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Thread: Celtic Rhythm Playing

  1. #1
    Registered User tkdboyd's Avatar
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    Default Celtic Rhythm Playing

    I could use some advice on how to approach rhythm playing for Celtic music. Bluegrass was my roots, have been playing some American Old Time (open strumming,etc..) but I don't know anything about how a "Traditionalist" should play rhythm for Celtic music. It seems that most of what I hear is mandolin playing melody and doing a lot of Rhythm playing.

    Am I not listening to the right recordings or ....?

    Also, Celtic music has many more parts than us lazy American Bluegrass players AA/BB couple variations and your done. Any advice on how to keep it straight in your head? Maybe too many pints in my past, but I can barley keep up with the multi AA/BB/CC/CB/AB (slight exaggeration) etc... Sorry for such a long post!

    Any and all advice would be greatly welcomed.

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    Registered User John Flynn's Avatar
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    Default Re: Celtic Rhythm Playing

    Not an expert here, by any means, but I just took a bouzouki workshop this weekend with Roger Landes and he gave us some great pointers on this topic. The answer is not simple, like it is other genres. Here are the highlights, off the top of my head:
    >Don't think of Celtic accompaniment as rhythm. In Celtic music, the rhythm is built into the melody. It doesn't need rhythm accompaniment like old-time or bluegrass does. Think of Celtic accompaniment as counterpoint and embellishment.
    >Learn the following scales in D, G and A: Major, Mixolydian and Dorian
    > Then learn the 1 through 6 chord scales in those keys (the 7 diminished is almost never used in Irish music)
    > Then pick a limited, but varied, list of tunes of different kinds that are regularly called at sessions you attend. Have some jigs, reels, hornpipes and polkas. Learn each melody, even if it is at slow speed. Figure out what key/mode it is in. Get a sense of when your ear tells you chord changes need to occur. Remember some changes are "optional" and the chords you use for each change can be optional. At each "change point" examine the note that signals the change. What chords in the 1-6 for that key that would work? Try them against a recording. Develop options that sound good for you.
    > Try different strumming techniques. Boom-chuck is not a good choice.
    > Finally, like the doctors say, "First do no harm." Tend to play sparsely at first. Don't step on the melody.

    Roger said that if you get a few tunes down like that, after a while it becomes more intuitive and you can do it on the fly.

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    Registered User Jim MacDaniel's Avatar
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    Default Re: Celtic Rhythm Playing

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    Registered User steve V. johnson's Avatar
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    Default Re: Celtic Rhythm Playing

    Well done, John! That's a great functional condensation of what Roger taught!

    I'd add a couple of other things that helped me when I started...

    When you listen to Irish or Scottish tunes, keep your pick in hand and 'strum' (I like to use the outer seam of my pants on my thigh) along with the melody. This will help you to get familiar with the rhythms of the tunes. Again, as John noted, the melodies have everything in 'em already (they don't need us to strum along... :-) ) and big differences between American musics and
    'celtic' musics are in those dance rhythms and how they work.

    If you know some celtic players in your area, get together one-on-one and play a bit. This concentrated exercise will get you a long way into familiarity with how the stuff actually works.

    It often seems that the biggest thing that distinguishes great celtic players is their repertoire, and there seem to be just zillions of tunes to learn, and annoyingly enough, some of them are minute
    variations on others, while many are completely different. So don't worry too much about learning the tunes, it will come as you play more, meet more players, hear more tunes and such.

    If there aren't sessions or players in your area you can find some good materials from Homespun Tapes and Mel Bay. Both publish collections of 'Irish Session Tunes' that include CDs, the melody written on the staff and some chord diagrams (which are -suggestions- for which chords can go with the melody). My favorite is the one by whistle player L.E. McCullough on Homespun called "121 Favorite Irish Session Tunes". These things are good for learning and practice.

    But if you have Irish sessions nearby, go and meet the folks and listen a bit and I'll bet that they'll invite you to join in pretty quickly.

    Welcome to the tunes!

    stv
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    String-Bending Heretic mandocrucian's Avatar
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    Default Re: Celtic Rhythm Playing

    Mandocrucian's Digest issues #24 & 25 article (lengthy), "The Art of Backing a Fiddle or Other High Register Instrument". 80 min Instructional CD with all the notated example plus more, including play-along tracks also available. See catalog link below for more info.

    NH

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    Default Re: Celtic Rhythm Playing

    Mel Bay's Celtic Back Up by Chris Smith is a handy resource.

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    Registered User John Flynn's Avatar
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    Default Re: Celtic Rhythm Playing

    Quote Originally Posted by Eddie Sheehy View Post
    Mel Bay's Celtic Back Up by Chris Smith is a handy resource.
    I would sure like for someone to give me a different perspective on that book. I tried and tried to get into it, but it was very slow going. I finally gave up on it. I'd love to be able to get more value out of it. By contrast, what Roger Landes taught on the same topic in his workshop seemed very straightforward and understandable. Anyone's ideas about getting one's head around the Smith book would be appreciated.

