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Thread: What is a tune?

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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    This is excerpted from the forward I wrote for a friend's newly published collection of tunes.

    I thought it appropriate because there have been several threads recently about music that is hard to enjoy or appreciate on the first listening.


    "A tune tells us a story. The better the story and the better its telling, the better the tune. Great tunes tell unforgettable, timeless stories, that delight us anew with each hearing. I am not talking about the feelings and experiences of our lives evoked by the tune. I am referring to something deeper - the way the tune is about itself. A great tune takes us on a unique little acoustic journey - a travel story told in the language of melody and rhythm - without necessary reference to anything outside of itself. And the more fun the journey, the better the tune.

    The journey of a tune should of course surprise and delight, by providing interesting and unforeseen elements. But in order to surprise us the tune needs to establish expectations - which are then in some way pierced. Finding an enchanting balance between establishing expectations and piercing them - that is what separates a great tune from a merely good tune. In a great tune, we respond upon first hearing as if we have always known it. You don’t have to “break in” a great tune. It is like a brand new “old friend”, talking to us about new and exciting things, but talking familiarly, confidently, in a language we understand, have always understood. Somehow it is new and simultaneously very old - fresh and even strange perhaps, while being intimate and conversant with our personal universe of musical experiences."
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    great job. nice thoughtful summary, especially the part about establishing expectations, most listeners dont get that deep into a song. kudos to you.

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    Distressed Model John Ritchhart's Avatar
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    The "Fiddler's Reply" talks to this a bit. In response to the statement made by the uninitated that all fiddle tunes sound alike.

    The Fiddler’s Reply
    Joel Mabus

    It's a question that I've heard before
    And all that I can say to that is -- no sir!
    No sir!

    I have played a tune in the dark on the porch of a prairie farm –
    Summer rain coming down so straight you could set your chair right there
    On the edge of the porch and keep bone dry.
    Such straight regular rain, they say, is good for the crop.
    Good for tunes too, I say,
    Deep in the night, listening to the corn.

    And I remember a tune one winter afternoon up north, fiddling after chores.
    The sun staring in through a wet kitchen window –
    All ice outside, all steam inside.
    My chair tips back; the woodstove snaps loudly,
    Popping irregular time to the steppy tunes,
    Flannel and coffee, bisquits and boots.

    I've played tunes on a fine spring evening at the town hall dance
    Where everybody shows,
    Joking with the caller, shaking off winter,
    Stretching limbs, swapping partners for neighbors.
    Good healthy tempos break the first real sweat.
    Long lines forward and back and -- Look! Outside!
    The sun's still up on a fine green evening !

    And then there is a tune I know that plays just like a cold November morning.
    Sober. #Inside, looking out.
    A gray air that wants chords unresolved –
    Turning into the mist like so many leaves, riven and broken,
    Returning from sky to earth after fall --The undeniable fall -- calls them home.

    I have played tunes -- not songs.
    Not voiceable, obvious word-infested songs -- but tunes,
    Each tune a puzzle, each one a box with its own proud secret.
    Each its own smile sweetly shown -- each tune is a lesson pondered.
    Pattern -- at once familiar yet unique --Like snow crystals -- like footprints –
    Like the way the world is
    right
    now.

    That's what a tune is, and, no sir.
    No sir.
    They don't all sound the same to me.
    We few, we happy few.

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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by (jbrwky @ Mar. 02 2008, 09:31)
    -- at once familiar yet unique --
    That's what I was driving at.

    To the inexperienced all the tunes may sound the same. And even to a musician, a given tune may be so much like the other tunes of its genre that it is merely a collection of musical cliche and uninteresting.


    The other side of the coin is music so new and unfamiliar that it has few if any references in our musical experience, and is hard to enjoy on first hearing.

    A great tune is a precarious balance it seems to me.



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    I've been thinking a lot about this thread without adding anything yet. JeffD's original posts, and The Fiddler's Reply sum it all up.

    What has been on my mind is the idea of Beautiful Form. A I IV V progression is only "boring" if one chooses to see it that way. It comes up in Bach, as well as Bill, or Berry. A form that can take so many shapes is beautiful to me. To others it might all sound alike, but those opinions do not make the form less beautiful in the sense I'm getting at.

    The sunset is daily cliche if you choose to think of it that way. I try to catch each one (and the sunrise, too) ... and no sir, they don 't all look the same to me.

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    A song is something you hear on AM radio or MTV...a tune is something you hear in your heart.

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    Registered User Tim's Avatar
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    The risk I see here is the dismissive definition of a song becoming something someone else hears in their heart.

    Artistic expression to me is a form of communication between the artist and the "audience". #Because of the differences in backgrounds (life experience) not everyone will relate to the conversation. #That doesn't make the conversation less relevent.
    <Insert witty saying here>

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    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Sometimes (Mozart is about the best example) I can listen and know what's coming next, but I'm almost always wrong, something else comes next instead, but as soon as I've heard it, I say to myself "I knew that was coming next".

