Fiddling and Celtic music

October 6, 2016 at 03:29 PM · Does anyone have any advice on how to play fiddle music , celtic music or traditional american music?

I have to learn this.

Any help would be appreciated -Thank You

Replies (12)

October 7, 2016 at 02:13 PM · Alena, generally you need to immerse yourself in the music, listening and watching good performers, taking part in sessions and workshops, and having lessons (group or private). Where all this can happen depends of course on the country where you live, and members here would be better able to advise if they have that information, including how much experience you may already have in playing music of whatever sort.

October 7, 2016 at 04:35 PM · For a quick fix, the book Fiddling for Classical Stiffs will get you started. But as soon as I got a real teacher for fiddle, we dumped the book and went to aural learning. Difficult at first, but worth every minute of effort. And to echo Trevor, listen, listen, listen.

October 7, 2016 at 05:18 PM · Get a computer program like, "Amazing Slow Downer" I know there are others programs that do the same thing. You can hear your favorite fiddler play over and over again, at any speed and get the feel for the music you are trying to learn. I believe learning fiddle is aural based and can learn by replicating and playing along with your recorded, musical hero.

You should also use any and all live, interactive methods for learning.

October 9, 2016 at 11:55 AM · Certainly, listen, listen, listen. But don't abandon reading as much Celitc music as you can.

Once, fiddling was entirely (nah, it wasn't: ask Scott Skinner)an aural tradition. Today, use all the means available to you to learn the fiddling craft, and that includes reading.

If you read, you will cover 30 tunes a night, not as an expert, traditional fiddler, but as a person using all approaches to learning the craft.

In the aural tradition, individual fiddlers bowed their own way. For example, track down Kevin Burke's demonstrations and advice on You Tube, and read Tommy Peoples' recent book, where he teaches his approach to bowing. Pete Cooper's book on Irish fiddling is also a great source of information.

This individual approach to fiddle bowing is fine for the soloist. In an ensemble, it is often just a recipe for muddiness.

To get real speed, you need to be consistent in your bowing, for a particular piece. Annotate a lead sheet with your preferred articulation, and work on this. Oooops, this is using notation in an aural tradition.

Speaking of speed, go to Eva Solongo's web site and read her points on playing quickly. True, she is talking swng bowing in a jazz context. But, her comments on achieving speed are common to all fiddling styles.

I could write a lot more, but I will content myself with these "re-statements": (1) listen all you can; (2) play with as many fiddlers as you can; (3) read a bucket of charts every day -- it really has a role to play in your development; (4) review all of your technique so that you can make the adjustments you need to maintain reel after reel at 120 minims per minute, fully articulated.

October 9, 2016 at 01:10 PM ·

October 9, 2016 at 01:14 PM ·

October 12, 2016 at 02:54 PM · I'm a beginner in this music as well. I try to sit in on Irish sessions usually playing an instrument I'm more familiar with while picking a tune up on fiddle. I combine reading with aural playing when in my studio on each song and then eventually migrate to playing all aurally by memory. The reading helps me to get started but the sooner you wean yourself off the written notes the better.

A few things I've picked up so far that might be helpful. It's best if you can take lessons from a person who has a background in this music. I was fortunate to find someone who has played Irish since she was 4 and now in her 20's she's pretty good at it. There are certain nuances that simply don't translate well into written music and are much easier to learn by hearing.

There are sometimes multiple versions of the same song online and versions with typos, so it's best to determine the most played popular version of a song before learning it or you might end up in a session playing something different than everyone else. Session .com has a great selection of Celtic tunes with differing versions. It might take some investigation to determine the most played accurate version of the song you're learning.

There are popular keys of some songs which are more frequently played

Some jigs are written for pipes with those keys in mind.Not all online music is presented in the correct keys.

Ornamentals are probably one of the biggest things that set celtic fiddle music apart from the rest. Aside from common 6/8, 9/8 and 12/8 timings and keys of D and A , the ornamentals are important. Musicians like Kevin Burke use one style that originated from one part of Ireland. There are many different styles from different parts of Ireland and Scotland.

