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Thread: Timing for Fleadh compition?

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    Harley Marty
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    Default Timing for Fleadh compition?

    I have entered in the county Fleadh & I can't get a difinative answer as to what metronome settings to select for practicing the tunes. I've put in for a few categories, one being Tenor Banjo so we're talking jig, hornpipe, slip jig & reel. Last year I got through to the provincial Fleadh but my timing let me down! Curr I'm working at 72 for hornpipes, 88 for reels/jigs & haven't set anything for slip jigs. Do you have any pearls of wisdom???

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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Timing for Fleadh compition?

    I don't know if this complies with the rules, but I kind of like it:

    Click image for larger version. 

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    Its from the playing of Packie Manus Byrne of Donegal.
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    Harley Marty
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    Default Re: Timing for Fleadh compition?

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffD View Post
    I don't know if this complies with the rules, but I kind of like it:

    Click image for larger version. 

Name:	packiesmall.gif 
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    Its from the playing of Packie Manus Byrne of Donegal.
    Thanks JeffD, but I can't make out the typo:-)

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    Default Re: Timing for Fleadh compition?

    To my knowledge, there are no strict rules set out for tempo in the fleadhs - it is assumed that competitors will know the idiom well enough to know what are suitable tempos for the different tune types. From my experience as a spectator at fleadhs and having watched video clips and spoken to fleadh competitors, however, the best approach seems to be to play all your tunes 'steady', a bit slower than you would normally play them in a session or for set dancing, so that you can give every note and ornament its due attention - but not so slow that you lose the rhythmic lift.

    Quote Originally Posted by Harley Marty View Post
    Curr I'm working at 72 for hornpipes, 88 for reels/jigs & haven't set anything for slip jigs.
    Those sound like pretty safe tempos to be working with. You'll notice that they're quite a bit slower than Packie Byrne's tempos (see above). Slip jigs can be played at the same tempo as (double) jigs but are often played a touch faster - based on how fast you are playing your jigs and reels, perhaps around 95 bpm.

    If you are comfortable playing the tunes a couple of notches faster, I can't see it being a problem for the judges, but if you feel rushed then it is likely to throw your timing off again.

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    Harley Marty
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    Default Re: Timing for Fleadh compition?

    Thanks Whistler, the tempos' that I'm working with do seem a bit slow. I'm can easily keep pace with the fastest players on flute, sax & box. It's keeping the steady discipline is my problem right now, that's something I'm not getting from the sessions so hence the need to work with the metronome. I only bought the banjo 2 weeks ago so most of the work is going into that! 95 for jigs/reels is much more comfortable. The chart above is illegible on my iPad by the way. Everyone says not to play too fast but no one wants to say how fast to play which I can understand. I'm just keen to have a practice guideline, because on the day it all gets caught up in the moment������

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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Timing for Fleadh compition?

    Quote Originally Posted by Harley Marty View Post
    Thanks JeffD, but I can't make out the typo:-)
    Click on the picture and then click again and maybe one more time and it will enlarge to being readable.
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    Default Re: Timing for Fleadh compition?

    These are Packie Byrne's tempos, as in the image above:

    Jigs dotted quaver = 110-130
    Slip Jigs dotted quaver = 115
    Marches crotchet = 112-121
    Polkas crotchet => 123
    Highlands minim = 83-90
    Reels minim = 91-110
    Hornpipes and germans minim = 85-95
    Slow hornpipe crotchet = 105
    Mazurkas and waltzes crotchet = 150-172

    Bear in mind that i. Packie Byrne was just one player and ii. he was from Donegal, where the repertoire and style are a bit different from those of more southerly parts of Ireland (you probably don't play a great many mazurkas, highlands or germans in Mullingar). But I would certainly not consider 95 bpm fast for a reel, so long as you can keep time and fit all the notes in at that speed.

    Notice that Packie Byrne lists the category slow hornpipe (I assume this means a hornpipe as played at for a solo stepdancer). The metronome setting is given for a crotchet (1/4-note), which is equivalent to (minim =) 52.5 - much slower than your 72, so I think you are well within the acceptable range. But if you decide to take your tempos up a bit, just be sure to work gradually up to them during practice.

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    Default Re: Timing for Fleadh compition?

