Intelligent & Interesting article: "12 Questions Violinists ask about Fiddling"

Intelligent & Interesting article: "12 Questions Violinists ask about Fiddling"

I came across this nice article by Donna Herbert at Strings Magazine, about the differences between the classical "violin" and the folk "fiddle" tradition. It’s refreshingly courteous to both sides of the question.

http://stringsmagazine.com/12-questions-violinists-ask-about-fiddling/

"How many times have you heard someone (perhaps yourself) ask, “What’s the difference between playing a violin and fiddling?” Beyond the short answer, “spelling,” this age-old conundrum invites the ponderer to step beyond stereotypes and assumptions, and to explore music’s many meanings. I’ve encountered the question many times myself. I began as a classically trained violinist, then switched to playing folk music in my 20s. "

Re: Intelligent & Interesting article: "12 Questions Violinists ask about Fiddling"

Interesting article there. Thanks for putting that up.
Having come from the classical side as a kid and picked up this side later on, I see both sides, and it’s a question I’ve been asked a couple of times.
One of the ‘differences’ someone suggested, was that with ‘fiddling’, you hold the fiddle not under the chin, but on the chest, and it’s a different instrument… I think I’ve only ever seen the odd old-style American player holding it like that, but it’s interesting to see peoples perceptions!

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Re: Intelligent & Interesting article: "12 Questions Violinists ask about Fiddling"

This is one of the best answers I’ve heard yet when someone asks why we don’t get bored playing the same 32 bars over and over:

"…don’t underestimate what fiddlers do. How many ways could you rearrange the notes in four or eight or 16 bars of music at 120 bpm, playing the tune authentically with good timing and ornaments, creating tiny rhythmic variations with each repetition yet never losing the outline of the melody, never playing it exactly the same way twice, keeping a rocking offbeat going all the while, changing tunes and keys in medleys and arranging all of them intuitively, without using sheet music?"

From the outside, people tend to think of traditional music as being simple. The tunes might be simple, but the nuances of how they’re played are a lifelong pursuit!

Re: Intelligent & Interesting article: "12 Questions Violinists ask about Fiddling"

There’s a particularly interesting line in the article: "There is no universal standard in fiddling." While that may be true, it doesn’t stop people stating what they believe is correct and what is not. I see two distinct subdivisions of the same genre: Dance fiddling, and Jam-Session fiddling. Unfortunately, in contemporary urbanised life, Dance has become quite rare. Session fiddling, on the other hand, has expanded in leaps and bounds. In this situation, a great emphasis is put on tempi way above Dance playing. Unlike the tradition of Dance, the Session audience is passive; there to be dazzled.

Re: Intelligent & Interesting article: "12 Questions Violinists ask about Fiddling"

Yes that is a good and interesting article Tom. My only objection is to the word "Jamming", but that’s perhaps only as it relates to fiddling ITM, where the word Jamming (in my opinion) is inappropriate.

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Re: Intelligent & Interesting article: "12 Questions Violinists ask about Fiddling"

1) No, ‘jamming’ shouldn’t be used that way - but it is, and ain’t nobody gonna stop it, so - what can yuh do?

2) Who made up this rule that you can’t play a tune through twice the same way? Not that I do, I don’t think, but it’s not something I think about - and I certainly don’t listen to other fiddlers hoping to catch them failing to improvise ….

3) Serious question: can someone explain this: "Most classical music has a stronger accent on the downbeat, while fiddling accents the upbeat for dancers."? As far as I know, I accent the downbeat - and I’ve had no complaints from the dancers … ?

4) I know I’m in a distinct minority on this one, but re: "This modeling is done with the utmost respect, even reverence, for the source, hearing beyond limited technique or the infirmities of age" - to my mind, the "limited technique" IS the technique, more often than not.

Not trying to knock Donna Hebert, by any means; she seems to have been doing good work for many years, now.

