Gaining confidence playing in front of others


Tonight we learnt the Johnstown Reel, a slow reel written by the flute player Rebecca Knorr.

We also worked on bowing the tripet (or is it a birl?) at the start of the tune. After the discussion we had in the class tonight, I thought I’d do a quick Google search for the difference between a triplet and a birl. Unfortunately Google was determined that I was really looking for the difference between a triplet and a girl, so that was interesting, but not particularly helpful! Thanks to Pamela for this link, which gives some info on naming, in the section on bowed ornamentation.

We worked on making the bow really connect with the string at the start of the down bow going into the triplet, putting pressure on with the index finger, to get the bow hairs to ‘bite’ into the string at the very start of the note. The second note is a very short up bow. It’s so short, the note pretty much disappears. There’s more information on playing triplets here.

Gaining confidence

Several people in the class wanted to work on gaining confidence when playing in front of other people, either at sessions, or on their own,. So tonight, we tried out having a small group playing the tune we’d learnt tonight to the rest of the class. there are several things you can do to help lessen the nerves if you’re not used to playing in front of other people.

  • Play tunes you are very familiar with
  • If you’re playing with anyone else, make sure you’re all clear how you will start and end the tune or set of tunes, and how many repetitions you’ll play for each tune
  • Decide before you start playing what speed you will play at. You might want to start your foot tapping at that speed before you play, or count in, if you’re playing with other people

We also spent some time working on tone, getting individual open strings to resonate and ring out after playing a long note. Playing in tune will help your tone, and knowing that you can reliably play with a good strong tone will help your confidence.


How to play triplets

We started off  tonight looking at the mechanics of playing a triplet. We were working on triplets where all 3 notes are the same (sometimes also called a birl).  If you’re struggling to play them, it’s worth practicing them with the bow going in the same direction each time. It’s quite possible to always play them in the same direction, by slurring notes as necessary in tunes.

We learnt the reel In and Out the Harbour which has triplets in both the A and B parts of the tune.

We played this riff with the triplet starting on a down bow, and slurred the two quavers between each triplet on an up bow.

Triplet exercise for fiddle players

To get the effect of the triplet, the first (downbow) note in the triplet needs to be short and abrupt. Use pressure on the index finger to connect the bow with the fiddle strings at the start of that first note. The down bow should be fast and short, and stopped abruptly, while keeping the wrist really relaxed. The 2nd and 3rd notes in the triplet are produced by the hand doing a small ‘judder’ when the first note is stopped suddenly. We tried out this action using just our right hand, without holding the bow.

Bow hold

Bow hold for fiddle players
How to hold the fiddle bow
Photo ©Ros Gasson

We checked out our bow holds again. Here’s a link to more information (and photos) describing how to hold the fiddle bow. We got into pairs. One person held the tip of their partner’s bow while their partner played a long bow stroke, paying attention to their bow hold, and ensuring the bowing hand was slightly rotated anticlockwise.

Then we reminded ourselves of the thumb acting as a pivot in the bow hold. Because of this pivot effect, pushing down with either the pinkie or index finger will have a very different effect on the bow.

The role of the pinkie

We tried out playing a long A, and lifting the bow off the string at the top of the up bow. At the point the bow lifts from the string, the pinkie pushes down, and because of the pivot effect of the thumb, this allows the pinkie to take the weight of the bow. We tried this out again, this time lifting our pinkie off the bow as soon as the bow was back on the strings, and only using the pinkie when we were lifting the bow from the string. It’s important to make sure that the pinkie relaxes as soon as the bow is back on the strings – if there’s any tension in the pinkie, the muscles in the forearm will be contracted, which will affect the whole bowing action.

The role of the index finger

Then we tried out the converse action, of ‘digging in’ with the index finger. When we’re playing a triplet, it’s important to get the bow connecting well with the fiddle string, right at the beginning of the first note. This can be achieved by pushing on the back of the stick of the bow with the index  finger, right at the start of the note. We tried the action out without our fiddles to start with. It’s a very short sharp action – pushing down with the forefinger, and counteracting this by pulling up with the thumb at the same time. The result is that the stick of the bow bends under the increased pressure, bringing the back of the bow closer to the bow hair. If you’re getting the action, you can see this happen if you watch the centre of your bow.


We finished off the class by playing through Huntingtone Castle together. Several of us went to the session together afterwards – it was lovely to see some new faces!

How to play triplets on the fiddle

Learning how to play triplets

Tonight we learnt the Strathspey Devil in the Kitchen, a Scottish pipe tune, which gives us a great oppotunity to focus on how to play triplets. It was composed by the piper William Ross. It’s a good tune to get under our belts for practicing playing triplets, as there’s plenty of them in the A and B parts. The written music for the tune is on the website music page. We’ll find another tune that we could put into a set with this one for Anne!

Playing jigs on the fiddle
Photo ©Ros Gasson

It’s important to have a relaxed hold on the bow, and to use movement in the wrist and fingers to produce the triplet. Using upper arm movement would make it hard to play the triplet with any precision. We’re aiming to play the triplets in this tune using down-up-down bowing for each one. The three notes are very short, and only use a tiny bit of the bow. The action is created by making a short strong down bow on the first note in the triplet. By bringing that down bow to an abrupt stop, the bow then ‘judders’ up and down, creating the 2nd and 3rd notes in the triplet.

Here’s a video from Blazin’ Fiddles fiddler Bruce McGregor

We also thought about how we might add dynamics into the tune, with quieter or louder parts to add some expression.

In the break in the middle of the evening, we nipped next door to see the photography exhibition  😉 …and we had some chocolate cake, too.

It seems that the research into who uses what type of vibrato is ongoing – our class theory seems to be standing up well, with only one exception found so far!

After the break, we played through Roxburgh Castle again. We spent some time working on using a circular action with our wrist to help with the string crossing in the B part. Again, it involves using quite a short length of the bow for each note, and keeping the bow moving by using the wrist and fingers. This gives us fine control over what we’re doing with the bow, and will help with starting to play the tune faster. We could play this part of the tune without moving the upper arm at all.

We ended the class by playing a few tunes together.

Learn how to play triplets in the String Circle fiddle class
Photo ©Ros Gasson