How to irish fiddle?

January 24, 2006 at 07:22 AM · Hi,

So i've started an irish band in an attempt to broaden my violin playing. I'm classically trained and have no idea how to mimic the proper irish fiddling style.

Any tips, advice?

Replies (20)

January 24, 2006 at 08:05 AM · Listen to lots of recordings! Go to fiddle shows, etc... :)

I love Celtic fiddle! Admittedly, my background is more on the Scottish side, but both have their similarities. Some basics: Gotta be lose in the right wrist - get to know trad. bowing styles/effects, gotta be in tune (so much is based on arpeggios/modal scales), get to know some of the traditional tunes/licks, get to know how to ornament notes traditionally...

Mostly, I started with listening (my family's background includes Scottish and Swedish), and getting some books with trad. tunes. These often had some of the ornamentations and bowing styles written down, which gives you a starting place of ideas of how to go about it...

Er, sorry, it's late; that's all I can think of right now. Hope it helps!

Have loads of fun!!

January 24, 2006 at 08:42 AM · Listen to Irish fiddle music as much as you can. Find some people who play fiddle in the Irish tradition, meet them, talk to them, watch and play with them. You can't learn Irish fiddle style well if you only use recordings and books. You need to interact with real live Irish fiddlers. I'm classically trained, and I now play Irish, Scottish, American, etc. traditional fiddling in addition to classical violin. Your classical training will serve you well because Irish fiddle music is very technical. (Scottish music is even more so.) The ornamentation techniques make the music sound Irish. I don't know whether you have experience jamming folk or traditional music with other musicians, but it is essential, very different from playing classical music, and lots of fun. You should also consider going to one of the many summer camps with one-week Irish music programs. That is a great way to learn and so much fun. It's really exciting. Have fun!

January 24, 2006 at 01:09 PM · As above, listen a lot and if you can, you should start going to Irish sessions. Sessions are usually welcoming to new musicians and the folks there will give a lot of advice. is a great resource. You might want to do a search on session etiquette before you attend one. There is also a lot of advice on that site regarding fiddle technique, a data base of sessions around the world, and a few thousand tunes.

One thing that really helps to sound like a fiddle is the 3-1 shuffle bowing. That is, if you are playing all eighth notes from the down beat it would look like this: UUDUUUDU|UUDUUUDU|UUDUUUDU

You’ll hear this a lot in Appalachian fiddling but it’s common in Irish too. The trick is to give the back beat some accent but not make it jerky. Check out Kevin Burke’s recordings to hear how this sounds.

Ornaments to focus on are the bowed triplet (some call it the spitting triplet), the cut, and the roll. It took me a lot of listening time before I could really differentiate these. The roll, is like a classical turn but about a gazillion times faster so that it sounds kind of like a cut but with just a little more substance

January 24, 2006 at 01:31 PM · You could try Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann (pronounced "kol-tus kyol-tori air-in"), or CCÉ for short

They teach Irish Fiddle and other related instruments. There may be one in your area

January 24, 2006 at 05:05 PM · Yes, you must listen and play with live musicians!

Scottish music is a nice transition from classical to celtic.

Listen to Alasdair Fraser. Be sure not to neglect his early recordings. Find the music or learn it by ear and play with the recording.

Mostly, have fun and express how you really feel inside yourself...that is what celtic is about.

That, and of course dance music...but that is another whole story.

January 24, 2006 at 05:11 PM · I recommend the CD "My Love is in America." a live concert featuring many of the best Irish fiddlers, Boston, 1991, on Green Linnet Records.

Also, try the book "The Complete Irish Fiddle Player," by Peter Cooper (Mel Bay pub.). A nice progressive approach.

January 24, 2006 at 05:08 PM · Watch out, Alvin, fiddling is addictive!

I second the motion to find both a local Irish session (sometimes spelled seisun) - start with local Irish pubs. If they don't host a gathering, they might have a bulletin board with a notice for one.

You might even start by going to non-Irish sessions -- just folk music sessions, not so specialized, where you'll find people like Pauline and myself who play multiple styles. They'll be happy to point you to the folks who play more Irish music.

Look for events to get you jump-started. Sometimes musicians will hold fiddling master classes/beginner classes, or you'll find a fiddle/dance gathering. Definitely go to one of the summer camps, if you can. They're all over the place, so it shouldn't be too hard to find one that specializes in Irish music.

Contradances or Scottish Balls are good places to start, too. Many contradances have an open band policy, where you can just sit in with the band and play (though it's polite to ask first, as some bands prefer not to have sit-ins). Once you meet one musician, chances are you'll meet more!

Folk music is exactly what it says -- music played by folk. While you can get a lot from books, especially if you're not accustomed to learning tunes by ear, this kind of music is meant to be shared between people. Some musicians even have refused to write down the tunes they know, because they feel so strongly that they don't belong in books.

January 26, 2006 at 04:08 AM · There's just too much to say. Move to Ireland and go into any pub. If you can last, the tunes will repeat and repeat, often going on and on for hours. This way you'll get to know them.

Next would be to get a celtic band recording (exs., the Chieftains, Boys of the Lough) and play along with it, once you have it move on. Modes are more important than traditional ma/mi scales so work on these. Definitely work on accent bowing in triplets and be able to play them anywhere on the bow at any speed. Concentrate on the embellishments and be able to incorporate them at breakneck speeds (this can be very difficult). Get the AABB repeat format stuck in your soul. It will be hard for you to learn the phrasing as classical phrasing demands the bow leave the strings at times. In Celtic music the bow will stay on the string in practically whatever piece you're playing so you'll have to overcome your natural instincts. If you've got a good left hand celtic bow technique will be the hardest thing to learn for you. If your right hand is better than your left that won't help you much since you've been classically trained. Learn the pieces by memory, not by the book (though the book can be ok as a starting point). This is important because the pieces are different everytime and you have to get the idea of a 'finished' piece out of your head or you won't be able to capture the spirit of improvisation. And like any kind of music listen to the harmonic structure and be able to play chorded backup rhythm in syncopation as well as the tune. Learn the relationship between jigs, double jigs, reels, as there is one and these are what are mostly played. Then listen to the likes of Sean McGuire, Paddy Glackin (and other Gael-Linn recordings), and study closely what they do.

