Instructors: Dale Russ

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by Dale Russ
September 06, 2016

Hey Irish music fans, glad to have you here! There’s so much to cover in such a broad topic as Irish fiddling, but I want to start from the beginning, more or less. I won’t be telling you how to hold the fiddle, or where the notes are, but I’ll assume you have some experience with a fiddle or violin and just point out the basic techniques that I find helpful. From there, we’ll talk about all of the elements that make Irish fiddling sound Irish. Please feel free to comment or ask questions—I’ll do my best to answer them as soon as I can. We’ll start out with a few reels and jigs to get you comfortably situated, since those are the most commonly played tunes in sessions, then move on to some other forms. Hope you enjoy our exploration!

—Dale Russ

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Comments and Discussion

Posted by Scottnyg on
Hi Ann,
Dale's course includes 33 video lessons and 30 complete tunes. We aren't currently adding new lessons to Dale's course.

Scott Nygaard
Editor/Co-Founder
Peghead Nation
Posted by mrose3@sc.rr.com on
Hi, I don't think I have received a new lesson since June. When do the new lessons show up?
Posted by ardwolf@comcast.net on
Hi Dale, Im really enjoying your program. Ive been playing for about 8 years, and things are beginning gel. Ive been fortunate to be invited to a weekly fiddle jam that's been going on for forty plus years, and this has helped me deal with performance anxiety (ha), its also helping me to play better. Im really enjoying your teaching style, and the technical lessons on ornamentation. My main struggle is my bowing. I tend to go up when others go down, Im trying to fix this but its a struggle. I hear the accents,and stress them, but for some reason, I seem to be cockeyed. I am left handed, but play right handed ( I don't know if its a right left brain thing ). I was wondering if you have any advice to help me correct this problem. Thanks again for the great course!

Jeff
Posted by Dale Russ on
Hi Jim, this question comes up often in workshops and lessons. I can’t recall if I discussed it at any length in one of the first lessons, so it won’t hurt if I am reiterating. The only problem is in explaining verbally as opposed to demonstrating.

You have accurately described two approaches, the first one in which the graces separate eighth notes. The only thing I might add is that the “eighth” notes may vary in value from player to player. If we think of a long roll occurring at the beginning of a half-measure, it takes up the timing of a dotted quarter note. So, if we think of the roll as a dotted quarter being divided into three eighth notes separated by graces (cuts), those eighth notes can be of equal value, or the first eighth note can be longer at the expense of the second eighth note. This rhythmic emphasis is in accordance with the natural “swing” of Irish music, in which the 1st and 3rd eighth notes are accented by either length, volume, or both at the expense of the 2nd and 4th eighth notes.

The second scenario which you describe occurs when the player extends the length of the first (“home” note as you called it – I like it!) even longer, waiting to execute the first movement of the upper grace, resulting in the roll “snapping” at the end of the dotted-quarter space. As you note, at this point, it is indeed hard to call it a quarter note. If you have a chance, check out Matt Cranitch’s notation of a roll. His approach obviously falls into the second category, as opposed to my approach which can also be found in Brendan Breathnach’s notations (the Ceol Rince na hEireann collection,for instance).

Both approaches are legit. To be more complete in the discussion, there is a third way of playing rolls as well, as you can hear in the playing of Michael Coleman, Brian Conway and James Kelly, as examples. None of them use this style of roll exclusively, however. This third approach is to treat the dotted-quarter space as a quintuplet, which most accurately describes the figure known as a “5-note roll”, in my opinion. Thus, a roll on the C on the A string for instance would be c-d-c-b-c, played with equal value in the space of the dotted quarter.

Now, as to why I choose one over the others. One of my earliest influences was Paddy Glackin. If you listen to his rolls slowed down (which is how I learned them), you can hear the relative equality of the lengths of the eighth notes (first approach). This was reinforced in me by learning the tin whistle soon after I started the fiddle, and this approach to rolls can also be heard in the playing of Paddy Keenan and Matt Molloy on pipes and flute, respectively. In the playing of all three, the rolls are clean and strong. This influenced me to learn to separate the roll into three cleanly-articulated eighth notes. As I got into teaching, I realized that many people had had rolls described to them as “the note, the note above, the note , the note below and then the note” (see 5-note roll above). But in practicing, they were trying to play this sequence in a rapid succession without breaking it down, and the result was that they were not playing the roll cleanly. In fact, there was a huge tendency to attempt to play the lower grace before the upper grace was even finished sounding. When this becomes your muscle memory, there’s a problem.

To interject, I think a lot of fiddle players – non-Irish and native Irish alike - learned how to play rolls in this manner. Rolls are difficult to explain and even harder to execute. Many players never had any but the vaguest explanation of rolls when they were learning, and had to work it out for themselves. Some were more successful than others (Gerry Harrington of The Smoky Chimney fame is a good example). For some, like myself, it’s a matter of preference, then choice.

One problem I find with the “snappy” kind of roll is that, when you slow down a tune, you still have to play the “snappy” roll IF you learned it as a hit-or-miss muscle-memory action, which can sound out-of-place. If, on the other hand, you learned by playing them slowly, with a controlled motion – no matter the style - you can play them at any speed you like. When you have more control over your technique, you have more possibilities for expression in your music. For any of the three styles discussed here, I recommend learning them as a controlled motion.

I hope this answers your question. Thanks for asking; it was well posed and relevant to many!

