View Full Version : Syncopation in reels (e.g. Highlander's)

james blackburn-lynch
Oct-15-2004, 6:51am
I've been playing with tunes like "Caribou Reel" and "Catharsis" and the aforementioned "Highlander's Reel" for a while now, and the connection is they all have parts where the stressed notes come every 3 (and then after 2 at the end of a measure occassionally) even though the tune is in 2/4 (or 4/4).

I've tried getting the right feel by using a downstroke to emphasize the stressed note but then I'm doing DUD DUD DU and that feels so jig-like to me that I'm afraid I'm actually slipping into 6/8 feel. #If so, I'm pretty sure the timing is wrong. #Since I'm usually playing these difficult tunes by myself, and the difference would be so slight (and then I'd go back to the correct timing as soon as the measure was over), it's very difficult to tell if I'm getting the timing right.

So, I'm trying hard to stay with DUDUDUDU and just get that extra punch with an upstroke, but I'm still not convinced that the feel is there.

Anyone have any specific suggestions how I can get it straight and know it? #(I think confidence tends to be a problem in all my playing, but it's simply not possible to just be confident.)

Oct-15-2004, 10:24pm
Good observation - I play a lot of Strathspeys and Highland Marches and have figured out a few things ... 1/ listen to a LOT of the music by different groups / soloists and 2 / stress the beat, syncopate the off beat. This sort of comes out as DUM u d / DUM u d in a jig - march and in a 2/2 or 4/4 piece, DUM udu DUMuDUMu. The stressed (stretched) 1/8th note followed by a sixteenth isn't difficult if you think of the opening bars of Beethoven's 9th Symphony: Dahdum Dahdum Dahdum etc.

Scots tunes and their marvelous idiosyncracies influenced a lot of classical composers over the years and once you can sing a few of the more exotic tunes, the rhythms will start to make sense. I'd listen to Polbain to Oranmore for a remarkable CD exploring this phenomena on Fretted instruments and perhaps even find a copy of the Skye Collection or explore Nigel Gatherer's (http://users.argonet.co.uk/users/gatherer/music.html)remarkable site devoted to the Scottish Mandolin. (Look up "Spootiskerry" in his Shetland collection.) It's gotten to the point for me that It has to have the scots snap (or a Shetland Shiver) for it to be a really interesting tune.

Oh yes - Fingals Cave and Fingals Weeping are both great tunes which were used by Mendelsohn in his Hebrides Overture and they just come to hand on a Mandolin. (Fingals Cave is on Nigel's Site and Fingals Weeping is at The Session. (http://www.thesession.org/index.php) )

Oct-16-2004, 10:13am
I think the Scotch snap, to which Dolamon refers, is a different topic (albeit one equally worthy of discussion) from that of James's initial post. Shifting the main accent to normally unaccented beats, which I think James refers to, is what I understand to be the proper meaning of syncopation.

I think it is useful to learn to accent upstrokes, as this allows such syncopated tunes to be played without disturbing the 'dudu' picking pattern. Using downstokes on the accented weak beats can be used to add a stronger accent, perhaps as a variation.