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John News and thoughts in the music of John Boulware. Fri, 21 Mar 2014 19:01:58 +0000 en Music Theory 101: The Musical Alphabet Mon, 08 Oct 2007 16:24:12 +0000 admin

In this article, we’ll be discussing the actual notes that make up the music that you play. Here are some music vocabulary words to look out for:

  • natural
  • sharp
  • flat
  • half step
  • whole step

I know some of you are thinking “This guy has to be kidding. He’s teaching A-B-Cs?” That’s right ladies and gentlemen. I am here to teach you the ABCs of music. For some people this is going to be slow, boring, and completely useless, but I recommend that you read it anyway; you might just see something explained in a way you never thought of before. For the rest of you, let’s dig right in.

The musical alphabet is made up of seven letter names: A B C D E F G. It’s not quite that simple though. In Figure 1 I have shown what I’m talking about. The lone letters (C, D, F, A…) are called natural notes. They don’t have anything done to them, therefore they are natural. Above each of the natural notes is a sharp(#) note. It is simply a half step sharper (or higher in pitch) than their natural equivalent. Below each of the natural notes is a flat(b) note. As you can probably guess, these notes are a half step flatter (or lower in pitch) than their natural equivalents.

Musical Alphabet

Figure 1.

At this point you’re probably saying “What are half steps?” The change in pitch from one note to an adjacent note (for instance, E -> Eb, or A ->A#) is a “half step.”

*In Figure 1, some of the notes were highlighted in blue. This is to show that B -> C is a half step and E -> F is a half step. There are no sharps or flats between them.*

As you can probably guess, a “whole step” is simply two half steps. Think of whole steps as being the difference in pitch between any note and any second note away (for instance, Eb -> Db, or A -> B).

Some people work better with a piano keyboard, so here is a figure of how these notes would line up:

Musical Alphabet on Keyboard

Figure 2

Hope this helped some of you. As always, if you have any questions about this or anything else, feel free to email me:

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New Article Series Coming Soon: Music Theory Wed, 05 Sep 2007 12:55:53 +0000 admin
That’s right. I will soon start working on a new series of articles on BASIC to intermediate music theory for beginners. I want to stress the word ‘basic’ for two reasons. First, higher levels of music theory require complex musical examples and just work better in person. Second, I don’t claim to be the world’s best music theorist, so I won’t try to explain the most complex aspects of composition or anything. All of these articles will be things that I teach on a regular basis. I’ll be starting out at the very beginning: the Musical Alphabet, the A-B-Cs of music.

Lots of people refuse to learn music theory because they think it will ruin their current style or sound, or that it’s too hard. Learning music theory just opens new doors for your music; it allows you to do new things as opposed to requiring it. One of the best reasons for learning music theory however, is to improve what you are already doing. When you understand basic music theory, you can understand the relationships between the notes you are already playing, and that gives you a stronger foundation.

We don’t just learn music theory for the fun of it (well, some of us do :-D ). We learn it to better understand the music we play, and to make us better players. If this sounds like something you want to do, then look for articles coming soon!

New Stuff Wed, 29 Aug 2007 16:28:50 +0000 admin Hi there. As you have probably seen, I have finished the Bowing Technique article series. You can see all of them again by clicking the Bowing Technique Series link in the sidebar. —>

Also I have added an RSS feed option to this blog. To subscribe to it, just click the “Subscribe to this blog” link, also in the sidebar.

I heard people saying that they couldn’t find a good notation of the song “Uncle Pen”, written by Bill Monroe. So I decided to write out my arrangement and post it. It can be found in the Sheet Music section of my site, along with several other tunes.

That’s all I have for this time. Enjoy!

Advanced Bowing Tips and Tricks Tue, 28 Aug 2007 13:31:17 +0000 admin Hello everyone, and welcome to the final article in the Bowing Technique Series (for now). This article will deal with:

  • Consistency of Tone and Volume
  • Exploiting the highlights of your bowing style
  • Maximizing control of the instrument

So let’s jump right in!


