we’re often grappling with practicalities such as playing in tune, and trying to control the bow. With all of this going on, it can be easy to get bogged down in playing while actively thinking about how we’re playing, rather than getting lost in the sounds of the music we’re producing. How adult learners, the complexities of mastering the technical side of playing the instrument can take long enough that if we don’t spend some time finding our how to access that flow state, it becomes hard to let go of the conscious control that we become used to exerting when we’re practicing.
For most people accessing the flow state is most easily achieved through one or more of our senses. Some players can ‘hear’ the tune in their head while they’re playing. Others find they visualise something related to the tune – it might be quite practical, such as seeing the notes on the stave, or perhaps something that relates to the music – picturing for example the place they learnt the tune, or something to do with the person who they learnt the tune from. Other players might find they access the flow state through feeling the emotion of the music, or the story behind the tune.
So we experimented with playing around and trying to access that flow state. we played the scale of D for this exercise, and tried playing it initially while aiming to make it sound really miserable. Then we tried playing the scale in a way that might make others want to dance. The third time round we tried playing the tune for someone who was important in our life. Then we played it to let out any pent up anger and frustration. We all noticed how our playing changed as we approached the scale with each different mood. This gives a hint of what will happen when you’re able to freely access the flow state, and invest some feeling in the music as you play.
We tried playing through the A part of the Road to Banff several times through, aiming to shift our focus from thinking about how we were playing to really hearing the music. If you’re struggling to do this, it can be helpful to take your focus off watching your hand on the fingerboard, and instead look elsewhere. Or try closing your eyes when you play – this takes away any visual distraction altogether, and can help with focusing more closely on what we’re hearing.
Thursday 29th April
Tonight we worked on the jig The Road to Banff. We started off by looking at things we can do to be able to play the tune faster. The ability to play at speed has a number of aspects to it. Firstly it’s important to have good control of the bow while maintaining a very relaxed bow hold. Reducing the length of bow you use for quick notes also helps, and creating these notes through wrist/hand action rather than arm action. Because we’re used to controlling fine movement from the hand, doing this makes it much easier to precisely control the bow when we’re playing at speed.
We tried playing the dotted jig rhythm again, this time noticing what is happening in the arm and wrist for each note. While the first note (played on a down bow) is driven largely by the action of the forearm, the 2nd note is almost exclusively driven by the action of the wrist and hand, with the weight of the arm being transferred through the index finger to help keep the bow in good contact with the string. The third note is created by a combination of wrist and arm action. We tried this out on an open string.
Shifting from thinking about the mechanics of how we are playing the tune, to listening to the sounds will help our playing become more fluent, which also helps with playing at speed. As well as helping us to get into a ‘flow state’, when we focus on the tune we begin to play the notes because we hear a certain pitch in the tune. We’re aiming to let this happen without needing to consciously think about the physical action we’re making to create the note. Once we can do this, we can also learn to more easily deal with any mistakes we make while we’re playing – simply by hearing the next note in the tune, the right finger is likely to land on the right string.
We tried playing the tune while shifting our focus to either listening to what we were playing, or the trying to hear the tune the way we wanted it to sound. It can be really helpful when trying this to look away from the hand on the fingerboard.
We spent some time looking at how we use the weight of the bow and the arm to create the sounds we want on the fiddle. The amount of weight of the bow resting on the fiddle affects the tone and volume of the notes we play. If we want to play from the heel to the tip of the bow and create a note with a consistent sound, we need to compensate for the way the bow weight changes as we move along it’s length. At the heel end of the bow, we can use a little pressure on the bow stick by the pinkie to bring the weight of the bow into the hand, allowing us to more easily control how much weight sits on the string. At the tip end of the bow, we’re aiming to add some weight to the bow, by allowing the weight of the arm to transfer into the bow stick through the index finger.
There’s also a difference in how each string responds to the weight of the bow. On the G string we can play with a fair amount of weight transferred into the bow and create a rich full sound. As we move across the strings each string needs less weight – by the time we reach the E string we need to use the bow more delicately to keep a sweet sound and avoid creating unwanted scratchy noises.
We’ll learn the jig Snug in a Blanket for the class next week
Thursday 22nd April
Tonight we revisited the jig rhythm, using the bow to emphasise each of the 2 beats in the bar (see the entry for 25th February for more info and recordings).
