15th April – Blazin’ Fiddles

Blazin’ Fiddles isn’t a piece of music – it’s a Scottish folk band!

Folk music isn’t usually written down the way classical music is. The main tune can be written down if you want a way of remembering it later (this is usually just 16 bars of music with a couple of repeat marks) but that’s about it. The tunes are usually ‘traditional’ – this means they were written a long time ago and played without written sheet music for so long that we don’t remember who wrote the tune in the first place! But nowadays lots of folk musicians are also writing their own tunes in the same style, so it’s not always obvious if a tune is brand new or very old.

Folk tunes are usually played in ‘sets’ – this is several tunes played one after the other to make a complete piece of music that lasts 3 or 4 minutes. The ‘arrangement’ of the full piece of music is decided by the musicians themselves – sometimes in advance, but often improvised as they play! They often grow in energy throughout the set, to finish on a really exciting tune!

In the video below, the first tune is called The Inside-Oot Fish Eater (by Peter Wood). Note: the link will take you to the sheetmusic on an external website. Listen out for the change to the second tune, Peerie Willie (by Willie Hunter), 1 minute 33 seconds into the video. The last tune is called Pat The Budgie (by Graham Townsend) and it starts at 2 minutes 40 seconds.

In the video below these tunes are played by four violinists (or ‘fiddle players’), one guitarist and one pianist. Another band could play the same set of tunes in a completely different way, with a completely different choice of instruments! However, in folk music the ‘arrangement’ of the set is unique to the band playing – so it’s more likely (and considered politer) that another band would choose just one of these tunes and play it in a different way, with two completely different tunes making up the rest of the set!

While you watch and listen, have a think about:

  • Is the music fast or slow? Major or minor? Does it have a clear beat?
  • How does the music make you feel? Happy, sad, energised, sleepy?
  • Do you think these musicians chose the arrangement of these tunes in advance (and practised it) or are they improvising and making it up as they go along?
  • Can you hear the key signature change whenever the musicians move onto the next tune? What else happens at this point? Does the mood change? Does the excitement build?
  • The names of these tunes are a bit silly! Can you think of some good names for folk tunes? Maybe you could write a tune and name it after a pet, a favourite food, or a silly memory? How about a jaunty jig called The Dog’s Pyjamas? Or a fast reel called Polly The Plate Smasher? Let me know what you come up with!

This article was written by alison