speaking when playing

speaking when playing

Oh, it is *so* annoying! I’m playing a set of tunes and need to communicate the key (and hopefully the name too) of the next tune to the others playing. The problem being that I phrase the words in my head, and only the first syllable of the first word emerges… ("A muh") or I get through the name of the tune and the current tune goes to pot! I’m so jealous of people that can conduct a conversation when playing, suggest the next tune to someone, agree with their counter-suggestion and give the key to the guitarist. I can just about rise to "hup"… occasionally I can rise to saying the key, and for sets I know really well, sometimes even the title. But is there a good way to get better at talking at the same time as playing? (Flute players have it easy: they *have* to pause!) Or is just an innate disability that I have to learn to live with?

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Re: speaking when playing

Yeah - flutes can’t do that. So we have to be formulaic and just do each tune eg 3 times each. The guys I session with are usually cool if I’m leading a set. They more or less just hold back till the changeover has happened then pick it up as they recognise it…One problem I’ve observed is the over-enthusiastic member of the audience, who, hearing a hiatus in the banjo/fiddle playing, asssumes that that bit of music has ended, and, not really listening too closely for any flute activity, starts doing his seal impersonation and starts flapping his hands together. At which point the more ovine members join him in inappropriate sheep-like applause. Usually things are normalised by the resumption of normal banjo service, but not always.


Re: speaking when playing

Rog, sometimes I can talk sometimes I can’t. It depends how hard the tune is & how worked up I am. I found it’s easier to talk if I’m relaxed though - sometimes I won’t realise it but my upper body will be all tensed up & that’s when it’s almost impossible to talk. Just for the hell of it you might want to try lilting the tune while you’re playing it (at home, or you’ll get funny looks). It’ll get you used to moving your yammer while playing tunes, it also helps you phrasing rhythm etc.

Re: speaking when playing

Was it that long ago zina! Wow time goes by so quick - and youre right - that is a funny thread🙂

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Re: speaking when playing

Well some flute players can do it. I’ve seen Catherine McEvoy play a tune to her class and say a couple of words in the midst of a tune without missing a beat. Seamus Tansey also does that, he was calling out the chords to the guitar player and playing the flute.

Re: speaking when playing

I once thought I will never learn it … and the story about the piper who lilts another tune to his fellow musos while playing on the first one throws me back lightyears. But a couple of days ago I managed first time to indicate the coming point to switch into the next tune by a simple "yep" while playing on the third round B part of the actual one without getting into deep trouble with playing. Isn

Re: speaking when playing

I watched a bodhran player try to speak and play at the same time - his talking speeded up.

Re: speaking when playing

I loved the previous thread - especially the idea of pulling faces behind the fiddlers back - sort of thing I would never do! (much).

As well as speaking, some people (who play certain instruments begining with B - sorry if you play a bugle in ITM sessions) have problems listening whilst playing.
I was at a gig where the fiddler shouted "F", the piano player shouted "Eh?", and the band went off in two different keys.

Re: speaking when playing

Feeling tired after driving all day yesterday to take my daughter to uni, and slightly hungover from a late bottle of red, Danny’s description of "ovine" audience, and Geoffs two keys story have brightened up my morning. Thanks lads.

Our session generally operates either the system of "wait a bar while the person who started the set gets into the next tune then pick it up and run with it", or alternatively "meaningful eye-contact during the last part of a tune indicates change to whatever usually follows"

I find that just the attempt to speak knocks me right off the tune.


Re: speaking when playing

Great thread. The link you added Zina is good stuff.

First, a disclaimer: I think talking while playing is unnatural and counterproductive, since it implies that you divert your focus.

Still, the challenge in quiring the seemingless impossible skill of talking while playing added to the usefulness/coolness factor in sessions to call out the names and keys of next tune sparks some quest or challenge to find out if it at all can be achieved by anyone. I think we all can download this utility "software" if we take our brains to the gym.

Playing the fiddle I can manage to utter some simple preplanned statements, but being flexible and calling out tunes spontanously (assuming I know the tunes and the keys of what comes next, which is often not case) I find difficult for the following reasons:
if I move and are into the music I find it difficult and counterproductive to do something opposing the rhytm, like walk at different pace. I reckon this is why dancing seem a urge to many.
*pitch / tuning
as a fiddler I my brain relies on the feedback through my eares to keep the music in tune. This enables me to pick up my daughter’s 1/8th fiddle and help her on that.

Unless I want to cry out your tune names and keys "in tune" and with a matching beat, I’ll have to revert to do this while the music is on "autopilot" for a limited number of time. This would have to be somewhere where I can spend less brainpower on the music, i.e. were the complexity of the music requires little attention, or where the music can be simplified with simple semiautomated chord substitutes.

Helping my daughter learn "Frere Jacque" on song and violin and playing it two voiced "in round"with her, I’ve invented an amusing way of down the barrier of speaking and playing in several steps:

Because it is in ryhtm and "in tune" to the music, and also because this is a well-explored tune setting, my brain is apt to process these two streams at once. Chatting and playing will be the next level of (un)consiousness.

- First learn make sure you can sing and play in the same tuning
- Then sing the tune while you play it
- Then start playing it and wait till the B part before singing it

So go ahead. Youll be your own duet in no time!

