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Thread: Fiddle tunes that don't work on mandolin?

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    Default Fiddle tunes that don't work on mandolin?

    As a long term fiddler but relative newcomer to mandolin, I'm wondering if you find there are tunes that sound great on fiddle but are hard to make work on mandolin? Or do you just have to be really good at tremolo to pull them off? How would you approach e.g. a slow air like this - Night in This Land, by Johnny Cunningham:


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    Default Re: Fiddle tunes that don't work on mandolin?

    Hi Maxr. I see this video was originally posted by Ian Anderson, an internet friend of mine and whose son Paul is, along with Duncan Chisholm, one of Scotland's top traditional fiddlers.

    For what it is worth, when I attempt to record tunes like this for YT or the Mandolin Cafe SAW Group I often fill those spaces where the fiddle sustains a long note by playing arpeggio phrases (a bit like the piano is doing in this example) on guitar or on a second mandolin track. This of course only works when I can record the tune then overdub the backing tracks.

    If playing it on solo mandolin you might try using double stops or drones on your mando. So many of the slow airs are in mandolin-friendly keys, being composed for fiddle. The tunes can also be played on octave to make use of the octave's longer sustain. Here is a link to a version of James Scott Skinner's air Hector The Hero which I recorded on mandolin, octave and guitar. https://youtu.be/lnmXP-8Xhrg

    Hope this is of some use to you.
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    Default Re: Fiddle tunes that don't work on mandolin?

    Quote Originally Posted by John Kelly View Post
    ...when I attempt to record tunes like this for YT or the Mandolin Cafe SAW Group I often fill those spaces where the fiddle sustains a long note by playing arpeggio phrases (a bit like the piano is doing in this example) on guitar or on a second mandolin track. This of course only works when I can record the tune then overdub the backing tracks.
    Hi John - maybe I'll try arpeggiating off slow notes in e.g. this sort of tune as I come to them, and see if that works.

    ...If playing it on solo mandolin you might try using double stops or drones on your mando. So many of the slow airs are in mandolin-friendly keys, being composed for fiddle. The tunes can also be played on octave to make use of the octave's longer sustain. Here is a link to a version of James Scott Skinner's air Hector The Hero which I recorded on mandolin, octave and guitar. https://youtu.be/lnmXP-8Xhrg
    Great - thanks again, Hector is another great tune!

    By the way, I see you're in the Dunoon area. If you see cellist Seylan Baxter at a session or whatever (assuming she still lives in the area), please say hello for me - Max Rankin.

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    Default Re: Fiddle tunes that don't work on mandolin?

    A small world indeed,Max. I have met Seylan at a couple of workshops here over the years when I was playing with the Lochgoilhead Fiddle Workshop at Strachur and Seylan was a good friend of one of our players then. Have not seen her in a long time but she ran excellent workshops.

    Glad you found something that might help you to explore the slow airs on mandolin. I always reckon the fiddle and cello are the perfect instruments for interpreting those lovely tunes. I especially love the playing of husband and wife duo Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas. When my wife passed away three years ago one of the pieces of music we decided on for the service was Tom Anderson's Da Slockit Light, from one of their CDs.
    I'm playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order. - Eric Morecambe

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    Default Re: Fiddle tunes that don't work on mandolin?

    I went to Alasdair's summer fiddle camp in Skye for many years, and latterly I was playing cello, with Seylan one of the tutors. With all due respect to other fiddle teachers, Alasdair has a way of analysing exactly what's happening in tunes that I haven't seen elsewhere, as well as being infectiously enthusiastic (plenty of others do that, of course). I gave up the cello and reverted to fiddle eventually because it became obvious to me that I'm not really a bass accompaniment player. I enjoyed it, but I enjoy playing the tune, harmony to the tune, or higher frequency chords more. I also enjoy The Neil Gow Ensemble in that line of Scottish music - it's a bit more formal sounding, but very interesting.

