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

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    en kunnskapssøker James Miller's Avatar
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    Default How to determine the beat on songs you've never heard?

    Picked up the Hal Leonard Mandolin Fake Book with 300 songs in it. Most of the songs I've never even heard. Staring at the measures and whatnot, how can only figure out the beat & strum parts without having to find the song on the internet?

    There is a lot of times when the internet is down here and I play the mandolin more when it is down, or I take a nap.

    Like, for instance, song 110, The Drunken Sailor. Easy chords, Dm, C, Am.

    Can see 4 over 4, so am assuming that is 4 beats to 4 seconds per measure? Am guessing this is a very fast song. The lyrics seems familiar somehow to a long forgotten school song with different words.

    There's a b in the middle of that scroll looking figure.


    But the question is, how does one tell the beast of a song, and whether the song is best played slow or fast just by looking at it?
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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
    But the question is, how does one tell the beast of a song, and whether the song is best played slow or fast just by looking at it?
    You should play it a fast or slow as you can or want.

    Sometimes there is a word description for suggested song speed at the top. What you describe is timing and key, but not speed

    The very best way is by listening to the tune. I like the books that include an audio CD.

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

    Truth is..... if you really have never heard the song, and you really WONT ever hear the song (which these days means you dont WANT to hear the song, 'cause of that there internets thing).... then it doesn't matter at all what the beat is---- it is whatever you decide.

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    Registered User Rodney Riley's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to determine the beat on songs you've never heard?

    Each song right about the first line of music above the first measure, there is written. Moderately, Moderately Slow, Fast... that tells you the speed. Find a song you know in the book. See what’s written for it. Then play the song you’ve never heard at that tempo

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    Registered User Rodney Riley's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to determine the beat on songs you've never heard?

    The 4/4 tell you 4 beats per measure and each beat is a quarter note. 3/4 would be 3, quarter note beats per measure.(think waltz) 7/8 would be 7 beats of 1/8 notes per measure. Each of these numbers can be fast or slow timing. Some songs are listed as 95 bpm, which stands for Beats Per Minute. Set a metronome at 95 bpm and play the song at that speed.

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    Registered User Bob Visentin's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to determine the beat on songs you've never heard?

    There's a b in the middle of that scroll looking figure.

    The "b" is a flat symbol meaning the song is in the key of F and all the "B"s are flat. The key of G for example would have a # symbol because the G major scale has one sharp note "F#"

    The "scroll looking thing" is called a G clef. Neither of these things have anything to do with time or tempo.

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    Registered User Mandobart's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to determine the beat on songs you've never heard?

    You must have a friend or acquaintance who can read music. Spend a few hours with them going over the basics discussed here. You might even start playing tunes together.

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

    This kind of question shows the benefit of notation over tab. Tab gives no clue to the timing of the song at least as I know tab. I play by ear but I have used my limited knowledge of notation to play a song I've never heard. Yes the speed can be according to what you want but the timing is there on the paper. I can't sight read worth a crap but given the time I can figure out the timing and melody of a piece of music even with the little knowledge I have of written music.

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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 jshane View Post
    Truth is..... if you really have never heard the song, and you really WONT ever hear the song (which these days means you dont WANT to hear the song, 'cause of that there internets thing).... then it doesn't matter at all what the beat is---- it is whatever you decide.
    Well not quite. If one is familiar with the genre, one can probably sight read an unfamiliar fiddle tune within that genre fairly well and get it going good after a few attempts. I can grab about any new jig or hornpipe, I have played so very many, and get it right.

    But your general point is correct, lots of listening is always best.
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    Default Re: How to determine the beat on songs you've never heard?

    You might be able to find the tunes you want on the Slippery Hill website. You can download the mp3s and listen to them offline. If you do this enough, eventually you will sorta already know how a new tune should go. It's also good to just listen without trying to play so you get the feel of it inside you.

    As far as how fast it should be played, you can play a tune slow so long as you get the lift and the feel of it right. In fact, it will often sound faster than it is if you get the feel of it right, and also it will sound slower than it is if you get the feel of it right and you are not playing above your capability.

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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?

    Someone has dragged together a YT collection of tunes which appear in the Fiddler’s Fakebook, which might come in handy as you go through it.
    https://m.youtube.com/playlist?list=...KCXmMaMR-AZLrw

    Also one of my favourite resources I keep going back to for tunes and fiddle things “Bite Your Own Elbow” has a good guide to styles, with descriptions of what they’re like and a guide list of tempos at the bottom of the page;
    http://biteyourownelbow.com/fidstyle.htm
    Eoin



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

    James, I agree that listening to the tune is the best way to get a feel for it - but also, you need to have at least a basic understanding of written music and of rhythm if you hope to make any good use of written music. I wrote something about it last year in the newbies social group that maybe can help you to begin to get a grip. All you need do to take advantage of it is to follow two links that explain time signatures and note values, then carefully read what I've written, measure for measure, about the tune, Row, Row, Row Your Boat. You can study that with your mandolin in hand, and with any luck it may help you to understand a little about timing (the beats) in written music. (continued below)
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    Mandolin Friendly Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to determine the beat on songs you've never heard?

