How to Play the Irish Roll with the Hornpipe on the Fiddle

By Michael John Sanchez

One Irish style that works well on the fiddle is called the Irish hornpipe. This style incorporates a swing-type rhythm. The Irish hornpipe is typically in 4/4 time and has a lot of grace notes and triplet runs.

The first line shows a set of eighth notes, which you can assume as a swing rhythm in a hornpipe. Because you’re assuming this is a swing rhythm, you are going to play it differently from what’s written. You should hold the first eighth note twice as long as the second eighth note to create the proper swing rhythm.

In the second line, you see the literal rhythm that should be played when swinging eighth notes. This will sound the same as the first line. The second line can be explained as a pair of eighth notes played with a triplet feel created by tying the first two notes of the triplet and playing the 3rd note.

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

By seeing eighth notes in a hornpipe, you can generally assume the notes are played in a swing rhythm. You won’t see it written out like you see here.

It is possible to see the swing pattern illustrated as a dotted eighth note followed by a 16th note, but the swing feel is more subtle than that.

Listen to a swing rhythm in eighth notes on the fiddle. Both lines will sound exactly the same.

“The Derry Hornpipe,” is an example of an Irish hornpipe. It includes suggestions for the Irish roll.

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

Measures 6 and 15 incorporate what in Irish music is called the cut-grace note. This is simply a grace note that cuts the pitch between two notes of the same pitch. Without this grace note, the notes would tie together and not sound like two different pitches.

Measures 6 and 15 are especially tricky because you’re combining swing rhythm, grace notes, and slurs. Hear measures 6 and 15 of “The Derry Hornpipe” played slowly.

Because you’re doing one note separately followed by three slurred notes in these measures, pull the bow as far as you can on the first eighth note. This will give you enough bow room to play the three eighth notes that follow the first eighth note.

In measures 1, 4, and 10, there’s a little symbol above each note called an Irish roll. The Irish roll is a unique ornamentation that’s very common in Irish melodies. This symbol creates extra notes played very fast around the target note. Take a look at what finger pattern you’ll play based on the finger number that you see the roll over.

1st finger roll: 1-2-1-0-1 finger pattern

2nd finger roll: 2-3-2-1-2

3rd finger roll: 3-4-3-2-3

As you can see, an Irish roll starts on the base note, goes up a finger spot, goes back to the base note, goes down a finger spot, and goes back to the base note.

You want to do the Irish roll as fast as possible, and you don’t want it to sound similar to the way you play other notes. Listen to hear how to play the fiddle rolls found in “The Derry Hornpipe.” Now listen to “The Derry Hornpipe” with the Irish roll played at medium speed.