    All the best, Max

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    Default Re: Fiddle tunes that don't work on mandolin?

    I've always been attracted to Scottish airs on the low strings. I used to (try to) play them on DB. These days I play the cello instead - much easier.

    Of all the instruments I play airs on, mandolin isn't one of them.
    Randal Scott

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    Default Re: Fiddle tunes that don't work on mandolin?

    There are some fiddle tunes that sound best when played at top speed, literally haring along.
    These ones can be played on mandolin or even octave mandolin too, with hammer-ons/pull-offs, but it isnít the same. Just a different feeling.

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    Default Re: Fiddle tunes that don't work on mandolin?

    Quote Originally Posted by John Kelly View Post
    husband and wife duo Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas.
    Not sure that's accurate actually.

    https://folkmama.wordpress.com/2015/...y-may-21-2015/

    Getting back to the subject, I have always played slow fiddle tunes on mandolin, including many that my good friend Duncan Chisholm plays. I had a go at Night In This Land the other night. I thought it worked quite well on mandolin. Some nice chords you can slip in.

    Hope you're well John. I noted elsewhere that you'd been to a music gathering in Cairbaan. My son Neil lives there. He's a good fiddler and piano player.
    David A. Gordon

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    Default Re: Fiddle tunes that don't work on mandolin?

    Quote Originally Posted by catmandu2 View Post
    I've always been attracted to Scottish airs on the low strings. I used to (try to) play them on DB. These days I play the cello instead - much easier...
    Interesting - my old cello teacher reckoned bass was easier in some ways because of the fourths tuning (I know some heroes tune them in 5ths). I had a 5 string c-g-d-a-e cello, the E string means you don't have to play up the dusty end of the board so much

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    Default Re: Fiddle tunes that don't work on mandolin?

    Quote Originally Posted by Dagger Gordon View Post
    Not sure that's accurate actually.

    Yes - Alasdair and Nathalie are both married, but to other people (well, if they were married to the same one that might be ineresting).

    Getting back to the subject, I have always played slow fiddle tunes on mandolin, including many that my good friend Duncan Chisholm plays. I had a go at Night In This Land the other night. I thought it worked quite well on mandolin. Some nice chords you can slip in.

    Hope you're well John. I noted elsewhere that you'd been to a music gathering in Cairbaan. My son Neil lives there. He's a good fiddler and piano player.
    Thanks Dagger - must try that tune with chords.

    OTT, but - more connections. When I was student in Glasgow in the 70s, I worked at the Crinan Hotel every holiday. Cairnbaan was under same ownership at the time. The area between Lochgilphead and Oban had an amazing bohemian social life at the time, with a unique combination of locals, visitors, yachtsmen, fisherman from the local area and the North East, hippies, drifters and artists especially in the summer, and especially around Ardfern. Craignish Castle was reputed to be inhabited for a while by a 'musicians commune' from Edinburgh (seems plausible, I visited there once), and Lunga House at Ardfern was a sort of commune for the staff of the Galley of Lorne pub, some of whom were the hippy scions of aristocratic families (Notice on bar door - 'No dogs, donkeys or ferrets'). There were characters like Boyd Keen, a Captain Pugwash-esque character in a kilt who skippered an MFV yacht called Old 797, owned by a London doctor known as Jack The Quack. 'Swinging London' seemed very straight after that.

    As time went on I lost touch with the area. The question, of course, is 'Is it still like that'?

    Max

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    Default Re: Fiddle tunes that don't work on mandolin?

    Quote Originally Posted by maxr View Post
    Thanks Dagger - must try that tune with chords.