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    Registered amuser Gusten's Avatar
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    Default Re: Celtic Rhythm Playing

    My big inspiration to ITM backing is John Doyle. Plays guitar (dropped-D tuning), so not mandolin or the alike, but the rhythm can be applied to the mandolin. I suppose I'm not very die-hard tradition oriented, as Doyle's playing sounds more modern, but that's the way I enjoy irish music. In any case, I think he is worth looking into, or at least worth mentioning in a thread called "celtic rhythm playing".
    Gusten
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    Default Re: Celtic Rhythm Playing

    I haven't gotten into the Chris Smith book too deeply. I like mixing variations - strun/cross-pick/counterpoint/base-run etc. I've hot John's book on order so hopefully I'll also find some gems in there... wished I could have been at the Tionol - maybe next year.

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    Smile Re: Celtic Rhythm Playing

    There's a very good book for sale over here in Wales called: The Irish Mandolin by Padraig Carroll. You must be able to get it on line.
    Good luck.

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    Default Re: Celtic Rhythm Playing

    When I play rythmn at sessions here, once I have the chordal progression where I like it, I start emulating, playing off the bodhran player. He and I sit next to each other(he is excellent by the way, able to play tasteful rythmnic licks that really add to the pulse). When the stars and moon are aligned right, and he and I find that groove, we play off each other which is totally fun. You can tell when we have it right, because the melody instruments pick up on it and take energy from it. It's very synergistic, when it all comes together. The other thing that happens is the listeners are rapt and drawn in, spontaneously reacting, whether body movement, head movement, or dancing feet.
    Last edited by Harlan_55; Apr-11-2009 at 9:32am. Reason: spelling

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    Registered amuser Gusten's Avatar
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    Default Re: Celtic Rhythm Playing

    Harlan, you are spot on there! Emulating a bodhran is a great way to "learn" irish rythm, and when you do it live... It can be magic! And yes, it seems like it can give a lift to all melody players as well.

    I don't do that enough, even if it's one of the things I think of the most when just sitting and pondering on my own about how irish guitar "should" be played. I'm glad you brought it up!
    Gusten
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    Registered User Perry's Avatar
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    Default Re: Celtic Rhythm Playing

    I would sure like for someone to give me a different perspective on that book. I tried and tried to get into it, but it was very slow going...... Anyone's ideas about getting one's head around the Smith book would be appreciated
    .

    I think the 15 point plan that Chris Smith lays out in his book has loads of great, digestible ideas.

    Listening to John Doyle's strumming hand is an inspiration too.

    On a side note someone told me the Paul Brady/Andy Irvine album is back in print?

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    Registered User steve V. johnson's Avatar
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    Default Re: Celtic Rhythm Playing

    I'm editing the audio recording I have of the first half of Roger Landes' workshop on Irish accompaniment (on bouzouki, but the principles apply across the board), and I'm looking for
    a very concise and comprehensive comment he made. When I find it I'll post it here.

    My version is pretty much... Remember that the melodists don't need you, and don't get in the way.

    Roger said that Randal Bays' 'First Rule' of accompaniment is 'First, do no harm.'
    (Hmmm... from the Hippocratic Oath.)

    stv
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    Registered User tkdboyd's Avatar
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    Default Re: Celtic Rhythm Playing

    Quote Originally Posted by sliabhstv View Post
    Remember that the melodists don't need you, and don't get in the way.

    Roger said that Randal Bays' 'First Rule' of accompaniment is 'First, do no harm.'
    (Hmmm... from the Hippocratic Oath.)

    stv
    This is my thought process, but they are asking for accompaniment, and I am trying to blend "softly" and yet they keep asking for more volume, and I don't feel/hear it to be correct. Three ladies with angelic voices that can do amazing harmonies. And I agree with the 'First, do no harm.' but to be subtle and heard is not an easy task!

    Thank you all for the advice!

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    Default Re: Celtic Rhythm Playing

    I've been playing Irish music for 30 years and have been playing accompaniment (guitar and bouzouki) for about 20 of those and definitely, "First, do no harm" is something I believe in very firmly.

    But...

    ...one thing I've learned in those years of playing is that every melody player you'll ever accompany has their own definition of "harm". Some people want Alec Finn, some people want John Doyle. I think that to do my job right, sometimes I need to be able to lay waaaaay back sometimes I need to be able to strum it loud and proud. It depends on who I'm playing with, what I think they're feeling, what I'm feeling and where we're playing.

    Steve Cooney said in an interview that I read that when he first started backing muscly musicians like Séamus Begley back in west Kerry, he was surprised that he was constantly getting good-naturedly urged "Tarraing, a bhastairt!", meaning "Pull it, you b******d!" i.e. they wanted him to play in a hard-driving style.