We also spent some time looking at the relationship between the bowing hand and the bow, and between the bow and the fiddle strings, and how both of these affect the resonance of the notes we play.
First we worked on reducing tension in the bowing hand. We tried playing long slow notes on the D string using the full length of the bow. Then we repeated this, lifting the index finger off the bow completely. For the next bow stroke, we placed the index finger back on the bow, and lifted the pinkie off the bow. Finally we played the bow stroke with only the thumb and 2nd finger on the bow. This made it harder (but not impossible) to control the bow. We noticed how we usually use a bit of pressure of the pinkie on the end of the bow to help prevent the tip of the bow from dropping as the bow stroke approached the heel of the bow. Apart from this, though, it’s quite possible to make a basic bow stroke without most of the fingers being involved at all.
We then gave our bowing hand a thorough shake out, and let the hand drop down by our side, feeling how relaxed the hand had become. We’re going to be aiming to keep the hand very close to this state of relaxation as we play. Although at different times we will use some muscles in the fingers or hand to create a certain effect with the bow, we’re always aiming to let the hand return to this relaxed state at every opportunity
We tried playing some long bow strokes on an open D string, firstly traveling from the middle of the bow to the tip and back. As we move towards the tip of the bow, most of the weight of the bow is supported by the hand, and very little of it is resting on the string. In order to maintain the tone of the note, we need to allow some of the weight of the arm to transfer through the index finger onto the sick of the bow. (This is a very different action from pushing the bow into the string – pushing causes the hand and the forearm to tense up, creating a stiffness in the bow, and results in a rather ‘dead’ sound to the note). We were listening for the resonance of the note as we did this. Then we tried playing from the middle of the bow to the heel, noticing how we need to reduce the weight of the bow on the string as we approach the heel end, to prevent the tone becoming scratchy. We can take the weight of the bow into our bowing hand by very gently applying a bit of pressure with the pinkie on the end of the bow. As we travel back towards the centre of the bow, it’s important to relax he pinkie as soon as possible, to stop it settling into a permanently ‘locked’ position.
When you hit the right balance of weight of the bow on the string, you’ll hear the note become more resonant. This effect partly comes from the string being able to vibrate freely under the bow. It’s also augmented by the other strings setting up a sympathetic vibration. This will happen naturally if the strings are properly in tune.
We can use our knowledge of the ability of other strings to resonate when a note is played in tune to help us play fingered notes more in tune. Try playing the notes on the D string – open D, E, F# and G, and listening for the resonance of the note – when you hear it, you know you are playing in tune. For a lot of people this sympathetic resonance is much easier to hear than the correct pitch of the in tune note, so it’s something to listen out for when you’re working on your tuning.
We played through the jig The Road to Banff. We’ll do some more work on the tune next week, looking at how to phrase the tune and get a feel for the swing in the rhythm.
We’ll learn the jig Snug in a Blanket for next week’s class. It would go nicely before The Road to Banff in a set of tunes
Thursday 15th April
Tonight we worked on the march Campbell’s Farewell to Redcastle.
We started off by looking at the role of the wrist in long and short bow strokes, working on flexing the wrist at each end of a long bow stroke. It’s important the hand is totally relaxed to allow the wrist to flex easily.
We looked at the fast run of notes towards the end of the B part of the tune, and how to play them. In this particular phrase, there are 12 semiquavers. It’s very common with faster runs of notes that we inadvertently speed them up as we play them, making it harder to play them well. It’s worth practicing playing along to a metronome to see if this is a problem for you.
Finding a way to phrase notes that come in fast runs is a helpful way to keep them from running away from you. In this phrase, rather than hearing it as a run of 12 notes, we broke it down into 3 groups of 4 notes. We tried emphasising all the notes on the main beats, playing these notes on a down bow. We played the whole phrase using individual bow strokes. To emphasise notes you can either speed the bow up, or add some weight to it from the arm, or do a mixture of both.
Here’s the phrase written down. The tune is in 2/4 time, which means there are 2 beats in every bar. So the notes we’re aiming to emphasise are the first note in each set of 4 semi-quavers – the A (open string), C# (2nd finger on the A string) and the E (open string)
We looked at some chords we can add into the tune as well, and revisited the technique for hitting a chord with confidence.
We also talked around the idea of accessing a ‘flow sate’ (also often referred to as being ‘in the zone’). Essentially it involves learning to let go of trying to consciously control the physical nature of playing, and learn to let the subconscious mind take over this side of things. It can feel a bit un-nerving if you’re not used to doing this, but finding a way to access our own ‘flow state’ is a big step along the way to being able to play more fluently.