Do you ever wonder how some people get that wonderful, even tone out of the instrument when they’re playing at half the volume that you are? It has to do in part with the angles of the bow’s position. A perpendicular angle will give you much more volume, tone, and control than any other angle.

The first angle to think about is the way the bow is moving across the strings. Just like a car driving across asphalt, it is going to get more grip if you keep it going straight. If your car starts to slide to it’s side, you are not going to have as much control or traction with it. Similarly, if the bow is not going straight, if it is sliding across the strings at a strange angle like Figure 1, then you will not have as much control as you would if it were going straight like Figure 2.



Figure 1



Figure 2

One way to think about this is to say that the bow is moving perpendicular to the angle that the strings go across the bridge. I prefer another idea though; I like to say that the bow is moving parallel to the bridge itself. When you play, try to keep in mind that you will get more traction, and therefore better tone and volume if the bow is going parallel to the bridge.

If you are having trouble with this aspect, try to remember to move the bow with your elbow, NOT your shoulder. Moving your arm from the shoulder will result in the bow turning as you go from tip to frog and back. If you concentrate on bending at the elbow, you will have less to worry about. Also remember to keep a light, relaxed, and flexible wrist. If your wrist is stiff, it doesn’t matter how much your elbow is bending, you will still be working against yourself. The wrist isn’t the only thing to keep relaxed though. Your entire hand needs to be relaxed so that your fingers can move around on the bow and give you some freedom or “wiggle room”.


Another angle to keep in mind is the “tilt” of the bow. A lot of fiddlers tend to lean the bow forward (away from the bridge) as shown in Figure 3. While this is not the end of the world, it is not quite as good as it could be. Instead try to keep the bow straight up and down in relation to the strings (Figure 4). This emphasizes the force that is being put on the strings by the weight of your arm as discussed in Bowing: Volume and Tone Pointers. This in turn minimizes the amount of work that you have to do, and allows you to stretch the limits of your current bowing style.

Figure 3


Figure 4

This is hard for a LOT of people, so if you don’t get it right at first, don’t feel bad. There are STILL times that I have problems with this. (Sometimes you just have off days.) If you can’t seem to get it, try wrapping your fingers further around the bow. This will rock the bow back toward you a little more and will prevent you from having to turn your hand backward.

The same thing goes for the opposite problem. If you are leaning the bow back toward you, you can try not wrapping your fingers around it so much.

This is all I have for this time. If anyone can think of something else that would be good to add, or if you have trouble with any of this, please feel free to email me.


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Back to School! Wed, 22 Aug 2007 04:55:40 +0000 admin Hello everyone. I have good news and bad news.

Good news: School has started back and I seem to like all of my classes so far.

Bad news: Seems like I won’t be able to post quite as often as I had been. However, I think once I settle in with my schedule a little better and get used to the routine, I will be up and running strong once more.

So here are some things to look forward to in the meantime: I have plans on changing a few elements of the website.

  • I plan to put up “real” mp3 files to accompany the sheet music page. This means that you don’t have to listen to MIDI fiddle on the mp3 anymore! You will be able to hear the real thing!
  • This in turn means that I can post music to go with some lessons that I post.
  • I also am thinking about having an option for RSS feeds to this blog. Let me know what you think about this idea. (Good/Bad/Indifferent)

That’s all I have for this time. If you have any questions for me or suggestions for the website, please email me.


Bowing: Volume and Tone Pointers Fri, 17 Aug 2007 06:57:54 +0000 admin In this episode in the Bowing Technique series, we will discuss:

  • How to make more volume
  • How to use dynamics
  • How to produce better tone
  • How to make your bowing smooth and clean

*First off I will note that each of these tips uses the bow grip shown in my article The 3-Point Perfect Bow Grip.

