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Thread: Tremolo for Irish Trad?

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    Default Tremolo for Irish Trad?

    I tried to search the archives and came up empty, so please excuse my ignorance.

    Is it proper to use tremolo in Irish Trad if you have to sustain a long note? If not, how do you sustain it? Or do you just let it die and count rests?
    Don

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    Registered User foldedpath's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tremolo for Irish Trad?

    "Proper" is a tricky subject in Irish traditional music, especially when it comes to instruments that are relatively recent in the tradition like mandolin.


    I don't think there is any established rule or convention about this. At home you can do anything you want. If you go out to play in sessions, I would strongly advise feeling out how the other sessionistas feel about tremolo on mandolin, and avoid it if some consider it annoying. Ask first, before just diving in.

    My personal take on tremolo is that I've tried it, and I don't think it works well in this music. For one thing, it's hard to avoid the association with other genres where mandolin tremolo is common like Classical, Italian, Country and Bluegrass. No other instrument in Irish trad uses this technique, only the mandolin. So it's tough to get away from that association with other genres. When I sit in with an Irish trad session, I don't want someone to think I'm playing Italian restaurant music (not that there's anything wrong with that, in the appropriate context!).

    Slower tunes like "slow reels" and true airs are a problem for sustain on the mandolin, it's true. But personally I would rather just hit the main notes and let the rest of the sustaining instruments in a session carry it, or else sit the tune out and enjoy listening to the other musicians play the air.

    This music is wonderful. I feel it deserves a certain amount of respect for the traditions, which never included sustained plucked tremolo until the mandolin came along very recently. I don't feel a need to push that technique. As a great Irish fiddler (James Kelly) once told my fiddler S.O., you should bring your instrument to the music and not the other way around.

    Your mileage may vary on that, and others here on the forum might feel differently. It's just my opinion.

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    Default Re: Tremolo for Irish Trad?

    I haven't heard much tremolo at Irish sessions. Having said that, the other instruments are so much louder that a bit of tremolo will hardly disturb.

    A mandolin with a bit of ring and sustain is an asset for Irish music.

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    Default Re: Tremolo for Irish Trad?

    Quote Originally Posted by foldedpath View Post
    When I sit in with an Irish trad session, I don't want someone to think I'm playing Italian restaurant music (not that there's anything wrong with that, in the appropriate context!).

    Slower tunes like "slow reels" and true airs are a problem for sustain on the mandolin, it's true. But personally I would rather just hit the main notes and let the rest of the sustaining instruments in a session carry it, or else sit the tune out and enjoy listening to the other musicians play the air.

    This music is wonderful. I feel it deserves a certain amount of respect for the traditions, which never included sustained plucked tremolo until the mandolin came along very recently. .
    I think I'd agree. The banjo and mandolin seem to use pick triplets or such for ornaments and not any tremolo, as you say these are not as old as the fiddle and pipes, where most of the ornaments like rolls and cuts come from. But not tremolo, not even on the old wire-strung harp. Of course the accordion can play sustained notes.

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    Default Re: Tremolo for Irish Trad?

    https://youtu.be/uEKfAUInVS0

    This is an old recording of The Dubliners playing Roisin Dubh. Barney MacKenna on mandolin.
    David A. Gordon

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    Default Re: Tremolo for Irish Trad?

    There is no "proper" about it in my opinion and I will use tremelo where I think it suits the tune (mostly on slower pieces of course). Also I find the "very" recent comment slightly odd as I've been playing mandolin for at least 50 years, mostly in Irish sessions in the earlier days, and use of the mandolin predates that by quite some time. Never had a problem with tremelo in any of the sessions I've been involved in and I'd be wary of one where there were adverse comments.

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    Default Re: Tremolo for Irish Trad?

    I guess if it's good enough for the Dubliners it's good enough for me!

    The context is my folk music band, in which I am the only one playing mandolin. We only do Irish tunes for March concerts (go figure!) and we are rehearsing Irish tunes now. So there really isn't anyone to tell me I'm right or wrong. In fact, since I am the only one in the group with a music degree, they always assume that if I do it, it must be right. So the purpose of my question was just to make sure I wasn't straying too far from the norm. Thanks to all who responded.
    Don

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    Default Re: Tremolo for Irish Trad?

    In his book "Fiddle tunes and Irish music for mandolin" Dan Gelo uses a tremolo sign above the longer notes of "Star of the County down" in 3/4, so I would guess, it's OK to tremolo Irish waltzes.
    Or is this more Irish pub music than Irish Trad?

