Tips for arranging a tune for solo violin

Edited: December 1, 2019, 4:17 AM · When I'm around with the violin my grandmother likes listening to me play folk from a booklet she has.

I thought of trying to make an arrangement of one for solo violin for me to play.

Any tips on how to go about this?

Below is the melody in question:
I suppose the most straightforward way would be to play a chord at every place where the chord change is indicated.



Slightly unrelated, but I really like how this one is done:

It's not a folk tune, and Schubert also wrote the piano part which is imitated in the arrangement. It's also above my level as far as playing it goes.

Replies (17)

December 1, 2019, 10:13 AM · For solo violin, it would benefit from a slight rewrite to have the last measure resolve to an actual C.

Next, you can extend the repeat to the first measure since the current repeat part is only a slight variation of measures 2 thru 5.

A simple way to expand the theme is to adopt a sonata structure. The theme you posted would be both the exposition and recapitulation sections.

For the development section, I would switch to the related minor key of Am. The transition to that key can usually be done directly without the hassle of dealing with modulation techniques.

Fill in 9 new measures with the related chord sequence:


Notice the E is not the 5th scale degree chord of Am, but rather the major chord formed by raising the third.

For this development section, start the first measure and last measure with a dotted eighth note on an A.

For the first note of the remaining measures, select one of the chord tones. Let the note progression rise up to reach a climax at about measure 5, then descend back towards the A.

Add an eighth note at the end of each measure that either steps by a second or leaps by a third to the first chord note of the next measure.

Add another eighth note before that one the lands of a chord tone for that measure.

Add a middle quarter note on a chord tone.

Add a sixteenth note that leads into that middle note by a step of a second or a leap of a third.

At this point you can play around with the melody to add more interest and correct odd sounding progressions. For example, leaps upward by fourths or sixths can sound cool, as can a sudden drop by a fifth.

The very last measure gets a D.S. al Coda. Add the "Segno" to measure two. Add the "to Coda" to measure 8. Add the "Coda" to measure 10. Or you can have it jump to a variation of the ending phrase at the bottom of the score.

I would add two eighth notes at the end of measure 10 that step up to the A of the new measure 11, and the E-G sequence from measure 1 to the end of the last measure to transition back to "segno".

December 1, 2019, 11:01 AM · Wow, thank you Carmen for such a detailed response! I'll follow your instructions and see what I can make of it. Will post whatever I come up with.
December 1, 2019, 5:56 PM · Before you arrange a folk tune, play it "many times", exploring both bowing and double stops. Then work for ornaments, dynamic variation, and other stylistic "tricks".

While playing a folk tune is not necessarily "fiddling", thinking more like a fiddler might help you to please your grandmother (and yourself).

While there are dozens of fiddle method books that do a reasonable job, for learning "Old-Time" fiddle style, Ken Kolodner has written a brilliant discussion with great detail, audio examples, and discussion in Old-Time Fiddle Style, 2010 Mel Bay. This guide will cost you a few dollars and hundreds of hours of playing fun as you really get to the heart of this approach to fiddling.

Next, you will need techniques to spin out this short fragment of melody into a playable arrangement, and following Carmen's advice above would be a great step toward this.

But, as you experiment with bowing, etc, you will find different lilts and "grooves" beneath the melody, and to play folk music well, it is a good idea to bring these implicit elements to the surface.

Enjoy … and watch out you don't get hooked on folk music: a little folk is never enough.

December 1, 2019, 8:13 PM · I did a basic pass using the method I posted above, then made a few more refinement passes. Here is a link to a PDF of the sheetmusic. It contains the expanded solo melody, bass/harmony line, and the basic chord changes written above the measures.

In the exposition section, I changed the chord progression to something a little more melancholy rather than just mimicking what is in your posted theme. And I changed up the rhythm a little for added interest.

Feel free to copy, change, mutilate and/or otherwise discard as you wish.

December 1, 2019, 9:04 PM · Christian Howes is recently doing something on working out solo arrangements. Might be worth checking out:
December 2, 2019, 3:55 AM · Graeme, I'll check out that book. And I'll keep vigilant not to get addicted!
Christopher, that looks interesting. I'll check it out in the evening.
Here's the sheet music with some doublestops added to the main theme. That's what I managed yesterday with some fiddling. Sometimes the harmony may have been sacrificed for the benefit of me being able to play the doublestops reliably. Maybe I'll come back to that and try to fix it.

