How to Play the Strathspey with Scottish Snaps on the Fiddle

By Michael John Sanchez

The strathspey is a dance tune in 4/4 meter that usually includes the Scottish snap. Many times it occurs on the fiddle in a major key. The strathspey is a type of reel, but played much slower. However, some styles, including the Cape Breton style, play strathspeys much quicker.

One of the most common rhythms used in Scottish fiddling is the Scottish snap, also called the Lombard rhythm.

The Scottish snap consists of 16th notes and dotted eighth notes. Because the Scottish snap is a quick rhythm, you should make only a small movement with your bow hand, using only the small muscles in your bow hand to achieve the correct sound (just a flick of your wrist and fingers). Because the rhythm is quick, it’s also important to keep your bow hand relaxed and not tense.

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

Scottish music has a lot of Scottish snaps.

Can you hear the bite that is played in this audio recording at the beginning of each measure? This is the style you want to include in Scottish music compared to other styles. It’s very harsh sounding at the beginning of many strokes and has quick up-bow strokes.

You may have trouble playing the 16th notes fast enough. It’s all about having a relaxed hand and not forcing the fast notes with your big muscles. Remember not to use your big muscles. This is important to be able to do the Scottish snap most effectively.

You can put the Scottish snap into the strathspey style with “Boyne Strathspey.”

If you’ve never played the dotted eighth rhythm before, this song will be hard for you. If the rhythm isn’t hard for you, try to put the harshness into the notes. You can lift the bow off the strings and land harshly, especially when you’re playing beat 1 of each measure.

Now listen to “Boyne Strathspey” played slow and “Boyne Strathspey” played fast to get the hang of this one.

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