For this article, I’d like to share with you my thoughts on bringing polkas to life with bowing.  As usual, it’s the bowing that really drives the tune forward.  Variations and ornamentation can come later.  So, we’ll have a look at the great tune called The Glen Cottage Polka

The version above gives the bare bones of the tune

The first thing to do is to sort out a bowing pattern that works – this can be seen in the version below.  For polkas, separate bowing for each note (down-up-down-up etc) can work well, but slurs are very effective.

1         For polkas, slurs generally go with the beat (rather than across it, as in reels or hornpipes).  There are two beats per bar, so the first one could be played with a down-bow and the second with and up-bow.  The first three bars below illustrate this well.  The beats contain different numbers of notes – this doesn’t matter – the bow is moving with the beat whether it has 2 or 4 notes and whether they are dotted or not. 

Also, a small surge in volume (achieved by speeding up the bow movement) will be very effective.  For example, the first two notes of the tune are G and E, both played in a down-bow.  The bow moves slowly for G and speeds up for E, giving greater emphasis to the second note.  Listen to Kevin Burke play polkas to hear a great example.

2 3      This doesn’t mean that you always have to play with slurs.  Separate bowing is also very effective, particularly on runs of semiquavers, which are also a feature of polkas.  Slurred bowing gives a smoother sound, which is great with the changes in volume described above, and separate bowing can give a real bounce to the music.  A nice combination of both is what to aim for.

4         While slurs mostly work well on the beat, sometimes going across the beat, like with reels, can be good too.  Here the small surges of volume can be used on the second of each pair of slurred notes.  This gives emphasis to the start of the bar.

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