For next week everyone is going to have a go at seeing if they can find a way to play in the flow state. One possible way to start doing this is to take a tune you know really well, and start playing it. Once you’re playing, find a way to gently distract and occupy your conscious mind. This can easily be done by finding something to look at (looking out the window, or having the TV on with the sound turned down are possible options). See what happens to your playing when you do this.
The class will be working on learning the jig The Road to Banff for next week
Thursday 8th April
Tonight we revisited our bow hold, looking at the relationship between the hand and the bow. It’s important to have the bowing hand as relaxed as possible, and avoid any part of the hand being consistently tense. While we will use different fingers to direct the bow as we play, we’re aiming to have our hand always to revert to its most relaxed position at every opportunity.
It’s important to keep the thumb flexed – if it falls into a straight ‘locked’ position, there will be muscles in the forearm that are tensed – that muscle tension will affect the quality of the note sound, tending to make it sound harsh and scratchy.
We looked again at creating a bow stroke, and how we need to flex the wrist to help keep the bow straight on the strings throughout the length of a bow stroke that’s played from the heel to tip of the bow.
We looked at some aspects of technique that will help with playing tunes faster. Firstly we looked at how much bow we use when we play notes, and how we use the arm to play notes of different lengths. When we play from the heel to the tip, the bowing action moves from being mainly instigated by the upper arm (at the heel end of the bow) to mainly being instigated by the forearm (towards the tip of the bow). It’s important to make the transition between upper arm and forearm action as smooth as possible to avoid the bow juddering on the strings.
To play faster runs of notes, we can use much shorter bow strokes (as little as 1/2 cm of bow when playing at speed). when we’re using this little length of bow for a note, it becomes possible for most of the bowing action to be instigated from the wrist. Playing in this way allows us to stay physically relaxed, and also gives us much more control over the bow.
Another thing that helps with being able to play at speed is to feel confident that you can control the speed you’re playing at. It’s very common that as the speed increases it starts to career out of control, getting so fast we are unable to play.
So we tried out playing our D scale, thinking of it in reel time. So for this exercise, we’re playing the notes of the scale as quavers, ad the 8 notes of the scale make up one bar in reel time. We’re aiming to tap a foot on the 2 main beats (often referred to as the on beats) in the bar. So in the D scale, this will be the open D string and the open A string on the way up the scale. If we repeat the D at the top (3rd finger on the A string) we’ll tap on that note, and on the G (3rd finger on the D string) on the way down. Once we had a feel for this, we tried also accenting the note where we were tapping a foot. This accenting can be through speeding the bow up, or by adding some weight or the bow, or a combination of both of these.
Here are the notes marked where we’re adding an emphasis and tapping a foot:
And this is what it will sound like:
Then we tried playing our D scale with two notes to every bow stroke, still emphasising the notes on the on beats. Doing this means were changing the emphasis in the middle of a bow stroke.
We’ll learn the march Campbell’s Farewell to Redcastle during the coming week, and work on it in the class on 15th April.
Spring term 2021
We focused on slower tunes for this term
Thursday 18th March
Tonight we worked on the Ashokan Farewell and Itzikel.
We also looked at how to start to help the bow hold become much more interactive with the bow, rather than a fixed grip on the stick of the bow. We tried playing a long slow bow stroke from the heel to the tip of the bow on an open string, with the index finger lifted off the bow. Then we repeated this but with the pinkie off the bow. We played it once more with only the thumb and the 2nd finger holding the bow. Although if may feel as if the bow is a bit out of control, as long as you have the bow perpendicular to the string, and pull it out in a straight line, it’s quite possible to control the bow with just these two fingers guiding the bow. Once we’d done this we placed all the other fingers back on the bow and played again, but kept the 1st, 3rd and 4th fingers very relaxed, so they were just resting lightly on the stick of the bow, and we focused on feeling the thumb and second finger being the main contact in the hand as we drew the bow through the bow stroke. Doing this allows us to feel how it is to have a much lighter hold of the bow. We’ll be aiming to work more with what the bow naturally wants to do, so we can really minimise the tension that can too easily creep into the bowing hand.
Next term we’ll learn a couple of jigs and marches, and start to look at how to play faster tunes and runs of notes while staying in control of the tempo.
