Chords! Chords! Chords!

Apr 09, 2016

Hi! Welcome to my vlog. Today I’m going to talk about chords again. A lot of people have been asking me (now that I’m posting a lot of tunes, and breaking a lot of tunes down). It’s like “What are the chords? What do you do with the chords? How do you figure out the chords? Chords! Chords! Chords!”

Well, chords are a huge part of Cajun fiddle, especially modern-day, today’s time. As a Cajun fiddler, most of the time you’re backing up the accordion and you’re also backing up the singer when they sing, with chords. And I think the easiest way to think of yourself when you’re doing that is almost like a guitar player. So just like a guitar player’s gonna play a G chord, a C chord, a D chord, an F chord. If you’re just starting as a Cajun fiddler, those are the ones to really focus on. There are tunes where we do play other chords but for the most part, those four are the ones.

Then the next thing to think about is the timing that you’re gonna play those chords in. So most of the tunes are either a waltz or a two-step. So in a waltz, it’s a three, four key signature. So you’re gonna worry about three beats in a waltz, and in a two-step, it’s four beats per measure. So for the two-step and anything like that, me personally, every fiddler is different, I like to use a shuffle bowing.

So I am just gonna start on with a G chord. I play the G chord like this. The first finger barring the G and D…[1:48]

So one first finger just barring two strings

And the shuffle. An easy way to remember the shuffle is “I’m happy you’re happy”. That’s kind of a good way to start it off…[2:00]

That kind of thing.

One of the most important things, when you do chords, is to have your fiddle in tune. You’ll be surprised how challenging it is when your fiddle is just a little out of tune. So make sure your fiddle is in tune. That’s number one.

So the fiddle shuffle for a two-step, even a reel, any fast tune, I’m gonna do a shuffle bowing, I’m gonna just hold that G chord…[2:36]

Okay. So that’s the rhythm I’d use for a two-step. I’m gonna use the same chord but now I’m gonna do a waltz rhythm. So this is three, four: one two three…[2:52]

Okay. So very simple, I’m just bowing one two three, one two three. You could add more stuff in there, definitely. You know, always start off simple. That’s the best way to enjoy learning the Cajun fiddle. So start off simple. Don’t try to figure out too much, too fast, and a great way to practice seconding is actually playing along with the records. So if you can find records that are in the key, I’m tuned down right now, Cajun tuning, so if you can find records with an accordion or the fiddle in the key of G, C, or even F, those would be great tunes to practice seconding along with.

So that’s about the rhythms basically. Let’s just talk about the chords. I personally like to play the chords pretty much in their lowest form because I like a lot of old-timey seconding so, later on, I’ll show how you can do some rocking with the low chords. So the G, I just bar the first finger on the low G and E….[4:16]

That’s my G. If you’ve learned these chords tuned up first, they’re the same shapes, they are just up a letter. So if you think about that just like  I’m playing a G like this, if I was tuned up on a standard violin, it would be an A chord. So it works the same.

Then my C chord, I like the C chord. It’s a first finger on the G and an open D…[4:42]…Okay, that’s my C chord there.

Then the F chord, I just play open G and D…[4:54]…That’s my F.

FOR my D chord, I play a first finger barred across the D and the A. So it’s the same shape as the G chord, just up a string…[5:05]

So what you can do to just practice without playing along with a tune, just to practice jumping from chord to chord like if you would on guitar, if you were learning guitar, is you can just take those four chords, choose a timing, either a waltz or a two-step and just jump from chord to chord, whatever you want to do. It could be random chords, it doesn’t have to be a pattern, it could be a pattern if you want. So I’ll just show you what I mean by that. So I’ll practice a two-step and I’ll do it through all my four chords. So basically for every chord I’m gonna do two “I’m Happy You’re Happy” bowings if you think about it like that. So I’ll start with G…[5:53]

Wow! I wrote a song. So that was G, C to D to F is all that was. You can do it backward, you can do whatever you want. So it’s just getting used to jumping from chord to chord.

When I go to a Jam and I watch the guitar players, that tells me a lot about the changes. So I watch guitar players. The key is to find the heart of the Jam, the people who are really leading it and focusing maybe on a guitar player and watch when they are changing. Even if you don’t play guitar, you can very easily learn the shapes of the C or G or D and the F. That tells you a lot about learning change.

So if you are a beginner fiddler, just that amount of information that I’ve just shared with you is really all you need to know for the first maybe year to year and a half. After, you can start doing some things like walking, doing a little walking pattern to the next chord, if you want.

One of the things that helped me a lot is that I used to go visit Wade Frugé and he told me to learn all my melodies an octave below. So learn to play the melodies on the low G and D strings, not just the high strings. And he said that would help me with seconding and it really did. The fingerings are different so you’ve to go through that. Sometimes you can’t find all the exact notes, note for note like you play on the high strings but it can help you to figure out where those walking patterns are. So that is good advice.

So let me play a pattern now. I’ll do the same pattern but I’ll do it with a few of the little walking examples I was talking about okay? So I’m gonna do the same thing. I will do the two-step and I’ll do a G, C, D, F okay so…[8:24]

Alright. So really just while I’m holding a chord, kind of dancing around with the second, maybe even the fourth finger, doing a little octave here and there, nothing really hard you know. And really, just whatever you feel. Whenever I teach seconding I can’t really break it down note for note with what I’m doing because it’s always in constant change, cuz it’s just very, very spontaneous and you want it to be that way. You wanna learn it that way. You don’t want to be a second fiddler who’s thinking too much about this note, this note, this note. Just have fun with the patterns, mess around with it. Like I said learning the tune an octave lower will help that, okay?

