This is the first video in a lesson series for the fiddle called Improvising in Fiddle Tunes. Enjoy this FREE lesson, and go to https://www.myTalentForge.com to find the rest of the series’ videos, which will be released once a week.
Hi I’m Vi Wickam, and this is the first video in a series of lessons for myTalentForge.com.
This series is all about improvising in the context of fiddle tunes. So we’re going to talk a little bit about what is improvising, and what is the difference between improvising in a fiddle tune and improvising in other contexts- such as jazz or swing tunes.
We’re going to look at ways we can do this improvising. And I’m going to actually build this series around a simple old fiddle tune called Soldier’s Joy.
I’m going to give you some practical application on a number of different ways to improvise around that tune.
We’re going to look at getting to know the melody, and how do we define that melody in the tune. And the difference between songs and tunes. And then we’re going to look at practicing improvising.
We are going to break down some practical habits or practice techniques that you can use to learn to improvise better.
So, I’m going to breakdown what these things are going to be about in a little more detail now, and then in the next video, I’m going to actually to start to apply these things.
The first question is what is it to improvise? What does it mean to improvise and specifically what does it mean to improvise with the violin, within the context of fiddle tunes?
So when I look at improvising- improvising is when I play something other than the basic melody of the tune. And generally speaking, that other thing that I play is not something that’s contrived, it’s not a worked up variation, but it is a variation. So it’s a variation on the theme, or a variation on the melody.
But rahter than being contrived or preconceived, it’s something that’s composed on the fly. Or at least in part on the the fly. So this is spontaneous composing. It’s something that I’m doing while I’m playing, but I don’t necessarily don’t know, or I usually don’t know what I’m going to do in advance.
So when I play a fiddle tune, I don’t play it the same every time. I have different variations that I do, and I don’t do those variations at the same time. So I’m spontaneously choosing variations at different points in the song. And I’m choosing different notes, different rhythms, different sequences within that context of the song.
There’s some control to it because this is improvising around a fiddle tune. So, we have what improvising is, but within the context of improvising in fiddle music, there’s a more specific definition, a more specific context.
In fiddle tunes, we don’t just improvise around the chords of the tune. It’s important to know the chords, but we’re not just going to improvise around the chords, we’re going to improvise around the melody of this fiddle tune.
In jazz music, we might get together, we all play the head of the tune, or the main melody of the tune, but then we each take a solo and then that solo is not necessarily at all related to the melody. It could just be notes within the chords that outline the melody.
When we’re improvising in a fiddle tune, we really want to stay closer to the melody. And I would say that if I hear two bars or so of that song, or maybe 6 or 8 notes, 10 notes, I should be able to recognize what tune you’re playing.
So you want to improvise around the melody and close enough to the melody that I continue to recognize it when I listen to you play. That’s an important distinction in fiddle improvising that separates it from improvising in the context of jazz.
That’s kind of the second piece- what is it that separates this and makes this type of improvising unique. It’s that we’re improvising around the melody and we’re staying close enough to the melody that the melody of the song remains recognizable. Or the melody of the most basic tune.
So, some ways that we can improvise, some ways that we can vary this tune, beyond that basic melody that we’re starting out with are by changing the rhythms, by changing the notes, or by changing the bowings. I’ll get into this in much more detail in future lessons, but those are our basic tools. Notes, rhythms, and bowing.
When we’re looking at this basic melody, we need to be able to define what the melody of the tune is, which I’ll give you some tools for breaking that down and finding what is this melody that we’re building on. Because if we don’t know the melody in the tune, if I don’t have a concrete solid idea that this is the melody, I have no business improvising around it because this is fiddle music. This is a fiddle tune.
There is an important tradition that we need to respect, and that melody, while there are variations of what that melody is from person to person, that melody is really important that I have an understanding of that melody. And that I’m not just going off on notes just in that key.
So that’s another important piece that we’ll cover in more detail in future lessons. What is that context that I’m improvising around.
And then finally, we’re going to look at- here are some ways that I can practice improvising. How can I develop licks? A lick, or a toolbox of licks, is groups of patterns of notes that I’ll be able to reuse in other songs. Potentially in other songs in the same key, or maybe I’ll even be able to move that song or that lick to different keys, and find licks that fit in those other keys as well.
Also, looking at how can I just expand my knowledge of being able to play in keys on the instrument. Can I play along with a slowed down play along track maybe for this tune which would be really helpful? Because if I’m going to want to put some of this improvising into action, I probably can’t do it at full speed right off the bat.
So if I slowed things down and had a slowed down play along track, that is a tool that I can use to practice improvising and developing my own voice in improvising.
Finally, just one more idea for this intro- that I can do to take these improvisations that I’ve worked up and put them to the test, I can take these out to a jam. And I can play these from reference and see how they go over. And see if my friends are like “wow! That was really cool!”
Or if they’re like “What did you just do? That was weird.” Or maybe it’s something in between.
So those are a few quick tips or tools that you can use to apply your improvisation, or practice your improvisation. In this next video that’s coming up- we’ll lay out getting to the heart of the melody. And we’ll start with a tune called Soldier’s Joy.
I’ll see you in the next video!