Drones, Double Stops, Double Strings

Apr 12, 2016

Hi! Welcome to my vlog…today I’m going to talk about playing 2 strings at a time. Double strings, double stops, droning, all that kind of stuff…

So if you’re a beginner,  if you’ve been playing for a year or maybe you’re going on your second year, you might have been playing two years…it really depends on how often you pick up the fiddle. If you pick it up every day you’re going to pick up stuff a lot quicker. Sometimes it’s hard to do that…it doesn’t mean you can’t play the fiddle, just play it when you can. So I’m going to talk about playing the two strings but let’s talk first about the bow because really that’s the key: The bow.

When you play single strings, when you’re playing just one string at a time, especially when you first learn to play the fiddle, you’re letting all the weight of the bow down on the string you’re going to play. So you’re not pushing down, you’re not lifting the bow up, you’re just letting all the weight of the bow down on the strings. And then your right hand is just guiding it down…[1:13]…and guiding it up…and that’s really all that hand is doing.

Now when you start to play double strings… Let’s play the E and the A strings together, okay? What I’m going to do is to make sure that I can pull two strings at the same time and give it the right sound because you need that same amount of pressure per string. I’m going to add a little bit of weight. It’s not a whole lot but what I’m going to do is…well, the way I like to describe it is I take this first finger on my right hand and I’m actually going to push down a little bit with the bow. Just that finger. For me, that’s what works. I find if I add just a little bit of weight with the first finger then I can pull both strings evenly and I get a nice rich tone.

The other really important thing is the angle of the bowing because when you’re playing one string you have a little room to move around. But when you’re trying to bow the E and the A, or the D and the A, or whatever evenly, you have to stay on both strings. That’s really important to get a good sound. If your bow kind of rocks around you’ll hear one string, then you’ll hear the other string, and then you’ll get kind of a nasty sound.

A great way to practice this is to take your bow and add a little bit of weight with that first finger. I like to start in the middle of the bow and I’m putting the bow on both the E and the A strings. I’m going to start with a downbow. I’m not using any fingers at all on my left hand because I’m just focused on the bow and the strings. So I’m gonna do a downbow…when I get to the tip I’m gonna stop and then I’m gonna do an upbow…and then another downbow…and then an upbow…This is just a really simple exercise, but what it lets you do is it lets you focus on just the strings and the bow. And you can start to figure stuff out. Like for instance, when I first started the strings were almost kind of out of tune and then I heard that so the way I reacted was I added a little bit of weight with my first finger and then the strings came in tune. You want to definitely make sure your fiddle’s in tune so check your tuning first before you start doing this stuff.

You’ll notice though that if you put your bow on two strings, and don’t add enough weight, sometimes the two strings won’t sound right together and then if you add a little weight you’ll hear them come together. So that’s one of the things you’ll notice right away about playing double strings that can be a little weird. So that’s a great exercise…really simple. You can try it with the D and the A as well because different pitches of strings have a kind of different feeling or bowing. So I’m going to try that…[4:20]…and then I’m going to do the D and the G together…That’s the first step right there: Just understanding and hearing the two strings together. Understanding how much pressure to add. It’s very basic, very simple, but that’s definitely what you want to start with. I think what’s really frustrating to a lot of people is when you learn a tune and you very quickly want to add the two strings together and the tune starts to sound really bad! So my advice is to use this exercise as a warm-up before you start playing. The other thing is to pick a tune, if you want to try droning on a tune, pick one that you now really, really well; that you don’t have to think a whole lot about the fingering or the pattern of the tune. And then that way your muscle memory can kind of play the tune and you can focus on the bowing.

It takes a little while and it is frustrating so get ready. But the only way you get it is to do it, and when you do it in the beginning it’s going to sound bad and that’s totally normal. You’re not alone!

So the other exercise I was going to say that kind of changes things up is to do some fast bowings or some rhythmic bowings with the double strings. The rhythm that I use all the time is what I call a shuffle bowing. The rhythm sounds like “I’m Happy, You’re Happy”. So that’s something you could try is just, again, open strings, no left hand at all. And starting in the middle I’m going to do a downbow, I’m going to do that shuffle. And I’m on the E and the A so…[6:21]…and what I’m trying to do there, I’m trying to keep both strings ringing evenly. So by doing that I’m putting just a little bit of pressure but just with that finger, not with my arm or my hand.

So if you get that crunch…the crunch is that…[6:48]…you’re pushing down too hard. You can figure this stuff out. It’s not that hard. Just use your common sense.

As far as your bow tension: if your bow’s too loose it makes it hard so, not that you have to have it super tight, but you want your bow somewhat tight. If you’re doing this and you hear the hair touching the stick of the bow then definitely tighten it up, alright?

So I’ll do that again; I’ll do it on the D and the A, too. The same shuffle [7:23]…and you can do this for as long as you want. The longer you do it, the better! If you’re having a busy day and you feel like you don’t have time to pick up your fiddle and play a tune…you might only have five minutes that day, or ten minutes…do this exercise. It’s a great exercise to stay in touch with the fiddle and to just practice doing what you do in Cajun music. Alright, now I’m going to do the G and the D [7:59]…

So it’s important to do each pair of strings: The E and the A, the D and the A, and the D and G, because they pull differently. The sensation is a little bit different so you want to learn how much pressure to put on each pair because they’re slightly different.

Let’s got to the next exercise that I recommend for droning. We’re gonna take it up to the next level. We’re gonna talk about the next problem or trickiness to playing two strings and a melody with it. We’re going to start using our left hand. One of the hard things about…well, let’s say you’re playing the A string and you want to catch the open E string to accompany the melody…so that’s very common in Cajun music. What tends to happen is, if you’re not holding your fiddle right, if you’re not holding it like this [9:04] and your fingers aren’t arched like that [9:08], you really want to keep your wrist straight and your fingers arched. Because the less amount of finger you have on the fingerboard the less chance you have of touching the open drone string that you want to bow. So if you’re trying to play a melody on the A string and you’re bowing the E along with it, and you just get these crazy sounds, you might not even know what’s going on or understand what’s happening but chances are though that what’s happening is, your finger that’s on the A string might be touching the E string just a little bit.

