use of the 3rd finger in a fiddle roll

use of the 3rd finger in a fiddle roll

After years and years of practing I still have problems with the timing of my 3rd finger in rolls on the 1st and 2nd finger. Especially on the lower strings I have a tendendy to roll 1st finger rolls 1-2-1-0 instead of 1-3-1-0. The 2nd finger is absolutely quicker, especially for the more explosive stuff. Does anyone of you recognize this?
Harder for me to get a grip on is the 2nd finger roll; I am considering to start executing the roll as 2-3-0-2 (is this ‘allowed’ at all??) instead of the usual 2-3-1-2. It’s hard to make a well timed, well articulated roll whith use of the 3rd finger while keeping the 1st down.

Re: use of the 3rd finger in a fiddle roll

Henk, I think what you’ve got to work on is slow deliberate practice of the finger movements. As with other instruments demanding complicated finger movement patterns (e.g. the piano) the secret is that slow practice until the neural pathways and muscular control become established. You can’t get accuracy at speed until you get the slow speed control. This won’t happen overnight!
Also, make sure your left hand and fingers are relaxed. There may be an element of posture involved, so that is something you may have to look at, possibly with the help of an experienced player or teacher.
Trevor

Re: use of the 3rd finger in a fiddle roll

Rolls are to enhance the rhythm …use whichever finger is the most effective for you.
When executed quickly it’s very hard to tell which notes exactly are being played anyway. I often vary between 12101 and 13101 on a first finger roll or 01310 and 01210 on an open string roll. Do whatever is comfortable. 2nd finger rolls were harder for me too and just need more practice.

Re: use of the 3rd finger in a fiddle roll

I do second finger rolls two different ways. For example, if I’m rolling an F natural on the D string or a C natural on the A string, I cut with my third finger. But if I’m rolling an F-sharp or C-sharp, I use my fourth finger. I don’t know if this is the way most people do it or not, but it’s the most comfortable for me. On first finger rolls, I always cut with my third finger — it seems to have a bit more "snap."

Aimee

Re: use of the 3rd finger in a fiddle roll

Henk, I wish I could just stroll down the block and knock on your door, and we could go over this face to face, troubleshoot, and then play tunes for the rest of the afternoon. That would be great fun! Instead, since I’m about 8,000 miles away, I’m going to bury you in words πŸ™‚ Sorry.

First, here’s a question for *you.* How do you do cut notes? For example, a typical cut on the B note would look like this: | B2 dB{d}BAFA | (a phrase from the Earl’s Chair). I use my 3rd finger (hence the {d} cut) because it’s the finger I would use in a roll on the B—for me at least, it’s anatomically freer than the 2nd and can generate more pop. Nearly all the Irish fiddlers I’ve had a chance to watch closely also use their 3rd finger. In Old Timey music, I notice some fiddlers use the 2nd finger more, and I’ve heard that this was the case in the earlier days of Irish fiddling as well. As Geoff says, the pitch of that cut note doesn’t matter (because you don’t actually press and hold the string down to the fingerboard), so either finger *can* do the cut—it’s more a matter of which finger is the most effective. Most people seem to get more pop out of that 3rd finger. While it’s not "wrong" to use the 2nd finger, I’d encourage you to give the 3rd another concerted effort.

How you do that cut determines how you play a roll on the same note—the motion is the same, and the timing can be exactly the same. So, if you want to improve the motion and timing of your rolls, first perfect the motion and timing of that cut.

This is *all* in the left hand—all your right hand has to do is supply a strong, steady bow stroke. So let’s break down that left hand.

Let’s stick with the phrase | B2 dB{d}BAFA |.
First, you hold the B2 with your 1st finger. The rest of your fingers are relaxed and curled loosely, hovering just a millimeter or two above the strings. Then your 3rd finger presses down on the d, while your 1st finger stays planted on the B. It’s important here to keep your hand relaxed. The tendency is to clamp harder onto the fingerboard because pressing two fingers down starts to feel like a "grip," and our brains want to use that opposable thumb. Use the least amount of pressure you need to get a clean note.

