an approach to variations in Irish music

an approach to variations in Irish music

Seems that to a lot of people new to ITM the idea of variation is a mysterious Dark Art.

To shed some light for beginners I’ve posted a couple videos on YouTube.

This one is variations on the first phrase of Sean Bui on the whistle:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hyj5LMH6aOI


This one is variations on the first phrase of The Earl’s Chair on the uilleann pipes:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X6fmINqse5Y

Re: an approach to variations in Irish music

The imitation of a flute player taking a breath in the Chair makes the melody sound like a theme song from some 70s TV drama. Rich Man, Poor Man, I think. ;)

Nice primer, Rich. The Dance Music of Willie Clancy showed me how all this was done when I was getting started, it’s recommended reading for anyone interested in varry-a-shins.

Didn’t someone in a review describe Tim Britton’s recorded version of the Earl’s Chair as utterly unlistenable, or words to that effect? Perhaps that’d serve as a counterexample, of taste anyway.

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But aren’t they just ornamentations? Variations according to my teacher are how you change the melody - ever so slightly, maybe to emphasise your feeling about a tune, or a phrase in the tune. Ornamentations are just the little twiddly bits. Maybe you can use all your ornaments to produce variation, but going by what I’ve been taught, what I’ve just seen is ornamentation.

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Claire, I’d like to see if you or your teacher can come up with a specific definition of what is tune, what is ornament, what is variation and what is version.

My opinion is that the blurring of these so called boundaries is one of the great strengths of this music.

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Come on, llig, that’s not so tough. Variation is varying the melody (different notes)—-you play the melody differently the second time through than you did the first time, that’s a variation. Ornaments are things like cuts and triplets and rolls.

Now what’s really the tune, whether there is one true version at all, that’s another kettle of fish, a different argument. I think Claire was asking about the former.

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Actually, maybe you could play the same notes and articulate them differently—-different bowing on a fiddle, different stops for breath on a flute—-perhaps that would be a variation too. Hmm.

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So if I play a little triplen run the second time through I’m not playing different notes than the first time?

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Breandan Breatnach used the term ‘ornamentation’ to cover what he termed ‘embellishment’ (i.e. cuts, rolls, cranns etc) and melodic variation. So the boundaries are blurred with respect to terminology as well as the concepts themselves.

I think these videos demonstrate fairly well a range of devices with which variations can built up - adding ‘twiddles’ (to use a neutral term) in various places, adding, subtracting, extending, shortening and substituting notes. However, by focusing on one very short phrase, they decontextualise these devices somewhat. It woud be useful for there to be a ‘part 2’, where some of the devices are demonstrated in context (a whole rendition of an A-part, say, at a slightly faster speed), and used to develop larger-scale variations.

"The imitation of a flute player taking a breath in the Chair makes the melody sound like a theme song from some 70s TV drama. Rich Man, Poor Man, I think."

That’s the problem with only focusing on the minutiae. used once or twice in 3 iterations of the whole tune, it could sound very tasteful.

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Okay, I see your point. They’re different notes. But I think of something like a triplet run as more related to technique—-it has to be executed in a certain way (or several ways), within a certain time frame that’s linked to the rhythm. I think of variations as related mainly to melody—-go down a fifth from the usual note, for example. And variations can include ornaments, but not usually the other way around.

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"Variation is varying the melody (different notes) ….. maybe you could play the same notes and articulate them differently"

Isn’t that just what these videos demonstrate? Admittedly, they don’t take it very far, but they show the basic elements of both those things.

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It is also worth noting that this player (Does anyone know the identity of this man?) has cuts and taps ingrained in his technique, as a way of separating and articulating notes, and does not refer to them as variations or make any direct reference to them.

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So I’m right then and so is my teacher. Mr llig should just keep fiddling with his stick. I certainly won’t be swallowing anything he comes up with any more.

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Ha ha, good fun. Yes, if I ornament the tune one way the first time through, then a second way the second time through, are they different ornaments, or have I varied the tune?

Llig, I think you once called it ‘screwing around with the tune’ as a general way of referring to these things! ;-)

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Hang on, there’s agreement here that the lines are blured. What are your definitions then?

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Surely there should be rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty?

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All my variations are within plus or minus 0.042 degrees of the tune itself….



:-8

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Claire, just because some disagree with Llig doesn’t mean he’s wrong. But everything he says isn’t the absolute truth, either.

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Best ask Werner O’Heisenberg, Claire.

Or perhaps not.

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As for what’s a variation and what’s an ornament, surely we can say that playing a note a fifth below where it’s usually played is a variation and *not* an ornament, right?

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Yes.

A roll is an ornament. But playing a roll first time round, and not playing it second time round is a variation.

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"As for what’s a variation and what’s an ornament, surely we can say that playing a note a fifth below where it’s usually played is a variation and *not* an ornament, right?"

What if it’s a very short note? And what if you usually play the note a fifth below? Is that then a version? What if you usually roll a particular note, and then you don’t? Is the lack of an ornament an ornament in itself or is it a variation as ragaman says?

What if you do two slow rolls back to back where there is usually 6 distinct notes in a jig?

What if on that fifth note difference you talk of you play a roll on a different note instead?

etc etc

Are you gonna sit down and put every single eventuality in a category on a case by case procedure? There’s thousands and thousands of ‘em mind.

What do you gain from having a definition?

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Listen to Moloney on Tin Whistles (Moloney and Potts). He harmonises (brilliantly, in my opinion). So what’s that? It’s not variation, or ornamentation. Must be harmonisation then.

Liz Carroll improvises, but it doesn’t sound like improv. I think.

What do you think?

Max

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Re: an approach to variations in Irish music

One time, I ornamented a variation while varying my ornament while I playing inside the CERN, and the universe exploded.

True story!

Re: an approach to variations in Irish music

"Are you gonna sit down and put every single eventuality in a category on a case by case procedure?"

Of course not.

"What do you gain from having a definition?"

First, let’s agree that we’re never going to arrive at a definitive answer for all the eventualities of ornaments/variations/whatever. There is no one version of any tune. Even when the composer is living and the version is published in a copyrighted volume. The composers themselves play their tunes differently every time they play them, so it’s impossible to say that any one way of playing their tunes is the one correct way.

And you might say that it is useless to bother describing the characteristics of an ornament or a variation because they have so many permutations and they change so frequently that they can’t be pinned down by a definition. That might be the case, if what you’re looking for is an absolute, black-and-white description, because this music doesn’t exist in an absolute world like that.

But I think it’s useful to think about anyway, because it’s helpful in understanding how the music works, how it’s played, and ultimately, to playing it better. I think it’s useful to have a concept of what a variation is when you’re talking about the difference between players, like for example, saying Bobby Casey was a very inventive player who used more variations than some other Clare players. You can’t even talk about Tommy Potts without taking about variations. And nobody talks about Tommy Peoples without talking about his triplets and the *varied* way he uses them.

That’s how I think about it, anyway. There are ornaments, like single-note bowed triplets. You learn how to execute them. Then you have to learn how to work them into tunes—-where they sound best, which phrases ask for them, how other players do it. You learn to make them interesting. It’s all a process, and I think having descriptions and concepts for things helps.

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…while I >was< playing…

Apparently this made my singular past indicatives disappear as well. Go figger.

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Well said kennedy, though I think variation can, and often is, made up of ornaments, or includes ornaments. Even ornamenting differently creates variations in how the tune is played. You can vary without ornamenting, but unless the same ornament is done every time in the same place, then it creates variations.

