Fiddle bowing, fluter question

Fiddle bowing, fluter question

Hi all

Some twenty days ago the fiddle has officially entered my life (bought it on a whim while I was travelling and neglected to take the flute with me).

As I like reading, I went through the books of Matt Cranitch, Pete Cooper and Paul McNevin (which I enjoyed despite none of them being as complete and precise as Grey Larsen’s book for flute).

Now, as a flute player, it strikes me that - as far as I understand - the basic bowing pattern in most tune types is one bow stroke per note, with slurs being introduced here and there for groups of few notes. Is this correct or is it simply a suggested approach for beginners? Or am I misunderstanding at all?

When I attempt to play a tune, my tendency is to slur several notes together as I would do with breathing on the flute and rarely find myself performing one bow stroke per note.

I’d be happy to get some feedback on this from fiddlers.


Re: Fiddle bowing, fluter question

One note per bow (hack bowing) is just one of many valid approaches, it can be used by even the best players in places, but not all the time. It sounds as though you’ve gone past what books can teach you. If you don’t have a teacher it is time to get some videos of your favourite players and spend time really studying what their bow is doing.

As a fluter you are probably aware of the importance of articulation. The notes are just the vowels of music, A,E, I,O,U. And just as in speech you need a collection of different consonants to separate the vowels and turn them into intelligible speech, you need articulations to separate the notes and turn them into intelligible music. On your flute that is done with a mixture of fingered ornaments and stuff you do with your mouth (glottal stops, tonguing, I don’t know, I’m not a fluter) on a fiddle you use a mixture of fingered articulations and bowing.

Re: Fiddle bowing, fluter question

It’s all about the bowing 😉

Re: Fiddle bowing, fluter question

Bowings can do all sorts of things. Go back and check out the Cranitch book for some examples. Don’t try to hurry your learning.

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Re: Fiddle bowing, fluter question

> the basic bowing pattern in most tune types is one bow stroke per note

I don’t know if Irish fiddlers would conceptualise it this way, but certainly in Scottish fiddle, the fundamental basis is a down-bow on the first beat of the bar and then where possible, maintaining the up/down bow on quavers, slurring only where necessary to get back to a downbow on the main beat. That’s the fundamental "style" that everything else is built off - even though in practice you rarely actually play like this for any length of time.

Fiddle music in any genre tends to have a sort of "vocabulary" of common bowings, which are more or less difficult depending on what the melody is doing at any given moment. The trick is to be able to play them at will rather than according to what’s convenient. For example, a phrase like


is very easy to hack bow:

vE2 u(BE) vduEvBuE vE2

But for example might be more interesting as

vE2 u(BE d)v(EBE) E2

This latter is *much* more difficult to play, and it’s easy to avoid bothering to work out how to tackle such phrases by retreating into simpler alternatives. And of course there’s nothing wrong with that - your session-mates will not thank you for playing something fancy and badly - but that’s where you find the subtlety in fiddle playing.

Something I didn’t "get" for a long time was what people meant when they said bowing was much, much more important than the left hand. It’s where all the music is.

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Re: Fiddle bowing, fluter question

The bow hand is the breath of the fiddle. That should make it clear for a flute player or singer…

Re: Fiddle bowing, fluter question

Nice read up there! I’ve been wondering about that “waaah” effect.

Re: Fiddle bowing, fluter question

Thank you all for your replies!

Yes Calum, I was very rough in describing it in my post but, yes, that seems to be the fundamental techinque ("down-bow on the first beat of the bar and then where possible, maintaining the up/down bow on quavers, slurring only where necessary to get back to a downbow on the main beat") also on those books.

The analogy bowing/breathing is definitely pertinent, however it seems to me the balance between fingering vs bowing articulation on the fiddle and fingering vs breathing articulation on the flute is different.

Thanks Jason for a very brief but enlightening reading!

