No frets? No sweat…why are we obsessed with being note perfect?

No frets? No sweat…why are we obsessed with being note perfect?

The recent post on removing L frets from a fiddle [whatever they are] was interesting. I admit that when I first started fiddle I used them for about a day [maybe two] and then the whole thing seemed so silly I had to take them off [but I understand their value for kids,no quibble].

There were some great points made in the discussion but it brings to mind a larger question underlying Premierviews’ question which is: I don’t quite understand where our concern with ‘perfect’ tuning enters into trad music? Isn’t that counterproductive? I’d say there aren’t *really* any ‘right’ notes…per se. [I mean sure, you play in tune…but it’s all relative, right?]

For one thing fiddles aren’t evenly tempered which is the beauty of their suitability to mimicing pipes or the human voice.Playing slightly off the note [higher or lower] adds so much to this music! Guitarists etc have such luck [or so I understand]…you’re stuck with frets. But fiddles you can slide and bend notes and all manner of things.

Are ITM teachers [of fiddle] out there somehow misleading students into thinking ITM must sound "good" to be "right"?

I know Caoimhin O Raghallaigh for one has bemoaned the loss of [some] of that strange tuning and playing between notes that perhaps the older players had [at the risk of romanticising this].

What’s wrong with being not note perfect? Listen to P. Kelly, B. Casey and that lot. All sorts of interesting things going on. Pat O’Connor for a more modern example.

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Re: No frets? No sweat…why are we obsessed with being note perfect?

that is, i used strips of masking tape. stupid stuff.

Re: No frets? No sweat…why are we obsessed with being note perfect?

if you are playing as the only melody instrument, then you have more freedom.

but if you are playing with an ensamble, you have to be able to play in tune together.

if you are all playing fiddle, you still have some leeway.

But if you are playing with some other equally tempered instrument, you might not be able to play as freely with the intonation.

So I see it as more of a convention that allows a wider group of people and a wider range of instruments to play together.

Re: No frets? No sweat…why are we obsessed with being note perfect?

I see your point Nate. I suppose that’s the nature of the agreed upon A440….that in itself has an interesting history…maybe others on this list could explain *why* we came to adopt that and the whole issue of "standard’ tuning….I understand the French for instance used a lower tuning [or was it higher] for years and countries had their own standard …Perhaps it was the rise of the orchestra and classical music becoming more of a middle class pursuit that gave rise to the need for conformity. not sure. was not a music history major.

Re: No frets? No sweat…why are we obsessed with being note perfect?

I recall several discussions on this board about people playaing versions/variations of tunes that weren’t note-for-note what someone had determined was "the real tune" and how they wre blasted for destroying the tradition with newfangled modernity. That’s one reason to play note-for-note perfect (barring the occasional wrong fingering or missed run or something, of course). Good players don’t worry about that stuff, but beginners do.
If you’re thinking of being slightly off with your fingers on the fiddle, then it matters and it doesn’t, depending, i think.
Tomy mind, solo instruments have always had more leeway in tuning away from the standard. But if you’ve ever sat next to someone who was slightly flat from yourself, or sharp by a quarter tone and attempted to play the same tune at the same time, you wouldn’t ask why people are obsessed with being note perfect. In a crowd, it makes the music sound muddy (or why do we tune with each other at all?) which can be part of its charm. But if there are only a few people playing, and one is just slightly off, it leaves a feeling that something isn’t right. For musicians with a good ear for relative pitch, it can be painful enough for them to put their instuments down.

Re: No frets? No sweat…why are we obsessed with being note perfect?

Playing notes off pitch is fine if it’s deliberate, controlled and relevant.

Many times it’s accidental (no pun intended), uncontrolled and its claimed virtue is a cover for poor intonation skills.

Re: No frets? No sweat…why are we obsessed with being note perfect?

Never was a truer word written

Re: No frets? No sweat…why are we obsessed with being note perfect?

IMO, its the times we live in.
I was listening to an ‘old fiddle master’ the other day][remastered CD] and a friend commented on how out of tune it was.
The modern ear is trained by MTV, the ubiquitous Synth engines etc.
Being a fiddler and life long devotee of this music I thoroughly enjoy listening to the music of the old masters but i recognise that its a fringe activity.
Mainstream music is note perfect, if you or I wish to join the mainstream with our music we also need to be note perfect.

Its OK scratching alone in a session but put that same fiddling, unaccompanied, on a CD in all its digital glory and every bum note stands out like a sore thumb.

Re: No frets? No sweat…why are we obsessed with being note perfect?

Link has been posted before but
http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=KBONRwNY77c

Lovely music.
A lot of the attraction of this style of playing the tunes comes from playing the notes halfway between, or at least some way off ‘correct’ tuning.

Re: No frets? No sweat…why are we obsessed with being note perfect?

If you are fed up with the frets on your guitar,break out the bottleneck.

Re: No frets? No sweat…why are we obsessed with being note perfect?

"if you or I wish to join the mainstream"

Whew. So glad I don’t have to worry about that. ‘Tradition’ and ‘mainstream’ have very little to do with each other. ;-)

Re: No frets? No sweat…why are we obsessed with being note perfect?

yeah i think this obsession with being in tune is totally overated. i mean listen to any recording of coleman and you realise that it really doesn’t matter. i mean it’s about soul. i’ve been at a masterclass with keeveen o raghallaigh and he said that tuning is totally personal

Re: No frets? No sweat…why are we obsessed with being note perfect?

I agree.

