I frequently have students contact me who are
studying law or working on a Ph.D. in a science subject, who are clearly
not planning on becoming professional musicians (though some approach
that level), but who "want to know everything" while mainly their focus
is fiddle. In these cases, I still use Suzuki book 1, but add the
Fiddle Time Runners, and Fiddle Time Joggers, along with a lot of
handouts and a lot of listening but using more an aural tradition [See
"Easy Fiddle" link, below].
By observing the posts on Fiddle Hangout (very friendly list) and Fiddle-L,
a forum based at Brown University, I have come to understand the real
distinction between classical music orientation and folk/fiddle
orientation. Learning fiddle is not done by the book, but by listening
and teaching improvisation techniques. This is the way folk and popular
music is frequently learned, and I highly recommend it.
Like studying the viola, studying fiddle takes
the classically trained violinist out of their comfort zone, and is
wonderful for the development of their musicianship. There are also
sociological and cultural issues, and it's incredibly interesting. [See
also, below: How many difference fiddle styles are there?]
How many different fiddle styles are there?
The "art music" versus popular or folk music discussion:
The distinction is between so-called "art music"
and popular or folk music. This distinction is no longer very
meaningful, however, as the social classes that participate in these
art forms are pretty much completely across-the-board. In other
words, highly educated individuals enjoy playing "fiddle," and
discovering what that art form is about, and students from all social
classes (not just the privileged), study classical music.
There is still some resentment. Sometimes people are taken aback by
the term "art music," assuming that this phrase suggests that other
musics are not art (understandable, actually). But nothing could be
further from the truth. The phrase "art music" is found in every
musicology textbook, and simply means a distinction between
academically oriented music versus popular or folk musics. It is not
If you trace the history of music from the Renaissance to the present,
it is evident how events in music mirror the socioeconomic events in
human history. In the early development of Western "art music," this
music was mostly created for the European wealthy class. There was no
middle class - until the Industrial Revolution.
At that time, entrepreneurs began designing larger concert halls to
accommodate the middle class, who could afford concert tickets, and
the modern stringed, keyboard, brass and woodwind instruments came
into being, in response to the acoustic needs of these big halls.
This is an important fact that students should understand. The
"piano-forte" (our modern piano) was so called because it could play
both loudly and softly; an ability unknown in the previous keyboard
instruments (like the harpsichord), which were designed for the small
"chamber" ensembles, which were an entertainment of the wealthy.
In Arnold Steinhardt's Violin Dreams he wrote about his visit to Mark O'Connor's summer fiddle camp:
where violinists of all types -- jazz,
bluegrass, country and western, blues, rock, Texas style, old-time,
classical, and Cape Breton -- gathered to teach and play. (p. 240, 2006
So he mentions eight styles, other than
classical. I have a couple of questions about this: (a) Should there
be other styles on this list?; and (b) What are the definitions of each?
"In addition to those already mentioned, I'm
aware of the following fiddle styles: Irish, Scottish, French, Swedish,
New England, Midwestern, Quebecois, Southwestern, Alaskan, and
Northwestern. These are just the ones I can pull out of my head at the
moment, and I'm sure there are many more. . .they vary widely in the
type of music played, the bowing styles, and ornamentation. Within
Irish fiddle music alone there are as many different styles as there are
counties in Ireland."
The list is definitely incomplete. There are
other musical cultures in which the violin or fiddle is used
extensively, and the style or styles in which the instrument is played
would not fit any of the categories already listed. For instance, the
violin is a very important instrument in Indian classical music. It is
also played quite a bit in Greek traditional music. The category "Gypsy"
would not be adequate to represent Hungarian traditional playing as
well as Romanian fiddling. We also have all the Native American
traditions of fiddle playing, Metis (ND and Canada), Tarahumara and
other Northern Mexico tribes, Bolivia, etc...
I can think of five very different fiddle
styles in Michoacan. Around Lake Patzcuaro (Morelia, Uruapan); Tierra
Caliente part of Michoacan; the southern coast; Tarascan (native
fiddle); and modern Mariachi, which is found everywhere but seems
strongest to its roots in the western part of the state.
Let me suggest a few styles that have thus far
not been mentioned: Son Huasteca, from Veracruz on the Gulf Coast side
of Mexico and the son and gusto styles from La Tierra Caliente, over on
the Pacific side. Is it proper to call that Son Calientano. And the
fiddle is used in Michoacan, in a configuration that differs from its
neighbors (Son Michoacano?), Also there's some wonderful fiddle music
from the Andes that is unlike any other I've heard. Have you tried to
list the various Indian styles in
North America? Waila, Athabascan, Metis from
the Red River Country, North Woods styles (Anishanabe, Menominee, etc.)
And don't forget the Poles (several varieties right here in Chicago),
and the Danes, and the Finns, and the South Slavs.
I'm not sure if you can even list all the
styles, even in one specific geographic region. West Virginia probably
has a half dozen different styles, to the discerning ear, as does North
Carolina. Eastern Kentucky is different from Western Kentucky, East
Texas/ West Texas, Southern Missouri/Northern Missouri. It goes on and
Thus far, we have:
American fiddling (e.g., New England, Northwestern,
Old Time Fiddling Across America,
David Reiner. 66 carefully transcribed tunes from excellent fiddlers
across various regional and ethnic traditions, as well as history,
bowing and cross-tuning discussions, and stylistic analyses.
Apple Hill, Nelson, NH:
Great camp, but more for intermediate to advanced and the focus of the
camp is for teens and young adult professional track musicians, not
many adult amateurs. Lots of coaching time, but no classes on theory
and such. Also very rustic, be prepared to camp!
Navarro River, Mendocino, CA:
Excellent camp! Adults only, novice to experienced, well rounded
classes on theory and rhythmic dictation in addition to chamber group
playing/coaching, would like more coaching time for groups.