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
Irish Fiddle Overview
Latest Irish Fiddle Lesson
The Whinny Hills of Leitrim
“The Whinny Hills of Leitrim” is a slip jig, which means that it’s in 9/8 instead of 6/8. The 9/8 rhythm is divided up into groups of three eighth notes, just as in the 6/8 of normal jigs, and in the “The Whinny Hills of Leitrim” the three-note phrasing is very clearly delineated. With Notation and Play-Along Track
Irish Fiddle Lessons
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IRISH FIDDLE BASICS
Introduction to Irish Fiddling In this introduction to Irish fiddling, Dale talks about the bow and left-hand position and their importance in Irish fiddling. He shows you the basic Irish dance rhythms and how to think of them in groups of twos or groups of threes. He shows you how the feel differs between reels, hornpipes, and jigs and how you can use bow pressure to differentiate the rhythms with your bow. Dale also talks about how he holds the bow, with the index finger touching the bow just above the second knuckle, which gives him leverage when he wants to add pressure to the bow. He also talks about the roots of Irish music as dance music and the importance of being able to play for dancers, and gives you advice on increasing your control of the bow. In addition, Dale talks about the kind of left-hand positioning that’s important in Irish fiddle, in particular, arching your fingers enough that you’re able to play on the G string while sounding the D string.
Bowing in Irish Music Moving on from his introduction to Irish fiddle, Dale delves deeper into the bowing in Irish fiddling. The foundation of Irish fiddling is rhythm so it’s important to develop good bowing habits. Dale begins by talking about single bowing, in which each bow stroke plays a single note, and then shows you how to add slurs, giving you two examples of bowing patterns that use slurs in different parts of the beat. You’ll also learn an exercise that combines the different bowing patterns on a simple scale. Then Dale talks about intervals and shows you a two-octave pattern using thirds, which are very common in Irish tunes. You’ll use this thirds exercise to practice the different bowing patterns. Dale also talks about the importance of triads in Irish music and the importance of learning them in the keys of G, D, and A especially.
Irish Fiddle Styles Traditional Irish fiddling has evolved over the centuries and was particularly influenced by the advent of recording. When Irish fiddlers heard the 1920s and ‘30s records by Michael Coleman, James Morrison, Paddy Killoran, and others, they emulated what they heard on record and lost some of the regional characteristics of their playing. Dale talks about the evolution of Irish fiddling and the efforts by some players now to maintain or revive the older styles. He talks, for example, about some of the differences between northern (Donegal) playing and other regions like Sligo, Clare, Kerry, and other counties. He also talks about his own style of playing as a combination of Clare and Sligo styles. He finishes by playing “The Custom Gap.”
Dale Russ’s 19th-Century German Fiddle Dale’s fiddle was made in Germany around 1850. 19th-century German fiddles were made in a community, with different people contributing to different parts of the fiddle. Dale also talks about how he has the fiddle set up, and some of the repairs that have been done to it. He also talks about his bow, which was made by Port Townsend bow maker Christopher English, and the kind of bow he likes, usually one that is lighter at the tip.
The Tar Road to Sligo
The Tar Road to Sligo, Part 1: Melody The first tune you’ll learn is the jig “The Tar Road to Sligo.” Dale starts by playing it through and then talks about the difference between jig rhythm and reel rhythm and how to get used to the 6/8 feel of jigs. Then, after playing a basic version of the tune with only single bows, he breaks down the melody slowly phrase by phrase, giving you chance to play along with him as he goes. You’ll learn the basic melody to the A and B parts of “The Tar Road to Sligo” in this video.
The Tar Road to Sligo, Part 2: Simple Ornamentation and Bowing The first Irish ornament you’ll learn is the grace note, beginning with a grace note below the melody note. Dale shows you a grace note you can use on the final note of each part, and then plays through the whole tune slowly, adding the grace note, so you can play along with him. You’ll also learn a simple slur bowing to use at the start of the tune and at the beginning of other phrases, as well as a couple of other places you can use slurs in “The Tar Road to Sligo.” You’ll also learn a couple more ways to play grace notes, using the A part of “The Tar Road to Sligo.”
The Tar Road to Sligo, Part 3: Introduction to Rolls - SAMPLE LESSON In this lesson, you’ll learn one of the distinctive ornaments in Irish music, the “roll,” which combines grace notes and slurs. Dale explains the roll, and shows you a roll on different fingers and strings. He recommends practicing them slowly and repeatedly with a metronome so that the motion becomes natural, and he shows how you can use rolls in jigs whenever the first and third note of a three-note pattern are the same. You can also roll on the first notes of arpeggios, as in the last phrase of the B part of “The Tar Road to Sligo.”
The Tar Road to Sligo, Part 4: Variations Using Arpeggios One way to create variations on tunes is to substitute different arpeggios into the melody. Dale shows you how to do this on the first phrase of “The Tar Road to Sligo.” He also talks about using the chord structure of a tune to add arpeggios in different parts of a tune.
The Tar Road to Sligo, Part 5: Play-Along Track Dale plays “The Tar Road to Sligo” through a couple of times slowly, with some ornaments and variations, so you can play along with him.
The Boyne Hunt
The Boyne Hunt, Part 1: A Part The D-major single reel “The Boyne Hunt,” like many reels, has origins in Scotland. Much of it is played with single bows, but you’ll also learn a few important slurs in the course of the tune. Dale starts by playing the melody through without ornamentation, and then takes the melody apart phrase by phrase, showing you the bowing as he goes. You’ll learn the basic melody of the A part along with the bowing in this video. Dale also gives you tips on practicing the bowing.
