What is a phrase in Irish Music?

What is a phrase in Irish Music?

I always considered a phrase in Irish dance music to be 2 measures. I don’t remember where I got this from… I think it may have been from a workshop over the years, which was then reinforced by other workshops.

Is this what you all consider a phrase? I teach my students to think in phrases, and I teach them to learn and practice in phrases. I got this idea of practicing in phrases from James Kelly, and from my recollection he too taught them as being two measures.

If you look at sean nós dancing, the basic steps reset after two measures (I am not so sure about "regular" dancing, but I remember this being the case as well). This makes me think that the two measures per phrase thing is pretty embedded into the music.

Are there any who disagree?

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Re: What is a phrase in Irish Music?

Phrases do not line up with the bar lines. So your ‘two measures’ is pretty much off.

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do you have a reason for saying this? i understand that in classical music, for example, the definition of a phrase is much more complex, but we are talking about irish music.

for example, consider tobin’s favorite:

|:DFA dcd|ecA efg|faf gfg|ecA GFE|
DFA dcd|ecA efg|faf gec|edc d2:|
|:faa agf|efg efg |faf gfg|ecA GFE|
DFA dcd|ecA efg|faf gec|edc d2:|

i would break this into the following phrases (A = part A, B = part B)

A1: |DFA dcd | ecA efg|
A2: | faf gfg | ecA GFE |
A3: [same as A1]
A4: | faf gec | edc d2 |

B1: | faa agf | efg efg |
B2: [A2]
B3: [B1]
B4: [A4]

so, do you disagree with my analysis in this case?

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It’s OK to cross over the barlines.

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No, the notes in the to bars don’t form a phrase, you’re including the lead in notes of the next phrase when you do it like that.

Read Pat Mitchell’s article I linked in another thread.

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I thought Daiv that you play flute? If so, surely a phrase is a group or run of notes after which a natural break might occur - a longer note where typically you might take a breath. Just like talking - you string a few words together and then pause, insert a comma etc. etc. Your idea sounds very constricted??

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It’s probably better to stick with musical phrases, the ones dictated by the structure of the music for the sake of this discussion.

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Are they not often the same thing?

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You know it when you hear it. You also know when it’s not there — like when you hear someone play who has very little or no phrasing (say, me), you can certainly hear something is off. I’d say phrases are not necessarily two bars, but I guess it might be kind of an an average. I prefer to think of them like the question-and-answer structure of the tune.

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Not necessarily, most good fluteplayers would not take their breath at the end of each phrase because it would chop the tune in too many equal sized chunks. Instead they’d breath in mid phrase every now and again and connect up the start and ends of phrases to keep the flow of the tune going.

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x posted

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I think, TSS, that phrasing is kind of like intonation and pulse (and other musical "things") - at least when it comes to people who don’t learn the idiom by immersion. You start of by not hearing them. Then you hear them and they are absent from your own playing - and it’s only at this time that they start coming - ever so slowly. I am finally dissatisfied with my sense of phrasing. But I can’t for the life of me figure out ways to put it in - even when I artificially copy someone else’s phrasing, it doesn’t work…

Anyway, my point is that it’s something that you start off by *not* knowing when you hear it.

Daiv, if you ask many people, they will tell you that the analytic way is not the way to go about it. I might agree, but even more, I would say that whatever works for someone is best. One way of considering phrasing is how you put things together between two breaths in wind instruments (although you will also typically run several phrases together in one breath, and may choose to breathe in the middle of a phrase). Another way might be to take your two measures above and see how far you can shorten or lengthen a phrase.

e.g.

A1: |DFA dcd | e
A2 cA efg| faf gfg | ecA G
A3: FE | [same as A1]
A4: cA efg| | faf gec | edc d2 |

Or do it more subtly, adding 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 notes as the lead in to the phrase (and removing them from the previous one), particularly between the A and B parts.

Obviously, like with the recent question about ornaments, at some point it should just feel natural, but there is no harm in experimenting more systematically on the road to finding your own sense of phrasing.

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in general, i am very willing to accept other alternatives… could people who disagree please cite music and break it up? saying that it is "when you hear it" is only ok if you cite examples…

you could cite an example of it not being 2 bars, and then another example of it not being 2 bars. your proof could be that "that’s how i hear it." i would accept that based on whether or not i could hear it as well… that is a valid argument. but i can’t imagine what an example of it NOT being 2 bars could be without hearing it, which is not to say that i will not accept it when i hear it.

also, no one has given me an alternate phrase diagram of tobin’s favorite, or a dissection of a tune which they think violates my contention.

