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Non Traditional Unit 1: Early ViolinUnit 2: Baroque Musical Period Unit 3: Classical Musical Period Unit 4: Romantic Musical Period Unit 5: 20th Century Musical PeriodUnit 6: Non Traditional



fiddlin hensley
Fig. 6.11 Fiddlin’ Bill Hensley

Fiddle is a broad term, and is used to describe a stringed instrument, played with a bow (technically, a fiddle is categorized as a chordaphone). In colloquial language, fiddle is often used to describe a member of the violin family, the violin in particular. Throughout music history, the term fiddle has been applied to various instruments such as the Medieval fiddle, Renaissance fiddle, and numerous folk instruments throughout the world. Some of the materials folk fiddles are made of include bamboo, gourd or wood, with bellies made of skin or wood, and one or more strings. Just a few of these varied types of folk fiddles include spike fiddles used in the Middle East such as the rabāb and kamāncheh; China’s huqin and erhu; Mongolia’s huur; and one-stringed fiddles used throughout West Africa (depending on the specific African country, numerous names are used for these African fiddles such as kwakuma, ngime, and kuliktu). The term fiddle is also used with folk instruments such as Norway’s Hardanger fiddle. [87] [88] [89] [90] [91]

Fiddle music is another general term, and is used to describe a vast number of styles ranging from ethnic music played by folk fiddlers, to folk fiddle styles of playing. Although much of the information provided in this overview is directed towards the violin or fiddle, it should be noted that fiddle music is also played by other members of the violin family such as the viola and cello, and the information provided in this section can be applied to all members of the violin family. The following chart highlights some of the major folk fiddle styles of playing. It does not include ethnic music played by folk fiddles, and is by no means comprehensive. Many styles of fiddle playing have regional variations and sub-categories of varied styles, and an entire course could be devoted to each style of fiddle playing (each, with its own interesting origin and unique style of playing). [92] [93] [94] [95]

The following fiddle styles chart provides information about selected fiddle styles.

Fiddle Styles Chart

The following fiddle styles chart provides information about selected fiddle styles.

Bluegrass Bluegrass music is a style of country music that became popular in the 1940s, largely due to the music of Bill Monroe and his group the Blue Grass boys. Monroe and his country music band used distinctive vocal harmonies along with traditional acoustic instruments such as the fiddle, mandolin, banjo, guitar and bass. Bluegrass music incorporated Appalachian fiddle and vocal traditions with country, blues and gospel music, and the result was a unique style of music that is still popular today.

The technique required to perform bluegrass music can be demanding, and virtuoso playing by instrumentalists is frequently utilized. The tempos are often extremely fast, and instrumentalists need to be prepared to “take a break” meaning the instrumentalists take turns playing an improvised solo break while the other musicians provide a harmonic and rhythmic background. Fiddle players frequently use a lot of string crossings and shifting, including shifting while using double-stops. Bluegrass fiddlers often use double-stops with fingered chords to provide a harmony a third or sixth above or below the melody. Fiddle players also need to be prepared to employ slides with the left hand, incorporate blue notes into the music (a flatted third and seventh or fifth of the piece’s scale), and utilize percussive, often syncopated bowing patterns such as the double shuffle used in the fiddle tune Orange Blossom Special.

Cajun Cajun music is a style of traditional folk music associated with Cajuns in southwestern Louisiana. Cajuns are descendants of Acadians, French colonists who settled in Acadia in the early 1600s (Acadia once included parts of the Canadian Maritime provinces such as Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island, as well as parts of New England). In 1713, France ceded control of what is now Nova Scotia to the British, and in 1755, refusal by Acadians to swear loyalty to the British crown, resulted in the Great Expulsion. Between 1755 and 1763, 75% of Acadians were deported. Many Acadians settled in present-day southwest Louisiana where they became known as Cajuns (the term Cajun is a corruption of the word Acadian). Cajun music is a blending of its French roots with folk music from other countries and regions. It interacted with and absorbed features from Scottish and Irish music (from the Acadia period); new tunes for reels, hoedowns and square dances (from southern white folk music); syncopation, percussion idioms and improvisational singing and blues style (from black American music); terraced singing styles (from Amerindian music); a syncopated Carribean beat (from Saint-Domingue immigrants); and incorporated new instruments such as the accordion (from Germany), and the guitar (from Spain).

Cajun music is often played by two fiddlers, one playing the melody, and the other playing a rhythmic accompaniment (often at a lower pitch). Some of the stylistic characteristics of Cajun fiddle music include a driving, rhythmic bowing, and bowing patterns such as the shuffle bow. Double stops are frequently used, including the effect of playing two strings together constantly (either with an open string as a drone effect, regular double stops, or by doubling the pitch an octave higher or lower). Ornaments include the use of blue notes, slides and trills.

