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Thread: First few bars at slower tempo?

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    Registered User Mike Buesseler's Avatar
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    Default First few bars at slower tempo?

    I watch (and listen) to a lot of YT videos to help learn IT tunes. I’ve noticed (but have never read about) some people playing a tune more slowly for the first bar or two before bringing it up to a final tempo.

    Is this a tradition? How does it work in a session?

    A good example is any of Tergal14’s great videos.

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    Registered User foldedpath's Avatar
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    Default Re: First few bars at slower tempo?

    I've heard some artists do this. mainly on solo recordings. The first few notes or the first bar starting a bit slower than the final tempo, and then ramping up by the second bar.

    Matt Molloy does this on most of the tunes in his latest "Back to the Island" album (solo flute with backup). It's a nice way of getting the listener's ear gently involved in a tune, especially the slower to medium tempo ones. On a fast reel, it can be more exciting to just dive into it at full tempo.

    I've never heard it done intentionally at a session. For one thing, it's hard to coordinate tempo changes in an informal group. There is a convention in most sessions to respect the tempo established by the person who starts a set of tunes. So if you're that person, you wouldn't want to confuse everyone by starting the first few notes slower and then ramping it up over the first couple of bars. The rest of the group wouldn't know where and how fast to jump in.

    P.S. I wouldn't use random YouTube videos as examples for this idea, because many will be by amateur musicians who may not be changing tempo as an intentional effect, but because they need a little time to ease into a tune that they may not have completely under their fingers.

  3. #3

    Default Re: First few bars at slower tempo?

    I’ve seen musicians who play tunes, introduce the tune visually, with breathing, change of body position, a glance etc. It’s like presenting the tune rather than just leaping into it with straight timing all the way through.

    It’s like saying, ‘this is the story I want to tell’, while also trusting that the audience actually wants to hear it.

    Ending with double stops and more volume is another.

    I’d say for beginners though, it’s EXTREMELY important to get a solid rhythm first. Play straight every time -and this can take many years. If not, then the audience (as has been said) isn’t sure whether you’re changing tempo for expression, or because you’re just changing tempo. And often the audience can hear these changes better than you can, because you’re maybe concentrating on getting through that difficult part up the neck or with the string changes, or because it’s a difficult fiddle tune.

    I’d stick my neck out too, as a guitarist, and say that it’s better to miss notes and just play open string double stops in their place than have an interesting, unique rhythm.

    -of course if the others at the session aren’t very familiar with a tune, then going slow at the beginning gives them and the dancers a chance. Not sure if this is popular though.

    This is for ukulele, but he gives another perspective idea.

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    Registered User foldedpath's Avatar
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    Default Re: First few bars at slower tempo?

    Quote Originally Posted by atsunrise View Post
    Iíd say for beginners though, itís EXTREMELY important to get a solid rhythm first. Play straight every time -and this can take many years. If not, then the audience (as has been said) isnít sure whether youíre changing tempo for expression, or because youíre just changing tempo.
    Right, and I'll add that if you're going to do a slow-gear start as an intentional effect, you need to be absolutely sure you can nail that final tempo without overshooting or undershooting. I'd consider it a fairly advanced performance technique, because it requires mastering how to start a tune consistently at the "correct" tempo (whatever that is), before you can fool around with a slower tempo ramping up to it. That was the basis of the warning about amateur YouTube videos. Some of those players haven't figured out how to start a tune exactly on-tempo.

    When I play a tune solo, I don't use this idea because I'm not very good at it. And I'm not Matt Molloy.


    -of course if the others at the session arenít very familiar with a tune, then going slow at the beginning gives them and the dancers a chance. Not sure if this is popular though.
    Not very popular, I think. It's common to play a tune or set of tunes more slowly than full dance tempo at beginner or intermediate sessions, or at any session when accommodating a newbie or maybe introducing a new tune to the group. But it's usually done at one fixed tempo. And dancers don't need to get familiar with the notes of a tune. All they care about is consistent rhythm at the desired tempo.

    Now, you may hear a set of tunes in a session end up a little faster than where they started, but that's a different dynamic; a result of natural enthusiasm when a session is really cooking. It's not a bad thing (IMO), as long as it's not a drastic change from common dance tempos. You'll hear the same thing in OldTime and Bluegrass jams. On the other hand, sometimes a tune set will be pulled into a faster tempo by an inconsiderate "Alpha" player, who just wants it to go faster than the person who started the set. That's something one should try to avoid.

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    Registered User Eric Platt's Avatar
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    Default Re: First few bars at slower tempo?

    It's also something Martin Hayes has worked on over the past 20 years with Dennis Cahill. It sounds like it took them a while to get it to gel. But again, that's an individual player and his style, rather than something common.

    Like others have said, it's better to start the tune off at the regular tempo. As a guitar player, I have always appreciated that. I can speed things up if asked, but it's not always easy with a jam. (Am using for my reference old time, as I've never been part of the local ITM scene.)
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    Default Re: First few bars at slower tempo?

    Talk about amateurs though, I used to know a guy who would consistently kick off tunes and play slow and very, very badly at the beginning of each session.
    Then once everyone was in, and at a reasonable tempo, he was El Maestro. People would actually stop to listen!

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    Struggle Monkey B381's Avatar
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    Default Re: First few bars at slower tempo?

    I'm not a very fast player yet so most everything I play is slower...but that's not always a bad thing, songs sometimes miss a lot of character going 900mph.
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    Registered User John Kelly's Avatar
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    Default Re: First few bars at slower tempo?

    You will sometimes hear players performing a set of March, Strathspey and reel where the transition from Strathspey to reel will have a couple of opening bars of the reel played at the closing tempo of the Strathspey then brought up to reel pace. It is almost a sort of underlining of the different tunes, an indicator to the listener that the new tune is coming in, very often with a key change as well. Those sets are often competition sets and not aimed at dancing but rather aimed at a listening audience. Solo pipers, fiddlers and accordion players will use this tempo adjustment in their sets, just as they will leave a clear pause after the slow air before beginning the MSR part of their competition set.
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    Registered User Ranald's Avatar
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    Default Re: First few bars at slower tempo?

    Quote Originally Posted by John Kelly View Post
    You will sometimes hear players performing a set of March, Strathspey and reel where the transition from Strathspey to reel will have a couple of opening bars of the reel played at the closing tempo of the Strathspey then brought up to reel pace.
    In Cape Breton, it's often the reverse in a medley, speeding up the last bar or two of the air before moving into a strathspey, and speeding up the end of the last strathspey to lead into the reel. However, I'd suggest that at a jam or gathering, the person often begins slowly as they awaken the so-called muscle memory while they recall the tune, then they suddenly recall the tune and start flowing. I have many tunes in my head, and sometimes I play two or three bars awkwardly, then begin again. This isn't a technique, just a memory aid.
    Robert Johnson's mother, describing blues musicians:
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    Lomax, Alan, The Land where The Blues Began, NY: Pantheon, 1993, p.14.

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