When playing the fiddle, the sound is of course made by the rosin on the bow-hair catching the string as it travels across it. So the less rosin you have on there, the less sound you’re going to get. So be sure to have some on there, but don’t over do it; getting too much on there will affect your tone.

The volume of the sound you produce is a combination of two factors: the amount of downward force that is being applied to the bow, and the speed at which the bow is traveling. An increase in either one or both of these factors will undoubtedly result in an increase in volume.

  1. Force: When I use the word force, I don’t mean how much muscle you have in your arm that you are pressing down on the strings with. In fact, that is exactly what we don’t want because it creates tension. Instead, the downward force is simply the weight of your arm, nothing more. If you completely relax your arm, gravity will have enough effect on it to bring plenty of force. You don’t have to press down on the bow at all; gravity does all the work for you. To get less volume, you simply lift your arm up a little bit.
  2. Bowspeed: This one is pretty hard to mess up. The faster you move the bow, the more volume you get out of the instrument. The reason is because of the rosin particles. Each particle of rosin “grabs” the string as the bow goes across it. When you move the bow faster, you are basically going through more particles of rosin in the same amount of time. Therefore the string is being caught by more particles, so the string vibrates more and more sound is produced. To get less volume, move the bow slower.

When you put these two factors together, you can have more control over how your music sounds. You can even change the volume of a note in mid-bowstroke. By using this, you can create crescendos and diminuendos (gradual increases and decreases in the volume.) This is called using “dynamics”. Especially in waltzes, these techniques are priceless. Being able to convey emotion through your sound is what makes the difference between just notes, and real music.

The tone of the sound refers to how rich it is and how clean it is. Richness is achieved by force, which again is gravity pulling on your arm. The clean aspect of the sound is achieved by altering bow speed. However, you have to work together on these two. If you move the bow too slowly while using lots of force, then your sound will be rich, but very scratchy and unclean. If you move the bow faster, but don’t use much force, then the bow will just skate across the string without grabbing it much and your tone will be airy and not rich. As a general rule, the more force you use, the faster the bow will need to travel. Likewise, the faster you are moving the bow, the more force will be required for the bow to “dig in”.

That’s all I have for this one. As always, if you have any difficulty or questions with this or anything else, feel free to email me.

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1,000 Hits!!! Tue, 14 Aug 2007 07:38:25 +0000 admin
I have officially reached 1,000 hits since July 10th! Time to throw a party. Woot!

7 Exercises To Improve Your Bowing Tue, 14 Aug 2007 07:22:18 +0000 admin
Hi everybody! We’re back with another article on Bowing Technique. In this particular article, I will be discussing actual bowing examples rather than just theory and technique. These exercises are designed to not only improve bow control and bow speed, but also to broaden your vocabulary of bowing patterns to make fiddling in general a lot easier.

To begin this lesson, you will need to download the bowing exercises by clicking on the link below:

*Note: You will need Adobe Reader to view this file. Your computer probably has it, but if it does not, you can download it at:

When you open up the bowing file, you will notice that the different exercises are separated by repeat signs and have numbers assigned to them. The squared-archway symbol indicates to play a down stroke (from the frog to the tip), and the V-shaped symbol indicates to play an upstroke (from the tip to the frog). The curved line leading from one note to another is called a “slur”. It indicates to play all of the included notes on the same bow stroke without stopping, whether it be down or up. The ‘A’ note is intended to be played with the fourth finger, rather than open. This is so we can keep everything all on one string for simplicity. I will go through each of these exercises individually to help explain them all better.

Before I jump right into the individual exercises however, let me say a few things about bowing exercises in general. (This goes for all bowing exercises, not just mine.) They are exactly that: “EXERCISES”. They don’t have to be absolutely perfect every time you play them. You’re never going to need these things in a real musical situation. Exercises are designed only to help you improve and maintain your playing level. They are a means to an end, not an end in themselves, so don’t get frustrated if you can’t get every bit of it just right.

Now for the exercises themselves!

