For this article, I’m looking at Irish hornpipes and how to bring them to life with sound bowing.  Hornpipes should have a real swing to them.  Often this is lacking, and it’s partly to do with the way that they’re often notated.  A lot of hornpipe sheet music has the notes in the dotted quaver/semiquaver combination, like this:

This makes the music cluttered and it is also inaccurate. If this were played as written it wouldn’t sound too good at all! Below is a far more accurate way to write hornpipes.  It is written with straight quavers, which makes it easier to read and the addition of

at the top tells you to play it with a swing.  (Technically speaking, this tells you that a written pair of quavers should sound like a crotchet+quaver within a triplet):

That’s better! It looks a lot easier to read now – written notation shouldn’t make music look more complicated than it needs to be.

Now for a look at the hornpipe Jim Boulton’s Fancy.

Here’s the tune as it might be found online or in your average tune collection (straight quavers as opposed to dotted quavers/semiquavers.)

For a fiddle player, the first thing to do is sort out the bowing.

I’ve added up-bow slurs to the tune – 4 different types:

Here, there are up-bow slurs…

Highlighted in red – Across the 3rd beat of the bar

Highlighted in yellow- Across the 1st beat of the bar

Highlighted in blue – Across the 2nd beat of the bar, and

Highlighted in green – On the 4th beat

Slurring 2 or three notes in an up-bow movement, means you have to move slower (so you don’t run out of bow!).  This will naturally make these notes quieter.  After the slur, the down-bow note has to move faster to compensate for the long slur movement – that means this note will be louder. 

The examples highlighted in red and yellow above will result in a loud, accented down bow note on the 4th or 2nd beats, respectively – which is just what you want for hornpipes – or reels for that matter.  But not all the time – that would sound monotonous.  Which is why there are the other sorts highlighted in blue and green, for a bit of variety.

See my next post for further ideas on variations and bowing for this tune.