DAY 1 – Swannanoa Fiddle Gathering

This week, I’m out in Swannanoa, NC at Warren Wilson College for the Fiddle Week installment of the Swannanoa Gathering camp series.  Many different styles of fiddle are represented and appreciated by staff and students alike.  I’m representing bluegrass fiddle.  Each day I’ll teach two levels and host an open jam session…and each day I’ll share a bit of what we did here.  Enjoy.

Thanks to a student's parent for taking this photo


Students were interested in learning about backup and fills on vocal tunes, the fiddle chop, embellishments of melody, and as one student said, the “intangibles.” Our framework today was the song Nine Pound Hammer (A) Nine.  We learned the vocal melody as interpreted by the fiddle – first as a single note melody, and then spruced up with doublestops and open strings.  We didn’t have time to play fills, but I explained the concept: a support instrument steps into the sonic spotlight in the lyricless spaces between vocal phrases.  Now that we learned the vocal melody, we know where those spaces are.  In a jam session on an unfamiliar song, you might need to listen to the verse and chorus go by once to get a feel where the phrases breathe.  We finished by learning the chords, how to find the I, IV, and V chord of a key and playing a basic backup “chunk” on beats 2 & 4.


The desires of the advanced students are very similar to those of the intermediates.  In truth the classes are similar as well.  The difference is the pace.  In this class, we move faster and can delve deeper into subjects.  When you get to the advanced level though, it’s tough to find tunes that everyone should know but that no one knows.  You have to settle for one that the least people know.  Today’s tune was Cattle in the Cane (Am) Dancin'.  Instead of a bare bones call & response style of learning the melody, I played variations of small melody motifs – hoping to give the students ideas for their own variations and interpretation of the melody.  Chord changes were learned next and we began the dive into the realm of percussive backup.  There was only time for “chunks” on beats 2 & 4 with left hand muting.  Tomorrow will be chop day.


Angelina Baker (D) Appalachian
Arkansas Traveler (D) Bluegrass
Whiskey Before Breakfast (D) Fiddle
Jerusalem Ridge (Am) Kenny
Lost Indian (D) Flame
Cluck Old Hen (A) Songs

Posted in Uncategorized

Upcoming Gigs