@prof: can you link the link yourself? also… i see what you are saying about pickup notes. i consider that a separate issue, and yes, i do consider pickup notes to be part of the "following phrase." i think that you make an important point.

so, to take your point into consideration, i would then say that:

phrase = 2 measures - pickup note of next phrase.


@wounded hussar: as a flute player, i only breathe at the end of a phrase sometimes, and the end of a section very rarely.

@silver speare: if you think of it as question and answer, the question is then 2 bars and then the answer is 2 bars. if you disagree, please site an example.

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@tirno: sorry about the my comment about "no alternatives," yours got sent while i was writing mine.

i do agree that when i play my phrasing can be independent of what i consider to be a "phrase in the tune." however, would you teach a student that a phrase "is whatever you want it to be?" or rather, "you can phrase your tune however you want it to be." i think that just because they are the same word does not mean that they mean the same thing.

so then, if the phrases are not as i delineated, how can you explain the structure of irish music? also, i do note that if a tune does not fit the overall pattern i mention, it is called "crooked." how can you account for that?

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overall so far, i do agree that phrasing is very variable, but i think that the musical phrase is not.

a follow up question as the discussion continues: what do we call the 2 measure unit of irish music? in a reel, for example there are 8 bars, or 4 units of 2 measures in length, and then two sets of 8 bars. we call each 8 bars a section, and in many reels these sections are repeated.

also, when you have an alternate ending to a tune, i cannot think of a single one where the alternate ending is an uneven number of measures, i.e. speed the plough: https://thesession.org/tunes/901

i would argue that an alternate ending replaces entire phrases, either one phrase, two phrases, or four phrases (i.e. 2 measures, 4 measures, or 8 measures).

can anyone find an example which contradicts this that is not considered atypical? again… i would argue that a crooked tune is crooked because it violates this rule of thumb. the march of the kings of laois has a different number of phrases in each section ( https://thesession.org/tunes/835 ), 12 and 14 respectively. i would argue that the first half has 6 phrases and the second half has 7.

can anyone find me a tune that has an uneven number of measures in one or both halves?

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In music some terms can mean more than one thing, "phrase" being a case in point. However, in this discussion, I think it’s clear what is meant.

In "Tobin’s Favourite" a phrase happens to be two bars, but that doesn’t mean that all phrases equal two bars. Some phrases can be a single bar, or four bars, or, with lead-in notes, they don’t have to start at the beginning of a bar. What’s important, in my opinion, is that in almost all traditional dance tunes, the "A" and "B" parts of the tune can be divided into four segments, and these segments are what diav is calling "phrases" (I use exactly the same terminology). The length of a phrase is determined by the length of the tune, and whether lead-in notes ("pickup notes") are a feature.

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I would have said that the default was 4 bars, not 2. I would note, however, that the subphrases are also important. As is other punctuation. Pickups belong with the following phrase, so it’s often 1/2+3 1/2 or 1/2 + 4 or even 1/4+3 3/4 …

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Prof - I think the point is not that a phrase is where you take a breath, it’s more that it’s a place where a breath can go. There are some trivial examples. Dunmore Lasses can be broken up at the two-bar mark, and the tune will sound fine, but you can also put a breath at the spots I’ve marked with commas. On the other hand, I can’t imagine anyone putting a breath at the spots I’ve marked with xen:

E2EF G2G,A | Bxe e Be e| E2ExF G2,BG| A2 BA GE FD| …

I don’t understand what’s wanted by equating a two-bar stretch with a "phrase". It’s often the case that you can breathe at the two-bar mark, but a) not always and b) you wouldn’t want to.
So what is gained by making up a spurious two-bar unit?
If I knew that something good were at stake, I would be willing to consider the notion, but it just seems to me like something a guitarist would come up with while staring at sheet music.
(Daiv, no offense, I don’t mean to suggest that you are either a guitarist or a reader of dots)

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Thinking some more about this. Tobin’s is an interesting example to make this case with. To me, the long descent demands that the D belong to that phrase - it’s more a stepping-stone, belonging to both phrases at once, but I certainly can’t end that run on the E. Similarly, the f# in the third bar seems to my ear closely tied to the ascending run that precedes it. Just twiddling at the tune for a few minutes, I get something like the following. Square brackets indicate spots where I could put a boundary, though you wouldn’t take all of them of course. Curly braces suggest places that to my ear necessarily flow together - yes, I know that there’s a seeming contradiction in the overlapping spot there. This is a pretty crude attempt to put across my sense of where I hear the tune. Comma indicates a good breathing point, not a necessary one.


