Free Technique Video of the Month

Visit our YouTube channel to view the free Technique Video of the Month!

This month’s technique video is from Technique Video Group 1 — Rolling the Bow. It’s a simple physical exercise that can take 15 seconds but is super valuable for anyone from beginner to advanced player.  Why? Because in order to do it, your hand has to accommodate itself to the bow in a natural and useful way, without anyone having to give you detailed explanations. That’s the best kind of exercise!

But more importantly, by teaching your right thumb to bend while you play, Continue reading Free Technique Video of the Month

Lift vs Lilt

Ethnomusologist Peter Cooke wrote an important book about the research he did throughout the 1970s in Shetland, called The Fiddle Traditions of the Shetland Isles. One interesting point he makes is what we’ll talk about here — the difference between “lift” and “lilt” in fiddle playing.

Listeners and dancers enjoy music only if it has lift, and they can only be charmed by it if it has lilt. Neither of these is dependent on perfect sound or intonation.

Lift

Lift is the easier quality to define. It is based on having a good beat. Traditional dance bands make sure they have lift, if they want anybody to dance, and if they want people to stay on the dance floor to the end of the program. Having played for, and danced at, many social dances to traditional music, I have noticed that if a band has a good beat, or groove, in their ensemble, everybody enjoys the dance. If their beat is a little sketchy or inconsistent, dancers mysteriously start finding themselves too tired to finish the evening.

Some bands overdo the beat, using strong bass, drums, and in some cases, I’ve heard an accordion or two squeeze hard on every single beat to the point where I feel like they’re hitting me over the head! This works for a crowd of dancers in a noisy hall, but it is not necessary. If musicians place the beat where it belongs, every time, because they feel it in their bones, their music will have a clear and strong beat, even in quieter sections. This allows a band, or a duo or a solo player, to have strong lift but still be expressive, with varying dynamics according to the feel of the music. These expressive qualities are obliterated by bands that hit you over the head with the beat, but if people are there to focus on their dance figures, they will likely have a wonderful time anyway. Of course, there are whole styles of music that are all about hitting you with a throbbing over-the-top beat, regardless of any attempt at a melody or lyrics, so it obviously works for many people!

There is another, little-discussed factor in having good lift, especially for voices or instruments like the fiddle, which can Continue reading Lift vs Lilt

Bowing Lively 3: Shuffle Bowing

Video #3 in Technique Video Group 3 provides backup for this article and gives you a nice excuse to practice shuffle bowing so you can use it whenever you like!

Shuffle bowing is a fun way to play reels. It’s common in American traditional fiddling but also in other styles. Some prefer it for reels because it adds variety to playing every eighth note on a separate bow, although if you’ve learned Reel Bowing as described in our earlier article and in the first video of Technique Video Group 3, you know that separate bows on reels can and should have lots of life and variety.

Here’s the basic bowing for shuffle bowing:

This pattern in itself is not uncommon in reels, but when people talk about shuffle bowing they’re usually thinking about using this same bowing when playing all eighth notes, which means the quarter note becomes two eighth notes slurred (played on one bow).

It’s super helpful to get comfortable with the basic bowing above and to do it Continue reading Bowing Lively 3: Shuffle Bowing

Bowing Lively 2: Reel Bowing

Video #1 in Technique Video Group 3 provides backup for this article and gives you a nice excuse to practice these Reel Bowing techniques so you can incorporate them in your playing!

In the article about jig bowing, we talked about how your bow can bring your tunes to life, give them a lift, keep the beat, and even help you remember how they go, because of the importance of muscle memory. Here we’ll take a look at some basic patterns for bowing reels.

A good foundation for bowing reels is to arrange to play an even number of bows per beat. This results in playing a downbow for every beat. Reels are in 2/2 or cut-time (even though some are mistakenly written in 4/4). Two beats in a measure makes reels danceable. Thinking 4 beats in a measure for a reel makes it sound and feel too deliberate, too heavy.

