High Bass (AEae) Tuning

High Bass (AEae) Tuning

I have been searching the discussion archives for information concerning AEae, or “High Bass” tuning. In one particular discussion, the point was made that if you are going to tune your fiddle this way, “you best use steel strings” but no one elaborated as to why. Could someone please explain to me why steel strings would be better when using alternate tunings? I’m assuming it has to do with string’s ability to withstand the extra tension ….

I am currently using Dominants, which my fiddle particularly likes (synthetic core, aluminum wound). Would there be any foreseeable problems in tuning up for a set or two and then back to standard tuning with these strings? I don’t plan on leaving my fiddle tuned this way, nor do I plan on playing in AEae often (I know some old time players have a second fiddle for alternate tunings) – just every once in a while for a set or two…

Also, if you would be so kind as to suggest some tunes that work well in High Bass, I would appreciate it. Foxhunters Reel and Bridge of Bamore seem to be popular AEae tunes… Any others?

Thanks in advance 🙂

- Jenn

Re: High Bass (AEae) Tuning

I don’t know of any particular reason that crass-tuning wouldn’t work with Dominants, though I suppose it might be faster to get steel strings in tune (and one might say they drift less once they’re tuned). If you like dominants, give it a shot and see what happens. The worst thing that’s likely to happen is that they break, which isn’t THAT big of a deal. I use steel strings myself, but for other reasons; I find they have a better-defined rhythm, and are crisper/cleaner for ornamentation.

If you want ideas for tunes, just poke around with the tunes you know. Some will be easier than others. Start with tunes in A-major, and see where it goes from there. Feel free to transpose tunes from other keys into A as well.

I don’t often cross-tune, but I do remember playing cross-tuned at a late night party a few years ago with Michelle Mulcahy, who pulled out a lovely version of "Last Night’s Fun". I can’t remember if she transposed it, but I do remember that trying to play along at that point in the evening was a bit of a brain-@#%^. 🙂

Alternately, since you’re in N.S., you should check out track 6 of Jerry Holland’s "Crystal Clear" CD (https://thesession.org/recordings/display/1664) wherein he plays two strathspeys and two reels in AEae.

And/or, if you’re more into Irish tunes, check out Caoimhin O’Raghallaigh’s recordings. He plays quite a bit of stuff cross-tuned (though not necessarily in A—but the fingering’s the same).

Re: High Bass (AEae) Tuning

I too like playing with this type of tuning, and do so playing on Dominants. In general I’ll play in GDgd, rather than AEae though - less brilliant, but more plaintive.

I tend to find that in re-tuning, it works best to start by retuning the fiddle approximately. Then give the instrument a couple of minutes to settle down before doing the fine tuning.

Tunes recorded with this tuning include:

The slow air "O’Rahilly’s Grave" on the RTE disc of Padraig O’Keeffe’s playing (https://thesession.org/recordings/display/738). O’Keeffe’s playing of slow airs is truly definitive, and this is a great example.

(O’Keeffe plays another air, "The Old Man Rocking The Cradle" using standard tuning, except fot the G which is dropped down to D instead. Oh, and he uses a key held in his mouth against the bridge to simulate the baby crying…)

As Georgi says, Caoimhin O Raghallaigh also plays in this tuning. You can hear these here:

From memory, "Auntie Mary had a Canary", "The Foxhunter’s" and "Joe Mhaire Mhicilin" and "Miss Monaghan"

For tunes to work well with this tuning, they seem to need certain characteristics which I can’t immediate verbalize. And to work may require alteration to the tune, producing another version.

Any other tunes suggestions?

Re: High Bass (AEae) Tuning

A number of Shetland tunes are commonly played in AEae, e.g. The New/Full Rigged Ship, The Lass That Made The Bed For Me, The Scalloway Lasses.
The Baltimore Salute (by Josie McDermott, transposed to A) works well, too, as does The Nine Pint Coggie (the one in The Northern Fiddler, not the one Paul O’Shaughnessy recorded).
For tunes in D you might want to try ADae. For Willie Hunter’s air, The Love O’ The Isles that’s my tuning of choice. I suspect Caoimhin O Raghallaigh plays a bit in that tuning as well, as it’s the standard tuning on the hardingfele.

Re: High Bass (AEae) Tuning

Oh, and for some real "crass-tuning" (winks at Georgi), check out "trollstemning", AEac#. See Henrik Norbeck’s Scandinavian collection for tunes.

Re: High Bass (AEae) Tuning

I use Helicores and Prims, they heaviest tension they have, because I tune up and down and crosswise more often than is probably healthy, but the steel definitely settles quicker and more precisely than the gut, and it will be easier to return to standard tuning subsequently.

As for good cross-tunes, I recommend you start thinking about it by playing the low octave on tunes you already play, playing them in different keys, until you’re comfortable with the fingering all across the fiddle; then just play ANYTHING crosstuned and see what happens. Some work better than others, and experimentation is the way to go!


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Re: High Bass (AEae) Tuning

It’s odd, isn’t it, about that AEae tuning existing in so many different fiddle traditions?

I’ve been at Appalachian fiddle workshops where the teacher says "now there are a number of older tunes traditionally played in AEae tuning…"

I’ve been at Cape Breton fiddle workshops where the teacher says "many of the oldest tunes are traditionally played in AEae tuning…"

I’ve been at Donegal fiddle workshops. Scottish fiddle workshops, Shetland fiddle workshops, Irish fiddle workshops, where the teacher has mentioned the same thing.

Makes you think…

Re: High Bass (AEae) Tuning

In Cape Breton there is only really only one set that gets played in cross-tuning or high-bass as it is usually called in Cape Breton. It always starts off with Christy Campbell, an unusual 8-bar strathspey. From there it might go into Anthony Murray’s (another strathspey), and then a bunch of reels, the first one known as the Straw Man (as I found out, although many, if not most, don’t even know the name). When ever this set is played, Anthony Murray’s is optional, but the Straw Man is ALWAYS the first reel. Many people simply know the Straw Man by the fact that it’s . When I play this set, I play Christy Campbell’s, Anthony Murray’s, the Straw Man, a traditional reel (can’t find the name), and the Weasel, by John Morris Rankin. He played this same set on the Rankin’s album "North Country." You’ll rarely find high-bass used in any other set and the set will vary widely, not just these five tunes. Many of the long past generations of Cape Breton fiddlers played lots and lots of A tunes in high-bass, Mary MacDonald coming to mind. Paul Cranford has put out some tunes written so that the notes are as you’d finger it only the fiddle, not the actual notes. It’s essentially transposing for the bottom strings. There are also tunes like this in the Dungreen Collection. Here’s an example from there transcribed from the playing of Mary MacDonald.


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