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PostPosted: Sat Dec 14, 2013 2:03 pm 
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Any recommendations for what strings are best for tuning a fiddle down to play in the key of B?
I am a piper and one of my fiddle playing friends occasionally tunes down to play in B with me but she finds the strings become "floppy".
I remember seeing a recommendation a while back for some particular type of string that avoids this issue.


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PostPosted: Sun Dec 15, 2013 6:59 am 
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Do you know how she is tuning?

My wife tunes one of her fiddles a half step flat for her rock band. I think she uses Enfeld Red strings with a Jarger E. It sounds great.

If your friend is tuning down a lot, then steel strings might be good since they use higher tension than Perlon. If she's already got steel, then I probably can't help.


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PostPosted: Sun Dec 15, 2013 10:07 am 
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highland-piper wrote:
Do you know how she is tuning?

For a flat piping session in B, the fiddlers tune down 3 semitones.

Most fiddlers I've seen at B sessions simply tune down their normal set. Most can't or don't carry a separate detuned fiddle. And I guess the darker slack-tuning could be considered part of the overall timbre of the session. Just be careful not to drop (or angle) the bridge!

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PostPosted: Sun Dec 15, 2013 10:16 am 
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MTGuru wrote:
highland-piper wrote:
Do you know how she is tuning?

For a flat piping session in B, the fiddlers tune down 3 semitones.

Most fiddlers I've seen at B sessions simply tune down their normal set. Most can't or don't carry a separate detuned fiddle. And I guess the darker slack-tuning could be considered part of the overall timbre of the session. Just be careful not to drop (or angle) the bridge!


3 semitones is a lot. You could almost use 3/4 viola strings ;-)

My wife uses the two instruments because the band she's in plays gigs and she needs to switch between them quickly.


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PostPosted: Sun Dec 15, 2013 2:11 pm 
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Personally I don't bother with either a second fiddle or de-tuning. I transpose. Three semitones is relatively easy. It doesn't happen often though, in my experience.

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PostPosted: Sun Dec 15, 2013 6:42 pm 
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I do this occasionally while doing a solo gig, drop everything down to C# or C. I've gone lower, and the trick is having a set of strings that tunes to a fairly high tension. I've had great success with Pirastro Tonica strings; they don't break the bank, have a nice tone (perhaps not the most 'trad', but quite nice), and since they tune in at a fairly high tension, you can drop them down in pitch a good deal and they don't become 'rubber bands'. Thomastic Dominant strings work well for this too.

Word to the wise, however, is that higher tension strings (in my experience) will 'stretch' and 'settle' more than lower tension strings, so if you're installing a set of these, it's best to do so (if possible) about 2-3 days before you need to play, and play them in or at the least tune them regularly so that everything stabilizes. If you don't and you're trying to use scordatura in a gig, you may have some issues getting everything happy.

Transposition works well if you can do it, but the timbre of transposing on a GDAE violin is far different than playing on a re-tuned violin. Re-tuning can also make your doublestops sound a lot more pure since you'd have easy access to open strings that will fit with the tonic, subdominant, and dominant, (assuming you're playing a tune in D, G or em, which is pretty common in the ITM scene), and to my ear, the timbre of a down tuned fiddle blends much nicer with flat pipes or other instruments in a flat session. For non ITM music, it likely makes more sense to just transpose, but I'm assuming we're discussing the violin in the ITM setting :)

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PostPosted: Sun Dec 15, 2013 6:53 pm 
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Fair enough Spence. I actually think you're right. But I'm too lazy to tune down plus I like the different harmonies available when you transpose.

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PostPosted: Sun Dec 15, 2013 7:39 pm 
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Equally fair Mr. benhall.1 :) If I was only playing a tune or two in a different key or tunes all interspersed, I'd rather just transpose rather than make everyone wait for me to re-tune, plus scordatura puts a lot of extra stress and strain on strings, just like metal fatigue. If I'm tuning down, it will be before a gig where I can just leave the fiddle alone for the whole event. If I'm going to go back and forth, I'll bring a secondary fiddle that's dedicated to the lower tuning.