Thursday 11th March
Tonight we played through The Sleeping Tune, Da Slockit Light and Farewell to Craigie Dhu. We talked about tricks that might help us to remember how a tune starts when you have learnt it but don’t have the music to hand. We also looked at a couple of exercises to help the left hand to be as relaxed as possible on the fingerboard when we’re playing. Ultimately we’re aiming to repeatedly be allowing all the muscles we don’t need to use at any point to be totally relaxed, and to only be contracting the specific muscles associated with the finger we’re moving.
We talked about playing chords in tunes, and how to work on tuning to help these sound better. We also looked briefly at how to use the wrist rather than the forearm when crossing strings with the bow.
We also revisited the jig rhythm – I’ll send out recordings of a jig called The Stool of Repentance as an extra tune for anyone who would like to learn it. It’s a tune that is commonly played in sessions. the written music is on the Fun Fiddle website for anyone who would like it. You can hear recordings of the jig rhythm in the notes for the class on 25th February (below).
Thursday 4th March
Tonight we worked on the Eastern European tune Itzikel. We looked at the change in the left hand shape on the finger board when we’re playing an F natural (2nd finger on the D string) instead of an F sharp, and and E flat (1st finger on the D string, pulled back closer towards the nut compared to its usual position).
We also looked at the action of the left hand on the finger board, with respect to the amount of pressure we exert on the string with each finger. We tried placing a finger lightly on a string, then playing a very long slow bow stroke while gradually increasing the finger pressure, and listening closely to the effect this has on the sound of the note. We noticed that with the lightest pressure the note sounds pretty awful – rough, and no resonance. As the pressure of the finger increases the note begins to sound clearer. It sounds clear well before the string is pressed hard down onto the finger board.So it’s not essential to press the string hard into the fingerboard for every note we play – the pressure we use will vary depending on the speed of the tune we’re playing and the length of individual notes. We’re more likely to use more pressure in slower tunes, and for longer notes. Reducing the pressure on the string in faster tunes allows the left hand to relax more, and makes it easier for the fingers to move faster from note to note.
We also tried playing around with placing different fingers on strings and trying to make sure that as we lifted a finger from a string we allowed all the muscles related to moving that finger to relax, even as we were putting another finger down on a different string. This is what we’ll be aiming to do as we play, so the left hand is as relaxed as possible while we play.
Over the coming weeks we’ll spend some time doing a recap of the tunes we’ve all learnt so far this term:
The Sleeping Tune
Da Slockit Light
Farewell to Craigie Dhu
Thursday 25th February
Tonight we played through Ashokan Farewell, and looked at possible chords we can add into the tune. Notes that are thirds, fifths, or an octave apart are likely to create pleasing harmonies.
A third and a fifth refers to the interval between 2 notes in a scale. We looked at the scale of D as an example – D is the first note in the scale. The notes that make up the arpeggio of D (D, F#, A and D) will harmonise together. The F# (the third note in the scale, played with the second finger on the D string) has an interval of a third between it and the open D string, and the A (the fifth note in the scale, played on the open A string) has an interval of a fifth between it and the open D. The A also has an interval of a third between it and the F# below it. The D at the top of the scale (played with the third finger on the A string) is a full octave above the open D. These two notes will also harmonise.
We’ll be learning a tune called Itzikel soon. It has a number of notes in it that are played with fingers in positions we’re not so familiar with. So we played through the chromatic scale of D, finding both positions for each finger in the scale. When we do this, the notes we are playing are:
D (open string)
E flat (1st finger, pulled back from it’s usual position)
E (1st finger)
F (second finger close to the first)
F sharp (second finger close to the third)
G (third finger)
G sharp (third finger stretched further up from its usual position)
A (open string)
B flat (1st finger pulled back)
B (1st finger)
C (second finger close to the first)
C sharp (second finger close to the third)
D (third finger)
We also revisited some of the things that can affect the tone of the fiddle when we’re playing:
- Keeping bow perpendicular to the strings
- Bow weight/pressure, thinking particularly about adding weight to the bow to get it fully connected to the string, through relaxing the arm and letting the weight of the arm transfer into the bow through the index finger, rather than pushing the bow down onto the strings
- Tuning – when we play notes in tune the other strings will resonate along with the string your playing, helping to make the sound fuller
We’ll learn to play a jig towards the end of this term. So we tried playing the jig rhythm on an open string, to get a feel for how the bow moves. Jigs are in 6/8 time, which means there are 6 quavers in each bar. The quavers sound as if they are in 2 groups of 3, giving 2 emphasised beats in each bar. So we’re emphasising the 1st and 4th quaver. If we play all the quavers on individual bow strokes, we’ll emphasise the first of the 6 on a down bow, and the 4th of the six on an up bow.