So let’s talk a little bit about rocking. This is more for like old timing style Cajun fiddle, Dennis McGee, maybe Wade Frugé, that kind of thing. When country music and swing music became an influence, this style was seconding kind of, seemed like it went away, so this is more for like reels and contradances and mazurkas and things like that.

So I’d do that same chord pattern since we’re used to that but I’ll do the rocking. So what I’m gonna do basically is I’m gonna play two chords, two of the same chords, one high one low. So I’m doing the G… [10:28]…So I’m doing the low G here… And I’m just playing the open E and A… Which is the G

Then the C, I’m doing the same thing basically. I’m playing the C here…[10:39] Then rocking it, just catching the D and A string, which is the C chord

Okay, so just those two…[10:50]…

Then the D is kind of weird. Let’s see what I do for the D…[10:57]

Actually the D, I wouldn’t know if this is musically correct, but this what I do, the D I usually just catch the E and the A, so I’m going…[11:06]

You can also put a second finger down on the G and that’s a kind of really a lower form of that D, you know that…[11:17]

I don’t really do that, that often but it does work. I usually do the higher, the E…[11:26]

And then the F is just the open G and E but then you have to make an F double stop which is a first finger on the A and a low second finger on the E… So it sounds like…[11:41]

Okay? And depending on what time signature you’re in, that’s the really important thing. A lot of people say “What do I do with the bow? I don’t know what to do with the bow.” That really is what dictates what you’re gonna do with the bow. So if you’re doing a two-step or a reel in 4/4, you’re gonna keep it in that time signature. So you have one two three four…[12:08]

So I’m doing one, two, three, four, one, two, three, four, okay? And if it’s a waltz then I’m going to do a one, two, three. And in the waltz, there’s a lot of different stuff that you can do so let’s see what happens cause I don’t usually even think about this stuff, so let’s see…[12:28]

So right there what I’m doing is the low, the very first one, the low G I’m doing first then I’m doing the two open E and A string open twice so I’m going…[12:45]

That’s for the waltz or the mazurka. Then the C, do the same thing…[12:55]

The D…[13:02]…F…[13:09]…And then if I’m doing a two-step I’ll do that same chord progression…[13:18]

Okay. So the thing about Cajun fiddling is that every great Cajun fiddler around right now playing, they’re all going to have their own style of doing this stuff. There’s not just not one way, there’s not one method and I know you’ll be driving around your car, wherever you’re listening to Cajun music, you fiddlers out there, and you’ll hear something and you’ll be like “That’s it. That’s what I want to do.” I think the thing is to find who’s doing that and maybe if you can even get a lesson with them, try to figure out the style in which they play.

It’s a lot like guitarists, you know. If you have a favorite Rock-n-Roll guitar player, they all do different stuff. So when it comes down to seconding, you’re gonna find that all the great second fiddlers Kevin Wimmer, Michael Doucet, all these great fiddlers, David Greeley, they have their own style and that’s what makes it fun and what makes it unique and that’s why you go and listen to those guys, because they’re doing different stuff.

So don’t be afraid to express yourself. You definitely need a model to use as a guide but relax, as long as you are on the beat, do what feels right and that’s really what second fiddling is.

I remember the first year I got a violin. I had a record of Octa Clark and Hector Duhon was playing a D accordion and so I had my fiddle tuned standard, E, A, D, G. And after school, I was maybe 14 or 15, I would get home, eat a snack and put that record on, and I’d never played a melody. I would just play chords along with Hector and Octa. And Hector Duhon was one of those fiddlers who played both chords and melody. He’d play this kind of intertwining thing where he’d go back and forth between chords and melodies. It was amazing! So if you ever get a chance to listen to Hector Duhon with Octa, it’s awesome. But that’s where I first started. Then listening to Dennis McGee and Ernest Frugé. Ernest Frugé was just an unbelievable second fiddler, you know, backing up Dennis McGee. So if you get your hands on the early recordings from Dennis McGee, listen to Ernest and even Sady Courville, and those are the guys you know. And you kind of have to detach yourself from the lead fiddling and just focusing on that second fiddling.

Same with the Balfa brothers you know. Dewey Balfa was mostly the lead fiddler, listening to what his brother Will was doing. So that’s really how we learn. It takes time, it takes a lot of patience. You gotta do it. You can’t overthink it or think too much, you just have to do it. And at first, it’s weird and you’ll feel like you’re not doing it right but you’ll get it. And going to Jams, watching other fiddlers that are getting it and doing it. Watch their bows, you know, that’s the thing about the violin. The best thing that we have as a guide to what the actual rhythm of what the fiddler is doing is the visual of the bow. So if you’ve got the left-hand right with the chords, watch what that fiddler is doing with the bow, and even if they’re rocking it, as long as you get that rhythm, back and forth rhythm, that’ll really help.

You’ve to do a lot of mimicking in the beginning. You’ve to just copy and mimic the best you can. But your personality is gonna come out and your sense of rhythm, we all have our own sense of rhythm, it’s gonna come out, and just have fun and be free with it, okay?

So thanks so much for joining me today. My vlog was about chords, rhythm, different approaches to playing chords, technique, timing, that kind of thing. I’ll post some more stuff about it and I do plan in the future to break down some tunes, just chords, where I’ll have the melody prerecorded and I’ll just second along with the tunes to show you what just the second fiddler would be doing. So I do plan on doing some of those around March and April. Okay.

Thank you so much. Have a great day, stay inspired, keep on fiddling, thank you.

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