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Thread: Definitive Versions of Fiddle Tunes

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    Default Definitive Versions of Fiddle Tunes

    As a beginner on mandolin, I'm never sure where to begin with learning fiddle tunes. I'd like to have a home base of sorts for the basic tune. I've learned a few off of the mandolessons.com site, but they don't sound much like the versions I hear others playing. I'm well aware that the nature of the music is that each player will add his own individual embellishments, but where do you go for a basic starting point? Any favorite recordings or artists that you rely on for a starting point to make sure you are playing the tune "correctly"?

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    Registered User foldedpath's Avatar
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    Default Re: Definitive Versions of Fiddle Tunes

    The way I think of it, there are two branching pathways for deciding which version of a tune to learn:

    The first path is if you're already interacting with the local music scene, attending OldTime jams or Irish sessions. Maybe not even playing, just listening. If this is where you want to end up, playing with others, then start recording (with permission) the tunes on your phone or pocket recorder. Then practice those versions at home. If you're attending local jams, those are the "definitive" versions of the tunes.

    The other path is if you never intend to play with others, and then you can just pick your favorite recorded version to study and emulate. Sheet music would be another option, but you'll want to calibrate that to a recording of someone who knows how to express the subtleties of the tune.

    Of course this can get mixed together in various ways. You might learn a version you like from a famous artist recording, then find yourself in a jam later on where it's played differently and you have to adjust. Or you may have to learn a local jam version to fit in, and still prefer a slightly different setting when playing alone at home.

    Sometimes you'll find that a fiddle tune actually does have a fixed, definitive setting agreed on by everyone. This can happen when a tune is very popular, the composer is known, and might even still be living. For example, Jay Ungar's "Ashokan Farewell" isn't often played differently from the original composition. In the Irish tradition, there are composers like Paddy Fahey or Liz Carroll where you don't mess with the original versions. Other tunes may vary tremendously, depending on how old they are, and if the composer is known. Then you're back to learning the local jam version, or your favorite artist's setting of the tune.

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    Default Re: Definitive Versions of Fiddle Tunes

    There is no one source for standard straight forward versions of the standard repertoire fiddle tunes. However, when I was starting on fiddle tunes for mandolin I found “The Fiddlers Facebook” had about 500 reasonably standard and mandolin friendly versions of many common fiddle tunes. It is in notation so you should be able to read the treble clef to get the most from it. There is, or was, a mandolin version in tablature that had about half the number of tunes in the fiddle book.

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    Default Re: Definitive Versions of Fiddle Tunes

    I tend to listen to as many versions as I can find that feature a fiddle. Fiddlers usually do a good job showing off the melody. If it's a Bill Monroe tune I'll make sure I hear his band do it. Then I'll steal from mandolin parts I heard along the way. Chasing the definitive version is like picking out the best flavor of ice cream.

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    Default Re: Definitive Versions of Fiddle Tunes

    Quote Originally Posted by Andy B View Post
    ... “The Fiddlers Facebook” had about 500 ...
    Slip of the auto-correct? Think you meant "Fakebook", that being (IIRC) an old jazzers' term for music that shows just a melody line & chords, rather than the then-more-accepted full piano arrangement with bass & treble clefs.
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    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Definitive Versions of Fiddle Tunes

    There are no "definitive" versions of fiddle tunes. There's what one might call the "basic melody," which you can generally ascertain by listening to several different versions and determining what notes are common to all of them. Generally this works.

    Sources like The Fiddler's Fakebook and the various comprehensive collections of Irish/Celtic tunes will give you a sorta "consensus" version, generally with more modest ornamentation. But if you listen to musicians in performance or jam, you'll hear variation after variation.