Ha ha, I feel the CERN warming up again.

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Actually, that might be one way of defining an ornament—-something that can be practiced outside of the tune. You can practice a roll all on its own. But the only way to practice a variation is to play through the actual tune.

How’s that work for ya?

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I certainly wouldn’t call the contents of the clips variations. As far as I’m concerned these are ornaments. The very basic requirement of trad is to be able to use different ornaments in different parts of a tune. Variations to me are how you arrange the notes of the tune. Here’s an example of what I would call variations…Barry Kerr playing Stranger on the Gate and Rathlin Island.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TF—f7JxFPk


And for those who don’t mind ABC this is how he varies Rathlin Island

X: 1
T: Rathlin Island
M: 4/4
L: 1/8
R: reel
K: Ador
(3Bcd |: e2 dB eAAB | eBde BG (3Bcd | eedB eAAA | d2 BA BAAA |
deed eAAB | e2 de BG (3Bcd | e2 dB eAAA | dged BAGB ||
AAAB E/E/E BG | AAGA BedB | AAAB E/E/E BG | Bged AGAB :|
e2 dB eAAB | eBde BG (3Bcd | eedB eAAA | d2 BA BAAA |
deed eAAB | eede gfed | deed e2 dB | dged BAGB||
AAAB E/E/E BG | AAGA BedB | AAAB E/E/E BG | Bged ABdB |
AAAB E/E/E BG | AAGA BedB | GAAG AAcB | BBcB BAGB ||
deed eAAB | e2 de BG (3Bcd | eedB eAAA | d2 BA BAAA |
deed e2 de- | eded gfed | deed e2 de | dged ABdB ||
AAAB E/E/E BG | AAGA BedB | AAAB E/E/E BG | Bged ABdB |
AAAB E/E/E BG | AAGA BedB | GAAG AAcB | BBcB BAGB ||

Re: an approach to variations in Irish music

It works!

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Nice link Bogman. Lovely playing there.

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“Best ask Werner O’Heisenberg, Claire.
Or perhaps not.”

He never answers a direct question. I tried. He said he was “uncertain” of the answer.

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This is driving me bonkers:

"The very basic requirement of trad is to be able to use different ornaments in different parts of a tune. Variations to me are how you arrange the notes of the tune."
Please please tell me, are "ornaments" made out of notes?

"One way of defining an ornament—-something that can be practiced outside of the tune."
Please please tell me, have you ever practiced a particularly difficult phrase in a tune in isolation?

Come on now

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"Please please tell me, have you ever practiced a particularly difficult phrase in a tune in isolation?"

I’m tempted to get sarcastic here, but I’ll resist.

A difficult phrase in a tune is still a part of the tune. It’s not an all-purpose technique that can be applied to many other tunes as needed.

What’s your point, Llig? That there are no such things as ornaments or variations? That all aspects of playing have the same characteristics as all the other aspects? That there is one and only one correct way of looking at this? If so, will you please spell it out specifically and stop smugly shooting holes in all the things that other people say? I’d really appreciate it. Thanks.

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OK then:

My opinion is that the blurring of these so called boundaries is one of the great strengths of this music

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FWIW, here’s how I think about variations in this music.

There are melodic variations, where you change the notes of the melody.

There are rhythmic variations where you vary the rhythm and timing of a note, small group of notes, or a phrase.

There are variations of how you articulate a note or notes—for example, using bowed triplets and then doing rolls on the same note(s) the next time around.

And then there are variations that do two or more of the above at once.

But they’re all variations, all ways to vary the way the tune is played.

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Right, then. I don’t necessarily disagree with you. I happen to also think, however, that seeing these "so called" boundaries can be useful in learning how to play it.

I would also appreciate it if you would try to disagree without implying that nobody else knows what they’re talking about. You’re not the only person in the world who knows a thing about music, you know, and you come off that way a lot.

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For fecks sake, I start my sentance with, "My opinion is … " and it’s the third reply to the thread … and 50 posts later I’m asked wha my opinion is?

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Maybe that’s the evidence of the problem. Your opinion never changes, no matter what kind of discussion ensues. Nobody else in the conversation has a valid point to make—-anyone who doesn’t agree with you 100% obviously doesn’t know enough about music. It’s really quite demoralizing trying to have a discussion with someone who is convinced you’re entirely wrong. I don’t know why I get sucked into these threads the way I do sometimes…

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But he’s right. A small and inconvenient fact, I know.

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Kennedy, listen to Will then, not me:
"they’re all variations, all ways to vary the way the tune is played."

Or better still, listen to yourself:
"this music doesn’t exist in an absolute world."

You yourself have distilled the jist of what I’m trying to say. So I just don’t get why you think I’m convinced you’re entirely wrong?

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That doesn’t really add much to the discussion, Steve. Care to add any of your own thoughts? Are there really no such things as variations or ornaments, is it really all one blurry amorphous thing? Is it pointless to dig any deeper, and betray a fundamental misunderstanding of the music to even try? Wanna elaborate a little?

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Will was talking about variations, not ornaments. I see them as two things that can be separated (and then brought back together in playing the actual tune).

I get the impression that you think I’m wrong from the "this is driving me bonkers…come on now" approach. The unwillingness to say something like "I see what you’re saying, but you’re missing this bit…"…there doesn’t feel like there’s any give and take. That’s just my impression. Maybe it’s intensified because it’s an internet discussion and I need to mellow out.

Given all that, however, I do think this whole question is an interesting one and can be explored a lot further than we have here. And saying things like "it’s all blurred" and there can be no attempt at description just shuts down the conversation, and that bothers me.

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It’s all been elaborated a thousand times already. Probably around 78 1/4 of those times by me.

*

I am on the verge of coming to an obvious conclusion.
Michael’s mantra is, "Diddley music is easy."
~ the sum of his wisdom. Nothing more, nothing less.

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That mantra is b.s. If it was easy there wouldn’t be much to talk about. No one would bother.

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Ridiculous. Of course diddley music is easy. But there’s plenty more to it than that. It’s beautiful, it’s beguiling, it’s full of contradictions, it’s indefinable and it’s addictive.

Beauty in merely in the eye of the beholder. So there’s not much to discuss there.

Beguiling has a few definitions and "to pass time pleasantly" is straightforward enough. But the other definition, "to influence by trickery, flattery, etc.; mislead; delude" is a great description of what the music is capable of doing to your head.

The contradictions are everywhere and can only be savoured, not resolved. "This is how it goes. And it goes like this too." "It is both from the past and the present." etc. Kennedy, some conversations need shutting down. They are pointless. Any attempt to reconcile the contradictions between what is decoration and what is variation is impossible. Let it go.

It’s indefinability is paramount to its status as great art. You can talk about great works of art as much as you like, write PhD theses about them, argue about them on internet chat forums, but you will never get to the heart of the art by doing any of these. The best you can ever hope to get out of it is a small epiphany (a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of it). Which, of course, gets you no closer to a complete understanding as this is measured to infinity, I’ve had epiphanies here. "it’s easy" is one of them.

I truly believe that playing diddley music releases a particular cocktail of chemicals in your brain that becomes addictive. I don’t think it’s a psychological addiction. I really think it’s a physical one. However, on this point, I’ll gladly hold my hands up and readily admit I’m talking crap.

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Damn it Jeremy, I said b o l l o c k s, not crap

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Re: an approach to variations in Irish music

Slow day at work then Llig?

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if you want to taxonomise, ornaments are way too general. As will says, they can be articulatory (how do you onset the notes), rhythmic (into what time values do you separate a phrase) and melodic (what notes you actually play).

