UA Little Rock student wins award to transcribe music of world-renowned Arkansas fiddle player

A University of Arkansas at Little Rock student hopes to make the musical stylings of a famous Arkansas fiddle player easier to learn by identifying the unique elements of his signature music style.

Emily Phillips, a junior majoring in anthropology and Spanish at UA Little Rock, received $2,000 from the Arkansas Department of Higher Education’s Student Undergraduate Research Fellowship for her project to transcribe the music and stylistic elements of “Fiddlin’ Banjo Billy Mathews.”

Mathews is a world-renowned fiddle player known for his intricate and unique playing style. He has been performing for more than 40 years and has greatly contributed to the American folk music catalog.

Under the supervision of her mentor, Dr. Juliana Flinn, professor of anthropology, Phillips, who is also a champion fiddle player, will transcribe Mathews’ recordings and identify unique elements of his music style on paper.

Mathews began on the banjo and later learned to play the fiddle. Due to the influence of his banjo playing, he was able to mimic banjo techniques on the fiddle, such as “pull-offs,” “hammer-ons,” and “slides.”

By transcribing these recordings, Phillips will be able to investigate how his style was influenced by the traditions of other regions and players. She will also see how his playing style differed from those who previously played the same tunes.

Phillips will transcribe the audio recordings on the album, “500 Fiddle Tunes: Old-Time Archive,” using music transcription software. Her goal is to make Mathews’ songs and playing style more accessible for other players to emulate.

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