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    Default Re: Tremolo for Irish Trad?

    I play a lot of slow airs - mostly Scottish admittedly. I guess I tend to use a sort of steady slowish tremolo. And yes, my instrument has a lot of sustain.

    Something like this:

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=3H9nfGxu3ao
    David A. Gordon

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    Default Re: Tremolo for Irish Trad?

    Quote Originally Posted by Dagger Gordon View Post
    https://youtu.be/uEKfAUInVS0

    This is an old recording of The Dubliners playing Roisin Dubh. Barney MacKenna on mandolin.
    Interesting, but it doesn't sound idiomatically "Irish" to me, and I don't take the Dubliners as my personal inspiration for this music anyway. But again, it's just my opinion. I knew it might be a minority opinion, especially on a mandolin forum like this one.

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    Default Re: Tremolo for Irish Trad?

    Here's an example of why I don't feel the mandolin needs tremolo on a slow piece like an air. If you're playing alone at home or in a band performance, not trying to power your way through a slow air at a session, then all that's needed is a mandolin with good sustain between notes:




    I was listening through examples of slower pieces on mandolin in my music library, and was reminded here of Simon Mayor's "New Celtic Mandolin" recording from back in 1998. There are several slow pieces on that album: "Little Molly-O," "Neil Gow's Lament for Abercarney," and this "The Dark and Slender Boy" piece at the beginning of the YouTube clip.

    And regarding that Dubliner's clip of Roisin Dubh linked above, compare it to Joanie Madden playing the tune on whistle below. Having said that it's possible to play slow pieces using just sustain between notes, I still feel a comparison between those clips illustrates why there are some tunes that should maybe be left for playing on other, more expressive instruments, so you don't murder the music:



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    Default Re: Tremolo for Irish Trad?

    When I went to an irish banjo/mandolin class at the Working Men's College triplets were the rule, sort of, you didn't have to stop at three. Otherwise some sort of ornamentation, but that can go to mush if everyone is doing different ones.

    I'm generally happy to tremolo, even on the OM.

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    Default Re: Tremolo for Irish Trad?

    Quote Originally Posted by crisscross View Post
    ...Or is this more Irish pub music than Irish Trad?
    I'll say. Trad in the strict sense is dance tunes and maybe Sean Nos singing (i.e. unaccompanied). If someone does Molly Malone, all trad rules are lifted and you can play your octaventral heebeephone if you like.
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    Default Re: Tremolo for Irish Trad?

    of course 8 notes to the measure on a tune played fast will seem like tremolo ,

    but that is not quite like a whole note picked 8 times to fill the measure ..

    generally the Fiddler will fill that space better..
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    Default Re: Tremolo for Irish Trad?

    First, let me distinguish between playing traditional Irish in a performance, from playing in a session. There are many things different between the two.

    I play in various sessions, of varying degrees of Irish orthodoxy. I don't perform.


    I look to the fiddle in this. If a good Irish fiddler sees that a note is extended long enough to engage some tasteful vibrato, then I feel comfortable with my tremolo. Otherwise, no.
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    Default Re: Tremolo for Irish Trad?

    Quote Originally Posted by Bertram Henze View Post
    I'll say. Trad in the strict sense is dance tunes and maybe Sean Nos singing (i.e. unaccompanied).
    For the record, there's more to 'trad' than session tunes - historical instrumental traditions go way back - pibrochs, airs, laments..

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    Default Re: Tremolo for Irish Trad?

    Well, I didn't mean to start an argument about what is Irish Trad or not. I'm sure that's been hashed out before.

    I guess I just should have Irish music more in a looser sense. This is a concert, not a session. Yes, Molly Malone is on the playlist, along with Danny Boy. Yes, I know, trite as can be. But there are also some O'Carolan tunes as well as some jigs, reels, and horn pipes. We are doing the two above chestnuts because, in these parts, folks would be disappointed to attend an Irish concert that didn't include them. And those will be audience participation sing a longs. They like that. But we are also presenting some "real" Irish Trad (dance tunes anyway) and as far as I know the Irish Trad police will not be there to tell us what we can and cannot do. Heck, we have mountain dulcimers, for crying out loud. So obviously not a real Irish band. We like to educate and entertain our audiences. Plus, we just really enjoy playing Irish! It's fun!

    So I guess I asked my question because I try to stay as authentic as I can under the circumstances. Did not mean to start any arguments. Sorry.
    Don

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    Default Re: Tremolo for Irish Trad?