    It does make sense to try to determine the basic melody (and key signature, and tempo), and then to respond to the other musicians with whom you're playing. But, don't consider any version as "definitive." What may define the tune, in your terms, are the local styles and variations.
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    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Definitive Versions of Fiddle Tunes

    And, there are only two fiddle tunes. Soldier's Joy and everything else.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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    Registered User foldedpath's Avatar
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    Default Re: Definitive Versions of Fiddle Tunes

    Quote Originally Posted by allenhopkins View Post
    It does make sense to try to determine the basic melody (and key signature, and tempo), and then to respond to the other musicians with whom you're playing. But, don't consider any version as "definitive." What may define the tune, in your terms, are the local styles and variations.
    With all respect to local styles and variations, I do think that certain fiddle tunes have definitive versions that follow an original version (usually a recording, in the modern era).

    I don't think I've ever heard a version of "Ashokan Farewell" in a local OldTime jam that wasn't exactly like Jay Ungar composed and played it. Another example -- I think most OldTime players will know that Ernie Carpenter wrote "Elk River Blues" and will play it the way he did, out of respect.

    Maybe I'm wrong about that; regional differences and all. But when a composition is recent and the composer is known, I think there is more likely to be a fairly standard version. It's the old tunes that will drift, and it's much more important to pay attention to local versions.

    Edit to add: I don't think you can even understand that tune (Elk River Blues), without hearing Ernie play it, with that crooked timing. Listening to source material is still worth something!

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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Definitive Versions of Fiddle Tunes

    I think it is important to learn a good enough version of the tune, to learn the tune, before worrying about whether it is the original version, or the version accepted locally, or the version on some iconic recording or in some respected book. Don't let "authenticity" get in the way of learning the tune. IMO.

    It takes a while, (and a long while) to be able to discern which parts of the tune are canonical, and what changes you can make without changing "the tune itself". Well it took me a while, and a few mis-steps where I had simplified something too much, or added something I thought i heard that was not really part of the tradition.

    This is all part of the fun. The example I was told, (which may or may not be familar to folks now) is that there are a million ways to draw Snoopy that is immediately recognizable as Snoopy. Perhaps less ways to draw Charlie Brown. What to leave in and what to remove, how to make it recognizable and yet still your own... its all kind of magic, and fun.
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    Default Re: Definitive Versions of Fiddle Tunes

    Thanks all for the thoughts. To be clear, I know there are not definitive, end all, be all versions, but I was just curious if there were sources for "correct" basic melodies. Sounds like the fakebooks are close, but I do appreciate the idea of learning the local variations considering it's a social kind of music. When you are learning something new, there is always a drive to have something concrete to hold onto. I keep learning over and over, regardless of the endeavor, that there is rarely anything that is concrete. It's always a journey of discovery, bit by bit.

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    music with whales Jim Nollman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Definitive Versions of Fiddle Tunes

    Sure there are basic versions. Buy yourself a copy of the two or three editions of The Portland Book to find hundreds of basic versions.

    So long as you are aware that any notated version you find in a book is a frozen version of a moving target, you shouldn't have any of the problems brought up by others here. I've played with folks who learn a tune by the book and then get uppity if someone else in a circle starts playing the tune very differently. Then we all have to endure the incredibly boring argument of who's version is the correct one.

    In general I'd have to say there's no place for the Irish unison police in any of the old time sessions I attend. However, as you get culturally closer to Ireland, say learning Cape Breton or Meti or even New England contra dance tunes, you'll inevitably find more folks who insist on wearing the policeman's hat. But Appalachian and Southern old time seems to thrive BECAUSE of some small measure of embellishment borrowed from the touch of blues in its root.

    And never forget that a mandolin is played very differently than a fiddle. Those gorgeous old time phrases that sound like heavy breathing because of a certain bow technique, sound jingly using a flatpick which prompts a different syncopation to generate a groove with the breathing when mandolin and fiddle play together. Right now, I'm finding that crucial factor of translation to be doubly true because I've recently become devoted to learning banjo tunes on mandolin.
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    Registered User Mike Snyder's Avatar
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    Default Re: Definitive Versions of Fiddle Tunes

