Bowing Scottish Fiddle Tunes

There are certain ways of bowing Scottish fiddle tunes that give them a characteristic sound. While there are some basic principles involved, each individual is free to interpret the tunes as they see fit. The following are some examples of how it might be done. The slurs were included by me for character's sake, and to help the bowing come out right.

Most of these tunes were taken from the Knoxville Scottish Music Club Tunes that can be found in .pdf format on my main page. These examples can also be downloaded in .pdf format by clicking here. They can be read and printed with Adobe's free Acrobat Reader, which you can get by clicking here.


Campbell's Farewell to Redcastle is an example of a march. Note the down-up-up bowing pattern on the three quarter notes. This is a very characteristic pattern. So is the two downbows at the end of each section.

Put Me in the Big Chest is a reel. Note the slurs across the bar. The idea is to give more emphasis to the phrases and not be so tied to the barlines. Normally, when starting a tune in this manner, an upbow is used. I started on a downbow to make the down-up-down pattern (called a birl) come out right. In a birl, the sixteenth notes are played faster than usual.

Skye Boat Song is an example of a jig. The quarter and eighth pattern in the third measure is characteristic of Scottish jigs, and both notes are usually played on the same bow, ie., up-up or down-down.

Alec Dan MacIsaac's is an example of a Strathspey. Dotted eighth and sixteenth note patterns are played more like double-dotted eighth and 32nd notes. Hooked bowing - two notes to a bow - is very characteristic of this type of music.

When the sixteenth note is first, it is also played very quickly. This figure, called the Scots Snap, is usually bowed down-up. The bowing at the beginning is not "hooked" in order to make it easier to bow the snaps down-up. The snaps can also be slurred on the weak beats, if necessary, as in the third line.

The down-up-up-up pattern in the first ending also occurs frequently in Strathspeys, and is called a "loop." It should be bowed this way when practical.

Bunessan is an old Gaelic air, popularized as "Morning Has Broken." I have used it to show how a tune might be dressed up with various types of ornaments. I've used single grace notes from above and below, double grace notes from above and below, and the upper mordent which goes from a note to the note above and back. These are all played before the beat. Start with a down bow.


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