This is how the rhythm is written in music:
If we played this as it’s written here, it would sound like this:
However, you’ll often hear fiddlers playing jigs in what is referred to as a dotted or pointed rhythm, where the first quaver is stretched a little longer, and the second quaver is shortened to compensate for this. It sounds like this:
Thursday 18th February
Tonight we looked at the chords we can play to accompany the Barrowburn Reel, and tried playing round the chord pattern for both the A and B parts of the tune.
We also looked in more depth at how to play a grace note and a hammer on, including looking at what is happening with the bow as these embellishments are played. We played through Farewell to Craigie Dhu
Next week we’ll work on the waltz Ashokan Farewell. This tune is in D, but it has a single C natural towards the end of the B part of the tune. A note like this, that doesn’t fit within the scale of the key of the tune, is referred to as an accidental.
Thursday 11th February
Tonight we revisited the bow hold, and looked at ways to start helping the hold to become looser and less rigid, allowing the fingers to be more responsive to the bow, with each finger interacting individually with the bow as it moves.
We played through Farewell to Craigie Dhu, thinking about how we were using the position, weight and speed of the bow to create the sound we want. As it’s a slow gentle tune, we aimed to spend more time playing using the tip of the bow, and slowed the bow down to give a quieter sound. We also tried out using a grace note to separate two of the 3 Es in the B part of the tune, using a single bow stroke to play the first and second E, playing a grace note in between them, and then changing the bow direction to separate the second and third E.
We also spent some time thinking about playing chords on the fiddle to accompany a tune. I’ll send out a recording for the Barrowburn Reel for anyone who is interested in learning the tune (we won’t work on this tune in the class). I’ll also send out a rhythm accompaniment that we can play on the fiddle, which uses 3 chords – D, G and A. The notes we’ll play to create these 3 chords are all on the bottom 2 strings as follows:
The chord of D = A (1st finger on the G string) with D (open string)
The chord of G = G (open string) with D (open string)
The chord of A = A (1st finger on the G string) with E (1st finger on the D string)
We tried playing a rhythm switching between these 3 chords with 8 notes on each chord (playing each chord on a separate short bow stroke). You can count this as |1,2,3,4, 1,2,3,4| for each bar of the tune, with an emphasis on each of the 1s to create a pulse in the rhythm. The 1 is also where you would tap your foot to keep time.
| 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 | 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 | 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 |
| DDDD DDDD | GGGG GGGG | AAAA AAAA |
It sounds like this:
Then we tried making the rhythm more interesting by leaving out each of the notes on the count of 3 and adding in another emphasis which was on the count of4, which gives a syncopated rhythm like this:
| 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 | 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 | 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 |
| DD D DD D | GG G GG G | AA A AA A |
The syncopated chords sound like this:
This is the order that the chords will be played in to accompany the whole tune:
| D | G | A | D | D | G | A | D |
| D | G | A | D | D | G | A | D |
| A | D | A | D | A | D | G A | GA D|
| A | D | A | D | A | D | G A | GA D|
The chord progression we’ll play to accompany the Barrowburn Reel sounds like this:
Thursday 4th February
Tonight we played through the D chromatic scale again, We also revisited some of the embellishments we can add to the notes in the Sleeping tune, trying out grace notes and Hammer ons in the first phrase of the tune. We looked at well at how speeding the bow up in conjunction with playing either of these helps enhance to sound.