Cheers,

Dale
Posted by jlb846@gmail.com on
Hi Dale. Thank you for an excellent course. This question has to do with the internal timing of the long rolls. For purposes of this question, I don't think it matters what the time signature is. If I understand you correctly, each articulated part of the roll falls on an eighth note. This produces a very nice effect. Some people, though, seem to prolong the home note so that it becomes a dotted eighth, followed by a sixteenth (the flick) and then an eighth (the home note interruption). Would you mind discussing these two approaches, and your reasons for choosing one over the other. Thanks. Jim
Posted by josephwhite6452@gmail.com on
Hi Dave Russ Joey here from Australia thanks for the great course, loved your playing on the tune The Custom Gap. Can I get the music score from you I would love to learn this piece its beautiful cheers Dave
Posted by Dale Russ on
Thanks, Doug. I probably won’t be recording the next batch of tunes till next fall, but I’ll put it on the list! Great tune, ain’t it?
Posted by Douglas_Bonnyman on
Hi Dale,
Many thanksfor getting back to me.
I'm on board now, and really enjoying the course. I particularly like your DETAILED explanations and can see that I've not really understood until now where the bounce and swing come from in Irish music! I'd really like you to include in the course the tune I've been obsessing about (see earlier comment!) from the Introduction - you did take the trouble to give me the title "Sean Maguire's", but so far I've only come up with reel of the same name, which is a different tune altogether. I know that this often happens! Anyway, more power to your elbow - time to practise my rolls!
All good wishes,
Doug
Posted by Dale Russ on
Hi Oliver,
Welcome aboard and good choice to play the fiddle! If you can keep up with the play-along after only 4 months of playing, you’re doing very well! Give yourself a pat on the back. ;)

Good questions as to gracing. You are correct in surmising it’s probably not good to add them to every accented beat lol. If, when you practice them, you are gracing every accent, you might want to alternate gracing notes lest you get in the habit of doing every one. I have noticed in my own playing that I tend to grace first-finger notes reflexively, which is not necessarily a good thing. Perhaps it’s because those notes are prime candidates for graces, and I hope for my sake that’s the case! I tend to grace second-finger notes second-most (coincidentally!) and third-finger notes third-most (I think I’m starting to see a pattern here...). For another take on this, I recommend listening to James Kelly to hear how and when he uses graces for second- and especially third-finger notes.
There are no guidelines that I know of about use of graces unless, perhaps, you are studying a specific style or, even more so, a specific player. I advocate using graces only on accented notes, yet there are some players who grace unaccented notes and get away with it! So, rules be damned. For any generalization someone might make about Irish fiddle-playing, there will always be an exception, so keep your ears open and decide if some particular element you hear is something that YOU want to incorporate into your playing. Again, if you are studying a specific style or player, there WILL be rules. Follow them until you understand them well enough to break them.
Hope that answers your question, and thanks for the feedback! Glad you’re enjoying it.
Posted by Dale Russ on
Hi Doug, and welcome to our club of tune-heads! From your comment, I’m assuming you already play Irish trad. I wouldn’t worry too much about bowing if you stick with what your instructor shows you. Bruce (for example) is very good about explaining bowings and teaching them as part of the tune. From my observations, old-time fiddling has a heavier, more consistent emphasis on the back beat as opposed to Irish in which the emphasis can vary between the down beat and off beat. Although there may be some common figures, you’ll probably find that the bowings taught in the old-time course will lend themselves to the proper rhythm such that it’ll be impossible to play them wrong!
The tune in the Intro (if we’re looking at the same place) I’ve known as “Sean Maguire’s”. It goes by several other names, usually after the person that popularized it locally. I recently saw it referred to (in Reg Hall’s collection of music from London) as “A Night In Ennis”.
All the best, and give me a shout if I didn’t answer your question!
Posted by oly_penn@hotmail.com on
Hi, Dale,

Quick question to carry on from my last comment. It's with regards to adding grace notes to the down beat (or accented beat). Is there any particular reason why you might or might not add them to certain beats? Maybe depending on what follows? Obviously it might not be best to add them to every beat :) but just wondering if there were any unwritten guidelines of is it just personal preference like most other things?

Also, do you have any suggestions as to how to incorporate these into a practice? I have just been performing scales to a metronome and adding them in.

All the best,

Oliver.
Posted by Douglas Bonnyman on
Hi Dale,

Just about to embark on your old-time course. As a Scot, I'm very interested in Ulster-Scot tradition and love the old time sound that emerged in the US. Slightly concerned that I might become confused with trad Irish bowing and the old-time style...Just one other thing: could you tell me the name of the tune you play in the introduction to the course, please?
Many thanks and best wishes,
Doug
Posted by oly_penn@hotmail.com on
Hi, Dale.
I am new to the fiddle (been playing for about 4 months now). Just wanted to let you know that I'm really enjoying your course. I love the progression and diversity, and I feel like I've learnt a great deal from you. I really like the detail you go into about the tunes/styles/techniques etc, I find it all very interesting.
Just got through The Swallow's Tail Reel. The play-along was a bit speedy at first, but I know it's for my own good! :) And when I made it all the way through at speed in the play-along, it made it all the more satisfying!
Anyway, thank you for a great course.
All the best,
Oliver.
Posted by Dale Russ on
Hi Heather,
I appreciate that you understand the knotty situations cellos can create in trad Irish sessions ;) You most certainly will be as welcome to my classes as any fiddle player, though, obviously, bowings may not be applicable, and I'll leave you to make those transitions. I do believe everything else will be relevant. I assume, since you're here, you're already well-versed at that.
As I'm sure you've found (and this may or may not be applicable, so forgive me if I am assuming), the current style of backing (chunking?) on cello can have the effect of turning up Irish noses, as opposed to in Scottish music circles where it has become the norm (as far as I can tell). Most Irish trad players have been slow to assimilate this style into the paradigm. However, I don't think anyone has cause to complain about tunes played on the cello. Personally, I find it impressive!
See you there -

Dale
Posted by Dale Russ on
Hi mrose3,

That's a great idea. Haven't done any set dances yet... Unfortunately, I only record lessons about once a year as it involves a trip out of state. But I'll definitely put it on the list!