    OTT, but - more connections. When I was student in Glasgow in the 70s, I worked at the Crinan Hotel every holiday. Cairnbaan was under same ownership at the time. The area between Lochgilphead and Oban had an amazing bohemian social life at the time, with a unique combination of locals, visitors, yachtsmen, fisherman from the local area and the North East, hippies, drifters and artists especially in the summer, and especially around Ardfern. Craignish Castle was reputed to be inhabited for a while by a 'musicians commune' from Edinburgh (seems plausible, I visited there once), and Lunga House at Ardfern was a sort of commune for the staff of the Galley of Lorne pub, some of whom were the hippy scions of aristocratic families (Notice on bar door - 'No dogs, donkeys or ferrets'). There were characters like Boyd Keen, a Captain Pugwash-esque character in a kilt who skippered an MFV yacht called Old 797, owned by a London doctor known as Jack The Quack. 'Swinging London' seemed very straight after that.

    As time went on I lost touch with the area. The question, of course, is 'Is it still like that'?

    Max
    I don't think to the same extent, but maybe Neil just hasn't come across it. I did play a gig at Lunga House in the late eighties, and I have no difficulty imagining the scene as you describe it. We had (and to a certain extent still have) a similar scenario in Easter Ross where I live. The hippyish scions of aristocratic families did feature here too. Music was important to many people in those days - especially of a more alternative, 'underground' nature. The Incredible String Band influenced this sort of rural hippyness, I think, living on a farm in the Scottish Borders.

    However I am increasingly seeing more signs of alternative activity, communes and the like, quite often related to things like permaculture and regenerative agriculture. I suspect you see these signs yourself in parts of South West England. And music is often a part of it.
    David A. Gordon

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    Default Re: Fiddle tunes that don't work on mandolin?

    Quote Originally Posted by maxr View Post
    Interesting - my old cello teacher reckoned bass was easier in some ways because of the fourths tuning (I know some heroes tune them in 5ths). I had a 5 string c-g-d-a-e cello, the E string means you don't have to play up the dusty end of the board so much
    Just a matter of mass - more distance/area to cover requiring more shifting.
    Randal Scott

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    Default Re: Fiddle tunes that don't work on mandolin?

    Thanks for update on the marital status of both Alasdair and Natalie, Dagger, and my apologies to both if they by any chance dip into the Mandolin Cafe site!

    As far as mid-Argyll goes, it has always had the reputation of being a sort of happy hunting ground for richer folks (richer than we locals anyway) and the presence of the Crinan Canal draws in many yachtsmen on passage from Loch Fyne to Crinan and then out into the Hebridean waters. Dagger, I wish I had known Neil lived in Cairnbaan - he could have been at the session we had on the Wednesday evening in the hotel during Nigel's course. The fiddle was probably the dominant instrument in the two-day mixed instrument workshop.

    Maxr, your student days in Glasgow came not long after mine (I was in Glasgow University from 1962 till 66) and by the time you were in Crinan working as a student I was teaching in Dunoon where I spent my entire career in the English Department of Dunoon Grammar School. Coincidentally I played then in a local Trad Jazz band, The Sunset Cafe Band, and we played in the Crinan Hotel on three Hogmanay Dances/Parties in the early 1970s - maybe you were there! The small world just gets smaller as we dig up shared acquaintances and events - the benefit of living in such a small but musically fertile country.

    Maybe one day we can all meet up for a few tunes and listen to our versions of slow airs!
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    Default Re: Fiddle tunes that don't work on mandolin?

    I've gotten into debates here about this opinion, but I don't think tremolo is appropriate to extend a note in a slower Irish or Scottish tune. To my ears it sounds like a borrowed technique from Classical or Italian mandolin and not "idiomatic," because no other instrument in the tradition does anything like it.

    So if I wanted to play that air in the YouTube clip, my first choice would be on my octave mandolin. It has much longer sustain than my mandolin, and at the tempo of that recording it's manageable. That particular interpretation is almost at a metered 3/4 pace, with just a few pauses here and there and no very long note extensions. It's doable on an OM, or maybe even a mandolin with better than average sustain.

