Ornamentation in Cajun & Creole Music

Jun 17, 2016

Hi! I’m Mitch Reed and welcome to my vlog. Today I’m going to talk about ornamentation in Cajun music. So, the decoration that you add to a tune once you’ve learned the notes. So you can take a tune that’s real simple, maybe we’ll do that, we’ll take… I just broke down Pistache à Tante Nana and that’s a pretty straight melody and maybe what we can do is I’ll play you just the notes and I’ll show you some ornaments that you can add to that.  

I’ll just say right off from the start that we can actually, you know, talk about the ornaments individually and then what you do with them. And the one that I find is used really the most in Cajun music, in Creole music, fiddling, is the slide. So the slide can really decorate a note…[00:59]

That’s a first finger slide on the E string and I think that might be the one we use the most in Cajun music. But you can do slides with all the fingers that you use, first finger, second finger, third finger, even the fourth finger.

The slide is really used if you have a long note. There’s a lot of different kinds of decoration you can put on a long note but a long note is kind of just sitting there, hanging there, and if you give it some decoration it can make the tune sound more interesting.

So let’s do this: let me play La Pistache à Tante Nana. Pretty straight melody and then we’ll add some slides to it. So we’ll take it one ornament at a time OK. So this is La Pistache à Tante Nana just to introduce you to the melody which I did break down. It’s a beginner video but it doesn’t matter if you’re beginner, intermediate or advanced, you can learn the tune. So this is Pistache, it goes like this…[2:03]

Okay. So let’s just start with the slide. That was the melody and it sounds good like that, I mean it’s a beautiful melody, just the straight notes. Let’s put some slides on some notes that are either maybe long or just are calling for it. And that’s the thing too about ornaments is that some of the notes ask for it and if you hear it then you put them. And a lot of times, you know, from listening to our heroes, the fiddle heroes, our fiddle masters, we’ll hear where they tend to put ornaments and we tend to copy what we hear. So that’s a great…you know, If you have a certain fiddler you really love their style, listen to them, spend a lot of time just listening and you will be surprised how helpful that is to know where and when to put ornaments and what ornaments to use.

So let’s put some slides now on this melody so here we go… we don’t want to overdo it so we’re gonna just put a few here and there okay….[3:32]

Okay. So you heard where I put those slides there. Most of it was just a first finger on the E string and then a first finger on the A string. So like I said, it just felt right. A lot of people will say how do I know where to put these ornaments and when and that’s a great question. The main thing is when you hear music, when you hear Cajun music, if you spent enough time listening to it, most of the musicians tend to use those ornaments in the same places. So even the accordions, I mean even some of the accordion ornamentation, when you translate it to fiddle you can use some of those accordion ornaments as well which are usually, you know, grace notes and things like that.

So speaking of grace notes, let’s talk about the grace notes. So basically the grace note in Cajun music or in fiddle music is also…I call it also a hammer on because it just makes sense because…let’s say you’re playing a first finger on the E string but you want to decorate it, you want to give it some rhythm, you can very quickly strike another note in and out, and it will give it some rhythm. So you’re doing this all in the same bow direction but most of the time, if you are doing a grace note, you’re gonna add the finger above that note and it’s going to come down like a hammer. That’s why I like to call it a hammer on.

So if I’m doing a first finger hammer-on, I’m gonna come down very quickly with a second finger and go up. So I’m not gonna leave it down, I’m gonna come down like a hammer and go up. So it sounds like this…[5:38]

Okay. So that is a grace note or hammer on. So you can do it with any finger, I could do it with the second finger and use the third finger as the hammer…[5:55]…Third finger with the fourth finger as the hammer…Open string with the first finger as the hammer…

So really you can ornament any of those notes that you are using. Okay so let’s take the hammer on now, we’re gonna leave out the slides just so that you can definitely hear the hammer on, the grace notes and we’ll add that to Pistache à Tante Nana. So here we go…[6:27]

Okay. So let’s do this: let’s add the slides and that. Sometimes it can get to be too much so you have to know when to back off and again keep the melody just nice and clean and clear because that’s, I think, the role of the fiddle is to play the melody in Cajun music because it is such a melodic instrument. The accordion is very rhythmic. It can do tapping, rhythm chords, and things like that. But the fiddle is like the human voice so you can really, you’re almost like the singer in a Cajun band, you can sing out the melody. So you don’t want to clog it up with too many ornaments, you know, but again express yourself, let your personality come out.

