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RivendellFiddler

Irish Fiddler

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I play the Irish fiddle. Go ahead and ask your questions, and I will try my best to answer them. I am not promising that I know everything, nor that I can explain everything, but I will try. Hopefully we can get a few more folks on here to confess that they play the instrument, so they can help you as well. (Simon. . .I know you are out there. . . smile.gif )

Regards,

Regina

www.fireweedmusic.homestead.com

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i play. on and off for several years now.

i've got a few questions myself actually, but not sure if i should pack them all into one post.

some things i'm curious about:

given the specific physics of irish playing - such as frequent high speed string crossings, heavy rhythmic bowing, hammering onto the fretboard for rolls and cuts, trebling (bowed triplets) and such,

do most prefer heavier guage strings, flatter bridge arc, lighter/darker rosin, shoulder rest/no shoulder rest to keep the fiddle stable through all of this? etc.

i'm guessing it will vary from player to player, but i figured i'd put it out there to see if anyone has found any strong preferences through experimentation.

thanks.

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Well, in general:

medium gauge strings, Helicores.

Classical bridge. Most Irish fiddlers I know use a standard classical bridge. The only area I have run into a flat bridge is in old-time style, where some fiddlers use a flatter bridge to facilitate double stops, which are used extensively in that style. But even there more and more fiddlers use a standard bridge.

I do use a shoulder rest, and many other Irish fiddlers use one too. Some also use a pad with a rubber band type hold. I don't know where you can get those. I've always used dark rosin, but I haven't experimented with others yet, so I don't know about what my preferences would be.

Among some professional musicians, Helicore medium gauge strings seem to be quite common. Both Kevin Burke and Martin Hayes use them.

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Hullo everyone! Thanks everyone so much for responding! I didn't expect anyone to write because I've never seen an Irish fiddler on this board before, I'd just thought I give it it a try anyway! I'm not sure I have any direct questions, but I figure after we've talked about some general things that they will come up.

I first started playing the fiddle when I was about 14, then I quit for about a year and a half and picked it up again in my late 15th year. I've played by ear and do not know how to read music and have never had a teacher, nor have I ever contacted an Irish fiddle teacher for information. I play in a band of 7 members including me. We call our selves Rivendell and sometimes we perform every Saturday night here at a Cafe in Selmer, TN. I can play over 80 Irish tunes and for most Irish players that's not much, but to me I can hardly remeber them all and it is a big acomplishment for me. Anyway, I have problems like unclear rolls, or I think I do triplets the wrong way because when I'm bowing down I seem to have a hard time getting them in, I also have a hard time with being flat or sharp because of the different notes that one finger can play and I don't know which I'm playing in various tunes, for example, in one tune my middle finger will play a different place on the finger board versus in another, the middle finger will play further up the board. Also, I've heard that not knowing how to read music will eventually cause trouble further down the road.

Well, that's it so far and if anyone can help with all that it would be great! Any pointers or anything, I need everything I can get. Thanks again!

Paul

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lunchblaze: I usually use medium gauge strings, and a slighty flattened bridge (though right now I have a standard bridge because the new luthier put one on instead of shaping one to the size of my old bridge. . . *grumble*).

I use light rosin for several reasons---two of which being 1) that I find it smoother to play and 2) it isn't as sticky and doesn't harder as much on the instrument. (I am very careful about the well-being of my fiddle's varnish, so I take precautions. . .)

I also (to my shame) use a shoulder rest. Though, I use a shorter shoulder rest than most. I wish I didn't have to use one, but because of my prominent collar bones, I have to have a shoulder rest to keep the fiddle from bruising my skin. So, I just use a short one.

And, you are definitely right---- it does vary from player to player. Do what is best for YOU---that is my advice. Be yourself, an individual who plays the fiddle the way it suits him best.

And to RivendellFiddler: In my opinion, not reading music will not lead you into trouble. You can learn tunes just fine by ear. Don't let anyone tell you differently. I say the people that have the disadvantage are those that read music and cannot play by ear because if they don't have the music in front of them, they can't play. Plain and simple. You can play without music. Afterall, they didn't have music the first time someone picked up a fiddle, and they did just fine. Of course, reading music can be a plus, but don't ever think that you can't go places because you can't read it. That's just my 2 cents worth. . .