Let’s go over this exercise and we’ll call this Exercise #2. What it’s gonna do, it’s going to help us to be able to put our fingers on the fingerboard but rock them out of the way of the drone string so they don’t touch the drone string. So what I’m gonna do is just explain it; it’s pretty simple. I’m gonna play the first 5 notes on the A string of just major scale. So I’m going to start with just an open A…we’re tuned down, but I’m going to call it an A…first…second…third…and fourth finger on the A…Okay, that’s really important, we’re going to use that a lot later on. If you’re a beginner, you know, it’s weird but you want to start getting your fourth finger to…you want to start using it and practicing with it.

Okay, so doing that we have just the first five notes of the major scale…And what’s important, if you look at my left arm, see my wrist and my arm, the way it’s folded on, the way it’s folding and holding the fiddleneck, that’s really important to be able to put the least amount of finger on the fingerboard so that you’re not taking up too much space cos if you’re taking up too much space you can hit that drone string. So I guess just to show you like the opposite of that would be if you’re playing kind of like this, if you’re holding the fiddle,  and maybe your wrist is flat and you’re not really arching your fingers a  whole lot, you’re kind of laying them flat across, that’s gonna give you a lot of problems. So sometimes we can this all easier with just your posture. So you can see my wrist is straight, my arm is straight, I’m holding the fiddle straight out, that’s really gonna help you.

So now what  I’m gonna do,  I’m gonna bow the E and the A together, I’m gonna play those five notes again on the A string but I’m gonna rock and catch the along with it and this is what we call droning or the E is going to be the drone string. And it’s tricky, this is really tricky. It takes a lot to get this because you have to arc your fingers over that E string and if you kind of touch the E string, it’s going to make a bad sound alright. Not only getting the bowing and the pressure of the bowing right, but you’ve also got to get your left hand right too. So I’m just gonna do it really slow and just to show you what this is all about so here we go. So open E and A, alright?

So now I’m gonna do the same thing on the D string.  I’m gonna play the first five notes of the major scale on the D, starting with the open string, and then I’m gonna drone that A along with it. So here we go. Alright. This is a great exercise. It might be boring, it’s not a tune but if you do this every day and then you try to drone your tunes, it will start to happen for you I promise. This is the exercise to do it and a lot of times, the discipline in music, it’s stuff like this. It’s doing, practicing just some simple exercises. Again it is not exciting, it’s not like it is this show-off thing or anything like that but it’s really teaching you the fundamentals of what you need to do. When you are playing a tune, how to drone, how much pressure to add, how to arch your fingers things like that, when you are playing a tune and you’re trying to do all this stuff, you are so focused on the notes of the tune that it’s hard to focus on all this stuff.

So that’s why you need to do something really simple like this, just play the first five notes of the major scale.  So we’re going to do it now on the G string and the D string. So I am going to play the first five notes on the low G and we’re droning on the D. Alright. So different pairs of strings you kind of have to add different pressure here. If  I’m to lower the pitch, the more pressure I tend to have to add to pull those low strings. So this is the, we call this the third exercise. This the final one. It’s doing the same thing, playing the first five notes on each string of the major scale droning an open string but doing it with the shuffle bowing. So this way you are working on your rhythm with the bow and also you’re getting your fingers to arch over that drone string. So I’m just gonna do the shuffle bowing, I’m gonna start with the E and A, and I’m gonna play the first five minutes on the A and I’m gonna do every note and I’m gonna give it I’m happy you’re happy. So I’ll start with just the open E and A, and I’ll do it slowly, it doesn’t have to be fast. Alright.

So that’s a great exercise as well because again the pressure of the bowing, even just changing the bow direction. There’s a little slight adjustment you have to make in the pressure so these are all things, don’t overthink it. Just try it; use your common sense. If it sounds good, great, if it sounds bad, try something else and that’s really how to do it. So I’m gonna do it now, the same thing, but on the D and the A.

Alright. Let’s do it now on the G and D, the two lowest strings. Alright. So that is an awesome exercise. So those three exercises that I went over try it out. Take a really simple tune, something that you are really comfortable with. You don’t have to think about the notes you haven’t memorized or whatever. I always use it as an example. Mon Vieux Wagon, the two-step from the Balfa Brothers. That’s a great one you know so play the melody And now put your bow on the two top strings and you’re gonna get that effect, that drone effect, that Cajun sound. So to get that sound, I’m having to add some pressure here. My bow angle has to be right and my left fingers have to be arched over that string so that they are not touching the drone string.

So those are the three main things you have to watch out for. Just be patient, again try those three exercises out. Try them out for a couple of weeks and just use them as a warm-up so when you get your fiddle out instead of just launching into a tune, tune your fiddle up and try those exercises and then try it on a really simple tune and see how that goes.

I’ve seen this work for people that pick up the fiddle every day and that are very frustrated with droning and doing double strings double stops and I’ve seen them do this and it works so I know it works,  you just have to do it. But again it’s the discipline side of music and it’s not always fun but I know,  that’s the reality of it, and have fun with it and stay inspired. That’s the way to go.

So thank you so much for joining me today.  I hope I was able to help you with droning, double strings, double stops, and all that kind of stuff. Keep looking out in this vlog. In other future vlogs, I’ll talk about double strings and maybe go into a little bit more details about doing double stops as well. Alright. Thank you so much. Have a happy Easter. 

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