Re: Intelligent & Interesting article: "12 Questions Violinists ask about Fiddling"

‘No, ‘jamming’ shouldn’t be used that way - but it is, and ain’t nobody gonna stop it, so - what can yuh do?"…..
Well I would go home immediately. If I was interested in jam I would join the Women’s institute.
I had the same thought as meself about ‘though shalt not play a tune through twice the same way’. And I likewise disagree with that proposed upbeat/downbeat distinction.

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Re: Intelligent & Interesting article: "12 Questions Violinists ask about Fiddling"

I think in ITM we are more exposed to sessions (and recordings) than dances - at least in the US. We are probably worse off for missing that influence.

There is a vigorous contra dance scene in the US where musicians do play for dancers. While you might think contras would emphasize Old Time music, that is far from true these days. At the contras I attend, here in Colorado, there is a lot of cross-over of tunes we regularly hear at sessions, not to mention Canadian tunes.

Re: Intelligent & Interesting article: "12 Questions Violinists ask about Fiddling"

I also find the scratchy-ness of old fiddle recordings a bit off-putting.

On the one had, there is the poor quality of older recordings. I can get past that with, for example, the old 78s by Michael Coleman. I would not say Coleman has a "scratchy" style.

But, clearly some musicians prefer a harder, scratchier quality. I wouldn’t attribute that to infirmity (normally) so much as personal style, i.e. "that’s the way I like it or I’ve always played it".

I prefer a sweet tone, but who am I to say that is how it should be for everybody. I notice that ITM has a place for pure tone and harsh (?) tone. A banjo is more buzzy than a guitar. Matt Malloy or Kevin Crawford plays flute with more reediness than say, Chris Norman who is the king of sweetness.

Re: Intelligent & Interesting article: "12 Questions Violinists ask about Fiddling"

Tom, this is just a B.T.W. - I am not a big old timey fan, but have only recently become aware of what you just explained about the contra dance scene in the US. I am becoming quite a fan. There are not enough people in my local area for me to try and get one going here in Australia (and I am too much of a recluse), but I reckon it could really catch on here if anybody tried to bring it in. I reckon it would work especially well in country towns on a Saturday night or Sunday afternoon.

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Re: Intelligent & Interesting article: "12 Questions Violinists ask about Fiddling"

You can’t blame them for using the word "jamming". First off, the article is about fiddling, not just Irish fiddling. And "jamming" is a term used without raising hackles in a lot of the different styles of fiddling. And when explaining the situation to an outsider, it’s a term that they automatically understand. (I bristle at the term when used in Irish tradition music as much as anyone, BTW)

As far as the downbeat/upbeat emphasis, I tend to agree with the article, but it was somewhat vaguely worded, because it was trying to compare multiple different fiddling styles against classical. The article did say "Regional or ethnic fiddling styles use … [differing] beat placements and degrees of swing changing from one style to the next". Which I think is accurate.

But to really play Irish traditional music well, you shouldn’t be emphasizing the down beat and nothing else. The emphasis moves around a lot, giving the music "lift". Most of the contra dance stuff I have heard doesn’t sound like Irish even if they’re playing Irish tunes, because they tend to pound the down beat. But in Irish, we tend to emphasize some upbeats too (urging the dancer to jump higher - or "lift" off the ground, so that they land back down on the down beat). This is why fiddlers often slur into the beat on jigs, for instance, where the bow stroke starts on the 3, giving it some lift, and then transitions seamlessly into the 1, giving it a nice flow…

To me, that’s one of the joys of this music, moving the emphasis and ornaments around to create an eloquent expression of the melody. If you’re pounding the down beat, it sounds like a march, not a dance. And if you’re pounding the upbeat, it sounds like you’re playing on a pogo stick. Moving the emphasis around is part of what gives the music lift and nyah.

Re: Intelligent & Interesting article: "12 Questions Violinists ask about Fiddling"

‘And "jamming" is a term used without raising hackles in a lot of the different styles of fiddling.’ But it shouldn’t be - that’s my point. But as I said initially: ain’t nothin’ I can do about it (or words to that effect).

