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The Cut


PaulC

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OK - another question from a novice Irish fiddler... Obviously legato between notes is relatively easy on the fiddle. The question is.. how to quickly play separate notes? Is the secret that technique called "The Cut?" And since I haven't found a fiddling teacher locally yet, is there any way of describing the technique in words. (I'm sure it's easier to be shown, but I've got no-one to show me at present.) So guys and gals... any advice on clipping those notes???

Thanks,

PaulC

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Are you talking about détaché? With every note, the direction of the movement of the bow changes. You can't play détaché anywhere you want (on the bow); ideally, it has to be roughly between the middle and 2/3 away from the frog, towards the tip. I'm talking about the "center point" of the détaché; the quantity of bow you'll use AROUND this point varies on the demands of whatever you're playing, speed, etc.

If you play these "separated notes" with other bow sections of similar length, you will get a different sound. For example, near the frog (but not right beside it), you can achieve sautillé (slightly jumpy).

I'm sure other posters will expand and/or correct on what I just said.

The two things to remember is that you should be conscious of not using too much bow and to stay perpendicular to the strings, or the sound quality will suffer.

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I'm sure someone with more knowledge than me will post shortly, but in my experience I don't think there's really any secret to it. Short bows, usually in the upper part of the bow (ie towards the point of the bow), often with a fair amount of pressure is one way it's done. I also see a lot of fiddlers gripping the bow a couple inches farther up the stick than a classical player would, which I think might be used to give a little more control when playing towards the point of the bow (I use a standard classical bow hold myself). I don't think you mean a "cut" since I've understood this to mean a quick single grace note. Hope this helps -Steve

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An Irish cut is an "easy" ornament, you're simply separating two slurred notes of the same value with a higher note.

In general, you should just use your third finger and tap it quickly against the string to break up the 'slur' of the same notes. The harder you bring the finger down, the more percussive the cut will sound; moving into the realm of rhythmic devices as opposed to tone-generation.

If you're not breaking up two notes of the same value, the same ornament is usually called a grace note. Still, it's almost always the third finger that does the 'gracing'.

To play lots of notes quickly, you're either going to have to practice coordination between fingering and bowing (up and down, just a little bit of bow per note) or by using what Natalie MacMaster calls updriven bow -- playing distinct notes in one direction (up) but pausing between each note. I think this is a little like what the classical-types call flying staccato....

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I also see a lot of fiddlers gripping the bow a couple inches farther up the stick than a classical player would, which I think might be used to give a little more control when playing towards the point of the bow (I use a standard classical bow hold myself).

I find that the faster I play (especially a string crossing reel) the farther my hand wants to come up the stick. It speeds up the figure-8 or circular rocking motion you need, gets me closer to the balance point, and allows me to direct more pressure into the center of the bow for better control over the dynamics so I can maintain a reel-rhythm.

I shift down to a classical hold when I want better control over my tone than rhythm, and when playing longer notes than a reel or jig requires.

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Izaikoski, I guess this is getting away from the original poster's question, but I am curious about this hold since a number of fiddlers I admire use it. It seems to me one could get the same benefits you mentioned without changing right hand position just by moving the contact point closer to the frog, but maybe I'm missing something; bowing is so darned complex! When I've tried moving my hand up the stick it just felt odd, like the balance point of the bow was off and I couldn't detect any benefits. However I recently attended a workshop led by Laura Risk, who is one of my favorite scottish-style fiddlers, and I noticed she was getting great results with strathspey bowing holding her bow further up; made me think that maybe I should play around with bow hand position some more (shh, don't tell my former classical violin teachers). Thanks for your input. -Steve

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Paul, let's get down and dirty and find out exactly what you're calling a cut. Is it 3 very short bows on a single note? I've heard about a thousand terms ( okay, not a thousand, but a whole bunch) to describe it: Cuts, as in the tune Cutting Ferns, birl, or burl, triples, triplets, and my personal favorite, the doodle.

My first attempts were ridiculous. I was trying too hard, I think. Finally, I relaxed and decided to try "tickling" the string. Also, I think of the pattern as one note with texture, not 3 separate ones.

