Bowing patterns and grace notes

Bowing patterns and grace notes

Tonight we worked on bowing reels with a down bow on the beat. We’re aiming to develop a ‘default’ bowing pattern, so that we can play reels emphasising the on beat naturally, and completely subconsciously. Once this pattern is ingrained, it becomes much easier to learn techniques and bowing patterns that will enable us to play around with rhythms in the tune.

Bowing reels

We looked at Coolies Reel as an example. Each time there is a crotchet or triplet in the tune, we slurred the following 2 quavers. (It’s possible to slur the preceding 2 quavers instead, if you prefer).

We also looked at an option for adding an extra slur in the B part, to push the emphasis onto the offbeat.

Grace notes

Bowing patterns on the fiddle
Photo ©Ros Gasson

Grace notes and rolls have a percussive effect on a note in a tune. Although often written as playing extra notes, you don’t hear grace notes as individual notes. They are an embellishment of the note in the tune. A simple grace note acts by briefly stopping the string from vibrating. You can use the finger above the note, or the 2nd finger above the note to create a simple grace note. The hand needs to be really relaxed. The finger action is a very short tap on the string, and is just enough to stop the string vibrating for a moment.


Rolls have more fingers involved! They can be played as 5 or 4 note rolls. As with grace notes, once you can play these fluidly, you won’t hear any of the individual notes of the ornamentation. When you’re first starting to learn to play a roll, you will play the note (already in the tune), followed rapidly be the note above, the note itself, the note below, and back to the note in the tune. For a 5 note roll on a B (played with the first finger on the A string), the fingering for this would be 1-2-1-0-1. A 4 note  roll starts on the note above the note in the tune (fingering 2-1-0-1 if played on a B). Rolls on an open string can be played 0-1-2-1-0.


Playing with relaxed hand – we tried out playing with a very light bow hold, holding the bow  with just the thumb and first finger. It’s possible to play the whole tune like this, as long as we don’t try to lift the bow off the strings at any point. This is purely an exercise! It gives an idea of how little pressure you need from your 3rd & 4th finger, and pinkie, while playing most of the tune. Those fingers are generally relaxed, and laid over the bow, giving it a bit of stability during the bow stroke, and keeping the bow running in a straight line, perpendicular to the strings. The pinkie will be used a lot more if we’re lifting the bow off the strings.

We worked on techniques for playing chords in the tune. If we’re playing part of the tune on the A string, and want to create chords on the D string, we can make this much easier by keeping the bow as close as possible to the D string throughout the bow stroke. When we want to include a chord, a small bit of pressure on the stick of the bow will then be enough to bring the bow hairs in contact with the D string as well.

We also tried out playing an open A, with a more percussive style of chord on the open D, on each down bow. Playing close to the heel on the up bow results in there being plenty of weight in the tip of the bow at the top of the bow stroke. Keep a little bit of pressure on the heel of the bow with the pinkie during the up bow. At the top of the up bow stroke, release the pressure with the pinkie, which allows gravity to drop the bow briefly onto the D string just as the bow direction changes.

At the end of the evening we played through Brenda Stubbert’s Reel, then Captain Campbell (Strathspey) followed by Coolie’s Reel. We ended off with the Eagle’s Whistle.


Fiddle bowing patterns


The Glencoe March

Tonight we learnt the Glencoe March by Dan R MacDonald. It’s a popular session tune, and goes well with the reel ‘Iggy and Squiggy’ which we learnt in the class recently. We’ll be playing the two tunes together. It’s possible to change the timing and tempo of the end of the march, so that you’re playing the last 2 bars of the march as a reel, before changing into playing  the reel itself.

Bowing patterns

After the break (and the chocolate eggs!), we tried playing some different bowing patterns for Spootiskerry. If you’re not used to thinking about what direction your bow is going, this can be quite a challenge. It’s well worth beginning to work on this, as different patterns of slurs and single bows can make a huge impact on the way a tune sounds, by changing the emphasis from

Photo ©Ros Gasson
Photo ©Ros Gasson

the beat to the offbeat or upbeat. Once you’ve mastered some different bowing patterns, you can use them to help bring tunes to life. They’re great for adding lift and swing to reels, in particular.

