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Thread: Practicing the swing feel for Irish music

  1. #1

    Default Practicing the swing feel for Irish music

    I've noticed that Irish reels are often played with only a mild swing that is difficult for me to get my head around. The swing is not quite as pronounced as the more universal type of swing that follows the triplet pattern (where the length of the first eight note is double the length of the second eight note which creates a triplet rhythm - only without the second note). These ITM musicians tend to play their reels with less swing but not entirely straight either and they may even change the amount of swing they put into their playing mid song. I am totally unable to replicate those skills. My hands seem to be hard wired for either playing completely straight or with the triplet swing - there is no middle ground for me. Practicing the more moderate swing feels like trying to balance myself on a non-existent high-wire, I immediately tip over either to straight eight notes or triplet swing never grasping the desired rhythm.

    Do you have tips on how to practice the skill? Did it come naturally to you when you started out or did you feel like you had to go against your rhythmic instincts? Practicing the swing has been difficult. I have been listening to slowed down versions of reels but the constant changes in the amounts of swing make it hard to learn by ear. If you know of any recordings where they play with a consistent rhythm all throughout the song that could help me a great deal.

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Practicing the swing feel for Irish music

    Rhythm is very individual, particularly when it comes to swing. I am mostly a bass player. My teacher had me play along with recordings he picked and digitally removed the bass parts to give me a feel for the different levels of swing. I would suggest that playing along to tunes with a feel you wish to emulate is a good route to go.

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    Default Re: Practicing the swing feel for Irish music

    Here’s a great example where he shifts quite a lot, nice and relaxed. I think it’s partly related to the (high) speed and also playing the occasional one bow direction runs, on the fiddle.

    Personally I’d say take the easy route with a metronome, and first get a solid, steady and slow rhythm in whatever style you like, then branch out from there.

    Perhaps there are metronome that can be programmed with the rhythm slurring(?) that you seem to be after?

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    Registered User Mike Buesseler's Avatar
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    Default Re: Practicing the swing feel for Irish music

    Simon, I just listened to your version of LITD on YT. (That is you, right?) Great swinging rhythm right there, if you ask me! Enough to make me want to learn that tune!

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    Registered User foldedpath's Avatar
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    Default Re: Practicing the swing feel for Irish music

    If you're planning on playing with other Irish trad musicians, beware of putting any "swing" in your reels. That's more of an OldTime thing, the John Hartford clip above is a prime example.

    A friend of mine, another mandolin player, used to come over to my house and we'd share tunes together. He came from more of an OldTime background and had learned to play the "Merry Blacksmith" reel with swing. I learned that tune in local Irish sessions where it's played with a more straight-ahead, driving beat. We could never manage to sync up our playing on that tune. It was a train wreck so we just gave up.

    What you learn to deal with instead with Irish reels isn't swing, but how much to emphasize a front-beat or a backbeat in the rhythm. It just depends on the tune, how you feel about it and who you're playing with.

    Here's a good example of how subtle that can be, a live recording of a pub session with Martin Hayes sitting in. I hear this as a slight backbeat, but it's subtle, and someone else might hear this as an emphasis on the first beat. Whatever it is, I wouldn't call it "swing" in the sense it's used in other styles of music.



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    Registered User lowtone2's Avatar
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    Default Re: Practicing the swing feel for Irish music

    That seems not so subtle to me. That's a very pronounced lilt, if you don't like the word swing.

  10. #7

    Default Re: Practicing the swing feel for Irish music

    "Swing" is a tricky thing. Even in "swing" music, the ratio between the long note and the short note is variable. Faster tempos tend to have less swing (lower ratio) than slower tempos, but not always.

    But, changing the rhythm is only one aspect of swing. Accents and articulation also play a part. Playing the downbeats slightly louder than the upbeats also creates swing. Try singing "dig-a, dig-a, dig-a" with swung (long-short) eighth-notes. Then try it with straight eighth-notes. It still "swings". You can swing reels without actually changing the durations of the notes.

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    Default Re: Practicing the swing feel for Irish music

    I'm not sure if it's ok to refer to another music discussion website, but The Session site for Irish music has several interesting threads about swing in Irish traditional music that may be helpful. I'm not trying to stifle the discussion here, and if I'm out of line, please let me know.

