In my private lessons, I’ve been talking a lot about spotting chords in the tunes my students are learning. I’ve written in previous blogs about how I believe that knowing the shapes of the chords in tunes can help your ear training. Tunes are full of arpeggiated chords and chords form shapes on the fingerboard. Being able to recognize a chord-type melodic fragment and associating it with a finger pattern can help you nail down tunes quicker. You will know what type of frame the melody produces on the finger board. We inherently learn a lot of these shapes just by learning many tunes over time. However, practicing arpeggios is a good suppliment to nailing down these shapes.
This reel, Spey is Spate by the great Scottish composer James Scott Skinner, is a great example of tune containing arpreggios. Not all tunes contain as many blatent arpeggios as this, but most contain a significant amount of chord shapes whether as a direct arpeggio or hidden with some passing tones. It’s in the key of D major. The main chord shapes a tune in this key will spell out are
D major: D F# A
E minor: E G B
G major: G B D
A or A7: A C# E (G)
Before looking at the tune for chords, acquaint yourself in the key of D major by playing through the arpeggios I outlined above. Listen to the mp3 of the tune. Do you hear these chords in the tune?
spey in spate
Let’s work through the first four bars of the tune:
In the first bar we have a straight ahead D major arpeggio. In the third bar, we find the notes of the Em arpeggio. And in the fourth bar, the notes of the A7 arpeggio. After practicing these arpeggios and getting used to the sounds and shapes of them, see if you can find them in the rest of the tune.
Please let me know how you get along!
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.