Improving tone on the fiddle


Improving tone on the fiddle

Tonight we worked on our tone on the fiddle. We started off by learning the B part of the Eagle’s Whistle. The music is on the website tunes page. We tried out playing the A part of the tune with accented up beats (played on an up bow), to give the tune more ‘lift’, and added some chords into the A part.

We checked over our bow holds, ensuring our bowing arm was relaxed, and slightly rotated anticlockwise. This allows us to keep a fluid wrist action throughout each bow stroke. We played long bow strokes allowing the wrist to ‘lead’ the switch from a down bow to an up bow. We worked in pairs, checking that we were keeping our bows perpendicular to the fiddle strings throughout the bow stroke.

Improving tone on the fiddle
Photo ©Ros Gasson 2013

In pairs, we worked on keeping our bow perpendicular to the fiddle’s strings. We then tried out using pressure on the bow to increase volume and ‘scrunch’, and also taking pressure off the bow, to give gentle more mellow tone.

After this we had a go at playing chords. It’s important to have fine control over the angle of the bow to be able to play chords at will. One way to increase accuracy when chords are played (or not played!) is by using pressure with the first finger on the stick of the bow to push the bow hairs down onto the string that we’re using to create the chord. This will work if the angle that we’re using the bow keeps the bow hairs very close to that 2nd string before we want to play the chord. Creating chords in this way doesn’t rely on shifting the angle of the bow at the moment when we want to play the chord. The extra pressure with the first finger is enough to bring the 2nd string into play.

We tried out playing a second string as a long drone below part of a tune. We also tried out playing a more percussive chord note on the beat, allowing the string to ‘ring out’ after the bow had hit it.

At the end of the evening we played through Callum’s Road, folowed by Brenda Stubbert’s Reel, The Barrowburn Reel, and the High Road to Linton.

We talked about joining up with the Portobello Fun Fiddle group on Monday 6th May. They’ll be meeting on Porty Prom at 2pm to play some tunes together, to celebrate their 10 years of fiddle classes. For those who are interested in going along, I’ve added the tune they’ve written for the occasion on the tunes page. I’ll also add a recording once I’ve learnt it!



Playing waltzes

Playing waltzes on the fiddle

Tonight we learnt a Norwegian tune, called Vals, which is in the key of G. It’s a beautiful waltz, written by Vidar Skrede. Because the tune is Norwegian, there are some phrases that don’t go where we expect them to! In the second part, the tune has an awkward octave jump from a B to a high B (played with the pinkie on the E string). It’s not an interval we’re used to playing, so needs a bit of practicing to get in tune.

If you’re struggling to get particular notes in tune, it can be helpful to play through the tune with an electronic tuner switched on. Play the tune a couple of times without looking at the tuner, to relax into it. Then when you get to a note you’re having trouble keeping in tune, stop playing the tune, but keep playing that note. Have a check on the tuner to see whether it’s flat or sharp. It will help to give you an idea of where the problem is. If you try this, you might also find that it’s the note before or after the one you  were worried about that is actually the problem.

Playing waltzes on the fiddle
Photo ©Ros Gasson 2011

As the waltz is a tune for dancing, we worked on ways to help play the tune with a bit of a swing to it. We tried out adding a bit of a ‘spring’ in our bow strokes. Using single bows, we used the weight of our bowing arm, transferred through the first finger, to ‘dig in’ to the note at the start of each bow stroke. The natural spring in the wood of the stick then lifts the bow just clear of the string at the end of the note. The bowing hand is continually shifting between transferring the weight of the arm into the bow, to gently supporting the bow as it lifts off the strings, and staying relaxed throughout.

We also tried out giving a ‘shape’ to the longer notes in the tune. it can be very effective to speed the bow up throughout a longer note, to create a crescendo within the note. Grace notes and vibrato also add different effects. Once we had the notes of the tune sorted out, we played it through without looking at our hands, listening to the other fiddlers in the room, and focusing on playing together as a group. Getting into the habit of playing music more subconsciously, without concentrating on where our fingers might be going, will ultimately help us to play music more fluidly and expressively.

Towards the end of the evening, we played through the Aird Ranters. we also learnt a bass riff to play under the tune, which adds a good drive to the music. we rounded off the evening by playing Ramnee Ceilidh, and Midnight on the Water.