Now you release the 3rd finger and the B sounds again. While that note is sounding, your 3rd finger rises quickly, pointing nearly straight up. If we freeze frame right now, my hand looks like this: 1st finger holding the B down,
2nd finger curled like a "C" and touching or nearly touching the 1st finger (this helps anchor your hand over the B while the other fingers go wild)
3rd finger 3/4 of the way to standing straight up
4th finger pointing straight up.
My whole hand pivots just slightly so that my palm opens up, away from the neck. In other words, I can look down the fingerboard and see more of my palm than in normal playing position. This pivot motion is very slight, but I think it’s crucial in getting more power and pop into your cuts and rolls.

While you’re hanging there high above the strings, you’re creating the timing of the cut or roll. It’s this time on the B note that creates the rhythmic interest, so savor that anticipation.

Now your 3rd finger zooms down to the string as quickly as it can, using the mass of that side of the hand to pull down with. The pad on the tip of the 3rd finger swats the string approximately where the "d" note would be, but the finger continues across the string, pulling in toward the palm of your hand rather than pressing down onto the fingerboard. Your finger should be so relaxed at this point that it rebounds slightly from its impact with the string. Then it continues on past, ending up almost touching the palm, off the side of the neck. The whole motion is a bit like a Karate chop in that you follow through the target (the string, in this case) so that all your pent up energy is released.

Note that the 2nd and 4th fingers move in sympathy with the 3rd throughout this motion. If anything, the 4th finger is just an exaggeration of the 3rd finger’s movements. The 2nd finger is quieter—never extending as far in the "wind up" phase, and just barely tapping the string or bobbling just above it when the 3rd finger comes down.

Now you’re back on the B, the 1st finger having stayed in place, planted on the string through the whole motion.

For a full roll, you’d release that 1st finger for a split second and place it back on the string. It doesn’t have to come completely off the string—just enough that the B note no longer sounds clearly.

Bear in mind that for most of us mortals, good cuts and rolls do take thousands of hours of practice and a lifetime of playing to finally achieve some consistency. But once they start to click, they’re nearly effortless, like a reflex action. Even after 20 plus years at this, I still like to warm up with a slow tune and very slow, deliberate cut notes, paying careful attention most of all to the timing until it feels "right" to me.

Hope this helps.

Posted .

Oh, and on 2nd finger rolls, I do them 2-3-2-1-2, whether I’m rolling the natural or sharp note. That’s how Burke taught me. On 3rd finger rolls, I do 3-4-3-2-3, and where the 2nd finger is doesn’t matter too much, whether it’s sharp or flat. In all of these, the basic motions are the same as I described above for 1st finger rolls (with the names of the fingers changed to protect the innocent πŸ™‚.

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Re: use of the 3rd finger in a fiddle roll

LOL Will — a veritable flurry of verbiage indeed, but always to the point.

Re: use of the 3rd finger in a fiddle roll

Can you tell, I’m trying to avoid the time sink in the kitchen—we’ve got company coming over (they’re bringing the turkey) and pies and crandberry bread to bake and potatoes to mash…and I’d rather be thinking about tunes. πŸ™‚

Posted .

Re: use of the 3rd finger in a fiddle roll

Heh. Yup, right now I should be painting the family room…thank goodness, we’re going to Pete’s stepbrother’s for dinner! πŸ™‚

Re: use of the 3rd finger in a fiddle roll

The contributions of *every one of you* have been valuable to me, though Will takes the cake - as usual …..; Will, how ‘bout a book: ‘The collected essays on fiddle playing’ by Will Harmon? I’m sure your contributions are interesting for an even much wider audience!

Re: use of the 3rd finger in a fiddle roll

It seems like this thread is going to finish, as we have dealt with all the possible uses of the third finger on rools, but I would like to add something else. Which finger do you use for the low-note cut when you play a roll, let’s say, on Fsharp on the D string?
I use to play that in two different ways: 2-4-2-1-2 or 2-4-2-0-2. I find that the second way, with the open string as low cut, produces a more "break-noise", (I don’t know how to define it), a less melodic sound that I do like in many tunes (for example, the long Fsharp in the first bar of The Wise Maid).
Has anyone else tried to play rolls in this way?
Luigi

Re: use of the 3rd finger in a fiddle roll

Interesting, Luigi. I’ve never thought of coming off to the open string. It works, but for me it’s counterintuitive because I learned that once I’ve planted a finger, it’s best to keep it down, in the likelihood that the tune will return to it shortly and you should avoid extraneous movements. So I tend to lift a finger off a string only if I need to get to the note below it. In your example of the oepning of the Wise Maid, I typically get to that long F sharp by coming up from D and E: DE | ~F3 G FEDE | so it’s more efficient to leave that 1st finger planted on the E until I need to lift it for the open D.

