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Irish Fiddle
with Dale Russ
 
 
About This Course
 
Learn traditional Irish fiddle, with an emphasis on playing the dance music of Ireland, including jigs, reels, polkas, slip jigs, hornpipes, and more, with an Irish feel and ornamentation.
 
 
Try a Sample Lesson
 
In this lesson, you’ll learn one of the most distinctive ornaments in Irish music, the “roll,” which combines grace notes and slurs. Dale explains the roll, and shows you a roll on different fingers and strings. He recommends practicing them slowly and repeatedly with a metronome so that the motion becomes natural, and he shows how you can use rolls in jigs whenever the first and third note of a three-note pattern are the same. You can also roll on the first notes of arpeggios, as in the last phrase of the B part of “The Tar Road to Sligo.”
 
 
 
Meet the Instructor
Dale Russ
 
 
Martin Hayes’ assessment of Dale Russ as “one of the greatest fiddlers I know in Irish traditional music” is shared by all who hear him. Dale has been playing Irish fiddle since his move in 1973 from his native Connecticut to Washington State, where he is now regarded as “the shining jewel of Northwest fiddle players.” He has taught and performed at many workshops and music camps, including the Lark in the Morning Summer Camp, Festival of American Fiddle Tunes in Port Townsend, Washington, and the Swannanoa Gathering in Asheville, North Carolina. In 1990 Dale was invited to perform at the first Boston College Irish Music Festival “My Love Is in America,” featuring 16 of the finest Irish fiddle players living in the US.
 
 
 
Peghead Play-Along Tracks
 
Peghead Nation is creating a library of accompaniment videos (and downloadable MP3s) for songs and tunes that are taught on the site, classics that you'll find at many jams and picking parties. As a subscriber, you have access to this library and can use the tracks to practice playing tunes and songs at a slow or medium tempo with guitar accompaniment. New songs will be added regularly.
 
 
Irish Fiddle Source Material

Check out these songs featured in the Irish Fiddle course.


The Irish Fiddle Subscription Includes:
  • Extensive lessons on playing 30+ complete Irish dance tunes, including reels, jigs, polkas, hornpipes and more.
  • Detailed notation for every tune, with bowing and ornamentation
  • Technique lessons on ornamentation for both hands
  • High-quality video with multiple camera angles so you can see closeups of both hands in action
  • Play-Along Tracks so you can practice what you’ve learned
 
 
$20/Month For One Course
 
Additional courses only $10/month each!   •   Save 20% with an annual subscription
 
 
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Irish Fiddle Course Outline
 
IRISH FIDDLE BASICS
 
In these introductory lessons, Dale talks about the importance of the bow and the left hand in Irish fiddling and gives you some background on different Irish fiddling styles.
 
Introduction to Irish Fiddling
 Learn the basic Irish dance rhythms and how to think of them in groups of twos or groups of threes. You’ll also learn how the feel differs between reels, hornpipes, and jigs and how you can use bow pressure to differentiate the rhythms with your bow. Dale also talks about how he holds the bow, with the index finger touching the bow just above the second knuckle, which gives him leverage when he wants to add pressure to the bow. In addition, Dale talks about the kind of left-hand positioning that’s important in Irish fiddle, in particular, arching your fingers enough that you’re able to play on the G string while sounding the D string.
 

Bowing in Irish Music

Rhythm is the foundation of Irish fiddling, so it’s important to develop good bowing habits. Dale begins by talking about single bowing, in which each bow stroke plays a single note, and then shows you how to add slurs, giving you two examples of bowing patterns that use slurs in different parts of the beat. You’ll also learn an exercise that combines the different bowing patterns on a simple scale. Dale also talks about intervals and shows you a two-octave pattern using thirds, which are very common in Irish tunes. You’ll use this thirds exercise to practice the different bowing patterns.

 

Irish Fiddle Styles
 Traditional Irish fiddling has evolved over the centuries and was particularly influenced by the advent of recording. When Irish fiddlers heard the 1920s and ‘30s records by Michael Coleman, James Morrison, Paddy Killoran, and others, they emulated what they heard on record and lost some of the regional characteristics of their playing. Dale talks about the evolution of Irish fiddling and the efforts by some recent players to maintain or revive the older styles.
 

Dale Russ’s 19th-Century German Fiddle

Dale’s fiddle was made in Germany around 1850. 19th-century German fiddles were made in a community, with different people contributing to different parts of the fiddle. Dale also talks about how he has the fiddle set up, and some of the repairs that have been done to it. He also talks about his bow, which was made by Port Townsend bow maker Christopher English, and the kind of bow he likes, usually one that is lighter at the tip.

