The Basics of Cajun Tuning

basics getting started how-to ifiddlemag Apr 09, 2020

Hi, I’m Mitch Reed, and thanks for joining me today. I’m going to talk a little bit about Cajun tuning. My violin right now is tuned standard EADG, like you would play if you were in an orchestra. If you live down in Southwest Louisiana and you were to go to a jam session, you would find out really quickly that most of the fiddle players down here are what we call "tuned down". And so what we do is everything goes down a whole step. The E string becomes a D, the A becomes a G, the D becomes a C, and the G becomes an F; that’s just what we call Cajun tuning or tuned down. And what it does, it gives a fiddle a bluesier sound. It’s not as edgy. And it also makes it easier to play with a C accordion, which really is the dominant accordion that is used in Cajun music now. So by tuning your D down to the C string, now you have an open C string that can be a continuous drone and that’s where we get that style. [01:21]

And the traditional style of Cajun fiddling, if you were to look at it, you’re playing the melody on one string and you’re rocking your bow a little bit to catch the next string over an open string and then you bow the two strings together. And it sounds like two fiddles playing. [01:41]

A lot of Cajun fiddle tunes, you’re really only playing two strings, but it sounds like a bunch of strings and you can add some other strings if you want to give it some extra decoration. But really the backbone of Cajun music is you’re playing the melody on one string, catching the next string as just a drone, almost like a bagpipe. And by tuning our fiddles down to Cajun tuning, we can have a drone string that’s in the key of C, which makes it a lot easier for us to play with a C accordion. Whereas if you have a standard tuned violin, EADG, to get those C chords, you have to use a double stop. You have to use a lot of fingers to hold down some strings and it just makes it a little bit more complicated. It’s not impossible. And there are some great Cajun fiddlers down here that never tune their fiddles down and always just leave them standard where they can play in almost any key.

The old traditional Cajun and Creole l guys that I learned from would always tune their fiddles to whatever key they were playing. They found that note and tuned an open string to it. Even some of the Zydeco fiddle players that I learned from would tune their fiddles all the way down to B flat because they use the B flat accordion in Zydeco so that the saxophones and the horns can play alone. So yeah, just a little information about Cajun tuning. If you go to my website, MitchReedMusicLessons.com and you become a member, or just want to listen to some of the vlogs that I do you’ll notice that my fiddle is tuned down to Cajun tuning.

Most Cajun fiddlers actually get two violins. They’ll get one and leave it tuned standard and then they’ll have another one and they’ll tune it down and they’ll get a double fiddle case. So when they travel around and go around, they have their Cajun fiddle and they have their standard fiddle. So personally, I play a lot of different styles. Cajun music and Creole music’s my main style, but I play Irish fiddle and I play some old-timey fiddle. And so it’s nice to have two fiddles where if I want to play with a C accordion I’ve got my tuned down fiddle. But if I want to play some Irish jigs or old-timey tunes, I have my standard fiddle ready.

So that’s how most fiddle players evolve down here. That’s just a little information about Cajun tuning and what it is. The other question I get a lot… If you learn it tuned standard, so to say, you learn Jolie Blonde on EADG regular standard violin, when you tune down to Cajun is the fingering gonna change? No, it doesn’t. The fingering stays exactly the same. It’s just the key changed, is all. So pretty simple stuff and but it can get a little complicated if you’re not quite sure what the violin is tuned in, if it’s an alternate tuning. So a little information about that.

So yeah, I hope you enjoy playing some Cajun tunes. Check it out, try it out. It gives your violin a different sound. It’s a lot of fun and really, I love alternate tunings. They are a lot of fun and they make you sound different and play differently. So thanks so much for joining me today. I hope I gave you some good information you can take with you and hope to see you out there soon. Stay inspired and keep on fiddling. Thank you.

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