National Folk Festival Workshop – 2008

by | 20 May, 2008

Bluegrass Fiddle Master Class with Donal Baylor.NFFW'shop

All who attended the Bluegrass Fiddle Master Class with Donal Baylor arrived in Canberra for the three-day workshop full of enthusiasm and curiosity. We all went away from the workshop with a sound sense of the place in history of bluegrass music as initiated by Bill Monroe, portraits of leading bluegrass fiddle players and a bunch of fiddle techniques to hone our skills on.

Donal’s selection of tunes for the workshop were appropriate for particular fiddle styles and techniques: the haunting fiddle of the Bill Monroe’s solo, Can’t you Hear me Calling?, Sally Goodin was brought to life with power and volume, fiddle improvisation on Florida Blues and twin fiddling with Texas Gallop.

Donal challenged us with the use of the fourth finger (ouch!), finding the invisible string (what!) and the development of a repertoire of licks.

During the workshop, Donal encouraged discussion and made inspirational comments about practice: –
• have your fiddle where it is out of the case and easily accessible
• don’t just entertain yourself when practicing
• have a plan and aim to get better
• learn chord progressions
• above all, learn from others but also find your own interpretation of the music

We also discussed fiddle set up, use of on-line tools and who/what is inspirational to learn from. Of particular interest was a sneak view into Donal’s bluegrass library where he brought along some of his favourite books on bluegrass and fiddlers.

If you are interested in bluegrass fiddle, a workshop with Donal is one way of setting yourself on the right track and establishing a sound historical and technical base for future bluegrass fiddling.

During the festival, the new National Folk Festival venue, Henley Theatre, presented ‘High Lonesome – The Story of Bluegrass Music’ which traces the evolution of bluegrass music and presents the heart and soul of its founder, Bill Monroe. This movie presentation was a fantastic back up to the workshop.

Participants comments:

Donal’s workshop was well organised – one of the best I’ve been to. His enthusiasm for bluegrass is infectious!

  • …the Bluegrass fiddle class from ‘the master’ has given me confidence and inspiration to move outside of my ‘fiddle comfort zone’. In particular, to find that ‘imaginary’ extra string. Loved the organisation and sequentiality of the course.
  • …fantastic Bluegrass fiddler. Thanks for sharing your skills so patiently and enthusiastically, Donal. Your manner of teaching is clear and I’ve learnt heaps. Thanks for the supporting information CD and the written notes – your program was well prepared and presented.
  • …what a terrific few days! Donal has channeled the talents of Chubby Wise, Bobby Hicks and other fiddlin’ greats. We have explored the joys of listening, playing and learning bluegrass. I have loved trying to play double shuffles, tricky licks and twin fiddle tunes – lots of practice when I get home. I hope Donal does some more classes like this one, thanks.
  • …a dream come true to get into this class. It far exceeded my expectations and to have a music teacher who has classes ‘structured’ is an added bonus. Thanks, Donal, for a wonderful few days.
  • …loved it. Had a great time. I now have a better understanding and appreciation of Bluegrass music and some great new skills and tunes. Thanks.
  • …enjoyed the Bluegrass workshop immensely – good coverage of the music techniques and discussion of the genre. I’ve been encouraged, inspired and reinvigorated in my playing – thanks.
  • …thoroughly enjoyed this workshop. Many things I had never thought about in Bluegrass, Donal showed to me. I have improved in the last three days so much.
  • …Donal Baylor’s 3 day Bluegrass Fiddle masterclass preceding this year’s (2008) National Folk Festival in Canberra was the best fiddle masterclass I have ever attended. Donal was superbly prepared with music notation handouts and special compilation CD’s for everyone, along with a list of references and source books, all of which will prove of immense value to the talented players present who take up the cudgels of playing Bluegrass. For those who might have found such a bit beyond their reach, Donal’s revelations and demonstrations could only have provided a much enhanced appreciation and insight into Bluegrass fiddling, and the dedication and the skill that goes into playing it. Thanks Donal.

Thanks to Donal and the National Folk Festival for organising this great workshop which covered all aspects of Bluegrass, including the history. It suited fiddlers of different competency and coming from different musical backgrounds.
Submitted by Lorraine Sly – Mornington, Victoria – for the Australian Bluegrass Blog