Re: upbeat/downbeat. I wasn’t saying she was right or wrong, just that I didn’t think I understood what she meant. If I do understand correctly now - wouldn’t Classical violining do as much beat-shifting as Irish? Maybe not as much syncopation as in some French-Canadian/American fiddling - which is Donna H.’s bailiwick - and much Southern fiddling, but nonetheless …. Just trying to learn here.

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Same with me with that upbeat/downbeat downbeat distinction - I had interpreted it has her who was offering the distinction. I just play what I feel is needed where I feel it is needed. I think Reverend gets to the essence of fiddling when he writes, "To me, that’s one of the joys of this music, moving the emphasis and ornaments around to create an eloquent expression of the melody". I would soon get bored with ITM if that wasn’t true. I sometimes watch classical violinists in an orchestra, and though I totally appreciate the music and the skill levels of the muso’s I think, how boring it must be to not have the freedom of personal expression and to just let fly.

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Re: Intelligent & Interesting article: "12 Questions Violinists ask about Fiddling"

"how boring it must be to not have the freedom of personal expression and to just let fly" - Amen to that!

Re: Intelligent & Interesting article: "12 Questions Violinists ask about Fiddling"

So, when you lot listen to violinists you think how boring it must be for them and they are inhibited in their expression?

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Re: Intelligent & Interesting article: "12 Questions Violinists ask about Fiddling"

No Ben,
I don’t think how boring etc., it would be for *them*, I think how boring it would be for *me* if I had to play like that. I just couldn’t stand it.

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Re: Intelligent & Interesting article: "12 Questions Violinists ask about Fiddling"

//I sometimes watch classical violinists in an orchestra, and though I totally appreciate the music and the skill levels of the muso’s I think, how boring it must be to not have the freedom of personal expression and to just let fly.//

Gobby, just wait till you hear some of these guys on their own. It would be anything but boring, I can assure you!

It’s a different world altogether. Not saying it’s a better world, but it’s certainly different 🙂

Re: Intelligent & Interesting article: "12 Questions Violinists ask about Fiddling"

I appreciate that Jim. I love classical music and I am often in awe of some of the playing. My only point was intended to be that I, as a fiddler, could never be happy playing in an orchestra where all the bows have to robotically go up and down at the same time. I am certainly not putting these guys down, I’m just saying that I couldn’t stand the discipline and rigidity of it all. Hence, I am fiddle player but could never be a ‘violinist’ (in the sense in which we are making the distinction here). I know that you would consider yourself a bit of both ,but me, I am almost *purely* Irish trad, and that for me requires the freedom to do it my own way on any given day. I doubt that I could even enjoy playing in a session because as much as I believe I would be capable, I couldn’t stand being forced to play a tune how I was told I should play it.

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Re: Intelligent & Interesting article: "12 Questions Violinists ask about Fiddling"

I go to hear classical violinists whenever I get the opportunity, but I do not try to play in that genre. However, I can be a critical listener, as I do know how it works. A big difference between Irish session fiddle and Classical is that in the latter genre, the music is arranged. More often than not, in Irish, everyone plays the same thing, and stops after a specific number of rounds.

American fiddle in its early form, was similar in the repartition, but everything changed after the influence of recorded New Orleans Jazz, around the time 1910-20. Like the New Orleans bands, American bands began to take turns with the lead melody, which necessitated the ability to accompany, as well as lead, on the same instrument. This, in turn, encouraged the idea of arrangements. And often lead to an all around "Jam-Session" on the last chorus. This is how Bluegrass evolved out of American popular song and repetitive Appalachian fiddle tunes.

We cannot pretend that Irish fiddle survives in a vacuum of influence. For instance, OÇarolan brought a classical sensibility to Irish music. In Irish fiddle today, we hear dissonance, slides and syncopations that sound very American in overall musicological context.

So, while Jam may not be very Irish circa 1920, the dynamic of everyone playing at once, is very Irish. And what’s in a name?

