Arranging a set by key

Arranging a set by key

I read at one time that when arranging a set for performance, there are "proper" ways to play the tunes by key. ie A, D, E and then back to A? Is that correct, and if so, what are the "rules"?

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don’t know. are you saying 1 of the tunes is E major (4 sharps)?

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Re: Arranging a set by key

Dave Richardson favours tunes in E major.

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There aren’t any rules really - other than picking tunes that o together. Common ideas might be to lift the key each time so playing a set that goes D, G, A is quite common, less so going the other way.

One other idea that some folk try to follow is to only change one thing at a time ie if you are going from a jig to a reel then don’t change the key. I have heard that one broken lots though and it is not always a disaster.

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E major is a great key.

Certain key changes work better than others. If we were playing a tune in E then good keys to follow it might be A or B.

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There seem to be different conventions on building sets…
A lot of Irish sets seem to change key with each tune, such as D, Em and then G. Usually a set will consist of tunes of the same type (a set of jigs or a set of reels etc.) I’m not sure if there are ‘rules’ as such, but there are definitely common sets of tunes, like Tarbolton/The Longford Collector/The Sailor’s Bonnet or Bonny Kate/Jenny’s Chickens. Presumably these sets are common both because of famous recordings, and that they seem to flow nicely.

Cape Breton sets seem to take a very different approach, combining marches, strathspeys and reels in one set, and varying the mode rather than the key.

There should already be plenty of discussions in the archives here about building sets. Also, in the ‘comments’ section of each tune, people often discuss which tunes they play in a set with the tune in question.

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Sorry for being so dense. By *key* are we referring to the root note (or tonic center) as opposed to a key signature or opposed to a mode?

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I take it to mean "tonic center"

I’m no expert at all, but I can’t stand it when tunes in a set sound like they were just mashed together

somebody said to me once it helps the listener who thinks all ITM sounds alike.

Screw that.

I like to put tunes together that make some sense being played one after the other. if they are in the same key, great. Different keys, still great. I just don’t like to be lurching from one tune to the other

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I think "no cause for alarm" has the idea! And I do mean key signature. I’m sure I read it in one of my husband’s fiddle books, but now can’t find the "fiddlin’ thing"

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Random - I would assume that both are meant. Speaking in this abstract sense, there would be a big difference between a set that went D-A mix-E dorian and one that went Dmix-Amajor-E major, and also between the first set and one that stayed in D major, or moved D dorian, D mix, D major. That is, both signature and tonic are significant here. However, I think that the flow of the tunes is more important than the simple key signature. Certainly you can’t just switch out one E minor tune for another and expect the set to feel the same, but you can easily swap tunes in different keys into the same slot in a set - for example, you might play Maid Behind the Bar/Mulqueen’s/Toss the Feathers, or you might swap Sporting Paddy for Toss the Feathers (or insert it before the latter) and the set wouldn’t be significantly changed. Or you might put the Banshee in at the start, and it would work as well.

Sometimes sets work nicely with changes that would seem weird from the theory point of view. I’ve been having fun lately with various sets that wind up with Musical Priest/Star of Munster (or Bank of Ireland, either one). From the theory perspective, you might expect a falling sensation from that shift from Bm to Am, but you actually get a nice lift, because both tunes lead off with that strong C natural.

As for following E tunes with A or B tunes, that can work, depending on the tune. But you can get a great effect shifting from E to G, and there are lots of good sets that move from E (E minor, mostly) to D.

I suspect that this rule fails mostly because it’s overly simplistic, ignoring the tunes themselves and working with a derived feature of the tunes, the key. One could certainly understand the switch from Musical Priest to Star of Munster in terms of theory, you just have to look at the tune. (Or listen to it - that added for Michael’s sake…)

The only rule of this sort that I can think of that holds true most of the time is that a good A major reel is always a good thing to end up on, and there’s very little that won’t lead you into an A major reel if you try.

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Thanks Nate. Tonic center it is.
I agree that listeners will tend to think the tunes all sound the same when sets are put together based on similarities. Although there’s something to be said for finishing a set in the key where you began. (resolution?)
Sometimes it is possible to put together a set of tunes in one key. But they have to be exceptional tunes & must be played brilliantly.

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Thanks Jon I can appreciate distinctions such as between E minor (aeolian) & E dorian. I just find in session that the backers (no bashing intended) only want the tonic center for their *key*
down & dirty.

