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Thread: Mandolin playing style - Old Time vs. Celtic

  1. #26
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    Default Re: Mandolin playing style - Old Time vs. Celtic

    Jim, I wish you'd have recorded that living room session. from your discription, it sounds like a really fun thing to hear.
    And I have no problems with pushing musical boundaries, but from a more traditional perspective I'd say translating old time fiddle tunes to the mandolin is a little more natural than translating them to the tuba or midi sampler. First off, you've got the strings tuned to the same notes so that slides, drones, and double stops are reminiscent of one another. More importantly, mandolin does have a presence in old time music--even if it is a small one. So, when I hear a mandolin, it seems to fit in a string band context. A tuba would be about as incongruous as a mandolin in a marching band.

  2. #27
    Registered User abuteague's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin playing style - Old Time vs. Celtic

    Timing

    I know less about old time, but I'd add that all eighth notes are not created equal in Irish music. It is exaggerated in hornpipes, but it isn't exactly dotted either. It also depends on the speed so it applies to reels too. The music had an aural culture or origin. It wasn't written down. Because of this, the musicians didn't get the message that notes were divided into equal halves. They cut notes into the pieces that fit the tune or dance. I think this is where some of the disdain for books of ITM tunes comes from. Written down, it is missing the emphasis and timing that you can hear from a good player or recording. When I see sheet music where they try to nail this timing thing down explicitly in the notation, it looks so complicated and covered with ink as to be unreadable for me. I'll cut it back with a machete to the bare minimum eighth notes again and add the timing myself.

    When it comes to Irish music, I like both books and recordings. Lots of times I wait to start learning a tune I have the notes for until I've heard others play it. It is very helpful. In fact, I'll read the notes and play them flat and decide a tune is worthless only to hear someone else play it and decide it is brilliant. The timing intricacies of Irish music are that important.

    The air is an Irish piece where you recite/sing in your head the words of a piece in Gaelic but express the sounds through playing your instrument. You will find sheet music for airs, but the timing is based on the recitation and speech with the syllables and other speech elements driving the timing which do not really conform to notes dotted or otherwise. That makes sheet music for airs kind of impossible. Not that they shouldn't be written down, of course, for if they are not, they may well be lost forever. Musical poetry unconfined by the staff. I once heard that airs, like bathing, should be performed daily, but seldom shared.

    A fully capable classically trained violin player with excellent and precise timing joined our group. After the month she exclaimed, "this is hard" and she quit. We love our fiddle players so it was a hard loss.

    The melody isn't really negotiable in Irish music, but you can put ornaments anywhere when you are playing solo. You can play them the first time and let them go the second. Anywhere you want to fit it in, go for it. That is an improvisational element. In groups, it is often agreed which ornaments are played where, but we usually don't talk about it. I'll opt out of some of the fiddle ornaments in reels, but count me in on jig ornaments. Love them. Very fun.

    That is my take.

  3. #28
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    Default Re: Mandolin playing style - Old Time vs. Celtic

    I agree that music is anything you can get away with. I'll use the notes in a book as an aid to making the tune sound like it's supposed to. But I usually know what it's supposed to sound like first by hearing others play it. Full disclosure: I don't actually play a mandolin per say, but I play GDAE tuned tenor banjo so what I'm doing is basically playing mandolin, just one with only 4 strings, a slightly longer scale, and a banjo head instead of a wooden mandolin head. Maybe Octave Banjolin is the correct term? The 4-string banjo is now common in Irish music, but it's virtually absent in old-time, save for a few players who dabble like Josh Bearman of the Hot Seats, Clyde Curley, Enda Schahill, Mick Moloney, Christine Langille and Sam Bartlett. Those are the only tenor banjo players I've heard who do Appalachian tunes. But Old Time fiddle tunes are easily translatable with the strings tuned to the same notes.

    I've started to attend some really good local Old Time and Irish sessions, both with my tenor banjo, and I co-host a session where we jump around through tunes from both countries of origin. All I'm trying to do is make the tune sound like the way I want it to, or make it fit into the group dynamic of the session, and I don't really care whether it's Irish or old-time for that matter. I think if you use your ear and pick up on the nuances of each individual tune you'll already be doing what you're supposed to, regardless of which category the tune falls into (breakdown, jig, reel, hornpipe, and so on).

  4. #29
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    Default Re: Mandolin playing style - Old Time vs. Celtic

    This has been a great discussion. I have my tuppenceworth (50cents), but I'll refrain at the moment because I have been basking in a wonderful, good-natured, knowledgable, friendly discussion - thanks for that, guys.

  5. #30
    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin playing style - Old Time vs. Celtic

    I think there is music, and there is playing music, and there is a distinction. I am going to botch this up but let me try.

    I don't want to make music, I want to play music. I hear OT, IT and various other genres, Klezmer, Ragtime, Tango, even Classical, and I say that music over there, it exists and I want to play it. And one measure of my success is, of course, the resemblence of what I hear on my instrument to what I hear in the music. Not just the notes in the right order but the whole vibe, the whole feeling.

    Now making music, that is something else entirely, and perhaps it is what you can get away with. But I have to say I have no music in me. No music to make. Nothing interesting to express.

    I just love playing the tunes.
    As much as I post, I pick a whole lot more. Just sayin'
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  6. #31
    music with whales Jim Nollman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin playing style - Old Time vs. Celtic

    I don't want to make music, I want to play music. — JeffD
    Once you describe what that means, you make a good point.

