Playing with rhythms in reels


March and reel rhythms

Tonight we worked on rhythms in marches and reel. We started the class by going over the 2/4 march Campbell’s Farewell to Redcastle, and reminded ourselves where some of the grace notes were. We also got our feet tapping on the beat, and emphasised all the notes on the beat, keeping a steady tempo.

Tone and tuning

We tried playing long bows on an open A string, paying attention to getting our bows perpendicular to the fiddle strings to help with tone. Then we played different notes and chords from the A arpeggio (A, C#, E and A), listening to our tuning while we were playing, and working on our tone at the same time. After that, we tried walking around the room while we were playing long notes from the arpeggio. While we did this, we were listening to other people around us, and working on playing in tune with one another.

Onbeats and offbeats

Then we moved on to playing the notes  E A C# E A E C# A in reel rhythm, tapping our feet while we emphasised the notes on the beat. Some of the class then played a chord beneath this, playing a low A and E, in an offbeat rhythm. We tried varying the run of notes over the top, and changed to emphasising the offbeats along with the chords.

Learn to play with rhythms on the fiddle in the String Circle class
Photo ©Ros Gasson

We learnt the reel Roxburgh Castle (the music is on the tunes page), and played around with different rhythms, emphasising beats or offbeats in the second part.

We also tried playing Campbell’s Farewell to Redcastle with the reel after it. We finished off the evening by playing a set of tunes together: Captain Campbell, a strathspey, followed by 2 reels – Brenda Stubbert, and Jenny Dang the Weaver.

Jig rhythms, offbeats and upbeats

Offbeats and upbeats

Tonight we played around with offbeats and upbeats in jig and reel rhythms. While you first start to learn to play the fiddle, there’s a lot to grapple with. You’re learning how to hold the fiddle and bow, how to move the fingers to be able to play in tune, and how to move the bow to create a pleasing tone and keep a steady tempo. If you’re new to learning to play an instrument, there’s also a  lot to learn in terms of how you turn a series of notes into something that sounds musical.

So how do you move on from sounding like a beginner to playing in a more fluid and intuitive way? There’s a point at which we want to start to move from playing in a focused ‘thinking’ way, to playing more from the subconscious mind. We’ll gradually achieve this by learning patterns for different aspects of our playing. Once we’ve played as particular run of notes many times for example, it becomes easier to play it without consciously focusing on what your fingers are  doing to make it happen.

We’ve talked in the fiddle class a lot about starting to learn a basic ‘default’ pattern of bowing reels and jigs. Getting to the point where different rhythms are also subconscious makes a huge difference to being able to play tunes fluidly while adding interest and colour.

If we start off by always playing reels so that we have a down bow on the beat, it eventually becomes a habit. If in the early stages, every time we play a particular tune we use the same bowing pattern, we gradually give less and less thought to how we achieve that pattern. Ultimately it becomes a subconscious process to bow the tune in that way. At that point, we’ve stopped thinking about it, knowing it will happen automatically, and we’ve establish a strong pulse on the beat. We  can then turn our conscious attention to occasionally changing the emphasis to the offbeats or upbeats, to create some variety and interest in the tune.

Jigs and reels

In tonight’s class, we spent some time finding the offbeats and upbeats in some of the tunes we’ve already learnt together in the class. We played a dotted jig rhythm, and then experimented with Shetland  ‘3 up one down’ bowing patterns to emphasise the offbeat in reels. We also looked at options for playing upbeats in jigs and reels – we tried them out in Jig Runrig and Da Merrie Boys of Greenland

Learning to play offbeats and upbeats on the fiddle in jigs and reels
Photo ©Ros Gasson

We played loads of tunes from the class repertoire at the end of the evening, once all our brains were addled!

“A table, a chair, a bowl of fruit and a violin; what else does a man need to be happy?”

Albert Einstein