 

 
IRISH TUNES 
 
In these lessons you’ll learn to play some great tunes in all the traditional Irish dance forms, reels, jigs, slip jigs, polkas, hornpipes, and more. You’ll also get detailed instruction on bowing and ornamentation for each tune and a Play-Along Track so you can practice what you’ve learned. 
 
The Tar Road to Sligo

The first Irish tune you’ll learn is the jig “The Tar Road to Sligo.” Dale talks about the difference between jig rhythm and reel rhythm and how to get used to the 6/8 feel of jigs. You’ll also learn your first Irish ornament, the grace note, as well as a simple slur bowing. Then you’ll learn one of the distinctive ornaments in Irish music, the “roll,” which combines grace notes and slurs. You’ll get advice on practicing rolls slowly and repeatedly with a metronome so that the motion becomes natural. Dale also shows how you can use rolls in jigs whenever the first and third note of a three-note pattern are the same, and how to create variations on tunes by substituting different arpeggios into the melody.

 

The Boyne Hunt

The D-major single reel “The Boyne Hunt,” like many reels, has origins in Scotland. Much of it is played with single bows, but you’ll also learn a few important slurs. Once you’ve learned the basic melody and bowing, Dale shows you some ways to ornament “The Boyne Hunt” with rolls and slides, as well as some simple variations to the melody using different notes of the arpeggios that underlie the melody.

 

The High Part of the Road

The Irish jig “The High Part of the Road,” also known as “Willie Clancy’s” and “The Blooming Meadow,” is a good tune for practicing rolls. Dale shows you some different bowing options and how you can roll any of the first three-note groupings in the melody. He also shows you some melodic variations and how you can play rolls in many of the melodic phrases in “The High Part of the Road.” Because you can’t play a roll on an open string, you’ll also learn a pipe technique in which you add multiple grace notes above the open string.

 

The Swallow’s Tail Reel

There are two tunes called “The Swallow’s Tail”: a jig and a reel, which are only related by name. In this lesson you’ll learn “The Swallow’s Tail Reel” and some variations on both parts. Dale also introduces the bowed triplet, giving you advice on how to play and practice this classic Irish fiddle ornament. You’ll also learn some other melodic variations using a variety of ornaments, including a series of rolls on the beginning of the B part.

 

The Top of Maol

In this lesson, you’ll learn another Irish dance style, the polka. Dale begins by talking about modes in Irish music: major, Mixolydian, Dorian, etc. The mode in “The Top of Maol” has a flatted seventh but no third (neither major nor minor), and while the melody doesn’t have a minor third, it does have a minor sound. You’ll learn the basic bowing pattern Dale uses to play polkas, a sort of back and forth bowing where the bowing changes on the beat. You’ll also learn some more nuanced ways to play polkas, including how to add a pulse or lift to the second half of each bow stroke, putting an emphasis on the offbeat rather than the downbeat.

 

The Galway Hornpipe

Hornpipes are in 4/4, like reels, but they have a different feel. They can take a few forms and are often used for dancing. Hornpipes are often ornamented or filled out with triplet runs, which are different than the bow triplets you learned earlier. You’ll learn to add hornpipe-style triplets to the melody of the “The Galway Hornpipe” as well as a few good places to add rolls. 

 

The Whinny Hills of Leitrim

“The Whinny Hills of Leitrim” is a slip jig, which means that it’s in 9/8 instead of 6/8. The 9/8 rhythm is divided up into groups of three eighth notes, just as in the 6/8 of normal jigs, and in the “The Whinny Hills of Leitrim” the three-note phrasing is very clearly delineated, which makes it easy to hear and play the slip jig rhythm.

 

The Kerry Reel

“The Kerry Reel” is in E minor, in Dorian mode, with minor thirds (G) and sevenths (D) and a raised sixth (C#). It’s a double reel, which means that it has eight-bar parts that are played twice, but the A part of “The Kerry Reel” consists of a four-bar phrase that’s repeated four times, so Dale shows you a few minor variations you can play on the repeats. Dale also gets deep into the bowing of “The Kerry Reel,” showing you some three-note slurs and how the addition of grace notes affects the bowing. He also shows you where he adds rolls, triplets, slides, and other ornaments to the melody. 

 

The Man in the Moon

The polka “The Man in the Moon” is from the Roche Collection of Traditional Irish Music, although in that book it’s written as a slide (a type of jig), but Dale adapted it to polka rhythm. Dale shows you how the polka bowing works with the melody as well as a couple minor variations on the bowing pattern that give it a little variety and lift. You’ll also learn to play open-string drones and double stops on “The Man in the Moon.” 

