Common Fiddle Scales

Common Fiddle Scales

I’m working on playing more scales and was wondering if there’s a handy list of good scales to practice on fiddle that would be common.

I imagine that D and A Major, Minor, Mixolydian and Dorian would be in the list, but maybe I’m wrong (and the best part of the Session is if I’m wrong I’ll get the correction I need! 🙂 ).

There’s also "figure out the key of the tune you’re working on and play that" but that’s also quite a puzzle.

Thanks if anyone has insight!

Re: Common Fiddle Scales

The scales you will most often encounter in Irish Traditional Music are G (one sharp) and D (two sharps) – and their relative natural minors (Aeolian mode), Dorian and Mixolydian modes.

The keys of A (three sharps) and C (no sharps/flats) are not uncommon, and some of their modes may be encountered. F (one flat) also comes up now and again, as does E (three sharps). There are a few showy hornpipes played in Bb (two flats) and Eb (three flats), but they tend to get transposed into more common keys for session purposes; G minor (relative minor to Bb), however, is not uncommon.

As far as minor scales are concerned, you will mainly be dealing with the natural minors (Aeolian mode), as mentioned above, but melodic minor features crop up in some tunes; harmonic minor is unlikely to be of much relevance (unless you are concerning yourself with accompaniment – and even then, harmonies bases on the harmonic minor are not typical of Irish Traditional Music accompaniment).

To summarise:
G major; A Dorian; D Mixolydian; E Aeolian/minor
D major; E Dorian; A Mixolydian; B Aeolian/minor
A major; B Dorian; E Mixolydian (rare); F# Aeolian (rare)
C major; D Dorian; G Mixolydian; A Aeolian/minor
F major; G Dorian; C Mixolydian (rare); D Aeolian/minor
E major (rare)
Bb major (rare); G minor
Eb major (rare)

The first two lines of that list will cover you for the vast majority of tunes. The A major series may be more useful if you lean towards Donegal and/or Scottish repertoire; perhaps C major and F major, if you lean towards Clare and East Galway repertoire. Also, if you lean towards more recent compositions, you might find more tunes in the ‘outlying’ keys (Adam Sutherland originally composed ‘The Road to Errogie’ in B major – but it is almost always played in A in sessions).

There is no harm in becoming familiar with all of these scales and modes. But if you are playing only Irish Traditional Music I would not invest too much time and effort in *practising* scales – once your fingers know where the notes are, there is more to be gained by practising whatever tune it is you want to play. (If you see yourself as a more ‘eclectic’ musician, wanting to improvise in multiple keys and modes, then practising scales is more important – but there are better forums than this one to ask advice on that.)

Re: Common Fiddle Scales

Something I did a while back was to practice, not exactly scales as such, but I would work through all the sharps and flats I thought useful, with a drone, in first and third position. So I’d set up a drone in C and then play

G,A,B,CDEFGABcdefgabagfedcBAGFEDCB,A,G,

Then set the drone to G and play

G,A,B,CDE^FGABcde^fgabag^fedcBAG^FEDCB,A,G,

and so on. You can also do the same thing with the relative minor or whatever mode, and you can also do it up in third position, which I think is useful even if you rarely use it.

Once you can work through as many sharps and flats as you need to comfortably, I would ditch this approach and investigate Sevcik exercises, which are fantastic intonation training and much, much more effective than scales, I think.

Posted by .

Re: Common Fiddle Scales

I too benefited a lot from a period of Sevcik practice. There is also an app called http://www.musicwrench.com/ which gives you live feedback on intonation, which is great for practicing scales etc.

Re: Common Fiddle Scales

I would slightly disagree that scale practice isn’t too important. No it’s not "essential" for trad technique, but it DOES facilitate good intonation, fingering, execution, etc. and keeps the muscle memory fresh. At least a few of them while warming up keeps your fingers "literate" and tone production consistent. It also leads to a more intimate relationship with your fiddle, which is beneficial.

Re: Common Fiddle Scales

Thanks, this was super helpful.

CreadurMawnOrganig : Both the explanation and the summary were super helpful.

Calum: The drone you’re putting on is acting as a tonic for the notes you’re playing even though the exercise is about ensuring you’re getting fingering / visualization down right?

I’ll also check out Sevcik practice!