    Q: I watch a video that says, ok, quarter notes, eighth, sixteenth notes. I see they are picking faster that's it. How do I apply it to a song?

    If you want to try to understand about note durations, I'd suggest looking at each of these lessons.

    Note Duration

    Measures and Time Signature

    If you have studied those pages and have questions, let me know. Meanwhile, let's take a familiar tune to see how it works. I decided to use Row, Row, Row Your Boat because it is well known, has a straightforward rhythm, and has great examples of how quarter notes, eighth notes, half notes and triplets are used in rhythm. The music, with mandolin tab, looks like this:



    TIME SIGNATURE: The 4/4 up there tells you that there are four beats in each measure (bar), and quarter notes get one beat each. Each measure must have 4 quarter notes, or the equivalent of them. Each measure has four beats.

    There are numbers above the tab notes (below the standard notes) that show the beats of each measure. If you play this melody on your mandolin, use a downstroke on every note that falls on the beat. Use an upstroke on all eighth notes that fall between the beats.

    1ST MEASURE
    Are you understanding how the beats fall? Try singing the first measure: ROW, ROW, ROW your BOAT over and over a few times. The capitalized "ROW - ROW - ROW - BOAT" falls on the beat, 1, 2, 3, 4. The lowercase "your" falls between the beats 3 & 4. You can sing the melody with words: "ROW, ROW, ROW your BOAT" or you can sing it with number the same way: "1 2 3 & 4"

    In this first measure: Beat one is a quarter note, beat two is a quarter note, beat three-and is two eighth notes, beat four is a quarter note. So there are four beats here, and the note values or durations add up to the equivalent of four quarter notes.

    2ND MEASURE
    Analyze the beats in measure two by singing the tune again, over and over, and tap your foot at the beat. It will sound like GENT-ly DOWN the STREAM. You can sing the numbers like this: 1 & 2 & 3 - (4)

    In this second measure: Beat one-and is two eighth notes, beat two-and is two eighth notes, and beat three has a half note that you must hold all the way through beat four. This is because if a quarter note gets one beat, then a half note must get two beats. A half note is twice the length of time as a quarter note, and remember, these beats are measuring time. In music, the beats count time like the beats of your heart, the tick-tock of the clock, the click of the metronome. In this measure, there are four eighth notes and one half note, and these add up to the equivalent of four quarter notes, and account for four beats in the measure.

    3RD MEASURE
    Here is something to learn: The Triplet. Triplets are exceptional. Triplets change the timing or duration of their notes, by cramming three notes into the time-space of two notes. So in this merry verse, three eighth notes are crammed into each beat. One beat normally accomodates only two eighth notes. Normally, eighth notes are counted by saying "seafood" four times each measure. Set your metronome, and say the word "SEAfood" at each click (SEA on the click, food between clicks) and you will begin to understand how eighth notes fit. Now, replace "seafood" with "chocolate" - "CHOC-o-late, CHOC-o-late, CHOC-o-late, CHOC-o-late" - and you will begin to understand how eighth note triplets work. Triplets are a special case, so there is a number "3" printed where they are tied together. You can sing this measure as "MERrily MERrily MERrily MERrily" or you can sing it as 1 &-a 2 &-a 3 &-a 4 &-a

    Each beat of this measure contains a triplet, which is equal to the timing of two eighth notes or a quarter note, so this measure has the equivalent of four quarter notes, one per beat. Yes, eighth notes, sixteenth notes and triplets are played faster than quarter notes, because more of them must be crammed into each beat which is set at quarter note speed (4/4)

    4TH MEASURE
    The timing of this measure is exactly the same as the second measure, so read that again and apply the principles to this final measure to see how well you understand all this.

    IN GENERAL
    Use a down pick stroke on the beats, and an up pick stroke between the beats. Triplets are special though, and in this example you should try DUD DUD DUD DUD in that measure.

    Set your metronome to make a click on each downbeat. 1, 2, 3, 4 - click, click, click, click
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    Registered User Jairo Ramos Parra's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to determine the beat on songs you've never heard?

    I have the book...I only have to add to all the comments, that in the book the speed suggestion for the tune is above the first measure. In the song 110, The Drunken Sailor, is LIVELY.

