Bilem Cabbage Down is a favorite tune, both for fiddlers and for audiences. It has that instant recognition, “Okay! this is a hoedown!”
Most fiddlers will play some variations when performing, but few play a distinct A part and B part.
Yes, there is a B part. For a long time I thought no one else played it. I only heard the A part played in performance, at a very fast speed and with standard variations. Then, I heard Buddy Speicher play it on an album. Lo and behold, there it was, a two part tune!
The two parts, like Cripple Creek and Old Joe Clark, are based upon the verse and chorus of a song. For the two listed above, the A part is the verse and the B part is the chorus. The A part of Bilem Cabbage Down is the chorus. The part missing is the verse.
Somehow, at sometime, the verse got dropped from performances.
When I play the tune I start with the familiar A part, then play the B and continue A, B as many times as I will until the end.
A different approach occurred to me a I write this. Why not play the verse and chorus in the normal order? The performance would be powerful in creating the recognition effect on the B part instead of the A. It’s like getting the candy bar after you eat your sandwich.
Playing on Two Strings
Whether you play chorus alone, verse-chorus, or chorus-verse, one thing is still the same. You should be playing this tune on two strings all the way through, or as close as you can.
If you have 43 Fiddle Tunes in Tab you will see that a single note version is included near the beginning of the book. It’s good for organizing your shuffle. It’s the easy version.
You can enjoy the B part as it moves from the E string to the A. It may become your favorite part, as it did for Charles. He’s an online student from Arkansas. He told me how he liked the B part this past weekend at the Sunshine State Acoustic Music Camp. (The weather ws just beautiful. by the way.)
When you play the single not version with other fiddlers, you will fit right in. For public performance, the two string version is expected.
Double Stops on the Fiddle
When violinists play two strings at the same time they call it a double stop. Strictly speaking, it’s only a double stop when both strings are fingered, or “stopped” by the fingers from vibrating as an open string.
A fiddler would think of the open string as a drone string.
So it is that the double stop made by placing the third finger on the A string and the first finger on the E is the first double stop most fiddlers play. You make this combination of fingering immediately after the start of Bilem Cabbage Down.
As you begin learning this, you will hear the challenge of intonation, getting the notes in tune.
By the time you tackle this piece, you should be reliable in placing your second finger accurately. This means that your first sound may be very good as you play the second finger on the A and the open E together.
The only difficulty is getting the second
finger clear of the E string so that string can resonate freely.
There is also the factor of keeping the bow evenly on the two strings. Especially, when you have struggled to keep the bow on only one string and not let it catch a string you don’t intend to sound.
Where the intonation becomes suspect is usually on that first double stop. By the way, some fiddlers just forget to place the first finger on the E string. You get a very discordant sound when that happens.
When you do place the first finger on the E, it may be a little flat until you get used to the feel of this double stop. There is a feeling of constraint when the third finger is on the A and the first finger is on the E. It feels closer, or more cramped at first.
Suppose you place the first finger in the right spot on the E, and then add the third finger, reaching that finger over to the A string. The third finger can easily go sharp.
What I’m emphasizing here is this: the feel of those fingers in this two string position is quite different from the feel when they are in tune on one string.
You must play it carefully at first, using your ear to get the interval in tune. Then, notice how it feels. It feels different. Remember that feeling. Be ready to reproduce it by feel as well as by sound.
The most reliable way to master this fingering combination is to place the third finger first. It will go onto the string just above the second finger. You should be used to doing that when you start this tune on two strings.
Keeping the third finger steady, place the first finger and listen to the sound. If it isn’t sweet, you must move the first finger a little–most likely closer to the third. Listen again.
This fingering combination can sound sweet or sour depending on how in tune it is.
Tunes from Songs
I don’t suppose that all tunes, or even most of them, come from songs. Fiddlers write tunes.
The musical forms we imitate may be tunes derived from songs. Those song-derived tunes were modified to make a dance rhythm. That’s how a tune gets to be so different from the song it is derived from.
The pure fiddle tune starts with that danceable quality. It is created to be a fiddle tune.
Looking at how many fiddlers make up there own tunes today, I suspect that most fiddle tunes are pure fiddle tunes, and not derived from songs.
This month features The 8th of January. The A part is presented as an all pentatonic melody. There is also another example of the third finger, first finger double stop. This time it’s on the D and A strings. It also is written as a hammer on, a very common move for this fingering.
The second tune is an advanced version of Bilem Cabbage Down. There are lots of advanced licks. It starts with the verse and then goes into the chorus, the familiar part.
You can, of course, take the version in 43 Fiddle Tunes in Tab and reverse the printed order ot the two parts.