We’ll be learning Dougie McLean’s tune Farewell to Craigie Dhu for next week’s class
Thursday 28th January
Tonight we worked on the Sleeping Tune, ironing out the notes in the second part of the tune. We also tried playing a chromatic D scale
This has 12 notes in it,with every note being a semitone apart, so each finger has 2 different positions on the fingerboard. We’ve already come across the 2 positions for the second finger (either close to the first finger or close to the third finger). To play the full chromatic scale we’ll also find the position where the first finger is pulled backwards and placed half way between its usual position and the nut. The third finger also has a new position where it is stretched further up the fingerboard. Here’s the notes of the chromatic D scale:
D (open string)
Eb (first finger pulled back)
E (first finger, usual position)
F (2nd finger close to the 1st)
F# (2nd finger close to the 3rd)
G (3rd finger – alternatively can be played with the pinkie)
G# (3rd finger, stretched)
A (open string)
Bb (first finger pulled back)
C (2nd finger close to the 1st)
C# (2nd finger close to the 3rd)
D (third finger)
We also worked on creating a pulse using the bow. We tried playing a rhythm on the open D string where we emphasised the 1st note in each group of 4. We can emphasise the note by moving the bow faster, adding more weight to it, moving it closer to the bridge, or playing a chord. We could also play the other 3 notes very quiet;y, to make the main note relatively loud.
If we choose to emphasise the 1st note through moving the bow faster, the bow will travel further for this one note. For our rhythm, we started on a down bow (the loud note) followed by up, down, up, for the 3 quieter notes. If we just play the first note with a faster bow stroke starting from the tip, we’ll travel a long way down the bow, then our 3 quiet notes will be played perhaps somewhere in the middle of the bow. The next loud note will be played with a long bow stroke, and might take us to the heel of the bow In order to avoid running out of bow, if we’re playing this rhythm for a while, we need to find a way to bring the bow back into place without making the next note loud. We can choose to play the second note by moving the bow fast, but making it very light on the string – the lightness counteracts the speed, and helps to avoid this note being loud.
Thursday 21st January
Tonight we worked on playing Gordon Duncan’s Sleeping Tune. We looked at:
- How to add dynamics into the tune. We can use bow speed and/or weight to change the volume either within individual notes or across phrases in the tune
- Adding embellishments to notes – we looked at some places we could add grace notes or hammer-ons in the A part of the tune
We also talked about some of the fiddlers we particularly enjoy listening to, and what draws us to the music they play.
Thursday 14th January
Tonight we spent some time looking at how we can control the sound that we make when we play a note on the fiddle. We came up with a list of some of the things that influence the sounds we make:
- Which part of the bow we are using (heel, middle, tip)
- Whereabouts the bow is placed on the string in relation to the bridge
- Whether the bow is perpendicular to the string
- The speed of the bow
- The weight of the bow
- Any physical tension
- The acoustics of the room
- The combination of strings/fiddle and bow we’re playing
- Where our focus is when we’re playing
We spent a lot of the evening looking at the last factor. When people are first learning to play, the focus is often on technique, and how to physically move the bow to create (or avoid creating!) a certain sound. As there’s a fair amount of technique to get to grips with, it can be very easy to become stuck in playing with this focus, which makes it difficult to really listen to what’s happening with the sound we’re making. It tends to make the music we play sound somewhat stilted or disjointed.
In previous classes we’ve spent some time playing around with what happens when we switch our focus to listening to the sounds we’re making as we play. Doing this often has a surprising effect on improving the quality of that sound. It’s a useful step to being able to be analytical about our playing, finding out when we’re making the sounds that we want, and when our playing is not working the way we hope. With the feedback we get from listening to our playing we can identify areas of technique that we want to work on. This interim step is helpful for homing in more on the detail of the different sounds we make when we play, and then working on the techniques that will help eliminate some of the ‘problem’ sounds we’re hearing.
Making your music expressive
Tonight we took this a step further and tried playing and trying out hearing how we want the notes to sound, rather than focusing on the actual sound we hear. The aim with doing this is to learn to let our playing become more expressive by letting all the technical aspects of playing be dealt with by the subconscious mind. Getting to that point takes us into what is often referred to as a flow state, or playing in the zone. It can be quite a leap of faith when you first try experimenting with this. If it’s something that doesn’t come naturally to you, try it out while you’re playing something really simple such as a simple rhythm on an open string, or an easy scale.
What you might find when you do this is that you can do it for some of the time, and then you lose that focus for some reason. Often it’s when something goes wrong with the sound you can hear your fiddle making – if it doesn’t match the sound you’re aiming for, there’s a real tendency for the conscious mind to try to muscle back in and take over control. Our aim is to find ways to keep our focus on the sound we want to make, even when the distractions pop up. Another common distraction is the inner critic, with whatever story it’s telling you about the flaws it perceives in your ability to play. At his early stage, aim to just notice if there’s any sort of pattern to the sort of things that distract you from focusing on hearing the notes that way you want them to sound.