Re: Intelligent & Interesting article: "12 Questions Violinists ask about Fiddling"

"What’s in a name?"…. Well to me you just made the distinction in a way that I can understand it. You described how "American bands began to take turns with the lead melody, which necessitated the ability to accompany, as well as lead, on the same instrument. This, in turn, encouraged the idea of arrangements. And often lead to an all around "Jam-Session" on the last chorus. " I quite like that idea, but it clearly deserves its separate name.

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Re: Intelligent & Interesting article: "12 Questions Violinists ask about Fiddling"

In my younger days - yes, we’re going back awhile - ‘jamming’ was what rock, jazz, Blues, and maybe Bluegrass musicians did - it wasn’t just a bunch of people playing along with the same song or tune; it was all about improvisation far beyond what you get when any kind of fiddlers get together in a group, far as I know. That’s why I don’t like the way it’s used by everybody nowadays.

Re: Intelligent & Interesting article: "12 Questions Violinists ask about Fiddling"

What on Earth is wrong with the term "jam" in this context?? I’m not trying to pick a fight, but I’ve grown up playing in "jam sessions" in the old-time and New England fiddle traditions, and have never before heard musicians bothered by the term. Can anyone enlighten me?

Re: Intelligent & Interesting article: "12 Questions Violinists ask about Fiddling"

Traditionally, ‘jamming’, as someone said way, way up the thread, was "all about improvisation far beyond what you get when any kind of fiddlers get together in a group". A ‘jam’ was a session where musicians gathered to exercise and push their improvisational abilities. Now, a ‘jam’ seems to be any kind of a somewhat informal musical gathering. Some of us resent it when a useful word loses its useful meaning - but don’t worry; we are a miniscule minority.

Re: Intelligent & Interesting article: "12 Questions Violinists ask about Fiddling"

It’s simple:- ‘jam’ is not a term that is applicable to ITM.

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Re: Intelligent & Interesting article: "12 Questions Violinists ask about Fiddling"

Can we define: A “Session” vs A “Jam”?
Posted by Greg November 27th,2005
https://thesession.org/discussions/8484

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Re: Intelligent & Interesting article: "12 Questions Violinists ask about Fiddling"

How to tell a violin from a fiddle.

Pick up the instrument in question and turn it upside down.

If beer spills out, it’s a fiddle.

If champagne spills out, it’s a violin.

Re: Intelligent & Interesting article: "12 Questions Violinists ask about Fiddling"

It’s a pretty good article, I think. The most interesting part of the article is buried at the end. She points out that most classical violin students don’t grow up to be full-time professionals, and as a result, they don’t get too many chances to play with or for others once they reach adulthood. Fiddling traditions are just a lot more amateur-friendly. I know that once I switched from playing mostly-classical to mostly-fiddle, I wound up playing a lot more, because there were just more places I could go play.

Re: Intelligent & Interesting article: "12 Questions Violinists ask about Fiddling"

i don’t play classical music, but i know quite a few people who do, and i have the impression that it’s -very- dependent on your area: some places have lots of opportunities for amateur / community orchestras and ensembles, while in other places it’s almost impossible to find a chance to play with other people. i suppose this is true to some extent with fiddle music as well, but i think most people have a session of some kind or another reasonably near them.

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Re: Intelligent & Interesting article: "12 Questions Violinists ask about Fiddling"

If you’re an amateur classical musician in a big city you can find people to *play* with, but it’s a lot more work to find an audience— even if you’re content to play for small audiences of pub-goers. There’s a market for intermediate-level folk and jazz players, but not really a market for intermediate-level classical players.

Besides, in fiddling, it’s a lot easier to meet and learn from the pros and advanced players. In classical you inevitably wind up playing with other people who are at the same level as you are.

Re: Intelligent & Interesting article: "12 Questions Violinists ask about Fiddling"

In my area it’s easier for an amateur violin player to get a seat in an (amateur) orchestra than to find people to play ITM with.