Finding the lift
No, not the elevator… 😉
I’m talking about the "lift" in Irish music. Many threads over the years on this site have attempted to define some of the terminology in our music - tempo, drive, swing, lift, lilt, groove, etc. Some of these concepts are a bit nebulous, but they are the essence of what makes the music sound "right". We’ve all heard people who don’t know what Irish music should sound like trying to play it. We cringe when we hear a midi player churning away on a tune.
One definition of lift that I have seen on this site sticks with me: ‘Lift: a sense of spacing, usually near higher notes in phases, giving the sense of "jumping in the air".’
I was recently in a session with some wonderful players from around the world, including a number of regulars on the mustard board, as well as a well-known flute player from Ireland. I was marveling at the way each player gets such wonderful lift in their music.
The fiddlers can use an exaggerated bow swipe, the flute players can give a different breath pressure, often followed by a intake of breath, which helps accentuate the lift.
My problem is that I play banjo - and all jokes aside, I find it difficult to put a lot of lift into my music. Drive and swing are not generally an issue. But the only "trick" I have found for generating lift is to cut a high note short by lifting the string off of the fret (or damping it with my hand), and then "jumping" on the next note (this is an idea that is stolen from the flute player taking a breath). Leaving a little space in the tune is important.
A banjo often provides a nice rhythmic drive behind the other instruments, but can also become a "machine gun" sound that is repetitive and annoying. I would love to hear from other banjo and plectrum players about how they think about lift. The plectrum and lack of sustain don’t offer you as much leeway for offering a smooth, lifting note.
Other than the usual suggestions of *where* to put an accented note (3rd beat in a jig, to lift the tune into the next bar, or the 2nd or 4th beat in a reel, etc), I am wondering if people have other techniques (or "tricks") that help them provide lift - on any instrument.