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Thread: "Dark" Fiddle Tunes?

  1. #1
    Registered User Miltown's Avatar
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    Default "Dark" Fiddle Tunes?

    So I play lots of fiddle tunes, and they're a generally pretty bright and peppy bunch of songs--and fun to play, of course! I, however, am not always (in fact, rarely) feeling bright and peppy.

    Yes, I understand fiddle tunes are dance music, so I don't need a lesson on why they would tend toward the jaunty, but can anyone think of some "darker" sounding fiddle tunes? Maybe even ones in a minor key? Maybe it's the season, but I'm feeling the need for something a bit somber.

  2. #2

    Default Re: "Dark" Fiddle Tunes?

    Sally in the Garden? In Gm, not that dark and I’m not sure if it’s what they call a fiddle tune, but always reminds me of snow at Christmas for some reason.

    By the way: on the you can do searches for tunes by time signature and key, mode etc.
    Some great tunes in Lydian and Locrian there too.

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  4. #3

    Default Re: "Dark" Fiddle Tunes?

    How about Ashokan Farewell?

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    Default Re: "Dark" Fiddle Tunes?

    Cold and Frosty Morning, Greasy Coat, Lonesome Moonlight Waltz, Dusty Miller
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  7. #5
    String-Bending Heretic mandocrucian's Avatar
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    Default Re: "Dark" Fiddle Tunes?

    As Horace Greeley said "Go NORTH young man."
    (i.e. towards the Arctic circle....Sweden, Norway, Finland)

    ("Ashokan Farewell", "Midnight On The Water"....dark? oh, come on....That's like calling "Maiden's Prayer" or "Faded Love" dark.)
    Last edited by mandocrucian; Oct-21-2019 at 10:04am. Reason: You call that 'dark'; Now this is DARK

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  9. #6
    Registered User Tom C's Avatar
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    Default Re: "Dark" Fiddle Tunes?

    Oopik Waltz. Midnight on the Water.

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    Registered User Ranald's Avatar
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    Default Re: "Dark" Fiddle Tunes?

    As you suggest, old time tunes, with the exception of waltzes, are generally relentlessly cheerful, which is often a good thing, but we're not always happy. Try waltzes, such as the Tennessee Waltz and Ashokan Farewell. Otherwise, I'd lean to so-called "Celtic" music. Cape Breton fiddlers generally play Scottish laments and "slow airs" which can be quit melancholy. There are dark Irish tunes as well. "Neil Gow's Lament for The Death of His Second Wife" is a Scottish classic. (We don't know what he composed when his first wife died -- a jig perhaps.) If the links don't work, search YouTube for "Buddy MacMaster/ Neil Gow's Lament".

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    Unfamous String Buster Beanzy's Avatar
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    Default Re: "Dark" Fiddle Tunes?

    For what you ask the playing of Annbjørg Lien is worth exploring as an initial focal point.


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  17. #11
    Registered User foldedpath's Avatar
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    Default Re: "Dark" Fiddle Tunes?

    Irish Traditional music is full of tunes that have a dark edge, and it can be enhanced by slowing the tune down and playing with feeling. Like the following two examples.

    Here's Martin Hayes playing a slowed set of tunes. I especially like the last one -- "The Banshee's Wail Over the Mangle Pit." Such a great tune name, although I think the older and possibly original title is "Young Tom Ennis." It's the last one in the set, at 3:18 in the clip: link for sheet music:

    Here's another example of a dark Irish tune enhanced by playing it slowly and with feeling. It's further "darkened" by Matt Molloy here by playing (I think?) on a Bb flute, which shifts the pitch down from where you'd normally hear it on a D flute played in E dorian: link for sheet music:

    If you play enough Irish traditional music, you'll eventually find plenty of minor/dorian tunes in the "dark" category, or maybe "sad" is a better description. It's one of the things I love about this instrumental music; the way the Irish manage to get a dark or mournful flavor even into some of the tunes intended for dancing.

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  19. #12

    Default Re: "Dark" Fiddle Tunes?

    Quote Originally Posted by foldedpath View Post
    .. plenty of minor/dorian tunes in the "dark" category, or maybe "sad" is a better description. It's one of the things I love about this instrumental music...

    The first time I heard Carolan's Farewell to Music played on a wire harp, it resonated so deeply that laments, airs and pibroch subsequently became my main study.

    Not a fiddle tune below, but exemplative of the somber quality of old music:

    I love contemplative music with space, and elastic time. When I play this tune, I cant help but widen the intervals of rest.

  20. #13

    Default Re: "Dark" Fiddle Tunes?

    Kicking Up the Devil on a Holiday
    Elzick’s Farewell
    Benton’s Dream
    Cousin Sally Brown

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  22. #14

    Default Re: "Dark" Fiddle Tunes?

    Great tune, Kicking up the devil on a holiday -dark, as in Dark Ages?
    It seems quite jolly to my old ears.