DFA d[cd]| ecA cde | f~ g[~] | {eca GFE |{D}, FA d~} | ecA cde | f~ g[~] | edc d :||


There’s probably more to be said about how this tune can be played, but I certainly don’t hear any two-bar block of that tune as making up a coherent chunk of music on its own, if that’s what’s meant by "a musical phrase".

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I think the start of Roaring Barmaid’s B part might be a good example of something that lends itself to uneven phrasing:

|deg b3|bab deg|b2b bag|edB deg|
b2b bab|agg bgg|agg deg|deg edB:|

To me, the first phrase is obviously 3 beats, followed by either a 5 beat phrase, or a two beat and a 3 beat phrase.

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Listen to Prof. P. has it right, in our mutual opinion. Daiv, as a flute you should know better. Sometimes I think you play so fast you lose a sense of the phrasing.
This: "…can anyone find an example which contradicts this that is not considered atypical?" Is ridiculous. If I cite tunes where the phrases don’t fit into your rigid conception then you’ll say it’s not typical. Being "typical" or not has nothing to do with it.
Typically, in fact, musical phrases differ from tune to tune. What IS true is that we count in fours, so the long phrases — first part and the turn — will fit the eight bar count. In between, there are shorter phrases which often cross bar lines.

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The only form in this music where phrasing and bar lines tend to match up is slip jigs. And even there, you’ll find exceptions just within the basic tunes.

I agree with David Levine that the notion of what’s "typical" is a red herring, more likely to confuse than to illuminate. Besides, it’s very common in this music for phrases to start and stop within bar lines in the notation. But really, you’re better off ignoring the notation and *hearing* the phrases instead.

More to the point, the phrasing is variable, fluid, not static. It changes every time through the tune, or nearly every time. You can vary where the breaks between phrases occur, and also vary the length of phrases—short ones, long ones, a mix of the two.

I’ve heard people phrase reels and jigs by the bar lines—it sounds terrible and not at all traditional.

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Are there any who disagree? Yes, I couldn’t disagree more.

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"….to start and stop within the bar lines…." What I meant was amid bars, not at the bars.

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Phrasing is the single most important thing in this music. It is the distinguishing factor between those who try and those who just do. It is the thing that defines a natural music and the thing that, when you don’t have it, exposes effort.

I’m not a great fan of language analogies with music, however, the analogy with phrasing in language can help. Question and answer is too simplistic. Think of words that join phrases, words like "and", "but", "however", "so", "maintenant" (this is a great french word, central to phrasing), and that lovely Italian word "allora" that kind of means "… anyway" but it’s much more expressive.

Tunes have bits in them that are analogous to these kinds of words. Seek them out, enjoy them, tease them, disguise them, glorify them. Play with them. Play them.

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Oh, great! Now you claim you don’t like your analogies. Talk about variation.

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analogies have their uses.

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An analogy is like a shovel. It’s best to keep it in the shed until you need it, because when you really put it to work, you end up in a hole.

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What is that? An analogy within an analogy.

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~

A simile in a metaphor …

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allora

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?

Did someone put LSD in the Mustard water supply?

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"can anyone find me a tune that has an uneven number of measures in one or both halves?"

Ag Uirchill An Chreagain is in five-bar phrases (and I’d be surprised if there wasn’t a lot more sean-nos even less regular). In Scottish tradition, Lord Gregory is in seven-bar phrases (similar to some other ballads and a lot of hymns, 4+3+4+3).

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Maybe someday we might dig through the article linked twice today by Prlwytzkofsky;

"… Many would argue that with the change of function of most performances of Irish traditional dance music from dance to listening that solid structure is no longer needed. I will make two simple arguments against this stance. The simplest argument is this – people like to tap their feet to music. Without some sort of solid structure the listener’s body is not engaged. For the second I would like to return to the piping (role) models I mentioned above and expand the grouping to include the concertina playing of Mary Haren, the accordion playing of Joe Cooley, and the whistle playing of Miko Russell. I would hope to
include an example of their playing on the CD for issue 2 for those who may not have heard them. All the models mentioned played a strongly structured music without all the many layers I have attempted to describe. And their music was great! The majority of people who heard their playing enjoyed it. They communicated with their listeners through the music. I believe it is fair to say they passed the ‘geantraí test’."

