Traditional Dance - Appalachian Clogging (Stepping)

A how-to-do-it tutorial by Rosie Davis

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For the Musicians

There follow 'write-outs' of four of the tunes on the cassette, with ordinary notation for fiddle or mandolin, tablature for banjo and chord letters for guitar and bass. Most of these tunes can be played in a simple version, or with as much decoration as the individual player decides at the time.

The tunes as written out include a typical sample of the main themes with a bit of decoration. Appalachian fiddlers tend to use any string next to the one being used to make the tune on to add to the flavour, if it fits in with the chord - e.g. on the first four bars of 'Golden Slippers' the tune is made on the 2nd (A) string, but you can play the 1st (E) string at the same time.

Fiddlers also use the bow on this extra string as a percussive device, playing it either softer or heavier to indicate the ON or Off beats in the bar. Much of the bowing is 'saw-stroke' - a separate bow for each note, but a smoother effect is sometimes better, running some notes together. Try the 'Mount Airey' shuffle - three notes separate bows, three notes run together, then two notes separate - making an eight note bar. Sometimes the fiddle is 'cross-tuned' - taken out of the standard tuning. Try A E A E for 'Long Fork of Buckhom'.

The classic mountain style of banjo is 'frailing', and this is how the tunes are written out - the main tune notes are picked downwards with the finger-nail (usually index finger), the strum is also down, and the thumb plays the 5th string. Banjos are also tuned differently for different sounds: try gDGCD (capoed up two frets for A) to play the 'Long Fork of Buckhorn'. If the lead is being taken by a fiddler, the banjo might not duplicate the tune, but would play a 'third part' - complementing the fiddle and the bass notes played by the guitar, or, in a banjo-fiddle duo, might acually play the bass notes.

In a string band the guitar will usually play bass notes and alternate strums - 'boom ching boom ching'. If there is a double bass playing the bass notes, the guitarist might be more adventurous. As you can hear on 'Buck-dancer's choice' the guitar can take a lead too. All of this is about the standard Old-Timey 'string-band' sound. You don't have to stick to it; so long as you and the dancers like what you're doing - go for it! Over the years I've played for dancers, I've really enjoyed the interaction between the percussive foot-work and the instruments. Do watch the dancers - you'll miss out on a lot if you don't.

Rick Townend

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