More about chords

by adminKFS on · Leave a comment

My last post about using the melodies of tunes as guides to finding chords generated a lot of feedback. The questions I heard most were ‘How do I learn what notes are in the chords?’ and ‘How do I know what chords are in what key?’

A good place to start learning chords is to work within a particular key – maybe a key that you know a lot of tunes in or are learning tunes in. If you are not sure how to find the chords within a key, I’ll give you a start here with how to find the chords in a major key.

For the chords we are concerned with here, they all come from the notes in the scale. Let’s use A major as an example:

If we stack the notes vertically in thirds, we get our triads in the key. You’ll notice that I assigned each note in the scale a roman numeral. This is why you hear musicians talk about the ‘one chord’ or ‘five chord’, etc. They are referring to it’s place within a key. In A major, the one chord is A major. It’s the chord built from the first note in the scale. The five chord is E major. It’s the chord built from the fifth note in the scale. Thinking of chords in this way allows you to easily transpose.

The pattern of the quality of the chords is always the same for major keys.

I is major
ii is minor
iii is minor

For tunes in a major key, the chords we are most concerned with are the I, the IV, the V and the ii. So in A major, this is A, D, E and B minor. No matter what instrument you play, a good place to start learning these chords is to play the arpeggios. That way, you really begin to understand what the chord tones are for each chord. Once you begin to get those under your fingers, you will soon see these arpeggios in the tunes. Some tunes are more arpeggiated then others but they all contain them in some form.

You can do this for any major key:

  • Write out the scale
  • Stack the notes vertically in thirds (make sure you include all sharps and flats)
  • Play the arpeggios of the I, IV, V and ii chords.

Hope this post gives you a start in learning chords!

Why does bowing matter?

by adminKFS on · 2 comments

For those of you who have attended my workshops, you know that I spend much of the time on bowings. If you are new to the fiddle itself, or are learning a different style, you know how difficult incorporating certain bowing patterns can be. It’s all about coordination – when you learn a new melody and try to incorporate the bowings of a specific style that you are not used to, it can be really tricky at first to work in new bowings and keep the melody together. Recently at one of my workshops, one student, while I was going through the bowings of a tune asked, ‘why does this matter?’

In my experience teaching Cape Breton music, most students tend to be concerned with grace notes to make their playing sound more within the style. While there are grace notes specific to certain fiddle styles, it is really the bowings that set the styles apart. Bowings create a way of phrasing a melody. I can play a specific passage of a tune bowing single stroke (one note per bow), bowing two notes per bow, etc. I can use my bow to articulate a passage in a certain way; I can slur two or more notes making it sound smooth, or I can still put two notes in the same bow and yet make them sound separate and choppy. Common bowing patterns can be identified in any style that are specific to that style.

So it is these specific bowing patterns that make a tune sound Cape Breton, Irish, or Oldtime. In Cape Breton fiddling for example, a lot of the time the bow is on a down bow for the pulse of a tune, especially in a strathspey. If you are constantly on an upstroke on the pulse, you will feel like you are bowing ‘upstream’ and you will not sound much within the style. However, it’s not just the bow direction that matters. How much emphasis you place on a note or a group of notes also creates a certain phrasing along with the bowing pattern. All of this is style specific. And that is why bowing matters.

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