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Nov 5, 2020 - 10:53:46 PM
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140 posts since 2/10/2020

Hello everyone. So, I'm one month shy of playing the fiddle for one full year, which I decided to take up on my 60th birthday. In an otherwise not-so-good year, the fiddle has been a shining light. I've practiced diligently and I now know enough to know how terrible I am.

I come from a clawhammer banjo background (40 years of banjo playing) and I play banjo in a gigging band (pre-covid), thus, I am very familiar with alternative tunings in that genre and use 3 different banjo tunings frequently.

Yesterday, I got the wild idea to tune one of my two fiddles to AEAE, which I believe you fiddlers call sawmill tuning.

I have to tell you...I LOVE IT! I love the sound. It feels very natural to me, and within thirty minutes I was playing a sawmill version of Saltspring that sounded way, way, way better than the standard tuning version I've been playing and practicing for this past year.

So, my question...is this a good idea? I play mostly by ear and I've made good progress in that regard. Do you think it's too early in my process to learn alternative tunings? I played the banjo for twenty years before I dabbled in alternative tunings, but that was mostly because I didn't even know that alternative tunings existed when I started playing. I'm at the point with my fiddling that I can listen to beginner and intermediate tunes and play them on my fiddle by ear (not at full speed!). I'm a little worried that I will mess this up a bit by experimenting with alternative tunings too soon.

On the other hand, I'm almost 61 now, I don't want to wait twenty years to try sawmill again!

Thoughts?

Nov 6, 2020 - 4:15:29 AM
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Players Union Member

carlb

USA

2307 posts since 2/2/2008

There are a bunch of tunes in GDAD that are fun to play. Almost all audio recordings can be found by searching the tune name on
https://www.slippery-hill.com/search-page

Betty Baker
Citigo
Cotton Eyed Joe (Carter Bros & Son)
Flatwoods
Indian Nation
Indian Squaw
Rusty Gun
Sugar Baby <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rzCAp-x5XPM>
Swamp Cat Rag
Tippy Get Your Hair Cut

Nov 6, 2020 - 4:40:54 AM
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11840 posts since 9/23/2009

I think it's a great idea to play in sawmill. I hear ya...I'm nearing 70 now and just wanna play...don't wanna waste time on fundamentals that probably won't help me...just wanna make music. If sawmill is doing that for you...you found your gold mine.

I went to GDGD early in my playing...well, to be honest, I thought that was standard fiddle tuning for a while. I could play just about anything from GDGD, which is sawmill in G rather than in A, as in AEAE. Same thing, just one step lower in pitch. When I learned about standard tuning, I went to GDAE and spent a lot of time there, but eventually found my way back to my comfort zone of GDGD.

Now, after about 11 or 12 years of fiddling, GDGD is still my major comfort zone. I can play almost anything I ever wanna play there. Over the years I got brave and bored at the same time and explored other tunings...namely the Cumberland Gap type D tuning...ADAD...I saw that, like in banjo, sometimes where the melody falls you get an advantage of moving something from sawmill to cumberland gap...but anyway, the important thing is I think a person just generally evolves toward other tunings when that previous comfort level gets so comfortable they get antsy enough to venture out.

But back to the question...is it a good idea to settle down into sawmill if you are finding happiness there...in my opinion...a great big YES...it's a great idea. I say go for it...enjoy sawmill tuning! If it works, it works!

Nov 6, 2020 - 6:15:09 AM
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67 posts since 1/21/2017

Yes, do it. It opens up a whole world of tunes. Jody Stecher used to write a great column in Fiddler magazine all about alternate tunings. I think reading those is what got me past my fear of trying it. And really, for me, the biggest fear was wrestling with my tuning pegs, which I loath. If you can get your hands on a second cheap fiddle, it makes it so much easier to just keep one in open tuning. Or get some perfection pegs, and then it's no harder than retuning a banjo.

Nov 6, 2020 - 6:51:39 AM
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11840 posts since 9/23/2009

Good point about the pegs. I did put peg dope on mine when I changed strings, which helped the transitions to go smoother. But if you tend to leave your fiddle in a tuning you love, it's not that much an issue.

