Once you've learned and feel confident in the notes and rhythms of a tune, it's time to take it to the next level. This is where bowings come into play. It can be tricky to know when and where to add slurs in a tune, especially if you are not as familiar with the typical bow patterns of fiddle styles. In this article, I will break down four different ways you can approach incorporating slurs into a tune. So, let's dive in.
It's all about practicality. It makes sense to place slurs strategically in a way that gets you where you want to be. So, we want to decide on bow direction first, before we can begin to place slurs throughout the tune. Do you want to land on an up bow by the end of a specific phrase, so that the next phrase can begin on a down bow? This could be a good opportunity to throw in a two-note up bow slur. Think about the major landmarks of a tune and the bow direction that's ideal, and place your slurs in ways that will accommodate them.
Look for patterns. In many cases, tunes have a very clear rhythm pattern that allows for use of a specific bow or slur pattern. A great example of this is Arkansas Traveler, a fast-paced tune with consistent and continuous eighth notes throughout. In the B section of this tune, I like to employ the Georgia Shuffle (three notes on an up bow, one note on a down bow). There are also other types of common slur patterns to pull from, and the more familiar you are with these, the more obvious the choice becomes when you get to that step within a tune.
Pay attention to speed. On the other hand, we also have many fiddle tunes that are meant to be played on the slower side, such as a waltz or an air. In these cases, there may not be a specific bow pattern, especially if the notes themselves are inconsistent. For example, we may have a dotted quarter note, an eighth note, and four sixteenth notes, all within the same measure. This is where we have to get a bit more selective with our slurs. The goal here is creating smooth, connected phrases, while still keeping the rhythm in tact.
Get lazy. Especially when it comes to playing faster tunes, sometimes slurs can simply make things much easier physically. If you were to play a whole A-A-B-B form tune with nothing but sixteenth notes throughout, at a fast tempo and all on separate bows, chances are your right arm will be feeling pretty tired by the second or third pass. However, throw a couple of slurs in there, and you've just made the job significantly easier on your body. Playing the violin is already a challenge - we don't want to make things harder than they have to be, right?
So, there you have it! Those are the things I like to keep in mind when deciding when and where to place slurs within a fiddle tune. Hopefully you are able to use these tips in the next tune you learn, or even with tunes you already know. Best of luck to you, and happy practicing!