Reel bowing

Reel bowing

New to fiddle, banjo convert.

I’ve seen in a few places about bowing reels like down-up-down up. Down for three 8th notes, up for three 8th notes, and then down up for the last two. Kevin Burke gives the example of "Mountain Road:"

|F2 AF BF AF|
|D U DU|

Obviously one doesn’t use one bowing pattern all the time, but would you agree this is a good starting point? Once in a while I nail that pattern and it definitely sounds nice.

Re: Reel bowing

Definitely sounds nice? Yes, then go for it. I would strongly suggest you let yourself be guided by what sounds good to you above anything else. There are any number of ways of bowing that and similar passages - experiment and find out what suits you. I’m surprised to learn that Kevin Burke recommends that bowing. Having listened to him an awful lot 30 years ago I would have expected him to start that phrase on an up-bow, and not to do "needle-threading" in the rocking pedal passage.

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Maybe I’m wrong about Kevin Burke. I’ll check out that video again.

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You’re right. He starts with an up. I had it backwards.

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I’d do this as a basis:
F2 AF BF AE | F2 AF EF DE | F2
U DU DU DU____ DU DU DU___
Puts the naturally stronger down bows in the right place and makes the string crossing easy. In order to make this pattern work the down bows have to use bit more length than the ups, to get back to the same place before the long up.
No harm in doing the DUDU pattern or any other obviously.

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here’s a (or another) video of him actually playing it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NCoW0FqS-4Y


from what i can see he bows that phrase several different ways (as you’d expect), including starting on both an upbow and a downbow. he does seem to slur the three notes FBF in the middle fairly consistently, though.

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Think he’s doing
F2 AF BF AF
U___D___UD as his basic pattern.
There’s every pattern under the sun played though, as you’d expect.

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Nice comment by Stiamh. Once a fiddler, always a fiddler, eh? :-) Cheers.

Chris

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Many years ago I read about this drone pattern bowing (D3 U3 DU) and tried to at least practice that way whenever a tune had the pattern. Somehow it rarely works when I’m going with the flow - my bow is usually somewhere else.

U2 DU DUDU is my emergency exit, D2 UD UDUD is the opposite but doesn’t sound or feel right. Sometimes I change the melody to match my bowing, than the other way around.

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Yup. It’s a useful pattern to get down for those string crossing passages. I’d say try and practice it on an upbow and a downbow. You never know where your bowing will be coming into it.
Do it the other way around too, like (B2A) (FBF) A F. Maybe identify a few different reels where it comes up and play them in a set, so you get lots of practice playing it in context.
Bear in mind it’s not just about the slurring. You’re trying to emphasize the accents by pulsing your bow. A tiny bit of extra pressure and speed on that middle note in the second group of three makes a huge difference.
Once you’re more comfortable with it you could try varying some of the notes and adding ornaments. Given how often it comes up it can be nice to have a few alternative takes on it. Find your own stuff, but I’m talking about simple little changes like, (FG) A (FBF) AF
or (FED)2 A (FBF) A F,
(FA) AAA (triplet) (BFA) F .

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I’ve heard some players holding the F# all the way through the bar, while playing the other notes, ie bars #1, #3, #5 , so there’s less string crossing.

Officially "wrong", maybe, but it still sounds OK.

https://thesession.org/tunes/68 [1st setting]

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Oh yeah a touch of double stopping sounds good. Kevin Burke talks about it in that video I believe. Keep that F# going through the whole thing with the other notes contrasting.

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I don’t know if this is what Jim meant, but it’s interesting to play the entire bar in a single bow. Then you really get the effect of the pedal note sounding like a drone, or a true pedal, and you have to explore how to accent the notes on the higher string. I remember listening intently to a recording of Tommy Peoples eons ago and concluding that the only way he could have achieved the constant sound of the pedal note in one passage was by doing this. And yes it’s quite feasible.

