Ornamentations in Trad Music: Fiddle as a metaphor 4 life

Over a month ago, well before Halloween, I walked into Costco and heard Christmas music playing over the loudspeakers. It depressed me.

Now, a week before Thanksgiving, we are well and truly into the holiday season here in the United States. And that has me thinking about ornamentations.

Ornamentations in traditional music are the musical equivalent of adding spices to pumpkin pie. Without them, what you have is squash pie … not very appetizing. With them, you have a wonderful holiday treat. In other words, ornamentations are what give traditional tunes their distinctive flavor. Just as with pumpkin pie, however, too many ornamentations can ruin a perfectly good tune.

Take a look at it this way: We take a perfectly good tree, cut it down, and put it in a place of honor for Christmas. Is it a Christmas Tree yet? No. It becomes a Christmas Tree when you add ornaments to it; dress it up and make it more than just a tree. I’m sure you’ve seen folks who go overboard with their Christmas Trees, though. Gaudy creations with to many ornaments, excessive flocking, and fake icicles clumped on every available branch. Ugly things.

Traditional music is indeed spiced up with ornamentations, such as long- and short-rolls, cuts, bowed triplets, and slides. But it takes a discerning ear to know how much is enough.

It is also important to execute ornamentations precisely and cleanly. They should shimmer and float off the strings rather than be weighty and clumpy.

So this holiday season, as you are decorating your home for the holidays, lend an ear to your music. Practice the execution of your ornaments and get them quick and precise. Listen to recordings of respected masters in this genre and discover how they decorate their tunes, and then ornament your tunes similarly.

Just like Christmas Trees and pumpkin pies, your tunes should celebrate the essence of the genre … don’t weigh them down with too many or poorly executed ornamentations. There is no reason to depress your tunes as I was depressed that day in Costco.

I hope you have enjoyed this blog. If you are interested in similar writings, please visit my fiddleosophy page on my Trad Tune Learning website. Please share your comments so that we all can benefit from the shared wisdom of the universal mind. I wish you all a very happy, healthy, and fun holiday season. May you spend your time doing what you love with the people you love the most!


1 comment

  • Theresa N.

    Theresa N. Lake Elsinore, CA.

    When you play the violin/fiddle is ornamatation the "grace" notes? Since I play the "whistle" if the music does not have the grace notes....how do I know where I can "put" the ornamatation where it would sound right? Thank You, Theresa N.

    When you play the violin/fiddle is ornamatation the "grace" notes?
    Since I play the "whistle" if the music does not have the grace notes....how do I know where I can "put" the ornamatation where it would sound right?
    Thank You,
    Theresa N.

Add comment