 

The Black Rogue

The jig “The Black Rogue” has an old sound and, although it’s in the key of D, starts on an implied A major chord. Dale talks about how to figure out what key a tune like “The Black Rogue” is in when the tonality is ambiguous. Dale also shows you how he slides into notes and how Irish slides differ from the way American fiddlers play slides. You’ll also learn how to create melodic variations of short phrases and where to use rolls on “The Black Rogue,” with advice on playing rolls cleanly on jigs.

 

The Jug of Punch

Dale first heard “The Jug of Punch” played by the great fiddler Paddy Glackin, whose ending of the tune is a little different than the way some people play the tune. You’ll learn both endings in this lesson. “The Jug of Punch” is in the key of D minor, so Dale shows you the D minor scale, with F and C naturals. Dale shows you his bowing as well as some ornaments and melodic variations you can use on both parts of “The Jug of Punch.” You’ll also learn the difference between playing a “long roll” and a “short roll” using the long F note in the second part.

 

Truthful John

The jig “Truthful John” is in O’Neill’s Music of Ireland, an essential collection of Irish music, although the version in O’Neill’s is slightly different than the way Dale plays it. “Truthful John” sounds like it came from the piping tradition and that’s how you’ll learn it. Dale explains how to impart the character of the Irish pipes into “Truthful John,” showing you how pipers will ornament a tune and how you can imitate their ornamentation on the fiddle with things like vibrato, rolls, triplets, grace notes, crans, and more. Dale also shows you how to add notes and double stops to imitate the pipe’s regulators.

 

The Dark Girl Dressed in Blue

The polka “The Dark Girl Dressed in Blue” is a little different than the other polkas you’ve learned so far. Both “The Top of Maol” and “The Man in the Moon” are played with a bowing style where the bow changes on the downbeats. But to play “The Dark Girl Dressed in Blue” you’ll learn to use single bows on almost every note. This is more of a County Clare or American style polka and is used more for couple dances as well as beginning step dancers.

 

The Banshee

Written by flute player James McMahon, “The Banshee” has become a seisiún standard. It’s changed a bit since it was written, but you’ll learn the version that the Bothy Band recorded, which should fit in at any seisiún. It’s a good tune for working on three-note slurs, and in “The Banshee” the slurs are often combined with a single bow on the string below the slurs. Dale shows you how to make a bowing exercise out of the first phrase to practice the technique of playing three-note slurs followed by one bow stroke on the lower string. In addition to learning the basic melody and bowing of “The Banshee,” Dale gives you lots of ideas about melodic variation and shows you where to add rolls, triplets, grace notes, etc.  

 

The Diamond

“The Diamond” is a single jig, and in this lesson, Dale talks about the difference between single jigs, double jigs, and slides. For example, double jigs usually consist of a series of eighth notes grouped into threes, while in single jigs and slides, the melodic rhythm is quarter note/eighth note, quarter note/eighth note, etc. Also, single jigs and double jigs usually have what Dale calls a “butter and eggs” ending. Dale also talks about how different kinds of jigs are used in dance competitions. The first part of “The Diamond” is in D Mixolydian, a D major scale with C naturals, while the tonality of the second part is a little different, with F naturals and both C sharps and C naturals.

 

The Flowing Tide

A hornpipe in the key of G, “The Flowing Tide”  involves a lot of G arpeggios that weave around themselves in interesting and complex ways. Both parts are long-form melodies with few repeating phrases.

 

Gan Ainm Slide

Many slides don’t have names or are named after a fiddler the tune is associated with. If a tune doesn’t have a name, it’s often called “Gan Ainm,” which is Irish for “no name.” Such is the case with the slide you’ll learn in this lesson. Dale talks about the similarity of single jigs and slides, and the distinctive rhythmic endings of each. Dale also shows you how the down-two-three, up-two-three bowing can be used on this tune and gives you a couple of variations.

 

Farewell to Ireland

The four-part A minor reel “Farewell to Ireland” is known as one of the “big reels” and, like many reels, is originally from Scotland. In addition to the melody of all four parts, you’ll learn some of the ornamentation and variations that are often played on “Farewell to Ireland,” including some rolls, bow triplets, and melodic embellishment. 

 

Drowsy Maggie

The popular reel “Drowsy Maggie” is one of the tunes that many Irish musicians start off on. It’s a deceptively simple tune that is great for practicing some basic techniques: rolls, triplets, string crossings, etc. The A part is particularly good for practicing bowed triplets and string crossings. You’ll also learn some bowing variations to the A part of “Drowsy Maggie,” as well as where to add bowed triplets, rolls, and grace notes to both parts. 

