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Thread: How to determine the beat on songs you've never heard?

  1. #26
    Mandolin Friendly Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to determine the beat on songs you've never heard?

    Quote Originally Posted by David L View Post
    "Row. Row, Row Your Boat" is not a particularly good example for this. The first two measures do NOT have equal eighth-notes. The eighth-notes should be played as the first and last notes of a triplet. In other words, they should be "swung". There is no notation at the top saying to swing the eighth-notes. If someone does not know how to read notation, starting with an "understood to be different" pattern is not a good idea.
    You're right David, it does swing. Oh well, I tried.
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  2. #27

    Default Re: How to determine the beat on songs you've never heard?

    Quote Originally Posted by foldedpath View Post
    Knowledge of genre is important. It's not just mutual opinion, it's history that may go back hundreds of years. You can play it any way you want at home, sure. But if you ignore how a tune works in different traditions, and just play the skeleton of the notes, then you're just skimming the surface of the music. These tunes don't exist in a vacuum as pure notes.
    I think you are actually making my point here. If one can play the exact same notes in multiple different ways depending on whether you are in an Old Time or Irish session, then the tunes DO exist in a vacuum as pure notes and need the CONTEXT (mutual agreement) to be played "correctly", as determined by that group. It doesn't matter if that context has existed for hundreds of years or not--- it is still an agreement among individuals that THIS is the correct way to play... and the fact that there is another group that asserts that a different way of playing the exact same notes is correct more or less proves this. Obviously, then, if you are alone and are trying to learn a tune to play at an old time jam, you'd better learn to play it consistent with that context. But if you are alone, and intend to play it alone, than you and you alone are the relevant context.

  3. #28
    Registered User Ky Slim's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to determine the beat on songs you've never heard?

    I have only seen the sample pages of this book on Amazon. The "upside" of this book is that all of the tunes should be easy to find and listen to for free on the internet. A lot of the songs in this book are "popular" not "traditional". This means that these songs may be known by many more people than just us weirdos that dig up old obscure tunes. Good Luck!

    Here is the Mandolin Cafe write up from 2016 on this book with Song Titles


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    Default Re: How to determine the beat on songs you've never heard?

    I want to reiterate some things that have been said already since there seems to be some confusion. The OP seems to be asking about tempo (the speed at which you play) and whether the time signature (the 4/4) provides any tempo information.

    The answer is that the time signature provides no tempo information. The 4/4 simply means there are four beats to a measure and a quarter note gets one beat. But a quarter note has no inherent speed. That is, a quarter note in one piece may be played quicker than eighth notes in another piece. Often there is no indication of tempo in a written piece of music. Sometimes there are general indications/descriptions (presto, adagio, etc.). One poster here indicates the book in question has a bps (beats per second) indication which is a very exact description of the publisher's suggestion of tempo (at least, once you put that together with a metronome).
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  6. #30

    Default Re: How to determine the beat on songs you've never heard?

    The important thing to me is if it's a 3/4 or 4/4. Chances are the phrasing for a Waltz (3/4) will be different than a phrasing for a breakdown or reel. If it's an old 6/8er, I'll probably pass until I can hear it. A 12 bar Blues or Field Holler, obviously won't have the usual 16 bars, and of course the structure won't be the same.

    Every now and then you find a recording from somebody that has never heard but has only read a tune, and truthfully, it's interesting how folks imagine the phrasing. Or purposefully or not, change a tune from 3/4 to 4/4 or vise-versa. What's really hard for me is to sway my mind over once it has been settled, phrase-wise but not tempo-wise or key-wise.

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    Default Re: How to determine the beat on songs you've never heard?

    I have changed tunes from 3/4 to 4/4 or 4/4 to 3/4 but I don't see how anyone reading a time signature can mistake one for the other, not if they know anything about written music. The phrasiing can be off from the norm but that is a matter of style. With my limited knowledge of written music and enough time I can play a piece I've never heard.

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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to determine the beat on songs you've never heard?

    Quote Originally Posted by foldedpath View Post
    But the "mutual opinion" is actually important, if you're playing a traditional music style. Even when playing by yourself at home. ...

