This package consists of a book which is 45 pages, 5.5" by 8.5" in size, spiral bound, illustrated, with written music for fiddle tunes, and two 60 minute CDs in “teach yourself” format which correspond to the tunes in the book. The tunes are played by author Ryan thomson at very slow speed for learning the melodies by ear, and then up to dance speed with variations.
The repertoire consists of several ethnic styles: Irish, Scottish, French Canadian, American, bluegrass, and others. The tune types include traditional dance tunes and variations with chords for accompanying instruments; hornpipes; reels; hoedowns; jigs; and waltzes, with a written description and origin of each tune. The written music is suitable for all folk instruments.
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Ryan Thomson is a self taught fiddler and professional tune collector residing in New Hampshire. He won the Northeastern US Regional award at the National Fiddle Contest in Weiser, Idaho in 1977. Before starting to learn fiddle he had studied classical and jazz piano, built and learned to play a lap dulcimer, taught himself pennywhistle, mandolin, and guitar, and had reached an award winning level of banjo playing. His solo banjo CD, Great Bay Stomp, has received excellent reviews. After learning fiddle he added flute and accordian to the list.
He attended college in San Diego, California, and graduate school in New Hampshire and studied topics in the psychology of music. He acquired the nick name "Captain Fiddle," from his co-workers at WUNH where he produced a weekly show on fiddling and folk music for several years in the 1970's. He continued with a regular Sunday night show for a year on National Public Radio WEVO.
In the early 1980's he passed an audition to play in an award winning Nashville based country band and toured the eastern states from Missisippi to Maine. He twice received the nomination for "Country Fiddler of the Year," from the Massachusetts Country Music Association.
After years of searching libraries from coast to coast he discovered that no general book about folk fiddling existed. He decided to fill that niche and in 1985 founded Captain Fiddle Publications by authoring his first book, The Fiddler's Almanac, a general reference source about fiddlers and fiddling which can be presently found in over 3000 libraries in the United States and Canada.
He has since written several more books on fiddle, banjo, music theory for folk musicians, and other topics. Ryan's instructional books and recordings have received top reviews from the best of fiddling and folk music publications.
In 1990 he lost the ability to bow the violin properly with his right arm. Feeling a strong need to resume fiddling, he converted his fiddle to left handed, relearned to fiddle, and now performs left handed even though he is naturally right handed. The experience of having to learn how to play fiddle twice has made him an excellent fiddle teacher and workshop leader. There are also other entertainment advantages to having learned to play both right and left handed. In between playing right and left handed violin, he taught himself to play swing piano for jitterbug dances.
In 1994 he won a Boston Music Awards nomination for Best Ethnic/International Act for his accordion playing while leading the Crawdad Wranglers cajun band which has been playing for cajun dancers in New England for over 13 years. The band can be heard on the CD Crawdad Wranglers Live! In 1995 he earned his first trophy playing violin left handed, at the Southern Vermont Scottish Highland Games.
In the summer of 1998 he recorded his first CD playing left handed fiddle - New Hampshire Hornpipe, an album of all original celtic style tunes. His 1999 CD, Newmarket Duets, is a collection of traditional and original tunes played on fiddle, flute, and accordian by Ryan, with friends on hammered dulcimer, guitar, Irish Harp, chromatic harmonica, and other instruments.
Ryan was invited in 2000 as a special guest artist to perform at the Celebrate New Hampshire festival sponsored by the Smithsonian. He currently performs in several bands, teaches music, and continues to journey to far off places over seas and across America as a tune collector. His latest CD, released in 2001, Ryan Thomson. Tune Collector, includes newly recorded solo Irish flute and Pennywhistle tunes, solo swing piano, and a sampling of selections from his previously released accordian, banjo, and fiddle CDs.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
I originally caught the "Fiddling Bug" while living in California and then spent every spare moment soaking in the sea of tunes that I encountered in the Appalachian mountains, at New England country dances, at west coast folk music festivals, during dusk to dawn picking parties, and from the many fiddling friends I've met in the last 15 years. I learned some tunes by hearing other fiddlers play them at dances, some from records and fiddle contests, and others from written collections of fiddle music. Sometimes I've arranged a tune from several sources: a bit from a recorded version, musical phrases from another local fiddler, and some licks from my own bag of fiddle tricks. In this series, I've written out tunes which have been my favorites over the years. On the Cds I play a basic version very slowly, and then several variations at dance tempo. Many folks turn to a book of written music because they want to learn how a tune "goes." One however, has only to listen to two different fiddlers to find out that a tune goes differently depending upon who is playing it! Still, a book serves the useful purpose of providing a version which is frozen on the printed page. This gives a beginning folk player something solid to hang on to, and the advanced player a platform from which to launch into creative variations. In New England we play fiddle tunes for country dances which include figures such as squares, contras, quadrilles and waltzes. During the course of a particular dance the musicians must play continuously for a long period of time. To keep the playing interesting, musicians often play medleys of tunes, sometimes changing keys in the process. Playing any particular tune over and over without variation may become boring. This depends, however, upon how difficult the tune is to play. Even experienced players can have problems with tunes that they have only recently learned. It may take every bit of concentration a player has merely to play all of the notes in tune and as quickly as the dance demands. Rather than experiencing boredom, a fiddler may be hard pressed to keep up; beads of sweat break out on the forehead and eyes remain fixed in a static glaze. The fiddler breathes a sigh of relief when the dancers complete their last figures and the caller gives the "going out" signal to stop. Fiddlers find all tunes easier to play after time. It may become so effortless to play a tune that the fiddler goes on to chewing gum and winking at the whirling dancers on the floor. But don't think that the fiddler is loafing. The hard parts of the tune can still be gauged by watching when the fiddler momentarily stops chewing! (or plays a wrong note in the process of winking!) The ultimate sign of tune mastery comes when the fiddler can play numerous complex tune variations while simultaneously carrying on an animated conversation with the piano player about the previous night's revels. There's no end to the repertoire though. After each tune is mastered there's always another, with several lifetime's worth of great tunes waiting to be played! Some fiddlers make dance playing more interesting by learning many variations on their tunes. These variations can arise from several sources: spontaneously during repetitive playing, from careful pre-arrangement, or from learning a tune by ear and playing it a bit differently than the person it was learned from. There isn't room in a book to put lots of variations so I've written what I interpret as the "essence" of a tune, in my own style of playing. In past times, fiddle tunes were passed along mostly by ear and versions within particular geographic regions tended to be similar. Players who incorporated tasteful variations into their playing were respected. Some people, though, would insist that a particular version, either from a book of fiddle music, or from a certain fiddler was the "correct" or "best," version.
The fun in fiddle music comes from the fact that there is no one correct or best way to play any tune. A particular player can shape a tune to fit his or her own fancy. I would hope that you use this book as a way to get you started down the road, so to speak, and not be bound by the printed notation. I've suggested chords for accompanying instruments. Have fun with these versions. And by all means get out there and listen to how other fiddlers play them!
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