    Quote Originally Posted by whistler View Post
    Bear in mind that i. Packie Byrne was just one player and ii. he was from Donegal,
    Yes very important. Packie is a transcendent player, and half as musical as he plays is twice as musical as i will ever play. But you are correct.

    I would love to see a similar tempo chart for someone like Kevin Burke, whose playing is equally transcendent but whose tunes are seen more often (in my experience) at sessions, here locally.
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    Default Re: Timing for Fleadh compition?

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffD View Post
    I would love to see a similar tempo chart for someone like Kevin Burke, whose playing is equally transcendent but whose tunes are seen more often (in my experience) at sessions, here locally.
    I just did an unscientific sampling of one track of Kevin Burke reels -- Pigeon on the Gate, Lafferty's, Morning Dew -- from his 1993 recording Celtic Fiddle Festival (live performance). He plays at a steady 111-112 bpm through the whole set. Just about the same as that Martin Hayes pub session I posted above.

    I have recordings of Burke playing slower for expression, and also faster.. Especially in those early Bothy Band recordings and TV shows where they let it rip. But this one sample seems typical of his playing. I think this is a good tempo to aim for, with reels. That is, if you can hold back the Alpha fiddlers in a session.

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    Harley Marty
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    Default Re: Timing for Fleadh compition?

    Way back in the mid 70's when I was about 15 an Irish dance school got me to accompany all their competitors at the Australian nationals. They gave me all the metronome settings for each dance. It was an enormous task to get it all to work well, they had a good haul of medals & my timing was rock solid for years after it. I'm back playing now after a 15+ year gap, my fingers & brain are back to speed but the timing is all over the shop!
    Yes there is huge variable that goes with styles, expression & the environment we play in. Thanks for everyone's help. The Westmeath Fleadh will be the 3rd weekend in May I'll let you know how I get on. Marty

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    Default Re: Timing for Fleadh compition?

    I imagine dance competitions are much stricter on tempo than instrumental competitions. On the few occasions when I have accompanied stepdancers, they have been very specific about tempos.

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    Default Re: Timing for Fleadh compition?

    Quote Originally Posted by whistler View Post
    I imagine dance competitions are much stricter on tempo than instrumental competitions. On the few occasions when I have accompanied stepdancers, they have been very specific about tempos.
    My fiddler S.O. and I took a "Scottish Country Dance Band" workshop a couple of years ago. We worked up the tunes during the day, and then performed as a student band for a yearly gathering of Scottish dancers that evening. Just a few sets, then the regular band (the instructors) took over. The workshop group was mostly fiddlers, one guitar, one mandolin, one upright bass.

    The lead instructor was very strict about tempo for each strathspey set and reel set. He had us play the reels at a strict 112 bpm. The dancers seemed to enjoy it. Or at least they took pity on the student band, and gave us a rousing applause when we packed up and the main band took over.

    Even at 112 bpm I felt like I was racing on some of the tune sets, because it was a hair faster than some of the tunes were played in local sessions. However, looking out at the dance floor, the dancers didn't seem to be moving very fast at all. Just a lively flow of motion at half the speed we were playing the tunes, due to the way step dancing works within the tempo of the tunes.

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    Harley Marty
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    Default Re: Timing for Fleadh compition?

    Quote Originally Posted by foldedpath View Post
    My fiddler S.O. and I took a "Scottish Country Dance Band" workshop a couple of years ago. We worked up the tunes during the day, and then performed as a student band for a yearly gathering of Scottish dancers that evening. Just a few sets, then the regular band (the instructors) took over. The workshop group was mostly fiddlers, one guitar, one mandolin, one upright bass.

    The lead instructor was very strict about tempo for each strathspey set and reel set. He had us play the reels at a strict 112 bpm. The dancers seemed to enjoy it. Or at least they took pity on the student band, and gave us a rousing applause when we packed up and the main band took over.

    Even at 112 bpm I felt like I was racing on some of the tune sets, because it was a hair faster than some of the tunes were played in local sessions. However, looking out at the dance floor, the dancers didn't seem to be moving very fast at all. Just a lively flow of motion at half the speed we were playing the tunes, due to the way step dancing works within the tempo of the tunes.
    Yes the Scotts are a very disciplined bunch! It may have something to do with the hard cold climate they have to endure. Our hot dry environment makes us Australians seem lazy & it is reflected in our music culture

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    Default Re: Timing for Fleadh compition?