Old-time Old-time fiddle music (sometimes called “old timey”) is often defined as danceable old-time fiddle tunes (what one might have encountered at a late 19th century Saturday night dance in the rural Appalachian mountain region). Although old-time fiddle music is considered to be traditional American folk music, the repertory reflects its Anglo-Celtic roots (tunes and traditions from Scottish, English and Irish music). The interpretation of these tunes include aspects of black American music (e.g. phrasing, and syncopation). Dance forms used in old-time rural dance music include the American square dance (based on the French contredanse), the American hoedown (derived from the British hornpipe and reel), and polkas and waltzes (often modified versions of social dances in duple and triple meter). Jigs, the two-step, rag, and schottische are a few of the other popular dances often associated with old-time fiddle music.

Some of the stylistic characteristics of old-time music include the use of a simple, recognizable melody; double stops and drones; and basic bow strokes such as the shuffle and the double shuffle. Additional old-time techniques include foot-stomping and “beating straws.” “Beating straws” requires an assistant to beat a rhythm with two broom straws on two open strings of the fiddle while the fiddler bows a melody on the opposite two strings (steel knitting needles or hardwood sticks are sometimes used for this “beating straws” effect).

Some attribute the term “old-time” to a marketing ploy used in the 1920s to promote record sales of white, rural, agrarian Southerners in the Appalachian mountain region (although terms such as “hillbilly” were also used for these early recordings, some considered “hillbilly” to be a pejorative term). Although early recordings of country music in the 1920s and 1930s do appear to be where the term “old-time” was first used, a revival of interest in “old-time” music has led to multiple modern interpretations of its meaning. Old-time music is largely credited as being the original source for country music, and eventually led to many regional variations. Although country music originally featured fiddles in prominent roles, the use of fiddles in country music soon receded into an accompaniment role, and since country music largely is a vocal form today, it will not be included in this brief overview of fiddle styles.

Western swing Western swing is a form of popular music that originated in Texas during the 1930s. Western swing integrated country music with Mexican fiddle music, blues, and the big band or “swing” style of jazz. Additional characteristics of Western swing include the prominent use of fiddles, electrified instruments, and horns, winds and piano (these instruments were added to create a big band feel).

The repertory of western swing is based on songs, and is an eclectic mix of country music, blues, jazz and popular music. Although the style is predominantly a vocal one, fiddles are prominently featured, and multiple fiddles are often used. In western swing music, fiddles are called on to use techniques such as improvisation (often an improvised version of the melodic line), riffs between sections (a riff is a short, repeated melodic pattern), and the use of a “swing” feel while playing music. Swing rhythm often refers to playing with a triplet feel such as interpreting eighth notes as follows:

swing rhythm
Anglo-Canadian Found in English-speaking parts of Canada, Anglo-Canadian fiddle is a mixture of Scottish, Irish, English, German and United States fiddle styles and music.
Cape Breton Cape Breton, an island off of Canada’s east coast, has a style of fiddling rooted in the Scottish Gaelic tradition (primarily the Highlands form of Scottish fiddle). This style of music is also referred to in Canada as “Cape Breton Scottish music” or “Scottish fiddling.” Forms of Cape Breton music frequently played are reels, hornpipes, jigs and strathspeys.
French-Canadian fiddle music (also known as Québécois fiddle) is a fiddling style found in French speaking parts of Canada such as Quebec and Acadia. Although Acadia, once settled by French colonists in the 17th century is now part of the Canadian Maritime provinces, many Acadians retain strong ties to their original culture and identity (see Cajun music for more Acadian information). The French-Canadian style of fiddle music is a mixture of French folk music with Irish and Scottish fiddle styles. Characteristics include intricate and lively bowing, and the fiddler often adds percussive element such as the fiddler clogging with both feet while playing. Syncopation is frequently used, and the music often emphasizes the first beat of the measure. Predominant forms of fiddle music used in this style include the reel (in cut time), the march, and the six-huit (a tune in 6/8). Extra measures, beats or changes in meter are frequently added to suit the melody, and when this occurs, these irregularly structured pieces are called “crooked” tunes or airs tordus.
Métis The Métis people are descendents of European fur traders and Indian women living on the Plains in west central North America. Métis fiddle music can be found in Canada and parts of the northern United States (e.g. Canadian provinces such as Manitoba, Alberta and Saskatchewan; parts of Ontario, British Columbia and the Northwest Territories; and North Dakota and Montana in the United States). The Métis style of fiddle music is a unique blend of European styles such as French, Scottish and Irish reels, jigs and waltzes, with the dance forms and rhythms of Plains Indian music. Percussive accompaniments to the tunes are often supplied by heel tapping or spoons, and the music is often characterized by an uneven and irregular beat and meter that create a bounce in the music (short bowing patterns also contribute to this bounce). Asymmetric musical phrases are another characteristic, and a barless structure is generally used.
  English fiddle music shares many tunes in common with its Scottish and Irish neighbors. Beginning in the mid-1600s, numerous collections of English dances were published such as John Playford’s 1651 English Dancing Master. English dance tunes became widely used by fiddlers and dance masters throughout the British Isles (Playford’s dancing music became popular in America too). Country dances such as the 17th-century English country dance included dances in a circle, square and longways formations, and these dances contributed to the development of the American square dance. Other popular forms of English fiddle music included jigs, hornpipes, airs, reels (based on Scottish music), Morris dances, and beginning in the 1800s, waltzes, polkas, schottishes and marches.
Clare Clare fiddle music generally features slower tempos than the fiddle music from other Irish regions. This enables the player to focus on the melodic features of the music. Long, fluid bow-strokes, slurs, and extensive left-hand ornamentation are some of the characteristics of the Clare style of fiddle music. Ornaments frequently used include the left-handed roll (comparable to a turn in classical violin technique).
Dongegal Donegal fiddle music features a style that reflects the influence of Scottish fiddling. Donegal fiddle repertory includes Scottish music such as the Highland fling (also called schottische) and strathspey along with other traditional Irish tunes such as reels, jigs, hornpipes and airs. The tempo of Donegal fiddle music is generally fast, and single-note bowing with short strokes is emphasized. Instead of using extensive ornamentation with the left hand (as in other Irish fiddle styles), Dongegal fiddling uses the bow-hand to play ornaments such as trebling (this technique requires the player to play three notes using the same pitch in a triplet pattern with three short bow strokes). Double stops and droning are additional characteristics of this style of fiddle playing (these sounds are used to imitate the sound of the Scottish Highland pipes—bagpipes).
Sliabh Luachra Sliabh Luachra (The Mountain of Rushes), is a style of Irish fiddle music that is also called the Cork-Kerry style. The repertory features fast and lively dancing music, and this music is often used for set dances. Popular dances include polkas and slides (a dance tune in the form of a single jig), along with traditional Irish jigs and hornpipes. Slow airs are also commonly used in this regional style. Open strings are used to provide a drone, and when more than one fiddler is playing, the tune is often played an octave below (Donegal fiddle music uses this technique too). Ornamentation is achieved mainly with the left hand, and the bow hand provides the music with a characteristic rhythm and swing.
Sligo Sligo, an area in the far northwest of Ireland, has a fast and light fiddle style with a rhythm that some describe as having a pulsating lift, bounce and swing. Melodic lines are often highly ornamented with complex mixtures of short and long rolls, single and double grace notes, and trebles. Double stopping is frequently used, and both long and short bows are employed. Sligo fiddle players often use improvisation and variations as they interpret traditional tunes in their own unique style of playing.
Norway Although the term Scandinavian fiddling is often used to describe fiddling in the Scandinavian region of Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Iceland, the fiddle music of Norway and Sweden are the most well-known fiddle styles in this region. Slåtter, a general term for traditional Norwegian folk music, is a frequently used form of Norwegian fiddle music. Specific slåtter dance forms include the halling (a solo man’s dance with a fast, duple meter), gangar (a couples dance with a duple meter and a slow and steady pace), and springar (a couples dance with a triple meter—springar is also called pols in Norwegian, and polska in Swedish music). Dance music introduced to Norway from other European countries is labeled gammaldans, and includes forms such as the polka, mazurka and waltz.

The Norwegian fiddle tradition includes both the regular fiddle (violin), and Norway’s national instrument, the Hardanger fiddle (originally used in south central Norway). The Hardanger fiddle is similar to a violin, and has an additional four or five sympathetic strings below the fingerboard, and a nationalistic form of decoration (see Section 4.5 for an illustration of the Hardanger scroll). Fiddle techniques used in Norwegian fiddle music by both the Hardanger fiddle and violin include the frequent use of scordatura (tuning the instrument to notes other than the traditional G-D-A-E pitches), irregular or syncopated rhythms which are often produced by asymmetrical bowing patterns, and foot stomping.

Sweden Sweden shares many folk music traditions with Norway and other Scandinavian countries. Spelmansböcker, 18th-19th century Swedish fiddle tune books, share some of the same repertory with other Scandinavian countries. The music of Central and Western Europe also influenced Swedish folk music. Some of the music forms used in Swedish fiddling include popular dance tunes used throughout Scandanavia such as the polska, waltz, schottische, polka and mazurka. The polska, a dance in 3/4 time, is one of the most popular dances in Swedish folk music, and is derived from the European polonaise. Several forms of the polska are used, and it is generally played slower than a waltz, with a beat emphasis of ONE-two-THREE in each measure. Other common Swedish fiddle tunes include the gånglåt (a walking or marching tune), brudmarsch (a wedding march), and skänklåt (often played at weddings when gifts are given to the bride and groom). Some fiddle players embellish their music with double stops, triplets, and syncopation or rhythmic variations to the music. Scordatura is frequently used, and one of the most common ways to retune the violin is A-D-A-E (this tuning is often used in the western parts of Sweden). Swedish fiddle music also uses the standard violin tuning G-D-A-E.

