- String School
- Instruments & Gear
- News & Reviews
- Featured Videos
Learn traditional Irish fiddle, with an emphasis on playing the dance music of Ireland, including jigs, reels, polkas, slip jigs, hornpipes, and more, with an Irish feel and ornamentation.
Martin Hayes’ assessment of Dale Russ as “one of the greatest fiddlers I know in Irish traditional music” is shared by all who hear him. Dale has been playing Irish fiddle since his move in 1973 from his native Connecticut to Washington State, where he is now regarded as “the shining jewel of Northwest fiddle players.”
Dale taught for 15 years at the Lark in the Morning Summer Camp in Mendocino, California, and he has taught and performed at many other workshops and music camps, including the Festival of American Fiddle Tunes in Port Townsend, Washington, and the Swannanoa Gathering in Asheville, North Carolina. He has also played for ceilis, set dances, and dance competitions.
In 1990 Dale was invited to perform at the first Boston College Irish Music Festival “My Love Is in America,” featuring 16 of the finest Irish fiddle players living in the US. The concert was recorded and released by Green Linnet Records and won the Smithsonian Institute’s “Traditional Recording of the Year” award.
Dale performed for 15 years with the traditional Irish band the Suffering Gaels, appearing at the Milwaukee Irish Festival in 1993 and ’94. In April of ’96 he spent two weeks touring Japan with the trio Jody’s Heaven, and has returned to Japan yearly. He currently plays with Mike Saunders and Tom Creegan in the trio Crumac.
Dale has recorded an instructional video for the Lark in the Morning video series; a solo CD, Soul Food; a duet CD with guitarist/vocalist Mike Saunders, Celtic Dance Music and Song; two albums with the Suffering Gaels; a fiddle and uilleann pipe CD with Todd Denman, Reeds and Rosin; a duet album with Suffering Gaels guitarist Finn MacGinty, two CDs with Jody’s Heaven, and two CDs with the trio Setanta. He was featured in the Spring 1997 issue of Fiddler magazine.
“Dale’s playing is fresh and dynamic, expressive and easy. His style is refreshingly wild, inventive, creative, and inspired.” —Una Pett, Victory Music Review
In this lesson, you’ll learn one of the most distinctive ornaments in Irish music, the “roll,” which combines grace notes and slurs. With Notation
Download a PDF of all the Irish Fiddle lessons so you can keep track of your progress.
An Irish Fiddle subscription includes:
Get started now! Use promo code DaleLand at checkout and get your first month free or $20 off an annual subscription. Subscribe to the Irish Fiddle course today for access to all of these fiddle lessons and new material every month!
IRISH FIDDLE BASICS In these introductory lessons, Dale talks about the importance of the bow and the left hand in Irish fiddling and gives you some background on different Irish fiddling styles.
IRISH TUNES In these lessons you’ll learn to play some great tunes in all the traditional Irish dance forms, reels, jigs, slip jigs, polkas, hornpipes, and more. You’ll also get detailed instruction on bowing and ornamentation for each tune and a Play-Along Track so you can practice what you’ve learned.
The Dark Girl Dressed in Blue The polka “The Dark Girl Dressed in Blue” is a little different than the other polkas you’ve learned so far. Both “The Top of Maol” and “The Man in the Moon” are played with a bowing style where the bow changes on the downbeats. But to play “The Dark Girl Dressed in Blue” you’ll learn to use single bows on almost every note. This is more of a County Clare or American style polka and is used more for couple dances as well as beginning step dancers.
The Banshee Written by flute player James McMahon, “The Banshee” has become a seisiún standard. It’s changed a bit since it was written, but you’ll learn the version that the Bothy Band recorded, which should fit in at any seisiún. It’s a good tune for working on three-note slurs, and in “The Banshee” the slurs are often combined with a single bow on the string below the slurs. Dale shows you how to make a bowing exercise out of the first phrase to practice the technique of playing three-note slurs followed by one bow stroke on the lower string. In addition to learning the basic melody and bowing of “The Banshee,” Dale gives you lots of ideas about melodic variation and shows you where to add rolls, triplets, grace notes, etc.