    -oh 1855 and it’s a happy version, though funnily enough the versions on are tragic!
    Last edited by Simon DS; Oct-21-2019 at 11:49am.

  23. #15

    Default Re: "Dark" Fiddle Tunes?

    While composed on the harp, O’Carollan has many beautiful tunes, the aforementioned Farwell to Music being one of them. I find this music ripe for harmonization, and really will sharpen your technique, as sloppy play ruins the mood.
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  24. #16

    Default Re: "Dark" Fiddle Tunes?

    I also highly recommend the folio Scandinavian Fiddle Tunes - 73 Trad Pieces for Violin (Vicki Swan). Lots of good minor key tunes. I'll upload the second tune in the book here - an easy piece Emma fran Finland:

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  26. #17
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    Default Re: "Dark" Fiddle Tunes?

    Norman and Nancy Blake with James Bryan and Peter Ostroushko have their share - as do Monroe and Grisman
    I'm thinking "Jackie Tar"or "Gilderoy" from Norman's "Full Moon on the Farm" or James Bryan's "Temperance Hall" , "Monroe's Farewell to Long Hollow" from Lookout blues, Ostroushko's Marjories Waltz or Katarina's Waltz, "3 Ravens", "Bukovina" Grisman's "Opus 38" or "Opus 57".
    I most of that qualifies as "fiddle tunes"
    Some of those Bach Sonata's for solo violin have some shadowy pasasges.
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    Default Re: "Dark" Fiddle Tunes?

    Thinking about American tunes, maybe what you are talking about is what I hear called "modal" tunes, which are sometimes minor, and sometimes just have flatted sevenths in them*. Tunes that would fit in here are things like Shady Grove, Cold Frosty Morning, Kitchen Girl, Elzic's Farewell, Valley Forge, June Apple if you don't play it fast... Anything by Edden Hammons, maybe. Of course, tunes can be dark or light, depending on how you play them.

    *I think. What I mean is A tunes that go to a G major chord, and have a G instead of G#, despite being in A. Mostly I hear this in A tunes. I'm sure there is a more correct way to identify these.
    Last edited by A 4; Oct-21-2019 at 2:53pm.

  29. #19

    Default Re: "Dark" Fiddle Tunes?

    Oh, another resource I suspect good for this is another Schott folio for trad Balkan tunes. I haven't first-hand experience with the fiddle folio; but I play from the accordion book and there are many great minor key tunes.

    It's listed as "Eastern European Fiddle Tunes." I imagine it'll have a bunch of klezmer as well stuff from Bosnia, Romania, Bulgaria, et al.

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  31. #20
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    Default Re: "Dark" Fiddle Tunes?

    Kerr's Negro Jig played by the Carolina Chocolate Drops is fairly dark (partly because it's played on a low pitched instrument), but also very beautiful. Here's a link:


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  33. #21
    Registered User John Kelly's Avatar
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    Default Re: "Dark" Fiddle Tunes?

    The fiddle excels at interpreting Scottish slow airs - Gow's Lament for his secong Wife is already mentioned above, and there are so many great slow airs, pipe retreat marches and other tunes that suit the fiddle so well. Another favourite composer of mine is Orkney's Ronnie Aim - look for "The Grey Seal's Lament for Her Pup" or the hauntingly beautiful "Heroes of Longhope". Here is a link to a YouTube version I posted some time back but with no fiddle present!
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  35. #22
    Registered User Roger Adams's Avatar
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    Default Re: "Dark" Fiddle Tunes?

    Eagle Island Blues, as heard in the villages along the Yukon River.
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  36. #23

    Default Re: "Dark" Fiddle Tunes?

    Quail is a pretty bird off Hartford’s Hamilton Ironworks is one of my favorites. I’ve always found Boneparte’s Retreat rather mournful if it’s played right.

  37. #24

    Default Re: "Dark" Fiddle Tunes?

    Quote Originally Posted by JCook View Post
    Kerr's Negro Jig played by the Carolina Chocolate Drops is fairly dark (partly because it's played on a low pitched instrument), but also very beautiful. Here's a link:

    Thanks Jack but your link to the vid doesn’t seem to work. (though it had a 7:1 dislike ratio, and comments off, which isn’t a good sign)
    Here’s another, maybe the same tune.
    Amazing performance, worth it even just to watch the hypnotic dance.
    (Didn’t we used to dance like that?)
    This has something ancient arabic (to my ears) about it, it’s that one note -haven’t got my mando with me at the moment, not sure of the scale.
    Certainly a tragic tune.
    Also a discussion on :

    The Genuine Negro Jig
    Last edited by Simon DS; Oct-21-2019 at 6:59pm.

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  39. #25
    Dave Sheets
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    Default Re: "Dark" Fiddle Tunes?

    How about the Slockit Light? A lovely thing
    Flatiron A
    Way too many other instruments

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