Although the fiddle (violin) has always been the predominant instrument associated with Swedish folk music, Sweden also has a folk fiddle called the nyckelharpa (also called a keyed fiddle). Instead of using fingers to stop the strings, nyckelharpa have wooden keys that are pressed to stop the strings and create different pitches (these keys are attached to tangents under the string that reach up and press against the string to change the note’s pitch). A short, curved bow is used to play the nyckelharpa, and like the Hardanger fiddle, the nyckelharpa has sympathetic strings under the fingerboard that resonate while the instrument is being played. Several versions of the nyckelharpa have been used throughout its history (the earliest picture of a nyckelharpa dates back to 1350). Since the 1970s, a revival of interest in Swedish folk music traditions has led to a resurgence of interest in the nyckelharpa. Four versions of the instrument are used today, and one of the most popular versions is a chromatic nyckelharpa developed in the 1920s. It has a three octave range, and has three melody strings, one drone string, 12 resonance strings, and approximately 37 wooden keys.

Borders Borders fiddle music often uses a heavy style of double stopping and chording (chording adds harmonic accompaniment to a piece, and is generally done using double stops). Popular forms of Borders fiddle music include hornpipes and airs. Fiddlers frequently play in pairs or trios, and the music is embellished with techniques such as slurs, bowing notes with single strokes, and snap bowing. Snap bowing is a technique where two notes are bowed in the same direction (often a dotted quarter followed by a sixteenth note), with a bite or martelé sound on the second note, and a slight space or rest between the notes. This is not the same thing as the Scotch snap, a Scottish rhythmic pattern used in strathspey music (see Fiddle Tunes Chart for an example of the Scotch snap and strathspey).
East Coast The East Coast style of fiddle music is more technically challenging than fiddle music from other regions of Scotland, and East Coast fiddle music is related to classical forms of music and traditional violin technique. East Coast fiddle music often requires the fiddler to use higher positions (other regions predominantly use the violin’s first position), and tunes frequently use difficult keys such as those with flats. Chromatic passages, double stops, triple stops and unison notes are commonly used, and bowing styles include staccato and the up driven bow (the up driven bow is a quick down bow followed by three consecutive up-bows). Classical turns and trills are often used to ornament this style, and musical forms include dances used throughout Scotland such as strathspeys, reels, jigs, marches and airs.
Orkney The Orkney fiddle style utilizes a simple, flowing bow stroke (slurs are not commonly used), a clear statement of the melody, and little or no vibrato. Other than occasional grace notes, ornaments are seldom used. Keys frequently used include A, D and G, and most of the music is in first position. Orkney fiddlers often hold their instrument angled down, and some of the main dance forms used in Orkney fiddle music are polkas and reels.
Shetland The Shetland fiddle style of playing was influenced by Norwegian music and the Hardanger fiddle. Double stops are easily played on the Hardanger fiddle (this is because its bridge is flatter than a violin’s bridge), and Shetland music imitates this sound with a technique called “ringing strings” (open strings are played above or below the string the melody is played on). Double stops, playing in octaves and scordatura tuning are frequently used, and keys are often changed within a tune. Syncopated rhythms and strong accents are employed, often through the use of bowing techniques such as “back bowing” (this bowing uses an up bow on the strong beat of the bar, often producing an accent). Other bowing techniques include cross bowing (the first note of the slur begins on the off beat of this bowing pattern; e.g. a dotted eighth, followed by a sixteenth note slurred to a dotted eighth). Musical forms frequently found in Shetland music include dance music such as reels and hornpipes; descriptive or listening pieces such as airs; ritual music such as wedding marches; and work music such as mill tunes (mill tunes were once played while mechanical work was being done in the mills).
West Coast Highland West Coast Highland fiddle music frequently imitates the sound of the bagpipe through the use of ornamentation and drones. When grace notes are used for ornaments, they often are played rapidly in imitation of bagpipe grace notes, and tunes frequently use only the notes of a bagpipe scale (tunes in major keys often flatten the seventh note, in imitation of the bagpipe scale). When more than one fiddler is present, tunes are frequently played in octaves. Bowing is generally done separately in the middle of the bow, and ornamentation includes triplets and birls (birls are a pattern of three identical pitches played with separate bows, often in the rhythm short-short-long). Popular forms of Highland dances include the Highland reel; marches (including the 2/4 pipe march, a form used by bagpipes); airs (often played with a free rhythm); strathespeys; and jigs.