Fiddlin’ on Friday – Golden Slippers

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This week’s tune is called Oh, Dem Golden Slippers, an American folk song written by James A. Bland in 1879, some say as a parody of the spiritual Golden Slippers made popular by The Fisk University Jubilee Singers after the civil war. Here’s the original –

Doesn’t sound much like a fiddle tune, does it? Bland composed new lyrics and his version became more popular than the original and is now known as Golden Slippers at any old-time or bluegrass jam. Here it’s played bluegrass style, with each instrument playing the lead, or “taking a break” in turn –

And here it is with Bland’s lyrics –

Bland’s original sheet music can be found at the Library of Congress website, along with a huge collection of American music – do browse the archives!

Golden Slippers also happens to be the first song of Red Desert Fiddle’s Fabulous Fiddle Fundamentals lesson course. Lora teaches many ways to embellish this song as well as ways to play backup and ideas about improvising and change ups. It’s a lot to digest for a first fiddle lesson, and this tune won’t be played at a fiddle contest by me, but I’ve decided to make a little video just to prove that I do indeed scrape away on a fiddle on occasion. As played (imperfectly) on the Six Foot Fiddle

And again (imperfectly) on Brandon’s Amati copy

Which fiddle sounds better on your speakers?

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Fiddlin’ on Friday – The Happy Farmer

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Last week we took a look at a Traditional fiddle tune called Red Wing and asked who wrote the “original” music that inspired Red Wing, Union Maid and others.

Robert Schumann, a pianist and composer of the Romantic period, wrote The Happy Farmer as part of his Album for the Young (OP 68) in 1848 for his three daughters. The album consists of 43 simple tunes designed for children and beginners to learn the piano. It has since appeared in countless films and been transposed and adapted for many instruments, including Suzuki’s version for his Book 1 violin course


Tell me that isn’t the cutest thing you’ve seen today! Here’s the original piano sheet music –

And Suzuki’s adaptation for violin –

At first glance, they don’t look much like the sheet music for Red Wing. Have a look at this twin fiddle performance and listen for bits of Red Wing and The Happy Farmer passed back and forth –

The faster tempo and addition of grace notes are the main differences in the two tunes – the melody stays pretty much the same.

What do you think about classical pieces being “adapted” for fiddle? Yea or Nay?

Fiddlin’ on Friday – Red Wing

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Red Wing is another popular Traditional fiddle tune that beginning fiddlers (and banjo, guitar and mandolin players) learn and often the first tune they “jam” to, as it’s well-known at musical gatherings and most everyone who attends jam sessions has learned a version, or two, or more.

The tune was written in 1907 by Kerrie Mills with lyrics by Thurland Chattaway and became a hit in an America that was crazy about all things “Indian.” It tells the story of Red Wing, an Indian maiden whose love is killed on a far-off battlefield. Red Wing has since been performed by many musicians and was even sung by John Wayne and Lee Marvin in the 1961 film The Comancheros. Here’s one version –

Just to add some confusion, like most fiddle tunes, the melody of Red Wing was used by Woody Guthrie in 1940 to create a new tune called Union Maid, a pro-union song written from the female perspective. The lyrics were later changed to reflect the times and the increased number of women in unions. Here’s one of my favorite versions of the song, performed by Old Crow Medicine Show

Over at Fiddlerman.com there’s a project underway that will combine video footage (or audio only if you wish to remain anonymous) from people all over the world playing their version of Red Wing, Jam Style, which Fiddlerman will combine in the same manner as the Christmas project –

The only constraint is that everyone will be playing at the same tempo using a click track provided by Fiddlerman. Fiddlers of all ages and abilities will be involved and it will be a blast! Sheet music is posted at the Red Wing link above if you would like to join in.

Who can tell me who wrote the original tune that inspired Red Wing, Union Maid and others? The answer next week…

Double Jointed-ness

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My fingers and thumbs are double jointed. Not so unusual, but it makes it difficult to hold the violin bow properly and some fingering motions are not as easy as they should be. Until a week ago I was pretty satisfied with my bow hold even though it doesn’t match any of the line drawings in my books, nor does it look like anything I could find on the web. I wasn’t worried about it – I want to play the fiddle, and therefore I will play the fiddle and not be too concerned about what my hands look like while I’m doing it.

Except. Sigh. Some motions are just not as easy as I think they should be. I didn’t come to the fiddle with any preconceived notions, but something just ain’t right here. My right thumb is the main problem (the left thumb to a lesser degree,) and has been from the beginning. Wayne Erbsen says, in big, bold letters, “Your thumb should be bent.” Jim Tolles shows very clearly with line drawings that the bow hand thumb must be bent.

This is the way my right hand wants to hold the bow –

Note the collapsed thumb.

Better view above – the weak pinky doesn’t even want to stay on the stick and the thumb is quite contorted! It seemed to work pretty well, but consistently getting good tone was impossible.

After I made a video in response to Lora of Red Desert Violin on YouTube she sent me a nice note and directed me to this post on her website about exercises to correct double jointed-ness and to this video on the advanced bow hold –

I’ll admit that I’ve watched other videos on holding the fiddle bow, but none of them made as much sense as Lora’s did. Oh, it’s not easy (yet) but I’m working on it every day and this is how I try to hold the bow now –

It’s very easy to slip back to the old way and the reminder is instant – total disintegration of tone! The bow goes crooked and all of a sudden I’m torturing cats again.

Still needs work, but it’s becoming much more natural.

Here’s a link to Sarah Wallin Huff who does a bow hold comparison of some of the violin virtuosos of our time. It’s as much Art as Science, but as Lora says, you have to know the rules before you can break them!

Red Desert Violins

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A Holiday weekend is the perfect time to go surfing about on YouTube. The same videos never seem to come up twice, and you never know where a search will take you, even if you’ve done the very same search many times. It’s incredible, really. So, I was surfing around and ran upon this video from Lora at Red Desert Violin. I really, really want a digital recorder, and the chance to win one was too good to pass up. (The contest is over now but a winner has yet to be announced – cross your fingers for me 🙂

Anyway. Lora was nice enough to comment on my response video (which I’m not linking here because it’s not exactly a work of art and I’m not ready to unveil my playing yet) and direct me to her website and a couple of other very helpful videos, like this one about colle movement exercises –

Which really made the wrist/finger movements make sense to me as a beginner. Lora’s language is accessible for someone who doesn’t speak Classical Violin, yet she never condescends.

If you are an adult beginning violinist (or any other sort of violinist) you need to head over to Red Desert Violin and check out the articles, tutorials and videos. Lora has a wealth of information on the site and she’s so enthusiastic about the violin that it’s contagious.