    Knowledge of genre is important. It's not just mutual opinion, it's history that may go back hundreds of years. You can play it any way you want at home, sure. But if you ignore how a tune works in different traditions, and just play the skeleton of the notes, then you're just skimming the surface of the music. These tunes don't exist in a vacuum as pure notes.
    I think that is extremely correct and extremely important. Heck, what is not written down in a transcription of a tune from a tune book, the context, the feeling, the emphasis, is vitally important, and every bit as historically significant (and fascinating) as the order of the notes themselves.
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    Registered User Eric Platt's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to determine the beat on songs you've never heard?

    While this has moved a bit from the initial question, I agree one needs to know the genre and possibly region to play certain written notes. Take Scandinavian polska (pols). It's 3/4 time, but the emphasis on the notes is different than a waltz, and can vary from region to region. If you don't know what it should sound like, you'll probably never figure it out from notes alone. I'm still considered terrible at it after 6 years of playing. And that's just for the regular versions. Short first polska still baffles me. Thankfully it's not common around here.

  11. #34
    Mandolin Friendly Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to determine the beat on songs you've never heard?

    The reason I posted my little "article" (though admittedly, the tune I chose was not a good example for learning straight eighths) was because of the OP's statement that 4/4 means 4 beats in 4 seconds - or something to that effect. As has been pointed out by a number of posters, the time signature does not contain "speed" info. I'll repeat myself, to use written music, a person needs to get a handle on note durations, time signatures and rhythm.

    As far as speed goes, it's relative. You can play a piece at a wide range of speeds, and if you can figure out the nuances of rhythm it can be a good thing to play a piece at a range of speeds, starting slowly and increasing speed until you get it up to performance speed. Performance speed can be determined by the performer, or the ensemble. As many have noted, time signature and performance tempo have been confused in several posts. Tempo can be expressed in absolute BPM beats per minute terms, or in general terms (like the Italian allegro, adante, presto or common terms like slow or fast).

    Quote Originally Posted by Mandoplumb View Post
    I have changed tunes from 3/4 to 4/4 or 4/4 to 3/4 but I don't see how anyone reading a time signature can mistake one for the other, not if they know anything about written music. The phrasiing can be off from the norm but that is a matter of style. With my limited knowledge of written music and enough time I can play a piece I've never heard.
    I agree with mandoplumb, a performer or arranger can change time signatures if they want and they often do, from 3/4 to 4/4 and vice versa, but the point is that to be able to play a piece from written music that you haven't heard (OP's question) an understanding of note durations, time signatures and basic rhythms is necessary.
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    Registered User foldedpath's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to determine the beat on songs you've never heard?

    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Gunter View Post
    As many have noted, time signature and performance tempo have been confused in several posts. Tempo can be expressed in absolute BPM beats per minute terms, or in general terms (like the Italian allegro, adante, presto or common terms like slow or fast).
    At the risk of confusing the OP even further, but this stuff is important -- you can't even rely on BPM as an absolute reference. And this gets back to knowing what genre of music you're playing in.

    Bluegrass players will always count a 4/4 tune the way you'd expect, in beats per minute. There is a different cultural tradition for Irish, Scottish (and maybe OldTime) "fiddle tunes," where the sheet music may say 4/4, but the tempo in metronome terms is counted as 2/2. You set your tempo half as fast, and count it accordingly.

    You can dive into long discussions about why this is the case in forums like thesession.org, but I think it's something about how Irish/Scottish musicians feel and play the beat in a reel as 2/2 even though it's written as 4/4 in sheet music. The sheet music may be written that way to make it more legible than cramming in measure bars for fast tunes in 2/2.

    As a practical example, I attended a workshop in Scottish Country Dance Band a couple of years ago, where we were presented with several sets of reels we were told would be played at a strict 112bpm, because that's what the dancers wanted at the ceilidh that night. It was all I could do to hang on at that tempo on mandolin, along with the fiddlers. And I'm not a slow player. A Bluegrasser would probably count those same reels at 224 bpm.

    I hope I haven't confused things. But comments about BPM being an "absolute" just aren't true, depending on what genre you're playing.

  13. #36
    Mandolin Friendly Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to determine the beat on songs you've never heard?