"Rhythm & structure in Irish traditional dance music" P. Mitchell

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I’ve said before that I’m not expert at Irish music, but I have to quibble with the idea that all, or almost all of it breaks into 2 bar phrases (leaving out the issue if whether the phrasing is actually offset in some manner through pick up notes).

Consider Freeze Breeches: The A section seems to me to be 2 bars (statement) and then 2 ONE bar responses, the first response being responded to by the second one! That is followed by a 2 bar statement and 2 bar response.

Other sections of tunes seem to me to fall into a 4 + 4 or 4 + 2 + 2 arrangement.

I suppose I could extend this example but perhaps is suffices to show that the 2 followed by 2 idea may not be an accurate enough description of the situation. Michael’s idea of connective "words" extends this idea I think.

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Re: Anacrusis in Irish Traditional Music
"If you look at it correctly, you simply see that some tunes start on a up beat. Or that some tunes’ parts start on an upbeat."
October 22nd 2007 by llig leahcim
https://thesession.org/discussions/15548/comments#comment322090

also, same thread later …

"Reminds me of the question regarding the number of angels who can dance simultaneously on the tip of a needle - maybe I’m not taking this session playing seriously enough but I can imagine the reaction I’d get if I were to ask "are we doing the anacrusis before the Donegal reel tonight?"!"
Posted by Bannerman

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Michael’s post is spot on. One of the most important aspects of phrasing in this music is finding those "allora" bits that knit one strand to the next, that allow a phrase to trail off rather than end abruptly, that get you into the next phrase in a pleasantly unexpected way….

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"Pull up a chair."
"Here is your pint."
"Do you have a set you want to start?"
"Where did you get that whistle?"
"Who invited him?"
"Oh God, another drummer."
All phrases I have heard in Irish music…

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Lol, AlBrown. I needed that.

Lately I’ve been learning tunes from Shannon Heaton’s Tune of the Month. She plays each tune with all her variations & up to speed for starters. Then she plays it one phrase at a time.
The tune I’m on now is Dennis Watson’s Reel, which she added on November 25, 2009. I’m only mentioning on this thread because it’s helped my learning tunes to hear each phrase. In other words, Shannon Heaton is a very good passer along of tunes. Hell, she’s grand!
http://tuneofthemonth.posterous.com/?page=2

To be honest I really haven’t given much thought to the barlines or even which bar I’m on while playing each Tune of the Month. Should I?

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Ben, I’d say learn Shannon’s tunes just by listening to them.

That said, one of the downsides to learning a tune phrase by phrase, especially from a recording, is that you’ll hear the phrasing that way in your head for quite a while. There are *always* other ways to phrase a tune. Most people don’t bother playing various ways to phrase when teaching a tune because it complicates things beyond what most learners can or want to deal with.

Good one-on-one lessons or a learning session can create opportunities to learn different phrasings as you learn a tune. At least that’s been my experience.

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Oh, I listen to her playing those tunes too. And I do play along, up to speed. It isn’t always a train wreck.
I made a decision when I began playing flute on a daily basis. As opposed to mostly whistles & a little flute. I decided to become familiar with my instrument from scratch. Most of my mates think it’s odd. (Why aren’t I playing on every single tune?) But I’ve made more progress in the past 7 months than in the past 7 years… more in 7 weeks than in 7 months. I agree with you about needing to learn tunes from hearing them played up to speed. While I have learnt more tunes in the past I have not played them as well as I am now.* But I do want to hear the phrases. I’m not slowing down the recording, although she (Shannon) does when she plays the phrases. Having said that, she seems to always be on the verge of wanting to throw in the variations … sometimes she does.
Wow, I’m rambling. Basically I hear plenty of musicians who do not have good phrasing, or don’t always allow for phrasing; they rush things. I really don’t want to learn tunes from that way of playing. So, I *will* be learning more from listening to tunes played up to speed & with some nice variation. Give me time.

*I do listen to tunes played by different players, including their different phrasing. So, I’m not only hearing the way Shannon Heaton plays a tune.

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"Most people don’t bother playing various ways to phrase when teaching a tune because it complicates things beyond what most learners can or want to deal with." I think that is very true. But I’m doing everything I can to hear different ways of phrasing the tune as I learn them. Fair play, I get that. The good news is one of my mates is great at coming up with variations. Keeps me going to the session. Keeps me listening.

