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New Grooves: The Chop

I gathered information from Laura Risk’s website:  http://www.laurarisk.com/research.html.  Laura Risk is a PhD candidate in musicology at McGill University, and one of her projects is researching the spread of chopping into various North Atlantic fiddling genres.

Laura Risk’s definition of chopping:  “The chop is a percussive technique specific to bowed string instruments. It consists of first dropping the bow vertically onto the strings to make a crunchy, percussive noise and then picking it up off the strings with a forward motion to make another sound. This latter sound is pitched, though in practice it is possible to play it without pitch by muting the strings with the left hand. The chop is always played at the frog, or the lower end, of the bow. The sound of the chop echoes percussive techniques on other instruments and, in fact, chopping began as a violin imitation of the muted backbeat hits commonly used by bluegrass mandolin players as an accompaniment technique.”

The chop was invented by bluegrass fiddler, Richard Greene, in 1966 while playing with Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys.  He originally called it “the chunky chop.”  Richard Greene explains that he created the chop by accident, “I just was exhausted so on one of those downbow accents, I just couldn’t lift the bow up again.  My hand just stayed there, and that was the first chop… It was just like a collapsing of the bow onto the string.”

This is a video of Richard Greene teaching his chopping technique.

 

Around 1975, Richard Greene taught fiddler, Darol Anger, how to chop.  About a decade later, Darol Anger co-founded the Turtle Island String Quartet, which was an alternative, non-classical string quartet.  The quartet used chopping to imitate the sounds of a jazz rhythm section and developed it into a comprehensive accompaniment technique.

This video shows a clip from Darol Anger’s DVD “Chops and Grooves.”

 

Darol Anger added a horizontal motion to the chop in which the bow moves back and forth along the line of the string.  This motion is now a fundamental component of chopping for many players and has paved the way for other innovations such as Casey Driessen’s “triple chop.”

Casey Driessen has a series of downloadable video lessons for teaching his chopping techniques called “Techniques and Skills.”

 

This is a video of Casey Driessen singing while chopping.

 

Laura Risk has interviewed over one hundred fiddlers and cellists across North America and Great Britain for this project.  She created a mapping of the diffusion of the chop.

chopping_diagram2

I think the chop would be found on the Front Porch and in the Kitchen of Cantwell’s house in “Upstairs, Downstairs, Out In The Kitchen.”

When the chop was originally invented, it was authentic and fell under the definitons of  “Original, not Fake” and “Real, not Imitative.”  With all of the material that can be found through the internet and technology about the chop, more fiddler players are beginning to imitate this technique.



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