Why does bowing matter?
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.