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During one of the first Willie weeks Séamus Ennis gave a talk about music. He explained forms, talked about structure and pulse and all the things that put a good player from ‘someone rolling it off, like a good typist typing’.

One of the tunes he used for a demonstration, first playing it as ‘sometimes you someone play it like this…’ ‘and this is how the tune really does it..’, was the Munster Buttermilk.

He played it like this:

A d2 e f
dB d2 e f
dB AFE ~E3
AFE E
FA d2 f etc etc

with a distinctive pulse (and he explained how he understood ‘pulse’: the heartbeat of the tune falling somewhere between the beats).

Now, Pat Mitchell, in that article, calls each bit as I wrote them there ‘the building blocks’ but we can regarding as the smallest unit that you can call a phrase. These little blocks already establish a call and response structure that is repeated in the larger phrase units:

A d2 e fdB d2 e f
dB AFE ~E3 AFE E

these in turn make up the longer phrase:

A d2 e fdB d2 e fdB AFE ~E3 AFE E


that forms the ‘call’ that forms the first half of the first part. Together with it’s respo0nse we have the first part of the Munster Buttermilk.

To my mind this is the basic structure of a jig, you can obscure it by using rhythmic variation and melodic variation but this structure is the basis of good jig playing.


It’s probably interesting to note that Pat Mitchell and James O Brien -Moran use these phrases when teaching jig. Both have noted that students from outside the tradition invariably get mixed up and fail to put the tune together from these ‘blocks’.

How about that now?


.

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Meant to put this with the post above but had to do the schoolrun to Spanish Point.

Ennis on jig playing:

http://www.box.net/shared/8sisoe3ouz

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Your a star Prof, thats a classic. The man himself! brilliant.

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I prefer the one he did explaining reels:

http://www.box.net/shared/v4pipc5xse


all your questions about phrasing answered in one playing, if you listen.

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oh my! another gem from The Profs archive! Priceless.

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Hi There

An exercise worth trying for those reading dots might be to remove the bar lines from the manuscripts and experiment with the phrasing of the notes etc

There are examples of this in Sully’s Irish Banjo book where the bars have been removed from some slow airs.

It can make one focus a bit more

No doubt someone will say it’s a bad idea…still might be a helpful exercise no harm an a that!

pkev

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@david levine: my comment to tirno above answers the question about phrases and breath. i remember being taught back in the day to "not breath at the end of a phrase," which seemed to be the end of a section of a tune. so, that definition of phrase would contradict what i am saying, but not fit this "willy nilly" idea that people seem to be propagating.

david, how is my phrasing in the following video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u_NXCYUtpQ8 . i would say my rhythm is off, not my phrasing.


@jon: i think you are confusing phrasing with cadence. no, i don’t think every phrase needs to have full cadence, does it?

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for what it’s worth, i think everyone who thinks that phrases are willy nilly wherever you want them are missing the point that it is DANCE music. the phrases have to be inherent in the tune so that dancers can follow it…

nobody addressed my point about basic dance steps taking up 2 measures. i don’t think it’s an accident that dance steps take up two measures and that the music can easily be analyzed into two bar phrases.

as i said above to tirno, i differentiate between "how one phrases the music" and "where the musical phrase is." in rock music, for example, music tends to have 4 bar phrases, but that "phrasing" can go over bar lines.

@jon: also, you asked "what is wanted with a two bar phrase" and i would say that i want a structure and a way to think about irish music. frameworks in knowledge are essential for mastery.

i hear irish music in two bar phrases which come together to make 4 bar segments (or sentences, as i think about them) which make 8 bar sections, which are usually repeated, and then move onto the next part of the tune….

when i did NOT hear in phrases, i could not play at all. the better i think in 2 bar phrases, the better my playing, and the better my "phrasing" in the sense of a highly variable accent and chunking of notes outside this "2 bar chunk" that i hear when i listen to irish music. listen to my link above of my playing… i think that my phrasing is not divorced from the music and a result of looking at sheet music too much…. it has some problems but that’s not one of them.

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‘Nobody addressed my point about basic dance steps taking up 2 measures’

Yes I did. I said several times your assertion about two bar phrases is mistaken

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THERE’S A BOOK WITH THE SHEET MUSIC FOR SLOW AIRS WITH THE BAR LINES REMOVED FOR "IRISH BANJO" ???????