    The problem with the hard driving styles of Steve Cooney, John Doyle, Donough Hennessy and others is generally that the imitators of those musicians don't know when not to do it. Any of those three examples is a gifted musician and they can play very non-drivingly when they need to. The imitators often can't, don't or won't. And the imitators frequently mistake mere volume for drive.

    Now, the other side of that equation is that if you only play in a restrained style all the time, you shouldn't be surprised if your contribution to a big driving session, or playing for set dancers or a manic Northern fiddler is met with polite indifference.

    And I have to say, in the absence of prior arrangements, one backer at a time is plenty for me. The big wash of capoed, open, droney non-chords and counter-melodies coming from a plethora of bouzoukis and DADGAD guitars is only marginally less offensive to my ears than a wall of full-on chords coming from an over-excited bunch of John Doyle wannabes.

    As to advice for someone getting into this, the best thing I can offer is, learn the melodies (from listening to players in the tradition, not Bluegrass interpretations of "Celtic" music - same notes, much different feel). The melodies are what should inform everything you do as an accompanist because they contain the implicit harmonies, and if played right, they also contain the rhythm.

    Sorry, I do go on a bit...
    Pádraig

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    but that's just me Bertram Henze's Avatar
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    Default Re: Celtic Rhythm Playing

    Quote Originally Posted by POB View Post
    ...one thing I've learned in those years of playing is that every melody player you'll ever accompany has their own definition of "harm".
    Confirming that - there also seems to be a difference between flexible 100% session players and those who play in one or several groups; the latter can get very picky and even derailed if you happen to not play the rehearsed arrangement they are used to. If you're lucky, they take their accompanists along to the session and you can detect their preference in advance.

    When I play melody, I trained myself to be oblivious of what accompanists do and just stubbornly plod along. The only thing that gets me derailed are accompanists asking what chords they should play (I cannot talk while playing).

    Bertram
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    Default Re: Celtic Rhythm Playing

    Quote Originally Posted by Bertram Henze View Post
    The only thing that gets me derailed are accompanists asking what chords they should play (I cannot talk while playing).

    Bertram
    Me neither. And for everyone's sake, it's probably just as well that I can't when asked that question...

    I may have told this story before, but I actually once had a guitar player sit down behind me and bellow in my ear that he only needed me to shout the chords for reels because jigs are in E minor. Where do we even begin to deal with that one???
    Pádraig

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    but that's just me Bertram Henze's Avatar
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    Default Re: Celtic Rhythm Playing

    Quote Originally Posted by POB View Post
    I actually once had a guitar player sit down behind me and bellow in my ear that he only needed me to shout the chords for reels because jigs are in E minor. Where do we even begin to deal with that one???
    ...that's a new definition of 'jig' I wasn't previously aware of. I'd direct him to that session where they play Morrison's all night long.

    Bertram
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    Registered User steve V. johnson's Avatar
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    Default Re: Celtic Rhythm Playing

    tkdboyd! I just noticed, you're right up the road from me! Wow, great, I can hear you some time!

    And you wrote, "This is my thought process, but they are asking for accompaniment, and I am trying to blend "softly" and yet they keep asking for more volume, and I don't feel/hear it to be correct. Three ladies with angelic voices that can do amazing harmonies."

    Well, there's another rule, too: Give the client what they want. So clearly, they want something more, so your approach, which I will call 'ease on up', seems good, so just keep turning it up, I guess.

    stv
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    Default Re: Celtic Rhythm Playing

    Some good stuff guys. I particularly enjoyed POB's post 04-13 at 2.20

    Check out Jim Murray's playing. I've seen him with McGoldrick a couple of times and also with Seamus Begley, with whom he's made an album which in my view is better than the one with Steve Cooney.

    Not rhythm playing, but I wish Cooney would do a CD of this kind of stuff.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xInuesYrUPA
    David A. Gordon

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    Default Re: Celtic Rhythm Playing

    Some good stuff guys. I particularly enjoyed POB's post 04-13 at 2.20

    Check out Jim Murray's playing. I've seen him with McGoldrick a couple of times and also with Seamus Begley, with whom he's made an album which in my view is better than the one with Steve Cooney.

    This is not rhythm playing, but I wish Cooney would do a CD of this kind of stuff.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xInuesYrUPA
    David A. Gordon

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    Mandolin tragic Graham McDonald's Avatar
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    Default Re: Celtic Rhythm Playing

    It is very simple. Find every recording of the Bothy Band and listen to what Micheal O Dhomhnaill is doing on guitar and Donal Lunny is playing on the bouzouki.

    For a quieter side of Micheal O Dhomhnaill have a listen to Promenade with Kevin Burke and for sheer genius of bouzouki playing have a listen to Lunny's work on "Gan Dha Phingin Spre (No Dowry)" by singer Maighread Ni Dhomhnaill (Micheal's sister) on Gael Linn,CEFCD 152

    I just don't think anyone has done it better.

    cheers

    graham

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