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Playing a tune
#1
To try to open a new topic, I would ask the question about playing a specific tune. When you start out you tend to play very slowly until you master the notes then you naturally start to speed up.  I find playing in groups it tends to be that tunes are played as fast as possible and for me you lose some of the melody.  To me some reels and jigs played slower sound a lot better especially if you are listening to them rather than dancing to them.
 What are your thoughts on this?

regards

Drew
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#2
It can get quite lonely here, Drew, so here is my twopence-worth on your latest topic.

As a player now a few years beyond my three-score-and-ten alloted years, I am no longer a great fan of playing too fast. The fingers and brain combine to keep speed to a manageable pace and I can convince myself that everything is much more musical at my pace than that of the young guns who can rattle out a tune at breakneck speed. The joys of youth!

Seriously, we have a regular discussion at our weekly session about the pace to play the tunes we play, especially the many pipe tunes which feature in the evening's list. We are lucky to have a very fine piper (on small pipes in our session, but a GHB player of note as well) in the group and he and I will regularly say to the others after a set has been played, "Let's do it again at piping speed now". 2/4 and 6/8 marches are often taken at what I would reckon is too fast a pace. Iain, our piper, says that his old piping tutor used to say that the pace for a 2/4 march could be imagined by thinking of yourself walking down the Gallowgate in Glasgow chatting to a friend, and this will give you the speed for the march. My late accordion buddy Derek always said that for the 6/8 march you should imagine the swing of the kilt and the sway of the shoulders as the piper marched and played. Our fiddle and accordion player(s) who are also dance band players will tend to play the tunes a bit faster, as they are playing for dancing rather than for listening - though of course in our session no one is actually dancing, but old habits die hard. I am pretty certain, having played in Scottish dance bands over the years, that many of the dancers will not have a clue what the tunes are ( I am talking about Ceilidh rather than the strict Scottish Country Dancing of the RSCDA), but rather just dance to the beat, and the rock-steady bass and drum rhythm is what they are dancing to.

Stand by now for deluge of responses.
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#3
(06-03-2018, 06:33 PM)John Kelly Wrote: It can get quite lonely here, Drew, so here is my twopence-worth on your latest topic.

As a player now a few years beyond my three-score-and-ten alloted years, I am no longer a great fan of playing too fast.  The fingers and brain combine to keep speed to a manageable pace and I can convince myself that everything is much more musical at my pace than that of the young guns who can rattle out a tune at breakneck speed.  The joys of youth!

Seriously,  we have a regular discussion at our weekly session about the pace to play the tunes we play, especially the many pipe tunes which feature in the evening's list.  We are lucky to have a very fine piper (on small pipes in our session, but a GHB player of note as well) in the group and he and I will regularly say to the others after a set has been played, "Let's do it again at piping speed now".  2/4 and 6/8 marches are often taken at what I would reckon is too fast a pace.  Iain, our piper, says that his old piping tutor used to say that the pace for a 2/4 march could be imagined by thinking of yourself walking down the Gallowgate in Glasgow chatting to a friend, and this will give you the speed for the march.  My late accordion buddy Derek always said that for the 6/8 march you should imagine the swing of the kilt and the sway of the shoulders as the piper marched and played.  Our fiddle and accordion player(s) who are also dance band players will tend to play the tunes a bit faster, as they are playing for dancing rather than for listening - though of course in our session no one is actually dancing, but old habits die hard.  I am pretty certain, having played in Scottish dance bands over the years, that many of the dancers will not have a clue what the tunes are ( I am talking about Ceilidh rather than the strict Scottish Country Dancing of the RSCDA), but rather just dance to the beat, and the rock-steady bass and drum rhythm is what they are dancing to.

Stand by now for deluge of responses.

Thanks John,

There is a lot of wisdom in your reply and I cannot fault any of it. I like the definitions of pace of marches which I think will stay with me.  Most tutors I've spoke to say, start slow until you learn then the speed will come naturally and at my similar age to yourself, my speed is probably slower too. I joined our local Mandolin club and although it was of benefit initially, I stopped going as it seamed to be" lets play as fast as possible and get through  as many tunes as possible". 
Listening to many players on the web etc I find that they try to put their own interpretation on a tune and I find that very enjoyable.

Hope that this is not becoming the John and Drew Forum  and that others will join in but not holding my breath.

Where is your weekly session held? and is it open for others to come along and listen.  We have a monthly Acoustic Music Night in a Dumbarton church raising money for charity, I don't play just look after the sound.

cheers 
Drew
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#4
Hi Lads,

There is nothing wrong with playing at speed per se but I also dislike having to do so in many situations especially in large groups of players who are relatively "indifferent" in terms of musical talent even if they are not necessarily beginners.

It can be good fun sometimes and it is OK for playing a basic and standard repertoire but it often falls apart when more difficult or complex tunes are tackled. Especially those which can have a variety of possible settings, trickier passages etc.