This evening, I'll try to do the same for the development you wrote.

By the way, here are some links to the actual song. It appears that it's actually not a folk song in that the author is known... but it has basically become a folk song.

December 2, 2019, 6:57 AM · Nice! I added your double stops to my Musescore file. It sounds good. It reminds me of street musicians playing folk dances for loose change from my youth.

I am always surprised at how a change in tempo can take a simple melody and transform it into something that sounds completely different.

At the lower limits of American Waltz tempo, I want to sing it, especially if the tempo is handled expressively, like in your first video.

Bring the tempo up to about a 100bpm steady pace and I am ready to do a country or American style waltz.

At a faster pace and maybe a change in the bass line, it would make a good Viennese waltz.

I paid only passing notice to its playability when I first put it together. I changed a few spots where a quick descending legato run could avoid a string crossing but cannot vouch for the playability of everything. I'll try it out on my violin today.

December 2, 2019, 7:01 AM · I meant to mention that the running staccato and tremolo/trill embellishments that the violinist played in the first video might be worth adding as a few more lines as a variation.
Edited: December 3, 2019, 4:14 AM · It would be really interesting to hear your grandmother's thoughts about the song as it is presented in the two videos linked in above. The presentations in the two videos are quite "cultured", rather than folkish. Well, I think so, anyway.

This interests me, since I recommended tasting several different approaches to bowing, because these different approaches contribute to the elements that build the arrangement in quite different ways.

And writing such bowing is more challenging than many people think: don't simply slur a triplet, or a group of four semiquavers. Try some anticipations, and certainly try some ornaments. Seek out cross rhythms that can form a pattern underneath the pulse of 3/4.

Put in plenty of time on this project, because you will learn valuable skills that will last your lifetime.

December 3, 2019, 5:29 AM · Graeme, yes I'm definitely not abandoning the project just have variable amount of time to squeeze it between other things. :)

I will experiment further with the bowing - the words of the song alternate between wistful nostalgia in past tense recounting the authors childhood and the present/future tense realising the childhood is gone. (Come to think of it, it's actually quite similar to Lindenbaum in that aspect. My initial idea was to reflect this idea in the bowing as well.

I'll test out anticipation and other ornaments as well.

As to my grandmother's opinion of that interpretation, I think she would actually prefer it, though I have not asked explicitly. I'll get back to you on that. It's not really that she dislikes classical/classical-like music, it's that she prefers to hear what is familiar to her. She's happens to be most familiar with these traditional songs.

Just out of interest, would you link me to a folk song interpretation that you think is more folkish? I'll try to find a similar Slovenian folk song.


Yeah, this melody really seems like a very dancy tune on the page, but as far as the words, they lend themselves much more the the slower, more lyrical tempo. Not to say other interpretations are invalid.

Unfortunately, haven't had time yet to try out the 2nd theme on my violin yet. It certainly all /seems/ playable. What do you think of a descending approach of (E -> D -> C) to that last C of the second theme?

Speaking of the variation at the beginning of that recording - while I personally find the sonata form approach interesting, the drawback in this context is that it might seem too removed from the original theme as it is now. As far as my grandmother goes, I'm thinking a more compelling approach would be theme and variations. One of the variations could be a sonata form, but I feel it should be preceded by other more similar variations.

December 3, 2019, 9:59 AM · The ending chord progression of the second part is a classic subdominant -> dominant -> tonic cadence. So IV -> V7 -> i (D -> E7 -> Am).

In the posted sample, I decided to stick to the diatonic chord of the minor key, v7 so it should have been notated Em7.

Instead of going to Am, I go to the tonic of the related major key: C.

The reason why it still works is that D is the ii chord of C major, which also performs a subdominant function, and Em7 is the iii chord of C major, which also performs a dominant function. So landing on the C instead of Am still "sounds" like a subdominant -> dominant -> tonic

Switching to Em7 -> D -> C can also work as a simple descending cadence but it doesn't have strong movement to the tonic since it lacks a chord with the dominant function before the tonic. Play around with it and see what you can create.