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Speaking of sets all in the one key, I’ve heard this set a couple of times - all very definite Dmajor reels, but it doesn’t seem to "need" any key change! 🙂
Humours of Tulla; The Skylark; Roaring Mary

Apparently, Joe Cooley used to play them as a set, according to this comment:
https://thesession.org/tunes/762#comment8841

Maybe it’s not a good idea to immediately follow that with another Dmaj reel, though! ;)

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There are no rules that I’m aware with about playing a set of tunes in the same key. However a set of tunes all in the same key could become boring and to an untrained ear may sound all the same. The ‘whooping and the hollering’ always comes when the key is lifted eg: G to A Consequently I always try and change key in a set.

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There is nothing that drives me up the wall more than a whole set of Dmix jigs!

C into F is a nice change, in fact C and F are just nice keys full stop.

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Free Reed, that’s what I thought myself, until I heard that set!
It’s not my favourite set, by all means… But, it is a surprisingly nice set.
I mention it, cause it was the exception to what I had thought before that, i.e., "sets shouldn’t all be in the same key, cause they’d probably sound boring"…
Apparently, sometimes they don’t!

So, to answer magjam’s question: there ARE rule’s on what works, but they’re made to be broken! ;)

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You can’t have a set with just one key, that’s just a key. Two keys is "a pair of keys"; more could be called "a set of keys", but are usually called "a bunch of keys". On my bunch of keys I have a key for the front door, one for the back door, one for the car, one for the bike lock, and another one that I forget what it’s for. Do any of you guys know?

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With a name like Hammurabi, it could be the ‘key to my heart!!!!!!!!!!!’

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For my ear, many of the traditional tune-sets Irish musicians play just don’t make a lot of sense…some of the old Michael Coleman sets etc.

For sets that really work musically, it seems to me that there are two main approaches:

1) arrange tunes by key/tonal centre

2) pick tunes which melodically flow well one into another

For #1, there are certain key relationships which most always seem to work. One is bumping up a note, for example starting in D and going up to Em. Another common change is starting in G and going up to A/Am. This bumping up a note is just plain effective and is used all the time in pop music.

A key cycle which nearly always works is starting in D, going up to Em, and ending up in G. You can plug nearly any tunes into this formula. The tunes don’t have to work melodically; you can just insert a gap of silence in between tunes even.

An example could be

Monahan reel > Morning Dew > Sally Gardens

#2 involves finding a tune the beginning of which flows melodically from the ending of the previous tune. For example a tune can end on high G, the next tune beginning on high E, and you insert an F# passing tone to smooth out the switch.

Using this approach you can build sets which flow very well melodically but don’t make much sense keywise; in fact I’ve heard very effective sets where all three tunes are in the same mode.

I play a set of jigs that I think flow together very well

The Banner > Sport > Hag with the Money

the change from Sport to Hag being so smooth melodically that oftentimes people don’t realise I’ve changed tunes at first.

Now that’s not to say that approach #1 and # 2 are mutually exclusive; not at all, but finding three tunes which work well both ways would take a lot of work.

Now, old Cape Breton fiddlers had a different approach to building sets, that I call "taking away the sharps".
This involves playing an entire set having the same tonal centre but changing mode, for example

A major > A mixolydian > A dorian

I decided to put together an Irish set using this approach

The Linen Cap > The High Reel > (an A dorian reel I wrote, but most any A dorian reel would work, for example the very common one I can’t think of the title at the moment which begins
E A A A | A B C d | e a a f# | g e d f# |

e A A A | A B C A | B G G G | D G G G |

etc.

It just sounds cool when that first G natural of the High Reel is hit, likewise when that first C natural of the last reel is hit.

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So, many of the traditional tune-sets Irish musicians play just don’t make a lot of sense to you.

But you like the bumping up a note because it’s just plain effective and is used all the time in pop music.

Hmmmmm. I think you should read this:

http://www.gearchange.org/

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Re: Arranging a set by key

Arrange them by name, such as Toss the Feathers, followed by Toss the Feathers. Or the old reliable Fahey’s/Fahey’s/Fahey’s set……

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Bumping up a note is also used by people like Matt Molloy and just about every other top trad player as well.

When I said it was used all the time time in pop music (for example it seems that every single Christian Praise song has to bump up for the final verse) that didn’t mean in exclusion of ITM, but in addition to it.

Yes many of the old Coleman tune-sets make little sense musically, and probably weren’t really intended to.