    Click image for larger version. 

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

    I played in a pick up band for a square dance, where we were asked to play "as fast as humanly possible". At some point it ceased to be musical, but for once the band was sweating as much as the dancers.
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    Registered User Ivan Kelsall's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to determine the beat on songs you've never heard?

    From JeffD - " At some point it ceased to be musical,..". Doesn't it just !!!. At some point,it becomes a mere 'thrash'. We've all heard bands that have played too fast, & it destroys the whole experience IMHO.

    To address James's question - i'd search the 'net for a specific tune to actually hear the tempo.or,as has been suggested,ask a music reader to demo.it,
    Ivan

    PS - It does pose the question as to why 'some' Orchestral performances are longer / shorter than others of the same work = the Conductor's idea of the time signature varies !.
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    Default Re: How to determine the beat on songs you've never heard?

    Quote Originally Posted by Ivan Kelsall View Post
    ... PS - It does pose the question as to why 'some' Orchestral performances are longer / shorter than others of the same work = the Conductor's idea of the time signature varies !.
    I know (I think?) you meant "tempo" there.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ivan Kelsall View Post
    From JeffD - " At some point it ceased to be musical,..". Doesn't it just !!!. At some point,it becomes a mere 'thrash'. We've all heard bands that have played too fast, & it destroys the whole experience IMHO. ...
    Yup, I agree.

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    Registered User Jon Hall's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to determine the beat on songs you've never heard?

    In "Drunken Sailor", the key indicated by the one flat (b) is D minor, the relative minor of F major.

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

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffD View Post
    I played in a pick up band for a square dance, where we were asked to play "as fast as humanly possible". At some point it ceased to be musical, but for once the band was sweating as much as the dancers.
    It ceases to be musical when played faster than a particular band can play it. Listen to Flatt &Scruggs original recording of Roll in my Sweet Babie's Arm. It doesn't even sound that fast. Try to pat your foot to it, they are flying. Most bands trying to play that fast would sound "too fast".

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

    From JL277Z - " I know (I think?) you meant "tempo" there.". The time signature indicates the number of ''beats to the bar'' = Tempo.

    " While tempo is described or indicated in many different ways, including with a range of words (e.g., "Slowly", "Adagio" and so on), it is typically measured in beats per minute (bpm or BPM). For example, a tempo of 60 beats per minute signifies one beat per second, while a tempo of 120 beats per minute is twice as rapid, signifying one beat every 0.5 seconds. The note value of a beat will typically be that indicated by the meter signature. For instance, in 4/4 the beat (Tempo) will be a crotchet or quarter note."
    For me,the conductor simply 'stretches the time per beat'. The version of Beethoven's 5th Symphony by The London Symphony Orcestra conducted by Andre Previn,lasts around 7 minutes longer than the 'norm' for that symphony.

    Mandoplumb - You got that right - it's FAST !!. I decided to learn to play ''Dusty Miller'' several months back,Bill Monroes's version of the tune. It doesn't sound really fast,but hell fire,it's a finger buster !!!,
    Ivan
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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?

    A simple way to remember is : Time signature is the “metre”. Tempo is the beats per minute.
    Eoin



    "Forget that anyone is listening to you and always listen to yourself" - Fryderyk Chopin

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

    Quote Originally Posted by Ivan Kelsall View Post
    ... the number of ''beats to the bar'' = Tempo. ...
    Umm... with all due respect, that's not how tempo is defined.

    Quote Originally Posted by Beanzy View Post
    A simple way to remember is: Time signature is the “metre”. Tempo is the beats per minute.
    Yes. Thank you!

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  30. #23

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

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffD View Post
    Well not quite. If one is familiar with the genre, one can probably sight read an unfamiliar fiddle tune within that genre fairly well and get it going good after a few attempts. I can grab about any new jig or hornpipe, I have played so very many, and get it right.

    But your general point is correct, lots of listening is always best.
    Actually, my point was that there isn't a "correct" way of playing anything, particularly if playing by one's self. Even when playing with others, "correctness" is really only a matter of mutual opinion. So if the only things in the room are you, your mandolin, and the sheet music-- play it the way you want.

    Lots of listening will help hear how others have wanted to hear the music played, and that's important, too.

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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
    Q: I watch a video that says, ok, quarter notes, eighth, sixteenth notes. I see they are picking faster that's it. How do I apply it to a song?

    If you want to try to understand about note durations, I'd suggest looking at each of these lessons.

