Scottish Fiddle, bowing: Driving up-bow

Home Forums Fiddle Lesson Forum Fiddling Techniques and Playing Advice Scottish Fiddle, bowing: Driving up-bow

Viewing 10 reply threads
  • Author
    • #9535

      In my first fiddle tutorial, “Fiddling for Dummies”, I read about Scottish fiddle style being characterized by (among other things) “driving up-bows”; in p.214:

      “One thing that’s unique to Scottish fiddling is the up-bow technique. Getting a harsh and full sound by pressing into the string is key. It’s also very appropriate to move your up-bows farther and faster than you normally do. These are called driving up-bows and are unique to Scottish fiddle style.”

      I googled “scottish fiddle driving up bows”, and I got a few hits, e.g. :

      … When the Italian violin developed, it took immediate hold in Scotland. As the new fiddle was beckoning the Scots to dance, a newly reformed Church (now Presbyterian) was condemning the instrument as a vehicle of licentiousness.The gentry would not give up their dance, and rich and poor alike side-stepped the clergy’s protestations. All over the land, from Duke’s ballroom to shepherd’s fields, the power of the fiddler’s “up driven bow” made the success of the gathering.

      Also very influential was Niel Gow (1727-1807); this Perthshire fiddler is credited with creating the “up-driven bow” technique, ideal for playing certain phrases in the Strathspey. The particular phrase in question is the semiquaver/dotted quaver/dotted quaver/semiquaver. The first note is played near the tip, with a short downbow. The next three are all played in a single long downbow (My comment: This must be a missprint, it should be up-bow), stopped twice, and with accents on the third or fourth note.

      About the Arrow Stroke or Driven Bow Technique:
      Arlene Patterson describes this technique in brief: “In the arrow stroke, or driven-bow technique, the first stroke is taken smartly down, leaving the up-bow to take the remaining three notes. Thus the complete movement consists of 1 down-bow followed by 3 up-bow pulses. Extra bow pressure is put on the third note of the phrase to re-emphasize the rhythm, hence the “driven” nature of the stroke. The last note, the 16th note is played staccato. So, one fast down bow, then take the next 3 beats or notes on the up-bow. It feels as if the up bow notes float or rebound from the strong “driven” down bow.”

      I haven’t heard Hanneke Cassel talk about “driving up-bows” in her lessons; it is not mentioned in her technique lessons (I haven’t yet heard all hear other lessons, though I most certainly mean to 🙂 ), so I wondered if she uses or talks about “driving up-bows” or just has an opinion about it and its use nowadays.

      Best regards from Ulla

      • This topic was modified 4 years, 8 months ago by ulla_petersen.
    • #9539
      Roland White

      HI Ulla, My you certainly have researched this and I hope it has helped you understand and achieve that unique drive in the Trad Scottish tunes. Not intending to digress from the Scottish style, here but over the years I have heard many references to the UP BOW technique used somewhat universally among the better Folk Fiddlers in a variety of traditional genres.

      I have heard these Up Bow references made to Irish, American Oldtime, Appalachian, Texas Style Fiddling and more about players that have an Exceptional Up Bow in their styles. Although I don’t read music to interpret styles I certainly admire your ability to break it down to notation to fully understand it. I’m more of a feel player and will work on bowing intuitively till it has the sound I strive for. I have also heard in terms of ornamentation that the Scotts style encourage the start of the Bow Triplet with a down bow to be able to get that up bow drive. I’ve also read that the Irish player will do that lick both up bow and down bow, and could be why those ornaments sound smoother than the staccato of the Scotts.

      Music is a wonderful way to express yourself and I’m impressed that you are committed to understanding why a style will have unique traits. Sometimes the variations of these techniques have subtle resemblances to other styles when it comes to ornamenting Trad music and I have a feeling your explorations will give you a lot of discoveries in music. Have fun with that and thanks your thoughtful posting on the Forum. Best regards Roland

    • #9540

      A thing worth doing is worth doing well, I think 🙂

      And I have really come to love Scottish fiddling, and I am determined to learn as much as I can!

      • #9541
        Casey Willis

        Awesome, Ulla. Thanks for your thoughts on this! More Scottish lessons coming soon.


