Arranging Fiddle Tunes to Teach Violin Techniques, Part 2

by Mary Ann Willis

From Mary Ann Willis:
The intention of this series of articles is not to present the tunes as they are traditionally done. Instead the goal is to use easy, popular music as a vehicle for the student to practice and learn more advanced techniques.
I created these versions of these tunes for my students, who enjoy them and their increased mobility around the fiddle with both left hand and bow as a result of learning them. This series is an alternative to the drudgery of Sevcik, Mazas etc. - to help inspire the beginning student to tackle intermediate techniques.

Arkansas Traveler
(Bringing Home a Baby Bumblebee)

Hear an MP3 of Arkansas Traveler

"This recording features Kelly Lancaster on guitar and audio engineering by Dan Lewis."

This old favorite has a new twist - a slide up to an E harmonic to signify a bee sting! This exercise / song is designed to free your left hand and help get you moving all over the fiddle so you won't be stuck in 1st position for the rest of your fiddle career!

The words to this version are:
Bringing home a Baby Bumblebee
Won't my Mommy be so proud of me!
Bringing home a Baby Bumblebee
Yow! (E harmonic) It stung me!

We're in the key of A (it's originally in D) so we can have that zing! - an E string harmonic. Use the Nashville shuffle (see my previous webzine article on "Boil that Cabbage Down") with and without slurs.

First, find the E harmonic. It's halfway up the E string, between the nut and bridge. You can even measure it if you like. Touch the 3rd finger very lightly to the string in this spot (you can also do it with the 4th if you prefer), without depressing the string completely to the fingerboard. Bow as you do so. It should produce a clear, whistling sound. If not, move the finger lightly around in this area as you bow until it does. Use plenty of bow speed but not too much pressure. Be sure to maintain a good sounding point with the bow, about halfway between the bridge and fingerboard. Keep the scroll of the fiddle level or slightly above so the bow doesn't slide down the fingerboard. When you get a good clean harmonic, simultaneously lift both the finger and bow off the string for a ringing tone. Practice this until you can sound the harmonic reliably.

To arrive at this E harmonic from 1st position, release the left thumb and slide up the neck of the fiddle until the base of the hand touches the instrument body. Keep the neck from sinking into the webbing between your thumb and forefinger; keep your contact points just above the base joint of the forefinger and somewhere on the upper half of your thumb.

(In my new DVD "Hot Fiddle!" there's a chapter on harmonics, and you can see this technique executed and explained visually.)

Now, go ahead and learn the song. Slide up to this harmonic in the second to last measure. Then you have a couple of rests to give you time to hit open E and position your hand back down in 3rd position to play the C# and A.

To find 3rd position (this is a practice drill:) play A on the E string (3rd finger) in 1st position. Keep the finger clear of the open A string, and sound that string along with the fingered note. Move your 3rd finger back and forth along the E string as you bow continuously, until it's in tune with the open A.

Now that you know where on the fingerboard it is and what that upper A sounds like, slide your hand (maintaining your contact points as before) up the E string to place your 1st finger where your 3rd was, on that same note. Check your tuning again. Keep your wrist fairly straight; don't let it collapse or stick out. Keep it still; don't let it wiggle around, as you slide by closing the elbow.

Do this a number of times, checking your intonation in both positions, until your hand "memorizes" that third position A on the E string. Then, you can "back into" it from that high harmonic at the end of the song.

Now you've got an old fiddle standard with a snazzy new surprise ending!

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

2005 Mary Ann Willis

For a more traditional setting of this tune, please refer to my "Phillips Collection of Traditional American Fiddle Tunes - Volume One". -- Stacy Phillips

Mary Ann Willis bio -

  • Professional violinist, performing and teaching in Houston Texas
    1977-1999 with The Gypsies. 2000-present with Moodafaruka
  • Author of eight book/recording volumes of ethnic and classical music for Mel Bay Publications (5 published to date under Mary Ann Harbar)
  • Played with numerous symphony orchestras throughout the United States, and the Festival dei Due Mondi in Spoleto, Italy
  • Houston Community College faculty member starting in 1988
  • BA in music from University of California

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