Checklist to Make Your Fiddle Sing
Look at this checklist to answer the question, “What is needed to make your fiddle sing?”
1 Intonation–you must play in tune, you can’t play out of tune notes and please your listeners.
2 Use the whole bow–a legato stroke that is smooth, connected and uses the whole bow is essential for a singing tone.
3 Smooth bowing–there is a way to minimize the sound of the bow changing direction, making changes smooth. (See the next point.)
4 Pliant or loose wrist–for that smoothness a pliant flexible wrist is essential.
5 Vibrato–at the minimum, a good vibrato, ideally, a luscious passionate vibrato.
6 Slides–portamento slides are a staple from classical violin, bluesy slides are also sing worthy.
7 Slurs across strings–to increase the legato or connected sound, slur across strings smoothly.
8 Keeping a finger down to avoid distracting sounds or noises as you play.
9 Phrasing–breathing between phrases like a singer.
10 Double stops–must be done well or not at all. IN TUNE.
11 Rubato–contouring a phrase to give it life by increases and decreases of speed.
12 Changes of dynamic level, (loud and soft).
Those are 12 factors, for fingering hand and bowing hand, five each that make your fiddle sing. Then I added the rubato factor, and the dynamic level for twelve. Maybe there are more.
And suggestions for examples of when you would use this singing tone: Amazing Grace, Hard Times Come Again No More, Footprints in the Snow, St Louis Blues, Rose of San Antone.
More Singing Tone Factors
• Singing tone–like a singer. Using the whole bow with well connected strokes is like a singer who has good breath control. Phrasing like Eddie Arnold. A phrase that Makes the World Go Away. Include vibrato, portamento, rubato, inflected sound.
• Ornaments–like a singer’s melisma, (movement of pitch around the target pitch). Or, like the Irish and Scottish fiddlers playing airs. Using neighbor tones, upper and lower. Passing tones, appoggiatura, suspended sounds, retardation, maybe too picky with classical terminology.
• Use your skills–playing the fiddle is a complex skill made up of many smaller skills. Once you get a simple skill, use it. See if you can put it into other tunes, using the same figure or pattern. Identifying which patterns you can do that with is also a skill.
• Nuance–means changing how you do something just a little bit. Very important in slow tunes. You don’t want to always do the same thing in the same spot in a tune. Singers use nuance.
• Danceable–even slow tunes and ballads have a strong rhythmic structure. Certain notes will be accented to help the rhythmic feel.
Those are some considerations to focus on for making your fiddle sing. If I had to pick one, (besides playing in tune), I would go with vibrato. If you are not using vibrato on your slow tunes, you need to get it as soon as possible. As difficult as you might think it is, the work is so worth it.