    Well, it does get confusing when you're mixing 2/2 and 4/4, and that happens a great deal. So to clarify, when I say absolute terms like BPM - what I mean is that you can set the speed and measure the speed with a metronome (whether you have to halve it for 2/2 or not) it is a mechanically precise measure, whereas terms like "slow, fast, allegro, presto" are more open to interpretation.

    You've made a good point about written time signatures vs. practical time signatures in that genre ... but I think a lot of confusion keeps creeping into this discussion because of the "how fast" to play as opposed to "how do I play a tune from written music I have never heard." As Mark Wilson wrote in the very first response, play it at any speed you want. What is important in being able to play a written tune you never heard has little to do with the tempo, at least at first learning of it, and much to do with the other three things I continue to emphasize.

    You could very well wrap up the third of those - "an understanding of basic rhythms" - with the point that a person should know a little something of the nuances of the genre, because rhythm and cadence far outweighs speed as an issue in my opinion.
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    Unfamous String Buster Beanzy's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to determine the beat on songs you've never heard?

    In case it proves useful to anyone down the line here’s a list I cut & pasted from somwehere a while back for reference;

    From slowest to fastest:
    * Larghissimo – very, very slow (24 BPM and under)
    * Grave – very slow (25–45 BPM)
    * Largo – broadly (40–60 BPM)
    * Lento – slowly (45–60 BPM)
    * Larghetto – rather broadly (60–66 BPM)
    * Adagio – slow and stately (literally, "at ease") (66–76 BPM)
    * Adagietto – slower than andante (72–76 BPM)
    * Andante – at a walking pace (76–108 BPM)
    * Andantino – slightly faster than Andante (in some cases it can be taken to mean slightly slower than andante) (80–108 BPM)
    * Marcia moderato – moderately, in the manner of a march[4][5] (83–85 BPM)
    * Andante moderato – between andante and moderato (thus the name andante moderato) (92–112 BPM)
    * Moderato – moderately (108–120 BPM)
    * Allegretto – moderately fast (112–120 BPM)
    * Allegro moderato – close to but not quite allegro (116–120 BPM)
    * Allegro – fast, quickly, and bright (120–168 BPM) (molto allegro is slightly faster than allegro, but always in its range)
    * Vivace – lively and fast (168–176 BPM)
    * Vivacissimo – very fast and lively (172–176 BPM)
    * Allegrissimo or Allegro vivace – very fast (172–176 BPM)
    * Presto – extremely fast (168–200 BPM)
    * Prestissimo – even faster than Presto (200 BPM and over)

    The reason for still using the words in these days of metronomes, is because they convey more meaning than the bpm. You can impart a faster or slower feel to a piece at the same bpm by your playing choices. As long as it achieves the objective indicated by the composer then whatever speed you think works for your aesthetic preference is fair game. It’s always a good idea to play about with the speed options as you get familiar with a piece. At some point it’ll sit right for you somewhere in a range. The list above gives you a good starting place to begin playing about.

    If anyone wants to look in detail about the phenomenon foldedpath is talking about you can get a good idea by looking at the wiki on “Alla Breve”
    Eoin



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  16. #38
    but that's just me Bertram Henze's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to determine the beat on songs you've never heard?

    Quote Originally Posted by foldedpath View Post
    At the risk of confusing the OP even further, but this stuff is important -- you can't even rely on BPM as an absolute reference. And this gets back to knowing what genre of music you're playing in.

    Bluegrass players will always count a 4/4 tune the way you'd expect, in beats per minute. There is a different cultural tradition for Irish, Scottish (and maybe OldTime) "fiddle tunes," where the sheet music may say 4/4, but the tempo in metronome terms is counted as 2/2. You set your tempo half as fast, and count it accordingly.

    You can dive into long discussions about why this is the case in forums like thesession.org, but I think it's something about how Irish/Scottish musicians feel and play the beat in a reel as 2/2 even though it's written as 4/4 in sheet music. The sheet music may be written that way to make it more legible than cramming in measure bars for fast tunes in 2/2.

    As a practical example, I attended a workshop in Scottish Country Dance Band a couple of years ago, where we were presented with several sets of reels we were told would be played at a strict 112bpm, because that's what the dancers wanted at the ceilidh that night. It was all I could do to hang on at that tempo on mandolin, along with the fiddlers. And I'm not a slow player. A Bluegrasser would probably count those same reels at 224 bpm.

