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Rhythms, Improvisation and Intonation
I had a bit of a classical music background when I started playing fiddle tunes. A contra-dancing friend once remarked to me that a certain fiddler was very popular because she had a solid rhythm, even though she sometimes didn't play in tune. It took me a long time to internalize the fact that most folk music is dance music, not performance-for-an-audience music.
Closely tied to rhythm is the swing, or lift; the slurs and bow pressure applied at the right micro-moment that allow a tune to defy gravity.
Once I got the importance of rhythm in my head, the necessity to be able to improvise assumed first place. An improvisation that emerges from a relationship with the tune, with notes, ornaments and rhythm modified with a delicate (or not so delicate) awareness of the tune, is highly prized in Irish and Cajun music and esteemed in New England and Appalachian music, if only because playing the exact same thing forty times in a row at a dance can drive you crazy.
Closely tied to improvisation is the ability to play without sheet music and to learn by ear. My ability to read any tune at the drop of a hat was of use to friends who played by ear when we needed to learn a new tune in a hurry; but after a few passes through the tune, they had it down and I was still locked into the sheet music. I learned to take the time to memorize music by singing it (in my mind, if I am in public) and practicing it in bits that I could memorize. I am still working on the ability to learn by ear, but the more tunes I play the easier it is. Being in a group that includes instruments that are playing chords is a big help; those chords are audible guideposts.
Then the need for good intonation assumed prominence. A fiddle is usually the melody carrier in a band, and notes that are off are going to be very apparent in a context where you are playing with others. When playing alone, a fast song may hide a lot of wrong pitches, but the wrong pitch will severely weaken open and closing notes, double stops and slow passages.
RHYTHM and SWING
The movable-do-Solfége system allows the musician to sing a song without knowing the words; handy for memorization practice. The 'movable' in description means: DO is the tonic note of the song, not C.
From Solfége, Wikipedia.com.
Ellen Carlson, Tips for Better Practicing, Fiddle Magazine, 2016.
Bruce Molsky, Old Time Fiddling Tips, Strings Magazine YouTube channel.
Michael Martin, Fourteen Steps to Improved Intonation, StringsMagazine.com, Web.
Heather Scott, The Difference between Dark and Amber Rosin, StringsMagazine.com, Web. "Dark rosin is softer and is usually too sticky for hot and humid weather: it is better suited to cool, dry climates. Since light rosin is harder and not as sticky as its darker counterpart, it is also preferable for the higher strings [violin and viola]."
Maura Enright, Proprietor
Author: Maura Enright
©2016 by Maura Enright
Last updated June2016
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