To Swing or Not to Swing

To Swing or Not to Swing

After a search of words like “swing” and “lift” in discussions, I still have questions. As a western American fiddler, I have a pretty good idea of what swing feels like. As a part-time bluegrasser, I think I know what they mean when they talk about “drive.” My question is, Does any of this relate to “lift?” And how much swing is appropriate for ITM? Is it regional?

Joe

Re: To Swing or Not to Swing

In a few words: ‘Swing’ and ‘drive’ are close cousins of ‘lift’, but not necessarily the same thing. The degree of ‘swing’ IS regional - AND it’s personal AND it’s, to some extent, peculiar to each individual tune.

There, that confused you.

Re: To Swing or Not to Swing

I have been working hard to understand these beautiful elements of the Irish music - and mostly by listening carefully to lots of recordings of the classic great players. It seems to me that there are lots of varying degrees of the amount of swing and lift among the Irish traditional players. Some swing more than others, some lift more than others. Many players will vary their own playing depending on the tune. However, I would also say that the WAY the music is swung is different than the typical American styles such as bluegrass or Jazz. I started off playing jazz, so I understand the “jazz language” I think better than I do the Irish music style still. The differences between the music styles is almost like an accent in a spoken language. The timings are different, and the emphasis points are different. The differences are often subtle. I truly believe the only way to fully understand the Irish traditional music is to listen to it, and listen to it often, and lots of different recordings and performances.
So, that having been said, I’ll try to describe what I understand as being the “lift.” In a reel, thinking of a measure as 4/4, it would be a certain emphasis on the back beats, - on the end of the second and fourth beats of the measure. I think the idea is separate from “swing.” You can have lift without swing and vice versa. Likewise, the drive is yet another separate aspect. I believe “drive” refers to whether a player is pushing the rhythm by playing notes generally at the beginning part of a beat, or whether they are laying back, and playing on the tail-end of a beat. Pushing gives a tune an energetic, driving feel. Laying back can make a tune sound more relaxed, even at a fast tempo.
Also, I’m posting this because I’d like to understand these things better myself, especially with regard to Irish Music, so if anyone has more to add, I’d really like to read it!

All Te Best,

Dirk

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Re: To Swing or Not to Swing

Interesting that you should mention the language/dialect thing dirk, I like to think of tunes as conversations. You can hear the questions/answers/conclusions etc. and also the mood of the conversation. I think there is a link between Irish and Scottish accents/word paseing and the way the music sounds.
One of the best ways for beginners to get lift into their music is to study recordings of tunes sung orally (wack fa-la didle etc!). The tune should sound like that when played on an instrument - thus coming back to the language thing.
I don’t think you can define scientifically what constitutes lift, it’s something that you either put in naturally or you don’t, and every tunes different. This can be a major stumbling block for players coming from classical backgrounds where everything can pretty much be put down on paper.

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Re: To Swing or Not to Swing

I might as well have a go at defining drive;
I’d say all tunes will have some drive but tunes that have lots of drive would tend to favour the accent being at the start and middle of the bar (maybe also the off beat), and the notes will be played precisely on the beat giving a feeling of solidity and perpetual unstoppable rhythm. These are the tunes which get you stomping and whooping.
Swing is generally used to some degree with most reels/jigs even if almost imperceptable, the less swing used the better generally if the lift is there.
All this stuff should happen without any thought or analysis as players become familiar with the music and their instrument.

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Re: To Swing or Not to Swing

I like Ceiliogs “swung”, “dotted” is subtle.
One of my bugbears is people who play reels like they are hornpipes. The think that by playing it heavily dotted, it gets more swing. All it does is lose drive.

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Re: To Swing or Not to Swing

I know the opposite is true, too--playing a hornpipe as if it were a reel--faster is not always better.

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Re: To Swing or Not to Swing

You can play hornpipes fast, as long as you keep them dotted. And you can play reels slow, although when they are slow, they tend to sound better if you play them really straight (Listen to Matt Molloy)

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Re: To Swing or Not to Swing

Of course, you are right, Michael. That very thing occured to me after I made the post…

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Re: To Swing or Not to Swing

Same thing goes for jigs that can sound rediculous when they’re over-swung.
The swing effect can come from subtle stressing and note length within the rythme as well as “dottedness”……or is that getting towards how lift is created…..