Anything that is rythmic or melodic is - in my opinion - definitely a "variation" - playing ~G3 as opposed to GFG or playing D ~G3 as opposed to DG G/G/G.

Articulation can be variation or just a "technical" necessity of playing the instrument in an irish style (the cuts and taps that the OP doesn’t even bother mentioning).

These three aspects intermingle in playing tunes. "Variation" suits me. And you can practice any combination of them in isolation. It doesn’t make that isolation an "ornament".

As has been frequently remarked, calling them "ornaments" or "embellishments" leads one to consider them something "extra" while they are just *there*.

llig needs no defence from me, but I think his point is more that diddley music is not *technically* demanding. What it does demand is a lot of effort and listening in order to try to understand what *is* and what *isn’t* within a given style.

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" I don’t think it’s a psychological addiction. I really think it’s a physical one."

Can we form a support group then? Tunesaholics Anonymous?

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Taxonomy is a science, not an art

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Llig, you are much more convincing on your last point than on the former. You may honestly find playing this music "easy", but that doesn’t make it so for others. Like many worthwhile endeavors learning to play music well is endlessly complex and our discussions here are just one small measure of that complexity. I think your own involvement in the music and how to think about it undermines your contention that it is, in fact, easy. I think your intention in this respect is to be provocative.

As you say " there’s plenty more to it than that. It’s beautiful, it’s beguiling, it’s full of contradictions, it’s indefinable and it’s addictive." Absolutely.

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I’ve just read that other discussion from years ago and found this that I wrote:


"I’ll tell you what I get after realising that it’s easy. (it’s true, by the way, that I once thought it was hard).

When I thought it was hard I got frustration, hurdles, disappointment, cramps. I lusted after attainment, I idolised, I misunderstood and I really wasn’t any good.

And when I realised it was easy the very first thing I lost was the frustration. I began to enjoy it for what it really is. Simple melodies, played simply, with simple style and no baggage. And, most importantly, I didn’t care whether I was any good."

I don’t say it’s easy for mere provocation.

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emily
I agree with you and will be attending a local self help group this evening

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OK Llig, I take you at your word on that point, but it does come across like you are advertising your own talent.

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Wow… step away for a couple days and look what happens!

I think at the beginning of one of those clips I do mention that the variations I’m doing are more about mixing up the ornamentation than changing around the melody notes like jazz players do.

Ragaman: you’re my hero! And you’re right of course about decontextualisation (wow) …. but I wanted to make the videos as short as possible. Obviously it would be better to have full playings of everything, but just think how many times I would have to play the entire tune to get through all those different things, and how long the resulting video would be.

Claire: yes the lines are blurry. So let’s say a phrase "normally" has a long roll on B. Now if I do a note-cut-note-pat-note roll one time but a cut-note-pat-note-pat-note roll the next time no one would argue that it’s simply a matter of ornamentation, not a matter of melody. Likewise if instead of playing a long roll on B I play one B and then play two bottom D’s no one would argue that this isn’t a melodic variation.

But what if instead of a normal note-cut-note-pat-note long roll on B, that is B-cut-B-pat-B I postpone the roll one note and play A-cut-B-pat-B? Is this a melodic variation or simply a different sort of roll? Trying to split such hairs doesn’t gain anything I don’t think.

Actually I’ve never liked the term "ornament" to refer to cuts, pats, and rolls. I think of them more as a form of articulation, as by definition an ornament is superfluous to the melody, while cuts and pats are necessary to drive the tune forward on Irish wind instruments (unless a flute player tongues out each note, or a piper plays each note detached, which wouldn’t sound idiomatic).

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Quite the reverse. I’m not saying that I was once no good and that as I got good I found it easier. I’m saying it’s a mindset that helps you play. I once thought it was hard and I sgruggled with it. And then a split second later I realised it was easy and I didn’t struggle with it anymore. Whether I am any good or not is both irrelavent and not for me to say.

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"some conversations need shutting down. They are pointless"

I don’t happen to think this is a pointless conversation.

And now that it’s drifted into the "Irish music is easy" topic, I have something to say about that too. I agree that the music can be easy. For me, it’s playing the fiddle that’s hard. It takes so much subtle physical coordination, and has so many things going on at the same time, that I’m constantly limited by technique. I’ve played 2 hours every day for the last 3 years, and I’m making progress, but it will be another year or two before it starts sounding the way it should.

To me, ornaments are technique, mostly physical, but also a timing thing as well. Single-note bowed triplets require a very certain pressure on the bow, the index finger has to engage in a certain way, and the whole thing has to be brought into the rest of the bowing motion to resume the sound after the triplet. It can take years to get them right. They’re hard to learn. Rolls are the same way—-even more so because they happen with multiple combinations of fingers, and the timing of them can vary. It’s easy to learn sloppy rolls. Much, much harder to get them sounding the way they need to sound.

Putting the ornaments into a tune, however, requires musical knowledge and taste. You have to know the different ways that are acceptable for the music to sound, which requires familiarity with the form, which you can only get with a great deal of listening. This is why classical players, who come to this music with highly developed technique on their instruments, nevertheless have trouble playing it well—-they usually don’t know how it’s supposed to sound, and if they don’t take the trouble to learn the musical part of this, they play it badly. This is where I would say Irish music is easy. It’s easy to show up at a concert and sit and listen for a few hours. Easy to pop a cd in the car stereo, easy to head down to the local pub for a beer and listen to the locals play tunes. Easiest thing in the world to let the music in that way. And then it’s easy to know things like not to add vibrato to everything.

I’ve listened to this music for 26 years, longer than many people have been alive, and I don’t have problems with coming up with ideas for variations. The hard part is throwing them in whenever the idea pops into my head. I’m going to go practice now…

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"Putting the ornaments into a tune, however, requires musical knowledge and taste." … " The hard part is throwing them in whenever the idea pops into my head"

Strikes me those are two different processes. To what extent are variations conciously planned or worked out, and to what extent do they just happen based on experience or what else is happening, providing the technique is available ?

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"To what extent are variations consciously planned or worked out, "

With me it’s about 80/20 I think, though that might vary considerably tune to tune. Most of it just happens, you don’t have time to think about it. But In’s fun when you surprise yourself with something and make the effort to do it again when that bit comes round the next time. Or make the effort not to do it again.

It brings in a psychological thing about the speed the brain works. A cricket player’s brain and hand eye co-ordination is no where near quick enough to catch a ball at silly mid off. But they manage it. It’s experience, the brain predicts where the ball might be. The proof is in spoonerisms. You might think you are talking straight off the top of your head, you might think you are speaking wards as they come to you, But if you do a spoonerism by mistake, how can that be?

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So there is a third process to add to kennedy’s two. Only being aware that the idea had popped into your head when you notice you have just executed it.

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You don’t really know a tune until you forget how it "should" go and just play it.

Apropos of nothing . I’m not sure why catching up with this thread brought this random thought unbidden to my fingertips.

Llig I was never sure about this musis being "easy" or not when you brought it up in the past. But when you type out what you mean in the full, original version, I think it is spot on. Very well put.

I’m entirely convinced that merely summing that idea/epiphany up as diddley really conveys what you wrote in the earlier thread though. But i do like the earier version

- chris

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Er, I’m NOT entirelyu convinced, that is :-)

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The music is easy, the tunes themselves are really quite simple. Variable ornaments with ornamental variations (or is that vice versa? ;-)) simply pop into being from being a student of the music. Monkey hear, monkey do.