You can change the composition to theme and variation and still use a sonata structure. Replace the second half with first half. Then change the second half using different rhythmic ideas.

Although classically, all sections of the sonata form are notated with a repeat, in practice, musicians will decide not to play some of the sections with a repeat.

Playing the theme once, the variation once, and then the theme again, is a sonata form played without the repeats.

Another popular method is to play the theme twice (with the repeat), the variation once, then the theme one more time.

After looking at theme a bit more, I realized the chord progression is really:

C -> BmdimM7 -> BmdimM7 -> C
C -> BmdimM7 -> G7 -> C

The Bm chord serves a dominant function but can sound rather dissonant if all the notes of the chord are sounded at once. So when constructing a harmony, you may want to avoid a dense chord in these measures. Also, use it to inform where you place double stops. You might have to change some of them in the Bm measures.

Here is a simple harmony technique that does a good job of outlining a starting harmony line.

When you look at a measure, pick out the notes that land on a beat and also land on a chord tone. For this theme, it is in 3/4 time so you have a potential of 3 beat notes per measure.

For example, the chord of the first measure is C, and the beat notes are C G and E, all of which are chord tones.

Let's number the tones for a chord in root position as 1, 3, 5, 7. For the first measure, the major chord has 1=C, 3=E, 5=G, 7=B.

Now use the following chart to pick out the chord tone, and map it to the notes you should place in the harmony line.

chord tone -> harmony tones
1 -> 3
3 -> 5
5 -> 1 and/or 3
7 -> 3 and/or 5

So for the first measure, the beat notes are (C,G,E) which is (1,5,3) in chord tones.

Using the chart, these convert to (3,1 and/or 3, 5) in the harmony line.

This usually yields a nice sounding bass line. You can then experiment with adding more chord tones to the melody, deleting some of the notes and changing the rhythmic patterns.

December 3, 2019, 6:30 PM · Urban, thousands of videos are available on YouTube. To get you started I have put two links in here. These are players with real skills, but not yet at an standard that most folk could not reach.

This is a "fastish" jig (and most people add the pulse with a foot stomp, though I don't recommend it):

and here is a more pensive tune:

This lady is "rather good", but is an example of more "Eastern European" tradition:

December 8, 2019, 5:13 AM · Here is Phil Berthoud playing in a "Celtic" style, and further illustrating the impact of bowing on folk tunes.

It also illustrates music without the foot stomping. You simply don't need it. I think.

December 8, 2019, 6:53 AM · graeme a question just out of curiosity: that man obviously is good on the violin, but why does he hold the bow like that?
Edited: December 8, 2019, 12:38 PM · In addition to all that excellent detailed advice; There are two genres of solo violin that are satisfying without accompaniment; The very difficult Bach, Paganini, Ysaye, Bartok route, and, the much easier traditional folk fiddle styles. So, resist the temptation to add harmony, double-stops. They don't need it! Some fiddle traditions use lots of open-string double-stops, and you can transpose the key too maximum advantage of that. If you have some composing skill take a look at what Scott Skinner did with Scottish fiddle tunes; theme and variations for solo violin. They also have teaching value and I have occasionally assigned them. Rhythm; that tune would also work as a 2/4 march, with more dotted and reverse-dotted figures.
December 8, 2019, 5:22 PM · jean, fiddlers often hold the bow loosely, with two fingers and thumb, even as far as a quarter of the stick's length from the frog.

They get a light sound, but can more easily make very quick, short bow strokes, with lots of finger and wrist, little arm, movement. Try it out, for a bit of fun.

December 10, 2019, 1:30 PM · Sorry for not replying for a while! The project's been on the back-burner due to work and keeping up with regular practice.

Thank you Carmen, those are some very useful tips. This evening I've been working on this a bit, using the harmonic advice to experiment with a few variations.

Now that I've chekced, I don't think I've found any tradition of Slovenian folk fiddle music. The accordion is much more common.
Usually in this vein:

I will try to keep it reasonable with double-stops/chords, but I like the idea of having a variation where the harmony is more spelled out.
2/4 does fit quite neatly onto this melody!

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