Does that make sense?

Henk, I’m always glad to dissect technique—it helps me think through and understand what’s happening when I play, or when I’m listening to other people play. But I’m curious—are you likely to give the 3rd finger another try, or stick with the 2nd? And what’s your reasoning on the matter? I honestly believe that each of us is different, and so different techniques work for different people. But that’s tempered by the recognition that there are reasons for the similarities in how the top players approach technique. While it may teach us a lot to reinvent the wheel, and to work out our own solutions, we can also learn a lot by mimicking the players we admire.

I happen to share Henk’s enthusiasm for the playing of Kevin Burke, and I’ve been lucky enough to learn directly from the man. So I’m more than happy to pass along my understanding of his approach.

Has anyone else noticed that, while individual approaches to bowing tend to be fairly free-form, improvisational, and sometimes even chaotic, most Irish fiddlers have a relatively systematic, predictable approach to their left hand? Maybe I’m wrong here, or championing the obvious, but it seems to me that a player’s use of left-hand ornaments (rolls, slides, hammer-ons, moving triplets, etc.) tends to fit a pattern, more than bowing does. And there is more consistency in how those left-hand techniques are done. Just a thought.

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Re: use of the 3rd finger in a fiddle roll

…..and yet, Will isn’t it the bowing that is the most important factor is getting the stuff to sound Irish? What always bugs me is in some Irish fiddle books or say in Fiddler Magazine or something, they’ll print a tune, a tune you may be able to find in a dozen other places, but won’t print the bowing marks!

By the way, after reading your deconstruction of bowing, I ran into the music room, picked up my fiddle and realized that somewhere down the line I had switched to using the second finger, and not the third, for the roll, and I’m almost sure I was taught to use the third finger.
But somehow I had the phrase, "the note, the note above, the note, the note below, the note" going through my head, and I think that’s what made me start using the second finger (the note above) rather than the third (2 notes above). Anyway, thanks for straightening me out!

Posted by .

Re: use of the 3rd finger in a fiddle roll

Well, it’s the timing and phrasing that makes it "Irish" to my ear, and that’s bowing, but it’s not necessarily about whether your bow is going up or down, or slurring these notes and single-bowing those, etc. So bowing marks don’t really help all that much, unless you’re really trying to copy someone else’s approach to the tune (which admittedly can be helpful in the early stages). Of course, it also helps to have your cut notes, rolls, and bowed triplets well at hand—they are an important part of the trad sound.

Andee, you’d be well off to erase that "note above and below" stuff from your memory. First off, as you realized in this thread, that’s not always the case. And secondly, it’s better to think of the "grace notes" in a roll not as notes at all. They have no pitch, and they aren’t held for a discernible length of time, like a typical note. They are just flicks of the fingers, interruptions in the vibration of the string. No doubt you already know all that, but I think it helps to keep it clear if you don’t think of them as notes at all.

This discussion also makes it clear that the reason for using the 3rd finger instead of the 2nd to cut or roll a note held by the 1st finger has nothing to do with pitch and everything to do with which finger produces the most effective cut—the cut with the most pop and crispness. For most fiddlers I know, that’d be the 3rd finger, but there are exceptions.

So Andee, which way—2nd or 3rd finger—gives you better rolls and cuts?

Posted .

Re: use of the 3rd finger in a fiddle roll

Will, here’s my answer. My tendency towards the use of the 2nd finger in 1st finger rolls is given by the quest for better timing and sound. It’s - in my case - more ‘to the point’ and sounds more compact, where the third finger sometimes sounds more blurred or even - I’m exaggerating, but to illustrate - a bit hysterical. I’m sure your description - especially where you emphasize the interest of the cut - will help.
What you mentioned about keeping the finger down when you’re likely to return to that finger soon: this reminds me of the way I ’ ve been rolling the third finger quite a lot the past few years:
3-4-1-3. For example the high part of Scotsman over the Border, where this roll is followed by 4-3-1-3-1-0 (no roll, ordinary notes; sorry, I don’t master the ABC). In this way you can leave out the 2nd finger completely. Sounds fine as well.

To conclude : I am intending to use * any* way of rolling that works, depending on the economy of movement and sound that I want. Even if the differences are small, I think that those tiny differences in rolling make my playing more interesting (also for myself) and helps against tensions.

