This is a question that comes up in lessons and workshops a lot. I mean, A LOT!
And that doesn’t come as a surprise. Orange Blossom Special is far and away the most popular American fiddle tune, it’s fun to play and it’s always a show stopper. The High 48s usually end all of our shows with the Orange Blossom Special (also known among fiddlers as “OBS”) and the crowd response is guaranteed over-the-top, whether we’re playing a bluegrass festival or a rock club or wherever.
And what part of OBS gets audiences going the most? The double-shuffle bowing.
The double shuffle (also called, less charitably, “hokum bowing”) is a bowing technique in which the fiddler plays a repeated pattern that alternates between a lower string(s) and a higher string(s).
There are two commonly-used double-shuffle patterns in Orange Blossom Special. I call those patterns the 2-to-2 and the 2-to-1.
The 2-to-2 Double Shuffle
Let’s start with the 2-to-2 double-shuffle pattern, since it’s the more straightforward of the two patterns and easier to master.
This pattern simply consists of two notes on a lower string alternating with two notes on a higher string, and back again, over and over. Here’s a basic version of the 2-to-2:
The example above is a very basic version of the double-shuffle in Orange Blossom Special. If you’re new to double-shuffle bowing, I’d recommend starting by practicing this version. Start out slowly and then gradually build speed. And I strongly recommend working with a metronome. Playing with “drive” and good, solid timing is essential to pulling off the double shuffle.
The 2-to-1 Double Shuffle
In the 2-to-1 double shuffle we alternate between two notes on a lower string and one note on higher string. However, there’s one catch. Because this is a three-note pattern being repeated in duple time (i.e., a time signature that’s a multiple of two, such as 2/4 or 4/4), we’re going to be left with an extra half beat at the end of every two measures.
We can deal with that extra half beat either by inserting an eighth rest or an eighth note in that position. Think of it as the musical version of “rounding up.”
Because this pattern is asymmetrical and highly syncopated (think of syncopation as the artful — and purposeful! — disruption of the rhythmic flow), it can be very easy to lose your place in the pattern when you first start practicing the 2-to-1.
So, if you’re new to the 2-to-1, I’d recommend starting with the following exercise, which uses an eighth rest to “round up” at the end of every two bars. I find that when players are new to the double-shuffle, adding a rest at the end of every two bars can act as a placeholder and keep them from getting lost in the pattern.
Note: always play the note immediately after the rest with a down bow.
In the coming week, I’ll be posting some fancier examples of the OBS double shuffle for intermediate-to-advanced players. We’ll also look at what kinds of double- and triple-stops tend to work well with these bowing patterns. And I’ll say a few words about how and when to switch back and forth between the 2-to-1 and the 2-to-2.
And maybe, just maybe, I’ll talk a little bit about syncopation, how it works and why it’s a very good thing!
So, look for part two of this lesson. Until then…