However many wouldn’t.
Actually I think that its a general trend towards playing in a more mainstream style. I’m sure we could mention an association that encourages this. I don’t think its necessarily bad, just an observation. I feel that, with fiddlers in particular, there is a trend away from wild and riskier playing to ‘sanctioned’ ‘acceptable’ playing. I just think something is lost in the process. Can anyone point me towards a fiddler or 2 who have not polished their edges, and in the process becoming a tad blunt?
I see very few fiddlers of the younger generation who I would feel enamoured by. Technically excellent sure, all the right bits in the right places etc. but somehow lacking a certain something. Authenticity perhaps? maybe they are just too young? After all, the fiddlers I am thinking of that I admire were often men of the soil. The older generation. Less concern with the specifics of ‘technique’ and more about drive, energy, the tune.

Id rather listen to Patrick Kelly ,or John Vesey any day.

Re: No frets? No sweat…why are we obsessed with being note perfect?

Good playing is good playing, and most of us recognise it when we hear it, but there’s a sort of a "moral hazard." If we start saying "good intonation doesn’t matter" or "look at this old great old player, he’s out of tune but sounds fantastic," or "I’m playing in this specialised ancient temperament," then it’s human nature to start using these things as excuses and as ways of justifying weaknesses.
It’s much the same thiing as those who claim they "prefer" to play slowly, or claim that’s "the old style" when the blunt truth is, they can’t play up to speed.
Good playing doesn’t necessarily have to be pitch perfect, but let’s not be fooling ourselves.
(I’ve just written a longer version of what 1,000,000bc wrote, haven’t I !)

Re: No frets? No sweat…why are we obsessed with being note perfect?

Intonation along the lines of some predetermined fine-tuning may not matter too much - after all, a lot of players can compensate anyway (even harmonica players). Singers too of course. The problem arises with the occasional cloth-eared type who isn’t listening to anyone else. I regret having to say it but fiddle players are frequent culprits, as are guitar players who fail to detect when they’re drifting out of tune. It’s persistent out-of-tuneness that grates, not the occasional fluff. There’s no such thing as perfect intonation but there is such a thing as sympathetic-to-the-others intonation.

Re: No frets? No sweat…why are we obsessed with being note perfect?

as a regular attender of fiddle-rich sessions I’ve thought and talked quite a lot about the subject

some old-time fiddle players had poor or indifferent intonation, but the best of them compensated for this with brilliance in other aspects of their musical delivery

I think that the reasons for poor intonation might possibly have been the lack of time to practice - many would have had to work long hours - and the damage to hands and fingerscaused by the hard labour or agricultural work they were engaged in

I also think that many of these wonderful players knew that they played a bit out of tune, and if they had had the choice, they would have played in tune if the means to do so had been available to them

Re: No frets? No sweat…why are we obsessed with being note perfect?

A couple more points for consideration ….

Today there are quite a number of people coming into fiddle playing with a background of classical violin (or cello, in my case) playing in orchestras and otherwise, perhaps extending over many years, in which accuracy of intonation has become an integral part of their playing. It isn’t easy for such musicians to adopt a new style of playing in which such accuracy of intonation isn’t deemed essential, or even, in some quarters, undesirable, especially when they’re already trying to cope with more important stylistic considerations such as rhythm, bowing, ornamentation and the like. Perhaps this point could be considered in relation to what millionyears_bc has said in his last post.

The other point is that most people today who hear the Music in sessions are used to hearing other music played live and on recordings with a high level of attention to intonation. To some of these listeners Irish fiddle music being played "out of tune" as part of the style will signal a degree of incompetence which could reflect on the Music and its players in general. That is quite wrong, I know - but there you are … unfortunately there are people like that around, and I’m sorry to say I’ve come across one or two in the classical world :-(

Re: No frets? No sweat…why are we obsessed with being note perfect?

Oh my god! Then I must be amazin at the fiddle - I’m always out of tune. And here was I thinking that I should be doing scales or something. All this time wasted worrying that I wasnt in tune….and all the time I shouldve been thinking ‘it doesnt matter - youre just like Bobby Casey’.. who knew.

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Re: No frets? No sweat…why are we obsessed with being note perfect?

Sure, playing in your own tuning, by yourself is fine. After all, playing "in tune" is more about intervals and hitting the correct intervals, based on the root note. You can play a tune "in tune" in any key that way. Standard tuning exists so that we can play in ensembles. Ever tried to play in an ensemble with highland pipes? Eesh.

Sure, no frets is nice, you can play any note you like. That’s part of the reason vibrato was invented: it makes 25 stringed fret-less instruments sound like they are all playing the same note, when they are really all just hitting super close approximations of the note. But, learn the rules before you break them.

Re: No frets? No sweat…why are we obsessed with being note perfect?

That video of Gavin and Canny, now, sounds like sh*te to me. The two styles are not compatible. You can’t have one in tune and one out of tune, even if deliberately. Not like that. Canny by himself is absolutely brilliant with his tuning, but t just doesn’t work when played alongside Gavin’s tuning. Somebody had to say it. Sorry it was me.

Re: No frets? No sweat…why are we obsessed with being note perfect?

I know one or two fine fiddlers, but, intonation-wise, not always perfect, and if one of them is near me at a session I find myself reaching for the electronic tuner, and SO busy pulling her flute slide in and out and giving me quizzical glances after a couple of test notes, as if it’s one of our faults.
Good intonation is a blessing !

Re: No frets? No sweat…why are we obsessed with being note perfect?

It’s the most difficult thing in the world for two fiddlers, no matter how good and wherever they come from (trad, jazz, classical or whatever), to play in tune with each other. It’s slightly easier with three or four, and when you have larger numbers, as in an orchestra, the problem becomes a lot smaller and the overall sound of the ensemble changes. Which is one reason why concerto soloists make themselves heard above a mass of strings - the soloist is producing a different kind of sound that stands out, more or less independently of the dynamic.

Re: No frets? No sweat…why are we obsessed with being note perfect?

the definition of a minor second………