You want to learn a new reel, and look it up in a tune book or online.  The bare bones of the tune are here, but for fiddle players, a bit more information is needed to really bring it to life – to add that infectious rhythm that just makes you want to move.  That foot-tapping sound is all down to the bowing – where you do your up-bows and down bows.  First of all, here’s St Anne’s Reel as you might find it, without any bowing directions:

Saint Anne’s Reel – 1

This is the usual way to write reels, although the straight quavers don’t necessarily convey the right rhythm.  It’s certainly the easiest way to read the music, which is a good thing.  But it’s good to be aware that some players might play the tune very straight like this, while others will add a swing to the rhythm.  What this means is that, if you take each pair of quavers, the first will be slightly longer, and the second slightly shorter.  This technique gives the music a real swing with an infectious foot-tapping quality.  It’s used in a more pronounced way with hornpipes.

Playing this version exactly as written, though, would sound rather wooden.  In order to make it come alive and make people want to tap their feet or dance, some changes will need to be made.  The first priority when approaching a tune like this is to sort out the bowing so that the tune will flow.  Ornaments are of secondary importance and can come later. 

Here’s the tune again, with bowings added.

Saint Anne’s Reel – 2

The slurred notes:

  • are all up-bowed
  • all last for 1 and a half beats (the equivalent of three quaver beats, which can be made up of three quaver notes or a quaver plus crotchet note)
  • occur in two different bar locations shown below

1 – These slurs go across the bar-line.  They start on the last quaver beat of a bar and extend over the first beat of the next bar.

2 – these slurs go across the middle of the bar.  They start on the fourth quaver beat of the bar and extend over the third beat of the bar.

With reels, the aim will be to put the emphasis mainly on the 2nd and 4th beats of the bar and these slurs will do that for you. 

When you play 3 slurred notes in an up-bow you have to move the bow slower (or you’ll run out of bow!).  Moving slower makes for a quieter sound.  Then, after the long up-bow, you need to do a fast down-bow to compensate for the amount of bow used in the slur.  Moving faster makes it louder.  There’s no need to press harder with the bow to play louder – just moving faster will do the trick. 

So, with the slurs where they are, the louder down-bow that follows will occur on either

  • the 2nd beat of the bar (preceded by across-the-barline slurs) or
  • 4th beat of the bar (preceded by across-the-middle-of-the-bar slurs).

It would be too repetitive to use slurs like this at every opportunity – the mixture of slurs and separately bowed runs of notes works best.

See more on Bowing for Reels