And if you sometimes find it hard learning to play the fiddle, have a look at this for a bit of light relief 😉 The Seagull, played by the New Rope String Band


There will be no class on Tuesday 12th February. We’ll add an extra class on at the end of term, on the 2nd April. (UPDATE – this has now been changed to 9th April!)


Fiddle technique recap

Fiddle technique recap

Tonight we had a fiddle technique recap, going over various aspects of technique that we’ve worked on during the term. We played through all the tunes we have learnt in the class since September, and reminded ourselves of some of the things we worked on when we first learnt them.

Roxburgh Castle (reel)

We went over some of the things we can do to help us to be able to play reels faster:

  • Use short bow strokes.
  • Think about bowing patterns.
  • Keep our bow close to the strings when we’re crossing from one string to another – minimise the vertical movement in the tip of the bow.
  • Use a circular wrist action to help with crossing from one string to another.
  • keep our fingers close to the strings when we lift them off.
  • Keep fingers on the strings where possible, if we’re coming back to the same note.

We tried playing the tune without looking at our fingers, to help with playing more from our subconscious.

Ramnee Ceilidh (reel)

We went over the second part of the tune again, and worked on the syncopated rhythm.

I See Mull (slow air)

We’ve been working on different aspects of  fiddle technique to help create a good tone on the fiddle:

  • Keep the right hand thumb bent and relaxed. It’s important not to let tension creep into the bowing arm.
  • Use the thumb as a pivot, and add a little pressure on the pinkie. This takes a bit of the weight of the bow off the fiddle. It’s  especially helpful when we’re playing on the e string.
  • Use pressure on the bow with the first finger to ‘dig in’ to a note.
  • Keep the bow perpendicular to the strings throughout the bow stroke.
  • Keep the bow close to the bridge.
  • When lifting the bow, bring it back down onto the strings close to the heel of the bow. Get the bow moving in a down bow direction before it actually hits the string.

We played through the tune, and then played it down an octave.

Danse des Petit Filles – Dance of the Little Girls (waltz)

We played the tune, and some of us played through the harmony. We broke into pairs and practiced playing single long down bows, lifting the bow between notes, while our partner checked if our bows were perpendicular to the strings.

At the end of the night we played through some of our tunes together

We started off with Fionn’s (a tune from last term) and then played The Aird Ranters, The Devil in the Kitchen, Brenda Stubberts, and Jenny Dang the Weaver.

Next week is the last week of term. Anne seems to want chocolate cake for some reason! 😉

Fiddlers playing together
Photo ©Ros Gasson

Working on tone on the fiddle

Developing tone on the fiddle

We spent tonight’s lesson doing some more work on our tone. We started by playing through the tune from last week – I See Mull. Then we learnt a new waltz – Dance des Petit Filles (The Dance of the little Girls). The written music is on the music page. It’s an unusual tune, and turned out to be quite a challenge to learn!

After the break, we did some more work on our tone on the fiddle. We split into pairs, and gave each other feedback about our bows. We started off focusing on keeping the bow perpendicular to the fiddle strings, then worked on playing with the bow closer to the bridge.

Bow hold

Developing a relaxed and comfortable bow holdwill also help us play with a more mellow tone.

Fiddle lessons in Edinburgh - improving tone in the String Circle fiddle class

We put down our fiddles for a while, and worked on our bow holds. If you drop your bowing arm down by your side (without holding the bow!), and shake it out, your hand relaxes. You can keep the hand in this relaxed position, and raise it up in front of you, and place the bow into it. It gives an idea of how relaxed the bow hold can be when you’re playing. Getting into a habit of doing this before picking up the bow to play will help develop a more relaxed bow hold when playing.

It’s particularly important to keep the thumb relaxed and slightly bent.

We tried out moving the bow through long bow strokes, to get the feel of having a flexible wrist when we play.

The we talked about how the 1st finger and the pinkie are important for helping to keep control over our volume when we’re playing. The thumb acts as a pivot for the bow. If we put a bit of pressure on the pinkie when we play a bow stroke, it takes some of the weight of the bow off the fiddle strings. The lighter bow plays much more quietly, with a delicate tone. We tried this out on out fiddles. Conversely, pushing down with the forefinger pushes the bow into the strings, giving a scrunchier louder sound to the note.

Creating dynamics

We went back to the waltz we learnt earlier, and tried thinking about where we might change the volume of our playing, to help it to become more expressive. We also tried out changing our bow speed to help create a crescendo within some of the longer notes in the tune.