I'm still working on the ornamentals myself. Good luck!

October 13, 2016 at 01:45 AM · Timothy,your "different versions" comment has many dimensions, I'm afraid, and I think this stems from the "aural tradition"of Celtic music. People forget that the aural tradition flourished among musicians who usually played solo or with just a few other musicians. Mostly, also, they didn't read notation.

Ornaments are played differently, and in different places, by different musicians.

Tunes are "swung" or "straight" (especially reels and hornpipes) almost at whim.

When you play in large ensembles, even sessions, these things are negotiated curiously, and usually the consequence is a lot of fun, but pretty average music. It is one thing to "not mind" this untidiness, and quite another to be oblivious to it.

The keys played in fall into quite a narrow range, major, minor (tonic and relative), and modes (dorian, aeolean, and mixolydian), based on the open strings. Quite rightly, you single out D and A, but G also gets a huge priority. That's fine by me: this is folk music. But as a musician, you owe it to yourself to do a lot of work outside these keys, and also to learn to play beyond first position.

Too often, playing Celtic music becomes a speed test, a competition, almost. Not a lot of music is improved by playing it as fast as you can. (The standard speed for most reels is something like 120 minims per minute.) A lot of fine slow tunes, waltzes and "airs" don't get much attention, but they can be beautiful music.

Enjoy playing Celtic music, for it is fun. But don't get swallowed up in the dogma and parameters of the genre, as many fiddlers have done.

October 13, 2016 at 12:47 PM · Three things I have learned that feel important:

1. the tunes are really intended to be played in social settings, with a range of instruments. They can feel a bit simplistic and thin when played alone, at home. So try and find a session near you to join, and commit the tunes to memory to allow yourself to take part fluidly. In most sessions, tunes are started by someone, spontaneously, without prior discussion - there's no time to search through sheet music to find your copy to play from

2. the available repertoire is enormous, many tens of thousands of tunes across the various styles. Any particular session will only play a tiny subset of this. You can never learn enough tunes in advance of joining a new session to be able to join in. Instead, the best tactic is to attend, see what tunes are played regularly, and learn these. Many tunes will be played week in, week out, so over time you will learn how to take part

3. you really do need to listen to how tunes are played so as to learn how to play them properly. Written music doesn't convey anywhere near enough information. Take Tam Lin (otherwise known as the Glasgow Reel). The "As" at notes 3, 5, and 7 in the first full bar are barely heard when played fast; they exist to give the music its pulse to dance to, and they can even be discarded by a beginner who wants to get up to speed. You would never know this if just working from sheet music.

October 13, 2016 at 02:01 PM · It might help to find a slow session near you. They are generally more tolerant of folks just learning the genre and sometimes have a teaching bent. There you can find plenty of other folks who share your interest and might be able to meet at other times for a jam. Listen as much as you can. If you don't know the music, ask what key it's in and play a coordinating rhythm or drone until you can pick it up.

October 14, 2016 at 01:15 AM · Irish fiddle music has a long and rich tradition and I envy classically trained musicians who have the skills and put in the effort to learn the style. It's great fun and there is no better way to learn than to play with other people and listen to the greats. There is an underlying structure to the style that no one has been able to quantify to my knowledge, and there are countless ways of playing the tunes without abandoning the structure. In my opinion the greatest living Irish fiddler is James Kelly, formerly from Dublin, now in Miami. James embodies the tradition and manages to never play the same tune the same way twice. His bowing varies all the time, depending on the sound he's going for.

Here's a link to a video of three reels played by James during an ad hoc performance I recorded a few months ago. I have the utmost respect for classical violinists and would be interested in any comments on James' performance.

James Kelly Link

October 15, 2016 at 10:33 PM · Timothy, a few days ago in your post you mentioned "" as having a great selection of Celtic tunes with different versions. I think the website you meant was "", which does everything you said and much, much more.

"" belongs to a law firm, so we probably wouldn't want to be going there in this context!

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