We tried using a ‘one down three up’ pattern in the B part of the tune, which helps top add emphasis on the beat. It’s important to play the downbow faster, using more length of the bow, so there is space to fit in three next three quavers without running out of bow on the up bow.  We also tried out a ‘three up one down’ bowing pattern in the A part of the tune, which adds emphasis to the offbeat in the tune.

At the end of the evening,we played around some more with the Aird Ranters, playing it in smaller groups, and performing to others in the class. Here’s a link to an interesting article about dealing with stage fright.


The new term will start on Tuesday 16th April. Enrolment starts on Monday 1st April. Details of term dates and costs are on the website home page.



Bowing chords on the fiddle


How to bow rhythmic chords on the fiddle

This week we spent some time looking at different ways to bow chords on the fiddle, to get a rhythm  in behind the tune.

We started off by playing through the slow reel from a couple of weeks ago. Then we learnt a new reel called Iggy and Squiggy. This one works well at a fairly fast pace. It uses the fourth finger a lot in the B part, combined with triplets and some rapid string crossing – it’s a good tune for a left-hand workout!

To keep our basic bowing pattern of starting the bar with a down bow, we slurred 2 quavers on an up bow after each triplet in the tune. We’re aiming to develop a ‘default’ pattern to our bowing which is played subconsciously. Once the down bow at the start of the bar has become a habit, it then becomes easier to vary it when we want to add different rhythms into a tune.

Keeping a relaxed bow hold

We looked at another way to help develop a relaxed bow-hold. first of all we shook out our bowing hand, to relax all the muscles. Then we placed our bows onto our fiddles in the usual playing position, holding the bow between the thumb and middle finger only. After this. we laid the other fingers gently onto the stick of the bow, without bringing any tension into the hand or fingers.
Bowing chords on the fiddle

The stick of the bow should sit in the first joint of the first finger (the joint nearest to the palm of the hand). This allows he first finger to be used to help control the direction the bow is traveling, so we can keep it perpendicular to the strings. The fingers should be spread out a little, and the whole hand should be slightly rotated anticlockwise, so that the back of the hand is pointing a little towards the tip of the bow. This gives us a basic relaxed playing position which will allow the wrist to be flexible when playing. The first finger and the pinkie can be used to help control the bow, using the thumb as a pivot.

How to bow rhythmic chords

There are several different ways to bow chords on the fiddle, which gives us some different options as to how those chords will sound.

In the last phrase of the B part of Iggy and Squiggy we tried playing an open D string to create a chord on each of the notes were playing on a down bow. If the notes of the tune (which are all on the A string at this point) are played with the bow positioned very close to, but not touching, the D string, then we can create the chord on any notes we choose just by using a bit of pressure on the index finger to bring the bow hair in contact with the D string. Playing the chords in this way adds a stacatto, almost percussive, rhythm beneath the tune.

A different way to create the chords using the open D string is to use a circular wrist action. We’ve tried this action out before when we’ve been playing tunes that switch backwards and forwards from one string to another. The wrist moves in a small clockwise circle which results (in this tune) in an up bow on the A string and a down bow on the chord. The wrist action can be modified slightly, so that instead of changing from one string to the other, we’re switching between playing the note on the A string, and playing the note plus the open D string. Creating the chord in this way allows the open D to ring out after we’ve played the note, so it sounds different to the previous method.

We ended the evening by playing through Leaving Brittany. We then played Aird Ranters, Barrowburn Reel and Spootiskerry in a final set. Next week we’ll look at some options for bowing Spootiskerry.


Bowing patterns and rhythm

Bowing patterns and rhythm

Tonight we spent some time thinking about different bowing patterns and how they affect the rhythms in tunes we’re playing. We started off by playing through the Jig we learnt in the first week of term – The Road to Banff. When we first learnt this, we played it with a dotted rhythm, emphasising the 2 main beats in the bar. Tonight we looked at changing the emphasis to the upbeats in the first phrase. It adds a real lift to the tune, and gets peoples’ feet tapping!

