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Thread: Moving between Irish and bluegrass fiddle tunes

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    Registered User Cindy's Avatar
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    Default Moving between Irish and bluegrass fiddle tunes

    If a person who has trained herself up to play fiddle tunes in the bluegrass style, though she has never managed to get to those ludicrous speeds, is invited to play with some Irish-oriented people, how should she prepare given she has two days? Asking for a friend.

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    Registered User Narayan Kersak's Avatar
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    Default Re: Moving between Irish and bluegrass fiddle tunes

    If they are super traditionalists, you may make them cringe. But if your up for it, learn the Monaghan Jig and O'Farrell's Welcome to Limerick. ��
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    Registered User Pete Braccio's Avatar
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    Default Re: Moving between Irish and bluegrass fiddle tunes

    I would tell her to listen to a couple of sets before joining in. Get a feel for how the Trad people are playing, listen to how and where they emphasize notes, and then join in.

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    Default Re: Moving between Irish and bluegrass fiddle tunes

    There are different styles of Irish playing, especially in fiddle circles. Pete has given you great advice. Watch and listen for a bit. Then join in where you think you can.
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    Registered User Randi Gormley's Avatar
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    Default Re: Moving between Irish and bluegrass fiddle tunes

    Especially listen to tunes you know as bluegrass pieces because ITM is different. Star of the county Down is not a waltz. Fisher's hornpipe has a distinct bounce in ITM that doesn't happen in bluegrass. The format is different, too. nobody plays solos unless you're a featured guest and you're specifically asked. it's all group music, so don't worry about taking licks. sawing back and forth on two strings when you don't know a tune won't make you friends. If you don't know a piece, sit it out. tip the waitstaff even if your drink(s) are comped. Generally music is played in sets of two or three tunes played three times each unless it's noted ahead of time. Between sets you sit and talk and drink. Slip jigs are played in 9/8 time. Someone may get up to dance. Someone may get up to sing and generally you don't accompany the singer unless you check ahead of time. Try not to sit next to a piper or a bodhran player if you have a choice. When someone says "hup" they mean it's time to change tunes in a set.
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    Default Re: Moving between Irish and bluegrass fiddle tunes

    I think some of the assumptions behind some of this thread are deeply flawed.

    When bluegrassers play Irish-derived tunes that have 'crossed over' directly into the bluegrass repertoire (e.g., Red-Haired Boy, Temperance Reel, Whiskey Before Breakfast, etc.), they do not tend to play at "ludicrous speeds." On the contrary! These are not among the faster bluegrass tunes, by any means. In fact, they are usually performed at lively but moderate tempos, from 105 to 128 BPM. Furthermore, many Irish Traditional sessions (particularly the more advanced ones) can push the tempos up pretty darned high, in practice. And Irish bands, during performances on stage, can push those tempos still higher (just listen to live recording of De Danann, Chieftains, or the Dubliners sometime)! There is nothing especially slow about Irish jigs and reels.

    Check out the lovely playing of De Danann playing here, around 130 BPM and even faster. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tuXMz5GOgjc

    It's certainly true that American Oldtime music tends to be performed at slower tempos than bluegrass, but Irish Traditional music is not especially slow. It's faster, on average, than Oldtime.

    Also, it's important in any discussion of tempo not to conflate tempo choice with skill level. Beginner and intermediate jams/sessions naturally tend to gravitate towards slower tempos than more advanced jams/sessions, and this holds true irrespective of the music style (ITM, bluegrass, or oldtime). In my own experience, many beginners will tend to complain at first about "ludicrous tempos" until they achieve the ability to play faster themselves, at which point they may prefer some tunes at faster speeds. It's all a matter of perspective.

    The answer to the OP's question really lies in what the particular group of "Irish-oriented" musicians is. Are they beginning, intermediate, or advanced players? What repertoire do they prefer (songs, jigs, reels, airs, etc.)? Are they strictly ITM, or do they also cover select pieces from other genres -- because a great many groups do, these days?

    If your friend only knows those Irish tunes played by U.S. bluegrass groups and not those played mainly in Ireland (e.g., Banish Misfortune, Silver Spear, etc.), then he or she may discover that they only have a half dozen tunes in common. But since ITM has all players playing at once, he or she should have little trouble chiming in on those. As for the rest, well...listen and learn -- and enjoy!!

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    Default Re: Moving between Irish and bluegrass fiddle tunes

    She says she should have explained more. The band has an Irish fiddler and a Cajun accordion player/vocalist and they plan to play and sing (!) Red-haired/Little Beggar and Whiskey b4 Breakfast and Soldier's Joy. So it's Irish-Cajun fusion! Not a session. However, all these answers have been very enlightening and instructive.

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    Default Re: Moving between Irish and bluegrass fiddle tunes

    It's certainly true that American Oldtime music tends to be performed at slower tempos than bluegrass, but Irish Traditional music is not especially slow. It's faster, on average, than Oldtime. sblock

    Our oldtime group plays for dances and it is breakneck speed. Many times it is faster than bluegrass, and every bit as fast as Irish. Dancers like to have fun if they are experienced and that requires a fast tempo.
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  14. #9

    Default Re: Moving between Irish and bluegrass fiddle tunes

    ĎAsking for a friendí can mean something quite different in England, maybe in Ireland too.

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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Moving between Irish and bluegrass fiddle tunes

    Quote Originally Posted by Cindy View Post
    She says she should have explained more. The band has an Irish fiddler and a Cajun accordion player/vocalist and they plan to play and sing (!) Red-haired/Little Beggar and Whiskey b4 Breakfast and Soldier's Joy. So it's Irish-Cajun fusion! Not a session. However, all these answers have been very enlightening and instructive.
    Sounds like an eclectic group and not strictly Irish in flavor. If these folks asked your friend I would assume they are familiar with her style of playing. I assume there is no time to get together with these folks in advance? Probably the best I advice I would give is for her to talk to the inviting musicians and see what they are looking for. And since there is the main fiddler listen to that person and try to tune into how that person phrases for those tunes. It is a bit strange that they would ask someone to do a gig with them without having a clue of how she plays.
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    Default Re: Moving between Irish and bluegrass fiddle tunes

    While ITM and bluegrass are stylistically different, they are both "folk music". if your friend is experienced musically, sitting and listening through a couple of tunes then jumping into the fray is pretty good advice. They are both folk music after all....

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    Default Re: Moving between Irish and bluegrass fiddle tunes

    Old time for dances is played around 120 bpm unless they are cloggers then the sky is the limit. Warp speed is what they like.

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    Registered User Randi Gormley's Avatar
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    Default Re: Moving between Irish and bluegrass fiddle tunes

    Hmmm. if the group she's playing with has some CDs out, or YouTube videos, that might answer the question. Go to the source.
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    Default Re: Moving between Irish and bluegrass fiddle tunes

    Main difference I've found is the lower level of improvisation in playing Celtic tunes. Bluegrass can encourage deviation from the strict melody, incorporation of "licks," variations etc. Celtic not so much; I'm sometimes a bit "outside" in Celtic sessions because the second time through a tune, I'll deviate from the melody a bit to add harmonies, counter-melodies etc. (Keep them deviates out of the Irish sessions!)

    Much depends on how the existing group approaches the tunes. I love playing harmonies below the fiddle lead, especially on mandola or OM, but not everyone approves. From the stated repertoire, tunes that are widely played in a variety of styles and contexts, I'd guess they wouldn't be too strict about "sticking to the melody."
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