Realy Hard Tunes

Realy Hard Tunes

What is the hardest tune that you have ever learned? and was it worth the effort?
I have recently been working on a particularly nasty Scottish piece called the Earl of Hyndsford, it’s a wonderful tune, over 100 years old and in C minor, but it is an absolute finger buster. I’ve worked on it for about five hours over the last week and now I can almost make it through the whole tune once before falling apart.

Re: Realy Hard Tunes

There is a lovely Northumbrian pipes tune called Bill Charlton’s Fancy, a composition of Billy Pigg. It’s lovely on the N/brian pipes, that is. It’s a s*d to play on anything else (though I’ve heard it done OK on an English concertina). But in the spring of 1982 I played it through on whistle, including a speeded-up 4/4 bit that comes at the end, in a folk club in Falkirk, getting it right - or at least, not getting it wrong enough to want to rush out and bury myself. Basically, I pulled it off. Couldn’t do it now, but then, I don’t think I’ve tried since.

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spindizzy — I just listened to this tune through the link you posted.

I am curious, where did you get this tune? Is it contemporary or old, to your knowledge?

It sounds to me like somebody worked awfully hard to construct this tune. I admire you for tackling it — I’m not even sure I find it that ‘attractive’ a tune because it sounds like it works so hard to be so complex — but this is only my own ‘take’ on it and I realize that for other people it might be just the opposite - the more complex the more interesting, and therefore — "the better."

But then, if you are going to go in THAT direction, I don’t really see what the big differene is between something like THIS tune and a couple of the tunes written for Riverdance — which are relatively complex but don’t ‘strain’ as much, to my ear.

Maybe I perceive as one of the "problems" in contemporary tune writing — that so much has been written — one has to go to great lengths to construct something which stands out as new. On the other hand, this might become more of a problem if you are trying to write a whole batch of new tunes — because you want to find something ‘not yet recorded.’

I do hold the same philosophy of songwriting as well, because I’ve been writing songs for many years — and the longer I’ve been doing it — the fewer I write. I only write when I have a compelling idea. There’s so much OUT THERE already — I don’t feel like it’s worth much to create more of the same — so the new songs I write to conclusion are few and far between.


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Re: Realy Hard Tunes

The gigue from McBach’s lute suite in E minor.

Re: Realy Hard Tunes

Fid42, read the comments that go with spindizzy’s difficult tune (Joe Scurfield’s Favourite) - they’ll tell you where it comes from.

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Hi Fid42,

Yes I guess this was was written a bit "tongue in cheek" for Joe (as someone said, read the notes) who was a great man, and a great humorist and and not least a very very good musician.

I’ve put something in the notes about why I’m (still) learning this tune, but perhaps I’m just trying to freak out out the melodeon players.

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I play Bill Charlton’s Fancy on anglo - beat that Nicholas!

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Reel Beatrice in c sharp minor and tico tico both on box. a slow process!

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The hardest tune Iever learnt was Tommy Peoples- ”The
Green fields of Glentown” But theres two I’am afraid I am
going to have to go back to=

Ed Reaveys- ”The Wild swans at Coole”

And a very tricky old Scots Reel -

Archie Menzies ,,,, jim,,

Re: Realy Hard Tunes

It depends on how you mean "hard". For me, there’s a difference between "hard to learn" and "hard to play". And none of them are *particularly* difficult once you’re familiar with them.

A lot of times something is "hard to learn" because it’s in an unfamiliar key (The Curlew in Bmin), or goes in unexpected directions (The elusive D part to Maid at the Spinning Wheel).

Things that are "hard to play" are often things that require some physical dexterity to reach high parts, or whatever. (Fly Fishing Reel in A, or the high parts of Musical Priest)

I find that learning "hard" tunes can be rewarding, but only if they’re tunes that I like and ones that get played on occasion. Learning a tune simply because it’s hard seems like wasted energy to me if you’re never going to play it.

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Yes Richard B, I did Faerie’s Aire and Death Waltz for my grade 6.

I just had a sudden desire to submit it to this site.


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You’ll need the soon to be released extensions to ABC for doing properly by Faerie’s Aire and Death Waltz.

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There are reasons to learn a hard tune that you don’t enjoy or don’t intend to play:

1) It works a technique that is a weak spot for you (eg: 4th-finger rolls, awkward string crossings)

2) It makes learning easier tunes all that much easier

3) Trying to make it INTO something you like is a musical (rather than a purely technical) challenge, that improves you as a musician.

Hence the dozens of books of etudes for classical musicians.

That said, the Faerie’s Aire and Death Waltz is just silly. ;)

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Yes, I’m still struggling with the "Release the penguins!" part….

Ditto what George says. Something I’ve noticed over the years is that, nine times out of ten, "hard" bits become a lot easier if I focus on economy of motion. Less is more, small is beautiful. This works especially well with most bowing "problems." And a big part of keeping things small is relaxing.

When you learn to use only the essential amount of movement, this transfers to every other tune you play. In short, your technique improves across the board.

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