Feeling uncomfortable in these situations isn't something which is exclusive to beginners. Even experienced and top level musicians don't always enjoy fast and furious sessions and will even avoid them unless they are actually leading the tunes or in the company of players with whom they have a good musical understanding.

The main issue I have is that many of the subtleties of the music and your instrument is lost in these situations and one's individual playing style becomes diluted. To fit in, the players generally have to find the lowest common denominator in such situations. As I said, this is fun for a while but only with certain tunes and the novelty wears off. Just "Keeping Up" isn't the most satisfying thing to do when playing music.

Having said all that, there is nothing better than a session where everything clicks and all the musicians gel together whether the speed is fast or slow. This is rare though and the players usually already know each other very well in a musical sense. Otherwise, a session shouldn't really become any faster than the weaker players in the group.
Of course, there is then the argument that the latter should "sit out" more difficult tunes or not even take part which, in some circumstances, is fair enough. However, if a session is intended to be for musicians of all levels or "all welcoming", then its leaders should try to pace things at a more moderate level speed wise. It really depends on the circumstances.
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#5
Very true, JAJ. Circumstances and players will generally decide what is played and how fast (or slow).

Drew, we meet in the back room of MacClure's Bar in Dunoon every Thursday evening from about 7.45 till whenever folk decide to go home. Generally around a half dozen regulars with more casual drop-ins at times, and anyone is welcome to come and listen or join in. Ability range is wide and we all get on well with each other and the craic is generally good too. May see you at some point; drop me a line to make sure we are meeting, though it is a very regular event.
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#6
(07-03-2018, 06:36 PM)John Kelly Wrote: Very true, JAJ.  Circumstances and players will generally decide what is played and how fast (or slow).

Drew, we meet in the back room of MacClure's Bar in Dunoon every Thursday evening from about 7.45 till whenever folk decide to go home.  Generally around a half dozen regulars with more casual drop-ins at times, and anyone is welcome to come and listen or join in.  Ability range is wide and we all get on well with each other and the craic is generally good too.  May see you at some point;  drop me a line to make sure we are meeting, though it is a very regular event.

Thanks John 

Will need to try and get round at some point, maybe when weather is slightly warmer and less chance of ice.

JAJ and yourself have been very helpful on this Forum and its really appreciated.

I am getting there playing from the TAB sheets and beginning to be able to read music but there is one big barrier I find and that playing by ear. I am not sure if it's just my own perception but I find it very hard, sometimes I can randomly find a few notes of a tune that  I know, but then as I try to fill in the rest of it I find very difficult to find the rest of the notes. Do have you any tips or advise on this subject. 

cheers

Drew
Drew
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#7
Hi Drew,
There is an interesting and timely thread over on the mandolin Cafe at the moment, discussing how to break the TAB habit. Here is the link (I hope this will work, but if not you can enter it by hand):

https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/showt...-TAB-habit.

I would recommend learning scales in the keys you most often play in, because in general the tunes use the scale notes and if you know where to find them on your fingerboard then you are getting a start on learning the tune. As you know, the mandolin with its 5ths tuning lets you repeat patterns much more than the guitar allows, so if you learn G major on the bottom two strings (0 -2 - 4 - 5) then you are able to use this same fingering on the D and A to get a D major scale, then on the A and E to get an A major scale.

Training your ear is the main thing and this can be helped by learning a phrase at a time, repeating it till it is in your memory. Traditional fiddle is regularly taught this way, with a sort of tutor/student play and response going on. Soon you will find that you have a lot of phrases that crop up in lots of places in other tunes, and you will have them already in your memory. many of our traditional tunes, and tunes from the bagpipe repertoire, will begin to seem quite similar to you after a while, so much so that it is one of the problems when playing 4-part marches, where there is often only quite subtle differences in the parts, and there will regular repeated phrases.

Good luck anyway!
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#8
(09-03-2018, 08:59 AM)Alcluith Wrote: "there is one big barrier I find and that playing by ear. I am not sure if it's just my own perception but I find it very hard, sometimes I can randomly find a few notes of a tune that  I know, but then as I try to fill in "

Drew,

I've noticed that John has just replied and given some good advice. However, I thought I'd make a couple of comments too.
I'm not sure if you mean "learning by ear" at home or in a class etc or picking up a tune "on the hoof" at a session etc?

Whatever the circumstances, it's something which comes with time and practice. I'm a firm believer in listening first. I've been "music daft" since I was a little boy although I never started to play music until much later and, of course, it wasn't the same music as I play now,.

However, if the music is already in your head, it's much easier to transfer it to your instrument. When I started to play, I would work out some of the very well known tunes and songs on my instruments just to get the feel of them and to find the notes. After a while, as long as the tune or song was in my head, my fingers would automatically find the notes on the instrument. Of course, i'm talking about simple melodies....I still have to think about more complicated pieces... but it does help to train your ears. Even something like "Happy Birthday" or "Twinkle twinkle" is a good start although I'm sure you know far better tunes than that.