We tried playing a D scale focusing on hearing it the way we wanted it to sound, and also noticing any points where the reality didn’t meet with the sound we wanted to create. We also played around with playing the scale expressing different feelings – what happens when you play the scale apologetically, or with energy, or making it angry?
During this week we’re all going to listen to recordings of different fiddlers and find someone who’s playing we really enjoy. We’ll bring that to the class next week and share what it was we noticed about their playing that drew us to that particular player
Autumn term 2020
Thursday 3rd December
Tonight we looked at some things that we might want to add when we play the tune Da Slockit Light. We looked at the process for learning to play with vibrato.
We also looked at the possibilities for playing chords within the tune. They can be played as a drone/harmony behind the tune, or in a more ‘percussive’ style where the chord note is hit with the bow and allowed to ring out under the note in the tune. We spent some time looking at how to find chords in tunes, and how we know what notes are likely to work when you play them together.
As well as learning the tune Da Slockit Light, over the coming week everyone is going to work on one particular aspect of embellishments that can be added to tunes, using an exercise making regular recordings of our playing throughout the week.
Here’s the details of the exercise:
Every time you practice, spend a few minutes recording yourself. Find something you want to record yourself playing, and record yourself playing the same thing each time throughout the week. When you’re playing, the aim is to be completely focused on hearing the music, not thinking about the physical technique.
Make at least 4 or five recordings in quick succession. When you stop each recording, make a note of whether you stayed focused on the sound throughout or not. If you didn’t stay focused, note down what distracted you. Then record yourself again straight away. Don’t stop to listen to any of the recordings. Once you have 5 (or more) recordings listen back to the first and last, and see if you hear any differences. Keep these first and last recordings, and your notes. At the end of the week, listen back to the first recording you made on day 1, and the last recording you made on day 7.
We’ll look at what we’ve learnt from this in the last lesson of the term next week.
Thursday 26th November
Tonight we worked on Rachel Reay and The De’il Among The Tailors, going back over the technique for string crossing, and also looking at how to reach the G# (stretched 3rd finger on the D string) and the to B (played with the 4th finger on the E string).
We also spent some time looking at tone and different things that can affect our tone. We included a quick look at things to be aware of regarding maintenance of the fiddle, strings and bow that can affect the tone of the instrument.
Thursday 19th November
Tonight we worked on putting together our set of reels
Reel of Tullochgorum
De’il Among the Tailors
We practised all the joins between the tunes, and played the full set of tunes through. We also worked on tone, looking again at how to transfer the weight of the arm into the bow, and how we need to change the weight we add to the bow as we go through the bow stroke. We finished off by working on playing chords.
Thursday 12th November
Tonight we worked on all the tunes we have learned this term:
The Reel of Tullochgorum
The Stronsay Waltz
De’il Among the Tailors
This Too Will Pass
We’re going to play the reel of Tullochgorum at the Fun Fiddle Zoom ceilidh on 29th November. We’re also going to put together a recording of all the current Fun Fiddlers playing This Too Will Pass together. Ros will email out information about this.
Thursday 5th November
Tonight we played through This Too Will Pass, and looked at how to play a grace note to embellish the start of the tune.
We also did some more work on our bowing patterns while playing the D scale. Starting with a down bow on the opening D each time, we played the scale using a single bow stroke for each note, then tried the scale slurring two notes together on each bow stroke. Then we played a 1 down 3 up pattern, playing the first D on a down bow, followed by 3 notes slurred together on the up bow (1st finger E, 2nd finger F# and 3rd finger G). We repeated the same pattern on the upper part of the scale, starting with a down bow on the open A string. When we’re doing this we have to move the bow fast for the single notes that are played on the down bows (the D and the A) so we have plenty of room on the bow to fit in the three notes on the up bow. Playing with a fast down bow makes that note louder than the notes played on the slower up bow, so this pattern is really good for tunes where you want to create a clear pulse in the tune.
Thursday 29th October
Tonight we spent some time working on bowing patterns, playing the D scale with different patterns of slurring notes together. We looked at using the weight of the arm with the bow to get the strings resonating, to help improve the tone when we’re playing.
We also worked some more on using the wrist when we’re crossing from the A to E strings and back in the De’il Among the Tailors. We played though Rachael Reay and the De’il Among the Tailors. Next week we’ll have a go at a new tune – a tune in 9/8 time which is called This Too Will Pass. The tune was written by the fiddler Gavin Marwick.