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    Registered User Randi Gormley's Avatar
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    Default Re: Practicing the swing feel for Irish music

    Folded Path is aiming you in the right direction; from how i understand the question behind the question, it might be a more complex problem than simply looking for the correct dots that will immediately put you in the right place to play an Irish reel or jig. They don't exist. Written music, to most ITM players, is merely a suggestion for what the tune should be. You should listen to someone singing an Irish lilt, or listen to a piper. There's way more going on there than most instruments can mimic. It would be nice if you could take a type of musical genre -- swing, say, or bluegrass -- and use the same technique to play an entirely different genre. Like playing a mandolin as if it's a guitar. You can do it, but it won't be the same thing. Irish session/instrumental music is, above all, individuals playing in a group -- not like an orchestra, where a group is playing identically -- during a session, everybody is playing the tune as they learned it, and few people learned it from the same source, or refined it the same way, or puts an emphasis on the same bit of pulse. And that's fine, because it's all good. A good alpha player can pull you through the rhythm regardless of where you started out. But put that on paper? Can't be done.
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    Registered User foldedpath's Avatar
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    Default Re: Practicing the swing feel for Irish music

    Maybe this will help illustrate what I was talking about, audio being more relevant than written text. Here's how OldTime players play the Merry Blacksmith reel with swing -- advance to 2:07 in the clip (but he's also playing St. Anne's reel at the beginning with a lot of swing you won't hear in an Irish session):





    Here's how Irish trad players would play Merry Blacksmith in a more straight-ahead feel:





    Ignore the difference in tempos and just listen for the rhythm pulse. There is nothing wrong in the way the OldTime version is being played; that's absolutely appropriate for that style when playing a crossover tune that migrated from Irish into OldTime. But you wouldn't play it that way in an Irish session.

    And you'd probably play it faster too, which is another aspect of this. You can't swing dotted eight notes once the tempos get faster, it tends to flatten out any swing feel. Which brings up an interesting question of whether swing feel developed in OldTime music because the tempos are often slower, and you actually can get some swing in there. But I'm not enough of an ethnomusicologist to know the history.

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    Default Re: Practicing the swing feel for Irish music

    Swinging Irish music. Never underestimate the importance of playing for dancing.


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    Registered User Pete Braccio's Avatar
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    Default Re: Practicing the swing feel for Irish music

    Another word for this idea of swing is "Lift". You might have better luck finding some info using this as a search term instead of swing.

    Basically Irish music is dance music. Lift is the pulse that helps drive the beat that, in turn, drives the dancers. Take a listen to this step dancing to get a sense of this:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_c...ature=emb_logo
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    Default Re: Practicing the swing feel for Irish music

    Old time music is played quite fast, especially for dances. All dancers like to have fun, and a driving fast tempo is what experienced dancers will want.

    We have a large old time community, used to do a lot of dancing, and an Irish community. We often get Irish players in the old time jam, but they rarely capture the old time feel. I doubt the old time players would do well in an Irish jam. It takes time with both musics to get the feel and style of the music down.
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    Default Re: Practicing the swing feel for Irish music

    It's worth being aware that there are regional differences in the amount of "swing" or "lilt" in this music, and how it is created or articulated in Irish (and for that matter Scots) traditional music.

    At a video workshop by Alistair Fraser, a really Scots fiddler, that I saw, he played a tune in about 6 different Scots styles, it was really startling how much of a difference there was. He was probably emphasizing the differences, but it was really apparent. He is a good enough player to be able to consciously play in different traditional styles.

    In attempting to learn how to play some of this music, do be aware of some of those regional differences in style. If different groups, session or bands are playing a bit differently, they may be from different regions. So if you are playing along with different recordings, you may find yourself trying to learn not one style of swing or lilt, but several. Maybe it helps to be aware of that.
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    Default Re: Practicing the swing feel for Irish music

    Quote Originally Posted by Dagger Gordon View Post
    Swinging Irish music. Never underestimate the importance of playing for dancing.


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    Registered User lowtone2's Avatar
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    Default Re: Practicing the swing feel for Irish music

    I've been listening a lot to Marla Fibish lately, and her reels feature a very pronounced swing, or lilt, to my ears. It's tough to analyze but I think it's more about accent and articulation than time values. In fact, the same could be said of jazz swing really. Listening is probably the only way to get it right.

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  23. #17

    Default Re: Practicing the swing feel for Irish music

    I did some digging and found out there really are metronomes that let you model different amounts of swing in the rhythm and I'll be trying out those and see if they help me develop that certain feel that I'm looking for. Trying out technology as a learning aid can't do any harm I suppose. I'll be also taking the advice from many replies about just listening to the music and using accent etc. to mimic swing. Thanks a bunch everyone!

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    Default Re: Practicing the swing feel for Irish music

    I think the key is to slow recordings of music down to where you can play the rhythmic feel. Gradually increase it to whatever speed you like. Pick a few favorites and play along to get them as exact as you can. Then it becomes easier to apply what you learned to other music.

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