Fiddle Forays The Dog who Chased the Ducks: Creating a Hop Jig

The Dog who Chased the Ducks: Creating a Hop Jig


With a title like that, you know there's a story behind this tune! Last weekend I attended an Irish music retreat on Beaver Island, just off the west coast of Michigan's lower peninsula. It was a wonderful time spent relaxing, playing tunes and connecting with new musicians in the region. I think that environment was the perfect recipe to put me in the headspace to write another tune.

The Story

You can get to Beaver Island by boat or by plane. I had chosen the boat for this trip, which is a two hour ferry ride from Charlevoix to the island. For the trip home from the island, a few of us passengers got quite the entertainment as we waited for the ferry to depart the harbor! On the other side of the pier, there's a long stretch of beach, and on that beach a dog was having the time of his/her life bounding through the waves to herd a flock of ducks further and further offshore.

He'd shoo some of them away, then swim close to another section before leaping forward suddenly and causing a flurry of wing motion in the ducks' rush to find more peaceful waters. 

It looked a bit like this... 

A dog is chasing a duck in the waterStock Photo from

As I stood there watching this dog have the time of his life, it struck me... "That's a tune name right there!" Usually I find it easier to come up with names for tunes, but it's less often that I actually take the time to write the tune that goes with the name (if anyone wants to take a stab at writing The Unfortunate Shopping Cart, that one has been tabled since my days of studying for my Masters Degree in Cork City). 

However with a two hour ferry ride across Lake Michigan ahead of me, the opportunity to actually write the tune was too good to pass up! 

I follow the Irish fiddler and composer extraordinaire, Liz Carroll, on her Patreon page and this week her video focused on hop jigs, which is a type of tune similar to a slip jig in meter (9/8) but different in how you emphasize the notes. Liz encourages her patrons to write their own tunes to get more familiar with the structure of Irish music, so naturally her call to action this week was to write a hop jig!

Given the playful nature of hop jigs and the playful nature of the scene I witnessed from the ferry, you can guess how quickly I was able to pick the tune type I was going to compose for this dog...

The Composition

I don't make a habit of keeping sheet music notation software on my phone, so to compose the tune I used a shorthand method copied from Colin Farrell and Kevin Crawford (and certainly others, but these two gents were the first to put it on my radar).

Here's a screenshot from the notes on my phone:

The notes for Hannah's composition are written out using shorthand letters and patterns for the note names

Any note from the open D string to C (2nd finger on A) doesn't get a ' mark. Once you get out of that octave (3rd finger D on A string), you add a ' as a visual cue to which D you are playing. There are a couple I left off in my notes, but I remembered I wanted to go up to the E string for the F#-G-F# pattern at the end of our A part here. If you go below the open D, you'd add a ' to the bottom of the note, which is easier to hand write than type!

I also grouped notes together so I'd remember to do a triplet pattern, then used a "-" to show a quarter note moving into an eighth note. Each line is one measure, so we're working with a single hop jig where the form is 8 bars of A followed by 8 bars of B. A and B are not repeated.

Once home on my laptop, I translated this over to sheet music:

Sheet music for The Dog who Chased the Ducks hop jig

Final Thoughts

Not all tunes match up with their titles in Irish traditional music -- in fact, some say there should be no association with the title and how the tune is "acted out." Clearly I don't subscribe to that here, from the very first "leap" at the end of the first measure to the flurry of wings with the triplets at the end of the B part. Not every tune I write has obvious associations with its title (see Hammond Honey or Peeling Potatoes). This one just had all the right factors lined up!

Writing out tunes is an excellent exercise for memorization and internalizing the music, whether they are tunes you've written or you're transcribing a traditional tune from a recording. If you identify as more of a reflective learner (the R from the VARK method of learning), this may even be the key for you to learn tunes best. It's an exercise that encourages you to listen, to see the notes on the page, and maybe to reference notes on your instrument to make sure you're writing out the correct ones. I am more of a Kinesthetic and Audio learner, where I have to listen and feel things out on my instrument -- so I didn't truly memorize this tune until I played it a few times in the days after writing it. For you, maybe writing it down is enough to jog your memory as you think through the different tunes you know!

Give it a try this week! Write out any tune you're learning (shorthand or with the dots) and see how that changes your approach to learning. I'd love to hear how it goes for you, so do send me a note over at

Thank you for reading and watching a bit of my creative process in this post!

Other hop jig recordings you may like:

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