Check out these songs featured in the Fiddle Styles Workshop course.
Bluegrass fiddler John Mailander is one of the most talented young fiddlers on the scene. In his playing you can hear echoes of all the great bluegrass fiddlers, including Kenny Baker, Vassar Clements, and others, and he is also adept at old-time and other styles. He and Brittany get started by playing the bluegrass favorite “Road to Columbus” and then John teaches the fiddle tune “Denver Belle,” which comes from bluegrass fiddle icon Kenny Baker, who played fiddle with Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys for 25 years.
Jenna Moynihan combines her background in Scottish music (for which she has won a number of titles at Scottish Fiddle contests in the US) with a love of Appalachian fiddling and other styles. Her beautiful, lyrical style can be heard on her debut album Woven. She and Brittany get started by playing the jig “The Rolling Waves” And then Jenna teaches the Scottish reel “Buntata Sgadan” (“Potatoes and Herring”), demonstrating some of the ornamentation used in Scottish and Celtic fiddling, like the “birl” (a rapid triplet-like figure done with the bow) and grace-note “flick,” both of which imitate the sound of bagpipe ornaments.
Darol Anger is a legend of contemporary fiddling. His progressive multidimensional playing has influenced generations of forward-thinking bluegrass, jazz, and rock violinists. He was first person to hold the fiddle chair in the David Grisman Quintet, and he was a founding member of Montreux, Turtle Island String Quartet, and his own visionary string group the Republic of Strings. He is a pioneer of “the chop,” a rhythmic accompaniment style that he and Brittany discuss in this wide-ranging workshop on fiddle backup that covers many topics, including backing up a song, playing double stops and counterpoint in the spaces of a melody, and more.
Tristan Clarridge has won the Weiser, Idaho, Grand National Fiddle Championship Contest five times, and is regarded as one of the best Texas-style fiddlers of all time. He is also a pioneering and virtuosic cellist and has toured the world with Crooked Still, Darol Anger’s Republic of Strings, and many others, including his own inventive acoustic group the Bee Eaters. In this lesson with Brittany, Tristan focuses on his Texas fiddling and teaches the Texas tune “Apple Blossom.” He talks about the characteristics of Texas fiddling, defining it as a style of “controlled improvisation” with worked-out variations that can be thought of as separate parts and demonstrates the Texas style of driving single bowing.
Blaine Sprouse was one of bluegrass music’s premier fiddlers in the 1970s and ‘80s. Through gigs with Bill Monroe, Jimmy Martin, the Osborne Brothers, and many others, as well as a series of influential albums for Rounder Records, he proved he was the heir to Kenny Baker’s formidable legacy. He and Brittany get started by playing “Angeline the Baker” and Blaine talks about getting his start on the fiddle growing up in West Virginia, meeting Kenny Baker as a teenager, playing with Bill Monroe, etc. Then Blaine teaches “Indian Springs,” a tune he wrote with Kenny Baker.
Elise Boeur’s diverse style of fiddling is a reflection of her many musical passions. She grew up playing Irish music in Vancouver, Canada, but became interested in Norwegian and Swedish music a number of years ago. She and Brittany get started by playing a Norwegian tune called “Griffinfeld” and then Elise teaches an unnamed “springleik,” a dance tune in 3/4 that doesn’t have a regular 3/4 waltz feel. The first and third beats are regular but the second beat can come a little early. She also shows you some of the ornaments she uses, including a kind of backwards hammer-on.
One of bluegrass music’s great singers and songwriters, Laurie Lewis often incorporates her fiddle playing into her songs. Her song “Burley Coulter’s Song for Kate Helen Branch” is a setting of a Wendell Berry poem that Berry asked her to write music for. She also wrote a fiddle tune that fits the song, which she teaches in this lesson. She and Brittany also play another fiddle-oriented song of Laurie’s, “The Bear Song” and Laurie also talks about how the phrasing of her singing affects her fiddling, and how she backs up her singing with the fiddle.