Dale
Posted by Heather Dunn on
Hi Dale,
I'm a cellist planning on attending the Sean-nos NW festival in Olympia WA this April. I'd love to take your classes, but want to be sensitive to barging into spaces where my instrument isn't traditional. I'm competent in music theory (and therefore accompanying), treble clef, and am comfortable in my upper register through 7th position. Think I can join in without being too much of a hassle?
Sincere Thanks,
Heather Dunn
Posted by mrose3@sc.rr.com on
Hi, would you be able to teach Bonaparte's Retreat?
Posted by Dale Russ on
Hi Marguerite,

You know, that's a good idea. You can email me at dale_russ@hotmail.com and we can discuss it further.

Thanks!

Dale
Posted by Dale Russ on
Hi Anna,

Glad you’re liking the videos!

Fiddle players I like:
Tommy Peoples
Andy McGann
Bobby Casey
Kevin Burke
Kathleen Collins
Martin Byrnes
James Morrison
Paddy Cronin
MacDara O Raghallaigh (“Ego Trip” recording)
That’s a partial list, but a good start ; )

Pipers:

Seamus Ennis
Willie Clancy
Paddy Keenan
Cillian Vallelly

Bands:

Smokey Chimney
Uh…uh…

As you might’ve guessed, I don’t follow bands so much. I prefer listening to solos and duets, because I like hearing each individual’s expression and interpretation. I recommend solos and duets (and I specifically mean with no accompaniment) so you can hear the underlying groove that the melody instruments create without any reliance on rhythm instruments.

I’m not sure what you mean by a list of the tunes I teach. That can vary depending on the situation and anticipated skill level of the student. Can you clarify, please?

Cheers,

Dale
Posted by Marguerite Gravois on
Hi Dale,

Are you able to accommodate private Skype lessons as well as via the string school? Looking for the best way to get feedback on whether progress is being made. Thanks!
Posted by lowenstein.anna@gmail.com on
Hi Dale,

I'm getting a lot from your videos, thank you for that.

I was wondering if it might be possible to get a list of good players (fiddle and pipes) as well as bands to listen to and/or more specifically, a playlist of the tunes you teach so I can listen and soak in some of the grooves.