The Diamond “The Diamond” is a single jig, and in this lesson, Dale talks about the difference between single jigs, double jigs, and slides. For example, double jigs usually consist of a series of eighth notes grouped into threes, while in single jigs and slides, the melodic rhythm is quarter note/eighth note, quarter note/eighth note, etc. Also, single jigs and double jigs usually have what Dale calls a “butter and eggs” ending. Dale also talks about how different kinds of jigs are used in dance competitions. The first part of “The Diamond” is in D Mixolydian, a D major scale with C naturals, while the tonality of the second part is a little different, with F naturals and both C sharps and C naturals.
The Flowing Tide A hornpipe in the key of G, “The Flowing Tide” involves a lot of G arpeggios that weave around themselves in interesting and complex ways. Both parts are long-form melodies with few repeating phrases.
Gan Ainm Slide Many slides don’t have names or are named after a fiddler the tune is associated with. If a tune doesn’t have a name, it’s often called “Gan Ainm,” which is Irish for “no name.” Such is the case with the slide you’ll learn in this lesson. Dale talks about the similarity of single jigs and slides, and the distinctive rhythmic endings of each. Dale also shows you how the down-two-three, up-two-three bowing can be used on this tune and gives you a couple of variations.
Farewell to Ireland The four-part A minor reel “Farewell to Ireland” is known as one of the “big reels” and, like many reels, is originally from Scotland. In addition to the melody of all four parts, you’ll learn some of the ornamentation and variations that are often played on “Farewell to Ireland,” including some rolls, bow triplets, and melodic embellishment.
Drowsy Maggie The popular reel “Drowsy Maggie” is one of the tunes that many Irish musicians start off on. It’s a deceptively simple tune that is great for practicing some basic techniques: rolls, triplets, string crossings, etc. The A part is particularly good for practicing bowed triplets and string crossings. You’ll also learn some bowing variations to the A part of “Drowsy Maggie,” as well as where to add bowed triplets, rolls, and grace notes to both parts.
PLAYING IN A DUO Dale is joined for this lesson on playing in a duo by Peghead Nation Irish Mandolin instructor Marla Fibish. They start by playing two slip jigs, “Dever the Dancer” and “Hunting the Hare,” and then talk about how they each approach playing with another melody instrument. Music for “Dever the Dancer” and “Hunting the Hare” is included.
Rolling in the Barrel Dale learned the E minor reel “Rolling in the Barrel” from a 1959 recording of Clare musicians P.J. Hayes and Paddy Canny. It’s a great tune for working on rolls and a certain kind of bowing. Unlike lessons where Dale teaches the basic melody of a tune and then adds ornamentation, the ornamentation is integral to “Rolling in the Barrel,” so you’ll learn melody and ornamentation at the same time.
The Little Stack of Barley The hornpipe “The Little Stack of Barley” became popular through Michael Coleman’s 1930s recording. There is also a dance called “The Little Stack of Barley,” for which this tune is often played. Dale first shows you the basic melody of both parts of “The Little Stack of Barley” and then works through the tune from the beginning, showing you lots of different melodic variations and ornamentation.
Mrs. Crehan’s The popular single reel “Mrs. Crehan’s” features a tricky double stop: the G on the D string combined with the D on the A string, both played with the third finger. Before showing you “Mrs. Crehan’s,” with bowing suggestions and ornamentation, Dale gives you advice on playing the G-D double stop in tune and with good tone.
Jackie Tar The hornpipe “Jackie Tar” has scads of variations. The way Dale plays it is the way he’d play it for set dances, with couples, as opposed to competition dancing with a solo dancer. After showing you the melody, along with basic bowing and ornamentation, Dale shows you some things you can add to both parts of “Jackie Tar,” including double stops, melodic variations, triplets, rolls, and more.
Hide and Go Seek The jig “Hide and Go Seek” is a great tune and can be found in O’Neill’s Music of Ireland, but it doesn’t get played very often. It uses both the E natural minor scale and the E Dorian scale and has a strong drive and chordal structure, making it great for dancers.
Jackie Coleman’s The reel “Jackie Coleman’s” is probably from Sligo, which is where the great fiddler Michael Coleman was from. It is in the key of D and has a very clear harmonic structure. It has a lot of string crossings, so as he’s showing you the melody, Dale also gives you advice on bowing. You'll also learn some ways to vary and ornament both parts of ““Jackie Coleman’s,” including bow triplets, rolls, melodic variations, etc.
Check out Dale's fiddling, some of his favorite fiddlers, and tunes featured in Irish Fiddle.