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Fiddle Technique and SCD Music

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  • ...

    Hugh Goldie March 16, 1995, 7:02 p.m. (Message 1323)

    I have a couple of books (_A Guide to Bowing_ by J. Scott Skinner and 
    _The Calidonian Companion_ by Alastair J. Hardie) which stress the 
    importance of bowing technique in Scottish Fiddle music.  Special bowing 
    produces the Scottish snap or the unique Scottish character of the music,
    according to these sources.
    
    Bowing is very important in classical violin playing.  For example, 
    students of the Suzuki method start learning it in Book I while they are
    just beginning to play.  In the Bach minuets, which have a waltz-like
    rhythm, the bow moves  down-up-up, not down-up-down.
    
    Skinner and Hardie use hooked bowing a lot, particularly in strathspeys.
    This appears to have a lot to do with the wonderful Scottish rhythms of 
    these dances.  For example, a series of dotted eighth notes (longer notes)
    alternating with sixteenth notes (shorter notes) would often be bowed:
    
    down-down  up-up  down-down  up-up
    
    This tends to make the long notes a fraction longer and the short notes
    a fraction shorter (I think), giving the music more snap (a more pronounced
    rhythm).
    
    However, at a couple of music workshops, I have heard that bowing is not 
    too important.  I would like to hear from the Scottish Country Dance 
    musicians out there about how important technique is on the fiddle.  Is this
    part of the reason scottish music is so unique?
    
    I hope the dancers out there are not bored with this.  There is no list 
    server for SCD _music_ yet, so I'm trying this one.  As a beginner fiddler,
    I'd really like to hear from Barbera and Elke and from others.  If the 
    discussion is too narrow for this dance list server, please send e-mail.
    
    Hugh Goldie
    xxxxxx@xxxxxx.xxxxx.xx
  • ...

    Paul Hemenway March 16, 1995, 8:03 p.m. (Message 1326, in reply to message 1323)

    You can't dance without the music.  Well, I can't dance without the music.
    And the more I know about the music, the more I listen to it as part of
    the dance.  Please don't stop the music discussions as they relate to
    SCD, on this net.
    
    Thanks.
    
    paul
  • ...

    Etienne Ozorak March 16, 1995, 11:44 p.m. (Message 1333, in reply to message 1323)

    Hugh Goldie writes...
    
    >However, at a couple of music workshops, I have heard that bowing is  
    >not too important.  I would like to hear from the Scottish Country  
    >Dance musicians out there about how important technique is on the  
    >fiddle.  
    
    
    Do you mean technique or training?
    
    Etienne Ozorak
    Meadville, PA  USA
  • ...

    Ned T. Dairiki March 17, 1995, 8:15 a.m. (Message 1340, in reply to message 1333)

    With respect to the importance of bow (or right hand) technique, I have 
    regularly heard and also believe that good bow technique is often more impt
    than left hand technique.  In phrasing, playing snaps and 'shivers', and 
    playing at dance tempos; good bowing ability is an enviable asset.
    
    Alisdair Fraser has commented that one should have the ability to play a tune
    or a phrase interchangably with a mix of bowings (e.g. starting either w/an
    upbow or down bow into any particular bar of a tune, for instance).  To me,
    that means not so much that bowing doesn't matter but that a fiddler should
    eventually have the facility to bow well enough to not be bound by strictures
    of how any particular tune might best be bowed.
    
    ned dairiki, berkeley,ca
  • ...

    John Ward March 17, 1995, 12:58 a.m. (Message 1336, in reply to message 1323)

    On Thu, 16 Mar 1995 xxxxxx@xxxxxx.xxxxx.xx wrote:
    
    > I have a couple of books (_A Guide to Bowing_ by J. Scott Skinner and 
    > _The Calidonian Companion_ by Alastair J. Hardie) which stress the 
    > importance of bowing technique in Scottish Fiddle music.  Special bowing 
    > produces the Scottish snap or the unique Scottish character of the music,
    > according to these sources.
    >
    These are good books, but they are not the complete guides to Scottish 
    fiddling because there are several styles of Scottish fiddling.  Both 
    Scott Skinner and Hardie are what might be called Northeast Scottish 
    fiddlers, which has a different style than Highland, or Cape Breton, for 
    example.  Use the books, but be aware that there are other, equally valid 
    in most circumstances, bowings that can be used.
     