I also came upon a cheap fiddle to keep in a tuning, was my original intention anyway, but then later did move on to the perfection pegs that have little tuning gears inside of them. My husband installed them for me, but I'm sure luthiers would love to do that for people too. The only reason I needed them was because I was in a little amateur band for a few years and they just ddin't give me time to re-tune...they moved from one tune to another fast...I had to haul my banjo around, my guitar, we used my sound system so I had to haul that, so I didn't wanna be carrying two or three fiddles...so I did get the geared tuners so i could just try to tune between songs as necessary...even with those tuners, though, I really had a hard time getting tuned as fast as they wanted me to do...it was always noisy and they jumped from one tune to another...lol...so I spent more time than I shoulda standing in the corner away from the mics trying to get into tune.

But besides issues like that...the peg dope really helps tuning to go more smoothly.  And if you tend to leave it in sawmill most of the time...it's just no issue.

Edited by - groundhogpeggy on 11/06/2020 06:53:18

Nov 6, 2020 - 8:07:38 AM

doryman

USA

140 posts since 2/10/2020

quote:
Originally posted by groundhogpeggy

I think it's a great idea to play in sawmill. I hear ya...I'm nearing 70 now and just wanna play...don't wanna waste time on fundamentals that probably won't help me...just wanna make music. If sawmill is doing that for you...you found your gold mine.

I went to GDGD early in my playing...well, to be honest, I thought that was standard fiddle tuning for a while. I could play just about anything from GDGD, which is sawmill in G rather than in A, as in AEAE. Same thing, just one step lower in pitch. When I learned about standard tuning, I went to GDAE and spent a lot of time there, but eventually found my way back to my comfort zone of GDGD.

Now, after about 11 or 12 years of fiddling, GDGD is still my major comfort zone. I can play almost anything I ever wanna play there. Over the years I got brave and bored at the same time and explored other tunings...namely the Cumberland Gap type D tuning...ADAD...I saw that, like in banjo, sometimes where the melody falls you get an advantage of moving something from sawmill to cumberland gap...but anyway, the important thing is I think a person just generally evolves toward other tunings when that previous comfort level gets so comfortable they get antsy enough to venture out.

But back to the question...is it a good idea to settle down into sawmill if you are finding happiness there...in my opinion...a great big YES...it's a great idea. I say go for it...enjoy sawmill tuning! If it works, it works!


Thanks!  A little while ago you posted a clip of you playing and singing Mole in the Ground.  I loved your fiddle playing in that.  Do you recall if you were playing in an alternative tuning?  One of the songs I play and sing in my band is Mole in the Ground (Joe Walsh's version). It would be cool to play my fiddle to that instead of my banjo.  I tried to replicate your fiddling to that song and was not having too much success.  Maybe you were in an alternative tuning? 

As an aside, if you watch the clip I posted here, that's Jonathan Edwards (Sunshine go away today, Lay around the shanty) up front on the harmonica!

Nov 6, 2020 - 8:10:25 AM

9037 posts since 3/19/2009

quote:
Originally posted by coryobert

Yes, do it. It opens up a whole world of tunes. Jody Stecher used to write a great column in Fiddler magazine all about alternate tunings. I think reading those is what got me past my fear of trying it. And really, for me, the biggest fear was wrestling with my tuning pegs, which I loath. If you can get your hands on a second cheap fiddle, it makes it so much easier to just keep one in open tuning. Or get some perfection pegs, and then it's no harder than retuning a banjo.


I'd suggest that you get a set of Perfection Pegs , or Wittners...on the fiddle you play the most.. You'll never have trouble tuning again..

Nov 6, 2020 - 8:16:32 AM

doryman

USA

140 posts since 2/10/2020

quote:
Originally posted by coryobert

Yes, do it. It opens up a whole world of tunes. Jody Stecher used to write a great column in Fiddler magazine all about alternate tunings. I think reading those is what got me past my fear of trying it. And really, for me, the biggest fear was wrestling with my tuning pegs, which I loath. If you can get your hands on a second cheap fiddle, it makes it so much easier to just keep one in open tuning. Or get some perfection pegs, and then it's no harder than retuning a banjo.


I do have two fiddles (neither one very expensive) and I put perfection pegs on one of them.  I learned about internally geared pegs like these when I was restoring an old Martin ukulele many years ago, so I knew they existed and was so happy to find out that I could put them on my fiddle. 