At the end of the evening we played through a few tunes – we played Mrs MacLeod of Raasay, Willafiord and Roxburgh Castle as a set. We also played Fionn’s, a tune by Charlie McKerron which we’ve learnt previously in the class.



How to improve your fiddle tone

Techniques for improving fiddle tone

Tonight we spent most of the class working on creating a clear tone on the fiddle. We started off by learning the tune I See Mull (Chi Mi Muile). Once we had the notes under our fingers, we moved onto thinking about ways we could improve our tone on the fiddle while playing.

We practiced playing an open A string, concentrating on keeping the bow perpendicular to the strings throughout the full bow stroke. We worked in pairs so we could get feedback from the other person. It can be very difficult to tell if your own bow is perpendicular to the strings or not! It’s important to keep the wrist flexible, and the hand, arm shoulders and neck relaxed, throughout the complete bow stroke. A flexible wrist helps us to keep the bow in a straight straight line at the beginning at end of the bow stroke.

We tried out playing the tune again thinking about keeping the bow at right angles to the fiddle strings. It made a noticeable difference to the sound we created.

Next we moved on to thinking about whereabouts on the fiddle we were placing the bow. Keeping the bow fairly close to the bridge throughout the bow stroke helps to create a fuller sound and a mellow tone. We split into pairs again to give each other feedback on this.

After that, we tried playing more from our subconscious. As we were quite familiar with the tune, we stood in a circle, and tried playing the whole tune down an octave. We focused on thinking about the tune itself rather than where our fingers were going. Once we’d done that, we tried out alternating round the circle, with one person playing down an octave and the next person playing up the octave.

Fiddle lessons in Edinburgh  - working on tone on the fiddle
©Ros Gasson


We briefly looked at how to add vibrato to notes.The left hand needs to be very relaxed to achieve this. We started out by placing the 3rd finger on the A string. Using the wrist, we are aiming to rock the hand backwards and forwards. We’ll come back to this again later on in the term. Here’s some more detailed  information on learning to play with vibrato.


We finished off the evening by playing through the march and 2 reels we have learnt so far in the class, as a single set of tunes. The B part of Ramnee Ceilidh is quite a challenge to play at speed. We went back over this, slowing it down a bit to remind ourselves of the notes. We also looked at how to play the triplet, which is a bit awkward as it appears on an upbeat in the tune.

Tone and rhythm on the fiddle

 Improving tone and rhythm

Tonight we worked on techniques to help us with our tone and rhythm while playing.
We started the evening by going over the second part of Gordon Duncan’s reel Ramnee Ceilidh. It has a syncopated rhythm. We talked about different ways to tap our feet to help us keep in time when we’re playing syncopated rhythms. We also spent some time working on playing triplets. We were playing the three notes in the triplets starting on a down bow. The action comes from the wrist. The second and third notes are created by bringing the down bow to a very sudden stop. If the wrist is relaxed enough then the bow ‘judders’ up then down again.

Grace notes

We also tried out playing a grace note on the F# (the crotchet) near the start of the B part of the tune. We’re aiming to flick the finger quickly on and off the string to play the grace note. When you’re playing a reel at speed, you won’t hear a note as such where a grace note is played, so it doesn’t matter whether you use the 2nd or 3rd finger. The action of flicking the string briefly ‘deadens’ the F# that we’ve been playing, as it stops the string resonating. You can play the grace note at the start of the F#, in the middle of it, or at the end of it. Each will have a slightly different effect on the sound.

How to improve tone on the fiddle

Working on tone and rhythm in fiddle lessons
Photo ©Ros Gasson

There are several things we can do to help create a good tone when playing the fiddle:
* Keep a relaxed bow hold. It’s particularly important to make sure that the thumb doesn’t ‘lock’ in a tense position.
* Keep the bow close to the bridge throughout the bow stroke.
* Keep the bow at right angles to the fiddle’s strings throughout the bow stroke. We looked at the importance of having a flexible wrist. If we play with a rigid wrist, the bow will tend to skew on the strings at the start and finish of the bow stroke.
* When playing on the E string, we worked on keeping a slightly lighter touch with the bow.

We had a go at playing rhythm on percussion instruments. We all started off by playing on the beat. Once we had a steady rhythm going, some people moved to playing the offbeat, and then upbeats.

At the end of the evening we played through Roxburgh Castle again, and reminded ourselves of the chord accompaniment that we learnt a couple of weeks ago.

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