  1. These notes are all single stroke quarter notes. Start this exercise very slow. Start downstrokes all the way at the frog, and go all the way to the tip. Start upstrokes all the way at the tip and go all the way to the frog. However, do not stop between notes. Keep this as fluid and consistent as possible. Once you get used to this, you can increase the speed in small increments, but don’t rush anything.
  2. Use the same ideas for this one. Long fluid bow strokes, all the way from frog to tip. However, these will have to be much slower to accommodate the four notes on each bow stroke. Be sure to keep your bow speed consistent all the way through the stroke.
  3. This one uses a lot of two-note slurs. (You can probably guess why they’re called that.) Still try to use the long fluid strokes on this one. Keep it consistant though; keep each note’s time value the same length. The bow speed will be much faster than the previous exercise.
  4. This is one that gives a lot of people trouble. This is called the “shuffle-stroke” and is used in a LOT of fiddle tunes. The basic pattern is “two slurred, two single”. This is one of the harder exercises to get the hang of because it is the only pattern that reverses itself. The first note starts on a downstroke and slurs through the second note. Then the third note is an upstroke, and the measure ends on the fourth note which is a downstroke. This means that the second measure starts on an upstroke, which is not very typical of fiddle music. This note slurs through the second note, then the third note is a downstroke. The last note is an upstroke, allowing the pattern to start over again evenly. On the slurred notes, practice using the full bow, frog to tip. The single notes however, should be only half of the bow, being that they are half of the time value. This exercise may take some time to get a grip on, but keep practicing.
  5. This one is sometimes referred to as the “Nashville Shuffle”. It starts with a very fast downstroke, then three slurred notes on an upstroke. The reason the first stroke has to be so fast is because you will need to start the next stroke at the very tip of the bow to get all three of the other notes in it. Make sure to keep the second stroke (the three not slur) slow enough so you don’t run out of bow.
  6. This exercise is almost never used in real music, but can be great for improving bow control. It is basically an inverted “Nashville Shuffle”. It starts with a very fast upstroke, followed by a slower three note slur on a downstroke. This exercise will be much harder to control than the last one. The reason is because it takes a lot more work to go against gravity with the fast upstroke, rather than going with gravity on the previous exercise’s fast downstroke.
  7. The final exercise in this lesson is used a lot in jazz fiddling. However, even if you don’t play jazz, it is still a priceless exercise. It is similar to exercise three, only the pattern is offset by one note. This one is probably the hardest of all of them if you are not used to it. The reason is because the bow changes occur on the offbeat (2nd and 4th) rather than on the strong beats (1st and 3rd). Don’t forget to use the whole bow on each stroke! There are no real tricks to this one, just a boatload of practicing. Once you get it down though, it is quite useful. This exercise will greatly improve bow control.

That’s all I have for this time. If you have any problems or questions on this, feel free to email me and ask; I’ll be glad to help you.

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Go To Previous Article: The 3-Point Perfect Bow Grip

Go To Next Article: Bowing: Volume and Tone Pointers

The 3-Point Perfect Bow Grip Fri, 10 Aug 2007 12:15:06 +0000 admin
Hey everybody. I’ve been getting a lot of questions on Bow technique, and it seems to be an issue with lots of fiddlers, so I figured I would write some articles on it to help clear some things up. This particular article is going to focus on gripping the bow.

*Note: Remember that just because I do something a certain way, does not mean that it is “right” or the “best” way. This is just how I do it, and what I believe to be the best way. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. :-) (more…)

]]> New Article Series Coming Soon! Fri, 10 Aug 2007 06:00:59 +0000 admin Hi everybody! Just wanted to inform you that I will be starting a new article series sometime this week. This particular series will be on the topic of Bowing Technique. Lots of people seem to be having issues on bowing technique, so I figured I would try to clear up some of the fog surrounding the issue. If you have any questions concerning any kind of bowing technique, or anything else for that matter, feel free to email me:

-John Boulware