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October 2008 · Bimonthly

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In the early 1990's The Old Time Herald published a series of columns on the art of fiddle bowing written by one of the foremost practitioners of old time music, Brad Leftwich. Thanks to Brad and Old Time Herald, Fiddle Sessions will be reprinting some of these explorations. From time to time we will present updated comments on some of these issues.

First, Brad has submitted a newly-written introduction to these articles. The licks that he references that he writes of here refer to his teaching version of Shortening Bread which is taught in the first reprint column coming in the next issue of Fiddle Sessions. Brad's unique bowing notation and accompanying mp3's (new to these reissues) are a great way to introduced to Southeastern traditional fiddling.

- Stacy

Almost 20 years have passed since I wrote my first bowing workshop for the Old-Time Herald magazine. There were nine workshops in all, and they ran from 1989 through 1995. They certainly don't come even close to exhausting the subject - that wouldn't be possible even with a hundred workshops - but I hoped they would give aspiring fiddlers a direction and a compass for pursuing their own explorations. Although my teaching techniques have evolved over the years, I still think of bowing as the soul of Southern old-time fiddling, and the rhythms I presented then still stand as some of the essential building blocks of good bowing.

One of the changes I've made in my teaching over the years is to give the rhythms mnemonics to make them more accessible and memorable. The project is ongoing, and I haven't found anything suitable for many of the rhythms, but I'll point out the ones I have in introductions to each workshop.

For example, the first workshop talks about "saw strokes," a beginning lick, and two kinds of ending licks. I've found that people relate to saw strokes better if I tell them they sound like "Minnesota, Minnesota, Minnesota" giving each syllable its own bow stroke, with an accent on the “so” syllable.

Example 1: The mnemonic for sawstrokes is "min-ne-SO-ta." The accented third syllable ("SO") falls on the foot tap, so be aware that the first two syllables ("min-ne") are pickups to the beat.


Example 2 illustrates the beginning lick in next issue's article. The mnemonic is "min-ne-SO-ta-min-ne-SO-ta-min-ne-SO-ta-look-aWAY." (borrowing the phrase from the tune "Dixie" for what I call the "look away" ending ).


Example 3 is the same deal as example 2, except the mnemonic here is "min-ne-SO-ta-min-ne-SO-ta-won't-you-COME-ooouuut-to-NIGHT" (from “Buffalo Gals Won't You Come Out Tonight”).


As usual, it's much easier to demonstrate this stuff than it is to describe it. The mnemonics may help, or they may not but, with the bowing graphs from the old articles, it'll give you one more way to figure out what's going on.

To help you get started we'll reprint some of this introductory material next issue, when Brad begins his columns with a version of Shortening Bread. - Stacy

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About the Author

A highly respected fiddler, banjo player, and singer, Brad Leftwich has been performing and teaching traditional music for more than 30 years. Recordings of his music appear on the County, Copper Creek, Rounder, and Chubby Dragon labels. Brad performs with his wife Linda Higginbotham, and also with Tom Sauber and Alice Gerrard in the trio Tom, Brad & Alice.

For more information check out his web site at

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