How to Play Scottish Jigs on the Fiddle - dummies

By Michael John Sanchez

Today, jigs are associated more with Irish fiddling than with Scottish fiddling, but that wasn’t always the case. Jigs in the early 17th century were an important part of Scottish fiddling. Jigs are lively, energetic tunes typically written in 6/8 time. They can also be written in 9/8 time; these are known as slip jigs.

Jigs have a pattern of groups of eighth notes, with each group containing three eighth notes. The first note of each group of three is accented or emphasized. However, the notes are still played evenly. You may also notice other ornamentations used, such as grace notes.

Before learning the Scottish jig, you need to understand how to play grace notes. Playing grace notes in Scottish music is similar to Irish fiddling in that you play a quick note before a regular base note. The difference in the Scottish style is that these grace notes are a bit quicker than in the Irish style. This sounds crazy, as you may think that the grace notes in Irish fiddling are very fast!

Listen to the difference between an Irish grace note measure and a Scottish grace note measure.

An Irish jig is a song in 6/8 time where beats 1 and 4 are emphasized. Scottish jigs are similar, except the bow patterns are a little different, and they typically have more ornaments. Take a look at “The Jig of Slurs.”

[Credit: Figure by Michael Sanchez]
Credit: Figure by Michael Sanchez

Try to play the grace notes as fast as you can. Remember, you can add them in anywhere; playing the fiddle is all about embracing your own style. The pattern of slurs is only a suggestion; you can do more or fewer if you prefer.

Don’t get ahead of yourself trying to learn the ornaments until you have a solid foundation of the notes. Eventually, the more you play this piece, the faster you’ll get. And this piece goes very fast!

Now listen to “The Jig of Slurs” played at a moderate speed.

Notice how beats 1 and 4 are emphasized in this tune. That’s very important to get the jig feeling in a song, and the Irish style follows the same concept. Remember, it’s all about controlling your index finger.

Another song you can play is a jig called “Cock o’ the North.” This song is a bit tougher, with a larger variety of rhythms and slurs.

[Credit: Figure by Michael Sanchez]
Credit: Figure by Michael Sanchez

Now listen to “Cock o’ the North” and see whether you can imitate the sound that’s made with the ornaments. Can you tell it’s a little bit different from the Irish-style sound?