bowing problems - suggestions?

bowing problems - suggestions?

I’ve got a problem concerning my fiddle-technique. I’m now at the point where I can pick up a tune by ear and play it after a while, but unfortunately I get messed up with my bowing all the time. There is no coherence in my bowing pattern and I play the tune differently every time. My aim is to get a constant rhythm into the tune, using the same bowing moves all the time. Do you have any advice? Are there any videoclips
for learning the correct bowing online?
Thanx……Jens

Re: bowing problems - suggestions?

Jens, don’t ruin a good thing. "constant" and "same bowing moves" are not really what you want. It is great that you are using the bow in different ways and reacting to the tunes.

True, I don’t know how differently you are playing the tune every time, but don’t go overboard on the consistent bowing patterns. Actually, check out this post for more information on bowing patterns and practicing:

https://thesession.org/discussions/5579

Seems like it might contain the advice for which you search.

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Re: bowing problems - suggestions?

Careful there, Jode, or you’ll start qualifying as one of our Web Ferrets. ;)

Yeah, what he said, Jens. πŸ™‚

Re: bowing problems - suggestions?

Yep, don’t worry about finding some "correct" bowing—there isn’t any one right way.

But in Irish music, there are some things you can do with the bow that many (if not most) Irish trad fiddlers do, and they will help you get a more authentic sound.

First off—when in doubt, don’t be afraid to use just one bow stroke per note. This "single bow" approach gets boring if you do it through the whole tune, but lots of phrases work just fine when bowed this way. And it’s always a good thing to have to fall back on if you start slurring all over the place and lose the rhythm. Besides, in the beginning, you’ll need to practice keeping a good solid rhythm, with some lift or pulse, just doing single bow strokes—it’s an underappreciated skill among too many fiddlers.

Then get comfortable with some simple slurs. The easiest ones I know of are when you slur just two notes together, for example, in jigs you can slur from the "pick up" note onto the down beat of the next phrase. (If you read sheet music, this means slurring from the last note of one bar onto the first note of the next bar.) Learn to do the slurs on both a down bow and an up bow. Single bow the other notes in each bar just to keep it simple for now. Eventually, you’ll hear other down beats that also beg to be slurred onto.

Next, you can transfer this idea of slurring onto a down beat into reels, again slurring from the last note of one bar onto the first note of the next bar. In reels, these slurs also work well in the middle of the bar—from the last note of the first group of four 1/8 notes to the first note of the next. Like this: |DFAF-GFEF| where you single bow the first three notes, then play FGF all on one bow stroke, then single bow the E and F. To start with, try this "pattern"

down on D
up on F
down on A
up on F and continue up on GF
down on E
up on F

repeat for 20 minutes a day, for 10 days or until your spouse/housemates sneak up behind you with duct tape and wire cutters…..

Then you’re ready to move onto the string crossing shuffle we talk about in the thread that Jode links to above.

Good luck, and keep asking questions.

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Sorry Zina, I did not mean to step on your cross referencing toes!!! Geez, it feels like the time I out-punned the local master punster. He wasn’t happy with me…

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LOL — oh please, no, please do take the title of Web Ferret away from me. Tish wished it on me and I’ve been dodging it ever since!

Re: bowing problems - suggestions?

jensis, there are some video clips on my fiddle site, showing different styles of bowing. They mainly show short phrases, and how to develop rhythms in particular patterns. I play the clips at normal speed, then slow speed.

My site is http://www.worldfiddlemusic.co.uk/ , and there are various clips under ‘bowing technique - basic’ and more under ‘bowing technique - advanced’. If you have Windows Media Player, it’s possible to slow down video clips too.
There’s a reel , ‘Silver Spire’ clip on the home page marked ‘Irish’ above the photo.

There is of course good advice already on this thread from the posters already. These guys are all good knowledgeable players.

Jim

Re: bowing problems - suggestions?

