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Thread: Apparently you can play a slow air on a fretted instrument ...

  1. #1
    Registered User Randi Gormley's Avatar
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    Default Apparently you can play a slow air on a fretted instrument ...

    Musician acquaintance of mine posted this on Facebook.


    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nc7HnCRDa7Q
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    Registered User John Kelly's Avatar
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    Default Re: Apparently you can play a slow air on a fretted instrument ..

    Beautiful performance, and on one of his own instruments, I imagine! He is a very skilled builder.
    I'm playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order. - Eric Morecambe

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    Registered User foldedpath's Avatar
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    Default Re: Apparently you can play a slow air on a fretted instrument ..

    I'm on record here saying the mandolin isn't an ideal instrument for slow airs, but that's mandolin and not longer scale instruments like this with more sustain. That's a great performance. Maybe helped a bit with reverb but still wonderful.

    Some Irish trad guitar players like John Doyle and Randal Bays have recorded slow airs, and that's another fretted instrument with enough sustain to pull it off. Any of our longer scale mando family instruments like OM, mandocello, maybe mandola are good candidates for a true (rubato) slow air like this. If you can get one of these great slow airs in your ear, and can "milk" the sustain to carry over the longer note phrases, then go for it!

  6. #4

    Default Re: Apparently you can play a slow air on a fretted instrument ..

    The late Barney McKenna could play a slow air on mandolin and tenor banjo beautifully.

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    Registered User Jill McAuley's Avatar
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    Default Re: Apparently you can play a slow air on a fretted instrument ..

    Macdara is an amazing young luthier as well as a great musician, always impressed when I hear one of his instruments.
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    Professional Dreamer journeybear's Avatar
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    Default Re: Apparently you can play a slow air on a fretted instrument ..

    'Tis lovely, 'tis swell, but 'tis amplified as well. Plenty of sustain thusly has been gained.

    But that's just my opinion. I could be wrong. - Dennis Miller

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    Registered User lowtone2's Avatar
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    Default Re: Apparently you can play a slow air on a fretted instrument ..

    Irish trad has adopted the instrument, why not adopt one of its most characteristic techniques? Problem solved, sustain for days without electronic trickery!

  12. #8

    Default Re: Apparently you can play a slow air on a fretted instrument ..

    Quote Originally Posted by lowtone2 View Post
    Irish trad has adopted the instrument, why not adopt one of its most characteristic techniques? Problem solved, sustain for days without electronic trickery!
    Hi... A little cryptic. Do I take it you mean tremolo?

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    String-Bending Heretic mandocrucian's Avatar
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    Default Re: Apparently you can play a slow air on a fretted instrument ..

    Of course you can; it just takes a bag of different techniques. First, get rid of the no-sustain F-hole mando. Of course, the lower/bigger you go the more sustain you've got.

    O'Faolain did a good job. However, he could go farther if he started using RH pick+fingers and worked on his LH vibrato. The former would allow him to play doublestops/triplestops with skipped string voicings. He's using a "neck shake" vibrato which is OK, but electric guitar finger vibrato is better (but harder) and also increases sustain (and clarity) by activating the harmonics, not to mention better intonation on m3rds and m6ths and b7s with microbending to just intonation pitch.

    Here's some solo mando (1919 Gibson A) from the third CoMando Sessions compilation cd (2001)

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    Registered User lowtone2's Avatar
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    Default Re: Apparently you can play a slow air on a fretted instrument ..

    Quote Originally Posted by Aidan Crossey View Post
    Hi... A little cryptic. Do I take it you mean tremolo?
    Yes!

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    Default Re: Apparently you can play a slow air on a fretted instrument ..

    The lark in the clear air.

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    Default Re: Apparently you can play a slow air on a fretted instrument ..

    Quote Originally Posted by lowtone2 View Post
    Yes!
    I'm afraid I'm going to have to respectfully disagree with you on that one. I have heard way too many mandolin and banjo players utterly massacre slow airs by using tremolo. I'm willing to be persuaded if you can point me to an example of someone who uses tremolo to play an Irish slow air in a way that doesn't set my teeth on edge. I'm much happier listening to Simon Mayor's playing in the video that Dagger posted yesterday...

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    Michael Reichenbach
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    Default Re: Apparently you can play a slow air on a fretted instrument ..

    What do you think of this
    It's not really a slow Irish tune, but close to it, and I think the tremolo fits and sounds weill.
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    Registered User Frankdolin's Avatar
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    Default Re: Apparently you can play a slow air on a fretted instrument ..

    I think that's beautiful Michael.

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    Default Re: Apparently you can play a slow air on a fretted instrument ..

    Well, Michael, as you say it's not really a slow Irish tune. It was originally a Scottish tune, if I remember correctly and it's a long way removed from big Irish airs such as, say, An Raibh Tú Ag An gCarraig or An Buachaill Caol Dubh etc...

    That said, you clearly play tremolo very well and it clearly works for that particular tune.