Nov 6, 2020 - 8:37:27 AM

1879 posts since 8/27/2008

I've had the same worry. I love how different tunings sound on some tunes and I have several fiddles around so I could dedicate one to alternate tunings. Every once in awhile I'll try it and last about 5 minutes. For me, I personally feel best playing the instrument one way. It saves me from having to use extra brains to figure out where I am when jamming or improvising. Not to mention how to notate music on the page. I consider myself pretty versitle in other areas but when it comes to fiddling I'm a one way Joe.

Nov 6, 2020 - 9:08:44 AM
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5096 posts since 9/26/2008

FWIW, I think notating the actual notes works fine. I know one of our members often comments he would like the notes to represent the finger placement, but to me, someone who can basically hear the tune by looking at the transcript that would be like reading a paragraph with the words written in a code - makes no sense to the brain.

I play several tunes in both standard and cross A. You'd be surprised at how one can adapt to a new tuning with a little effort. I often choose which way to play it based on whether I'm playing for a dance and want to pair with a tune I play in standard (say, a different key maybe) or if the fiddle is already cross tuned.

Nov 6, 2020 - 9:44:16 AM
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doryman

USA

140 posts since 2/10/2020

quote:
Originally posted by ChickenMan


I play several tunes in both standard and cross A. You'd be surprised at how one can adapt to a new tuning with a little effort. I often choose which way to play it based on whether I'm playing for a dance and want to pair with a tune I play in standard (say, a different key maybe) or if the fiddle is already cross tuned.


Thanks Bill.  I know that I can adapt to new tunings, and switch back and forth, because I do that on that banjo now.  But I've been playing the banjo for years.  I was just wondering if it was wise to dabble in multiple tunings on the fiddle when I've only been playing for a bit less than one year.  From what I'm hearing here, and from what I know from my banjo playing, I think that I WILL dabble in the alternative universe on occasion.  Also, it's fun. 

Nov 6, 2020 - 10:59:45 AM
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367 posts since 3/1/2020

There’s no harm in trying it. You might find that you have a small learning curve with the changed finger patterns, but it’s actually a good exercise in ear training.

If you change the tuning, just be sure to keep an eye on the setup to be sure things don’t move out of position.

Nov 6, 2020 - 11:02:42 AM

11840 posts since 9/23/2009

John, thanks for the youtube link to the Mole in the Ground that your band plays. When I played mine a while back, I was tuned to my favorite tuning...GDGD. There is a difference in the versions...the version I play (no idea whose version it might be), you don't go to the iv chord as fast as in the version in your youtube link. So...on the second time you sing the line, "I wish I was a Mole in the Ground," in my version, you are staying on that i chord that you started out in ... like in G...you're on a G chord from the start..."I wish I was a Mole in the Ground, Oh I wish I was a ..." and then on "Mole in the..." you go to the iv chord...the C in my case, playing it in G... and then back to the i chord, the G chord, on the word, "ground." The rest of the verse I think uses the same chord progression. The version that goes like the youtube you linked might be a newer version...don't know that for sure, just sounds newer to my ear...but, like if you start out on G, then you hang on that G during..."I wish I was a Mole in the Ground..." Then you already switch to the C, the iv chord when you sing the next line..."I wish I was a Mole in the..." then back to G..."ground." And they both follow the same basic progression to end the verse.

That's the biggest difference... so I don't know if that was throwing you off if you were trying to play along with mine...maybe I'm just blabbering on about stuff you know already...and sorry if that's the case...but either way, either version should work out fine in sawmill tuning.

Oh, and I totally agree with Chicken Man/Billy...if you mess around going back and forth between standard and sawmill...you will be amazed at how fast you can easily find your way in either one...just like with your banjo tunings...as far as notation goes...I have no idea...I've never played by it and not in any hurry to ever try...lol.

Edited by - groundhogpeggy on 11/06/2020 11:04:58

Nov 6, 2020 - 1:22:25 PM

1774 posts since 12/11/2008

I had a good scare when the neck of one of my fiddles (of course it was the expensive fiddle) decided to detach itself from the body. I sent the fiddle back to the guy who sold it to me to get the neck reattached. He gently told me "These things happen" and re-glued it. Now I just keep one fiddle, the cheap one, permanently tuned to AEAE. If I want to go sawmill, I just lower the E string.