    What argument?

    The point is - if you're doing a style of Isles-based music in a rehearsed band performance or whatever - (agreeing with Bertram), you're at liberty (for better or worse) to do it the way you want, I would think. If you're doing slower tunes, like the popular ballads and songs - without reeds, winds, bowed-strings, or voice - you may need to use tremolo if mandolin is your lead melody instrument. Which is why I mentioned that there are approaches/repertoire in trad other than session tunes..*

    For my money - not at all a dialectic on 'what is trad' - but how to effectively convey the music you've chosen

    *I was mulling over these differences this morning while getting on my nylon harp which I hadn't played in a month or so - its sound is much different than the sustaining wire harp I mostly play .. and some of my repertoire doesn't perform as well on nylon (and vice-versa), and was again dwelling on whether I could arrange a given (slow) piece for the (non-sustaining) nylon - when I saw this thread.

    I began musing on old (and ancient, etc) repertoire, etc and how to carry it out on modern instruments (vis a vis nylon harp; mandolin)..which led me to be interested in elaborating on the 'trad' repertoire, etc in this thread .. not impugning Bertram.
    Last edited by catmandu2; Jan-10-2016 at 4:16pm.

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    Default Re: Tremolo for Irish Trad?

    Quote Originally Posted by multidon View Post
    So I guess I asked my question because I try to stay as authentic as I can under the circumstances. Did not mean to start any arguments. Sorry.
    I see it as more healthy discussion than argument, no need to apologize! From the description of what you're doing in your band, it sounds to me like you're taking an audience-centric approach, and there's nothing wrong with that.

    As I said in a post up-thread, there aren't many long-established conventions on mandolin in this music, like there are with most of the "core" instruments like flute, fiddle, and pipes. About the only one we have is to avoid chopping Bluegrass-style on the off beat. And I've even heard that used in a performance context as a brief expressive element, i.e. not a continual backbeat chop.

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    Default Re: Tremolo for Irish Trad?

    I don't think that tremolo is used very much and the mandolin players I know seem to favor other techniques that work well with the music. Here is a video of Marla playing a waltz using the natural sustain, use of space, and other techniques on her mandolin.


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    Default Re: Tremolo for Irish Trad?

    Quote Originally Posted by catmandu2 View Post
    For the record, there's more to 'trad' than session tunes - historical instrumental traditions go way back - pibrochs, airs, laments..
    piobearachd and lament are elements of Scottish music.
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    Default Re: Tremolo for Irish Trad?

    I think you're more likely to hear something approximating tremolo in songs by ballad groups in the 70's and 80's...bands like Barleycorn and The Dublin City Ramblers. Your hear it a lot behind the singers and it seems to tend more toward slower tempo 16th notes with each attack distinct than the smooth, flowing technique we might more often think of. I really never hear people playing tunes with it and I can't say I'm sorry.
    Steve

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  44. #23

    Default Re: Tremolo for Irish Trad?

    Quote Originally Posted by Bertram Henze View Post
    piobearachd and lament are elements of Scottish music.
    I think you're missing the point.

    Here, I'll give you an example. When I started playing Carolan I was only playing guitar - ergo, 'how to play harp music (effectively) on guitar?'

    Airs, planxtys, songs, ballads, whatever...if you're going to do it on a mandolin, there are some aspects to consider..
    Last edited by catmandu2; Jan-10-2016 at 4:46pm.

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    Default Re: Tremolo for Irish Trad?

    I would wholeheartedly encourage players who are familiar with playing Irish trad to explore the appropriate use of tremolo. You'll need to understand he places where it will work before you try to give yourself any rules though. To quote Quintillian "For what can be more distressing than to be fettered by petty rules, like children who trace the letters of the alphabet which others have first written for them, or, as the Greeks say, insist on keeping the coat their mother gave them". If you've explored the use of tremolo in a genre such as baroque music you'll have a good feel for what might work. Look out for possibilities of using it on the landing notes or maybe longer dotted notes. it can be very effective in a tune with a double long note (think the end of a hornpipe etc) if you use it on the first but not the second. But also don't use it instead of crans and trills etc. Treat it like a strong spice which can make or ruin a dish depending on how it is used.
    Eoin



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    Default Re: Tremolo for Irish Trad?

    Quite agree Beanzy. Every instrument is different and unique - we use their aspects to our advantage and 'compromise' where we must

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