If you want, you could start with the pattern for jigs we talked about previously, and just add an extra bow, because jigs have 3 eighth notes per beat, and reels have 4. If you ever have trouble remembering that, a good trick is to think of how many letters the word “jig” and the word “reel” have — that’s how many eighth notes per beat in that type of tune.

Start with all eighth notes, all separate bows, but bring out the beat. Never play the notes equally. Play a strong Continue reading Bowing Lively 2: Reel Bowing

Bowing Lively 1: Jig Bowing

Video #2 in Technique Video Group 3 provides backup for this article and gives you a nice excuse to practice these jig techniques so you can incorporate them in your playing!

Your bow can bring your jigs to life, give them a lift, keep the beat, and help you remember the tune. There are various ways to play jigs, but here’s a basic pattern you can use as a solid foundation.

Think simple — downbow for the first note of each bar, and upbow for the second beat of every measure. If all the notes of a jig bar are eighth notes, the first note of each triplet is the beat note. You can either play all three notes on separate bows, or all three on one note — either way, you’re using an odd number of bows, 1 or 3, for each beat, and that allows you to alternate downbow and upbow for each beat.

This applies also if you don’t have all eighth notes in the measure. If you have a dotted quarter note, it takes up a whole beat with one bow, and fits the pattern perfectly. If you have a quarter note plus an eighth note, slur them into one bow, and you’re all set.

Using this pattern allows you to focus on the simplicity of Continue reading Bowing Lively 1: Jig Bowing

Why do we join fiddle-online?

If you’re new to fiddle-online and keen to try it out, why do you have to join?

Here are some of the reasons!

  1. We are a community of fiddlers (all levels) who want to be here and we’re not afraid to say who we are!
  2. Last week there were more than 700 attempts by anonymous hackers to get into fiddle-online. Why? Who knows? But requiring participants to be members keeps hackers out.
  3. The site’s codes depend on each person having an account with a functioning email address. This allows for page access, videos, audio, sheet music, and communications.
  4. There’s no catch to joining, other than getting an email newsletter the first of each month, from which anyone can unsubscribe.
  5. There’s no cost to join, in fact it’s the opposite. You earn credits by joining.
  6. There are some free things on fiddle-online but most things are a-la-carte and very much worth the low cost. Nothing slick and no exploitation. Guest artists are supported every time you attend their workshops or use their materials.
  7. Joining gives access to the Credits Sharing Center for those who can’t afford something. These credits are donated by members who enjoy the site, have extra credits, and want others to have enough credits to participate.
And if you have other questions, I’m always available to answer them — how to find something, recommendations, how things work, security precautions, and so on.   There’s a “contact” link at the top right of every page!
Looking forward to see you soon–
–Ed

Hector the Hero

“Hector the Hero” has become a popular fiddle tune in slow 6/8.  Some play it in a more upbeat way, as a waltz, but after learning the history of the tune, I find it difficult to play in any other way than as a lament.

On March 25, 1903, one of the heroes of Victorian Scotland, Hector Macdonald, known as “Fighting Mac,” returned to his room from breakfast at a Paris hotel and shot himself. Two days later, the great fiddler and composer James Scott Skinner wrote one of his most famous and moving tunes, “Hector the Hero.”

Raised in a small town near Dingwall, north of Inverness, Major-General Sir Hector Macdonald had risen quickly through the ranks of the British army, distinguishing himself with feats of daring, discipline and leadership in Afghanistan, Egypt, Sudan, India and South Africa. There were those who dubbed him the greatest Scottish soldier since William Wallace. Macdonald had been appointed aide-de-camp to both Queen Victoria and King Edward VII, and was feted throughout the UK, though his humble origins did not prepare him for the gushing plaudits of society. His high position in the army was made possible by the Cardwell Reforms of 1871, which allowed for promotion based on merit, and abolished the purchase of commissions in the army by well-off seekers of glory who were not always the most qualified of military leaders.

