Cross-tuning in trad fiddle playing

Cross-tuning in trad fiddle playing

When I was in Dublin this summer, I visited the trad Irish Music archives, and was listening to Caoimhin O Raghallaigh’s albulm (not w/Mick O’Brien). In the linear notes, he mentioned playing the Foxhunters reel with a crossed tuned fiddle.
So my question is:
Is that because it sounds awesome to play w/your fiddle cross tuned, or is there some traditional significance to it?
Thanks a million!

Re: Cross-tuning in trad fiddle playing

I’ve never heard "cross-tuning" before, but I know what you mean. There’s a highbrow musical term - "scordatura" - so I suppose it must have been done in "art" music from time to time. It certainly crops up in most fiddle traditions and I don’t think it has any significance other than a desire to get certain effects.

Playing the Foxhunter’s Reel in A with the fiddle tuned AEAE is fun - I think most of today’s fiddlers would have got the trick from Patrick Kelly, who recorded it some 40 or 50 years ago. It makes it very easy to play the tune an octave down (most of it anyway) and get a lovely ringing effect off the resonating strings.

In the Québécois tradition there are tunes like "Le reel du pendu" (the hanged man’s reel) where the fiddle is tuned to AEAC# if I remember right, which gives a very particular sound, and I’ve heard a Texas fiddler who had his fiddle tune DDAE (the G string tuned down to a low D for droning). I’m sure there are many other examples - maybe other posters can give some.

Re: Cross-tuning in trad fiddle playing

It’s very common in the Shetland tradition but I must admit that I hate re-tuning my fiddle and I find it a bit disorientating playing because the sound I am hearing is not what I expect from the finger position!! And re-tuning is not as easy as on machine head instruments such as guitars - I hate disturbing strings that have settled.

Re: Cross-tuning in trad fiddle playing

I’m pleased to say that a CD of Patrick Kelly’s playing is now available at last, having been launched at the Willie Clancy week. The CD includes his setting of the "Foxhunters". Strongly recommended.

Padraig O’Keeffe also made similar changes to his tuning for certain tunes. For instance, he played the slow air "O’Rahilly’s Grave" using GDGD tuning - analagous to Kelly’s "Foxhunters" tuning. In another air called "The Old Man rocking the Cradle" he sometimes used the same tuning as the Texan fiddler Brother Steve referred to. (As a matter of interest, when playing this tune he also imitated the sound of the baby’s cry by muting the bridge of the fiddle with a large door key held between his teeth every now and again!).

If you play fiddle I can recommend trying out other tunings such as GDGD for a while. It’s actually easier to get used to than you might suppose. There’s something rather mellow and plaintive in the sound of the fiddle’s top two strings being dropped, and tendency is for the instrument to ring more since in effect you now have sympathetic strings. Furthermore there are some interesting double-stops which now become practical. It’s no doubt for reasons such as these that Kelly et al would adopt this tuning from time to time.

What would be interesting to know is where Kelly and O’Keeffe got the idea from. I know that Kelly learnt fiddle from his father who in turn learnt from a travelling fiddle master from Kerry called George Whelan (which is why Kelly had Slides as part of his repertoire). It’s also true that O’Keeffe studied for a time in Dublin - might he have picked up the idea there? Or was there some other source?

Ed.

Re: Cross-tuning in trad fiddle playing

Tarrantella raises the good point of disturbing strings that have settled. Once new fiddle strings have been fitted and have settled (which usually takes a couple of days) then attempts at retuning by, for instance, dropping a string a tone or two will result in that string "remembering" its settled pitch and trying climb back up to it. In my experience, when I’ve had to do this on the cello (Bach’s 5th cello suite is a good example) it takes the string half an hour or more to settle in its new pitch.
If you’re doing this cross-tuning regularly and frequently there may be a case for having a second fiddle permanently cross-tuned.
Trevor

Re: Cross-tuning in trad fiddle playing

Old time fiddlers frequently keep a second crosstuned fiddle.

Re: Cross-tuning in trad fiddle playing

Here are some cross tunings for the fiddle.
GDAd
GDBd
D,DAd
A,DAe
E,EAe
E,EBe
B,EBe
A,AEc#
AE#Ac#

Re: Cross-tuning in trad fiddle playing

The last tuning should be
A,E#Ac#.

Re: Cross-tuning in trad fiddle playing

How would you tune to C#, anyone know?

Karl

Re: Cross-tuning in trad fiddle playing

If you’ve a good ear for intervals, then by ear. Otherwise, you could use a tuner. Or C# on another instrument, say, a piano.