Sheeesh, it’s April 4th for feck sake, not the 1st

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Maybe I’m confusing something - to me, a phrase is a complete musical thought.
Cribbing an example from Wikipedia (I’m feeling lazy today):
"the house at the end of the street is on fire" is a sentence.
"the house at the end of the street" is a phrase
"the house", "at the end" and "of the street" are all phrases
"house at the" and "the end of the street is" are not phrases of this sentence by any stretch of the imagination
and
"the end of the street is on fire" could be a sentence, but it would not be a reasonable inference from the original sentence.

Musically, putting a breath between the second and third or fourth and fifth bars of Tobin’s would feel a lot like pausing for breath at the parens:
"the house at () the end of the street is painted () green"

If that’s not what you mean by phrasing, I don’t know what you mean by phrasing, and yes, I’m confused.

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@will: i suppose from writing these responses i make a distinction between rhythmic phrases and melodic phrase. i don’t know if rhythmic is the right word, but if you think about it, irish music is clearly broken down into the 2 bar units that are put together to make tunes, and the melodic phrasing is built around it. this again goes back to the dances that these tunes were written to go with…

i would disagree that phrasing based on the bar line is a bad thing and not traditional… my grandma’s phrasing was very much based on this 2 bar unit. for example, when she played tobin’s, she almost always played before the beat on the beginning of a 2-bar phrase. so if she started off the tune A|DFA dcd |….. the first D would steal time from the A.

listening to her playing is where i really got this idea. as an aside, she is from ballaghaderreen, roscommon, and her cousin from the same town in ireland phrases tunes just about the same way, but with a cheekier style to match her personality. these

this does not mean she would steal the same way every time… her phrasing was dynamic. the phrases as i heard her play them were 4 bars, with 2 bar sub-phrases… so even my grandma’s playing disagrees with my 2-bar unit as a technicality.

however, you could hear the tunes she learned from her mother by ear on a dirt floor on a farm in ireland, look at the sheet music, and yes her phrases would match the bar lines.

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What do irish dancers want ? Social, not up on a stage for watchers.

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Maybe I start to understand. Is it that you’re talking more about chunking - two bars is a reasonable chunk of a tune to get at a stretch - and not about how the tune is played when you get it all into your head?

If that’s the case, then I can understand a little better what you’re talking about.

Re: What is a phrase in Irish Music?

IMO what you are hearing Daiv could be more acurately described as ‘statements’, not phrases, a phrase is how we express ourselves through the music, its how we phrase these statements , so in a way its the cadence of expression. Expression as in language, poetry, song.
Eg if you know the words to a song melody the singing of that song will be phrased differently each verse because the words change, though the melody stays [roughly] the same. So when playing the air of the song on an instrument the various phrases of the song can be reproduced if so desired.

So with the tunes, the phrasing is how we ‘sing’ the tune through the instrument using the various possibilities available to use on our instruments and dependent on technique and imagination.

Re: What is a phrase in Irish Music?

@prof: i cannot make sense of seamus’ example right now… i have a major stats assignment due in less than 3 hours i’d like to have an instrument out when i try it.

however, as pat mitchell states it on the beginning of page 11 i agree. what i hear as a phrase he calls a a building block, and what he calls a phrase i call "phrasing." i’ll have to give the whole article another read over, thanks for the link! definitely the sort of thing i’m interested in…

what i can say now is that he does say the phrase structure is constantly changing to add "tension and excitement." i definitely agree with this, if we are talking about phrases as he defines them.

however, i would like to point out that on page ten he admits he is redefining the term phrase in order to help people with his phrasing. so, personally my viewpoint of phrases being separate from phrasing is semantically the same as his point and only terminologically different (and i’ll admit mine is misleading).

his view on that page is just about the same as i think about it. so, i would say that he is redefining the term phrase to make a point, and doing so on purpose. so, i definitely like the point he is making and how he demonstrated it, but that doesn’t mean i won’t use the term phrase as he is denouncing it.

i think that people who have phrasing problems as he uses the term also tend to not think in "building blocks." this is why i am an advocate of thinking in phrases (building blocks), because i believe that thinking that way helps in phrasing (which is separate from building blocks). in my experience, when you teach, practice, and play with building blocks in mind, people’s phrasing gets better and dynamic (meaning changes). in my experience, however, the word phrase to mean building blocks does not hurt phrasing to mean what he means, though i do agree with him 100% that it is important to make such a distinction.

likewise, i think it may be too much for most purposes to use the term building blocks, when i could just say phrasing, as i think sometimes it is ok to speak inaccurately for the sake of clarity.

