View Full Version : How to choose how to play a tune?

Mar-01-2004, 9:26pm
In another thread danb said

That's mostly just a style thing by the way, I tend to play more drones & chords in my lead lines than many players, some evidence of old-timey fiddlers in Milwaukee that I used to love playing with. Some of my favorite music to listen to is a single player doing complex things combining lead & backing on an instrument like a fiddle or uillean pipes, etc.

This strikes me as a good topic for discussion... not just Dan, but how do you choose how to play a tune in this style of chords and drones?

A good example, I think, is the B part to "I Buried My Wife and Danced On Top Of Her" from Dan's disc. A common setting of the first four bars of the B part is:

|d2 e (3gfe d|faf {a}gfe|d2 e (3gfe d|dcA dcA|

where Dan sort of played it like the following on his "Shatter The Calm" disc:

[d2D2]e fed | f/2f/2f gfe | [d2F2B,2]e fed | [dEA,]AA [cEA,]AA |

I've combined the two snippets into one jpg attached to this post.

Dan's is a great variation, and very fun to play. But how do you get from the vanilla to the complex? And not specifically for this tune but for tunes in general?

I'm interested to hear the thoughts on this (knowing that there isn't a quick short cut formula I can employ), and also tempted to suggest we jointly enhance a tune like maybe Bohola Jig as a working example http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/cool.gif


Mar-01-2004, 11:38pm
Interesting. The use of double stops, whether with an open string or two fretted strings really fills up a tune. The question is ... how do I get there from here? First off for me, I practice scales everyday - different scale types, different keys. Then I see where adjacent fingers - in those scales - will give me a harmonic voice. That's a start.

Another really interesting way to explore potential voices just crossed my desk. John McGann has a tremendous book on Exploring Melodic Variations (http://www.johnmcgann.com/books.html) on Mandolin. This book is a good, fun, year long study of some very common fiddle tunes. And what to do with them. (Scroll down to the second listing on the site posted above.)

This is a very comprehensive study - with the tune / theme followed with four variations both in notation and tab ... on each page. (Some tunes take over 8 pages to explore.)It's worth the price of admission and - it will introduce you to a ton of ideas between vanilla and complex.

Mar-02-2004, 6:29am
Hmm, interesting question. It kind of goes beyond anything mandolin-specific too- if you're interested in a great book on "Irish Music Theory" or philosophy or even just generally a good read.. I recommend Last Night's Fun by Ciaran Carson. Amazon has it here (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0865475318/qid=1078226403/sr=1-1/ref=sr_1_1/102-6572723-5357718?v=glance&s=books), just to find one source anyway.

One of the things that Carson articulates very well is that sort of semi-opaque process whereby multiple settings of tunes are absorbed and melded and picked and chosen, and just how deeply the truth that "The dots can't really represent the tune" are in this type of music.

A couple summary points- first off, the dots are usually a single setting. A single player may not play the same tune the same way twice, but they may have favorite variations. The dots also don't really represent the pulse and feel of the music, all things that vary by the venue, the style, the instruments, etc.

One metaphor I like is that Irish traditional tunes are similar to a field of flowers. You are very taken with the beauty of an individual bloom, and you take a photograph of it to show people. Then you notice that someone else has photographed a flower of the same type, but that you can see faint variations. The field is full of flowers that are almost, but not quite, the same.. but you realize that that sameness is a construct and that each one is a unique individual. This is what it is like when you pick up a tune from a book and go to a session. That subtlety of difference is what really maks this music interesting to me, I suppose.

Secondly, most players know multiple settings of individual tunes.. if you're new to the session you visit, you tend to try to play as the others do (when in rome..) at your own local, you might have a deeper repartee with the other players and play a phrase almost as a sarcastic point.. underscoring a friends variation to tease them, intentionally creating a discord somewhere, or emphasizing the pulse created by a B/C accordian, for example.

Back to the original question.. I guess that particular variation (and generally speaking, the others on my disk) are snapshots of how I decided to play that tune on the day from the field of available choices. A lot of it can be masked with the ineffable term "Experience", but the truth behind it is much more interesting. That little chord run sort of appeared out of nowhere to me.. I almost always play drones chordlets/double-stops when I play melody (I've always liked the full sound), but I never really consciously figured out that passage. I think the chords it suggests perhaps come from some backing work I did on the zook, a lot of that was hit or miss experimentation!

I personally haven't spent much time "learning tunes" as a part of my practice regimen, if you can call it that. I like to learn a tune, then learn more and more about it. More settings, more variations, other keys, and so forth. Many of the tunes on my disk were ones I started working on at the very beginning when I first got my mandolin.. In fact, the tune I play before "I Buried.." is "Jackson's Morning Brush", which is the very first Irish Jig I learned on my Washburn bowl back mandolin.

I'm still not sick of it http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif

Mar-02-2004, 6:38am
I am an intuitive player when it comes to drones. #I worked on some celtic drones in some old Mandocrucian digests. #For starters some are fairly easy, others more challenging. #What I have found on a more intuitive level, (less thoughtful way) is using emphasis on upstroke and to catch the A, D or G drones strings that way. #Its a very simple way to play, but sounds really good (especially the G drone with the heavy upstroke).

As you brought up this subject I guess I better get back to thinking about it (working on those Mandocrucian digest excerpts). #Any other stuff out there on the net for free on Celtic drones?
Emily http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/coffee.gif

Mar-02-2004, 9:25pm
Thanks everyone, really enjoyed the responses. I've ordered the two books mentioned (can't ever have enough books) and look forward to diving much deeper into this topic.

Emily, are there specific issues of the M-digest that you'd recommend to me as worthwhile to hunt down?

Others, Are there more CDs that might be recommended that use this technique to good benefit?


Mar-03-2004, 8:35am
Really I think that many (all) of those issues have a column by Mick Maloney. And I just opened no. 16 to find "Cregg's Pipes" by Maloney. Hot dog that is a tune I am learning now for a session.

The issue that I was talking about was no. 24 which features a several page spread on one tune Gary Owen played-octave lower, G-drone, root + 5th drones (split string drones), chord and drone, melody with chords (as you guys were discussing-sounds excellent), up the neck with drones, and as accompaniment. Whew! He has a cassette to go with it that is pretty good.

I wish Niles would put together a Celtic workshop to take these ideas into different tunes as a flexing exercise and sprinkle some other stuff in as well.

Right now I am trying to hammer down a bunch of new tunes. Have you seen that website Traditional-Music. org they have a ton of stuff!
Good luck and keep this thread alive, it is really cool stuff.