    Ah, but we Scots have two disciplines in our set dances: That of the strict-time dances which are under the auspices of The Royal Scottish Country Dance Society, and the ceilidh dances which can race along at top speed and depend on the fitness, youth and often alcohol consumption of the dancers! In general they attract two different client groups.
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    Harley Marty
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    Default Re: Timing for Fleadh compition?

    Thanks folks for all your help! The Westmeath county Fleadh was held today in Mullingar. A healthy turnout. I managed to limp into the next round (Leinster Fleadh) on July 14th. My timing is much improved though still not great. Through in all four sections that I entered. Tenor Banjo, Button Accordion, Flute & C Soprano Saxophone in the Miscellaneous section.

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    Default Re: Timing for Fleadh compition?

    Well done
    - Jeremy

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    Default Re: Timing for Fleadh compition?

    Good on ye and best of luck at the Leinster Fleadh!
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    Default Re: Timing for Fleadh compition?

    Maith an fear. Good luck with the next stage.
    Eoin



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    Default Re: Timing for Fleadh compition?

    Through in 4 categories? You must be doing something right. Well done!

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    Harley Marty
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    Default Re: Timing for Fleadh compition?

    Well folks I had a crack at the Leinster Fleadh today but no craic to report ��. I decided to contest only one category due to a huge personal crises, so the Tenor Banjo & the button accordion stayed in their cases! I used the flute as a warmup & had a red hot crack at the saxophone. I'm happy to report that my timing was good on all four tunes. My hornpipe let me down.The Groves is tune that could make me hero or zero! The result turned out to be zero

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    Default Re: Timing for Fleadh compition?

    Harley, good on 'ya for making the effort and better luck next time!

    At any rate, it sparked an interesting thread here.

  30. #22
    Harley Marty
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    Default Re: Timing for Fleadh compition?

    Fleadh time again 2019. In 2017 I had timing/tempo issues, hence this thread. Thanks to everybody for their great advice, it was big help! Last year it was mostly positive comments from the judges in regards my timing, however the phasing of the tunes or melody took a hit as I was adopting a more clinical approach to the tunes. & went out of the comp empty handed at Leinster (semi-final) level in all 4 disciplines.
    For this year I ditched the metronome & focused on being expressive while concentrating on keeping a steady pace. This approach seemed to work out better. I entered 10 disciplines this year won 5 at county level Mandolin, Tenor Banjo, Flute, Miscellaneous (sax) & Story telling. Came 2nd in 5 Button accordion, Tin whistle, Fiddle, Mouthorgan & Newly composed tunes. The only apparent timing issue in all that was the Story telling. 1st & 2nd through to Leinster but unfortunately they are all on at around the same time & at different venues about the town (Athboy Co Meath). That day brought me 2 3rds, Mandolin & Miscellaneous, & 2nd in Mouthorgan. The weak theme in my playing now is "variation". Yesterday it all came to an end with no place in the final with a marvellous mouthorgan display by Arlene O Sullivan ( do yourself a favour & check her out). One of the tunes she played was the Seamus Ennis version of the Gold Ring. Truly magnificent!

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    Default Re: Timing for Fleadh compition?

    So what sort of mouthorgans do they use over in Ireland? I tried taking one to a session over here and was completely drowned out, I also struggled with big jumps on a chromatic and missing notes on diatonics.
    - Jeremy

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    Default Re: Timing for Fleadh compition?

    Quote Originally Posted by derbex View Post
    So what sort of mouthorgans do they use over in Ireland? I tried taking one to a session over here and was completely drowned out, I also struggled with big jumps on a chromatic and missing notes on diatonics.
    For the Mouthorgan competition they want a "tremolo" Mouthorgan. The brand of choice for all the top players is Tombo. They allow 2 Mouthorgans for the comp, most players use a D & a G Mouthorgan. Any other type of instrument i.e. Chromatic or 10 hole blues harp are deemed to be in the Miscellaneous category.
    You are spot on about the volume in a session, I can't be heard behind a newspaper! I am thinking of getting a stethoscope & holding it up to the mouthorgan like a microphone for the really loud sessions

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