    • #9543
      Roland White

      You sure have that right Ulla, I love the saying, ” Nothing is without Sacrifice” and it goes right along with your thoughts. I love that FIddlevideo is giving students the opportunity to understand tunes on a deeper level with the expert instructors here. Thanks again, R

    • #10456

      People who only write about music grab on to ideas like this that they can undertand and exggerate their importance, IMHO.
      There is a booklet by J. Scott Skinner himself, “A Guide to Bowing”, published by The Hardie Press and distributed by Mel Bay Publications in the US. The short down at the tip followed by two swift upbows is one of the examples given in the booklet. There are no recordings to accompany the book, but there are some samples of Skinner’s playing on the internet. (For example:
      The audio is poor, but you can hear that he was a very forceful player -even more so than Hanneke, I think. The early recording process might be exaggerating the grit and burr a bit, but he sounds wild and fast.
      I think there is a huge variance in Scottish fiddle playing styles, from nearly classical to almost raucous, and differences in ways of playing the ornaments, too. I love this richness!
      Hanneke’s lessons are so helpful in creating a believable Scottish sound. I’m an American who might never have the chance to study in Scotland. I can learn from Hanneke without literally imitating her style…
      Cheers to all !

      • This reply was modified 4 years, 5 months ago by ViolaMutt.
    • #10458
      Roland White


      Great to hear your excitement on Scottish Fiddling and research into the bowing. Over the years I have listened to many various Celtic styles from Scottish including many of their regional differences to Irish Celtic and the influences upon each other from their close neighbors like the Arran Islands, Normandy and the many counties of Ireland, all of which will lay a special claim on their regional dialect and how they play the traditional tunes. I know the playing of Michael Coleman at the turn of the Century was a specific influence of the Donegal Fiddlers and was said to have a strong up bow. He also made his principal ornament the bow triplet similar to what Master Kevin Burke explains in his ornaments lessons.

      Regarding the sound of that particular ornament it can be corse, subtle and smooth, or very exaggerated as well depending on the player and the tune. I have also encountered many names for the same ornament from bowed triplet to Burl, to Buzz, to growl and many others I’m sure I’ve not heard of.

      I have heard about and tried to observe the mention of a strong Up Bow in regards to all these different styles but since I’m and Ear musician I also try to observe these players in concert or live whenever possible rather than dissecting musical notation including 64th note phrase’s that somehow will have to come to life in ones playing. One thing I have found that nearly every fiddler will confess to is that the bowing changes as they develop their personal style and also in the heat of the moment. Sometimes a phrase will start on an up bow and sometimes it will not.

      For these bowed triplets I’ve seen a great description from Bruce McGregor on You Tube

      Bruce gives a good basic Scottish interpretation of how to get that ornament going and some tunes and techniques that are good to practice it with. In the meantime keep that passion going as it will fuel your enthusiasms to keep learning the style with Hanneke’s tunes. Thanks for posting your comments on the forum and happy fiddling. Roland

      • This reply was modified 4 years, 5 months ago by Roland White.
    • #10460

      Hi Roland and everyone,
      I agree completely. I have heard only a few Scottish fiddlers in person, but the difference between Alisdair Fraser and Cape Breton’s Natalie MacMasters is obvious.
      I put the reference to Skinner’s booklet on for general information. He does give an example of where the up bow comes in.
      Bruce McGregor’s lesson on youTube you mention is the only video example I’ve seen.

      I had a group lesson with Alisdair where we accented the upbow on beat 4 and a downbow on 7 to change the beat from the usual 1 and 3 emphasis, if I remember right.

      Learning by ear is vastly better than books, for sure, which is why I have returned to FIDDLEVIDEO.


      • #10461
        Casey Willis

        Thanks for the input, everyone. And thanks for returning to the site, ViolaMutt!!


    • #10462

      A well-stocked toolbox is a great asset, no matter what style you want to play in, and luckily there is no compulsion 🙂

      I have found Hanneke Cassel’s Scottish grace notes videos very useful, and any Scottish bowing technique videos from her would be welcome.

    • #10463

      I agree with Ulla : Hanneke’s technique’s videos are really helpful because she explains things very well.

      About Scottish bowings, i’d love to have a tutorial on “chop” : she’s using this a lot on her playing. By mastering this bowing, we can add nice rythms.

      Darol Anger made a dvd on this “Chop and grooves” i think that’s the name but i i’d like to have Hanneke’s technique.

      Maybe she could explain how to “chop” on Scottish fiddling and then propose exercices ?



    • #10464
      Roland White


      Thank you for the Chop suggestion i.e. Hanneke Style. I’m sure Casey will pass that along as topic for a teaching module. We appreciate your suggestions. Happy Fiddling! Roland

    • #10470

      P.S.: I’ve experimented a little with the arrow stroke in the “Miss Drummond of Perth” strathspey, attributed to Gow; it really is a powerful stroke that adds flavour to a tune! I shall certainly use it in strathspseys 🙂

Viewing 10 reply threads
  • You must be logged in to reply to this topic.