Mastering or becoming fluent or skilled with your instrument, is separate from the first notion, and not as easy!

Two entirely separate concepts!

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FWIW, I took a fantastic week-long festival class from Eliot Grasso last year about variation in Irish traditional music. He worked in the class to categorize variation into 4 different areas, while pointing out the fact that variation is often a combination of multiple areas.

His 4 categories were broken down into 2 groups, ornamentation/articulation and substitution. So, much of what was shown in those videos was variation of the ornamentation/articulation. And then the substitution group contained 3 different kinds of substitution:

* Tertian substitution (choosing different notes from an implied chord)
* Modal substitution (varying the implied mode. ie, choosing a C sharp in place of a C nat)
* Harmonic substitution (choosing notes from a different harmony than the implied chord)

There are subtle differences between those, but they’re all interesting. Tertian substitution would be the most common to do in sessions, because you’re not doing anything that would sound bad with what other people are playing. Doing a triplet run, like in the pipe video, would be a combination of articulation and tertian substitution. Harmonic substitution would be more for solo playing or performances, because if you have harmonic accompaniment, that person needs to know it’s coming and follow along.

Anyway, fun stuff! This is the stuff that makes me love this music. Someone pointed out the other day about how this music is fractal in nature. The closer you get to it, the more detail you see (which relates to llig’s "measured to infinity" statement). The more you learn, the more you realize how much you still need to learn. I’m sure someone will accuse me of overanalyzing here, but for me, analyzing leads to deeper understanding, which leads to better playing (without having to think consciously about all this stuff while I’m playing…)

And llig, I have heard you talk about how the music is easy for quite some time. But this is the first time I’ve seen you go into much depth about it. Fascinating!

Re: an approach to variations in Irish music

<<The hard part is throwing them in whenever the idea pops into my head. I’m going to go practice now…>>

Well plan some out a bit then, think about a tune or 2 and work out where you feel comfortable adding in ornaments. Do this consciously and eventually it becomes unconscious.
I see the ornaments and tune blending in to one in a zen kind of process where its a personal expression of the player singing through their instrument, so like we talk and rap in a free form expression because we practised a lot and started early, so too the aim is to play /sing fluently in the language of music.So its a matter of practice, experience and good instruction plus additional insight from your self.

Re: an approach to variations in Irish music

Wasn’t there a Star Trek episode called "The Tertian Substitution" once?

Re: an approach to variations in Irish music

"What’s going on down there, Scotty?"

"We’ve got a harmonic resonance in the warp core, captain. I’ve given her all she’s got in this mode. Ye cannae change the laws of physics, even with a tertian substitution!"

Re: an approach to variations in Irish music

"Bones, is there anything you can do?"

"Damn it Jim, I’m a doctor, not a fiddler!"

Re: an approach to variations in Irish music

way to kill the thread, SWFL…

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Not dead yet…so Llig has a revelation that this music is really easy to play … and voila ..it becomes easy just like that! Were there psychedelics involved, I’d like to know? Perhaps a particular brand of Irish whiskey?

I still want to see him walk on water. Not that I doubt that he can, mind you, I just want to see it for myself with my own two eyes!

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Re: an approach to variations in Irish music

About working out variations in advance vs making them up on the fly, note that my videos were focused on variations on what might be called "long roll situations". If you have a whole arsenal of things that fit into the space of a long roll, then any "long roll situation" can be varied on the fly.

Note that some of the variations stayed very close to the long roll note while some dropped down to another note in the same chord or to bottom D. (Bottom D is sort of an exception because one can throw it in whether or not it’s a member of the chord that the phrase is based on, especially on the pipes.)

I really like Elliot Grasso’s categories.

Did he talk about "melodic compression"? It’s pretty common, at least on the uilleann pipes, to do a variation which involves taking a phrase with a range of a 3rd or 5th or whatever and compressing it into the repeating of a note or alternating between two neighbor tones.

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He didn’t talk specifically about that technique, Richard. But he did show some very specific examples of things that fall into the different categories. And he also broke down a piece of work from Robbie Hannon in detail, to show everything that he did variation-wise in it. It was as very interesting class.

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Way late on the thread. The discussion had me thinking of a previous thread about Yvonne Casey’s playing;
Re: ‘minimalistic treatment’
November 18th 2007 by will harmon
https://thesession.org/discussions/15829/comments#comment328961
It was a good discussion, sorry for posting so late.

Last time I checked this thread SWFL was doing his Dr. McCoy imitation. Next thing I knew I was watching "The Next Generation" Season 5 Episode 25 ~ "Inner Light"
Thanks SWFL!

BTW, I tried to find a copy of the clip of Yvonne at Custy’s. I cannot find it anywhere.
Cheers!

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Re: an approach to variations in Irish music

For years now, I’ve told my music students to stop thinking in terms of something (whether a technique or a tune) being easy or hard and instead thinking in terms of familiar and unfamiliar.

When something is familiar, we think it’s "easy." When something’s unfamiliar, we think it’s "hard."

llig’s point about easy/hard is summed up nicely in the old chestnut: "Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re probably right."

We learn more effectively and efficiently when we focus on the positives instead of dwelling on our mistakes and failings. As a music teacher, I see two types of students: those who worry about every "mistake," and those who relax and enjoy making music. The happy ones always progress faster.

Kennedy, I’d really encourage you to think of "articulations" rather than "ornaments." When you think in terms of how to articulate sounds on your fiddle, that opens up so many more possibilities and opportunities to be creative than merely reproducing the usual twiddly bits. And then your playing becomes a lifelong exploration of those possibilities.

The words we use to frame our thoughts and feelings can significantly influence our ability to learn and our enjoyment (or not) of the experience.

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~

nicely articulated

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Re: an approach to variations in Irish music

… and the bonus is, on top of all this positive thinking stuff, the music is also actually very easy - regardless of whether you think it’s easy or not.

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I hate to delve into semantics here, but nevertheless…saying that this music is easy doesn’t make it so and it is probably not be helpful or constructive to those who struggle to play this music well. It’s easy to play any music badly. To learn to play well requires, to some extent, an acknowledgment of difficulties involved. For me learning to speak English was "easy" but that won’t help someone trying to learn the language now.

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Re: an approach to variations in Irish music

"Easy" is too general a word, which I think is why people grumble when llig says that the part that you could get from the dots is the easy bit.
There is "time consuming" versus "quickly learnt"
and "tedius" versus "fun" which may not be directly related to "familiar" versus "unfamiliar" but can influence whether something seems "easy" or "hard"

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leoj, the more important point here is that as long as you feel (and tell yourself) that you’re "struggling" to play this music well, you will continue to struggle.

Yes, there are challenges to playing this music well. And yes, some people learn this stuff fairly quickly while others woodshed for years to gain the same skills. All I’m suggesting, based on 30 years of teaching music, is that you don’t gain anything by repeatedly reminding yourself how difficult it is. And you have everything to gain by realizing how do-able this music is.

Case in point: I’ve seen violin students who couldn’t get through a piece without trainwrecking every time. They were trying to meet their teacher’s expectations of playing the piece without a mistake. Yet within a week of ditching the goal of "perfection" and aiming instead to make the music sound ***effortless*** they can play the whole piece beautifully.

If something like bowed triplets or rolls or a "tricky" passage in a tune continue to trip you up, I’d suggest breaking it down to smaller parts until you find some bit of it that’s "easy" to do. Then play your way through these bits, gradually building them back to the whole.