Positive Suggestions

Here are some positive suggestions for those who can’t talk and play at the same time.

- Try writing out the name of the tune on a sign and holding it up.

- Since a lot of people don’t associate names and tunes anyway, try writing out the sheet music for the tune on staff paper, and holding that up.

- Use your arms or your instrument for semaphore.

- Prepare a PowerPoint presentation.

- Hurl a pick, bodhran tipper, bow, or what have you at (for example) Greg for the key of G, Daithi for D, Adam for A, Craig for C, and so on. Have a spare ready.

- Set up a boombox with a tape of yourself shouting "Cooley’s!" or "Pigeon!", turn it up really loud, and play it back during the last turn.

- Gesticulate wildly to the barman for a beer whose name begins with the same letter as the key you want to use next. To make sure that everyone sees you clearly, get up on a table.

- In the third turn, play variations on the current tune, extending the notes using Morse code — quarter notes for dahs, eighth notes for dits — spelling out the name of the next tune.

- Use mime or charades and encourage punters to join in and guess.

- In the middle of the third turn of one tune, play the top of the next tune really loudly so that everyone knows it’s coming.

I’ve been trying these out myself, and people really notice. Some of them have even made remarks directly to me.

By the way, the swelling on my face is already going down, the bruises are a lot less tender, and I’m hoping to appeal to the bar owner about the banishment issue.

—-Michael B.

Re: speaking when playing

[thanks for the link Zina - I did search for previous discussions on
this subject, but "when" not "while"!]

Thing is, most of the really good players I’ve played with have no
problem talking while playing. Ian, a guitarist I know, was mildly
taking the piss recently while I was playing a tune and trying
desperately to get some words out… ("Do you know such-and-such?",
"Mmmph", "You can’t speak when you’re playing, can you?", "Mmmph",
"Hey look everyone, Rog can’t speak when he’s playing!", "MMMMph").
He was playing the button-box at the time.

Sometimes if I don’t *think* about it, I can just say stuff no problem
- it’s like I need to just let the words bubble up into my mouth,
without using the bit of my brain that’s directing my playing.

I’m sure that talking while playing is closely related to thinking
"rationally" when playing (e.g. trying to think of another tune in a
related key to play next). Each mental process needs its own "brain
space" to take place in. I’m sure that my playing would be better if
I could do it more unconsciously, leaving more room for the analytical
side when necessary…

By the way, I followed up the reference to the previous discussion on
IRTRAD-L. Actually there have been two discussions on that list (5
years apart). Go to
http://listserv.heanet.ie/cgi-bin/wa?S1=irtrad-l and search for
"talking playing" in the subject. The only hint for practice was
"talk to yourself in the living room, and know your changes". We’ll

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[sorry about the paragraph "en bloc"… i haven’t found
a place on this website that describes what the conventions are for inserting markup.]

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Re: speaking when playing

Some of Halldor’s suggestions remind me of techniques for getting a
key name across unambiguously (e.g. E sounds very like A,
particularly in some accents). "Arse", "Bugger minor", … erm, I’ll
stop there)

On a vaguely related note, a friend was recently telling me about the
disconcerting way a fiddle player he’d been playing with (in sessions
in Cambridge, I think) had of starting a tune, realising no-one knew
it, and without pause and (perhaps 2/3rds of the way through the first
part) slipping into different tune *at the same relative point* in the tune…

Kept my friend (a guitar player) on his toes, I think!

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Re: Euan Blair (G minor)

If you can do it, flaunt it.
I take great delight in playing tunes in different keys just so I can piss off non musicians when I shout out "Two flats" (Euan Blairs’ Bristol residences) or "Three sharps". Firstly, the guitar/banjoids haven’t a clue about key-signatures, and secondly, I’m playing in the relative minor so they kick themselves when they realise its quite an easy key really.
I have been threatened on numerous occasions by giving the accompanists a running commentary on the chord sequences where I thought they were no where near what they should be.

Its a hard life being a session anarchist.

Re: speaking when playing

Being basically a guitar player and singer, I have no trouble speaking or calling out chords while I’m playing.

That is, unless I’m capoed up a bit and I have to transpose the chord in my head before blurting it out. At those times, it’s best to tell me to keep quiet.

Re: speaking when playing

I’ve played with at least one fiddle player who was able to slip in a representative phrase from the next tune as a variation of the current one. Probably wouldn’t work in a session of any size, but it worked well with three or four players. And it helps if people are actually listening to the person sitting next to them.

I was a bit disappointed to find out that I wasn’t really psychic though.

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Re: speaking when playing

When I’m playing (fiddle) and need to communicate the next key, I hold up certain fingers on my right (bow) hand, depending on how many sharps are in the next key. The key of G has one sharp, so I hold up my little finger. The key of D has two sharps so I hold up the little finger and ring finger. The key of A has three sharps so I hold up the last three fingers. Haven’t worked out a method for obscure keys, and you can forget about the talking and playing at the same time!!!!

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Re: speaking when playing

I just stop playing in the last few bars, shout out the key sig, then continue playing (assuming I’m not the only melody player!)