Many thanks,
Anna
Posted by Dale Russ on
Hi Rab, thanks for your patience. I should check in more often!
What I found when I was learning was that, if I slowed good players down to half-speed, the swing would be noticeable, even as it seemed to disappear or even out when played at working speed. So I learned to practice at slow speeds with the swing, and when it got up to tempo, it would sound “right”. That would be the same principle as applies to the rolls practice.
As I’m sure you’ve noticed, there is quite a variety of swing from player to player in the reels. To my ear, I have heard the most swing in certain pipers, and the least in Donegal (or, Northern) fiddlers.
It IS a part of my teaching strategy to develop this in my students, but I can’t confess to any cunning ; )
If you need a mnemonic to help you with the bounce, I like NEW poTAto, NEW poTAto, NEW poTAto, etc…
Have fun with it.
Posted by rab-thefiddler@hotmail.co.uk on
Many thanks, Dale, for your thoughtful and helpful reply - I was half-expecting "what the hell are you babbling about?"! Also for your kind words of encouragement.
I might say I'm more comfortable with the more logical half/quarter note terminology than the crotchet/quaver idea prevalent on this side of the water, but thanks for the consideration!
One other thing, if I may make so bold: I notice with the reels you teach that at a slow tempo the tune is heavily accented, almost swung. This is far less noticeable up to working speed.
I get the feeling that the strong accent is somehow morphing into the bounce, drive, lift or whatever that characterizes reels as played by the fiddler who "gets it", regardless of ability level, and is noticeably absent from the playing of others (looks in mirror).
Is this a cunning part of your teaching strategy to develop this in students?
Thanks again
Rab
Posted by Dale Russ on
Rab - thanks very much - I enjoy the feedback and am happy to know the lessons are of help. I have great respect for people who teach themselves for their desire and motivation to do so. It's not all that common. I taught myself as well, but I think of my teachers as being the best I could find on recordings (Paddy Glackin, Brendan McGlinchy, Andy McGann, Martin Byrnes, Kathleen Collins, Kevin Burke, Tommy Peoples, among many others), although none of them would probably acknowledge having anything to do with it ;-) But I've managed to get validation over the years from a few of them, and from players of other instruments as well. So I know learning on your own is possible.
As to your question; there are a couple of elements to consider. First, I'll reiterate the idea of the accents coming on the first and third eighth notes (quavers?), so you should probably be noticing your bow stick approaching the string at those points. The bow might be appearing to be bouncing up and down between the accented and unaccented notes. Second, when you play a roll, you are, as you know, slurring through a dotted quarter note (dotted crotchet, I believe), which means that if the roll begins on the downbeat, you will be adding pressure to the first note of the roll (at the attack), AND at the third note of the roll, which happens to be the offbeat, letting the pressure up slightly in the middle of the stroke, which corresponds to the unaccented second note.
If the roll begins on the second eighth note, the bow pressure comes on the third eighth note, which is the accented offbeat and middle of the bowstroke, and the pressure is let up on the beginning and end of the stroke.
I have to assume that your question is specifically addressed to the first roll placement, since the accents come at the beginning and end of the slur. I HAVE noticed that some people have difficulty adding pressure to the end of the slur, and it's mostly because they are not comfortable using the whole length of the bow. This doesn't seem to be the case for you, and I applaud you for being comfortable outside the three inches or so of the stick we only usually need. Therefore, if you are maintaining the rhythmic bounce or lift from accenting the first and third eighths, do indeed continue to do so! For moral support and confirmation, I recommend a heavy dose of James Morrison and/or Hugh Gillespie, at full and half-speed. It is invaluable to compare your rolls to theirs at half-speed.
Kudos also for making the effort to re-train your left hand. I know how frustrating it can be to feel like you are starting over. Changing your rolls to this style is like trying to unstick tape that has stuck to itself. Patience and perseverance are essential! Best of luck in your efforts, and thanks for writing. Good to meet you!
Dale
Posted by rab-thefiddler@hotmail.co.uk on
hi Dale, greetings from across the pond. You've had no feedback for a few months now, so I just thought I'd write to say how much I'm enjoying your course.
I've been playing fiddle a few years now - self-taught, so taught by somebody who didn't know anything! I was deeply impressed with your playing when I found your videos on YouTube, so when I saw this course advertised I jumped right in and am glad I did.
On a technical point; I am one of those who play(ed) rolls with all the notes bunched up together at the end, occasionally sounding ok, but mostly not. As i try to play rolls as you do I'm finding that the finger movement is a bit slower although much more rhythmically accurate. I think that my difficulty is that my bow stroke runs out of steam when I need to sound the last note of the roll, and I find I'm giving the bow a little extra shove at this point. It sounds ok I think, but I wonder if I'm learning bad habits if I persist with this. Do you think I should continue, or would you advise a stronger bow stroke overall for the roll which would carry me over to the last note?
Thanks
Rab
Posted by cummins_20@yahoo.com on
Hi Dale, thanks for the comments.
John
Posted by Dale Russ on
Hi John,
I'd say your observation about the triplets is accurate. My approach is to play 16th notes the same as I play 8th notes - they're just "smaller" and shorter. The end result is that it may look like the motion is confined to the wrist and/or fingers, but really it's just the same motion as longer strokes, just compacted. I definitely do not attempt to "break" my wrist when playing triplets, nor do I try to execute them with my fingers. I don't see anything wrong with either of those alternatives - they will probably produce a different effect; fingers may produce a lighter sounding triplet, and using just your wrist may not sound as strong as using your arm from the elbow down.
On developing speed, I think both approaches are beneficial. Of course, you want to practice slowly to develop command - bow control for tone and rhythm, so this should be your first priority. Metronomes are your friend in this endeavor ;-). Again, start at a speed at which you can play the whole piece - whether it be a whole tune, just a phrase, or an exercise - and then incrementally raise the tempo a notch or two so the change is barely perceptible. You may reach a speed at which certain phrases stand out in difficulty, so it's a help to practice those phrases separately with the same approach.
On the other hand, if you are lucky enough to have a local session or community dance band that you can be part of, there is great safety in numbers! When there is a lot of sound around you from fellow musicians, you can really let loose with your bow arm. I found this to be extremely helpful when I was first playing. Playing loudly will really help become freer with your bow. This is one of the ways of finding parameters! If you don't have such social situations, playing at home with recordings is the next best step. Use the play speed enhancement in Windows Media Player or The Amazing Slowdowner or such software.
Normal session speeds will vary across the globe. You can reasonably expect to find these tunes played at the speed I play them to demonstrate, plus or minus 10 beats per minute, depending on different factors.
Posted by cummins_20@yahoo.com on
Hi Dale,
A few questions:
1) Galway Hornpipe - when I watch you play the triplets at speed it looks like the bow motion is one where the fingers, hand and arm are acting as a single unit(in other words the movement is from the elbow), as opposed to a quick down-up-down using primarily the fingers and the hand. Am I interpreting this correctly?
2) Would you comment on what you think is the best method to get up to session speed. I've read theories from "play slow and clean and the speed will eventually come", to "if you don't try to play fast, you'll never play fast." And related to this would you indicate what you think normal session speeds are for the 5 tunes we are learning.
Thanks
John
Posted by cummins_20@yahoo.com on
Hi Dale, thanks for the Boy from the Mountain source.
John
Posted by Dale Russ on
Hi John, the Boy from the Mountain is from O'Neill's "Dance Music of Ireland" (the 1,000 tune collection), tune #192, or if you have "O'Neill's Music of Ireland" (the collection of 1850 tunes), it's on page 181. You will notice differences between the notated tune and my setting. I'll put "Farewell to Ireland" in the hopper and see what comes out!
Posted by Dale Russ on
Hi Jennifer, and welcome to the lessons! I'm gathering from what you said that you've only been playing fiddle/violin for six months. Is that correct? Regardless of how long you've been playing - even if it's only six months - you've realized that a lot of the fruits of enjoying fiddle playing originate from basic abilities that usually have to be developed. In other words, as you well know, you don't just pick up the fiddle one day and play it! So, one of the most basic things everyone needs to do is become as comfortable with the bow as possible. This is not too difficult to accomplish - it mostly is dependent on how distractable you (we!) are. In this case, I like to recommend playing long bows, frog to tip and back - playing adjacent strings (two strings together). You are listening, looking, sensing for both strings sounding simultaneously throughout the stroke. Start slowly and gradually work your speed up, as you are able to make both strings sound consistently. Don't worry about melody notes for now; your mission is to get as comfortable with your bow as you are with a fork or spoon. I am a huge proponent of practicing long-bows, and I think playing two strings is more efficient than just playing one string at a time as a practice. [I'm trying to inspire you here ;-)]. As you know, it takes more control to play two strings at once than one string by itself.
Now,, as you practice this, I want to point out that I, personally, don't think of these kinds of exercises as "practice", but more as "play". I hope that you would see this as a chance to experiment with what your body does to produce which sounds out of your instrument. You'll hear me say this many times - it's about finding the parameters of the instrument, e.g., how hard can you press the bow onto the strings vs. how lightly? How do each affect the tone? What happens to the sound when you draw the bow slowly vs. quickly? How does the bow FEEL when you do each? Can you feel the vibrations of the bow in the fingers of your bow hand? All of theses sensations and tones exist in a playground of possibilities that you create.
I mentioned distractability earlier. I don't know how your practices go, but I do want to encourage you to have this attitude of play when you do these parameter-investigating activities, and to focus on those things I mentioned, really letting yourself get into the aural and tactile sensations of your body and the fiddle. This facilitates the dissolution of the feeling that the fiddle and bow are foreign objects, separate from your body. You may perceive them as such, but the sensations are NOT separate and, indeed,integrate the two.
So if you find your mind is wandering, just gently re-focus it on your activity without reprimanding yourself. The last three words are so important I would underline them if I could ;-). And this goes for anything you are practicing, at any time.
An extension of this play, then, can become going from the long bows on two strings to short bows on two strings, as you'd be playing in Bile them Cabbage Down. Conversely, you can start with short bows and lengthen them a little at a time, until you're using the whole bow.
One more thing to try - while playing a long bow, keep the bow on one string while dropping the bow for short notes on the adjacent string, in a rhythmical pattern, keeping the bow going in one direction through the whole stroke.
Hope these help. Above all, have fun! That's an order! ;-)
Posted by cummins_20@yahoo.com on
Dale, another song I would like you to consider for a lesson is Farewell to Ireland
thanks
John
Posted by cummins_20@yahoo.com on
Dale,
A non-lesson question. I have not been able to find the sheet music for The Boy on the Mountain on Soul Food, did you write that, or if not can you point me to a source for the music.
Thanks
John
Posted by sweetness29157@gmail.com on
Hi Dale