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HA Rev! I tried to kill it, but they brought it back!

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All things being relative, the tunes are easy. Yer man who always says they are ~ now he * is * difficult. Probably less so when he is playing fiddle than when he is strolling down Mustard Lane.

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On the contrary SWFL. All things began with Star Trek.

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leoj’s point about learning a language is apt—this music won’t feel "hard" if you completely immerse yourself in it. Some people dabble in the tunes, listening and playing only an hour a day or so. Others wallow in the tunes, listening and playing for hours and hours every day, tunes running through their heads every waking moment. Dabblers face years of "struggle." Wallowers are soon happily lashing out tunes down at the pub with their mates.

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Approach to variations/easy tunes/star trek/etc.

SWFL, you win! I just looked up & noticed we’re on the variation thread. Not the easy/hard thread. So this is my last comment & then I ‘m done.
BTW it’s about easy vs hard ~ not variations. Personally, I endorse any & all woodshedding. Learning session are grand as well. {they are different from what most people are referring to on the forum, though I think they can be helpful}
Here is my rant. When you go to a regular session it is possible to have a grand time with your mates, make some fine music, & feel at ease. You don’t necessarily have to play every tune. Play the one’s you know, for sure. Fair play if, on some tunes, you play nothing at all. But do listen. If you don’t know the tune you can listen & not play ( or noodle ), at least through the 1st A part. *If* you can pick it up on the fly, then play your instrument by the 2nd time through. Otherwise let the tune find it’s way into your head.
What I am trying to describe is how the tunes can be easy* to play in session; without it becoming a learning session. Fair play when you listen & do not play on any tune you do not know. As often as that has been said on the forum I still have people asking why I do not play every tune.

* easy is both a relative & ambiguous term. I doubt I have had the same epiphany as Michael, though I think this may be one of the most important things in playing a good session.

** how you get to the session is your concern.

~ end of rant

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Will, Something worth doing well is worth working hard at, an old saying but worth repeating. And as you describe above if you really have the discipline and dedication then it becomes easy. But it’s just so misleading to suggest this music as easy to play. I mean, there are more than a few people at my local session who really believe that it is easy to play Irish music and so they don’t bother practicing and they can’t play worth a damn. Why practice when it’s so easy to play? I tell them the truth, that if you want to improve you have to work at it. One of the players at my session, an Irish man from a well known family of musicians said to me a few weeks ago when a new guitar player showed up and tried to play along "they think playing this music should be easy and it’s not. "

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leoj, we’ll have to agree to disagree then. See, I don’t "work hard" at music. I "play" it. Have I put in tens of thousands of hours playing? You bet. But I really didn’t start improving until I quit thinking of it as working hard on all the difficulties.

But that’s just based on 30 years of experience and taking the advice of players like Kevin Burke ("Don’t make bowing complicated—it isn’t. The bow goes up, the bow goes down."), Liz Carroll, and Cait Reed.

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Here’s my angle on all this.

To play this music well, do you have to obsess over it, immerse yourself in it, play it for thousands of hours, suss out all the nuances and internalize them?

Yes. Of course.

Does it have to be "hard work"?

No. It can be fun play.

And that distinction makes all the difference. Work hard at the music and it will sound like it. No doubt you’ll have all the chops and every note in its place. But the music won’t laugh or sing or dance.

Play the music and play with the music and it will be effortless, full of life and lift and joy (and sorrow, too, but not drudgery or tedium).

The choice is each player’s to make. If your music doesn’t sing or dance yet, and you want it to, think twice before you dismiss what llig and I are suggesting.

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Hold on there Will, I’m not rejecting your observation. My point is precisely that working hard at something and enjoying it immensely are not exclusive of each other, they are entirely compatible. I simply believe it’s better to acknowledge your commitment to the music .

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Obsess, immerse and play. Where does easy and hard come into that equation at all? Sounds like good fun to me, something one does because they love to.

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…and conversely, those that don’t think it’s fun, and don’t want to do it, are usually the ones who only want to dabble in it, claim it’s easy and then play it poorly.

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God bless you, Mr. Fiddler for straitening out this matter. It’s those that claim it’s easy and play poorly that I really object to. If you play well and enjoy the music I don’t care what you say.

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Hmmm. In my experience, what I enjoy doing is "play." I wouldn’t call it "work."

No where did llig suggest not committing oneself to the music. In fact, he routinely makes the case for doing so. When you make the commitment, the music does indeed become easy. So why argue against him?

Well, I suspect a lot of these semantics and the significance underlying them sort themselves out over a lifetime of playing. Most newcomers to a skill go through that phase of how "difficult" it is. But most people do better if they don’t get stuck in that mindset. Dwell instead on what’s easy and effortless.

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"If you play well and enjoy the music I don’t care what you say."

But aren’t those are precisely the players from whom you want to learn, eh?

Maybe not. Everyone has their own preferences. I know that I prefer to listen to players who’s music sounds easy, not strained. And so I heed their advice, too.

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The best playing sounds effortless but it isn’t. There’s lots of effort involved and you can characterize that effort however you wish. I reject the negative connotation you apply to "work" but I appreciate your acknowledging the "phase of how difficult it is." It’s important that you understand and not trivialize this. Those who claim playing is easy and play poorly need to go through this phase. Telling such folks otherwise does them—and your session-a disservice . Better to be honest.

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Re: an approach to variations in Irish music

play from the heart _ and don’t worry about half the nonsence written above _ are there any real players on here?

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"The best playing sounds effortless but it isn’t."

I just don’t see how that makes sense. I think you are making up some kind of spurious clever technique thing where you try to develop a way of masking it being difficult. Where you sort of "act" it being easy.

I just don’t see why you can’t take it at face value. Surely it’s more likely that the best playing actually "is" easy? Rather than some convoluted smoke screen?

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lisaniska, yes to playing from the heart. With the caveat that playing from the heart alone is not enough. As leoj says, there are plenty who claim playing is easy and play from the heart but still play poorly. You have to also play with your head and your ears.

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disagree _ playing from the heart alone ‘is enough’ and indeed all that counts

who is to judge such?

Let me pick myself up & get to the keyboard.

Does the phrase ROFLOL mean anything?
I love everyone’s tenacity. ;)

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Lisaniska, you dare to express a dissenting view?

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Playing that sounds effortless but isn’t must be a sham, and would sound like it if you knew what to listen for.

When music is played effortlessly, it sounds easy and effortless. The player is simply letting the music out. I asked Kevin Burke about this once, and he replied that being able to play easily was all in your mind. I didn’t believe him at the time, but I do now.

I spent years convinced that this was hard music to play, and that fiddle was damn hard to play. It took a series of wake up calls for me to change my mind. One was Kevin’s point above (when I replayed my recording of the lesson). Another was Linda Danielson glaring at me for complaining that a phrase in a reel was too hard. "I can’t take all your negativity!" she shouted. "But this is really difficult," I said sheepishly. "Only if you keep telling yourself that," she shot back.

And Linda was right.

Telling yourself and others that this music isn’t easy and that it takes lots of "hard work" can be an excuse for not progressing. Some people use this excuse for their slow progress. Not saying that applies to leoj or anyone else here, but I’ve seen it happen.

I prefer to tell myself and my students that playing this music well takes thousands of hours of time spent playing and listening to and thoroughly enjoying this music. Worry less (or not at all) about getting it "right" and focus more on playing it easily—the "rightness" will take care of itself.