Nov 6, 2020 - 1:28:24 PM

9037 posts since 3/19/2009

quote:
Originally posted by Lonesome Fiddler

I had a good scare when the neck of one of my fiddles (of course it was the expensive fiddle) decided to detach itself from the body. I sent the fiddle back to the guy who sold it to me to get the neck reattached. He gently told me "These things happen" and re-glued it. Now I just keep one fiddle, the cheap one, permanently tuned to AEAE. If I want to go sawmill, I just lower the E string.


Of course you already realize this, but tuning to GDGD is also a good way to play A tune.. (unless you are in a jam)..

Nov 6, 2020 - 1:38:27 PM

11840 posts since 9/23/2009

I've heard a lot of people who stay in AEAE and never have a problem...but if anybody worries about that, yeah, GDGD would be less tension...even can go down lower to FCFC, except it's a lot easier to find people to play in G with you than in C.

Nov 6, 2020 - 3:14:47 PM
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9037 posts since 3/19/2009

quote:
Originally posted by groundhogpeggy

I've heard a lot of people who stay in AEAE and never have a problem...but if anybody worries about that, yeah, GDGD would be less tension...even can go down lower to FCFC, except it's a lot easier to find people to play in G with you than in C.


Peggy, yes.. With my 75 year old ears, GDGD and FCFC, are not only easy on the fiddle, but also are easy on the ears.!!!

Nov 6, 2020 - 4:28:35 PM
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1774 posts since 12/11/2008

I just like the lift & liveliness I get from AEAE as opposed to GDGD. The fiddle I keep in Cross is pretty chock-a-block, too. It weighs a ton. It's got to be tough. Of course, if I still had jams I could go to, I'd adhere to whatever the prevailing pitch consensus was. Even if that consensus was something like a 425 A.

Nov 6, 2020 - 4:33:59 PM
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WyoBob

USA

221 posts since 5/16/2019

quote:
Originally posted by groundhogpeggy

>snip<  The only reason I needed them was because I was in a little amateur band for a few years and they just ddin't give me time to re-tune...they moved from one tune to another fast...I had to haul my banjo around, my guitar, we used my sound system so I had to haul that, so I didn't wanna be carrying two or three fiddles...so I did get the geared tuners so i could just try to tune between songs as necessary...even with those tuners, though, I really had a hard time getting tuned as fast as they wanted me to do...it was always noisy and they jumped from one tune to another>snip<...


Constant re-tunning, one of my pet peeves.

I quit playing with a weekly jam that I played clawhammer banjos with for 7 years because of the constant retuning.  Clawhammer banjo players have to change string tension.   I don't know of any other jam instrument that has to do that.  Bluegrass banjo players play out of "G" and fiddle players can stay in the same tuning if they choose to do so.  Despite trying to convince the players in my old group to at least stay in the same key for 3 or 4 tunes, I was never successful.  To make maters worse for me, my banjo's were set up with Aquila Nylgut's making constant re-tuning a major pain.  You can change tunings with a lot of cranking on the pegs with nylon strings but it takes awhile for them to settle in.  About the time they did, they changed keys.  I thought it pretty inconsiderate, especially when they didn't wait for me to re-tune.  They just started to play.  I tried to re-tune "discreetly" when that happened but gave up and just re-tuned at full volume while they played away.   I even changed my banjo's over to steel strings to lessen the "settling in" problem but there was just too much cranking the pegs even with steel strings.  So, I quit going.

Now, the only group I play with (used to play with weekly before Covid) is a great old time jam group with 5 or so members who stay in the same tuning for 2-2 1/2 hours.  Nirvana for me.   The old group ---- still a "slow jam" group who have a couple of members who can't sing (but do), play in different timings and play the same 4-5 tunes they know every time their turn comes up, year after year.    The old time group plays many different tunes, many of which I don't know.  But, on the banjo, I can pick up the tune and play along 90% of the time (as long as they don't play anything but 1,4,5 chords).  Weird chords or crooked tunes still throw me for a loop.  I just play quietly when that happens even though, on some occasions, my fingers go to the proper notes without thinking which is an amazing thing to me when that happens!