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BobbiFiddler, the ornament you refer to is called a cut by, I believe, Cape Breton players. Irish players would call it a triplet or a treble. In Irish music, a cut is as lzaikoski described it - a flick of the finger that literally cuts a note into two notes.

The timing is the important thing. Take the first bar of Connachtman's Rambles as an example:

FAA dAA

You could put cuts in between either (or both, or neither) of the pairs of A notes. So for instance, bow the F in one direction, then slur the next two notes together, but flick a finger down momentarily in between. It doesn't matter too much which finger - the cut is played too quickly to sound as an actual note. I usually cut with my little finger, but whatever's comfortable. Whichever finger you want to use, imagine you're plucking the second A of the pair with that finger, and you'll get the timing.

If you find exercises useful, you could make a little one out of that first measure (or two) of Connachtman's Rambles. Play the F in one direction, and thereafter slur in groups of three notes, with cuts on both pairs of As. The cuts themselves are easy, but it's easy to run out of bow if you aren't careful; the bowing I suggest shows one possible way of avoiding that.

F (AAd) (AAF) (AAd) etc

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It seems to me one could get the same benefits you mentioned without changing right hand position just by moving the contact point closer to the frog, but maybe I'm missing something; bowing is so darned complex!

I think one of the problems with bowing near the frog (though that would work for the purpose of increasing dynamic and rhythmic control) is that you end up with a lot more bow to move when you suddenly drop into a section of a lot of string crossing and it takes more effort to whip all that bow back and forth!

Classical players would probably shift up to a higher position to avoid the string crossing, but fiddlers do it all the time for the sound.

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By "closer to the frog" I really meant this in a relative sense. I find in playing fast tunes I tend to play most notes in the upper third or so of the bow but I move to the middle of the bow for passages with a lot of string crossing. I did experiment with bow holds over the weekend and I think I now have a better sense of the advantages of gripping the bow farther up the stick, but I decided overall the classical grip works best for me! -Steve

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Maybe Paul C is referring to a 'Scotch snap' as a 'cut'? That movement certainly requires a very fast clean separation of two notes, sometimes across three strings.

I have just discovered that the quickest way to play these and other movements requiring fast articulation is, er... buy a Baroque style bow (no kidding). The design may be 300 years old, but a good Baroque bow can deliver this with great facility (more soon). The downside is that many are quite light and will not produce a loud sound with a modern high tension strung violin.

'Short' bow holds: the modern classical bow is an instrument of several compromises, one of them being leverage against manageability. My suspicion is that only very good quality modrn design bows get this compromise to work well. Most bows average 'hobby' folk players I have met use are budget quality and tend to be soft and sloppy. If you try to play fast across the strings with a bow like that the tip end just flails about unless you do something to cut the leverage, like move up the stick. I usually hold a modern design bow in the conventional classical way with my thumb touching the frog, but if it gets fast and furious I do 'walk' a little way up the stick, maybe 1/2". Whenit slows down I move back to the frog again, because I find even this much movement affects tone quality.

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I don't exactly use a classical grip, but I do find I need to hold the bow at the frog. I've tried holding it further up, but the cons outweigh the pros for me - you need to spread your fingers in order to hold the bow securely, and I find that makes it difficult to keep my wrist loose enough to get the sound I like. It works extremely well for some players I've heard, but it's not for me.

Neil Gow, I think you're right about fiddlers' bows often being pretty mediocre. In my experience fiddlers tend to underestimate the importance of the bow. Put a group of fiddlers in a room together and after a while they'll all have played on each other's fiddle, but it never seems to occur to anyone to try swapping bows. My experience in orchestras was very different; people took almost as much interest in bows as in fiddles. Yet a good bow is just as liberating for fiddle music as it is for violin music.

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Neil Gow, I'd be very interested in reading as much detail as you're willing to post about your experiments with the baroque bow and modern violin. I assume from your user name that you're using it for Scottish tunes? There's a fellow in the local Scottish fiddle club who is using what looks to be a transitional bow, but when I asked him about it, apart from saying that it works fine for him, he didn't go into details; it did pique my interest though. -Steve

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