How to play snaps in strathspeys

How to play snaps in strathspeys

In the class last night we learnt the strathspey Iomadh Rud Tha Dhith Orm. This is a Gaelic song, and the title translates as ‘There are Many Things I would need’.

We spent the evening working on our bowing arm and hand tonight, to help play the snaps in this tune crisply, and with a real sense of conviction.

We started off by getting the wrist/hand of the bowing arm really relaxed. We shook out the hand, and let it hang naturally down by our side. We spent a moment feeling how relaxed the hand was in that position. It’s possible to play with this level of relaxation in the bowing hand. Then we brought the bowing hand up, and placed the bow into it, maintaining that same level of relaxation in the hand.

We worked on the hand action for creating a snap in a tune. We played the two notes of the snap on two separate bows – a down bow followed by an up bow. The down bow needs to be a short sharp fast bow stroke. Imagine you’re trying to throw your bow away from you, then stop hand dead. Doing this with a relaxed wrist allows the hand to ‘bounce’, which changes the bow direction from the down bow to the up bow.

We also revisited getting our fingers mowing in relation to the bow, repeating the exercise from a couple of weeks ago where we made circles with the frog end of the bow.

We played BdBdBdBd round and round (with a down/up bowing pattern), lifting the bow after the up bow on the d. We used the pinkie to take the weight of the bow as it lifted from the string. As soon as the bow returned back onto the string, we let the pinkie relax, in between each lift.

We put the tune onto a set: Iomadh Rud Tha Dhith Orm, the Placebo, and The Barrowburn Reel

We finished off the evening by playing the strathspey together again, focusing on listening closely to one another, and working on playing the notes crisply together. this identified that while the A part of the tune worked well, the timing was trickier on the B part. Once we’d played round the trickier sections a few times, it was much easier to play it together in time.

Here’s a recording of Fiona Kennedy and Karen Matheson singing Iomadh Rud Tha Dhith Orm. Have a listen to the second song too!

How to keep your bowing hand relaxed

How to keep your bowing hand relaxed

Tonight we worked on keeping the bowing hand really relaxed while playing, and focused on getting the fingers to become responsive to the stick of the bow. Have a look at Ian Walsh playing at the start of this video, and watch the fingers in his bowing hand. You’ll see that his right hand is very relaxed, and his fingers are moving around, interacting and responding to the stick of the bow. You can click on the gear symbol o the bottom right of the video and change the settings to slow the video down so you can really see how much his fingers are moving in relation to the bow.

Flexible fingers

This is what we worked on tonight. We’re aiming to get the right hand relaxed, and allow the fingers to move individually in response to the bow moving. The fingers work to keep the bow moving in a straight line throughout the bow stroke, and the first finger and the pinkie will also be used to increase or reduce pressure on the bow.

We started off by holding our bow horizontally in front of us (with the frog on the right, and bow tip to the left), holding the bow with our usual bow hold.  Letting the thumb act as a pivot, we used pressure on the pinkie to raise the tip of the bow up until the bow was vertical in front of us, then gradually relaxed the pinkie pressure to let the bow come back down to the horizontal position in a controlled manner.

We also tried  holding the bow vertically, and making the bottom (frog end) move in a small clockwise circle. We were aiming to get the bow to pivot round the thumb while we did this, making the tip move in a much bigger circle. We used the fingers to get the circle action happening. Then we changed direction to anticlockwise.

We tried playing round the notes A B C D, playing on long single bows (starting on a down bow). On each down bow (The A and the C) we also played an open percussive D string. We used our first finger to achieve this – as the bow reaches the ‘tipping point’ in the bow stroke (above the middle of the bow length), we let it drop to hit the open D string, giving a wee push with the first finger at the same time, so it ‘digs in’ to the string. As soon as the bow hit the D string, we relaxed the hand, allowing it to almost bounce back off the open D, which let the D ring out. We worked in pairs, so we could give each other feedback on when it was working.

We played a short riff D E G G using the bowing pattern D – down, E – up, G – down, [lift bow] G – down. We worked on using the pinkie to take the weight of the bow as we lifted it off the strings, and focused on making sure the pinkie relaxed again as soon as the bow returned onto the string.

Then we tried string crossing, playing from from an open A to an E (first finger on the D string). Rather than arm movement, we were aiming to use a combination of wrist and fingers to move the bow from one string to the other. We worked on keeping the vertical movement of the tip of the bow to a minimum. To do this, we were only moving the bow just clear of the A string when we were playing the E, and only just clear of the D string when we were playing the A. Being able to switch between strings confidently with minimal movement makes a big difference when trying to play faster tunes.

We played a D scale starting on the open D, and playing up to the 3rd finger d on the A string. Starting on the 3rd finger D, we played back down the scale again. (So we were playing 8 quavers on the way up, and 8 on way back down, equivalent to 2 bars played in reel time). We played this using single bows, and emphasised all the on beats (on down bows).  Then we shifted to emphasising all off beats (also on down bows).  We worked on tapping a foot just on on beat all the way through. It’s helpful when tapping your foot to have some sort of distinction between what you’re doing for the on and off beats. as you start to play around with rhythms in tunes, it makes it easier to be clear where the on and off beats are if we are doing different things for each. You can try tapping the other foot on the off beat, or tap your heel and toe alternately for the on beat/off beat, or tap your foot on the beat, and lift it on off beat. Try to find a way that works for you that distinguishes between the taps on the on and off beat. After this, some of the class played a harmony to the scale (starting on the D when the people playing the scale were playing the F#). The people playing the harmony tried shifting from emphasising the on beats to the off beats.

We played through the reel  we learnt last week, while some people were clapping on the beat in the A part, and on the off beats in the B part, which mirrored the bowing and emphases we were using in the tune. Then the people clapping tried clapping on the off beat in the A part, and the on beat in the B part.

And now here’s a wee bit of light relief!