    In this thread we've been covering a lot of ground on the subject of nuance, attempting to pinpoint the distinctions between intermediate and advanced playing, and also between OT and IT. To that mix, it's not a big leap to add one more distinction: between what you call playing and what you call making music (maybe also known as mastering tunes and composing tunes.

    Hmmm...That doesn't quite nail it down either, but I do know what you mean.
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  7. #32
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin playing style - Old Time vs. Celtic

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffD View Post
    Now making music, that is something else entirely, and perhaps it is what you can get away with. But I have to say I have no music in me. No music to make. Nothing interesting to express.

    I just love playing the tunes.
    This is extremely interesting to me -- this distinction. My feeling tho is that it is not quite a distinction, at least as i interpret it. I highly doubt that you have nothing interesting to express -- what you are is the interpretation of the tunes thru your love of them. I certainly understand the connection between making music and composing but in my mind, they are not the same thing. Take a look at the many musicians out there, esp classical ones. Rarely are they composers -- they just love playing the tunes.

    I hope that I am understanding what you are saying, Jeff. LMK if i am off the mark.
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  8. #33
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    Default Re: Mandolin playing style - Old Time vs. Celtic

    Well in my mind making music, even if its traditional music, is making something new in the world. Creating.

    While I might inadvertently create something new as I cannot avoid whatever influences I bring to the game, my goal is to play the tune and bring out all that is in the tune. I see it more as music in the tune, in the genre, in the tradition, that I am bringing out, by playing it. I try to express the tune.

    Making music would be more adventurous - if want to compose say, or perhaps I could take the tune as it is, but in a different direction not thought of, break it up or make it jazzy, but make it something different, outside of its tradition. Play it as a jazz number or whatever. Making something distinctly new and at loosely teathered, if at all, to the tunes "natural" roots. I would be interested in deliberately putting my stamp on it, making the tune my own. Making something new. Thats making music.

    I am really not the one to make something new.

    Classical music is a hard one, but for the most part I would say, with a few exceptions, they are playing music, not making music. They are playing the music the composer made.

    OK I am going to get flak for this one. I think in the traditional realm, Bill Monroe made music. Those who play Bill Monroe's tunes more or less his way are playing music.

    Both are valid. Both are awesome. Both can be a lifetime of effort. I imply nothing pejoritive in either case. I just am more comfortable where I stand.
    As much as I post, I pick a whole lot more. Just sayin'
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    The entire staff
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  9. #34
    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin playing style - Old Time vs. Celtic

    Its probably not either/or black/white. LOts of grey.
    As much as I post, I pick a whole lot more. Just sayin'
    We cannot put off living until we are ready. -- Jose Ortega Y Gasset

    The entire staff
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  10. #35
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin playing style - Old Time vs. Celtic

    As you say, shades of gray... all the sides of the same coin. Frankly, playing a fiddle tune with a reggae rhythm or jazzing it up to me is no more creative than playing the tune well in an old time or bluegrass way. It may be subtle but you instill the tune with your own voice no matter what. I highly doubt that you could truly sound like Dock Roberts no matter how hard you try and neither can traditional masters like Bruce Molsky. No matter what, as you say, you bring to the table influences and sounds that you hear.

    Ironically, you say that Bill Monroe made music, however, how often we hear that he learned from the sounds of old black musicians who lived near him as well as his Uncle Pen. He did not live in a vacuum did not rise out of nowhere to play hjis style of music.
    Jim

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  11. #36
    Registered User billkilpatrick's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin playing style - Old Time vs. Celtic

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Nollman View Post
    We played Sandy Boys. Whereas i started out accompanying him by playing the downward spiraling melody as it appears in any of the books of fiddle tunes, he never seemed to alight on any particular note for more than a moment, constantly slurring between note centers, both up and down, occasionally landing on a quarter tone, and relying on double stops to play some eye-opening moving lines such as (GDDG... GDC#G... GDDF#) .... The rhythm was also in constant motion, slipping behind the beat and then speeding up with a bunch of slurs to regain the one beat by the time we hit a necessary tune balance .... On a certain level, he had converted this exceedingly simple modal tune into a chromatic tune, which also employed hints of an Indian raga quarter tone scale. And yet the distinctive melody always remained front and center in my ear ... That should also explain another point of his, that there's a "danger" of relying on tune books to learn songs from any tradition, instead of learning them by ear, and direct to memory. Books must "freeze" the melodies, while the traditions defy such freezing.
    i've noticed this in european medieval/renaissance dance music as well - providing someone is sticking more or less to the melody, ornamentation and rhythmic variations in accompaniment can be all over the place and still sound good.

    i also take your point about the dangers of tab or notation "freezing" a tune - approaching a genre with pre-conceived ideas and never straying from them. same choke-hold attitude exists in early music between those who want to recreate it and those who vainly try to re-enact it.

    ... of course, anyone who teams up with a pack of wolves or 300 turkeys to make a record is just jake in my book.

  12. #37
    music with whales Jim Nollman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin playing style - Old Time vs. Celtic

    same choke-hold attitude exists in early music between those who want to recreate it and those who vainly try to re-enact it.
    Very well said.
    Explore some of my published music here

    —Jim

    BRW 3-point #65
    Godin A8
    Kentucky 850 (circa 1984)
    Portuguese fado cittern

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