Fiddling with Finger Slides

Using Slides to Enhance Your Fiddling

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The most common finger slide in fiddling is the quick movement up to the target note. That’s a feature that distinguishes fiddling from violin playing. Not the only one, but easily recognized by both fiddlers and violinists.

I usually teach this move in Angeline the Baker. When I start on the slide lesson, the student has already learned the tune. Most often I have nagged them to memorize it. But, whether they have it locked in or not, if they are ready, we start to slide the first finger on the fifth note, the B on the A string. If this goes well, we go on to a down slide, or fall off with the same finger. To time the sliding down and pulling off the first finger and letting the open string sound is tricky. But doable, usually.

Going on to the second part there are several chances to slide the first finger on the E string. At this point we are not doing a shuffle. Too complicated. The student has done shuffles in several tunes, but this tune is reserved for slides.

Up Slide and Down Slide

There are technical differences that make the up slide and the down slide characteristically unique. With the up slide you begin with your finger lower, or flat to the target pitch. This in itself is a learned skill. Beginners will try to slide from the in tune note. That gives an unpleasant sound. Starting lower and quickly sliding the note to be in tune is the trick. The duration of the note is mostly on the in tune part, not the sliding up part.

The down slide is completely opposite. You start on the in tune note, allow the pitch to be heard, then at the last part of the duration of the note slide down and quickly move to the next note.  Beginners typically begin the slide too soon, so that the actual pitch is not clearly heard. You need to play the note, then slide.

There is another way to slide that is called the lazy slide. As the name implies, the slide does not hurry to the target pitch. And this lazy slide is done mostly on up slides, where you want to have that sound. It helps to have a note of longer than one beat duration.

A further variation is the finger slide up and down for the same note. This is like a moan or wail sound.  I use this in Faded Love, in the second part for the fourth finger B on the E string.

And if that sound is not bluesy enough for you, there is the blues shake. In this move you slide the finger up and down very quickly, almost like a vibrato. It’s often paired with a lessening of the volume at the same time. Maybe even letting the bow pressure release until you get that whistley sound from no bow pressure. When all this is combined, it’s a rich, rich sound and fun to do. Tempting to over do.

Sliding Double Stops

Mostly, slides involve one note, not double notes, or double stops. There are two exceptions to that rule. One is the bluegrass slide of fifths. The first or second fingers are the likely culprits here, although there is no rule against using any finger to get this sliding fifths effect.

The other exception is the most famous fiddle tune of all, for the general public, Orange Blossom Special. In the first section you have the train whistle sound, the G# and B played together. Sliding up to the target pitch, then down, then up and down is a good move for this whistle. Also, in third position, playing the B on the D string and the D on the A string creates a bluesy 7th effect whil adding the sliding whistle. Very tasty.

A more ambitious slide occurs in Florida Blues, if you play it the way Vassar Clements did. You start your slide with the fourth finger playing a high D or close to it, and drag it down to first position, then quickly changing to the up slide with the first finger. This is a worthy move to learn. I don’t know why everyone doesn’t do that.

Finally, there is the treasured fourth finger slide to match the pitch of the adjacent higher string. This is a mainstay of old time fiddling. It give a delicious whiney sound. I love it. When I first started fiddling I practiced this move a fair amount, just to get it down. Now I never leave home without it.

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