Thanks!

Re: Common Fiddle Scales

> The drone you’re putting on is acting as a tonic for the notes you’re playing even though the exercise is about ensuring you’re getting fingering / visualization down right?

Yes, it’s just something to intonate against - of course you can always use adjacent strings and so forth but I find a drone means it’s constantly at the front of your mind. To me, at least, it also feels like the same way I intonate when playing with others, against the prevailing background pitch.

Posted by .

Re: Common Fiddle Scales

Harmonizing against a drone is a lot of fun but for learning intonation, I would advise caution. The intonation you will create when doing so might not work too well in most other circumstances. For example, if your drone is D, your ear may well tell you that a nice sweet Bobby-Casey-style F# sounds just right - flatter than equal temperament (i.e. flatter than the F# on a piano). Great for playing unaccompanied, or with other fiddles, or… against a drone. Not so hot when you want to blend with fixed-pitch instruments tuned to equal temperament. 😜

Re: Common Fiddle Scales

Are the fixed-pitch instruments harmonising with equal-temperament thirds (i.e. ~ F#)?
I’m so ready for the weekend.

Posted by .

Re: Common Fiddle Scales

I agree with everything from everyone! (Holy Shite, now that makes a change!) …

I think the idea of a drone is excellent. Too many teachers expect students to "home in" in notes to get the intonation right, but for many, the fiddle fingerboard is like a blank map with a arrow pointing to a dot, saying "You’re here."

These are good drones - single notes, very clean too :

https://darolanger1.bandcamp.com/album/darols-drones-in-all-keys

(Digital download for $10.)

Also, if you only ever do one Sevcik exercise, do #5 from Opus 1, part 1. It’s the go-to for left-hand development and great for developing strength, flexibility and intonation. And - it’s a jig! (well, sort of).

Available here for free :

https://imslp.simssa.ca/files/imglnks/usimg/c/c6/IMSLP24975-School_of_Violin_Technique_Op.1_Book1_for_Violin.pdf

Ignore bowing marks for the moment. It’s for left-hand development only.

Re: Common Fiddle Scales

Lot of good ideas in this thread. Going to check out the Music Wrench app.

At the risk of stating something very obvious— your violin does have some built-in "drones" already, namely the open strings above and below the note you’re playing. I tend to play against open strings as part of my warm up. Of course, the fiddle has to be really well tuned up before you do this.

Also kind of obvious, but it’s worth having a look at the setup of your fiddle— lower action really seems to make intonation easier, and this can often be achieved by slightly re-cutting the bridge. Frankie Gavin, who has amazing and microtonally-precise intonation, has said in interviews that he prefers a low action (I assume for this reason).

Re: Common Fiddle Scales

> Harmonizing against a drone is a lot of fun but for learning intonation, I would advise caution.

Here’s the thing though - as you work through the circle of fifths, the same note will end up in different places anway. The F# of D major isn’t the F# of E major, or G minor. The point of the drone isn’t to hit the note in the exact same spot every time, it’s to hit the note that’s in-tune in that context every time.

Posted by .

Re: Common Fiddle Scales

@Calum :

//Here’s the thing though - as you work through the circle of fifths, the same note will end up in different places anway. The F# of D major isn’t the F# of E major, or G minor.//

Very true, but - would you be able to tell the difference, if you are not playing the fractionally different F#s consecutively? With a drone you are fixed to the tonic note.

Maybe I am misunderstanding you?

Re: Common Fiddle Scales

> would you be able to tell the difference

I think that’s my point! Stiamh is worried that I might end up with a "fixed" F# that never varies according to context, but I’m saying if you are practising in different keys, then you’re already varying it.

And yes, practising against a drone fixes the relationship between the note and the tonic, but I think when playing in *practice* you’ll intonate against what’s most suitable at that moment, because you’re used to listening to your sound against something else.

Posted by .

Re: Common Fiddle Scales

I second the comment above about continued practice of scales. For myself, my intonation and precision are better when I do a little scale work. I try to do a couple scales at the beginning of most practice sessions. I often change them up each day. I also find that practicing the less common scales (flat keys for example) have helped my general way around the fingerboard.

Re: Common Fiddle Scales

@Calum - thanks for the explanation above!

I feel another OP coming on …