Jim, "good’ is in the ear of the beholder, and you haven’t heard me play yet. And "knowledgeable" assumes that I’m not just passing along what others have taught me, which I am. So your compliment is totally gratuitous, at least applied to me. πŸ™‚ Oh, and I meant to link to your site for Jens’ sake, just spaced it out.

Also, the Matt Cranitch book/cd set, and Kevin Burke’s 2 volume video set both give ample examples of Irish trad bowing. But they’re also both fairly idiosyncratic and not the easiest fiddlers to mimic (unless you happen to have similar neural wiring as Kevin and Matt, in which case you probably wouldn’t be asking the question in the first place. *grin*

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Don’t believe him, Will’s pretty good. I intend to claim his playing for mine. That way he can live down to his modesty and I can sound lots better than I am. ;)

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I’m on a drab plateau lately, for the last 15 years or so. Actually, the worst of it is how often I have days where the fiddle sounds so much worse than banjo or flute, in spite of an exponentially longer apprenticeship on it than the latter two. Sigh.

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"…using the same bowing moves all the time. Do you have any advice? "

You’ve already gotten the good advice (particularly from Will, as usual), so I’ll just leave you with a question to ponder which may (or, of course, may not) alter your point of view on the matter in a manner that can make you a better fiddler:

Why?

Ok, so I lied a bit and will expand on the question a little (Gee. Who woulda thunk that *I* would do something like that. Stefanpaz, feel free to skip over this post. I won’t get insulted or anything)

It’s likely that you have gotten the idea that using the same bowing moves all the time is a "Good Thing" from the classical pedagogy, but Irish music isn’t classical music and the "rules" are different.

Due to the rhythmical and repeated nature of Irish dance music you’ll find many tunes that are "asymmetrical." Notes that you’ll naturally play on the downstroke the first time through will naturally fall on the upstroke the second time through unless you introduce some artificial means (through an ornament or simply lifting the bow and "starting over") of reversing the stroke direction.

Why not simply become a more technically proficient fiddler (despite what the classical pedagogy suggests) and learn to play it both ways?

Which brings us to:

"…I play the tune differently every time."

Which you clearly consider a "Bad Thing," but again, in traditional music, unlike classical, this is a *highly valued skill.*

For God’s sake man, don’t try to stamp that out. *Foster it.*

"And "knowledgeable" assumes that I’m not just passing along what others have taught me, which I am. So your compliment is totally gratuitous, at least applied to me."

Will, don’t sell yourself short. Nobody alive today learned their musical craft in a complete vacuum.

We are all, even those of us that learned strictly by observation and ear, to one extent or another "simply" passing along what others have taught us. Modern western culture has promoted the importance of "orginality" and "invention" all out of true proportion to their actual value. Sometimes doing things with "originality" simply means doing them worse.

As Gothe noted:

"Everything has been thought of. The trick is to think of it again."

"Knowledge" simply means you know something and casts no moral judgements, per se, on how you acquired that knowledge. You obviously know a thing or three and passing it on is keeping the tradition alive. After all, isn’t that the core of the very meaning of "tradition"?

(Anyone who wishes to "nail" me should bookmark this thread, because at some later date, in some other context, I will argue quite vociferously against what I have just said, hence the inclusion of the "per se." Sometimes it may appear that I speak in absolutes, but such is illusion. There are always qualifiers. Usually boatloads of them, so it would take posts much longer than those I already write to cover them all, and years to do it)

"…the fiddle sounds so much worse than banjo or flute…"

I hear you man, but remember, that is simply the nature of the fiddle. It is a damned exasperating instrument and that’s why the classical violin pedagogy is rivaled only by that of the piano. Everyone thinks they sound like crap just trying to sound a single note, even Kevin, Matt and Itzhak.

The greater the accomplishment the harder it is improve, and thus the wider and longer the "plateau."