Regards,

Journey/Regina

www.fireweedmusic.homestead.com

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Welcome to both our new Irish fiddlers. We'll take over the world yet. smile.gif

Re the whole setup business, as others have said it's a personal thing. I generally use medium Helicores, sometimes Tonicas for a change. I use a Wolfe shoulder rest at maximum extension because of my giraffe neck - I'm jealous of people who can play without, but the fiddle is just too unstable when I try to rest it on my collarbone. I use Hidersine light rosin, and I use it in very small doses compared to many fiddlers I know. I tried the dark stuff but found it too sticky.

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Hi RivendellFiddler,

As Journey said, don't worry about not being able to read music. It's certainly useful to be able to, but if you can learn by ear and you have sources to learn from, that's the important thing. Better to be in your position than to be able to follow the dots, but unable to learn by ear.

It's difficult to comment on your other problems without seeing and hearing you play. I recommend you try to find a good Irish fiddle teacher and take a few lessons. Whilst teaching yourself is admirable and no doubt has its own benefits, you have probably formed some bad habits which are impeding your progress. You'll need to do lots of very slow practice to improve your rolls and triplets.

From what you say about triplets, I'm guessing you always start them on a down bow, hence your problem fitting them in when you're already bowing down. It's worth learning to do them starting on an up bow, though lots of players get by without doing that. If you can combine them with cuts, either going out of or into the triplet, you give yourself a whole lot more flexibility in terms of controlling which part of the bow you are in at all times. That way you should never find yourself running out of bow, or too close to the tip to get a good strong triplet.

Can you give any more detail about your problem with rolls? As for the tuning issue, all you can really do is trust your ear - practicing some scales and arpeggios would probably help, and it's great fun, honest. wink.gif

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Actually, there's a fair number of Irish fiddlers, here!

lunchblaze: I've been playing for about 3 years but still consider myself a beginner. I use a classical bridge (a flat one makes string crossings quicker but you play more "accidental" double-stops, which might be fine for bluegrass and old-time but generally doesn't sound too good in Irish fiddle) although I've been interested in lowering the action a bit; right now it's spot-on for 'standard' tolerances.

Sometimes I use a cheap Resonans shoulder-rest, but usually not. I use med. gauge Helicores (love 'em) and a fair amount of the el-cheapo rosin that came with my Sherl&Roth student fiddle.

Rivendellfiddler: As far as playing in tune, scales and arpeggios are about it. It's only practice-practice-practice that works (if anyone ever comes up with a better solution, I'll jump on it in a second!). The same goes with rolls and triplets, if you don't practice them (a lot!) they don't ever tighten up. You should be able to do triplets starting either up or down (but I usually do them down-up-down, too). A great tune for practicing triplets is Crossing the Minch and a good one for rolls is Morrison's Jig.

Len

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Ok, that sounds great. I'd like to practice my scales and arpeggios, but I don't know where to find these things. I need some type of music learning book I can get to practice these things out of. Also, if I'm going to do scales and arpeggios out of a music book, then I've go to learn the notes of all the scales right? That's another problem I have, I don't know any of the notes on my violin, I'm strictly ear that's all there is to it. Like I was saying about my middle finger playing different places on the board then on other tunes, that just means the other tune is a different scale, right? I also was wondering if they have pratices strictly for triplets and rolls, like in say a music book. I'm saying like besides practicing them in a tune, I'm thinking this way I can scratch all the extra play in the tune and just do something like rolling my scales? Maybe I can improve on them faster that way, does anyone understand what I'm saying?

