Gypsy Violin

by Mary Ann Harbar


arr. Mary Ann Harbar

This classic Russian Gypsy song reminisces about the good times of youth in a nightclub where two guitarists serenaded the customers. One of the most widely recognized authentic Gypsy tunes, (not only is the improvisation Gypsy style, but the actual tune itself was composed by Gypsies), "Two Guitars" has been popularized internationally.

This typical violin arrangement uses a variety of signature Gypsy devices: contrast between slow and fast, articulated and legato, pizzicato and arco (bowed), and high and low; double stops, runs, slides, glissandi, grace notes, leaps and chromatics, and liberal use of leading tones.

It's basically in D harmonic minor (minor third, lowered sixth and raised 7th notes of the scale). The prevalent chord progression is: IV - I - V - I. You will find this in the theme (part A), as well as the subsequent parts from D onward. You can substitute Bb for D minor some of the time, as shown.

Take a minute for an overview the song's road map; at the bottom of both the second and third pages (after each E section) we return to the A section. Note that each occurrence of the A section has a different ending. You can photocopy the song and tape all three pages together so you can lay them flat and easily jump back and forth.

The song begins with a pizzicato arpeggiated theme outlining the chord progression, ending with a chromatic walk-up to the tonic. Keep a moderate and steady tempo throughout this section.

The B section is entirely rubato, (flexible tempo), starting with a slide into a low A followed by a leap to the C# and A double stop. Come off the lower string on the first note of each line with a big bow arc flourish in the air (but don't do as I did once, and let it accidentally fly off into the audience!) If you have an accompanist, it helps to also make eye contact and rear back a bit to drop your head on this downbeat to signal the chord change.

Play the following up-bow eighth note pickup with a quick flick of the wrist and/or fingers at the frog. Play each occurrence of this as close to the frog as possible to ensure plenty of bow for the following 3-beat note (actually, we're not counting - I just had to fit the notes into the metered framework when transcribing!)

To play the passage Gypsy style, exaggerate the shortness of the eighth notes and the pickup runs by playing them as fast as you can with tiny bow strokes, and really s-t-r-e-t-c-h the long notes. (The resultant quick chromatic double stops are easily accessible by simply rocking your left hand back and forth.) Really conserve bow on the long notes. Here's a Gypsy secret that you can hear on recordings: on long notes, start your vibrato slow; then narrow its range, speeding it up, as the note develops.

After this tied half-quarter near the beginning of every B section line, you should find yourself at the tip, where you can now play the next group of eights and quarters. Notice this brings you neatly to an up-bow for the next "3-count" note. Use generous bows for this note and the next half note, bringing you to an up-bow near the tip on the pickups at the end of the line. This facilitates that big flourish (full bow!) on the first note of the next line. Isn't this fun? I love Gypsy music because it's got the sophistication of classical, the fun of fiddle, and it's so ergonomic!

Dramatize the last two bars of that section, by smearing your third finger down and up respectively (with ample vibrato) for the slides (first finger remains stationary), and drawing those notes out as much as the length of your bow will allow. Don't mistake the slides for slurs - give each note its own separate bow.

On the last note, raise your head to signal your accompanist to make the breathtaking suspended pause with you, before dropping into section C.

There! You've gotten through the first page - the dramatic introduction to the song. During the next section we'll build up speed from deliberately slow to a fast clip, and lead back to the first return to section A.

The first few notes of section C are slurred to bring you to an even down-up bowing throughout the rest of the page. Bounce the bow - spiccato - until section E. Start a gradual accelerando (tempo increase) around the third bar. Keep accelerating through the downward chromatic cascade of the next line and until you reach your destination tempo of D ("Fast")!

Section D1 is simply a variation of D, using grace notes.

Make a nice long (in distance) but quick (in tempo) slide into the first note of section E, maintaining tempo throughout the section before coming to an abrupt halt signaling the return to section A (like a Gypsy reining his horse in from a gallop to a walk).

Play through A again, at the original stately tempo; this time take the second ending to the top of the third page (section F).

Now we have a completely new theme, with accompanying chord substitutions. This section can be played at the same tempo as A, or rubato. (In Greg Harbar's band "The Gypsies," we play it as a waltz!) Slide the third finger at the beginning for schmaltz (oops, borrowed from Yiddish!), and go way up the A string at the end of line 1 for effect. You can really have fun playing up the slides in this section; just remember to make them short enough (tempo-wise) to keep them from being nauseating.

Sections D2 and D3 are variations on D. Build up tempo during D2 so that by the time you've reached D3 you are at your maximum tempo (the notes are easier in D3 to facilitate this) and if possible, sautillé bowing (French for "jumping" - a rapid, springing back-and-forth stroke in which the stick bounces but the hair remains on the string, giving 16th notes crisp articulation.). Section E is as before.

Take the final repeat of A and the third ending.

If you have any questions you can e-mail me at You also might enjoy visiting my website at

Happy Gypsy fiddling! - Mary Ann

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