Maybe you’re just very good. πŸ™‚

KFG

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Sometimes you need to leave it a while and stop thinking about it so hard! When I get confused over bowing it just gets worse and worse so I leave the piece alone for a couple of days, sometimes a week or more, and come back to it fresh. Quite often when I come back to it, the bowing just happens naturally.
And as for bowing it differently every time, I’m sure I do but if it feels right I don’t analyse!!

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Pity me. i run a school of english for chinese students. talk about bowing problems! can’t even walk down a corridor without having to bow 50 times.

πŸ™‚

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Joe Quinn, just be glad that you’re not close enough for me to find something to throw at your head.

*smirk*

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Thank you everybody! I’ll start off with Will’s suggestions and see where it takes me for the present. It’s great to hear so many opinions, I had a good laugh reading it. I don’t think I will lose my intuitively chaotic bowing by trying to get a more coherent rhythm into the tunes. It’s just that I want to get more conscious about what my right hand is doing, that’s all. At the moment I sometimes feel a bit like the slave of the melody and that’s what I’d like to change.

Ok, talk to you later I guess………Jens

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There’s the nub of it—most of the great players I’ve heard talk about this stuff say that their goal is to make *choices* in their bowing, rather than having their bowing dictated by habit. And many of these same players say that if you aren’t conscious of how you bow things, you’re probably tuck in ruts you aren’t even aware of.

That’s been my experience too. Sure, it’s fun to wing along and imagine that your bowing is just an organic outflowing of the tune itself, and there’s a lot to be learned from that approach.There *is* a sense of letting the tune lead the way.

But most of the fiddlers we listen to and aspire to play like know exactly what they’re doing. Not all of them can articulate it, but at some point in their careers, they’ve worked through a bunch of bowing nitty gritty so that when the tune leads them, they are able to follow, no matter where it leads. Looking at it another way, you’re probably unnecessarily limiting yourself—and the music—if you don’t consciously explore more of the possibilities.

Also, all the bowing freedom in the world won’t get you very far if you don’t have solid rhythm, which is driven by the bow hand (and that inner drum that emanates up from your feet right through your gut).

That said, I tend to learn new things with the bow in two (not mutually exclusive) ways: (1) by dissecting what someone else does and applying it to my own playing, and (2) by letting go completely during a session, when the room’s energy will carry me along, and new bowing things happen by themselves if I let them. The first way is methodical and analytical, the second way is wild and unpredictable. I think both approaches are important. Ultimately, I aim to play with control *and* wild abandon. πŸ™‚

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I was comforted by a comment of Oisin McDiarmiada a couple of weeks ago when I asked about all this. He said something along the lines of: "Well, yes, you want to make the choice about it as you play, of course, but in reality, if you practice ways of bowing something, those will be the ways you tend to use." In other words, even players like Oisin will allow habits to take over to some extent — just not to the extent that players like me (ie: not qualifying as expert in any way, shape, or form) do.

And of course, they’ve practiced and polished up their ways of doing the same phrases differently a lot more than I have. And know a lot more tunes. And have more style, drive, blah. blah, blah… ;)

But I’m probably cuter than Oisin. Probably not as cute as Tristan, though.

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Yeah, better players just have a wider range of bowing habits. :-|

Maybe it’s a lot like language, y’know, where most of us make y’know repeated use of a handful of sentence structures and a basic, y’know, vocabulary to express ourselves. We each have a style and certain, y’know, patterns of talking or writing, y’know? Some people, y’know, fall into predictable habits, y’know, and don’t even realize, y’know, that they’re doing it, y’know?

And people who practice self awareness are more able to avoid such pitfalls, but it doesn’t mean they don’t sometimes use some of the same patterms, just more effectively, y’know?

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Will, That echos what I heard in a Randal Bays workshop last fall. He said, "The goal is to have the music guide your bow. In other words, if you … have a really clear idea in your head what you’re trying to do rhythmically and musically, and you work your way through your bowing limitations …. the music … pulls the bow rather than bowing limitations making the music different than it should be."

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Bingo. That’s good stuff from Mr. Bays, and he should know what he’s talking about.

