How we divide and subdivide rhythms is the real mystery in fiddling. Jean Carignan, the great Québecois fiddle master, was asked by another fiddler how long it would take to play like him. Raising his left hand, he said, “about ten years, if you work hard.” Raising his right hand, he said, “the rest of your life.” With an endless variety of rhythm choices available, you’ll run out of time before you run out of syncopation!
Rhythm defines fiddling and makes it danceable. Groove is the heart of what we do. How those grooves are pulled out of a melody varies from one country, or region within a country, to another. Rhythms are laid over the downbeat, which either falls directly on the one, or is anticipated or delayed slightly. Beat placement is the ‘floor,’ then the grooves sit on that like furniture. Only when those two right-hand fundamental skills are in place can the left hand start fooling around with triplets and slides and pull-offs and hammer-on techniques (the last added layer of tune decoration). Authenticity in fiddling depends on that groove being there FIRST.
I’ve provided a general guide here, meant to assist my students and others curious about what makes fiddling, well, FIDDLING! To learn more about any one style, immersion (obsession, really!) is key. Find people who play that style well and ask them to help you (with Skype, you can find mentors anywhere). And never stop listening!
The bowing patterns in the JPG below (download a pdf copy) are written in D major, using only the open A string. When there is a slur noted, the note moves up a whole tone and then comes back down. Most examples are two bars long. A few are only one.
I give permission for my students and other string teachers and students to use this as a learning resource, while I retain all publication rights. If you want to reprint this in a book or just want to reblog it, please contact me first.
For more fiddling lore, check out the sample pages for “Fiddling Demystified for Strings.” and of course my other lessons in the sidebar at right. Happy Fiddling!