So glad I have found your course in Irish Fiddle..I have been taking classical lessons for about 6 months but thought I would give the classical music a rest and try this instead. I love Irish Fiddle music.
I do have a question though you were talking about playing the G string while playing the d string as well and I was wondering if you could go more into how to do that..I have learned to play Bile the Cabbage down, but I just can't seem to get the hang of playing the two strings at once..
Thanks so much on your help with this and I am looking forward to more classes with you.
Jennifer
Posted by Dale Russ on
Sounds good, John. Thanks!
Posted by cummins_20@yahoo.com on
Dale, how about Truthful John
thanks
John
Posted by Dale Russ on
Hey Folks - planning the next bunch of lessons. If there is a particular tune you might like, any particular type of tune, a tune that incorporates any particular technique e.g., bowing, ornaments, etc, let me know before the end of January!

Thanks for your interest!
Posted by cummins_20@yahoo.com on
Thanks for the reply Dale and Yes I am enjoying the tunes.
John
Posted by Dale Russ on
Hi John, thanks for your patience. I had written an extensive reply which somehow got deleted.
I must admit I am unfamiliar with what Martin did with Under the Moon, but I do know that detailed transcriptions of all of the tunes on Soul Food would take months! I hope that you are finding the sheet music for the tunes posted useful. In them, I try to transcribe – as accurately as possible – all of the ornamentation I use in each lesson. Those techniques/ornaments can then be applied to many of the tunes on Soul Food. I do realize that there are probably some ornaments on the CD that I have not yet covered in the lessons, however. Those ornaments are usually comprised of the elements already introduced; slides, graces and bowed triplets. It would be a useful exercise to listen to basic rolls, graces and triplets on the CD at a slower speed, via the Amazing Slowdowner or some such software, and when you feel confident of what you’re listening to, try to decipher what is happening on the more complex ornaments. BTW, Windows Media Player, if you use it, has a function allowing playback at down to half-speed. I think Garage Band on Mac has a similar tool.
I do want to emphasize here that, although a lot of the appeal of Irish music is the ornamentation, you can play perfectly good Irish music without it. So don’t feel you must play ornamentation in order to be playing Irish music. I just want to include that here for anyone else who happens to be reading this.
By now, you’re probably playing the polka posted for December lickety-split. The next tune will be posted in the beginning of January. I hope you’re enjoying the tunes, and continue asking questions when puzzled!
Posted by cummins_20@yahoo.com on
Dale, by "publishing your arrangements" I mean putting together all the sheet music for the tunes on Soul Food, including all the ornamentation, in similar fashion to what Martin Hayes did for Under the Moon. I would be willing to buy it, and I suspect others would as well.

If you do decide to do this I would like to emphasize the need to include all the ornamentation. I have accumulated quite a bit of Irish sheet music over the last 4 years and a problem with most of it is the lack of ornamentation. Now I appreciate that all us learner-bees need to learn the nuances of ornamentation, and this is one part of your course that has great value for me. But the problem I have is that even though I am retired I have limited time to practice every day, and I would rather be practicing as opposed to trying to figure out all the cool ornamentation I hear in my music collection.

Thanks for listening
John

p.s. when is a new tune coming?
Posted by Dale Russ on
John, what do you mean by "publishing your arrangements"?
Posted by diane@musicianbyheart.com on
Thanks Dale, that did answer a lot. Btw - Soul Food is terrific!

Have a wonderful holiday everyone!
Posted by cummins_20@yahoo.com on
Dale, thanks for the response, and heads up on The Roche Collection of Traditional Irish Music for Truthful John. Have you thought about publishing your arrangements for the tunes on Soul Food?
Posted by Dale Russ on
Hi Diane - glad you're liking The Swallow's Tail. It's a great tune with lots of fundamental bits for getting comfortable. It's hard to have much of a discussion of bowing without seeing/hearing the spots you are referring to, but I'll contribute my blind two cents ;)
If you're not hearing any particular emphasis on accented notes in string-crossing patterns, it might be because the notes on the string with the alternating notes are naturally tend to pop out just by their position. That is, in the A part, 3rd measure, the G on the D string creates the drone effect while the alternating B and D notes on the A string are in accented positions, plus standing out in contrast to the drone. So, there's no real need to add much pressure to the A string notes. I'm only guessing that this has anything to do with your observations, so I apologize if I'm off the mark. This is true whether you are single-bowing this pattern or slurring into the accented notes.

Let me re-state that it's okay to use either pattern. Neither is more Irish-sounding than the other. The single-bowed pattern will probably have a more percussive effect, and the slurring pattern will tend to sound smoother. How much so depends on the player.