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Interesting Will. Your last paragraph is almost verbatim one of the 1st things I ever heard, from my favourite mentor, about playing the tunes. It’s been a few years. Wel l ~ several. Good to hear you there.

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the rightness does take care of itself will, this much i know

so i say always encourage players along this path, people work at a different paces and the music will see them through under it’s own steam _ and what rewards await

i love seeing the joy in others that i’ve seen and felt in my own developement and it;s enough to drive me to the next tune without another thought in the world

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I’m sure you’ve heard the whole range of excuses over thirty years including that the music is so easy to play that there is no need to practice—this I’ve heard from a whistle player who used to come to the local session and noodle his way through every tune. No kidding! It’s a blessing that he no longer shows up.
I was thinking of seeing Itzhak Perlman play. The sound is effortless but the man sweats profusely when he plays and there is simply no mistaking the effort he puts into his playing. If you haven’t seen him play in person I highly recommend it. A dazzling musician.

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leoj, Perlman is one of the most effortless players, and he emphasizes this in his teaching. I think you’re mistaking energy and enthusiasm for effort. And we seem to be talking at cross purposes.

Besides, Irish trad doesn’t have many Pagannini caprices, eh? That’s in part the point here—by comparison, trad tunes *are* easy. You certainly do seem attached to this idea of making things hard. What do you gain from this belief?

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Perlman again, the picture of economy of motion, relaxed hands, and playful expressiveness: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SzUgt-FAO24


The point is, he makes it look and sound *easy.* The music has no magic if the player strains to play it.

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In contrast, here’s what it looks and sounds like when someone works hard to play (and explain) the fiddle: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qEalSGtWp18


That’s really tragic, eh? Every breath and movement this man makes seems labored, and you can hear it as he grinds the tune out of the strings. He’s even convinced himself that counting aloud to the notes is "really hard," so of course it is, for him. A shame. Especially that he presents himself as a teacher, passing on that legacy of "this is hard; struggle with it like I do."

Sigh.

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To see him perform in person is to witness not only his energy and enthusiasm as you suggest, but also effort. He just sweats like a man engaged in something enormously demanding, perspiration running down his face in the concert I saw him play in. That’s just my observation and you are welcome to agree or disagree. Certainly the degree of difficulty is much greater.

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P.S. The great violinists I’ve seen live include Perlman, Pinkas Zukerman, and Nadia Solerno Sonenberg (talk about energetic playing!!!), and I’d include fiddlers Mark O’Connor, Paul Anastasio, Barbara Lamb, and Buddy Speicher in that list. None of them ever struck me as struggling to play their music.

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Sure, he’s playing fiddle in a tuxedo under stage lights. What do you expect? That doesn’t mean that he’s struggling to play, that he’s concentrating on how "demanding" or "difficult" the music is. Heck, I sweat riding a stationary bicycle. It doesn’t get much easier than that…..

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Not struggling. None of those folks struggle to play. That’s not my point. Interestingly, I do have several tracks of Dave Swarbrick from Live at Jackson’s Lane where he is grunting and talking to himself as he plays himself into a bit of a frenzy. The audience loves it. It’s very dramatic, perhaps overly so but worth listening to. Perhaps you’re familiar with it?

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Re: an approach to variations in Irish music

Well, they’re not struggling because it’s not hard.

And sure, lots of entertainers make a show of how frenetic they can play. Charlie Daniels made a living doing that. Ugh. Which is one reason I’m not a big fan of Swarbrick.

Here are some salient excerpts from an interview of Stephane Grappelli.

From an interview Peter Anick did with Stephane Grappelli, originally published in fiddler magazine:
The first time I saw Stéphane Grappelli was in 1976, just a few years after his appearance with the all-strings Diz Disley Trio at the Cambridge Folk Festival had re-ignited his already brilliant career. Nearly seventy at the time, he played a long and energetic set, looking completely relaxed as he spun off unpredictable, serpentine phrases and joyously sparred with his guitarists. The last time I saw him was twenty years later in 1996, on what may have been his last American tour. Nearly ninety now, he looked much frailer and took the stage in a wheelchair. However, his playing remained supple, bright, and imaginative, and if you closed your eyes, the charm, vitality and grace with which he approached each tune made you quickly forget his age.

You appear to play with a light touch.
SG: Oh, I don’t force. Of course, you don’t need it.

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Grappelli’s playing really does look and sound effortless. I love this one of Grapppelli and Frankie Gavin. Frankie appears a bit out of his element playing Sweet Georgia Brown. It’s humorous how he tries to get Stephane to join in and Stephane looks the other way.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=31-8MLA5kdU

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Yeah, that’s a great clip. Been posted here before. It shows how something unfamiliar can seem "difficult" if you let it.

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Frankie looks like he is in over his head just a bit there and Stephane is as cool as ever. Dave Swarbrick’s playing is quite a contrast and sounds like he is on the edge but the live performance is oddly affective and I find that I am drawn into his playing and I don’t think he is playing for affect.

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The music has no magic if the player strains to play it.

My point is that Swarbrick’s playing sounds somewhat strained, it certainly doesn’t come across as easy yet I feel that there is magic there.

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All this talk of making it look easy is masking my central point of this music being easy. Will’s two links here show this very well. While both musicians certainly make what they are doing look easy, just compare the actual physicality. How much their fingers move, how far their fingers move, how much their bows move, how much of the bow they use, how repetition there is. etc:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SzUgt-FAO24

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WjhQubdPRh8&feature=related

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Ha! You’ve chosen two extremes to make your point which is valid nevertheless. All things are relative, particularly our individual notions of ease and difficulty.

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I totally get what you mean but the word I would go with is "effortless." If you watch a really good fiddler, for instance, their bow arm looks totally fluid, smooth, easy even. There is no stiffness or jerkiness in their movement.

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Re Perlman and ‘effort’: I saw him play the Elgar concerto many years ago and I’ve never seen such a relaxed right hand;it was like a jellyfish.That relaxed state of bowing hand just is n’t possible if you’re making an ‘effort’.


I’m reminded of Kato Havas’ story of the gypsy boy fiddler who ‘produced such exquisite,pure sounds…,that I rashly told him,he had a rare and valuable instrument.’
This was a boy who ‘had never taken a lesson in his life and never intended to.’
Why was this? Possibly because he played from the heart,as lisaniska says.

Here’s what William Primrose,a famous viola player, had to say about his own early days of playing:

‘…as I played when a child.it didn’t strike me to be nervous.I did in public what I did in private,and it was the most natural thing to play the violin…’

Now he was speaking about ‘nerves’ in playing but the point still remains that he then had no reason to make things more difficult than they really are.This is a state of mind and when we bring adult fears-of criticism,of not doing things to perfection etc,then that’s where our problems begin.

Btw,I’m glad that the clip of Grapelli and Menhuin has been posted because it illustrates very well this whole esay/effort thing.

Now if you play classical,of course you have to put in some work; but Llig’s observation that with the trad fiddle stuff it’s possible to play great music without any great technical ability holds true.

And thanks for the link to Perlman playing the Wieniawski;what class and what fun!

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One thing to remember about the Grappelli/Gavin clip is that they’re in Grappelli’s world there—-he had been playing that tune for more than 30 years, whereas it was new to Gavin. The medium was also jazz, of course, and Grappelli is (was?) the master, and Gavin only a dabbler, although both are superb musicians. If they had been playing "the Foxhunters", I think Grappelli would have looked a bit out of his element as well.

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I seriously doubt that tune was new to Frankie Gavin

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That wasn’t exactly my point, llig. He hadn’t been living it and breathing it the way Grappelli had.