Laura Cortese grew up going to fiddle camp and spent a lot of time learning Scottish, Cape Breton, Quebecois, and old-time fiddle music. She is also a great singer and songwriter and is known for using the fiddle with her voice. Her band Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards is an all-bowed-instrument band that features the percussive aspect of the stringed instruments. In this workshop she teaches her original “Tune in Five,” showing you the melody to this intriguing tune in 5/4 time, as well as how to play a “chop” rhythm in 5/4.
Oisín McAuley is one of today’s premier Irish fiddlers. A member of the band Danú, he recorded his solo debut, Far from the Hills of Donegal in 2007. He and Brittany get started by playing the reel “The Spey in Spate” and then Oisín talks about his background learning traditional fiddle in Donegal, where he was born. He teaches Ed Reavey’s “The Road to the Glen,” and talks about the “wave” bowing characteristic of Irish fiddling. He also shows you some of the typical Irish ornamentation he uses on “The Road to the Glen,” including simple slides as well as “rolls,” “cuts” (grace notes), bowed cuts, bow triplets, and more.
Bobby Britt is a young bluegrass and old-time fiddler from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, who has played with Colorado traditional bluegrass band Open Road and the popular young bluegrass band Town Mountain. He and Brittany get started by playing a couple of old-time tunes, “Grey Owl” and “Ways of the World,” and then Bobby teaches the old-time tune “Goodbye Girls, I’m Going to Boston,” which is in the key of A with slightly “crooked” phrasing. He and Brittany also talk about the bowing of the tune and some of the differences between old-time bowing and bluegrass bowing.
Adrianna Ciccone grew up in Northern Ontario, in the Ottawa Valley, which has a strong fiddle tradition. She started playing fiddle at a young age, studying Ottawa Valley fiddle music and playing at Ontario fiddle contests and camps. The Ottawa Valley being next to Québec, she also learned a lot of French Canadian fiddle tunes. In this workshop, she teaches a French-Canadian tune called “Le Talencourt,” which comes from the repertoire of the accordion/fiddle duo of Albertine Villeneuve and Philias Bouchard. She also shows you the bowing and the drones and double stops she adds and talks about the differences between Ottawa Valley style and Québécois style fiddling.
Mark Simos is not only an excellent old-time and Irish fiddler and guitarist, but a great tune- and songwriter: he is an associate professor in songwriting at Berklee College of Music and teaches songwriting at camps and workshops around the world. His original fiddle tunes include the tune “Pony Boy” that he and Brittany get started with, and his songs have been recorded by Alison Krauss, Ricky Skaggs, and others. In this workshop, Mark teaches his original old-time tune “Keeping the Cats Happy” and talks about some of the things he thinks about when writing tunes. For example, “Keeping the Cats Happy” is a dance tune that he wrote with the intention of writing a “straight” tune that sounds crooked, and he shows you the chordal anticipations that make it sound as if there are some extra beats or bars in the tune.
Patrick McGonigle is a classically trained violinist from Victoria, British Columbia, who discovered fiddle music and improvising at the age of 18. A Berklee College of Music graduate, he also has a master’s degree at the New England Conservatory of Music and tours and records with the Lonely Heartstring Band, one of the bluegrass scene’s most popular new progressive bands (they won the IBMA Momentum Award in 2015). Brittany and Patrick get started with a duet on “Whiskey Before Breakfast” and then Patrick teaches the Bill Monroe fiddle tune “Stoney Lonesome.” Patrick also demonstrates how he would improvise a solo on the tune.
Katie McNally grew up in Boston playing Scottish and Cape Breton fiddle and attending Celtic music camps. She won the New England Scottish Fiddling Championship in 2009 and has studied Scottish music and literature at the University of Glasgow. She and Brittany get started with a traditional medley of tunes, and then Katie teaches an old Scottish strathspey, “The Fir Tree,” which is also often played in Cape Breton. She takes the tune apart phrase by phrase and shows you some of the ornaments she plays, including “flicks” and “warbles.”
