DAY 4 – Swannanoa Fiddle Gathering

Thursday Night Contra Dance

Rushing the Stage


We picked up where we left off yesterday, with the double stop version of Maiden’s Prayer. I think the cramming of a week of diverse fiddle styles was taking its toll and a more in-depth study of this version was very helpful.  We added an alternate last phrase – one octave up from our normal phrase – with a bonus high E harmonic.  Harmonics are a natural property of vibrating strings and were new to many in this class.  You achieve a harmonic by lightly touching the string (not pressing fully down) on one of the equally divided points of the string – 1/2 way, 1/4 way, 1/3 way…etc.  Last on our list for this tune was a fancy pizzicato tag.  We’re ready for a gig!

To round out the class, I gave the class an intonation/warmup exercise.  Walk chromatically up one string while playing its adjacent upper open string – very slowly paying close attention to all the intervals and getting them in tune (long smooth bows from frog to tip).  When you get to the E string, play the chromatic notes with your open A string.  Now descend on the E, while playing open A. Continue descending and repeat on your lower strings.

One difficult aspect to violin/fiddle intonation is that you need a reference point to play to so that you can tell if you’re out of tune or not.  I use a recording put out by fiddle maestro Darol Anger.  It’s a CD of Perfect Fifth intervals in all 12 keys.  Play a track and play along – scales, tunes, random notes – listen very closely to your pitch and adjust until it sounds “right.” Don’t be afraid to trust your ear.  You can find that Drone CD here.


Awe, Shift! (sorry).  Here are some tips for beginning shifters, and perhaps a good reminder for the rest of us.

• We normally play in 1st Position; this is our reference.
•  2nd Position means your 1st finger is placed where your 2nd normally goes; 3rd Position is when your 1st finger is where your 3rd normally resides….and so on.
• Shift at your elbow, not your wrist; your whole hand & forearm should move together.
• When shifting, keep your finger in contact with the string, lighten the pressure if you need, but feel the distance traveled on the string.
• To practice a shift (3rd Position for example) play your regular 1st finger B on the Astring, then your 3rd finger D on the Astring. Now move your hand, hearing the slide, until your 1st finger plays the D note you just heard. Slide back down to 1st.
• Repeat repeat repeat repeat….as you get better, make the slide lighter and quicker until it disappears.
• When shifting double stops, work on each note individually, then together.

We spent time with an identifiable Vassar Clements double stop shift lick and, like yesterday, moved it around to all keys and finger/openstring combinations.

The day finished with the learning of melody and chords for David Grisman’s E.M.D.


Cripple Creek (A) Cripple
Soldier’s Joy (D) Soldier's
Glory in the Meeting House (E) Glory
June Apple (A) June
Forked Deer (D) Forked
Tennessee Waltz (D) Tennessee

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