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Frankie does look uncomfortable, for whatever reason.

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It’s because he’s trying to play music that’s technically beyond him. He just riffs diddley riffs and shows he can bounce his bow with some aplomb. At ;east he doesn’t try and go up the dusty bit. That said though, I didn’t think he did too bad. And I’d agree that he managed a darn site better Grappeli (and his strummer ofcourse) wouold have with the foxhunters

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But what I really like about that clip actually pertains more to the title of this thread than the easy/hard hi-jack.

The approach to improvising/variations (same thing) in this kind of jazz is very harmonically biased. And the tunes assist this by modulating. The improvising is broad sweeps of new tune based on the harmonic movements of the original.

But he approach to improvising/variations (same thing) in diddley music is biased more to the minutiae of percussive interjections. And as Gavin shows, he’s a master of it.

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Are we talking about “effort” or “strain”?

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Outside of mechanical engineering, effort and strain bear no discernable differences

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kennedy, the points you make are exactly why I talk in terms of familiar/unfamiliar instead of easy/hard.

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Hmmm, I take the relevant meaning of “effort” here to be “exertion,” suggesting that there is a particular amount of effort required to accomplish a given task, whereas “strain” normally implies extreme, even damaging, exertion. With no effort (exertion), there would be no music, but there should be no strain involved.

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Bob, I guess the point I’m trying to make is that to play music well, it helps (tremendously) to release any and all extraneous tension in your body and mind. The ideal, even if it’s physically not fully attainable, is to play effortlessly. Sure, some neurons must fire and some muscle fibers must contract. But the most common obstacle to playing well that I see in my music students is mental tension and subsequent physical tension and "hard work."

In short, my mantra or shorthand for playing with as little effort as possible (and no strain whatsoever) is "effortless."

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Fair enough, Will. I just thought maybe some of the contention here was really about semantics.

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I don’t think it’s about the amount of physical energy an instrument needs to make a sound (they vary anyway, with the tin whistle probably being the least). And it’s not really about the amount of wasted nervous energy, or the extra unwanted tension in the muscles. It’s more of a mind thing. It usually manifests itself in either a terror of getting it wrong, or a smug and projected concentrated satisfaction of getting it right. Both result in the same god awful music.

It may well use up more energy than is needed if it was easy, but I don’t think that’s really the point.

If I play a swift set of reels on my viola the same way I’d play them on the fiddle, I’m fair cream crackered by the end of it. It uses up a lot more energy. But it’s no harder, it’s more or less the same movements, just a bit more physical. Likewise with playing a set on the GHB and then a set on the whistle.

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I was thinking the same thing, Will. Jazz isn’t Gavin’s form, so it’s unfamiliar to him—-although I bet if you asked him, he would say it is hard to play like Stephane Grappelli.

I think it’s just the process of learning that’s hard, that takes effort and patience, that can be mentally (and sometimes physically) draining. A lot of it is learning the easier way of doing something—-for music, that would be learning to relax, learning to listen for tiny details, learning certain details of playing an instrument. Other things just take practice and time before the brain absorbs what we’re trying to teach it to do, and the muscles become accustomed to firing in a certain way. It’s very hard to stay patient and diligent enough for that to happen!

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About effort and patience—nothing happens without these is such an important point in learning to play easily. It’s this process that students need to appreciate, playing relaxed is learned over time and the instrument becomes easier to play gradually, unless, of course, you are blessed with a revelation or are genuinely gifted like Perleman.

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No, I totally disagree with you there loej. Unless you enjoy struggling with your instrument, playing relaxed should be the first thing you learn, and the first thing you do each time you play, from day one.

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Oh no Will, a point of disagreement? That’s OK. The important point is that this is a learning process that happens over time. The fiddle is an awkward instrument when you start unless you were born to play like Perlman. Do you remember putting a fiddle under your chin for the first time? Very strange indeed. Relaxation is learned gradually—you can’t "make" a student relax.

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Re: an approach to variations in Irish music

Yeah, I wished they stressed that with kids when teaching them. When I picked it back up as an adult, I had to retrain myself to play relaxed.

Though someone once made a good point on here. When you’re a little kid, you do actually have to press that hard on the fiddle to get sound. As an adult, it’s just overkill. A highway to the carpal tunnel lounge.

Re: an approach to variations in Irish music

leoj, I didn’t feel awkward the first time I stood under a fiddle. Burke says that’s all you do—stand underneath it. No more work than laying the fiddle on a table.

You can’t relax if you refuse to believe it’s possible. And there’s no use teaching people who refuse to learn.

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Ouch Will! I apologize for not including you in my above statement regarding Perlman! For others, the mere mortals among us playing relaxed takes time —part of learning to play. Again, you can’t make a student relax, but you can be helpful so that this happens— emphasizing good posture, hand position, etc.

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I mean, relaxation and issues related to muscle strain and various exercises etc. is often a topic of discussion among musicians that I know.

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Heh, no you can’t make anyone relax, not even yourself. But you can start off (the way most young kids do) not knowing any better and never tensing up (mentally or physically) to begin with.

If you’re using a multi-step process to learn to relax, you’re missing the point. There is no try. Do or do not (thanks to Yoda). It’s actually the easiest thing in the world to do.

Kevin Burke again: don’t grip the bow, just let it rest in your fingers, no more a hold that it would take to cup a small bird or a feather.

If a person persists in using words like "work" and "hard" and "effort" when they play music, they will continue to work hard and use effort. To play relaxed, all you have to change is your attitude.

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Still, it is learned, however you conceive of it, whatever words you choose to use. It has to do with intentionality. And it’s something you practice. Maybe those are more "objectionable" words for you. But, I really this has little that I can see to do with "belief" as you suggest above. Then again I’m not big on belief systems.

No multi-step process required and it sounds to me like you are doing the right thing by emphasizing correct technique.

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Anyone who thinks Itzhak Perlman is anything more than a mere mortal has their delusions running far too deep for studious debate to be of any use.

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I wonder, are people born tense or relaxed?

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Come on Llig, very few people are born with that kind of gift! Your comment is unfair.

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He’s still a mere mortal

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leoj, babies are pretty good at being naturally relaxed. I don’t think we come into the world all tense and bursting with frustration at all the "hard" things we’re about to do. Sadly, that’s drilled into us too often by parents and teachers and sports coaches.

I have to wonder: how long have you played fiddle, leoj?

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I think fear is learned. Sure, our species apparently has some innate fears—of heights, snakes, and loud noises. Instinctive reflexes that helped us survive on Africa’s savannah’s.

But isn’t it clear that we’re born for an innate appreciation for music, not a fear of it? Mothers around the world sing to their babies. In fact, it seems the purpose of music is to soothe us. So why are so many people taught to fear playing music? A shame. Especially when that attitude persists into adulthood, or prevent someone from realizing how effortless it is to play well.

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Will, unfortunately, I’m sure that it’s not true that we’re born with an innate appreciation for music.

Humans are born with some of the least instincts in the whole animal world. I was astonished to find that we even have to be taught how to suckle.

It’s important to classify music in it’s proper place as a human construct

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Curious. Music as a human construct. Where do bird songs fit it I wonder? Any connections to music making?

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Llig, dance was thought to be practiced only by humans until Snowball the Cockatoo was filmed dancing—the video is on Youtube now. Watch it if you haven’t—truly amazing and unbelievable.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N7IZmRnAo6s.



I only wish he was recorded dancing to Irish music.