As for how much offbeat to put in as opposed to downbeat, make sure not to exhaust yourself over-analyzing it - the most reliable answer will come from listening! If you want to speak with a certain accent, you have to hear it for some period of time and experiment with what sounds authentic and what doesn't, right? That's all you're doing with learning THIS accent. Listen, experiment, and allow yourself the time to perfect it. You have the kinesthetic tools; it's just a case of how long it takes to create what you're looking for with them. Some people are more adept at this than others. It's all relative :) You will. get. this. Yes!
Posted by Dale Russ on
John, thanks for relating your bow pressure experiences. It certainly sounds like you're on a good track - I'm definitely rooting for you with all of the experimenting you've been doing. I'm not sure what you mean in reference to the double-stops in the Boyne Hunt, but I assume you mean when you're playing the open A string (in the A part) while playing the alternating notes on the D string. If that's the spot, I do tend to add additional pressure on the notes on the D string, since they're naturally accented anyway. If I'm hearing you right, you were maybe trying to get both strings by adding pressure with your bow index finger, rather than changing the plane of the bow? Regardless, you've worked it out, so, good on ya!

I found Truthful John in the Roche collection, Vol. 3 #89. I can't at this moment verify how faithfully I followed the written setting. If you don't have Roche, I highly recommend it. Hopefully it's still being published and is available. That would be a great tune to cover in a future lesson, but I don't think I'll be recording the next batch for several months, unfortunately. I do like those older sounding tunes that seem to have come from the piping repertoire, and there are scads of them in there. Great stuff!
Posted by diane@musicianbyheart.com on
Hi Dale... really enjoying Swallowtail's, which I've only done as the jig. One of my battles has always been to deal with the bowing when the double stop figures occur. It took me really working this to realize that what my arm wants to do is connect in opposite fashion since that would put the bow changes ON the beat and not off. That way is easy for me, or of course all separate. But it ain't exactly Irish. :) My arm just fights making the switch. Julia Delaney...same bowing thing. Especially at sessions! Not happening from the off to the on beat yet at that speed, that's for sure. I default to all separated or on the beat.

I also notice with your playing - and others who get this - that the cross bowing figures are not accented in anyway, as in no swell or emphasis off or on beat as opposed to, say that 'g' in the 2nd measure where the slightly faster bow makes a nice natural emphasis on the start of the 3rd beat. Is that fairly true for them all, do they just stand on their own, no bowing speed/length changes? I usually see about 3 inches of bow used!

With all the slight leaning into the off beats in reels that is done, I'm unsure often when and where to do so, because the ties into the downbeat of a measure is also common. When sped up and played by the experts... it just sounds right. I will. get. this. :) Thanks!
Posted by cummins_20@yahoo.com on
Dale,
Thanks for the response on bow pressure. To answer your question about my experience with bow pressure, my current preference is to let the weight of the bow on the string take care of the issue unless an accent is needed. I’ve been playing 4 years and bow pressure has been evolutionary starting with noticeable pressure to grab the string, particularly when changing strings, to diminished pressure each year until the current preference. I think most of this change has to do with bowing exercises, some of which you mention, like long bows on open strings for both single and double stops. I do these every day and believe they help with both tone and a more relaxed bow pressure. The other exercise I did for months was pulsating bow pressure on long bows which also helped understanding the nuances of bow pressure tremendously.

The part that is still tricky are double stops. I like the sound of double stops played with no additional bow pressure. There is a purity to the tone when played this way, but consistently pulling it off is another matter. Take for example The Boyne Hunt where despite a desire to play with little additional pressure I often end up adding index finger pressure to assist the angle of the bow plane to get both strings. I appreciate your point about the consistency of the bow plane being the critical piece. This is one more of my ongoing works in progress,

I changed to the Russian grip and like it. I find adding accents is more easily done with the grip, and it seems like the grip/bow relationship is more unified and something I no longer have to think about. So, thanks for the suggestion. One other positive from the change was I’ve noticed I’m more aware of my pinky on the bow since making the change, which I also like.

Somewhere on the PegHead site I think it mentioned sending in tune requests for lessons, so if interested I’d love to dive into Truthful John, which I think is a great tune. I haven’t been able to find any sheet music for it, and not sure who wrote this but your arrangement is wonderful. I enjoy the percussive nature of the tune.

Thanks for all the help, and I’m enjoying the lessons.

John
Posted by Dale Russ on
John, before you get MY two cents, let me ask you a question - what has been YOUR experience with bow pressure? I look forward to hearing your perceptions/experiences.

I like the two parameters that you have laid out. I would have difficulty believing either advocate uses one or the other all of the time, or exclusively. In my own playing, I am constantly varying between both.

First off, as I believe I explain in the introductory lesson, I prefer a Russian-style bow hold, with the bow under the index finger knuckle closest to the hand. This allows me to put pressure on the bow either by pressing down with my index finger, or by rotating my wrist counter-clockwise, using the thumb as a fulcrum. In my explanation of reel and hornpipe rhythms, I talk about the rhythm being reduceable to ONE-two-ONE-two, etc. On the "two" - or unaccented note - I am using, at most, the weight of the bow; just enough to get a good tone (as opposed to too light and "feathery"). On the "ONE", or accented note, a more complex event happens. But it's only complex because it takes a lot of words to describe it ;).

When you want more volume, you usually speed up the bow. When you speed up the bow, you usually need to add enough extra (subtle) pressure so the bow does not come off the string. And when you add pressure, if you rotate your wrist as described above, you will need to add a little resistance with your index finger, or, more correctly, keep your forearm and index finger in the same alignment throughout the motion. Make them move as a unit. So, for instance, if you are single-bowing a passage of eighth notes with the accented notes on the down-bow, you will add a little pressure on the accented note, then release the pressure on the up-bow (unaccented note). The bow will naturally default to its own weight at that point, if you do not do anything to further influence it. Then you add the pressure again for the ensuing down-bow.

Like I said, that's a very wordy description of a very simple process.

As for arm weight, I don't feel qualified to answer that question, partly because it never made much sense to me, and never even heard of the concept until I'd been playing for several years. I am always playing with weight in my arm (if your arm is relaxed, it hopefully is happening naturally), as it is the anchor for my wrist and hand. Without arm weight, your arm will not be unified enough to put ANY pressure on the strings, as though you were trying to play with an inflated balloon for an arm. Make sense? I don't know how you can add MORE arm weight without the corresponding resistance in your wrist and index finger to compensate, otherwise your weight/pressure will be lost. Hard to explain without being there in person. Perhaps it will help to imagine your arm is filled with water, which would make your arm feel weighty, as opposed to imagining it filled with air, or even helium.

