Kerry Polka – Fiddle Raga

Here’s a fiddle raga performance of Kerry Polka. What the heck is a fiddle raga? It’s an improvisation based around a fiddle melody accompanied by a drone.

Here’s an mp3 for to listen to here or download to your device so you can listen while walking the dog, doing laundry or going to sleep at night:

I’m going to give some liner notes to this below. But first of all, you might be wondering, “What is a raga?” Super-simple answer: it’s an Indian musical form in which musicians improvise with a drone playing in the background. They use a set of notes which are somewhere between a scale and a melody.

What is a drone? It’s a repeating tone or series of tones that serves as a reference. Drones help you to play in tune but they also can be a nice, hypnotic form of backup when playing alone. I love this form of practice! This performance is a way of sharing variation, improvisation and drone practice with you.

Are fiddle ragas a real thing? Sure! Now they are. I’m not a purist (though I’m glad the purists are out there preserving the music as it’s been played). I love these two styles of music. And they seem to work well together. That is, they’re not the cheesy-fusion-with-rainsticks type of music. But that’s a matter of opinion! Anyway…

The point is, I hope you enjoy this and that inspires you to make your own practice more creative and fun.

If you want to learn how to add variation to Irish fiddle tunes, check out my Irish Fiddle Variation course.


How to play in tune with drones

More performance videos and downloads

Performance liner notes

This was performed on a fiddle with viola strings tuned DADA. I learned this tuning from Kala Ramnath in India. It has a great resonant sound, but you have to stick to D scales (major or minor). I teach this tune in the key of G.

I started the improvisation with some harmonics, sliding up and down the string with a very light touch. At around 0:51, I start to loosely play the melody. Then I added some droning double stops. Because of the alternate tuning, this not too hard to do. The whole first pass of the melody is played in “free time”, meaning that there is not a steady beat. This is done in Indian music and is called an “alap”. In Irish music this might be called an “air”.

At around 2:36, I play the melody in a more standard way with a steady beat (my trusty right foot).

Thanks for listening 

Now, go fiddle with it…


Leave a Reply

11 responses to “Kerry Polka – Fiddle Raga

  1. I love the ragas!! It reminds me of Brittany Haas doing grigsbys hornpipe. Thank you!!
    I just renewed my subscription and owe everything to you for getting me started. I am now in a weekly jam in an macmurphys Irish bar in Ridgewood New Jersey . I also ventured into NYC and played at a jam at Paddy Reilly’s music bar at 29 and2nd. I went to saint johns Newfoundland Canada where my relatives originated and played at two Irish bars. There is a huge bluegrass scene along the east coast of Newfoundland

  2. Super Jason. I really enjoyed listening to this unconventional approach to an Irish piece. Wonderful sounds and very soothing. I am inspired! Keep these musical gems coming, whether they be conventional or unconventional.