By Michael John Sanchez

Once you’ve mastered some fiddle basics, it’s time to learn how to do the musical slur. This is different from a slide — a slur happens between two or more notes, while a slide involves only one note.

Take a look at some different types of slurs. The slur symbol looks like a smiley face.

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

The first two measures are the easiest regarding slurs. You may only be able to do these for now, which is totally fine! The following steps break down how to play the first four notes, which are two sets of slurs.

  1. Take your bow and set it at the contact point.

  2. Start moving the bow at a slower than normal speed for a quarter note.

    If you move too fast you won’t have room for the second note, which also has to fit in the down-bow stroke.

  3. When you reach the middle of the bow (where you put your eighth note sticker), change to using your 1st finger for the E.

    So in the first half of your bow stroke you play D, and in the second half you play E.

  4. When you reach the tip of the bow, put your 2nd finger down and start moving the bow the other direction (up bow).

    If you didn’t stop your bow at all to do this, you had perfect timing and just completed the perfect slur!

  5. When you reach the middle of the bow again, change to your 3rd finger (G).

    When you reach the point where you first started, you’ve just completed two slurs!

Gripping the bow too tight will result in difficulty slurring. You want to be able to move the bow at a constant speed without having to speed up or slow down. Successful slurring is all about preparing your fingers and placing them in the right spots while the bow is moving at a constant pace.

As you move along, the slur difficulty gets more and more difficult. Here are some tips to do these slur…eventually!

  • Crossing while slurring (measures 3–4): Move your elbow quickly when you’re crossing strings and remember the rocking bow drill (relaxing your arm while crossing strings). Doing this well has a lot to do with what you’re doing with your right index finger.

  • Half-note slurring (measures 5–8): This doesn’t look difficult, but is often played wrong. The key is not chopping off the time it takes you to put two half notes into the same bow stroke. Make sure the bottom half of the bow takes up two total beats and the top half takes up another two beats, for a total of four beats. Keep your arm as relaxed as possible.

  • Four-note slurs (measures 9–10): Here you see that you sometimes slur more than two notes in one bow stroke. Having your fingers ready to go and close to the fingerboard is key to playing these slurs smoothly and in tune.

  • Slur crossovers (measures 11–15): These crossovers take good timing and a good, relaxed bow hand and arm. It’s easy to create bad sounds when you don’t grip and move the bow properly. Being relaxed here is challenging, but doing so is vital to get the smooth sound you want, even when crossing and timing slurred notes.

Listen to the slur test. Notice the smoothness through each section. If you aren’t getting that sound, your technique isn’t quite as good as it could be.

So how did you do with the slurs? If you’re getting frustrated with them, you’re not alone — they aren’t easy to do at first. Getting slurs to sound smooth and connected takes time, and it’s almost impossible to do them perfectly in the first weeks or even months. Give it some time!

Here’s a fiddle song that has some slurs — the famous “Yankee Doodle.”

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