What’s a breakdown?

What’s a breakdown?

I have two of them in my repertoire. One of them is, to all appearances, a reel, and indeed we play it before one reel and after another. The other is a march in 2/4 time. I have a handful of recordings of breakdowns, too; they are, to my ear, indistinguishable from reels. I can’t identify a common melodic or rhythmic thread among these tunes. Can anyone enlighten me?

Re: What’s a breakdown?

I’d like to know as well. The best I can suggest is that "breakdown" may not be so much a tune type as a type of dance in the USA. Or is it a particular rhythmic (and un-notatable) way of playing a reel?
Over to you Ceolachan, Will, and other experts.

Re: What’s a breakdown?

Further to my previous post, it appears I’ve got an answer sitting on my bookshelf, on page 11 of The Fiddler’s Fakebook, where it says,
"Breakdown - This term is used rather loosely to refer to a wide range of up-tempo, Old-Time and Bluegrass tunes in duple (2/4) and quadruple (4/4) meter."

Re: What’s a breakdown?

My previous comment was in response to your first, lazyhound; the Fakebook’s answer is one that I’ll buy, and I think that I was confused by the fact that I’ve got a recording of a breakdown by Ashley MacIsaac, and another couple of originals by Emile Benoit, and neither of these two play oldtime or bluegrass. But those tunes - neither of which sound very oldtimey or bluegrassy to my ears, but what do I know? - are the Constitution Breakdown and the Meech Lake Breakdown, which I suspect originated as quirky political references in seach of tunes. (For the nonCanadians in the audience, Meech Lake was the site some talks on proposed amendments to the Canadian Constitution, back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, aimed at getting Quebec to endorse the Canada act. The talks broke down - ha, ha.)

Re: What’s a breakdown?

I have one in 6/8 played a bit like a cross between a 6/8 march and a jig

Re: What’s a breakdown?

A breakdown is a hoedown, similar to a reel, as far as the notes on the page go. But to folks familiar with the differences in the playing of Irish and Old-time, they sound different. 2/4, or 4/4, basically a duple meter with the running eighth’s.

Re: What’s a breakdown?

It happens when your girlfriend or wife leaves you for putting music 1st in your life,,,
You saw that one coming but usually the victim doesn’t.
I heard Jerry Lee Lewis say that the piano was the best wife he ever had…

apologies,

please carry on,

P

Re: What’s a breakdown?

I seem to remember there’s one on an early Fairport Convention album…..MI Motorway Breakdown or something it’s called……

Re: What’s a breakdown?

http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/collections/reed/hrabout.html
Breakdown: instrumental tunes in duple meter (2/4 or 4/4) at a quick dance speed. This general term in the American South is roughly equivalent to the term "reel" elsewhere in the English-speaking world. But it does not imply a particular type of dance; a "breakdown" tune may be used for square dances, longways dances, or other group dances, as well as for solo fancy dancing.
Reels: a class of dance tunes in duple meter (2/4 or 4/4 time), played at a fast tempo. The reel as a dance was originally a "longways" dance with couples forming facing lines, but the reel as a tune class is used for all sorts of group dances. In the American South the reel class has expanded into the large and generic breakdown class of dance tunes.

Re: What’s a breakdown?

Yep, what wyogal posted. That fits my understanding after having played many breakdowns as a bluegrass banjo player for many years.

In 30 years, I’ve never run into a tune that was widely accepted as a breakdown in any meter other than 2/4 or 4/4.

The main aural difference between a bluegrass or old timey breakdown and an Irish reel is the backbeat in the former.

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Re: What’s a breakdown?

It’s funny — I just compared a reel (Diane’s Happiness) and a breakdown (Michael T Wall’s Breakdown) from Emile Benoit’s first album, and said to myself, any fool could tell those tune types apart. Then I stopped to look up Michael T Wall’s Breakdown in the Kelly Russell Collection, and — duh — it’s in 6/8.

Moral of the story: Benoit’s tune titles do not necessarily correspond to the type of tune found within. I should have known that already from his "Farewell’s Reel", which is a lovely little quiet crooked tune mostly in 6/8.

Re: What’s a breakdown?

The area of a game around the ruck!

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Re: What’s a breakdown?

In American Old Time fiddling the term "Breakdown" is used mostly in the Southern mountainous regions of the U.S ranging from the Appalachian chain westward into the Ozarks - with some spill over into the bordering areas.

In these regions the term "Breakdown" means an up-tempo dance tune that’s played mostly by bowing two adjacent strings simultaneously while noting one or the other of’em. The two adjacent string pairs that are bowed will change as the tune’s played.

This technique’s especially effective when the fiddle’s "cross-tuned" usually to ADAE for the key of D or AEAE for the key of A. The effective is to create a louder sound and to impart greater energy to the dancers - who are usually clogging.

In these regions a tune that’s played by using mostly single note sequences to impart the melody and rhythm is often called a "Hornpipe" - without regard the how the term’s used outside these regions - dotted eighth rhythm.

Southern OT fiddlers who prefer to render a tune using mostly single notes sequencesare sometimes referred to as "Hornpipe Fiddlers". This usually a derisive term unless the target’s especially good at it. Probably Cyril Stinnett from Missouri was one of our best - if not the best - American "hornpipe fiddler".

Most OT fiddle tunes combine a bit of both styles of playing. Any of these might be called a Breakdown, or sometimes a Reel, or sometimes even a hornpipes, though usually they just have a name that doesn’t include any of these terms. We don’t really have a rule book… 😉

In Texas and points West the term "Breakdown" has been replaced by the term "Hoedown". I don’t know the origin of the newer term. In Texas - and many of the Prairie states" - it’s too hot to clog so the dance of choice there is the "Two step" that wants a slower tempo than that used for clogging. As dancing to live fiddling as has died off over the years, Texas fiddlers have used the slower tempo of the Hoedown as an opportunity to improvise on the older Breakdown tunes - creating the newer "Texas Style" of contest fiddling.

—OTJ

Re: What’s a breakdown?

"The main aural difference between a bluegrass or old timey breakdown and an Irish reel is the backbeat in the former."

Oh, well, that explains my confusion. You think I can play well enough to capture such subtle differences?

And, Sol Foster - Benoit had a quirky sense of humour, didn’t he? I forget if there’s a jig in 4/4 or a reel in 6/8 on _Vive La Rose_ - one or the other, had me scratching my head for more time than I’d like to admit, wondering if I’d suddenly lost all sense of rhythm.

Re: What’s a breakdown?

The Banjo Breakdown https://thesession.org/tunes/3993 isn’t in 4/4 or 2/4, it’s in 6/8. But then, it’s a bagpipe tune and wouldn’t seem to have much to do with banjos or American music.

Re: What’s a breakdown?

Yeah, anyone can pen a slip jig or waltz and call it a breakdown if they want. But that doesn’t mean that it squares with the most common usage.

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Re: What’s a breakdown?

I’ve had nineteen nervous ones.

Re: What’s a breakdown?

Down yer in Kernow we have The Boscastle Breakdown, first recorded in the field by none other than Richard Dimbleby over 50 years ago. 🙂

Re: What’s a breakdown?

Yeah - Does NIneteenth Nervous Breakdown fit the bill? It’s in 4/4.


And is there any connection with Breakdance?

Re: What’s a breakdown?

In the Northumbrian tradition, they were to be played as fast as possible, for as long as possible until the dancer or the musician broke down.