Nov 6, 2020 - 4:39:05 PM

11840 posts since 9/23/2009

Definitely a good thing if you can find a group who will stay in the same key for a while.

Nov 6, 2020 - 4:54:07 PM
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360 posts since 6/11/2019

I guarantee I'm the most traditional dude around here--planting by the signs, hog-killing by the moon, etc.

But, I'm just not a fan of scordatura, unless it's a pure fiddle tune where you can drone an adjacent string to make the tune louder for dancers. Otherwise, what if someone wants to sing "Rain and Snow" in B, or C? Or, Groundhog in F? Cluck ol Hen in Dm? It's a lot easier to change keys if you started with standard.

AEAE limited to key of A, GDGD limited to G.

Nov 6, 2020 - 5:06:50 PM
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1774 posts since 12/11/2008

WyoBob & Peg -- I hear your 'plaints! Arrogant jam leaders. Tight-knit cliques that give everybody else the evil eye. The loudest player in the room being the worst player in the room. Players who either can't or refuse to try and blend in. Folks who continue to play after everybody else has stopped; when everybody else has lifted their foot higher than the Rockettes. Plain old lack of chemistry. Dern...I miss those weekly jams...

Nov 6, 2020 - 5:54:38 PM

360 posts since 6/11/2019

One thing sawmill is good at is "mtn minor"--Dorian mode tunes (if the singer can sing in A or G or lower). It mimics the bagpipe drone and uses the fifths doublestop a lot--which "implies" the flatted 3rd and sounds "minor-y". Also the most austere doublestop, as opposed to thirds or 6ths--so it really commands the listener. But, you can do the same thing with your fingers. I'm an advocate of learning the 'patterns' on GDAE vs. tunings

But, as others mentioned before, if I did crosstuning a lot I would invest in the wittner pegs.

Nov 6, 2020 - 7:37:57 PM

8 posts since 12/14/2010

quote:
Originally posted by coryobert

Yes, do it. It opens up a whole world of tunes. Jody Stecher used to write a great column in Fiddler magazine all about alternate tunings. I think reading those is what got me past my fear of trying it. And really, for me, the biggest fear was wrestling with my tuning pegs, which I loath. If you can get your hands on a second cheap fiddle, it makes it so much easier to just keep one in open tuning. Or get some perfection pegs, and then it's no harder than retuning a banjo.


Have you tried any geared pegs? If so, which ones? I'm new to fiddle and friction pegs seem horrible for changing tunings. Thanks for any info!

Nov 6, 2020 - 8:09:39 PM
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367 posts since 3/1/2020

quote:
Originally posted by greenhorn
quote:
Originally posted by coryobert

Yes, do it. It opens up a whole world of tunes. Jody Stecher used to write a great column in Fiddler magazine all about alternate tunings. I think reading those is what got me past my fear of trying it. And really, for me, the biggest fear was wrestling with my tuning pegs, which I loath. If you can get your hands on a second cheap fiddle, it makes it so much easier to just keep one in open tuning. Or get some perfection pegs, and then it's no harder than retuning a banjo.


Have you tried any geared pegs? If so, which ones? I'm new to fiddle and friction pegs seem horrible for changing tunings. Thanks for any info!


If you want geared pegs, get Wittners. Unlike Pegheds or Perfection pegs, they are fitted without glue and are very easy to remove should you have any need to do so. 

Nov 7, 2020 - 3:42:29 AM

RichJ

USA

431 posts since 8/6/2013

Lots of interesting comments on this thread. Only thing I can say is I stayed away from cross tuning for many years thinking it would ruin my intonation. Since the time of Covid I stopped attending the weekly jam I went to and started experimenting with cross tunings.

In the past 8 months I've learned a few things:

1. Finger positions in cross tunings are exactly the same as standard tuning - only the corresponding notes change.
2. My intonation has improved in cross because I usually have an adjacent drone string to fine tune the chord or unison note.
3. There's no way I can make my fiddle sound as good in standard as I can in cross (ask my wife).
4. There seem to be endless ways to cross tune, I recently discovered F-C-F-A (F Calico?) Great for playing "Old Bell Cow".
5. Miss those jams, but realize the folks there would never tolerate a crosstuner.

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