It all comes down to the practicality and the situation. I'm thinking the most likely reason you'd downtune a fiddle in ITM would be if you were playing in a 'flat session' where everything would be in a 'flat' key like C#, C, B, or Bb, or with a piper who's using a flat set. There is something pretty magical about downtuning a violin (perhaps especially for me as I was classically trained as a violist years before I discovered ITM and started doing more on the violin), but for practicality sake, it's probably better (and a better investment in yourself and your musical knowledge) to learn to transpose on the fly. It's really not too hard to learn if you're diligent or have a good ear, and I've used it in great effect while soloing to bump up the key of the last tune in the set during the second time around for some added interest. It's not great for everything, and I realize it's not particularly 'trad', but the non-hardcore ITM audience always gets a thrill when ending a set with a nice dance tune, and the second time around bumping up the key and tempo. I used to do this with that "Irish Washerwoman" tune-thing, slowly ratcheting up the tempo and key every time around, and it was always a crowd pleaser for those St. Pat's gigs where no one was Irish and everyone was inebriated ;)

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PostPosted: Sun Dec 15, 2013 9:41 pm 
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Thanks for the recommendations. Maybe the Pirastro Tonica strings would be worth trying. I should have mentioned that she tunes down her second fiddle and leaves it tuned down.

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PostPosted: Sun Dec 22, 2013 8:47 pm 
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Tuning that low causes problems, I've first hand luck with Prims (heavy)

I've unhappily never had the chance to play with a set of B pipes :( but if I did I would probably tune down only a half step and play D tunes in 'C' position and G in the 'F'

If that makes any sense.

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PostPosted: Sat Dec 28, 2013 11:47 am 
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I agree with just tuning down a semitone, and playing tunes in C, F, etc. instead. However, on the topic of strings to tune down, your best bet is probably too choose the highest tension string you can find, and tune them down. I don't have first-hand experience with this sort of thing, but I have tried tuning down before. They do get a bit floppy, and need higher overall tension. Take a look at this:

http://www.rdebey.com/string_tension.htm


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PostPosted: Sat Dec 28, 2013 12:31 pm 
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brad maloney wrote:
Tuning that low causes problems, I've first hand luck with Prims (heavy)

I've unhappily never had the chance to play with a set of B pipes :( but if I did I would probably tune down only a half step and play D tunes in 'C' position and G in the 'F'

If that makes any sense.

MeMyselfandI wrote:
I agree with just tuning down a semitone, and playing tunes in C, F, etc. instead. However, on the topic of strings to tune down, your best bet is probably too choose the highest tension string you can find, and tune them down. I don't have first-hand experience with this sort of thing, but I have tried tuning down before. They do get a bit floppy, and need higher overall tension. Take a look at this:

http://www.rdebey.com/string_tension.htm

No, it doesn't make sense to me. If you're going to play D tunes and have them come out in C, you'd need to tune down two half-steps (or 'semitones'). Is that what you guys meant, or have I missed something?

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PostPosted: Sat Dec 28, 2013 12:36 pm 
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benhall.1 wrote:
No, it doesn't make sense to me. If you're going to play D tunes and have them come out in C, you'd need to tune down two half-steps (or 'semitones'). Is that what you guys meant, or have I missed something?

You're missing B pipes. You want the D tunes to come out in B. So tune down 3 semitones. Or tune down 1 semitone and transpose the rest.

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PostPosted: Sat Dec 28, 2013 12:38 pm 
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MTGuru wrote:
benhall.1 wrote:
No, it doesn't make sense to me. If you're going to play D tunes and have them come out in C, you'd need to tune down two half-steps (or 'semitones'). Is that what you guys meant, or have I missed something?

You're missing B pipes. You want the D tunes to come out in B. So tune down 3 semitones. Or tune down 1 semitone and transpose the rest.

Right. Got it now. It was me doing my 'stupid reading'. :oops:

Thanks Mr Guru Sir. :)

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PostPosted: Sat Dec 28, 2013 1:26 pm 
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I do wonder about the transposing bit, though.

On the instruments I play where I can transpose and play more or less freely in any key (e.g. guitar, Boehm winds, English concertina), playing tunes in "off" keys turns them into a weird sort of transposition exercise that feels very different from normal, though it may be fun in its own way. Your carefully cultivated finger habits and twiddles for the tune go out the window in favor of mostly just cranking out the melody. Which is definitely not the point or experience of a flat set or session for the pipers. They're just playing a transposing instrument and happily twiddling along as usual.

Unless you're in a must-play situation, seems to me the only self-satisfying solution is to tune down fully, or play a B pitched instrument, or step away and leave the pipers to their perverted fun.

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