I’m fairly convinced that there are only two ways we know whether we have bowing limitations or not (and I guarrantee that we all do *grin*). First, when we run smack into them trying to play something we’ve never come across before and it sounds nothing like the tune wants to sound. And second, we can ferret out our limitations by paying attention to what we do with the bow. It’s not that complicated—the bow goes up or down, and sometimes notes get slurred on one bow stroke. Of course, the options blossom from there—it’s at once a lot to think about (when you’d rather just be playing music), and actually not that daunting a task if you set your mind to it.

For example. A few years back someone asked a question about which way the bow goes after a bowed triplet. Do you change direction from the last note of the triplet, or do you slur from the last triplet note onto the next note in line? Everyone’s answers quickly made it clear that it depends on what sound you’re after, what strings the notes are on, what tempo you’re playing, etc. I used that thread as a jumping off point to look at my own habits for the note(s) immediately after a bowed triplet, and soon found that I wanted to change some of those habits and also try some options that I really hadn’t recognized before. Certain things became a lot more ingrained for me—like hitting an up bow on a higher string after a down-up-down bowed triplet, which I’d often done before as a slurred down bow. Now either way feels completely natural and I can make the *choice* depending on what I want it to sound like and where the tune is leading me.

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P.S. I’ve heard a number of top notch fiddlers at workshops and lessons talk about the notes immediately following a triplet or roll as being the crux of getting the whole thing to sound good. That’s a good example of the level of detail good musicians sometimes go to when thinking about what they’re doing.

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Think about walking, which you don’t actually think about, you just do it, it is "habit," which in this case simply means an ingrained physical skill.

But of course you do think about walking, otherwise you wouldn’t be in control of your movements.

Bowing is like that. You can’t sit there conciously thinking, "Ok, now put one gram of pressure on a vector 10 degrees counterclockwise." You’d grind completely to a halt and "fall over" if you had to do that. You have to play by "habit." Ingrained physical skill. But that doesn’t mean you completely relinquish concious control.

The reason for the oft given advice to improve by learning more tunes, and for the books of exercises that come from the classical realm, is to develop a set of ingrained skills, habit if you will, from *which* the concious mind can chose, and apply unconciously. It might seem paradoxical, but the greater your set of habits the more concious control you can exercise over them. The fewer habits, the less control, because then you have to think about *how* to walk instead of *where* to walk…

And you fall over.

It’s all just simple patterning, but patterning under intelligent direction.

As your habits become greater in number they also become finer grained, and perhaps wider in scope (learn to play with the fiddle on your arm, or held upright on the knee, or tuned down an octave). They start to blend into each other, giving the feeling of pure "intuitive" playing, but "intuition" is, paradoxically, really just hard won and practiced experience.

*Then* "the music will guide your bow."

"And people who practice self awareness are more able to avoid such pitfalls, but it doesn’t mean they don’t sometimes use some of the same patterms, just more effectively, y’know?"

When was the last time you put on two different color socks? And if you’ve actually done this, did you not think of it as "wrong" and "rectify" the situation? Putting on a matched pair of socks is an ingrained habit that makes life, on the average easier, but it’s also very easy to let that habit control you instead of the other way around. It’s important to have habits, but it’s also important to be aware that they’re habits if you wish retain the ability to make choices.

KFG

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Re: bowing problems - suggestions?

I believe Jim Dorans web site would help. There is also a Fiddle Tutorial CDrom put out for Irish fiddle. I haven’t used it, but a friend has an recommends it. Best Wishes. πŸ˜‰

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I presume you’re refering to the Mad For Trad CDrom? :

http://www.madfortrad.com/

KFG

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Ooops, yes. MadForTrad. Thanks KFG.

The other bowing problem is when you stand too close to begin the downward motion, then bang foreheads with they other person. You have to start from farther away. Too much of this type of bowing leads to brain damage and drinking problems. You miss your mouth and need to drink with a towel under your chin.