How to Practice Cajun & Creole Seconding

Oct 25, 2016

Hi…Welcome to my vlog today! I’m going to talk about how to practice seconding. I get this question a lot and the thing about being a Cajun fiddler is you have to be really good at what we call seconding or playing chords.[00:18]

But you also have to learn the melodies and be able to play them on the high strings. A lot of people ask me, “how do I practice that?”. It is easier to practice the high strings, the melodies because melodies are in your head or you can write them out, and you can play those melodies every day. But when you’re seconding it really almost needs another musician there with you to accompany. So I thought I could talk a little bit about that.

There are a couple of options you can do and the first one, I think is pretty easy. What I used to do, is you can actually record yourself playing the lead. It doesn’t have to be fancy, doesn’t have to be fast, but if you can record yourself on even your iPhone and play it back either through your earbuds or through a monitor or something, and practice seconding to that lead part, that’s a great way to practice.

The other thing is just to actually play the melody and then play the low part. So this is probably what I do more now and to do this, you kind of have to have the tune in your head because when you go to the low part, which is just chords, you have to almost be playing the melody in your head. So I can give you an example of that. So let’s maybe take some simple tunes first, I’ll take a good traditional waltz called Madame Sosthene. So what I’ll do, just to practice it and show you how you can do both parts, I’ll do the melody first, the A part twice the B part twice, then I’ll go and I’ll play the chords to the A part and the B part twice. And just to give you an example, chords are C, it’s in the key of G, so it’s GCG and then a D and then back to a G, okay? But I’ll play the melody first. It goes like this…[2:35]…alright!

So what I did there, I played the melody first and the chords. While I was playing the chords I was just hearing the melody in my head. It’s not really that hard to do.

Years ago I bought a four-track recorder and I would use that to record. I wanted to practice doing different parts because Cajun fiddlers do a lot of different things. They play chords and the rhythm, they play the melody but they also play harmonies and they sometimes can even play counter melodies. So with the four-track recorder, I was able to try four different things and just listen and see what sounded good. So definitely recording yourself helps, and playing along with it, that’s a fun way to do it.

Also, the other thing you can do is just find a record that you know the key and you’re really familiar with the tunes and you’re able to be in pitch with the record and then you can second while the band is playing. That’s a great way to practice and really, if you’re thinking about going to a Jam, that’s the ultimate way to prepare yourself to be able to walk in, sit at the Jam, play the chords. Most of the time in Cajun fiddle Jams, you’re playing the chords rather than playing the melody. It’s only really after the vocals that the fiddle takes the ride.

So you definitely want to get comfortable with playing chords and playing the rhythm. So I’ll give you another example with a two-step. I’ll do one called Johnny Can’t Dance and I’m going to play the melody first and then I’ll go and play the chords. I’m in BeauSoleil so I’ll play it kind of BeauSoleil style. So when we go to an F, on the B part we go to a quick F to a G,  G to an F, F to a G. So that’s the chords there. And then really on the A part, I like to just hold the G the whole time. So it goes like this…[6:10]…alright!

So again, the same thing, I’m playing the melody then I’m going down and playing the chords. If I were jamming with another fiddler, we would be trading off the parts or if I were jamming with an accordion player, same thing, we would be trading and I will play the low chords when the accordion would play the melody; when I would play the melody, the accordion would probably just play the bass sides. And that’s just traditional music especially played as a duo or trio or something like that.

So just wanted to share with you all today how you can practice both parts like that. Of course, the first thing is you want to learn the chords. To be able to do that, definitely, try to figure out chords. Most Cajun tunes are really pretty simple so you’re looking at mostly a lot of stuff in the key of G and C and occasionally F. I have my fiddle tuned down to Cajun tuning so the chords are pretty easy to make, a C chord, a G chord, a D chord and then the F chord, too. Pretty easy stuff so have fun, stay inspired, good luck, and let me know what you think. Thanks for tuning in to my vlog and hope to see you soon.

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