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Re: What is a phrase in Irish Music?

@jon: chunking is exactly what i’m talking about. i think we disagree on terms here and little else. i am ok with that, and like the terms that have been discussed, like your "chunking" and "building blocks" from prof.

i also like your term because as a cognitive psycholigist in training (grad school), that was the word i was using the entire time in my head. chunking is definitely the official psychological term for what i’m talking about (and i’m not even joking….).

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Re: What is a phrase in Irish Music?

"i think sometimes it is ok to speak inaccurately for the sake of clarity."

Hhmmmmm

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Re: What is a phrase in Irish Music?

Okay, Daiv - glad that’s sorted. Now get to studying. :)

Re: What is a phrase in Irish Music?

I think Prof got it exactly right — at least in terms of what most people think ‘phrase’ means related to Irish music. As such, phrasing is a key idea and an appropriate understanding of it helps make the music authentic.

The fact that the music has a strict rhythm, and you can count a number of bars, is interesting, but a different idea from phrasing. Although, sometimes they align, which is not entirely a coincidence.

Apologies for a too-long post.

@daiv— bearing in mind that talking about music is like dancing about architecture… If we were face to face with instruments in hand we could compare phrasing. That said, I found your clip of G’s Fav played way too fast for beautiful phrasing. Dancers might not care. But we are listening, not dancing.
It is not as smooth, as rhythmic, or as musical as the clip of George White’s Favorite/The Virginia Reel as played by Matt M and Sean Keane on Contentment is Wealth. Given, they are special, full time musicians at the top of their game here. But their playing seems *much* slower than the way you played it. It is very measured. Nothing is rushed or forced. The phrasing is liquid. The second time through the first part you can hear a three-bar phrase.
You can phrase tunes so that one bar makes sense, or three, or five. A lot depends on what you listen for. If you listen to the music in blocks of two-bar phrases, then that is what you will hear. But the music is much more fluid and variable if you don’t impose an a priori structure.

Re: What is a phrase in Irish Music?

Daiv, I always get the impression, when people do the "argument ex choreo" (also known as "it’s dance music remember!") - and often using this to argue a rigidity that I don’t think the music or the dance needs - that the people saying that don’t really do much dancing.

Now I may be wrong, as I don’t do much irish dancing and am very much a beginner sean nos dancer, but as a dancer who loves dance music (traditional dancing, swing dancing, as opposed to "steady-beat-ignore-the-musical-phrasing" of salsa and ballroom), my favorite part is in the unusual phrasings, the things that you can dance off and which make it different from dancing to a metronome.

Even if I am greatly mistaken and you do know a lot about dancing, and my lack of knowledge about irish dancing is clear in the above, I’m pretty sure that dancers are far more able to cope with irregular tempos and surprising phrasings than many would assume or imagine.

Greg

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Re: What is a phrase in Irish Music?

Methinks you think too much, Daiv. If, as you put it your granny ‘learned from her mother by ear on a dirt floor on a farm in Ireland’ - I doubt very much if said mother spent much time considering phrasing, chunking or bar lines.. anyway, what’s the dirt floor got to do with it?

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Re: What is a phrase in Irish Music?

It’s certainly no guarantee you’ll be any good at it at all. That’s for sure.

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Re: What is a phrase in Irish Music?

Perhaps an extract from Tomás Ó Canainn’s book on slow airs is relevant (though holding the final note of a phrase for twice its ‘normal’ length in a dance tune migh upset the dancers):

Ornamentation…..

….As in all unaccompanied musical traditions, some form of ornamentation is involved in the playing of Irish slow airs. The performer must be guided by his or her instinct for the tradition. My own advice is to err on the side of too little ornamentation rather than overburdening the air with the kind of decorative excesses that were not uncommon in some eighteenth and nineteenth century collections of Irish music.
I would regard ornamentation as a way of easing movement between the main notes of a melody — a kind of musical lubrication which makes the progression logical and inevitable. The listener must not have his or her attention drawn specifically to the ornamentation by the performance, as that, in itself, would be a sure sign of excessive decoration.

