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B flat anyone? - Printable Version

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B flat anyone? - Jack Campin - 02-12-2016

These days, you rarely see anyone at session with just one diatonic instrument.  Fiddles, accordions and guitars predominate; I'm often the only woodwind player present.  Moothie players always have a few different keys available.  So, apart from whistle and smallpipe players, everybody can play in pretty near any key you'll find in the older collections.  (Smallpipe players never play on every tune anyway, and D whistles are routinely cut out of the action when tunes drop to the G string).

But session keys are more restricted than they used to be: zero to three sharps.  And collections like Nigel's are reflecting that; he used to have flat key tunes and doesn't any more.  There seems no good reason for it, and the variety of tone you get by extending the range of keys makes for a more audience-friendly sound.

This isn't the way professionals do it, either - it's not like this is a general trend in Scottish music.  Alasdair Fraser does sets in C minor and Adam Sutherland's best known tune is in B.

(And for whistle players: just about any music shop will have whistles in seven or eight different keys for a few quid, it's not like getting beyond D is a huge problem).

Do we really want to end up like the English scene where absolutely everything is in G or D?


RE: B flat anyone? - JAJ - 02-12-2016

It's true that fiddles, mandolins etc can play in any key but it's not always easy just to jump into a different key unless you are really familiar with the tune. It involves changing or adapting you fingering unlike just swapping a whistle or moothie.
So while many of us can and do play tunes in flat keys, these are usually "worked out" and practised before hand rather than just joining in "on the hoof".

I' d suggest too that even Alistair and Adam will feel more comfortable in a session situation with the more common keys unless they are playing material known to them and their friends.

I've no objections to people playing more unusual tunes in different keys although I also believe that it's best if a session is as inclusive as possible.

Even at the harp festival, they tend to play music in the more common keys in the session to include other instruments even although much of the harp repertoire is in flat keys.

By the way, B flat isn't too much of an issue on the mandolin etc. It's easy to use a capo when playing with pipers and many fiddlers will just tune up their instrument by a semi tone.


RE: B flat anyone? - George - 04-12-2016

"unlike just swapping a whistle or moothie. 
Fixed key instruments bring their own problems. Try playing 'Shiftin Bobbins' on the Moothie.  Wink


RE: B flat anyone? - JAJ - 04-12-2016

That's true. I was forgetting about key changes mid tune, accidentals and the like.

The harp involves flicking lots of levers too. Not so easy.


RE: B flat anyone? - Jack Campin - 04-12-2016

There are quite a few tunes where the point of the key choice isn't to do anything tricky, but simply to get a distinctive sound. For the fiddle, a B flat tune will often put the major third on the open D string, and an F one will put it on the open A.


RE: B flat anyone? - JAJ - 04-12-2016

Of course, most musicians compose in different keys because they prefer the sound. Surely, they wouldn't do it it just to make things difficult? Wink Unlike William Marshall "I don't write tunes for bunglers...."

However, when tunes have been composed on and for a specific instrument, they don't always transfer well either in terms of sound or playability to another. Some adaptation sometimes has to be made in either the key, actual notes, or both.