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    Moderator JEStanek's Avatar
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    John,
    I know that very feeling. I hear that in some good Old Time tunes too.... I wonder if it has to do with my parents listening to Mozart/Bach/Beethoven when I was a wee lad or if they were just that good at writing music...

    Jamie
    There are two things to aim at in life: first, to get what you want; and, after that, to enjoy it. Only the wisest of mankind achieve the second. Logan Pearsall Smith, 1865 - 1946

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    sunburst, that's a nice example. I've had that experience, and I'm sure many have.

    But not every expression is "meaningful", in the sense that it closes the circuit of communication. If anything publicly expressed is relevant, then the ravings of a mad man on the corner are no different than the prose of Shakespeare. There is clearly a distinction to be made, even if we cannot draw a clear line dividing one from the other. But then along came Joyce ...

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    Mike Parks woodwizard's Avatar
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    Sam Bush says a "tune" is an instrumenmtal and song has words.
    I Pick, Therefore I Grin! ... "Good Music Any OLD-TIME"

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    Mike Parks woodwizard's Avatar
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    Expanding a little further: A song can be played as an instrumental. But what's a "diddy" ? I think I've heard Mike Compton say something like... "And this next little diddy is..."
    I Pick, Therefore I Grin! ... "Good Music Any OLD-TIME"

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    Registered User Tim's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by (woodwizard @ Mar. 04 2008, 13:47)
    Expanding a little further: A song can be played as an instrumental. But what's a "diddy" ? I think I've heard Mike Compton say something like... "And this next little diddy is..." #
    From an online dictionary:

    ditty (a short simple song (or the words of a poem intended to be sung))
    <Insert witty saying here>

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    write more songs Bob Wiegers's Avatar
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    thanks for sharing JeffD. I hope you dont mind that I added it to my blog so I wouldnt forget it.

    a good coversation, some of which reminds me of the search for meaning in the text, from back in my literary studies days.
    Original acoustic music - Solo Octave Mandolin - Original Folk Music

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    Registered User Tim's Avatar
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    While there are distinctions between those ravings of a madman and the writings of Shakespear, to the person not in the loop they look a lot alike. #I'm not advocating that extreme position that everything has value, I only caution about the easy dismissal of stuff we don't like.

    On a side note, I do advocate the view that the value of anything artistic is only to the extent it "communicates" to someone. #As to whether the artist should try to communicate or just do what he/she likes and hope it speaks to someone else...
    <Insert witty saying here>

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    I hope you don't mind if I jump in (although I haven't read everything yet). I like to name my songs (instrumenmtals) after what they remind me of or make me picture in my mind. There's a Chris Thile tune called "Hop the Fence" and that particular song makes you picture someone or something hopping a fence. There's a song of mine I wrote that I named "Skipping Stairs" because that is what the tune remindes me of.

    A little off the subject but I thought I would put a thought on here.

    Shortly put I think a tune is an instrumental that makes you picture what your mind thinks is happening or is being said throughout the song.

    thanks.
    Josh Palmer

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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by (Tim @ Mar. 04 2008, 17:19)
    I do advocate the view that the value of anything artistic is only to the extent it "communicates" to someone.
    And I would add, that to communicate with someone there needs to be a common language. You can say something unique, something I never heard before, but you have to tell it to me in a language I understand.
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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by (mandopickin4Him @ Mar. 04 2008, 17:38)
    Shortly put I think a tune is an instrumental that makes you picture what your mind thinks is happening or is being said throughout the song.
    I agree, but that leaves out all the amazing tunes that don't refer to anything outside themselves. They just talk to you in their own way.

    Take something like Harvest Home Hornpipe. The whole thing fits together like a little machine. Remove any part and the tune is less. It progresses almost inevitably, like a clock spring unwinding, and yet it is delightfull along the way.

    Take a great tune like Julia Delaney. The A part kind of calls to the B part the way that Winter aches for Spring. (OK I am getting too poetic here, but you know what I mean.)

    Take Wild Rose of the Mountain - that tune is one of the most perfect little journeys. And what is even cooler is that not only does the A part need the B part, but the B part makes you yearn for the A part again. So the whole tune never wants to end. It never ends, its just stops.

    Another great tune, Maggie Brown's Favorite (aka Planxty Maggie Brown), has a rather pedestrian A part, nice and all but it doesn't even hit at the wonderful B part to come. The B part is a galloping stunner, that compliments the A part in a way nobody could have expected, but that you say upon hearing it, yes - thats perfect. The whole tune walks and then rides.

    Or in other genres, take an amazing blues tune, some classic 12 bar blues things. You know darned well where its going but you also know you cannot but listen to the end. You let each part make you want the next part. When I hear blues I don't so much listen to it, I like give in to it.

    My words are not helping things at all here, I wish I could better explain it. But some tunes, upon first hearing you say, whoa, where have you been all my life.



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