Tonally speaking, the more pressure you use - independent of bow speed - the grittier tone you will produce. You might want this at times; you might want it all of the time. I can only encourage you to, again, find the parameters of what constitutes acceptable tone for you, personally. Experiment with pressure on the down-bow; bow-weight only up, then reverse it, with the pressure on the up, slack off the pressure on the down. Do long bow strokes varying the speed and pressure throughout ONE bow stroke. Notice how the tone and the physical feeling of the bow on the string varies as you move the bow towards and away from the bridge.

When you are playing double-stops, you are having to vibrate twice the number of strings as usual ;), so you will need more pressure. More energy output requires more force. The amount, however, is subtle, and you may not physically notice much difference. Your attention may be more directed to making sure each of the two strings is getting sufficient pressure to sound equally, if at all. The consistent plane of travel of the bow is almost more important than the pressure. In fact, I encourage everyone at some point to simply practice playing two open strings together on a LONG bow stroke, if you are still in beginning stages of learning. Some more advanced players still cannot do this consistently and would benefit. When you have this command of the bow, your single-string playing will be cleaner (you won't be hitting adjacent strings) and tuning adjacent strings by fifths will be much easier.

There you go. Sorry you asked? ;) Please think of it as experimentation, and have fun!
Posted by cummins_20@yahoo.com on
Dale,

Would you provide your view on bow pressure. I’ve read different views on pressure from “the natural weight of the bow provides enough pressure”, to “arm, wrist and finger pressure needs to be exerted to grab the string”. And also, does your pressure change when playing double stops, both as accent notes and extended notes.

Thanks
John
Posted by cummins_20@yahoo.com on
David and Dale,
Thanks for the discussion on relaxation. It all helps!
John
Posted by docfloc@googlemail.com on
Many thanks for your detailed reply Dale and for gently letting me know that there is no quick fix here. I can see I am going to have to go back to the drawing board and address something that was lacking in my early training and "unlearn" bad habits I have picked up along the way. However you have given me useful ideas to introduce to my practice routines, in particular "maintaining a sensation of softness" and "scanning for tension".
Once again, many thanks.
David.
Posted by Dale Russ on
David - I feel for you, man! ;) I know that it raises many people's hackles to be told "you need to relax", which is obviously counter-productive. If it were that easy, don't they think you'd be doing it already?? I'm not a performance coach per se, but my theory is that relaxing begins apart from even picking up the fiddle. In the most basic approach, you can experiment and practice tensing specific parts of your body, then letting go. The point is to viscerally understand the difference between tension and relaxation. Comparison is essential, and we may not know what relaxation feels like until we know what tension feels like. Do this for a few minutes each with your arms, stomach, legs, hands, forehead, jaw, etc., and really feel the difference between the two. Then, when you feel comfortable with the difference in feeling, ascertain that your whole body is relaxed (imagine your insides are filled with cotton, or that every cell in your body is open to relaxation. Imagining your breath is delivering relaxation into your open, waiting cells might be a good way to do this, and this is one specific way of using your breath. It IS your ally!) pick up the fiddle, but don't yet put it to your chin. AS YOU LIFT THE FIDDLE TO YOUR SHOULDER/CHIN, maintain that feeling of softness and relaxation. I'm not familiar with your particular mind, so I don't know but that it might take several attempts to do this while keeping the relaxed feeling. (If this seems too basic for you, forgive me, but I'm writing this bearing in mind the possibility it might help someone else.) I don't know anything about your basic positions, but try to keep a posture that is as close to a neutral standing posture as possible. I recommend the Suzuki approach for more on this. Again, maintaining the relaxed feeling, raise your bow arm, keeping your right arm and hand soft in feeling. If you're successful so far, do a long, slow bowstroke end to end, and don't worry about the tone or volume. JUST keep focus on your bow arm/hand, scanning them for any tension. If your right hand does not feel completely soft, is it because you are afraid of dropping the bow? Are you keeping your elbow bent at the same angle throughout the stroke? Or are you letting it open and close softly as the bow goes from tip to frog and back? Just like with roll or bow triplet practice, gradually increase your speed while scanning for tension. As you feel comfortable with keeping your arm and hand relaxed, do some more bowstrokes and focus on relaxing your face. (You're NOT alone, by the way, in making uncontrolled grimaces!) It may very well take a lot of practice! But, as an additional plus, you may find that this slow, focused practice is actually meditation, which is something that's probably also been recommended. Just be sure not to get aggravated with yourself if you're not nailing it every time ;) Allow for the fact that it's a process. Use this relaxation idea at other times in your life, not just while you are playing.
Another approach complementary to the mirror (though you didn't explain what the process was with that) is to watch someone whose motions seem relaxed and would like to emulate, and literally pretend you are them. I'm not kidding here! After you have an internal sensation that you are doing what they do - or you ARE them! - go to the mirror, boy, and reproduce the image of their motions in your own body's reflection. I've used this myself in my attempts to play Cape Breton music, and it helps!
These are the best suggestions I can offer through typed words. I hope you find at least some of it helpful. Good luck! And be kind to yourself!
Posted by docfloc@googlemail.com on
Hello again Dale. In your Bowing Video you mention the word "relax" several times. I am one of those players who have great difficulty in doing just that, with the result that I hold my breath and make funny faces while playing (even after a couple of pints) causing some hilarity at our local sessions. I have been given various bits of advice in the past like "concentrate on your breathing", "keep your mouth open while playing" and "practice in front of a mirror" all to no avail, apart from perhaps the last one. Would you perhaps have any magic tricks up your sleeve to overcome this? David.
Posted by diane@musicianbyheart.com on
I'm really enjoying the Boyne Hunt and I'm working on variations. The bones of the tune have to be in the fingers first, that's for sure. I love doing arpeggiated stuff - but especially when I don't lose the flow of the original! lol