Oh, and join and play with whoever you can locally if you can't move to Ireland.

January 27, 2006 at 05:56 AM · If you're wanting to learn basic techniques of Irish fiddling, pick up Kevin Burke's instructional DVDs. There are two of them. They are both excellent. The second one goes into great detail describing the ornaments used. Kevin's bow work is fantastic.

For reels, you usually keep the accents on beats 2 and 4. You have to learn how to achieve a lilting feel. Doug Cole, a St Paul fiddler, has a great tune book out called "The St Paul Slow Sessiun Book". Available at Homestead Pickin' Parlor in Mpls.

January 27, 2006 at 06:55 AM · Uh, Alvin, why did you form an Irish band *before* learning how to play Irish fiddle music?

January 27, 2006 at 12:09 PM · I've been down that road, transforming from classical violin to irish fiddle. It takes some time but very well worth it. the melodies are amazingly beautiful.

I play with bands, and do solo fiddle work as well. First i have to say, it's important to make some quick changes.

1. use much less bow, get control of small bows

2. use very little vibrato

3. listen to irish music every day

4. attend a week long camp or find a teacher

5. understand the rhythm cannot be notated. a jig is neither dotted nor triplet. it's a feel.

6. and a reel is also not dotted. it's a matter of getting a lilt in your playing and bowing it correctly.

7. also, there's a session etiquette. if you're new you have to sit toward the outside. if you don't know the tune, you have to play quietly. if you don't drink, you have to smile a lot.

January 27, 2006 at 04:24 PM · Sandy, I find I have no need of alcohol to loosen me up at a session! After the first tune I'm smiling and laughing as if I've had five whiskey shots already. :)

It also takes me a lot of willpower to leave a good session, and at least an hour to settle down to sleep afterward. Looking forward to rehearsing tonight and a session on Tuesday!

January 28, 2006 at 08:39 AM · Yup, jamming with live musicians is so much fun! I used to play alot with a bagpiper/celtic pianist, and we'd always have a blast. We'd even play in church (a Scottish Presbyterian church), and we'd get everyone hoopin' and hollerin'... Ah, fun times! :) :)

January 29, 2006 at 10:55 PM · I love so many irish fiddle tunes... i play them over and over again with no boredom.

here's a few: the golden keyboard, sligo creek, banish misfortune!!! i could go on...

February 10, 2006 at 06:40 PM · Hi, I'm new to your site. You've no idea how glad I am to hear so much GREAT advice given by 'classicals' on how to get into playing itm (Irish traditional music)Having taught trad for 20 years I've come across most of the pit-falls that classical players will encounter and I have to say Sandy Herrault's advice would save newcomers from a good many of them.

The only other thing I'd add, and stress big time, is that this music is 'in the bow.' It's all about rhythm. So I'd urge you to listen, listen and listen. When you think you've listened enough, go back and listen to it again. Recommended artists: Martin Hayes - for the East Clare style - usually a BIG favourite with most classical players new to the music, as is Kevin Burke (Sligo) and Tommy Peoples (Donegal) Do listen to players such as Eileen Ivers, but be aware this is not pure trad, and if you want to join sessions, don't emulate!) If there are any set dancing classes available, book in. This is dance music, it really helps.

The last point is on technique. Someone said in an earlier post, that the art of playing this music is in the looseness of the wrist. So it is. Try this ... To begin with, don't play a tune, not even slowly and certainly don't attempt ANY kind of ornamentation yet) just play a series of open notes, and instead of allowing your 'back fingers' to rest on the stick as you normally do, hold them away so you've only got your thumb, softly bent under the stick and your index resting on the top in it's usual place. What this'll do is prevent you from lifting or over controling the bow and it'll give you that all important loose wrist. You'll need to stay in the 'tip-'half' of the bow of course, not venture down to the frog end - watch any good trad Irish players and you'll see that's the part of the bow that's used. Then ... for jigs - 6/8 bow out (on an open string) "bacon and suassages" or "Apricot, apricot" 1,2,3, 2,2,3 etc. For reels, bow out "Black and decker, Black and decker". This may take longer than you think it should!! Stick with it, the music is definitely in the bow and if you can get that rhythm with a relaxed swing, you'll be much further down the line, than if you were to attempt to play tunes, from books certainly at speed and certainly to attempt any kind of ornamentation ... or you'll be hanging net curtains on a building site and they'll probably be the wrong size!!!!

Lastly, you'll be very welcome at most sessions, but do get familia with the etiquette and go to listen not to play to begin with.

All the very best with it.


February 10, 2006 at 07:27 PM · In case it's unclear, the previous post is from me Gill Newlyn, not my husband Chris Liddle -I just nicked his log in!!!

February 11, 2006 at 01:37 AM · make sure you don't practice your technique


February 11, 2006 at 02:40 AM · I hope you're kidding--or course good Irish fiddlers practice bowing patterns and ornaments.

February 11, 2006 at 01:12 PM · Re practicing 'technique' both the last posts make sense - check out for all past discussions about bowing techniques - enlightening stuff!

Gill Newlyn.

February 11, 2006 at 01:59 PM · Sorry guys -

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