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James Plattes

A classical violinist can sound like a fiddler with the use of a bowing technique

August 26, 2010 at 2:25 PM

I want to post this ongoing blog for players.  The topics will be many and will change often.  The first topic will be how a classical player can sound like a country fiddler, with the use of a basic fiddle bowing.

To illustrate this bowing, we'll be using an eight note pattern on the "A" string.  Here are the notes: A, B, C#, D, E, D, C#, B.  Start by slurring the first two notes, up bow.  Now, on C# a quick, accented down bow.  Stay in the middle of the bow.  Next up bow, slur D, E (fourth finger) and D again.  Now, a strong down bow on C#.  The last note of the pattern, C# is an up bow that slurs into the first two notes of the group of 8 all over again.  Keep repeating.  Every time there is a down bow, accent it.  Use 1/8 notes.  Speed up to 16th notes.  As you can see, after the first two-note slur, all the other slurs will be three notes.  This is called by some players the Georgia Shuffle.  Now, take a simple melody, and incorporate this bowing throughout.  Let me know how it works for you please.

I hope I've explained this clearly.  It's an important and fun fiddle type bowing.


This bowing is only a starting point.  It's just one technique of hundreds.  The only real way to play traditional fiddle convincingly is to study and listen to how the master players do it!!!!

Thanks for you comments.  Point well taken!

Posted on August 28, 2010 at 12:38 AM

I thought the shuffle was quite different. Somewhat of a variation on the bowing (bariolage) in the passage spanning 3 strings in Bach's Prelude from Partita # 3.

At 0:14 & 0:38 in this video and at 0:21, 0:51 & 1:21 in this one.

From Ray Chen
Posted on August 28, 2010 at 2:13 AM

Speaking as a somewhat classically trained fiddle player, the above is a tremendous and not quite correct oversimplification of what it takes to sound like a fiddle player.

You'll do fine if you treat the above as "here's how to get a taste of fiddle playing".  If you want to learn more, you need proceed as if you were learning a foreign language:  with an open mind and deep respect for the tradition of that style.  If you trivialize it, you're likely to sound like someone trying to play Vivaldi in the style of say, Mahler - with an electric instrument.  It may sound ok to some but to a serious student of Vivaldi, the result will range from amusing to annoying to downright offensive.  The latter is is especially likely if the person playing claims to be playing in the style of Vivaldi.

Here's why.

The first principle of fiddle bowing is that bow changes are typically not smooth.  The degree of accent on the direction change may vary depending on the fiddle style and the tune.  In some styles, the change of bow direction is pretty heavily accented compared to what a classical player would execute.  In others, the accenting is pretty subtle.

Either way, the change in bow direction changes the quality of the sound and the change in the sound creates rhythm.  A fiddle player is in essence both a melody and rhythm player at the same time.  Singing and drums..  In some styles, the singing is less important than the drumming.  In some styles, the singing is equally or perhaps a bit more important.

Beyond that, the basic principles vary depending on the style and often the regional variant of the style.  Style-specific differences can include syncopated bowing, subtle timing conventions (like swinging the beat in jazz), microtones (deliberately non-standard intonation), and different left-hand ornamentation.  In addition, improvisation often plays a role as well.  In some styles, fiddlers typically improvise melodic variations.  In others, the melodic variations are more constrained but the fiddler often improvises rhythmic (bowing) variations that are subtle enough that they go unnoticed at the conscious level to the untrained ear.

Traditional fiddling styles are different enough that it's important to spend a lot of time listening to music in that style.  The goal is to gain a musical understanding of what makes that style unique, the sonic nuances and conventions of that style and how to use them "idiomatically".

I've spent over 7 years studying my favorite fiddling style and I'm still learning nuances of that style.  I wouldn't claim at all to understand fiddling styles from other countries or even regions without spending a fair amount of time studying those styles.

I'll end by saying that the Georgia Shuffle is indeed a valid bowing pattern.  It's called the Georgia shuffle because that particular pattern is found often in a style of fiddle playing particular to Georgia (in the U.S.).  That style of fiddling is done with *very* short bow strokes and circular bowing motions that as far as I know are not taught in the classical tradition - although I believe classical players are perfectly capable of learning them.  I think of Georgia fiddlig as the way a style might evolve if it were frequently played out in 90 degree (F) heat with 90% relative humidity.

However, it's a mistake to repeat a bowing throughout a tune.  While a (very) few tunes work that way, most tunes do not and repeating a bowing pattern throughout the tune will mark you as a total novice in that style.

From Trevor Jennings
Posted on August 29, 2010 at 4:10 PM

 I would suggest - no, I'll go further, I'll be prescriptive - in order to get anywhere with folk music, be it American, Irish, English, Eastern European, or jazz, you have to acquire the ability to learn the music by ear, without reference to any printed version.  Preferably learn it from a live player, but obviously use recordings if a live player isn't available.  And do a lot of listening.

The basic problem with a sheet music version of a folk music tune is that is but a skeletal shadow of the reality.  Folk music, more so than most other genres, is essentially  unnotatable in its detail (which varies from performance to performance anyway), and is an aural tradition.  An experienced folk musician can indeed look at a sheet music version and work out from that a way in which he would play it as folk music - and he may well depart from the printed version in doing so, but a classical player without experience in folk music doing the same would almost certainly show his classical background.

For the avoidance of doubt, it is quite possible for a musician to play folk fiddle and classical violin at equivalent levels without crossover.  I know several musicians who do, and at a professional level.  It's a matter of wearing different hats for different styles, just as you would with Handel and Bartok.   


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