    > Bowing is very important in classical violin playing.  For example, 
    > students of the Suzuki method start learning it in Book I while they are
    > just beginning to play.  In the Bach minuets, which have a waltz-like
    > rhythm, the bow moves  down-up-up, not down-up-down.
    > 
    > Skinner and Hardie use hooked bowing a lot, particularly in strathspeys.
    > This appears to have a lot to do with the wonderful Scottish rhythms of 
    > these dances.  For example, a series of dotted eighth notes (longer notes)
    > alternating with sixteenth notes (shorter notes) would often be bowed:
    > 
    > down-down  up-up  down-down  up-up
    > 
    > This tends to make the long notes a fraction longer and the short notes
    > a fraction shorter (I think), giving the music more snap (a more pronounced
    > rhythm).
    
    Most players that I know, including myself, tend to play a dotted 8th note
    - 16th note figure (dum-da), which is notated with the first note having a
    duration three times the shorter note, more like a triple rhythm, with the
    longer note being played roughly twice as long as the shorter.  On the
    other hand, the snap, where the shorter note is first (but-ums), is
    usually played with the shorter note being played very short, more like a
    32nd note followed by a double dotted 8th.  Also, while the hooked bow may
    be used on the dum-da sets, very often the but-ums set is played with
    seperate bows. 
    > 
    > However, at a couple of music workshops, I have heard that bowing is not 
    > too important.  I would like to hear from the Scottish Country Dance 
    > musicians out there about how important technique is on the fiddle.  Is this 
    > part of the reason scottish music is so unique? 
    > 
    
    I think that every musician has to consider the style used as a device to
    reinforce the dancers.  SCD musicians use a dotted jig rhythm (dotted 8th
    - 16th - 8th) to give some lift to the dancers, which reinforces the steps
    the dancers are performing in the jig.  A large part of style is the 
    bowing choices which can be made.  My understanding of the SCD strathspey 
    is of a graceful dance with two major pulses to the measure.  The hooked 
    bowing cited above would tend to give a feeling of four to the measure, 
    so the player would have to make sure that beats one and three were 
    emphasized to give the feeling of two major beats.  But, in addition, the 
    player will want to emphasize some fourth beats to give the dancers 
    movement into the next measure, so that the player might play a 
    strathspey as ONE two THREE four, One two THREE FOUR, etc.  Alasdair 
    Fraser has been known to suggest that, if appropriate, the player might 
    want to take two bows to the bar in a strathspey.
    
    	Further, different tunes call for different bowings, so it is 
    pretty hard to set down some standard rule for all Scottish bowings.  I 
    find that I might play one time through a strathspey with hooked and 
    linked bowings, and then play the tune with separate bows for a somewhat 
    different feeling.
    
    	I think that the problem is that there are a lot of possibilities 
    for good bowings in tunes, so that it is difficult to set a standard 
    bowing.  On the other hand, bowing is a major element of style and goes a 
    long way towards creating the feeling of a tune, which must be considered 
    by the player.  Keeping in mind that the purpose of a dance musician is 
    to play music for dancing, if the style is appropriate for dancing, any 
    bowing that will support the style will probably work.  In a sense, what 
    I am saying is that SCD style is important for SCD dances, and Cape 
    Breton style is important for Cape Breton dancing, and Highland style is 
    important for Highland dancing, and a musician should be aware of the 
    differences in the styles and the bowing and other techniques required to 
    produce the style.
    