    I hope I haven't confused things. But comments about BPM being an "absolute" just aren't true, depending on what genre you're playing.
    Generally yes, 2 beats to the measure in ITM for 4/4 or 6/8, 3 beats to the measure for 9/8. But if someone says a number that is roughly half or double of what is normal, I'd just give him the benefit of reasonable doubt and mentally re-scale, because it is nearly impossible to play (let alone dance) a reel at either 50 or 200.

    Inconsistencies in written notation of ITM originate from a half-hearted (and somewhat condescending) a-posteriori nod to a musical literacy classical musicians depend on, from a tradition that was played as heard, not as written. I was trained in this literacy and play music for 50 years and counting, but I have to listen to a tune to really get it. Notation is not music; calling it "sheet music" is an oxymoron.
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  17. #39
    en kunnskapssøker James Miller's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to determine the beat on songs you've never heard?

    Quote Originally Posted by Beanzy View Post
    In case it proves useful to anyone down the line here’s a list I cut & pasted from somwehere a while back for reference;

    From slowest to fastest:
    * Larghissimo – very, very slow (24 BPM and under)
    * Grave – very slow (25–45 BPM)
    * Largo – broadly (40–60 BPM)
    * Lento – slowly (45–60 BPM)
    * Larghetto – rather broadly (60–66 BPM)
    * Adagio – slow and stately (literally, "at ease") (66–76 BPM)
    * Adagietto – slower than andante (72–76 BPM)
    * Andante – at a walking pace (76–108 BPM)
    * Andantino – slightly faster than Andante (in some cases it can be taken to mean slightly slower than andante) (80–108 BPM)
    * Marcia moderato – moderately, in the manner of a march[4][5] (83–85 BPM)
    * Andante moderato – between andante and moderato (thus the name andante moderato) (92–112 BPM)
    * Moderato – moderately (108–120 BPM)
    * Allegretto – moderately fast (112–120 BPM)
    * Allegro moderato – close to but not quite allegro (116–120 BPM)
    * Allegro – fast, quickly, and bright (120–168 BPM) (molto allegro is slightly faster than allegro, but always in its range)
    * Vivace – lively and fast (168–176 BPM)
    * Vivacissimo – very fast and lively (172–176 BPM)
    * Allegrissimo or Allegro vivace – very fast (172–176 BPM)
    * Presto – extremely fast (168–200 BPM)
    * Prestissimo – even faster than Presto (200 BPM and over)

    The reason for still using the words in these days of metronomes, is because they convey more meaning than the bpm. You can impart a faster or slower feel to a piece at the same bpm by your playing choices. As long as it achieves the objective indicated by the composer then whatever speed you think works for your aesthetic preference is fair game. It’s always a good idea to play about with the speed options as you get familiar with a piece. At some point it’ll sit right for you somewhere in a range. The list above gives you a good starting place to begin playing about.

    If anyone wants to look in detail about the phenomenon folded-path is talking about you can get a good idea by looking at the wiki on “Alla Breve”
    Is there a list of the more common used word to describe to bpm too?
    Moderately
    Slow Blues-Rock feed
    Moderate Boogie-Rock
    Brightly
    Lively
    Slowly, with expression (this one got me for Edelweiss, how slow is it?? And what does the mandolin do, tremolo? Is there a symbol on where to use tremolo in songs??)
    Soul Groove
    Reggae feel
    Merrily
    Stately
    Quickly
    Slow Waltz - Home on the Range is a waltz???
    Gently
    Gaily (seriously) Little Brown Jug
    Briskly
    March


    One would think these music books would have some sort of Legend page that tells the BPM and other assorted oddities in their books. As it is I'll have to print these out and tape/staple/write on the back covers or blank page spaces to add these notes to.
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  18. #40
    but that's just me Bertram Henze's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to determine the beat on songs you've never heard?

    Quote Originally Posted by James Miller View Post
    Home on the Range is a waltz???
    Of course it is. 3/4 time, try and dance to it.
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  20. #41
    en kunnskapssøker James Miller's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to determine the beat on songs you've never heard?

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