Fiddling Call and Response

Call and Response on the Fiddle

Gandy dancers demonstrating their skill at the Florida Folk Festival
Gandy dancers demonstrating their skill at the Florida Folk Festival. Call and response evolved from labor.

Not many years ago I was at the Florida folk festival at the same time as Darol Anger. I had not met him at that time, as I did at the Mike Block String Camp. I was hanging out with the crowd that came to enjoy his workshop.

He did a simple activity that I later tried with my students and had great success using it.

It’s call-and-response, a traditional way of making music between one person, the leader and one or more responders.

In this process the leader plays a short phrase and the response comes in a definite rhythmic time to repeat the same phrase or change it a little. Suppose you are in a slow four rhythm. The call might produce a note for each of the first three beats. Then there is a beat of rest and the response comes in the same way, one note per beat.

It doesn’t get simpler then that, unless you decrease the number of notes. But that could get a little boring very quickly.

When I tried this with my students I stuck to the same framework used by Darol Anger at the workshop: four beats and three notes. I went with the key of G as a comfortable tonality. It could have been A. In G, I used mainly the D and A strings, then dropping sometimes to the G string. 

Call and Response can be Bluesy

The patterns I used might have been blues patterns without bending or sliding the notes. Or, you could call them pentatonic. Sometimes the pattern went up, an ascending lick, sometimes it went down, a descending lick. Sometimes it made a leap to the second note and came back to the middle note in pitch. It could start with the middle note, then go from there up or down. I believe those are all the possibilities with three notes.

You could go with four notes and not allow the beat rest. That would put a little more pressure on the responder. Or you could play two notes in a beat during the call part. That would also require more from the responder. It’s a simple idea that has much in possibility for the student.

The Soloist does both the Call and the Response

The next step with this teaching technique could be having the student do the whole process. Do both the call and response. I did encourage this on a few students after I let them lead the call and response with choosing three notes to play.

I have done this process with beginning students. Children can do this.   Even students with a learning disability find this a fun and easy exercise. 

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