    > I hope the dancers out there are not bored with this.  There is no list 
    > server for SCD _music_ yet, so I'm trying this one.  As a beginner fiddler, 
    > I'd really like to hear from Barbera and Elke and from others.  If the 
    > discussion is too narrow for this dance list server, please send e-mail. 
    > 
    > Hugh Goldie 
    > xxxxxx@xxxxxx.xxxxx.xx
    > 
    > 
    I think that it's good to discuss these thing on this list.  Sorry for 
    the length, but I hope that it helps.  It will be interesting to see what 
    others more experienced than I, such as Elke and Roberta, have to say.
    
    John.
  • ...

    Priscilla M. Burrage March 17, 1995, 3:59 a.m. (Message 1338, in reply to message 1323)

    On Thu, 16 Mar 1995 xxxxxx@xxxxxx.xxxxx.xx wrote:
    
    > I have a couple of books (_A Guide to Bowing_ by J. Scott Skinner and 
    > _The Calidonian Companion_ by Alastair J. Hardie) which stress the 
    > importance of bowing technique in Scottish Fiddle music.  Special bowing 
    > produces the Scottish snap or the unique Scottish character of the music,
    > according to these sources.
    > 
    > I hope the dancers out there are not bored with this.  There is no list 
    > server for SCD _music_ yet, so I'm trying this one.  As a beginner fiddler,
    > I'd really like to hear from Barbera and Elke and from others.  If the 
    > discussion is too narrow for this dance list server, please send e-mail.
    
    
    No only not bored, but learning a lot about musical techniques and 
    getting a glimse of the dance from the musicians point of view.  Thank you.
    
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    Priscilla Burrage	(xxxxxxxxx.xxxxxxx@xxx.xxx)
    Vermont USA		(xxxxxxxx@xxxxx.xxx.xxx)
  • ...

    McOwen March 17, 1995, 10:11 a.m. (Message 1342, in reply to message 1323)

    I think I'm on record in quite a few places for thinking that the bowing is
    very important, both for the dancing's sake, and for making the music sound
    "Scottish."  I wish I had more time to discuss it now, but I have to prepare
    for a music workshop in New York where I will probably discuss bowing a lot.
    
    Non fiddlers/violinists  are often amazed that we can play without frets
    (little bars across the fingerboard a la guitars & mandolins).  However, the
    left-hand technique (fingering on the fretless fingerboards) is nothing in
    complexity and difficulty and interest compared to the right-hand (bowing)
    technique.  That is one of the first things my old violin teacher told me
    when I was first taking up the violin.  He was talking classical music, but
    it's primarily the bowing that defines classical from Scottish from Irish
    from Swedish from Bulgarian.
    
    There is a national Scottish fiddle organization called Scottish FIRE (stands
    for FIddle REvival--get it?--I wish they'd change their name!) which just
    mentioned this Strathspey network in their last issue.  They suggested
    setting up our own Scottish fiddle bulletin board.  I'll forward some of
    these messages to the requisite people (John Ward is already on this
    network).  Should Scottish FIRE be encouraged to combine with this one?
    
    Sincerely,
    Barbara McOwen
    Arlington, Mass.
  • ...

    --bakere-- March 18, 1995, 9:46 a.m. (Message 1349, in reply to message 1323)

    On Thu, 16 Mar 1995 xxxxxx@xxxxxx.xxxxx.xx wrote:
    
    > I have a couple of books (_A Guide to Bowing_ by J. Scott Skinner and
    > _The Caledonian Companion_ by Alastair J. Hardie) which stress the
    > importance of bowing technique in Scottish Fiddle music.
    >
    > Skinner and Hardie use hooked bowing a lot, particularly in strathspeys.
    >
    
