Scottish Music Ornaments

The shiver

The "shiver" is one of the terms for what is also called the "triple-note" ornament. It consists simply of playing three short notes rather than one long one. It's one of the common gimmicks in Irish and Scottish fiddling, and of course it isn't really quite as simple as three even divisions of the note. It's really a rhythmic ornament, and the notes are played in particular ratios for different rhythms. One way to learn it is to find some recordings that have it, and listen to them slowed down. If you have a cassette machine that plays at half speed, it'll come in really handy.

For fiddlers, three notes are special (as opposed to two or four) because it doesn't affect the bowing. It's just a quick wiggle of the wrist, and the bow ends up in the same direction, but the note has this little *chunk* in the middle. Flute and whistle players do it by triple-tonguing the note. It's harder on keyboards, because the right way to do it is usually to "roll" three fingers over the key, and it destroys the fingering for the passage. But it's fun, and I have an accordion with a fast bounce to the keys, so I can do it a lot. It's almost impossible on many keyboards because of the slow action.

In doing so, I would have offended J.S.Skinner, who opined that this ornament was badly overused by Scottish fiddlers, and its use should be drastically restricted. Well, that's one man's opinion. Others like to overdo it.

Shivers are commonly notated by writing three dots below the note, but this isn't universal. Sometimes you'll see it written out as three little notes, sometimes a triplet, sometimes a 1-1-2 ration, but neither is really accurate. Sometimes tunes are written without any hint, and you are just supposed to know where it's appropriate, because you know the style so well. Or you try it and see if it works at that point.

I'll let someone carry on about the "warble", since I've never been too clear on what that really meant. It seems to mean different things to different people.

[from John Chambers]


Collected from postings to Scots-L, the Traditional Scottish Music and Culture discussion list.
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This page is maintained by Ian Brockbank
ian@scottishdance.net
Edinburgh, Scotland

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Last updated 8-10-02 .

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