Tonight we learnt a 6/8 march called the Hen’s March (not to be confused with a different tune called The Hen’s March Over the Midden). It’s a 4-part march so it took us a while to learn it. We’ll consolidate it at the start of next week’s class.
6/8 marches are played for dances like the Military Two-step and Britannia Two-step.
We also played through Terribus, the 2/4 march we learnt in the first class this term. It would go well with Campbell’s Farewell to Redcastle (which we learnt over a year ago in the class) for a Gay Gordons. The music for both of these tunes is on the music page. If you want to find out more about what to play for different ceilidh dances, the Grand Chain website is a useful resource. It gives instructions for dances, information on what types of tunes to put into sets for each dance, and how many bars of music you’ll need to play.
Tonight we spent some time working on the march we learnt last week. Terribus is a 2/4 march, and works well for the ceilidh dance the ‘Gay Gordons’. A typical set for a Gay Gordons might consist of 4 two-part 2/4 marches. If you want to add a real lift at the end of the set, you might choose to change into a 6/8 march for the last tune instead. If you’re paying for dancing, it’s important to be in control of the tempo, and to have a really strong rhythm, to direct the dancers. It’s particularly important to start the tune with confidence, so the dancers are really clear what tempo they’ll be dancing at, and where the dance starts. So we looked in detail at the first phrase of the tune, and what we can do to help create that confidence in the sound as we start to play.
The tune starts on an upbeat (the open A) Making sure that the first D (which falls on the beat) is played with complete conviction, will help the dancers be sure where the dance starts. You’re also aiming to create a really clear start to the note, and make it fall cleanly on the beat. So how can we achieve this?
Playing with a ‘bounce’ for dancing
We tried out using a hammer-on, playing a C# just before the D, which has the effect of emphasising the D note. As we played the D, we also added a chord, played with the open D below, played in a really percussive style. This further emphasises the D in the tune. We first learnt this technique when we were playing Brae Roy Road. To create a bit of variation to the way you play this phrase each time, you can add the hammer on, or the chord, or both, or neither, each time the D appears in the phrase.
We then moved on to thinking about how to play the notes in the tune cleanly. Using the natural bounce in the bow will help with this. We tried out playing an open A, with short up and down bows in a stead6 rhythm. Using your index finger, you can ‘dig in’ to the start of each bow stroke, by pushing the stick of the bow down into the string with the 2nd joint. If you also pull upwards with the thumb at the same time, this emphasises the effect. At the point where the bow is pushed into the string, you can create a very definite start to the note, with a real emphasis. the hand relaxes as you go through the bow stroke, and at the end of the stroke, the bow bounces just clear of the strings, creating a tiny gap between one note and the next.
After the break we moved into the big room, where we had space for some of us to dance a Gay Gordons while we played the tune. After we’d done this, the dancers then the players gave some feedback. The dancers felt the music had a good strong rhythm to it, and they also found that knowing the structure of the tune helped them to know whereabouts they were in the dance. The players noticed that watching the dancers helped with keeping a steady tempo…and that it was sometimes hard to remember whereabouts they were in the tune when they watched the dancing!
Tonight we spent some time thinking about how to play for dancing, and playing in a way that encourages people to want to get up and dance. We identified several things that can help with this:
Playing at a steady tempo
Playing with a strong sense of rhythm.
Varying the rhythm – not always emphasising the on beat.
Adding dynamics into tunes and sets. This might be about how you play as an individual, or through musical arrangements if you’re playing in a band
Adding points where the music ‘lifts’ – this might be done by changing to a tune with a different time signature (for example from a 2/4 march to a 6/8 march, when playing for a Gay Gordons).
Having a really clear start to a set of tunes, so the dancers know when to start dancing. This might be done by playing a long chord before the first tune starts, or by playing a short phrase of the first tune to lead into the A part.
By playing with a ‘bouncy’ style.
We started the evening by revisiting our bow hold, holding the fiddle, and using the fingers in the left hand. Then we played some long slow notes from the D arpeggio, paying attention firstly to keeping the bow perpendicular to the strings, and in the space between the bridge and end of the finger board. Then we tried it again, listening to what other people in the class were playing, and focusing on our tuning. Finally we tried playing chords, with any two notes from the arpeggio of D.
In the second half of the class we learnt the 2/4 march Terribus. It’s a great tune to put in a set for dancing the Gay Gordons. It would go well with Campbell’s Farewell to Redcastle, which we learnt in the class recently.
We started off this week’s class by playing through Shetland Times and Tatties, and added in some grace notes and chords. We looked at techniques that will help us to be precise with our timing when we lift the bow from the fiddle. Then we added some dynamics into the tune.
Playing for dancers
We learnt Egan’s Polka, and talked about playing for dancers. There are a number of things to think about if you want to play in a way that encourages people to want to dance.
playing with a bouncy style
colour – if you’re playing in a group, bring instruments in and out
leaving spaces in the music
It’s also helpful to think about the musicians themselves. Some of the things you do when you’re playing can significantly affect the atmosphere at an event:
musicians visibly enjoying themselves
musicians having eye contact/interaction with the dancers
musicians moving in time to the music, with energy (have a look at this video!)
We finished off the class by playing through all the tunes we have learnt this term.
We’ll be meeting in the Diggers again on Monday 2nd December from 8pm for an informal session. If you’re interested in joining the class next term, why not join us at the session?
String Circle fiddle class – January 2014
The new term starts on Tuesday 14th January 2014. Enrolment opens on 9th December.