    Incidentally, I have been re-listening lately to Eistigh Seal, Matt Cranitch's excellent album of slow airs with his sister Bríd providing piano accompaniment. Now that's a treat for the ears and the soul...

  25. #16

    Default Re: Apparently you can play a slow air on a fretted instrument ..

    Here is Matt playing the two airs I mentioned in the post above...




  26. #17
    Registered User foldedpath's Avatar
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    Default Re: Apparently you can play a slow air on a fretted instrument ..

    Quote Originally Posted by mandoisland View Post
    What do you think of this
    It's not really a slow Irish tune, but close to it, and I think the tremolo fits and sounds weill.
    I think it's fine on that tune, but as you say, that's not an Irish air. Because the melody has been used in a famous Pop tune, I tend to think of it as a nice arrangement of a Pop tune.

    My $.02 opinion on tremolo in Irish/Scottish trad is that I strongly dislike it, because it sounds like a foreign import forced onto the music.

    Irish trad was developed and preserved through hundreds of years on sustaining instruments like the pipes, and later additions like fiddle, whistle, flute, and free reed instruments like concertina and button box accordions. There is also the Irish harp tradition, but the harp doesn't use tremolo. None of the traditional instruments used in Irish trad use a repeating note technique like tremolo. It's a foreign instrumental technique, used in the mandolin musical styles of other countries and Classical music.

    I think it's also also notable that the Irish tradition of Sean-nós song has a "flat" style of singing. There is no vibrato in that vocal style, like you hear in Classical singing or Pop music styles.

    So when I hear tremolo used on a slower Irish tune, it sounds to me like a strolling troubadour from an Italian restaurant gig has wandered into an Irish session. Or maybe a Classical-trained mandolinist who automatically reaches for tremolo as part of the tool kit. It just doesn't sound right to my ear.

    YMMV, it's just my opinion. I would rather hear slow Irish/Scottish tunes played on the mandolin family instruments with good sustain on single plucked notes, like an octave mandolin, or that Simon Mayor mandolin example above. If it can be done without tremolo, then tremolo is superfluous.

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    Registered User John Kelly's Avatar
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    Default Re: Apparently you can play a slow air on a fretted instrument ..

    Morning Has Broken is an old Scots Gaelic air rather than Irish. The name of the tune, Bunessan, comes from a small community on the Isle of Mull in the Inner Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland. The tune is also used in the well-known Christmas hymn Child in a Manger. The Isle of Mull has countless melodies associated with it.
    I am with foldedpath in that I am not really a fan of tremolo on those tunes for the reasons he notes. This is by no means a criticism of your fine playing, Mandoisland; rather just an observation of the topic in this thread. I too am a big fan of the longer mandolin family instruments for their extra sustain. I have several examples of tremolo-less slower tunes/airs on my channel below.
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    Registered User John Kelly's Avatar
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    Default Re: Apparently you can play a slow air on a fretted instrument ..

    Morning Has Broken is an old Scots Gaelic air rather than Irish. The name of the tune, Bunessan, comes from a small community on the Isle of Mull in the Inner Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland. The tune is also used in the well-known Christmas hymn Child in a Manger. The Isle of Mull has countless melodies associated with it.

    Aidan's two examples are fine demos of good Irish airs. The piano accompaniment enhances the tunes and you will hear the combination of solo fiddle and piano used a great deal in Scottish playing.

    I am with foldedpath in that I am not really a fan of tremolo on those tunes for the reasons he notes. This is by no means a criticism of your fine playing, Mandoisland; rather just an observation of the topic in this thread. I too am a big fan of the longer mandolin family instruments for their extra sustain. I have several examples of tremolo-less slower tunes/airs played on octave on my channel below.
    Last edited by John Kelly; Apr-24-2021 at 1:01pm. Reason: additional info
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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Apparently you can play a slow air on a fretted instrument ..

    I play Limerick's Lamentation. I took the phrasing from the playing of Liam O'Flynn, playing it slow and using tremolo for the long notes. I sometimes play it with a flute or whistle as a duet partner, and it will make a grown man cry.

    (Quick aside, I think it is often played kind of fast, and in fact sometimes way too fast.)

    It works. I think it works well. It makes great music.

    I think, instead of looking at a tune as a Scottish tune or an Irish Tune, and just trying it like one might any other wonderful tune, there may be more than a few slow airs played using tremolo to good effect. Some not, of course, being that tremolo does not fit everywhere. But a preconditioning of what is "appropriate" to a genre can now and then get in the way. I guess I am saying that when striking a balance between musicality and authenticity, I lean towards musicality. Especially when playing it on an instrument that is not central to the genre in any case.
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    gardener catmandu2's Avatar
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    Default Re: Apparently you can play a slow air on a fretted instrument ..

    Quote Originally Posted by foldedpath View Post

    I think it's also also notable that the Irish tradition of Sean-nós song has a "flat" style of singing. There is no vibrato in that vocal style, like you hear in Classical singing or Pop music styles.
    .....