We learnt the strathspey The Aird Ranters (by Fred Morrison). It’s a short and straightforward tune to play on the fiddle. Once we’d learnt the notes, we tried playing it down an octave.  We spent some time thinking about our bow holds, getting a relaxed hold on the bow, and keeping our thumb slightly bent to avoid building any tension in the forearm. We talked about using the thumb as a pivot. Adding a bit of pressure with the pinkie can be used to take the weight of the bow when we lift it off the fiddle strings. If we want to really ‘dig in’ with a note, we can do this by adding a bit of pressure with the first finger as we play the start of the note.

We tried out playing some long slow open strings, thinking about tone. Keeping the bow perpendicular to the strings, and the bow hold relaxed helps to create a full tone. Then we tried playing as quietly as we could manage, by using a little pressure with the pinkie to take some of the weight of the bow off the strings.

We tried out a couple of different ways to bow the opening phrase to the strathspey. Using a down bow at the start of the tune, and playing single bows, results in a big emphasis on the 3rd note. we also tried out playing  a down bow followed by 3 up bows, which gives a much lighter feel to the start of the tune.

Bowing patterns and rhythms
Photo ©Ros Gasson

At the end of the night we played Captain Campbell’s, and tried out playing the Aird Ranters while adding in some dynamics, by dropping the volume in the B part of the tune.

Bowing jigs on the fiddle

Bowing jigs on the fiddle

Tonight’s class focused on bowing jigs on the fiddle. We started the new term by checking what everyone in the class wanted to work on over the coming weeks. The main themes seemed to be bowing, playing rhythmically, and learning to play faster.
At the beginning of the evening we looked at our bow holds. It’s important to be able keep the bow hand relaxed throughout the full length of the bow stroke.

A fiddler playing, viewed from behind
Photo ©Ros Gasson

The thumb should remain slightly bent to prevent tension creeping up the forearm. The fingers are curved over the stick of the bow, to give a relaxed hold. The fiddle takes most of the weight of the bow when we’re playing, so the hand can be thought of as just guiding the bow rather than gripping or holding it. When we’re playing, the thumb acts as a pivot – we can add a bit of pressure with the pinkie to take some of the weight of the bow off the strings and create a lighter sounding tone, or we can add pressure with the first finger to really ‘dig in’ to the start of a note to add emphasis. When we’re playing, the whole hand should be slightly rotated anticlockwise (if you’re using your right hand). Doing this  puts the wrist into a comfortable position to bend and flex at the top and bottom of the bow stroke.

We spent some time playing long bow strokes while thinking about our tone. We worked on keeping the bow perpendicular to the strings and keeping the bow fairly close to the bridge while we played. We tried playing a jig rhythm on an open A. There are 6 quavers in the bar in a jig. We are aiming to learn a basic bowing pattern for playing jigs, which we can play subconsciously. Once we have a pattern learnt in this way, it opens up possibilities for us to play around with the bowing patterns and rhythms, as we’re not having to think about the basic mechanics of how we are bowing the tune.

Once we’d picked up a dotted jig rhythm on the open string, we split into two groups.Half of each group played the jig rhythm on an open D while the others were playing on the open A. We tried to keep a steady rhythm, and listen to others in the group, while using our first fingers to ‘dig in’ with the bow at the start of the first beat in each bar, to add emphasis.

After the break we learnt the jig The Road to Banff. The written music is on the tunes page. We’ll be spending some more time on this tune next week.

We spent some time taking about playing for dancing. Jigs are commonly played for the Strip the Willow. Four 32 bar jigs in a set would be enough for each couple to go through the dance twice.

At the end of the evening we played Jig Runrig, the Road to Banff and Rory Macleod. Then we played Campbell’s Farewell to Redcastle, which we learnt in the class last term.

New tune

This week we learnt a tune written by a 7 year old. The tune is Bryan the Seasoned Traveller, written by Miffy Finlay. It will go well with Brenda Stubbert’s Reel. We’ll be spending some time looking at how to bow this tune – there’s plenty of scope for playing around with the rhythm.