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Thread: Book/s on how to improvise on Old Time tunes???

  1. #26
    man about town Markus's Avatar
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    Default Re: Book/s on how to improvise on Old Time tunes???

    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Romkey View Post
    5. Slowly, deliberately, working in sections, work out some variations yourself. Write them down even in musical notation. Or just memorize them.

    6. Preparation and practice -- that's where it starts. You hear somebody jamming or improvising and wonder how they're doing that on the fly. Maybe they are. Or maybe you're hearing what they worked out at practice. If they are improvising, what they're doing is using strategies they at some point worked out in practice, and their brain is now plugging it in. This stuff may seem like it comes out of nowhere. It doesn't. It comes out of practice.
    Really well done advice, Mike. These two stick out to me as I have learned these again and again - and this is actively something I practice.

    Keeping with Red Haired Boy, I've woodshedded that tune multiple times and have it smooth and clear even as the metronome breaks 120 bpm. After practicing my `clean version' at speed, I'll often drop the metronome to 80-90 bpm to practice variations, improv, and alterations to my usual. I'll play through any ideas multiple times, trying not to change too much all at once [too easy to lose the melody if you replace whole bars of notes] and going through successful ideas multiple times. Provided those ideas work with the melody and aren't just trying to cram excessive amounts of notes in the spaces, I'll increase speed on the metronome slowly to work them up to `usual speed'.

    I've worked towards playing phrases and not notes, but once the speed of a song clicks up too high IMO there's not a lot of meaningful improvised composition happening - sure, I can throw a lot of notes out there but the `improv' that people applaud and make my band mates look up in wonder is just about always something I worked up in practice, often over weeks.

    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Romkey View Post
    8. Timing. OMG is this a big deal. I can play a ton of fiddle tunes really fast (I love working with a metronome.) But then I would hear somebody like Jake Workman playing a little bit of "Clinch Mountain Backstep," and it sounded like an infinitely better version. Why was that? Part of the reason is the blue notes (flatted 3rds and 7th) and little improv things he throws in. But also super important is he is NOT playing the song as written to the strict beat of a metronome. His phrasing breathes. It has life. I was playing everything with a rhythm that is as straight and lined up as a highly starched dress shirt.
    I work on timing multiple ways and feel each has a lot to offer.

    You summarize the negatives of a metronome well. I do find there's a clarity to working with a metronome in that it's easiest method to identify imperfect timing which is it's strength.

    In terms of working improvisations [and fiddle tunes] up to speed I've grown to love the website Strum Machine, which provides simple bass/guitar backup but whose strength lies in the ability to have it increase BPM every repetition of the song by a user-defined amount. In working Jerusalem Ridge up to speed I can start it slower that needed to pick perfectly clean and work it up to the point where I start making mistakes. Really useful for working up songs they play too fast for me at the jam.

    I've started using a drum machine with my practice and it's done a lot of good. Being able to accent certain beats helps me move away from the robotic metronomic playing as well as think more about phrases that lead into the next chord as I can put a cowbell/etc to help me locate when to start those phrases. Combined with a looper fpr on the fly bass/guitar backup tracks, I find myself able to `play the changes' so much more. I also find using a drum machine +/or looper will get me back to the practice room a second time on weekends - maybe just to fool around, yet another hour or two of mandolin playing every week is never a negative.

    I'll be revisiting your advice Mike, really great post. Also, I'm going to mine that video of Clinch Mountain Backstep for all it's worth, some brilliant ideas there!
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  3. #27
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    Default Re: Book/s on how to improvise on Old Time tunes???

    Quote Originally Posted by stringalong View Post
    A 4, the Hostel Cafe jam is very, very fast most of the time and I can't follow the tunes that the hot shot fiddlers play. They don't announce the names of the tunes, either. The first time I went there I had a blast because there were not so many hot shots and I was able to play the tunes. But that jam has tunes I've never heard before. It's also hard for me to get to via public transit at night. When the days get longer I may try it again.
    You know, now that you mention it, I have played with some people from Portland, and they were smoking fast! Maybe that jam is different, but hopefully they are open to asking about the names of tunes, at the very least. There will always be tunes you don't know, but that is part of the learning process.

    I looked a little further, and saw more jam info, etc. here:
    http://bubbaguitar.com/jams/

    I think you also said a family member used to play violin and was thinking about old time fiddle, so you might be interested in this, too:
    http://neighborlymusic.net/classes/stringband-2/

    I realize now I am not addressing your original question, but more your follow-up post.

  4. #28
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Book/s on how to improvise on Old Time tunes???

    Quote Originally Posted by A 4 View Post
    I looked a little further, and saw more jam info, etc. here:
    http://bubbaguitar.com/jams/
    To piggyback on A 4's post:

    There are two other OT jams that may be more to your liking at least according to the recriptions:

    • OLD TIME FIDDLE TUNES instrumental jam at The Flipside Coffee Shop every 4thSunday. Flipside Coffee Shop is at 8 N.E. Killingsworth, Portland. This is a medium tempo instrumental jam, not a song circle. Share and play Old Time Fiddle Tunes on your instrument in a friendly atmosphere, all acoustic traditional instruments welcome.

    • KEIZER OLD TIME JAM (formerly the Waldo Hills jam) – 2nd Sundays, 1:00 until the last dog bites (5pm or so) – Newcomers welcome. Acoustic old time music and vocals. Slower as well as up to speed tunes. Folks encouraged to share new (old) tunes. John Knox Presbyterian Church, 452 Cummings Ln N, Keizer, OR 97303.