    Note Duration

    Measures and Time Signature

    If you have studied those pages and have questions, let me know. Meanwhile, let's take a familiar tune to see how it works. I decided to use Row, Row, Row Your Boat because it is well known, has a straightforward rhythm, and has great examples of how quarter notes, eighth notes, half notes and triplets are used in rhythm. The music, with mandolin tab, looks like this:



    TIME SIGNATURE: The 4/4 up there tells you that there are four beats in each measure (bar), and quarter notes get one beat each. Each measure must have 4 quarter notes, or the equivalent of them. Each measure has four beats.

    There are numbers above the tab notes (below the standard notes) that show the beats of each measure. If you play this melody on your mandolin, use a downstroke on every note that falls on the beat. Use an upstroke on all eighth notes that fall between the beats.

    1ST MEASURE
    Are you understanding how the beats fall? Try singing the first measure: ROW, ROW, ROW your BOAT over and over a few times. The capitalized "ROW - ROW - ROW - BOAT" falls on the beat, 1, 2, 3, 4. The lowercase "your" falls between the beats 3 & 4. You can sing the melody with words: "ROW, ROW, ROW your BOAT" or you can sing it with number the same way: "1 2 3 & 4"

    In this first measure: Beat one is a quarter note, beat two is a quarter note, beat three-and is two eighth notes, beat four is a quarter note. So there are four beats here, and the note values or durations add up to the equivalent of four quarter notes.

    2ND MEASURE
    Analyze the beats in measure two by singing the tune again, over and over, and tap your foot at the beat. It will sound like GENT-ly DOWN the STREAM. You can sing the numbers like this: 1 & 2 & 3 - (4)

    In this second measure: Beat one-and is two eighth notes, beat two-and is two eighth notes, and beat three has a half note that you must hold all the way through beat four. This is because if a quarter note gets one beat, then a half note must get two beats. A half note is twice the length of time as a quarter note, and remember, these beats are measuring time. In music, the beats count time like the beats of your heart, the tick-tock of the clock, the click of the metronome. In this measure, there are four eighth notes and one half note, and these add up to the equivalent of four quarter notes, and account for four beats in the measure.

    3RD MEASURE
    Here is something to learn: The Triplet. Triplets are exceptional. Triplets change the timing or duration of their notes, by cramming three notes into the time-space of two notes. So in this merry verse, three eighth notes are crammed into each beat. One beat normally accomodates only two eighth notes. Normally, eighth notes are counted by saying "seafood" four times each measure. Set your metronome, and say the word "SEAfood" at each click (SEA on the click, food between clicks) and you will begin to understand how eighth notes fit. Now, replace "seafood" with "chocolate" - "CHOC-o-late, CHOC-o-late, CHOC-o-late, CHOC-o-late" - and you will begin to understand how eighth note triplets work. Triplets are a special case, so there is a number "3" printed where they are tied together. You can sing this measure as "MERrily MERrily MERrily MERrily" or you can sing it as 1 &-a 2 &-a 3 &-a 4 &-a

    Each beat of this measure contains a triplet, which is equal to the timing of two eighth notes or a quarter note, so this measure has the equivalent of four quarter notes, one per beat. Yes, eighth notes, sixteenth notes and triplets are played faster than quarter notes, because more of them must be crammed into each beat which is set at quarter note speed (4/4)

    4TH MEASURE
    The timing of this measure is exactly the same as the second measure, so read that again and apply the principles to this final measure to see how well you understand all this.

    IN GENERAL
    Use a down pick stroke on the beats, and an up pick stroke between the beats. Triplets are special though, and in this example you should try DUD DUD DUD DUD in that measure.

    Set your metronome to make a click on each downbeat. 1, 2, 3, 4 - click, click, click, click
    "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.

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  33. #25
    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 jshane View Post
    Actually, my point was that there isn't a "correct" way of playing anything, particularly if playing by one's self. Even when playing with others, "correctness" is really only a matter of mutual opinion. So if the only things in the room are you, your mandolin, and the sheet music-- play it the way you want.
    But the "mutual opinion" is actually important, if you're playing a traditional music style. Even when playing by yourself at home.

    I know, from experience, that if I'm at an OldTime jam and the reel "The Merry Blacksmith" comes up, it will probably be played with a dotted eighth note swing feel, because that's how OldTime players usually interpret the tune. On the other hand, if I'm at an Irish session playing the same exact notes for Merry Blacksmith, it won't be swung that way, and will have a strong 1-3 reel pulse.

    If I'm at an Irish session and "Fisher's Hornpipe" comes up, it will probably have at least some degree of bounce in the rhythm feel. But I also know that Bluegrass players will almost always flatten that out to a straight 4/4 rhythm. Again, the exact same notes.

    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.

    Even if you're a Jazz or "Experimental" musician, it helps to know the launching pad you're taking off from.

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