So we’re gonna add the grace note and the slides together, let’s just see what happens, I have no idea, I don’t have anything planned here…[8:02]

So yes, so those were slides and grace notes and that is probably the two ornaments that we use the most in Cajun and Creole fiddle.

So the next one I would say would be unisons which is when you double a note. It’s the same note but you kind of slide into it with the fourth finger and it gives it a really haunting sound. The fourth finger unisons can be sometimes considered more of an advanced thing to use in fiddling. So maybe if you’ve been playing for only a year these might hard, but still try, because you wanna build some strength in that fourth finger.

So I’ll give you an example of just a fourth finger unison, so this one here is used a lot and it’s a fourth finger on the A string with the open E, but I’m going to kinda slide into it with the fourth finger so I get this…[9:33]

Okay. Kind of gives a double sound and also maybe a little haunting kind of sound. But it definitely sounds like two fiddles. So let’s add that now to Pistache à Tante Nana. So here we go…[9:53]

You probably see me… A lot of times I’ll slide a unison with actually my second finger.  So a lot of times I use my second finger to slide you know so…[10:45]

I learned that from an old fiddler and I just like it. It’s a little bit more exaggerated, so that’s kinda interesting. So let me show you how to do that. I’ll add that in Pistache à Tante Nana now…[10:59]

Okay. You also see me doing a little bit of vibrato. So vibrato really is… I did a vlog on vibrato so check that out. But vibrato is another ornament and vibrato definitely…you use it for long notes, so notes that are really hanging out. That’s a nice time just to give it a wavering effect.

So what we have is we have grace notes, slides, vibrato, and unisons, alright? That pretty much sums it up. There’s one ornament that I use sometimes that I’ve heard Dennis McGee and some of the older fiddlers use and I call it a roll and it goes like this and then I’ll explain it to you…[12:08]

Okay. So what it’s doing is it’s decorating, it’s really decorating any of those notes. There’s four notes in there; any note that’s going down to an open string, you know, so if you’re maybe playing a melody that’s going down to an open string…[12:31]…you know, it just gives it some decoration like that.

I mean it is based on the first finger, the roll I just did…[12:44]…but you tend to go from the first finger to an open string and use the roll. So let’s play Pistache and I won’t put in…well, I will try not to put in any of the other ornaments. I’ll just put in this roll so you can really hear clearly how it would be used. It wouldn’t be used a whole lot. Like I said, it’s probably like the fifth ornament I would maybe use. So let’s see what happens…[13:12]

It’s an interesting ornament. I think it’s very connected to Appalachian fiddling, Scotch-Irish fiddling, and yeah, you’ll also hear accordion players do it on the button so that’s another great one.

Hey! Why not. Let’s try, let’s put in everything. Let’s do that…I’ll play Pistache now with everything. It might be totally ridiculous you know but let’s give it a try. Alright. So here we go…[14:21]

Alright. Thank you so much for joining me today. I thought it would be interesting to talk about Cajun and Creole ornamentation. I still didn’t cover everything. There still is a lot of other little tricks and things that you can do with the notes that you hear certain players use…like Canray Fontenot, I loved it when he would slide down to an open string. Dewey Balfa had some great ornaments and Dennis McGee and lots and lots of players. So we didn’t cover it all but this is a good beginner approach to looking at things you can add to a real simple melody that just expresses it more and give it some character and rhythm because, you know, you’re playing for dancers, it’s dance music.

So thanks so much for joining me today. Stay inspired, keep fiddling, and thank you so much for joining me. I just said that! Take care, bye-bye.

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