Last one: do you know where to find an explanation about the ABC-system on the web?

Re: use of the 3rd finger in a fiddle roll

Henk, there’s some links to good abc stuff right here in the links section. That’s where I went when I posted my first (and only so far) tune, with Will’s help.

Will, I think the third works better for me, and the reminder not to think of the notes in a roll as notes is a good one. I know it’s more about rhythm, but a reminder is a good thing. and I will try to erase that note above thing out of my brain.

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Re: use of the 3rd finger in a fiddle roll

Our workshop teacher tells us that an Irish fiddle roll when done properly is much more of a percussive thing, unlike the "classical" roll, or "turn" as it’s called by the classical violinists, where all the components of the turn can, and should, be heard as distinct notes in that type of playing.
Trevor

Re: use of the 3rd finger in a fiddle roll

Will, probably I didn’t choose a good example, and I think you are right when you say that on the first bar of The Wise Maid having your finger down on E all the time is more economical. But try with another tune and you’ll see that the fingering 2-4-2-0-2 makes sense, for example, a roll on the c# at the beginning of Contradiction reel, which goes like this: e d / 2c# . Or another reel whose name I can’t remember which starts D F# 2F# G F# E F# . If you join the two F# and play a long roll on them, you’ll see that you don’t need to have your fisrt finger backing the second one, and you can make the open D string sound very easily. Anyway, my question was: have you guys ever tried to play the roll in this way, or have you ever heard of (or listened to) someone doing that?

Re: use of the 3rd finger in a fiddle roll

Luigi, if you read the start of this discussion, you’ll see that I am *considering* 2-3-0-2, which is almost the same.

Andee, thanks for the advice about the links section!

2-3-0-2 sounds a bit violent though, not fitted for all purposes but nice for a change.

Re: use of the 3rd finger in a fiddle roll

Henk, go to http://www.gre.ac.uk/~c.walshaw/abc/ and you’ll find an abc tutorial. I found it helped to print this out when I was first learning abc notation.

And I really like your idea of doing the 3rd finger roll as 3-4-3-1-3, especially in the situation you cite. Makes perfect sense!

Luigi’s 2-3-2-0-2 roll feels more awkward to me—after 20 years of keeping the 1st finger planted through that, it’s a significant change. I can do it easily enough, but my hand feels like it’s lost without that anchor. I find that without the anchor, my roll isn’t as powerful, as full of pop.

Trevor, I agree with your workshop teacher. Rolls are rhythmic devices, not melodic. But there are exceptions. Kevin Glackin’s rolls are less percussive than most. To my ear at first, they sounded slow and a bit spastic, as though his fingers weren’t working right. But the more I listened, I realized he was still getting the rhythmic emphasis he was after, even though he was basically sounding each of the notes.

My personal taste (and that’s all it is) runs more toward Kevin Burke’s rolls—explosive, at least in fast reels and jigs, and full of pop. It’s not about pitch or melody at all. This is the roll popularized by Michael Coleman, and more closely matches what we hear on pipes.

Last August, Sean Smyth showed us a double hammer-on that fits wherever a roll might go. He taught it in the slip jig Baby Rory’s, in the first bar: |ABA AGE ~G3| where the ~G3 is played: FGFG2. (Those F’s are sharp.)

Basically you plant your 2nd finger on F sharp, and then hammer down with the 3rd finger twice in a row, as fast as you can. It sounds like a very short trill. All notes sound—that is, you *can* distinguish their pitch. But the middle GF part goes by almost as quickly as the flicks in a roll. Sean also demonstrated how to play around with the timing of this ornament, to add variety to the tune. It works on any note, as long as you play the lower note just the half-step below it. In other words, if you want to ornament C natural, you start with the 1st finger on B. The lone exception is ornamenting the 1st finger notes this way—start with an open string (for example, to double hammer either B or B flat on the second string, start with the open A).

In the end, I agree with Henk—why not experiment with all the possibilities and see what you like? Different sounds for different musical situations.

Posted .

Re: use of the 3rd finger in a fiddle roll

What you need to do is sit down and practice some good old technical stuff. Like putting your 1st, 2nd and 4th fingers on the string(s) and then tapping the 3rd finger. Or practicing really slow rolls. You see, if you can’t play it slowly, you can’t play it fast either.