    The hooked bowing Hugh mentions results in a very pointed and Northeast-
    sounding style.  I use the technique, but rather sparingly, for SCD-style
    strathspeys.  There are a wide variety of ways to bow any given measure   
    of a strathspey, and I could easily fill a full day's workshop with a
    discussion of them.  Briefly, when working over a strathspey (learning
    for the first time or practicing) I look for melodic motifs that suggest
    particular bowings to me; I think of the style of origin of the strathspey
    (Cape Breton, Highland, 18th c: Gow, Marshall, Mackintosh; 19th c., Skinner,
    Milne; 20th c: is it a real strathspey or march with snaps used as a
    strathspey?)  (Sorry, the punctuation has got out of control.)  Also I 
    consider the the tune's relationship to dance.  What style of dance?  
    (SCD, Highland group dance, Highland solo dancer, solo step 
    dance, group step dance, hard shoe dance, Cape Breton dance set,
    Cape Breton listening set, tunes for listening, etc.)  If for
    SCD, what are the dancers doing at the moment?  (Allemande?  Down the
    middle and up?)  This can make a HUGE difference in the way I bow it.
    At a dance, I play _to_ the dancers.  Bowing for strathspeys is not
    just a matter of slurs, separate bows, hooks, and links.  Accents and
    emphasis are of great importance, and interact with the system of
    separates and slurs and up and down bows.
    
    > However, at a couple of music workshops, I have heard that bowing is not
    > too important.
    
    What kind of music workshop was that?  On the other hand, maybe I'd
    prefer not to know!  Actually, I think whoever it was probably meant
    something more like, "In Scottish fiddling, there is generally no 
    need to use one dictated set of bowings for any particular tune."
    
    > I would like to hear from the Scottish Country Dance
    > musicians out there about how important technique is on the fiddle.  Is this
    > part of the reason scottish music is so unique?
    
    My playing for SCD involves serious technique.  But it is not
    necessarily classical technique.  I use a variety of technical
    tools.  Not all of them are used by classical musicians.  And there
    are technical tools commonly used by classical musicians that I
    almost never use in SCD playing.
    
    While the right hand (bowing) is very important in SCD playing,
    the left hand can be equally important.  Besides simply fingering
    the melody, I use various left-handed techniques to do the following:
    ornament the melody; create virtual accents (by means of timing
    rather than force); imply a harmony line while _also_ playing the
    melody.  Left-handed "accents"  serve to reinforce or act in 
    counterpoint with the emphasis created by the bowing.  It's a 
    very complicated interaction, yet if well done, the results do 
    not _sound_ complicated.  Practice with both left-handed and 
    right-handed techniques will eventually enable a musician 
    to use a variety of them in the full swing of a dance.
    
    >
    > As a beginner fiddler,
    
    Great!  Keep up the fiddling, Hugh!
    
    It's a good idea to listen to a variety of Scottish fiddle recordings.
    That will give you a broad perspective on Scottish style and some
    ideas to try out on your own.  It's even better to see those fiddlers
    performing live, if possible, because then you can watch as well
    as hear what they do.  Better yet to go to workshops, where you can
    hear, see, and ask questions.  Best of all to take a few lessons with
    a fiddler whose style you admire and whose teaching you enjoy--
    then you can hear, see, ask questions, and get individually-tailored
    coaching.
    
    > I'd really like to hear from Barbara and Elke and from others.
    
    Thanks!  I'm sorry this is just quickly thrown together, and I 
    apologize for being vaguely technical without stopping to explain 
    my meaning clearly.  I'm completely swamped at the moment, and
    I actually logged in tonight with the intention of temporarily 
    unsubscribing from the List, as I'm leaving very soon for a trip abroad, 
    and I dread the idea of dealing with three-weeks' accumulation 
    of unread Strathspey mailings when I return.  But this topic 
    literally invited my attention.  I'd like to discuss it in a more 
    detailed and organized manner, if other dancers aren't bored by 
    it--but after I return from Japan!
    
    Elke 
    
    
    Elke Baker
    Scottish Fiddle Music
    xxxxxx@xxxxxxxxx.xxx

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