    There are other Irish and Scottish airs with a much more rubato (irregular) phrasing and much longer extended notes that would be far more difficult to pull off. Which is one reason I started learning "Irish flute" a few years ago, for this and other reasons, although I still play mandolin. For example, I don't see how you'd do something like this on mandolin. Skip ahead to 1:22, although the intro is interesting:





    At the other end of the tempo scale, there are some Scottish strathspeys that I find very difficult to play on mandolin and much easier on flute, because they have these little fast 16th note runs that I can't manage at very fast tempos. On flute you can just slur the notes. For example, I love this King George set but it defeats me on mandolin at anything close to this tempo. I can play the main melody just fine, but not those little runs. Maybe other mandolinists could do this but I sure can't:



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    Default Re: Fiddle tunes that don't work on mandolin?

    Quote Originally Posted by maxr View Post
    ...Or do you just have to be really good at tremolo to pull them off?
    On mandolin or other "plucked" string instrument, it would take incredible speed and sensitivity to emulate the sustaining instrument's playing of airs without sounding baroque or "continental." HD can do it because you can double-time or 'flam' the hammers to achieve the speed and dynamics to execute a satisfactory tremolo for airs -





    But others' mileage prbly varies.
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    Default Re: Fiddle tunes that don't work on mandolin?

    An interesting range of opinions. For me, the answer to 'tremolo sounds too classical' might be something like 'until you hear someone play it who doesn't sound classical'. It's all somewhere on the sliding scale of personal taste, I guess. It's good to see a vid of Jim Couza playing dulcimer - I used to see him regularly in UK at one time. Thanks all!

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    Default Re: Fiddle tunes that don't work on mandolin?

    Quote Originally Posted by maxr View Post
    An interesting range of opinions. For me, the answer to 'tremolo sounds too classical' might be something like 'until you hear someone play it who doesn't sound classical'.
    I'm still waiting to hear someone post a clip of a mandolin playing full tremolo on a slow, rubato air like the one I posted above of Port Na Bpucai who can make it work. I'm open to being educated on this, but I'm talking about the really slow, rubato airs like that one.

    Lest I sound too down on the idea of mandolin family instruments with slow Irish airs, I do think it can work with octave mandolin or bouzouki where there is enough sustain and without tremolo. As an example, here's Tony MacMahon again, playing the slow air version of the "Wounded Hussar," just to get it into your ears.





    And here is that same air from the Sylvain Barou/Ronan Pellan album "Last Days Off Fall" (not a typo), where Ronan Pellan plays a nice long, slow interpretation on bouzouki before Sylvain Barou comes in on Bb flute. I think this works nicely as a way to use a longer-sustaining mandolin family instrument on an Irish or Scottish slow air.



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    Default Re: Fiddle tunes that don't work on mandolin?

    I tend to agree that overdoing tremolo doesn't really work well in Celtic music. Chordal things are nice to fill the sound out, and having enough sustain helps. That's partly why Sobell instruments (fantastic sustain) are so suitable. But here is an Irish air played beautifully, in my view at any rate.

    David A. Gordon

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    Default Re: Fiddle tunes that don't work on mandolin?

    Anyway, as regards slow airs, we've been down this road before, back in April.

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/t...ight=slow+airs
    David A. Gordon

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    Default Re: Fiddle tunes that don't work on mandolin?

    Quote Originally Posted by Dagger Gordon View Post
    Anyway, as regards slow airs, we've been down this road before, back in April.

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/t...ight=slow+airs
    More times than that.

    It's a waste of time (imo) to enumerate the techniques (again and again) that can be used to expand the mando's expressive capabilities because it's not what "mando players" want to hear/read and/or it is too time consuming to learn and integrate the varieties of articulations (from both R and L hands).

    NH

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    Default Re: Fiddle tunes that don't work on mandolin?

    Quote Originally Posted by Dagger Gordon View Post
    I tend to agree that overdoing tremolo doesn't really work well in Celtic music. Chordal things are nice to fill the sound out, and having enough sustain helps. That's partly why Sobell instruments (fantastic sustain) are so suitable. But here is an Irish air played beautifully, in my view at any rate.