Practising scales is also very useful and when you learn a tune, it's often good to try it out in a different key or in the same key in a different position. Again, this helps you find your way around. e.g. "Jig of Slurs" sounds great in the lower octave.

The "call and response" thing by repeating phrases is good too although this wasn't the natural way for me. It was something i had to learn myself after going to classes and workshops. Personally, I prefer to listen to a tune a few times first myself and break it down. Then I can concentrate on the more difficult passages. Just learning a tune "bar by bar" can be confusing and you don't always get the right flow when you put it all together.

I'd also suggest learning to play "the dots" as opposed to TAB. The latter can be useful for demonstrating certain techniques and for fingering advice sometimes but reading music isn't really that much more difficult and gives you access to a much bigger repertoire.
Often I use both "ear" and written music to learn a tune. I will listen to a recording while I'm playing off the sheet. Then I'm more confident that I've picked up the correct notes(although it is sometimes a different version, of course) and also that I've got the correct feel for the tune which isn't always conveyed in written music or TAB.

Hope this helps.


 

Just read the thread in mandolin Cafe....  A lot of what I've just written has been mentioned there too. Possibly more clearly.   Smile
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#9
(09-03-2018, 10:53 AM)JAJ Wrote:
(09-03-2018, 08:59 AM)Alcluith Wrote: "there is one big barrier I find and that playing by ear. I am not sure if it's just my own perception but I find it very hard, sometimes I can randomly find a few notes of a tune that  I know, but then as I try to fill in "

Drew,

I've noticed that John has just replied and given some good advice. However, I thought I'd make a couple of comments too.
I'm not sure if you mean "learning by ear" at home or in a class etc or picking up a tune "on the hoof" at a session etc?

Whatever the circumstances, it's something which comes with time and practice. I'm a firm believer in listening first. I've been "music daft" since I was a little boy although I never started to play music until much later and, of course, it wasn't the same music as I play now,.

However, if the music is already in your head, it's much easier to transfer it to your instrument. When I started to play, I would work out some of the very well known tunes and songs on my instruments just to get the feel of them and to find the notes. After a while, as long as the tune or song was in my head, my fingers would automatically find the notes on the instrument. Of course, i'm talking about simple melodies....I still have to think about more complicated pieces... but it does help to train your ears. Even something like "Happy Birthday" or "Twinkle twinkle" is a good start although I'm sure you know far better tunes than that.

Practising scales is also very useful and when you learn a tune, it's often good to try it out in a different key or in the same key in a different position. Again, this helps you find your way around. e.g. "Jig of Slurs" sounds great in the lower octave.

The "call and response" thing by repeating phrases is good too although this wasn't the natural way for me. It was something i had to learn myself after going to classes and workshops. Personally, I prefer to listen to a tune a few times first myself and break it down. Then I can concentrate on the more difficult passages. Just learning a tune "bar by bar" can be confusing and you don't always get the right flow when you put it all together.

I'd also suggest learning to play "the dots" as opposed to TAB. The latter can be useful for demonstrating certain techniques and for fingering advice sometimes but reading music isn't really that much more difficult and gives you access to a much bigger repertoire.
Often I use both "ear" and written music to learn a tune. I will listen to a recording while I'm playing off the sheet. Then I'm more confident that I've picked up the correct notes(although it is sometimes a different version, of course) and also that I've got the correct feel for the tune which isn't always conveyed in written music or TAB.

Hope this helps.


 

Just read the thread in mandolin Cafe....  A lot of what I've just written has been mentioned there too. Possibly more clearly.   Smile

John, JAJ,

Again thanks for the great advise it always helps, I think I made the mistake of getting comfortable with the tabs and now its my  bad habit. Mandolessons also says play by ear but again to quickly get playing I started using the TABS.  I am getting better at reading the dots, but its a slow process for me but I will persevere until I get it.  My brother suggested playing "My Young Man" by Kate Rusby, but we do not have the music so I am trying to learn by ear, but I do not know the tune, so I am currently listening to it to try to get it in my head so getting it veeeery slowly.

  cheers

Drew
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#10
You'll probably also be aware that there's lots of good technology to assist these days in slowing down tunes so that you can pick them up more easily.

In the old days, we use to try things like playing a reel to reel tape recorder at half speed. Then some small recording walkmans also adopted such a facility.
Another ploy by some budding players was to play an 33 and a 3rd LP record at 16 Revs which was almost half speed. Not all decks had the 16RPM option though.

Nowadays, there are lots of good computer programmes which can do this, e.g. Amazing Slowdowner although I've always used Transcribe. However, you can also slow down Windows Media player and You Tube these days.  Transcribe is great as you can even change the pitch into a "friendlier" key, if desired.
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