Thursday 22nd October – mid-term break
Thursday 15th October
Tonight we worked on some techniques for the tune De’il Among the Tailors
We looked at using the wrist to help with crossing backwards and forwards between two strings, and placing a finger across two strings where we’re moving fast between a note played by the same finger on adjacent strings. This happens in the A part of the tune where we’re moving from the B (1st finger on the A string) to the F# (1st finger on the E string).
We also looked at keeping the bow strokes short to help us play at speed, adding some dynamics into the tune, and adding grace notes.
Thursday 8th October
Tonight we worked on the bow hold. We looked at making our bow hold more relaxed and responsive to the bow, rather than rigid and inflexible. We’re aiming to get to a point where we’re working much more co-operatively with the bow and what it naturally wants to do.
We also spent some time looking at how to use the wrist rather than the forearm to create shorter faster notes
We played through Rachel Rae and the Stronsay Waltz
Thursday 1st October
Tonight we worked on the reel Rachael Rae. We looked at the bowing for the opening phrases, where we can play each of the crotchets that land on the beat on a down bow, followed by two quavers slurred together on a single up bow. This rhythmic pattern appears in the B part of the tune as well, so you can use the same bowing pattern there to keep the down bow on the beat of the tune.
We also looked at playing the B part of the tune which involves using the fourth finger. If you’re struggling to us the fourth finger, it’s worth taking some time to do a ‘fourth finger workout’ over the course of a week or so. Our fourth fingers are naturally fairly weak, as we don’t use them much, if at all, in day to day life. Try playing the B part of the tune a few times through every time you pick your fiddle up over a week. If you can use it for even 5 minutes or so each day, you’ll find it’s significantly stronger by the end of a week.
We spent a bit of time looking at playing with a fuller tone, concentrating on getting the bow really connected to the string at the start of each note, then adjusting the weight of the bow to allow the string to resonate underneath it. Keeping the bow perpendicular to the strings, and close to the bridge will also help you to create a bigger sound from the fiddle.
We also played through the Stronsay Waltz
Thursday 24th Sept
We worked on the Stronsay Waltz tonight. We looked at how to create a nice tone on the E string, and how to use the weight of the arm to keep a consistent sound throughout the bow stroke. We also looked at some embellishments to add interest/emphasis to parts of the waltz. We looked in detail at how to create a grace note.
Thursday 17th Sept
We started the term by listening to several different recordings of the same tune. We’re going to be learning the Stronsay Waltz this term, so we listened to four different players playing the tune, thinking about whether we particularly liked/didn’t like each version. We listened for specific things we could hear in the playing that makes the music more appealing/unappealing.
We also noticed how the different players using their bows to create different effects in their playing.
Mandolin, guitar, whistle, concertina and bass.
The Wrigley Sisters
A fiddle and guitar duo
The Stronsay Waltz is in the key of A, which has 3 sharps – F#, C# and G#. We played through the A scale starting on the open A string, keeping the second finger close to the third finger on each string. Then we tried playing the lower octave of A, starting on the first finger on the G string. In this octave, the 2nd finger is close to the third finger on the G and D strings. The third finger is also stretched further up than we have placed it before, on the G and D strings.
We tried playing the upper octave of the A scale, thinking about creating a nice tone on the e string. We tried making the bow a little bit lighter on the string (by adding a bit of pressure on the pinkie) to achieve this,. We also found the notes of the A Arpeggio (A, C#, E and A). Then we worked on some simple bowing patterns, playing the scale all on single bow strokes, then slurring pairs of notes together on one bow stroke. Then we tried a ‘1 down 3 up’ bowing pattern, playing the open A on a down bow, followed by B,C#, D all on the same up bow, open E on a down bow followed by F#, G#, A on an up bow. To make this work, we need to use the whole length of the bow for the down strokes, to give ourselves enough room to fit 3 notes in on the up bow. This has the effect of making the down bow loud.
We’ll start playing the A part of the Stronsay Waltz together in the class next week, and can iron out any bits of the tune anyone is struggling with.
Summer term 2020
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 and The Aird Ranters as a Strathspey and as a reel.
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
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:
Before the class everyone also listened to these 4 different recordings of The Britches Full of Stitches. See what you notice!
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.
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
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:
- playing long notes on an open D string, thinking about keeping the bow perpendicular to the string as we played.
- playing the same thing, but really focusing on the sound we were making.
- 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.
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:
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.