Fiddler Magazine Fall 2013 Book Review

The Fiddle Center presents: Learn to play Irish Trad Fiddle, by Tom Morley [Available from Flying Frog Music, PO Box 177, Fairhope, AL 36533; www.IrishTradFiddle.com]

Many years ago I had the pleasure of getting to know fiddler Tom Morley when he was part of a fine swing combo known as 78 RPM. Now Tom has re-appeared on the scene as the author of the above-mentioned book and CD, and it’s clear that he really knows his onions as far as Irish fiddling is concerned.

There are many books available today that present traditional Irish fiddle. There are voluminous collections bereft of bowings and underlying chords. There are also books that profess to get fiddlers started from scratch, sometimes presenting dubious technique that students may regret having learned as they advance.

Tom’s book assumes that the reader already has some basic knowledge as far as getting around a violin is concerned. He starts out with a basic fingerboard map and a few scales. Commendably, he does not only present these scales from root to root, but includes what he calls the “leftover notes” found below and above the roots as well.

A brief discussion of counting rhythms follows, and then Tom takes us off into tune-land. Each of the 50 tunes in the book is also recorded on the accompanying CD, so ear-learners, note-readers, and everybody in between can learn. The tunes are carefully graded, and Tom takes pains to initially present bare-bones versions, with ornaments introduced later. He also gently nags folks into using the under-utilized fourth finger when necessary.

Two things about Tom’s book that I think are particularly good are the fact that bowings for each tune are included. In the past I have encountered books that claim to include tunes that are “partially bowed.” That’s kinda like being “a little bit pregnant.” It just doesn’t work that way. When two bars with an odd number of bow strokes are presented in his book, Tom takes pains to mark the bowings that allow the player to get back on the “good foot,” meaning the down bow at the top of a bar. His bowings really work.

A second aspect of the book that I really enjoy are the many “helpful hints” and “learn more about” sections. These might shed light on a particular bowing pattern or explain the origin of a tune’s name. By the end of the book, I felt as though I had been given a little mini-history lesson about Ireland and its music. His book ends with a long list of recommended reading, listening, and websites.

My cap is off to Tom for writing and recording an excellent introduction to Irish traditional fiddling. Anyone interested in exploring this fascinating style would do well to pick up a copy of his book.                    –– Paul Anastasio