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.
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…