Fiddle Forays How to get more lilt in your Irish jigs

How to get more lilt in your Irish jigs


This post is for you if you're feeling bored with your jigs or feel like they could use a bit of spicing up to capture more of the Irish traditional feel! We're going to examine three areas to help you get your jigs sounding more like jigs -- bowing, ornamentation and variation. 

Our tune example is Connaughtman's Rambles, and for the sake of simplicity we're only looking at the first two bars of the tune. Here they are:

You'd be surprised just how much you can do to liven up one phrase in your jigs! 

I. Bowing

To begin, let's look at one of my favorite rule-of-thumb bow patterns, which I like to call waterfall bowing. This is always the first pattern I'll suggest to students who aren't sure where to include slurs in their jigs.

The key is to create a bit more of lilting sound by making a mini swell with your bow, and this is typically accomplished through connecting one note to the next without changing bow direction: aka a slur. Waterfall bowing is slurring two notes: the last note of one set of triplets into the first note of the next set of triplets. Here's how that looks in sheet music:

You can use this bow pattern once, or repeat it for several sets of triplets in a row. However, you'll notice that if you do too many waterfall bows in a row, you'll start to run out of space moving towards the tip of the bow. To counteract this, we need to move back in the other direction without disrupting our rhythm.

The solution? Add in a three note up bow slur

This tutorial walks you through two different options you can use for combining waterfall bowing with the three note up bow:

II. Ornamentation

Once you've got your bow patterns figured out (or the equivalent of bow patterns if you play a different instrument), you can turn your focus more towards the sparkly stuff: aka ornamentation and variation. It's best to have a good grasp of the fundamentals of playing Irish music before you start to play around with these areas because trying to throw too much into a tune all at once without being comfortable with the basic notes is a recipe for overwhelm and disaster!

Another question I often hear from students is "how do I know where to insert ornaments (particularly rolls) into my tunes?" Here's another rule of thumb to get you started! There are others, but we'll call this one "Hi Neighbor" ornament placing:

Here's how you might make a note for yourself if you're using sheet music as a guide to help you place your ornaments:

III. Variation

The final area to look at where you can really put your own spin and style on your tunes is variation. I recommend starting with just one note: what are all of the different things you can do with that note to subtly play the tune a different way each time? Typically your tune structure is AABB, and you play through these tunes three times. That's six different A parts you can play simply by changing one note! 

This video is meant to give you some ideas -- use it as a starting point to see how I approach variation in my playing. I'm curious to hear where you take it!

(Just so you're in on the joke... I use Loom for recording my videos, and they have an AI feature that writes a suggested title for you once you finish recording your video. The title for the variation video was originally "Variations for the Chronic Men's Rambles". Teehee!)

We focused on two bars of one specific jig in this tutorial, but you can absolutely take these suggestions and apply them to any other jig! Remember to look for patterns and experiment to see what works and what you can leave off. If you'd like to workshop some specific bowing suggestions with me and get my suggestions on a tune you're working on, I'd love to help! Check my calendar to see if I have lesson slots available or sign up for asynchronous video chat lessons -- let's get you comfortable with lilting your jigs!

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