In any case, I’ll go very slowly on the fiddle as my focus is on the flute. That’s interesting, though, to explore the same music through another instrument and that’s impressive the amount of knowledge that you can transfer from an instrument to another.

Re: Fiddle bowing, fluter question

Sergio, can I ask a question: do you find it easier to get a good sound from the fiddle because you have had to learn to get a good sound from a flute? Vs the horrible scrapings of beginners - why I have not tried fiddle and stick to fretted instruments. I imagine the ear is better.

Re: Fiddle bowing, fluter question

Hi Lye_Valley_Ned, yes, I think so, at least in part: you have to get control over the pressure you put in your breath (flute) and on your bow (fiddle). A few additional things that I could transfer from the flute and that helped are are:

- the awareness that some 20 mins practice everyday is most effective

- cuts and rolls partly share the same dynamics

- I’m starting on the fiddle with a repertoire of a hundred tunes, which I can easily "find" on the fiddle: this means that I can focus on technique (either left or right hand) without having to concentrate on remembering how the tune goes, and that I can choose the tune so as to focus on a specific aspect.

Re: Fiddle bowing, fluter question

Sergio, I could just add a few things here after all the other useful stuff above :

[U= up-bow, D = down-bow] The DUDU pattern is quite basic, and is referred in fiddle terms as "hack bowing", "saw stroke", or more generally as "detaché" - detached. Christine Martin (in her book Traditional Scottish Fiddling) descibes "hack bowing " as not only DUDU, but each D is long, and each U is short. Imagine something like the hornpipe "Harvest Home" - it’s that type of rhythm.

Using this basic pattern of DUDU, you can still get a good rhythm, without slurring, or with minimal slurring. Normally the accent is on the first D of DUDU, and you can vary this accent by more bow pressure, faster bow speed (thus more bow travel). You can of course change the note you put the accent on, which gives a bit more variation.

Still on DUDU, you can often give an accent by completely skipping a note (on sheet music it would be marked as a rest). Often done on 1 of 2 notes of the same pitch. The note that is skipped is "ghost bowed" - in other words, the bow moves over the note, but with almost zero pressure. It’s a good effect, and it means that the DUDU pattern is preserved, and the rhythm is not upset.

I suppose it’s a bit like on flute, where you have a "silent" accent as you end a note, and pause for breath.

Moving outside of Irish music, still on the DUDU pattern, and staying on a single note, you can reproduce almost every rhythm pattern possible, just by using different bow pressure and bow travel to accent the beat. Almost like the patterns a drummer could make, just using two sticks.

Once you get into the different patterns using slurring, you end up with a huge amount of options. Listing them all in a book does help [Bowing Styles in Irish Fiddle Playing Vol 1, by David Lyth, is excellent], but you’ve really got to listen to all the good players (there’s no shortage of them!), and the variations in style between them all, to really get a proper grasp of what is going on.

One last thing - in the Caoimhin O’ Raghallaigh link above, the bowing he is describing is normally referred to as "chain bowing", and looking at the way the notes are linked, you’ll see why it has this name.

Re: Fiddle bowing, fluter question

> The analogy bowing/breathing is definitely pertinent

Yes, and I think more so as you progress. The difference I think is that the bowing is also rhythmical in a way that breath isn’t - there comes a moment when you find your right arm is very much in a groove which you can use to "support" the tune, for want of a better word.

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Re: Fiddle bowing, fluter question

Hi Jim, thanks for the interesting information! As to the ghost note, yes I suppose it is strictly related to breath pauses on the flute: you would take those by skipping 1 of 2 notes of the same pitch, as you say, or skipping notes in weak positions (which forces you to cope with different phrasing opportunities in your tune and - I think - better appreciate it).

Hi Calum, I am far from that moment but I can see what you mean.

Re: Fiddle bowing, fluter question

Hi Sergio,

Yes, and also with the ghost note technique, you can get almost any rhythm you want, just using DUDU.