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Yeah, and isn’t the whole existence of musicians being feckin useless because they learn it "parrot" fashion?

Be consistent. You said before, "it is learned, however you conceive of it."

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??? Missing your point there…

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you don’t say

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Michael, I don’t mean that we’re born musical. Just that someone has to teach us to fear it, so some of us think it’s "hard" or even scary.

Whereas babies come out with a built-in flinch reflex around loud noises, serious heat, etc.

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Snowball’s performance has left Llig at a loss for words. Is it possible?

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But you did say, "But isn’t it clear that we’re born for an innate appreciation for music".

What’s the difference between that and not being "born musical".?

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LOL, leoj, I think it’s your behavior here that’s left poor Michael mute. :-)

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I wasn’t at a loss for words at all, I said, isn’t the whole existence of musicians being feckin useless because they learn it "parrot" fashion?

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I’m going to bed

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Okay, all I really meant was we seem ready to turn our ears toward music, not away from it. And most people reflexively use song to soothe babies (even those of us who can’t carry a tune).

We have to be taught to get uptight about music.

Which is the opposite of what leoj keeps saying here, that we have to learn how to relax.

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I left for work this morning & Michael had brought the discussion back around to variations/improv (same thing) so I had that in my head all day. Gave *work* some of those good connotations.
I read now you’re onto animal behaviour. My head’s swimming a bit. Fair play though. Will, I must have been put together backwards. I’ve always been drawn to fire, love heights, have swum with copperheads ( once ), & ( at least while I was a teenager ) did some unfortunate damage to my eardrums. My ancestors must come from a different savannah.
I have learned the fear of music. It all started with pipes & drums at a Rennie Fest in Florida. Drove me catatonic. Afterwards I took a trip out on the Black Rock Playa, have a good dust storm snap me out of it. Letting go of the fear ~ I say!
leo, the boys are having a bit of fun. They are good boys.
Good fiddlers too. Worth a listen. ;)

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LOL, I like snakes too (saved a corn snake from a miserable lot in a reptile shop), and fire is good, explosions not so much (or only from a safe distance).

Ah, Black Rock. That explains a lot. :-)

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I only go there to be alone ~ desert solitude. I don’t need to go over to Nevada just to find a big city. My friends are crazy for all that flesh & fire though.
I’ll give you this. There’s a related video;
Rachel @ SF Burning Man. She is hula - hooping something grand.
Effortless, relaxed ~ she is there in the moment.
Cheers!

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Will, what I’m trying to say about relaxation outside of fiddle playing is this. Several years ago I had a massage by a good masseuse and she said to me "relax completely" and I said "I am" and she said "no you’re not I can still feel tension in your muscles. I kept thinking about totally relaxing and she made the point that most people really do "forget" how to completely relax and have to "relearn" such a simple thing . It becomes almost unnatural. Learning how to meditate, similarly, takes practice-perhaps it’s an ability that we were born with but we have forgotten it.

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Random, that was fun—Rachel sure knows how to hoop effortlessly: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ve07SQuQQNo&feature=PlayList&p=FDF556BCE83E8B5F&playnext=1&playnext_from=PL&index=20


leoj, we’re just different. I tend to fall asleep in the dentist chair. The massage therapist I occasionally go to likes to work on me because I’m putty in her hands. When I play fiddle, people comment on how I look like I’m falling asleep even in the middle of fast reels.

So as a music coach, I try to pass that frame of mind on to others. Sure, lots of people need reminders to relax. But a lot of people are able to let go as soon as the idea registers. It’s *not* hard unless you make it so.

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leoj, I apologize if I keep coming across as argumentative. Honestly, I mean (most of )my posts to come across more as encouraging: "You *can* do this!" to anyone in earshot.

I think the process of learning to play a musical instrument boils down to learning how to listen ever more attentively, and to relaxing and economizing motion. This refining never ends.

But I’m also convinced that it’s entirely possible to start from a place of ease and relaxation and deep listening. I help people do this on a daily basis, and I routinely see instant epiphanies on these ideas. Do some people integrate them better than others? Sure, but that’s their *choice.* Some people choose to continue struggling, for various reasons.

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Right Will. My masseuse said to me "relax" and I said I am and she said you are not relaxed yet. I was really concentrating on relaxing— I wasn’t secretly trying not to relax. So I think that it’s not that some people choose to struggle but that they don’t know-perhaps have forgotten-how not to struggle.


I enjoy the discussion here Will-at times contentious— but genuinely engaging and interesting and I appreciate your input. As for Llig—if he were really annoyed he’d stay up and argue. He’s a fighter.

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Erm, you *do* recognize the contradiction in "really concentrating on relaxing," right? :-/

That’s the key point you seem to effortlessly gloss over every time it comes up here. Do or do not. There is no try. You don’t "try" to relax. You most certainly don’t "work hard" at it. You simply relax. You simply stop struggling. You simply play.

Have you read Herman Hesse’s "Siddhartha"? Sounds to me like a bit of the Govinda syndrome you were having at the masseuse. The harder you seek, the more distant the "sought after" grows.

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Cool. She went both ways for me, rapid fire, back and forth. Psychotic break? :- 8

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That’s great Duijera! What a fun optical illusion.
It’s a silhouette, so no shadows on the figure.

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I’m not convinced it reveals anything about right vs. left brain bias. I could make her change direction at every half turn. I suspect my corpus collosum has the two hemispheres well connected.

It’s like when people ask whether you’re right handed or left handed. "I have one of each, thanks." :-)

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I reckon you can make her go one way if you hum a tune in a minor key, and then change direction in a major.
A corpus collosum - ahm, yeah! I’ve got a huge repertoire of tunes as well, Will. :-)

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Definitely not a shadowy figure, Random.

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Sounds like a dream girl, Will!

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LOL!

Have to admit, I don’t care which direction she spins—she’s, erm, "perky" eh? :-)

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Thanks for that DD.
I think she’s got a great figure. Does that make me more right or left brain?

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Erm, leoj, that’d be your limbic system (the so-called lizard brain). Welcome to the man cave. :-)

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Do you think that maybe she can come to my local session? I mean, if she can spin like that she’s probably a great dancer!

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Rumor has it she does more than spin.

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what does ROFLOL mean?

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I think it might mean "Rolling on the floor, laughing out loud" which I very much doubt anyone is doing when they write it!

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lol…
LOL..
ROFL…
ROFLMAO…ROFL

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ah, just found it in Michael O’Mara’s tiny ’ WAN2TLK? _ ltle bk of txt msgs’ (2000), but i wonder why … MAO isn’t in it?

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" The idea in this chapter is to give an explanation of what variation consists of.
A player should strive towards his/her own individual version of a tune.
Variation should come naturally in an improvisory manner, from an understanding of techniques used in the Tradition.
It is better that only minor variations done at ease be attempted, rather than complicated, calculated attempts that sound laboured. Irish Traditional Music is a highly developed living art form, if possible try to listen to a musician ‘live’, you will find a whistle player will play a tune different every time, constantly introducing new ideas, ornamentation, variation etc. "

chapter 7 ~ putting it all together
Geraldine Cotter’s Traditional Irish Tin Whistle Tutor

I pulled out my old copy of this whistle tutor. Happy to find it is still a good tutor for anyone wishing to start into learning tunes.
She even has the above comment about variation.
Which is immediately followed by;

"common faults in whistle playing

a) Playing the tune too fast

b) Learning one version of the tune and ignoring all others.

c) Developing one aspect of the performance of the tune and forgetting all others. "

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Exactly.