Suzy Thompson is a master of old-time, blues, and Cajun-style fiddling, as well as one of the most powerful old-time blues singers you’ll ever hear. While her fiddling is indebted to the old-time masters that she heard on field recordings and 78s, her playing has a distinctive “singing” quality and subtle groove. She and Brittany get comfortable by playing a couple of old-time favorites, “Lost Girl” and “Billy in the Lowground,” and then Suzy teaches “Dickson County Blues,” one of the more popular and distinctive old-time fiddle blues. “Dickson County Blues” comes from Arthur Smith, who was one of the most popular fiddlers on the Grand Ole Opry in the 1920s, ‘30s, and ‘40s is often considered the father of bluegrass fiddling.
Brittany teaches a James Bryan tune in D called “Willow Creek.” She shows you some drones and chords you can add to the melody and how she backs up another fiddler on the tune. The foundational rhythm she uses is quarter note/eighth/eighth but with a down/down/up bow pattern. She also adds some eighth-note runs between chords and shows you how she adds harmony lines to the melody.
Learn a traditional Swedish polska, “Brännvinspolskan,” which Brittany learned from Lena Jonsson and which is featured on Brittany and Lena’s duo album. She takes it apart, phrase by phrase, and shows you where to play double stops, also explaining the slurs and trills she uses throughout the tune.
Learn a great “crooked” old-time tune in the key of C. Brittany breaks it down phrase by phrase. and also shows you how you can add some nice double stops if you move up to second position, either for just the third part or the whole tune. She also shows you a few different ways to bow “Tennessee Mountain Fox Chase” and where you can add double stops and trills.
Brittany recorded her original tune “Down the Hatch” with guitarist Jordan Tice and bassist Paul Kowert on their debut recording, You Got This. The tune has an old-time feel but more of a song or march–like melody than the regular stream of eighth notes of many old-time fiddle tunes. It has two parts but the parts have irregular bar lengths. She also shows you the double stops she uses to highlight the chord progression, and talks about her bowing as well as how she improvises a solo on “Down the Hatch” and tunes like it.
Learn how Brittany plays the old-time classic “Duck River,” which comes from Kentucky fiddler John Salyer. Brittany teaches the tune phrase by phrase, shows you a way to rock the bow to get a real old-time feel, and and includes a few variations on each part, with different double stops, drone notes, and melodic variations.
The great Norwegian fiddler Annbjørg Lien writes a lot of wonderful tunes, and you’ll learn one of Brittany’s favorites in this lesson: “Fløteren.” Annbjørg plays the Norwegian hardanger fiddle, which is usually tuned higher than standard, so she plays “Fløteren” in the key of E. The main melodic and rhythmic motif is in 5/4, with some connecting 3/4, 2/4, and 6/4 measures. Brittany walks you through each part and then plays them each slowly so you can play along with her. She also shows you which double stops and drone notes to add to imitate the sound of the hardanger fiddle, and the basic bowing you’ll use for the 5/4 phrases.
Learn the beautiful three-part old-time tune “Farewell Trion,” which Brittany learned from the playing of James Bryan. She breaks it down, phrase by phrase and shows you some double stops and drones to play in the key of C.
Learn a Swedish waltz Brittany learned from fiddler Anna Lindblad called “Vals efter Kristian Oskarsson.” Brittany shows you some ornaments and drones that help make the tune sound Swedish as well as how to play “Vals efter Kristian Oskarsson” with a Swedish dance rhythm, with an accent on the downbeat and the “lift” on the third beat.
The “new old-time” tune “Crow Molly” was written by Peghead Nation guitar instructor and co-founder Scott Nygaard, who joins Brittany for this workshop. They take the tune apart phrase by phrase, Scott demonstrating it on the guitar and Brittany showing how she’s adapted parts of the melody to fit the fiddle.