    “Frozen version of a moving target”, That is golden. I’ll have to remember that for my reader friends. I play with several different clans of ITM/Old Time musicians here in the mid-West, and one in particular is chained to notation on their iPads. As an ear player and general free spirit, I get the stink eye at times for veering away from the hard and joyless dots on a page. Sometimes worse. They realize, I think, that most fiddle tunes are of aural origin, and have morphed through the years. They’re not so willing to accept that I need the freedom of expression to be part of that tradition of honoring the tune while playing passionately in my own style. These are people I love dearly, which adds complication and frustration. Sadly, it sometimes comes to the point where the fun gets sucked out of a session and I stop. That becomes the point where their understanding fades and my ability to explain becomes inadequate.
    They just want to have fun playing the tunes. So do I. Sometimes our paths to that end diverge.
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    Default Re: Definitive Versions of Fiddle Tunes

    I think the Brian Wicklund mandolin book (and fiddle book, for that matter, if you read standard notation) and Craig Duncan's fiddle books are good sources for basic versions of the 30-40 or so fiddle tunes I hear a lot in bluegrass circles.

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    Default Re: Definitive Versions of Fiddle Tunes

    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Wilson View Post
    I tend to listen to as many versions as I can find that feature a fiddle. Fiddlers usually do a good job showing off the melody. If it's a Bill Monroe tune I'll make sure I hear his band do it. Then I'll steal from mandolin parts I heard along the way. Chasing the definitive version is like picking out the best flavor of ice cream.
    Butter pecan! From Plainwell Ice Cream!
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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Definitive Versions of Fiddle Tunes

    A lot depends on the genre or even sub genre you or the jams you attend are interested in. In old time music I would listen more than learn from a book. Try to learn tunes by ear. My favorite old time source for tunes is slippery-hill.com.

    For other genres YouTube is not a bad source tho you have to understand that there are folks who may not get the subtleties of a particular genre. Caveat videum.
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    Default Re: Definitive Versions of Fiddle Tunes

    Quote Originally Posted by Timbofood View Post
    Butter pecan! From Plainwell Ice Cream!
    Ain't no part of nothing.
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    Registered User Timbofood's Avatar
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    Default Re: Definitive Versions of Fiddle Tunes

    I’ve cranked a fair bit of vanilla, and while it’s mighty good, the little mom and pop ice cream parlor up there is just about the best BP I’ve ever even dreamt of!
    Now, my home made chocolate....
    Timothy F. Lewis
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  21. #18

    Default Re: Definitive Versions of Fiddle Tunes

    I sure like the session.org for a quick version of a fiddle tune.

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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Definitive Versions of Fiddle Tunes

    Quote Originally Posted by Andy Hatfield View Post
    I sure like the session.org for a quick version of a fiddle tune.
    Yes, excellent for celtic music and similar but this was posted under the "Old-Time, Roots, Early Country, Cajun, Tex-Mex" genre section of the forums.
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    Registered User DougC's Avatar
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    Default Re: Definitive Versions of Fiddle Tunes

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Garber View Post
    A lot depends on the genre or even sub genre you or the jams you attend are interested in. ...In old time music I would listen more than learn from a book. Try to learn tunes by ear. For other genres YouTube is not a bad source tho you have to understand that there are folks who may not get the subtleties of a particular genre.
    I agree with Jim and would add that certain people are sources of the best versions. David Brody the author of the Fiddlers Fakebook should be mentioned here.

    As the author of the St. Paul Slow Sessiun Irish Tune Book or the O'Gara's Slow Sessiun book, similar to the Portland collection but much smaller, only 70 tunes (now out of print). I can describe research of hundreds of Irish tunes in order to find a 'definitive version'. There is none BTW, but I did write versions that seemed to work for everyone.

    And for Irish tunes my favorite source is
    Alan Ng's website for source recordings. https://www.irishtune.info/
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    music with whales Jim Nollman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Definitive Versions of Fiddle Tunes

    This discussion makes me think of a book, not yet written, that focuses on explaining mandolin techniques for interpreting tunes written expressly for bowed instruments.
    Explore some of my published music here

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