    Maybe these folks would be open to naming tunes, at least. I have been running an OT jam here in the NYC suburbs for about a dozen years and we keep a list of tune names and post them on our FB page. Another friend does the same at one he hosts further north. We all welcome players of all levels and even slow down for someone who starts a tune at a slower pace.

    Also bear in mind that there are some jams that may be closed or at least there is an understanding that a certain minimum level of player is welcome. That doesn't mean you can't play quietly in the periphery but it might be less easy to learn the tunes.

    One other suggestion if possible is to record a few tunes that appeal to you. If you have a slow down software you can always slow down the fast ones.
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  5. #29
    Registered User Mike Romkey's Avatar
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    Default Re: Book/s on how to improvise on Old Time tunes???

    RE fast jams: As Don Julin says, music is a conversation, not a contest. : )
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  7. #30

    Default Re: Book/s on how to improvise on Old Time tunes???

    Hi Mike, yes, I agree that conversations are more fun than "jam contests." But some jams sure seem like competitions.

  8. #31
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Book/s on how to improvise on Old Time tunes???

    I don't find so much competition in OT music, at least in the circles I travel in. That was why, decades ago I opted to avoid bluegrass and blues where there are often contests to play faster or be cooler. Or maybe now it is my old age, but I actually savor the notes of tunes played in a moderate danceable tempo.
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  9. #32

    Default Re: Book/s on how to improvise on Old Time tunes???

    Hi Jim,

    I thoroughly agree with you. I like a moderate tempo, too. You can actually hear the tune that way. When everything is played frenetically fast, it all sounds the same.

    Stringalong

  10. #33

    Default Re: Book/s on how to improvise on Old Time tunes???

    Stringalong, this may be more in the bluegrass vein than strictly old time, but on Sam Bush's DVD "All About Lead Mandolin" he breaks down the fiddle tune Fisher's Hornpipe with a couple different variations for each section. He does something similar with Paddy on the Turnpike on his first Homespun DVD (I think it's just called "Bluegrass Mandolin").

    Full disclosure: I'm in the middle of trying to wrap my head around this same subject as well; I'm only qualified to chime in here based on the fact that I am in the middle of fighting the same fight you are. The above advice about just sitting down and working it out on your own resonates strongly with me, but I did find those two Sam Bush lessons helpful just in terms of getting something under my fingers and seeing someone else do it first.
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  11. #34

    Default Re: Book/s on how to improvise on Old Time tunes???

    Thanks, Gibcaster000. I'm working with the McGann book. Mainly it just gives me ideas so I come up with improvs of my own. McGann's improv suggestions can be fairly technically tricky, which is not where I'm at.

  12. #35

    Default Re: Book/s on how to improvise on Old Time tunes???

    I took a look at the preview from Amazon for the McGann book, it looks excellent. I think I'm going to pick it up as well.

    Another resource I just stumbled across that might be worth looking at is TuneFox (https://www.tunefox.com/mandolin/). It requires a subscription, but they offer a 30 day free trial. There are also two free tunes you can check out even without signing up for anything, just to see that they're about. Their online player lets you toggle through the "standard" version and a couple variations; and they offer each tune at 3 different difficulty levels (with several variations at each difficulty level). Could be another good source for ideas to work with; they've got A LOT of tunes available.
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  13. #36

    Default Re: Book/s on how to improvise on Old Time tunes???

    Gibcaster000 -- I love TuneFox. That's really, really cool. Thanks for posting it. Lots of variations on Worried Man Blues (free sample), and you can even set a slider to change the tempo!

  14. #37

    Default Re: Book/s on how to improvise on Old Time tunes???

    Stringalong - Glad you found it useful! I've got a backlog of material to work through, but I plan to activate that free trial at some point. If it ends up being as good as it looks I'll probably keep it around after the trial too as long as I'm using it.

    I stumbled across one more book that looks like it's worth mentioning here; Jack Tuttle from Gryphon Strings has a book called "Spicing Up Fiddle Tunes for Guitar and Mandolin." It's not listed on the Gryphon website with his other books, but he does have it for sale on his own website (http://www.jacktuttle.com/Books/Spic...ddleTunes.html). There's a link on that page to his MP3 page where you can hear the arrangements, which is pretty cool. It's a lot of overlap with the McGann book (which I just ordered), but I may pick it up in the future for the guitar transcriptions, or just to have additional ideas since I'm sure they are different interpretations of the tunes.
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  15. #38

    Default Re: Book/s on how to improvise on Old Time tunes???

    Gibcaster000, thanks for another book suggestion. I listened to the variations for Take Me Back To Tulsa and find Tuttle's variations are more in the swing style than the McGann variations are. For me personally, I like to stay with the Appalachian sound. However, of course we can always use more book suggestions, so this is a good possibility for a lot of people here, I'm sure.

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  17. #39

    Default Re: Book/s on how to improvise on Old Time tunes???

    stringalong - That's pretty much where I landed as well; I much prefer the "traditional"/old time sound. I listened to his take on Turkey in the Straw (being one of the few that wasn't covered in the McGann book), but it was a little to jazzy for my taste. Though I did really like his variation for Salt Creek. That and the guitar arrangements might bring me back to this eventually, but I'm going to work through the McGann book and my Sam Bush DVDs first.
    1984 Kentucky KM-1000 Mandolin
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    70's & 80's Alvarez Yairi Drednaughts
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  18. #40

    Default Re: Book/s on how to improvise on Old Time tunes???


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