That morning at the Paris hotel, Macdonald was startled to see his photo in the international edition of the New York Herald, accompanied by a story about “grave accusations” of “immorality” against him. Continue reading Hector the Hero

A Bridge Quite Close

The violin bridge is an amazing contraption. Like the first violins in the 16th century, they have hardly changed since then. Let’s look at how it works and how to care for it

The bridge is curved to mirror the curve of the fingerboard, with the higher side holding the G string.  Looking past the fancy curves, you’ll notice that the bridge basically has four holes. Each is beneath a string. Vibrations from the strings can’t go through the holes; they have to pass through the solid wood in the shape of a large X, as in the illustration. The sound vibrations are sent directly to the two feet at the bottom. This has the effect of blending the vibrations rather than allowing some frequencies to travel down one side or the other of the bridge.

The two feet are carved to perfectly match the curvature of the violin. This maximizes the transmission of those sound vibrations through the bridge’s feet as the two feet waddle very fast and send the sound into the top wooden plate of the violin. Someone knowledgeable has to carve the feet to fit each individual instrument. This fit doesn’t always happen for cheap instruments, or unadjusted bridges, or bridges that are warped or leaning. Such violins will work but their sound won’t pass into the wood of the violin efficiently, and this will affect the tone of the instrument.

Where the sound goes

There is a lot of tension on the wood of the violin. It is Continue reading A Bridge Quite Close

Using Our Self-Repeating Phrase Audios

A Unique Feature

One unique feature of fiddle-online is the self-repeating audio for each phrase of a tune. I call it “interactive sheet music.” Fiddle-online went live in 2015, built on ideas such as this one, which I developed as early as 2007. Why is it unique on the internet? I’ve often wondered, but I suspect it’s simply because it takes too much work to provide this service for every tune. One character amiss in the code and it won’t work! In any case, I believe it’s super helpful for learning tunes, and I hope you make full use of it as you go.

Phrases vs Written Music

On fiddle-online, the written music is parsed by phrase, using colorful boxes, with the same color used every time the same phrase appears. This structure of phrases is how we hear and play music, but it’s not how we write it down. Music is written down so that we can easily see the beats and the divisions by measure and by part.

Phrases, however, are more organic. They include pickup notes, and represent the rhythms we feel as our tune goes through a call and response. Often phrase A1 and A2 are like question and answer, followed by another instance of phrase A1 plus the End phrase. It’s like asking the same question (A1) twice but having an initial answer (A2) and then a better, more settled answer (Ending, or A-end).

Using Phrases

Phrases are the building blocks of a tune. Sometimes you can even learn a tune up to tempo from day one, as long as you break it down into manageable pieces — phrases — instead of trying to play too much at a time. Phrases in music are like phrases in English, or more to the point, lyrics in a song. They are what the tune is trying to say. Learning them and putting them together is the language of music. Learning just the notes is like thinking of all the letters that spell the words you are saying. To clarify your understanding of phrases, take a look at the phrases of song lyrics. or write your own lyrics for a tune you are learning!

Using the Phrase Audios

The self-repeating audios are the orange buttons that say, for example, “Play A1” above the A1 phrase. You click there and it will play the A1 phrase slowly enough for you to learn it; it’s the first building block of the tune. Since the audio automatically repeats itself, Continue reading Using Our Self-Repeating Phrase Audios

Fiddling and Culture

While it doesn’t have to be this way, it tends to be true that learning violin is about classical music, primarily European classical music, while learning fiddle involves learning about local music and cultures from around the world.

Although classical music actually varies widely when you listen closely to music from different countries, different eras, and music written for different purposes, people often lump classical music together as one big thing, or at most divide it into eras such as baroque, classical, romantic, and modern.

Understanding fiddle music, however, draws us into learning about the culture the fiddle music came from, much the way learning a language teaches us about the customs of the places where the languages are spoken. To understand a style of fiddling you’ll want to know how the fiddle is used in that area, what community events it is needed for, how people dance to different types of tunes, what types of ceremonies require it.

As I write this we are about to embark on the adventure of learning about Mexican fiddle tunes. (Click here for current workshop info and audio, and click here for past workshop videos, audio, sheet music.)  We have an expert, Osíris Ramsés Caballero Léon, who will be Continue reading Fiddling and Culture