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Re: To Swing or Not to Swing

Swing - drive - lift - dotted notes - slow - fast - accents - stress - articulation….

With all due respect to those who have attempted to clarify these issues here:

“Talking about Music is like Dancing about Architecture”
(sorry, can’t attribute this quote properly - it didn’t originate with me)

And as to personal taste, however you choose to define these stress patterns, I would rather hear a tune played mostly:

whatcha DOing monday MORning, wanna EAT a jelly SANDwich?
(the 3 and 7 stress mentioned by another poster)

than

IRish players EMphasize the ALternating SYLlables
(stress on 1 and 5 - the CHUNKa-chunka CHUNKa-chunka rhythm of a fast freight train)

Please note I said “mostly”. I like it when the player makes more interesting combinations and is not so repetitive as to stick doggedly to only one stress pattern for every bar of music throughout the tune. I have also found that certain tunes seem to demand to be played with a different stress pattern than my normative one, so it pays to be flexible.

--

Wendina

Re: To Swing or Not to Swing

Reels go:
Celtic Rangers Celtic Rangers

And Jigs go:
Liverpool Arsenel Liverpool Arsenel
Or rather:
Liv-er-pool-ars-en-ul-liv-er-pool-ars-en-ul

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Re: To Swing or Not to Swing

…or for those who know nothing about British football:
dum-diddlediddlediddle-dum-diddlediddlediddle, and dum-pi-ty-dum-pi-ty-dum-pi-ty- respectively.
By the way Michael, does that mean that reels are Scottish and Jigs are English?

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Re: To Swing or Not to Swing

Some reels are Scottish, some jigs are english.
And all diddly music goes dum de diddly. Ho ho

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Re: To Swing or Not to Swing

At Milltown I learned a reel is

Black‘n Decker,Black’n Decker….
Urs

Re: To Swing or Not to Swing

Michael, you say you don’t like ‘dotted’ reels, because they lose drive, but surely it’s the nature of reels that they have ‘drive’. The dottiness or otherwise is just a regional or instrumental thing. So the the ‘dottiest’ reel might be a Clare-style jig played on a concertina (think, Eel In The Sink by Terry Bingham, say), where a Sligo or Donegal might bye almost straight down the line 4/4 with just a little bounce to give it some lift. But both will (Should) have the drive characteristic of reels. You talk about hornpipes as though they are just dotted reels, but hornpipes have a much more ‘intricate’ feel to them. I despair when I hear someone play a hornpipe just as a dotted 4/4. I think you always need to think about someone dancing to your hornpipe when you play it - then it comes alive. As far as ‘straight’ hornpipes in the American tradition, that’s a different thing altogether, and they are sort of fun, but not Irish music at all.

Re: To Swing or Not to Swing

Ottery, I like what you said, “…you always need to think about someone dancing to your hornpipe when you play it--then it comes alive.” I actually am going to try that myself…

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Re: To Swing or Not to Swing

Ottery
yeah your right about hornpipes. They might be in 4/4 but they’re as far away from reels as slides are to jigs.
And your right that reels have drive by nature. But to make them sound out that drive there has to be something edgy about them. Like breaking into a cantor from a trot. Not faster as such, but you need to hold on to the reins a bit tighter. The player is the rider, the reel, the horse

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Re: To Swing or Not to Swing

Yes, I think that’s right, I hadn’t really ever thought about ‘edginess’ in tunes before, but I must say that not long ago I did go through a phase of thinking some tunes sounded good if played in a smooth and ‘slinky’ manner. (I think I’d been listening to too many of these new-fangled albums like Michael McGoldrisk’s ‘Fused’).Certain tunes like Cottage in the Grove sort of go up and down in an easy manner on the flute and for a while I thought they sounded quite nice like that, but soon I realised although it was pretty, all the excitement had gone out of them.
A lot of the problems people have with reels nowadays is that they get used to playing with guitarists, and get used to the idea of the guitar ‘supplying the rhythm’, so get lulled into just tootling the tune just behind the beat, whereas they should be supplying the melody AND rhythm, and guitar accompaniment should be regarded as the icing on the cake.