I'm looking forward to the next tune you posted. :)
Posted by Dale Russ on
John, you are spot-on about the practice ;) I like to think of practice as a way to explore the parameters of what works and what doesn't. For example, you MUST pull and grab the string to find out what it feels like and what sound that makes before you can file that info away in your brain, and compare that to barely touching the string (to the point of missing it) before you can decide what feels/sounds the best, which is somewhere in the middle. Another thing to add to the mix is bow pressure/speed. I think you'll find that grace notes respond better to a fully-vibrating string. So DO play with those elements and have fun with it!
Posted by Dale Russ on
Diane, there does exist - though it may be hard to get hold of - a non-commercial recording of Fahey playing his own tunes, plus another underground recording of him, presumably at his home, in which he clearly uses a spiccato technique. I have not personally played with him, but I believe he is still around, thank goodness.
Posted by diane@musicianbyheart.com on
Really? Paddy Fahy used spiccato? Interesting! Of course it's just another way to vary what's being played. Very cool. Trad players do use a harder form of that when they ricochet the bow in place of 2 or 3 eights. Great for accenting stuff. I wonder where Kathleen heard Paddy do it...likely in person! It's hard to find a recording of him and except for old cassettes people have I think. Or you have to traipse through one of the libraries/digital archives. Have you seen him or played with him? Actually, is he still around?
Posted by cummins_20@yahoo.com on
Dale, thanks for the comments on rolls. Day two was much better, but it really is quite a different finger movement. Sometimes I end up pulling and grabbing the string as opposed to brushing across it. But as you mention it all about PRACTICE.
Cheers
John
Posted by Dale Russ on
Diane, thanks for the info on bow hold. I am totally uneducated about spiccato, etc. I did have Kathleen Collins tell me once that I should learn to do it, citing Paddy Fahey's playing as an example. I do use a bit in my recording of Paddy Ryan's Dream on the Soul Food CD, but it's not something that I can do anytime, anywhere.
Posted by Dale Russ on
Hi John, if it's any consolation, when I began playing rolls I, too, went up-and-down with the upper grace note. There's certainly nothing wrong with it, but I have found that brushing across the string is quicker and more efficient. How long it takes to re-train your fingers totally depends on the player, quality of practice, etc. of course. I think the most efficient and effective approach is to practice slowly and MINDFULLY, gradually increasing speed AS YOUR FINGERS ADAPT TO THE NEW SPEED. (I'm not flaming - I just want to emphasize the importance of having command of one speed before increasing to the next speed ;) ) Another thing you might do is practice brushing an imaginary string at times when you're sitting idly, if you're ever lucky enough to have those times... get your fingers used to making that motion.

Glad you like Soul Food!
Posted by diane@musicianbyheart.com on
Meant to say Dale in my comment above John's... but I liked David's use of the word character!
Posted by cummins_20@yahoo.com on
Dale, just joined and like others have enjoyed the early videos. I like the sound of your rolls, and want to learn the technique, but believe my fingers are shouting out "what are you doing you idiot, we're supposed to be going up and down as you instructed us over the last 4 years, and now you want us to horizontally brush the string???" So my question is do you have any additional comments or suggestions on how to retrain these stubborn fingers, and any estimate on how long this takes an intermediate player.
Thanks
John
p.s. Just bought Soul Food and think it is great!
Posted by diane@musicianbyheart.com on
Hi everyone... I'm happy to be here too and am enjoying the clear and simple way that you share your knowledge, David. And I love your playing! I'm a classical player doing more trad now, but because the style is so different I am always looking for help dealing with them pesky muscle memory gremlins! If I may re: playing on the edge of the hair, it's really more of a need for bow control for some classical techniques not generally used in Trad. Like spiccato (bouncing the bow.) The bow hold itself is a little different to accommodate the differences too. I have seen some classical performers rotate the stick for almost the entire length but usually a player just does a slight wrist/forearm rotation while passing the mid point of the bow on the way to the frog. Then just reverse that going back towards the tip.

Back to fiddle :) - I have been trying to incorporate the differences in style, and you reminded me to practice the rhythms just on open strings - thank you! Looking forward to more so that all these tunes I keep learning sound more Irish than they do, um ... Vivaldi. Heh.
Posted by docfloc@googlemail.com on
Hadn't thought of it that way before, but it makes a lot of sense. Many thanks...David.
Posted by larrypontious@yahoo.com on
I have to agree with David. I'm very happy to have found this course, as I was looking for a refresher course on my fiddle playing after getting hooked on the tenor banjo for a couple years. The bowing exercises and using the pinky are both well-needed and painfully slow going. Saw you play at McGurk's here in STL years ago and was thrilled to see your offering. Looking forward to this...Larry
Posted by Dale Russ on
Yes, David - you are correct! I believe most classical musicians are taught to play with the bow leaning forward so mostly the outside edge is in contact with the string. I've never had the reason for this explained to me, as I wasn't taught classically, but my theory is that it assists in that dilemma I raised about wanting to vibrate the string while at the same time dampening it. I think playing with the forward edge only, helps the fiddle to project. The best analogy I have for this theory is that it's like walking across a carpet and touching a doorknob - if you touch it with one finger, you'll feel quite a shock, but if you touch it with all five, the energy is dispersed through five channels. So playing with the hair flat doesn't project as well, but in trad fiddling, you're generally not trying to fill a concert hall, so most trad players don't pay much heed to that technique.
Glad the videos are helpful!
Posted by docfloc@googlemail.com on
Hi Dale,
I am really pleased to have found your course as, from what I have seen so far, it is exactly what I need to add some "character" to my playing. As far as bowing is concerned it would appear (correct me if I am wrong) from your video that you hold the bow hair very flat on the string as opposed to using the edge. Do you have any comments to make on this?
Many thanks,
David Flockhart.
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