    YES! This is what I'm after thanks. Here we have someone playing a slow air in a very convincing way on a short sustain shallow body high pitch F hole mandolin (albeit a really good one), and IMO making a really good job of it, whatever/despite the inherent limitations of the instrument design for this kind of music. OK, so he's a virtuoso, but it gives the rest of us something to work on.

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    Default Re: Fiddle tunes that don't work on mandolin?

    Going back to your original query, Maxr, I have just posted on the SAW Group a version of Night in That Land which you asked about. I played it on mandolin and added guitar backing. Your comments on this non-tremoloed version are very welcome.

    Here is the link: https://youtu.be/3QHsmPNCTkk
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    Default Re: Fiddle tunes that don't work on mandolin?

    Quote Originally Posted by John Kelly View Post
    Going back to your original query, Maxr, I have just posted on the SAW Group a version of Night in That Land which you asked about. I played it on mandolin and added guitar backing. Your comments on this non-tremoloed version are very welcome.

    Here is the link: https://youtu.be/3QHsmPNCTkk
    Thanks very much for that John - very nice! I'm in two minds about tremolo or not, it probably depends more on how it's done. I'm going to try to get this tune working by playing repeated quavers between all the notes of the tune, but quieter than the tune notes. At the moment it needs work - when I do that it sounds like a tune with a wooden leg. I think Johnny Cunningham was an underrated writer, because for me this air is up with the best modern airs and many of the classic ones. I've become aware that the mandolin has some challenges I didn't expect. One is playing in time - on fiddle, you can kind of slide into a note or swell up to it or come into it out of a decoration. Because of all the 'stuff' you can put round a tune on fiddle with the continuous bow sound, you can get away with relatively approximate timing on slow airs, and inaccuracy can sound like 'interpretation'. There's a great word for 'getting away with stuff!'. I find it's much harder on single note mandolin playing (ie the bare tune), because the mandolin has a percussive 'ping' as the string releases, and when I play this tune single notes that shouts out "Hey, this guy just played a note out of time!"

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    Default Re: Fiddle tunes that don't work on mandolin?

    As discussed in that other thread - https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/t...ight=slow+airs the tension between orthodoxy and musicality.

    I don't know about this "tremolo sounds classical" thing. I play more and more classical and I play enough to finally impartially look at all my folky playing. What I see is that classical players, even informally, put a premium on playing musically and beautifully. Folky players (and I am one through and through) put the premium on getting the tune out. I wish folky playing emphasized beauty more.

    As an example, a classical player will more often than not go up the neck on the D string, so as to keep with the timbre of the wound string and not introduce an arbitrary and seemingly jarring contrast using the plain A string. I find this wonderful, and I notice this more and more and it jarrs me more and more.

    I am with Niles that there are many many things we can do to sound more beautiful, more musical, and play more expressively, but in many of genres in which mandolin is common, this aesthetic does not predominate.

    And yea, poorly played or brute force tremolo is boring and jarring too. At the suggestion of Jacob Reuven at a workshop I learned how to moderate the speed of my tremolo with the volume of my tremolo, and increase the expressiveness gigantically.
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    Default Re: Fiddle tunes that don't work on mandolin?

    Jeff, I think we all aspire to play "musically and beautifully."

    I'm not sure what you mean by "orthodoxy and musicality."

    But, for sake of discussion .. yes, we can compare "folk" music and "art" music (we could use more descriptive terms). Although these are broad categories in arts and humanities that can be broached from any manner, we maybe can say here that -

    ya, 'folk' music is typically concerned with tunes, lyrics, etc, songs and dance music

    'art' music is often a different ball of fish

    But for the range of expression of a mandolin look at a group called Astorturf Noise and the mndln player, Sam's approach
    Randal Scott

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