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August 2008 · Bimonthly







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As the co-director of the Gahanna-Lincoln Fiddlers and the main fiddle teacher, it was my job to arrange tunes so they were playable by our students. Because it was a high school group, we had a wide range of players: freshmen to seniors, students who had only a casual relationship with their instrument to students who were planning on majoring in music in college. The challenge with a wide-ranging group is that the advanced students enjoy difficult music and the less advanced students become frustrated easily.

My solution was to create arrangements of tunes that had easy and hard versions, played sequentially, although the easy part could be played all the way through. One example would be Old Joe Clark. The easy version was the tune as it is sung. A slightly harder version is to take the sung version and use the "blue jell-o" (eighth, sixteenth, sixteenth “shuffle”) bowing. The hardest version is one I learned from my husband, an Appalachian fiddler and it is much more ornate.

I used the same technique for two "fancy fiddle" tunes, Black Mountain Rag and Orange Blossom Special. In the case of Black Mountain Rag, I taught a simple melody for the C part for one iteration of the tune and a shuffled version for the next.

Our version of Orange Blossom (OBS) doubled the shuffle. We did one set of shuffle with a simple pattern (low, low, high, high) and then did the more complex shuffle (low, low, high, low, low, high, low, low etc.).

Our OBS also started out slow and got faster during each of the train whistle parts. This arrangement, then, basically parallels the learning process: it moves from easy to more difficult, from slow to fast.

We also did the slow to fast on Swallowtail, an arrangement we "borrowed" from the Saline, Michigan fiddle group. Students really enjoyed this tune because it's not terribly difficult but it is a lot of fun to play fast. We created a simple second part (play E and D according to the chord changes) that students could change over to that when the speed got beyond them. Again, the arrangement paralleled the learning process.

I value authenticity. One of my goals with the fiddle group was to prepare students to participate in any type of folk music that they enjoyed; I wanted students to think of music as something they do beyond high school, whether or not they were going to major in music. With that in mind, I did not change the keys of tunes to accommodate cellists and violists. It would be embarrassing for them to show up to a jam and try to play Boil the Cabbage Down in D instead of A.

Nevertheless, the fiddle group is a learning venue and creating versions of tunes that build in a teaching process allows all students to find their own comfort level in playing.

[Recordings of the versions that Ms. Osborne teaches can be found on-line at www.woodshed.podomatic.com - editor]



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About the Author

Until recently, Carolyn Osborne was the co-director of the Gahanna-Lincoln High School fiddlers, Gahanna, Ohio. She teaches in the Dept. of Education at Capital University.

{From the editor:
There was a dialogue about teaching children and authenticity concerning the tune Liberty in issues #20 and 22 (Aug. and Dec. 2006) of Fiddle Sessions. – SP}


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