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> Officially "wrong", maybe, but it still sounds OK.

is this really considered "wrong"? maybe i’ve got the wrong end of the stick, but i always thought these phrases are -supposed- to be played that way, with the constant drone on one string and the "melody" on the other string, so while the written music is |F2AFBFAF|, what you actually hear in the melody is closer to |F2A2B2A2| with the drone.

i hear this pretty consistently (or at least i think i do) in the playing of the people like Kevin Burke or Martin Hayes, and i’d always thought -not- doing this was a common reason for people new to playing Irish music not sounding quite right.

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Got it Jim. With all due respect, that was a point hardly worth making, since anyone who has listened to Irish fiddle music for any time at all knows that nobody attempts to play those string-crossing figures clean, but deliberately and wonderfully dirty. Wrong? By the standards of some other class of music perhaps, but totally right in Irish fiddling, as ft suggests. But playing the whole bar with a single bow, now that is worth trying. :-)

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Stiamh, I see what you mean. When I said "wrong", I meant in relation to the way the tunes were notated on here, not so much as the way the tune is actually played. Sorry for any misunderstanding!

Yes, I’ll give the whole bar / single bow a try.

Going from bar #1, and ignoring any lead-in notes, would you do the whole bar on an up-bow or a down-bow?

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I think I’m nowhere near trying to do the whole bar in one stroke, but that’s neat.

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Well, I’ve given it a go, whole bar in one bow, starting on a down-bow. Not difficult to do if you allow yourself enough bow travel, but I don’t think the legato feel suits the tune at all.

I do the accents on notes 2,4,6 in the first bar, and this bowing smooths everything out just a bit too much.

I prefer using a return bow for accents in this one.

Still, just my opinion, and highly personal and subjective :)

Thanks for the suggestion, Stiamh.

https://thesession.org/tunes/68 - 1st setting.

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It’s interesting doing everything in one bow, and it’s worth getting the left hand ornamentation good enough so you can do continuous bowing at will. But it’s not something to be focusing on I don’t think for someone starting out on fiddle.

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I said that playing the whole bar in one bow was interesting, not that I recommended it as a way of playing this tune. It is interesting because it illustrates that just about any permutation is possible (and hence there is no need to take anybody’s recommended patterns as gospel - better to find your own, ones that come naturally out of your listening and experimenting). As an exercise it also helps you get used to making accents in the middle of slurred bowing - while crossing strings to boot.

Apart from mucking about at home I have almost certainly never attempted to play that bar in that tune or any similar bar in any other tune in a single bow. I started exploring that kind of bowing out of curiosity, to see whether it was possible that Tommy Peoples was getting the effect of a continuous drone in similar passages by not changing bow direction. I concluded that it was entirely possible! :-)

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Ben Lennon is a master at bowing two bars of a reel on one bow. He did it easily, on an up bow, with bow to spare. 8) It’s deliberate, not his usual style - but he did say jokingly once that he didn’t know why a bow needs to be as long as it is.

A worthwhile exercise and a bit of fun.

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[I said that playing the whole bar in one bow was interesting, not that I recommended it as a way of playing this tune.]

Well Holy Shite, Stiamh, I wish I’d known that before I spent 26 hours perfecting it. Doggam you.

Just kidding :) :)

I do like the more relaxed sound that Kevin Burke gets on that tune, compared to someone like Frankie Gavin, where you get the feeling of urgency, for want of a better word. Both are fine players of course, and that goes without saying.

On a technical level, I think the way to get the most powerful accents is by staccato - where the bow plays the note, stops dead, then plays the next note, while remaining on the string, and all in the same bow direction.

It’s what I did for the first accent in the clip above, and I think it’s OK, but I’d like something better, other than the pedal bowing. With the pedal bowing, you can still do the accents with increased bow pressure, and it sounds fine to the player, but it doesn’t carry so well to the listener.

The sheer variety of bowing styles, and patterns among Irish Traditional players never ceases to amaze me!

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Arthur,
Sixteen good fiddlers will bow that sixteen different ways. Burke is a good place to start.

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