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Spela Bättre! #10

Learning difficult tunes

by Matt Fichtenbaum

Eklundapolskan Number 2

The great Uppland fiddler Viksta-Lasse composed (“made”) many tunes, including three 16th-note polskas that bear the name Eklundapolskan, numbered “one” through “three.” Many people count Eklunda Nr. 1 (in A minor) among the first tunes they learned, and Nr. 3 (G major) is also a popular tune on both nyckelharpa and fiddle. Eklunda Nr. 2 is less common – it’s in F major and is more challen-ging technically. But it’s a great tune and a really good practice piece for left-hand position shifts and smoothness in playing.

I first tried to play Eklundapolskan Nr. 2 “because it was there,” and as an exercise. It turned out to be an approachable tune and quite well suited to the harpa. And you can impress your fiddle-playing friends.

Hearing the tune

I believe you really need to hear a tune before you try to learn to play it. If you don’t already know what this one sounds like, and don’t have access to a friend who plays it, listen to Göran Hogmark’s fiddle recording of it on Hogmarkarna, available from the ANA. Göran plays it very well, with a touch of Bingsjö style – he lives in Dalarna – and much personal expression. I of course play my version, whose origin lies in the way Bosse Larsson taught it as a fiddle tune at Scandinavian Week in 1990.

Getting ready

This tune is in the key of F, which is a much friend-lier key on nyckelharpa than on fiddle. But it’s a fiddle tune at heart, and where the fiddle has both an A string and an E string, we have only the A string. We’re going to give the left hand a bit of a workout, with position shifts and an occasional stretch.

This is a good time to warm up on the F-major scale. Start on the open C string and play up two octaves to the high C, the 15th key on the A string. Don’t worry too much about fingering; think instead about which keys belong to the scale and which don’t.


Sixteenth-note polskas have an even rhythmic pattern and a subtle but clear phrasing in three. Make the phrasing evident, by slightly stressing each beat (and avoid stressing the backbeat as if it were a reel!) and maybe even giving the first beat of each measure a little extra emphasis.


Eklundapolskan Nr. 2 has two parts, or repriser; each has sixteen measures. It is common that players repeat the first part but not the second, as shown in the notation. The numbers above the notes show the left-hand fingers I use. Open strings’ fingering isn’t shown, neither is the fingering when a phrase occurs the second time. The default bowing assumption applies, but not always: a group of four 16th-notes is played with the first two slurred, the second two separate.

Eklunda Polska

Playing it

I begin with the left hand in normal position, with nothing unexpected until the fourth-finger jump to the high A at the end of measure 1. I sometimes hold the first note slightly longer, as if it were dotted.

The next checkpoint is when the first finger moves down to C in measure 2. I stretch my hand, and then move it down during the open-string A so as to get the B-flat with the first finger. From B-flat to D in measure 3 is a bit of a stretch, as is the jump up to high B-flat with the fourth finger, but all up, the first line is pretty logical.

There are a few ornaments shown (with little “turn” symbols); the first is in measure 3. I play the given note and the note above it quickly, and then the first note again.

The second line is pretty straightforward. I slur the two eighth-notes at the end of measure 7 and the two at the beginning of measure 8, only because I like the way it sounds. Feel free to experiment.

The third line is a repeat of the first. The fourth line is well-behaved, except for the jump to high B-flat with the fourth finger in measure 15 and the first-finger jump from F to E at the beginning of measure 16. Practice these; it only gets easier.

Feel free to double the last F an octave lower, with the first finger on the C string. That’s a good reason to take the melody note with the third finger as shown – that F-F octave is likely to be already in your bag of tricks, using those fingers.

Don’t forget to repeat this part. It’s traditional, and it postpones having to deal with the difficulties of the second part.

Second part

The second part leaves little doubt that this is a fiddle tune, and the nyckelharpist’s skill and cunning come into play. Measures 17-18 require that you’re comfortable stretching first finger on C to fourth finger on A. Once you play C, hold that key in for the rest of the measure; that way, you need only actively work the third and fourth fingers.

I bow these measures as shown, with the four notes of the third beat all bowed separately. I like the sound I get that way, and I can start each measure with a down-bow. Speaking of sound, try to be precise with the high notes (F and A in measure 17) and to emphasize them a little more than the lower notes in between.

Measures 19-20 have the same shape, but this phrase starts on B-flat, and I find the octave B-flat to B-flat too big a stretch. The fingering shown moves the first finger up to D as soon as possible, which lets you play the rest of the phrase straightforwardly. Be prepared to move it back down to B-flat for measure 20.

Measures 21-24 lie pretty logically, without any surprises in the fingering as shown. Then this part’s second half is almost like the first half, so you’re home. Measures 25-32 are almost a repeat of 17-24, which may account for this part’s not being repeated.

More technique

A tune with so many notes can be challenging to play smoothly, connectedly. One important step is to begin each note cleanly, with defined bow pressure, but then lighten up so that the duration of the note “sings” rather than “grinds.” Another step, and you’ve heard this from me before, is to play groups of notes – the four sixteenths of a beat, say, or all the notes of a whole measure – as flowing phrases rather than individual notes.

Practice! Listen to the tune on a recording. Start at a relaxed tempo, and play in control. When you make a mistake, start again at the beginning of the measure or the phrase. And, now and then, in-crease the tempo until the tune falls apart. The more you work, the easier it will get and the better the result will be.