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Do you ever play above first position? Do you ever use any shifting to 2nd?

I am starting up a new season, after being off for the summer, with my violin lessons. My teacher and I got together a couple of times over the summer just to fiddle around, but not really focusing on anything.

Now she is asking me which direction I want to go.

I feel I've got a great handle on first position, as most every single celtic tune in the world seems to be played in 1st, and celtic is mainly what I love to play. I can pretty much sight read any tune that's placed in front of me, and if not, it only takes picking at it a couple of times. I do a fair amount of ornamentation, and with practicing a tune over and over, can build up a respectable amount of speed. Still not the speed that I'd like to go.

I have started into learning 3rd a couple of times, and I can play "within" 3rd. I don't like it. I hate shifting, it sounds so bad.

I'd like to hear from you seasoned fiddlers if you use any positions beyond 1st. And, Simon, I specifically ask you because I hear that you are very accomplished.

What, if any, direction do I go now to become better? Where does one who wants to learn Scottish/Irish fiddling go next? Do I just keep learning new songs? Tackle double stops, which I can do, but they're rough? Positions?

What do you suggest?

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I play in positions fairly often, for a few different reasons:

1. my infernally short 4th finger reach: When I'm playing a lament, slow air, or waltz and need a vibrato, I'm unable to do it with the 4th finger.

2. When I need to "double up" the open string with a unison in Cape Breton style, I'm more accurate with my second finger than my shorty 4th.

3: To add variations in style the second time through the tune. When I'm in 2nd or 3rd postion, I can slide and change the drone/double stops and ornaments.

4. Some of the tunes I'm currrently playing require positions i.e.

Caledonia's Lament for her favorite son Niel Gow

The Sweetness of Mary

Cottonwood reel

The Legacy.

I find it easiest to learn the shifts by listening very carefully, then I take out the music, then put it away so all those notes above the staff don't freak me out.

My 2 cents.

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Using third position for tunes in the keys of D or A works well. I never use TP for other keys.

An example is Eck Robertson playing "Forked Deer" in D, and another is Alan Block's "Money Musk" in A. A really hard tune for me is "Cairo Waltz" from Norman Blake in A.

It is worth experimenting with the third position. After all, the notes are there; why ignore them. Someone once advised me to never be afraid to experiment on the fiddle.


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The only time that I have seen a Cape Bretoner shift is when they are playing notes high on the E string. And when they "come down" seems to do more with staying in tune, and keeping the tempo of the tune going than anything fancy.

In terms of direction, Crystal, who stops your heart? I'm listening to an old recording right now that makes me clutch my chest when I hear it! To play slow, but with truckloads of dirt, and lilt and drive and swing and liveliness -- that's my goal. I think, once you're comfortable, that it's a good goal to try and sound like those you really "do it" for you.

Or what are your goals? Do you want to play for dances? If so, learning lots of tunes might be the way to go.

I am working on never playing an "important" note with an open string. I know some Cape Bretoners would never play an open string at all -- but would play either fourth finger alone, or unisons. I'm chasing that old, old style.

Do you have the DunGreen collection? (Cape Breton)(http://www.dungreenmusic.com/tunebook/book.html) That book will make you a cube if you're a square, and a sphere if you're a circle. If not, I'd try to beg or borrow a copy. (It is, unfortunately, currently out of print.)


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crystal, flattery will get you everywhere, though I have to say that if I am at all accomplished, it's because I play mostly with people who are more accomplished than me.

You already know the main practical point about position playing - most tunes don't require you to leave 1st position, so even if you never do you can still be a great player.

There are quite a few tunes that go up to C or C# on the E string. Some people shift momentarily to 2nd position; if you've long fingers you may prefer just to stretch with your pinky. I tend to stretch, though some tunes fall better under the fingers when I shift up - eg The Cuckoo Hornpipe. Even if a tune only goes up to B, there can be an advantage in shifting to 2nd position if you want to ornament the top note. I don't do that, but there's a well known player in Belfast who does it to great effect, and it's something I want to get the hang of.

Some players like to use shifting in slow airs, but it's a matter of taste. I usually go more for the vibrato-free, first position approach, open strings and all.

Beyond that, tunes that go high up on the E string are really showpieces. There are tunes like The Contradiction Reel, which goes up to 4th or 5th position, or things like bagpipe imitations such as the one I posted over on COTA (Nora Crionna). There's a Donegal tune called The Speaking Waltz which goes up to 5th position, as well as lots of other examples I can't think of right now.

As for what you should do next, I can't really add to route19's comment. Think of the sounds you have heard that really float your boat, and imitate them. Alternative tunings, tunes in unusual keys like F or Bb ? I think it's more fun to take that approach, and learn the technique as and when it becomes necessary rather than deciding to work on your positions/double stops/whatever because you feel you should. I think it's also more effective, but there's a whole can of worms there for another time.

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Crystal, you mentioned Scottish fiddling and since that's the style I've been concentrating on for the last few years, after initially learning classical violin, then Irish fiddling off and on for a few years, I thought I'd respond.

Regarding positions, it seems one can do quite well in Irish fiddling without ever going above 1st position, but in Scottish fiddling 2nd and 3rd positions are useful (however you can still probably play most the tunes without going out of 1st, particularly if you can extend your 4th finger like Simon mentioned). Coming from a classical background, one thing I found interesting was that a lot of the Scottish fiddlers didn't use 2nd position at all; it's either 1st or 3rd. I've found 2nd position a handy thing to have in my bag of tricks, though if I was just starting out and didn't intend to ever play classical music I don't think I'd put the time into learning it.

What to work on next? For Scottish fiddling I'd say left hand work on ornamentation like grace notes, crans or rolls, double stops, etc., plus general intonation (and positions, if you decide to learn them); and right hand work on the various bowing techniques (snap bowing, stutters, and so forth). What I'd also concentrate on is getting tunes up to speed. I recently started playing for dancers and I found that a lot of the tunes I thought I knew pretty well are a lot scarier when you need to play them at dancing tempo without making any mistakes! If you're intending to play in a tradition that doesn't condemn playing from sheet music (playing for Scottish country dancing, it's quite common to play from sheet music, but try that at a session and you'll get laughed out the door, or at least looked at funny) then I think working on sight reading skills would be helpful. It never hurts to memorize tunes (but I think that's probably something you would work on yourself, without a teacher's help). Anyway, I hope some of this rambling is helpful! Good luck -Steve

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Even if you don't use it really often, it's a good thing that you work on getting comfortable with third position. The easiest way to get there consistently is to smack your hand into the body of your violin, make a circle with your thumb and second finger, place your first finger down about 3/4 of and inch from your second finger. You should be pretty darn close to the pitch (it depend on the how your violin is set up as to just how close). After a while you will get used to where you need to be and will hit it every time.

The advantage of being able to play comfortably in third is that it gives you more color options and increases your range. Once you get used to it, you may want to play around with different strings until you find one that gives you the colors you want.

Just remember, the higher you go, the closer the fingerings are.

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I understand 3rd position, but I am not figuring out:

"The easiest way to get there consistently is to smack your hand into the body of your violin, make a circle with your thumb and second finger, place your first finger down about 3/4 of and inch from your second finger." It sounds like it would be very helpful. Can you explain this a little more??

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