The Boyne Hunt, Part 2: B Part Dale starts this video on learning the B part of “The Boyne Hunt” by playing the basic melody through slowly, and then, like he did with the A part, takes it apart phrase by phrase, showing you the bowing along with the melody.
The Boyne Hunt, Part 3: Ornamentation and Variations Once you’ve learned the basic melody and bowing, Dale shows you some ways to ornament “The Boyne Hunt,” including adding rolls and slides. You’ll also learn some simple variations to the A part melody using different notes of the arpeggio that underlies the melody, as well as some other common melodic variations.
The Boyne Hunt, Part 4: Play-Along Track Dale plays “The Boyne Hunt” through a few times slowly, with some ornaments and variations, so you can play along with him.
The High Part of the Road
The High Part of the Road, Part 1: Melody The Irish jig “The High Part of the Road” has a couple of different names, including “Willie Clancy’s” and “The Blooming Meadow.” It’s a good tune for practicing rolls. Dale starts by slowly showing you the basic melody, phrase by phrase, with a couple small ornaments: including a slide with a grace note. You’ll learn the melody to the A and B parts in this video.
The High Part of the Road, Part 2: Bowing, Rolls, and Melodic Variation In this video, Dale shows you some options for bowing and ornamenting the basic melody of “The High Part of the Road.” He starts with the first phrase of the A part, showing you different bowing options, and how you can roll any of the first three-note groupings. He also shows you some melodic variations on this phrase. You can play rolls in many of the melodic phrases in “The High Part of the Road,” but Dale points out that you can’t play a roll on an open string. So he shows you a pipe technique in which you add multiple grace notes above the open string. You’ll also learn a variation on a roll on the F# note on the E string.
The High Part of the Road, Part 3: Play-Along Track Dale plays “The High Part of the Road” through a few times slowly so you can play along with him.
The Swallow’s Tail Reel
The Swallow’s Tail Reel, Part 1: Melody There are two tunes called “The Swallow’s Tail”: a jig and a reel. They are really only related by name. In this lesson you’ll learn “The Swallow’s Tail Reel.” Dale plays it through and then breaks it down, phrase by phrase, paying special attention to the bowing, which includes some tricky string crossings. The only part of the B part melody that’s different from the A part is the first measure, so you’ll learn the melody to both parts in this video.
The Swallow’s Tail Reel, Part 2: Bow Triplets and Variations In this video, you’ll learn some variations on both parts. Dale also introduces the bowed triplet, giving you advice on how to play and practice this classic Irish fiddle ornament. You’ll also learn some other melodic variations using a variety of ornaments, including a series of rolls on the beginning of the B part.
The Swallow’s Tail Reel, Part 3: Play-Along Track Dale plays “The Swallow’s Tail Reel” through a few times slowly so you can play along with him.
The Top of Maol
The Top of Maol, Part 1: Melody In this lesson, you’ll learn another Irish dance style, the polka. “The Top of Maol” is in the key of A, and Dale begins by talking about modes in Irish music: major, Mixolydian, Dorian, etc. The mode used in “The Top of Maol” has no third (neither major or minor) as well as a flatted seventh, and while the melody doesn’t have a minor third, it has a minor sound. Dale plays the melody slowly and breaks it down, phrase by phrase. You’ll also learn the basic bowing pattern Dale uses to play polkas, a sort of back and forth bowing where the bowing changes on the beat.
The Top of Maol, Part 2: Polka Bowing and Drones In this lesson, you’ll learn some more nuanced ways to play polkas. Dale starts by showing how to add a pulse or lift to the second half of each bow stroke, putting an emphasis on the offbeat rather than the downbeat. He also talks about the concept of “nyeah” or playing “ragged but right” in Irish music, recommending that you listen to old players like Denis Murphy, Julia Clifford, Padraig O’Keefe, and Bobby Casey. And he shows you how to put a bit of “nyeah” in “The Top of Maol” by doing things like playing the G a bit sharp. He also talks about using drone notes that imitate the sound of the Irish pipes, like using an open D string as a drone note at the ends of phrases where you might expect an A note. With Notation
The Top of Maol, Part 3: Play-Along Track Dale plays “The Top of Maol” through a couple times so you can play along with him.
The Galway Hornpipe
The Galway Hornpipe, Part 1: Melody Hornpipes are in 4/4, like reels, but they have a different feel. They can take a few forms and are often used for dancing. Dale plays “The Galway Hornpipe” through and then starts breaking down the melody, phrase by phrase. You’ll learn the basic melody to both parts in this video. With Notation
The Galway Hornpipe, Part 2: Triplets and Rolls Hornpipes are often ornamented or filled out with triplet runs, which are different than the bow triplets you learned earlier. Dale takes you through the melody of the “The Galway Hornpipe” and shows you where you can add triplets. He also shows you a couple good places to add rolls on the second part, and an alternate way to play rolls.
The Galway Hornpipe, Part 3: Play-Along Track Dale plays “The Galway Hornpipe” through a couple times so you can play along with him.
The Whinny Hills of Leitrim
The Whinny Hills of Leitrim, Part 1 “The Whinny Hills of Leitrim” is a slip jig, which means that it’s in 9/8 instead of 6/8. The 9/8 rhythm is divided up into groups of three eighth notes, just as in the 6/8 of normal jigs, and in the “The Whinny Hills of Leitrim” the three-note phrasing is very clearly delineated. Dale explains the slip jig rhythm and then takes the melody apart slowly, phrase by phrase, showing you some places you can add grace notes and rolls to the melody.
The Whinny Hills of Leitrim, Part 2: Play-Along Track Dale plays “The Whinny Hills of Leitrim” a couple times at a relaxed tempo so you can play along with him.
Irish Fiddle Source Material
Check out Dale's fiddling and some tunes featured in Irish Fiddle.