 

 
PLAYING IN A DUO
 

Dale is joined for this lesson on playing in a duo by Peghead Nation Irish Mandolin instructor Marla Fibish. They start by playing two slip jigs, “Dever the Dancer” and “Hunting the Hare,” and then talk about how they each approach playing with another melody instrument. Music for  “Dever the Dancer” and “Hunting the Hare” is included.

 
MORE TUNES
 
The Girl from the Big House

Dale learned the jig “The Girl from the Big House” from a recording of piper Joe McLaughlin. It’s in D and is a real piping tune, with a lot of interval jumps that translate to string crossings on the fiddle. Like a lot of piping tunes, “The Girl from the Big House” also has a lot of low D notes played on the open D string. To play ornaments on an open string, you’ll play a “cran” instead of a roll. Dale shows you some ways to play crans and how to ornament the tune in other ways, with grace notes, rolls, and bow triplets.

 

Rolling in the Barrel

Dale learned the E minor reel “Rolling in the Barrel” from a 1959 recording of Clare musicians P.J. Hayes and Paddy Canny. It’s a great tune for working on rolls and a certain kind of bowing. Unlike lessons where Dale teaches the basic melody of a tune and then adds ornamentation, the ornamentation is integral to “Rolling in the Barrel,” so you’ll learn melody and ornamentation at the same time. 

 

The Little Stack of Barley

The hornpipe “The Little Stack of Barley” became popular through Michael Coleman’s 1930s recording. There is also a dance called “The Little Stack of Barley,” for which this tune is often played. Dale first shows you the basic melody of both parts of “The Little Stack of Barley” and then works through the tune from the beginning, showing you lots of different melodic variations and ornamentation.

 

Mrs. Crehan’s

The popular single reel “Mrs. Crehan’s” features a tricky double stop: the G on the D string combined with the D on the A string, both played with the third finger. Before showing you “Mrs. Crehan’s,” with bowing suggestions and ornamentation, Dale gives you advice on playing the G-D double stop in tune and with good tone.

 

Jackie Tar

The hornpipe “Jackie Tar” has scads of variations. The way Dale plays it is the way he’d play it for set dances, with couples, as opposed to competition dancing with a solo dancer. After showing you the melody, along with basic bowing and ornamentation, Dale shows you some things you can add to both parts of “Jackie Tar,” including double stops, melodic variations, triplets, rolls, and more.

 

Hide and Go Seek

The jig “Hide and Go Seek” is a great tune and can be found in O’Neill’s Music of Ireland, but it doesn’t get played very often. It uses both the E natural minor scale and the E Dorian scale and has a strong drive and chordal structure, making it great for dancers. 

 

Jackie Coleman’s

The reel “Jackie Coleman’s” is probably from Sligo, which is where the great fiddler Michael Coleman was from. It is in the key of D and has a very clear harmonic structure. It has a lot of string crossings, so as he’s showing you the melody, Dale also gives you advice on bowing. You'll also learn some ways to vary and ornament both parts of ““Jackie Coleman’s,” including bow triplets, rolls, melodic variations, etc. 

 

Tom Billy’s Jig

Tom Billy was a blind fiddler and teacher in the Sliabh Luachra area of Ireland on the borders of County Cork and Count Kerry. Dale learned “Tom Billy’s Jig,” which is in the key of A and has three parts, from a recording of Denis Murphy and Julia Clifford, and he starts by showing you an unornamented version of the way they played the melody. He also shows you some ways to ornament and vary all three parts of “Tom Billy’s Jig” with rolls, slides, grace notes, double stops, and more. 

 

The Banks of Lough Gowna

“The Banks of Lough Gowna” is a popular jig that starts in the key of B minor. The second part goes to a D major sound and ends on B minor. In addition to the the basic melody and bowing, Dale shows you where to add rolls, grace notes, and other ornamentation to The Banks of Lough Gowna.” 

 

The Glen Road to Carrick

“The Glen Road to Carrick” is a five-part reel from Donegal. Northern fiddlers tend to use more bow triplets and single bowing, in part because of the Scottish influence on Northern fiddling, and “The Glen Road to Carrick” is likely based on a Scottish tune. Instead of starting by teaching you a skeletal version of the tune and then adding ornamentation, Dale teaches “The Glen Road to Carrick” with ornamentation, primarily bow triplets and grace notes.

 

 
 
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