    If it can be done without tremolo, then tremolo is superfluous.
    Vibrato seems to be a "modern" device - likely from Italian baroque sources I suppose. Old forms - such as Sean-nós singing, clarsach/wire harps, pipes, hardanger fiddle - use none, or perhaps quite sparingly. Personally, I find slow air and similar slow music (pibroch, lament, etc) particularly evocative when performed in this older, pre-baroque style, and without the use of vibrato/tremolo.

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    Quote Originally Posted by mandocrucian View Post
    O'Faolain did a good job. However, he could go farther if he started using RH pick+fingers and worked on his LH vibrato. The former would allow him to play doublestops/triplestops with skipped string voicings. He's using a "neck shake" vibrato which is OK, but electric guitar finger vibrato is better...
    My guess is, he prefers not to use more vibrato. McMahon also deploys this sparing approach (above) with just a slight amount of 'shake' here and there.

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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Apparently you can play a slow air on a fretted instrument ..

    I think there is a real point to authenticity - so that we can hear what is distinctive and uniquely beautiful about each genre. So we can develop an ear. Absolutely.

    And I will go even a little further I think to the extent possible it is good to play within the confines of a genre, to learn the feel of the music and how to get that feeling down.

    All that said, I play mandolin. And I would not want to be limited to those genres where the mandolin is central, or even a part. There is just too much fantastic music to explore. And if you are playing such music, you have to make accommodations, and/or emulate traditional instruments. Or grab what is uniquely mandolinny (like tremolo), and put it in service.

    I think, really, what is needed is discernment. With experience one can tell the innovative from the disruptive, the exciting and interesting from disrespectful "lawlessness." And by applying discernment one can make judgements about where to balance musicality and authenticity.

    A couple of great examples would be those violating the "rule" that electrical instruments are not traditional, and have no place in traditional music. "Thats not the way they did it." If that was followed religiously we would never have had Steeleye Span or Malicorne, two of my all time favorite bands.

    And my gosh, an electric guitar and effects pedal in traditional music is much more transgressive than tremolo in a slow air.

    Discernment. Discernment and respect. Discernment, good judgement, and respect.
    Last edited by JeffD; Apr-24-2021 at 6:27pm.
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    gardener catmandu2's Avatar
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    Default Re: Apparently you can play a slow air on a fretted instrument ..

    I think that well spells out the interplay of 'expediency vs tradition.' I think what McMahon means, for example, is that - without tradition, things give over to expediency, and once lost it is forever gone.

    Here's a problem of modernity, which tends to obliterate the past.

    So in the pursuit of discernment, it's good to be having this discussion.

    I was listening to an interview with Sakoto Fujii the other day. She says that only modern Western music is taught in Japan (presuming she means - in the schools). This seems to me very sad. But I'm going too far off-topic again..
    Last edited by catmandu2; Apr-24-2021 at 8:20pm.

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  36. #24
    Registered User foldedpath's Avatar
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    Default Re: Apparently you can play a slow air on a fretted instrument ..

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffD View Post
    I think, instead of looking at a tune as a Scottish tune or an Irish Tune, and just trying it like one might any other wonderful tune, there may be more than a few slow airs played using tremolo to good effect. Some not, of course, being that tremolo does not fit everywhere. But a preconditioning of what is "appropriate" to a genre can now and then get in the way. I guess I am saying that when striking a balance between musicality and authenticity, I lean towards musicality. Especially when playing it on an instrument that is not central to the genre in any case.
    Here's the thing... mandolin is still an "outsider" instrument in Irish and Scottish traditional music. It's a newcomer, although I can date a solid reference to a "famous" Irish mandolin player in Ireland back to the 1930's at least. I don't know if he played tremolo or not, but in modern amateur sessions and recordings, it's still something of an outsider instrument. Count the number of prominent Irish mandolin players vs. fiddlers, fluters, or pipers in either local sessions or famous recordings and you'll see what I mean. We're a small handful in this music, and we're still trying to fit in.

    Maybe it doesn't matter if you only play this music at home by yourself. But I think if you want to join an Irish/Scottish session where the occasional slow tune or air is played, you might want to avoid a "foreign" technique like tremolo that could grate on the ears of the other players. Whatever you think personally of the appropriateness of tremolo for the music.

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    gardener catmandu2's Avatar
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    Default Re: Apparently you can play a slow air on a fretted instrument ..

    Oh, and I wanted to add my own opinion though! I follow my ears wherever they go, and musically speaking I like it all. But I grew up in that rock milieu - malicorne and all that weren't going for tradition with all that electric gear, they were rockin. (For me, other than classical guitar and listening/shedding, it was all about rock, then jazz..I've only been in folk music seriously, other than guitar, for less than 20 years, so I like a pure tone <insert guiness smiley-icon> So I'm going backwards.

    But now jazz, ooh.

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