To try and be more specific with my roll and triplet problems, I'd say for my rolls that sometimes I just don't get that second finger off and then it just sounds like a cut, or I'll miss with the first finger and the same thing. I think that is all just problems that smooth out when you practice-practice-practice porbably? On the triplets, it's a little more complicated...I think I can say that I can triplet on a down bow, but not on an up bow because I find myself going up-down-up! I have some tapes that Kevin Burke teaches tunes on and when he taught the triplet he said it was down-up-down, but I've never seemed to beable to do that! Anyway, that's about it. Hope that's a little more specific! Thanks for all the help everyone. Actually, if I can get enough help on here with books and such to get me going, I think I can handle without a teacher. Anyone else Think so?

Paul

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Yup thats about it. Irish fiddling has always been that way - no formal instruction; however though it may improve the player it could contrinbute absolutely nothing to the tunes since Irish trad draws most of its tunes from wind instruments such as the Penny Whistle, Flute and Uillean Pipes. There is NO set way to do anything meaning one can play in which ever way one choses.

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I've been learning Irish fiddle for 2 years, and don't know that I could start as many tunes as you have. I could play them once someone else starts them, maybe, but I really don't know how many I can start. Especially when someone just says a tune name.

I think reading music is a great skill that would probably be very useful to you some time. I've had classes at various festivals from a number of great Irish fiddle players, and most of them can read music and even took the time to write out the tunes for us (after we already learned the tunes by ear, when we were leaving). But lots of Irish fiddlers don't read music, and it doesn't seem to hurt them. You might make an effort to learn it some day.

I use a shoulder rest and Hill's Dark rosin. But I can play without a shoulder rest for a short period, as long as I have some sort of folded bandanna or some sort of pad.

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I've had several false starts in trying to reply. smile.gif It's not easy to communicate answers to your questions here - I reiterate my suggestion that you find a teacher, even just for one or two lessons. A quick demonstration could well be of more use to you than a whole dictionary of music theory.

I wouldn't worry too much about getting a scale book - they tend to be geared towards either classical music or jazz, and contain a lot that is pretty irrelevant to Irish traditional music.

The fundamental thing you need to understand (with regard to scales and the theory side of things), if you don't already, is the concept of a tune's "root note". More often than not, this will be the very last note of a tune. It's the note where the tune feels like it has arrived home. If you take all the notes in the tune and arrange them in order from the lowest to the highest or vice versa, starting at the root note, you have the scale on which the tune is based. Do that with a few tunes and you'll soon see that there aren't too many scales used in Irish music, and they can differ from each other by as little as a single note.

You can use those scales to practice your rolls, simply by playing a roll on each note of the scale. It's very important to practice in strict rhythm, even when playing extremely slowly. If you get the timing right for the finger on which you're rolling, the grace notes should fall into place - I can't really explain better than that without either showing you, or writing out an example which wouldn't help much if you can't read music. smile.gif

Interesting that you do your triplets up-down-up; most people find down-up-down more natural. As I said before, if you can learn to do both, you're at a big advantage. Practice your scales slowly: first note down-up-down, second note up-down-up, third note down-up-down and so on.

In a way practicing triplets slowly is of limited value, because playing them fast involves a different technique. To play them fast you need to keep your wrist relaxed - you don't need to push the hair into the string too much, because the speed of the bow is enough to sound the notes. Having said that, it's a good idea to practice anything slowly before you try it fast; once you have a clear idea of the rhythm in your head you've a better chance of getting that rhythm out of the fiddle.

Hope this helps a bit.

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I'm not entirely sure exactly what you need to know. Do you know when you put your finger down what note you are playing? Even if you don't read music, perhaps you would want to know that. On your D string, sometimes your middle finger will play F (when it is close to the first finger) and sometimes it will play F sharp (when it is closer to the third finger). It depends on what key you are in whether you want to play an F or an F sharp. Simon has explained about tunes having a root note that seems to be the home for that tune. That's the key, and as he said, more often than not, it is represented by the last note.

One common rule on whether you should play F or F sharp is that for the major keys of C and G, you will play an F. In the major keys of D and A, you will play an F sharp. Most Irish music (that's in a major key) is in one of those four keys (at least, stuff that's played in a band is usually in one of those keys).

Then there are minor keys and modes, and those have their own rules.

Is this the kind of stuff you want to know?

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