PHRASING

Ornamentation normally occurs within the framework of a musical phrase, which is the basic building block of the air. In each of the airs in this book (except in some Carolan and older pieces), phrases are indicated by slurs around the se­ries of notes. I think one might regard the actual phrasing as a movement from the first note of the phrase to the final, which I regard as a resting place — a plateau where one may pause to look around for the next resting point, which is, of course, the final note of the next phrase.
The best advice I can give —.and I think it will improve your slow air playing enormously — is to make a definite pause on the last note of the phrase, holding it for about twice its indicated length. This, more than any other recommendation of mine, will make the airs notated in this book spring to life. You should feel that each phrase is an inevitable progression to that vitally important final note. Movement to the next phrase is reminiscent of a singer taking a breath before singing out the next series of notes. Such an approach to phrasing implies that
the time-signatures quoted for these airs is merely an approximation. You should never feel that you are playing out a series of notes in regular 3/4 or 4/4 time: what you produce must be an attractively fluid outpouring of music, dominated by its phrasing.
I have pointed out above that many of the airs are derived from songs and that a knowledge of traditional singing would be of some help in decorating an air, but I should point out that instrumental ornamentation is not at all the same as vocal ornamentation. The best guide to instrumental decoration of an air is the instru­ment itself: I feel strongly that slow air players should, to a large extent, submit their playing to the conventions of the their particular instrument and the way it is played traditionally.
This means, of course, that a fiddler and a piper will adopt different approach­es to playing an air and their performances will, in general, be quite different from what an accordionist, a tin-whistler, a flute-player or a concertina player will produce. I cannot sufficiently emphasise that you should be guided by the instru­ment and by your own traditional experience. If that experience is limited, I sug­gest you listen a lot to the accompanying tape before you attempt to play. You will hear various instruments playing the airs on the cassette tapes. If you have not previously heard airs played on bouzouki, oboe or saxophone, my best advice is to listen with an open mind. You may be surprised!

VARIATION

As your air-playing improves, you will realise that there are no unbreakable rules involved. Experience will teach you that the phrasing recommended here, for example, is not the only phrasing possible. This should lead you to experi­menting with slightly different phrasing every time you play a tune. Equally, your overall performance will improve if you employ somewhat different ornamenta­tion for each appearance of a particular phrase. But only do this if you are confident in your ability to make the new variation sound just right and com­pletely unforced…..

Re: What is a phrase in Irish Music?

That’s disappointing. I just ordered a new dirt floor for my practice room. They’re even throwing in a few pigs as a special offer!

Re: What is a phrase in Irish Music?

(that in response to Prof’s post, of course…)

Re: What is a phrase in Irish Music?

@jon: in regards to your early linguistic example, i think you are confusing phrasing with prosody. phrases are syntactic, and prosody is in the emphasis and timing of a speaker. to take your example back to music, the phrase would be the structure of the tune, and the prosody the emphasis, subtle shifts in rhythm. to me, the term phrase is analogous to the linguistic concept, but most people here seem to be using phrasing to be analogous to prosody. no one is wrong or right.

@illig: sacrificing accuracy can be important for clarity

imagine the following situation: you are teaching a student, and you ask them to learn the next phrase of the tune, or you ask them to work on a particular phrase. now imagine you say the following "learn the next building block of the tune" or "work on that building block." which is clearer, and which is more accurate? accuracy is not the same as clarity…

i would also like to point out that i have NEVER seen anyone in a workshop or teach a tune in this nebulous phrase concept that is being advocated by many here, but rather they teach it in concrete building blocks, and then teach appropriate (and varying) phrasing).

consider the following sentence: "he could not sustain the representation of the semantic content long enough to encode the information into an external memory store, due to a failure to attend to the germane stimuli." that is very accurate, but not very clear. now compare: "he forgot what he wanted to write down because he wasn’t paying attention."

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Re: What is a phrase in Irish Music?

@wounded hussar: the dirt floor was meant to be quaint sounding, and to make a point… the point that you inferred, which is that they did not think of the music at all, but rather just played. the extension of that point is that i heard it in their playing, and that it is therefore not mechanical or untraditional to phrase in accordance with bar lines.

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Re: What is a phrase in Irish Music?

@greg: my argument wasn’t that dancers are rigid, but that there is a structure in the music that is echoed in the dance. i don’t care how much you dance or play with irregular phrasing and rhythm, that innate structure does NOT disappear. it is this innate structure that i am referring to…

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Re: What is a phrase in Irish Music?

daiv, if you’re happy with your own understanding on this, and unwilling to take on board other perspectives, then why ask the question?

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Re: What is a phrase in Irish Music?

@david:

in 2009 at the fleadh, my feedback for concertina was: "you know that this is dance music, right? your tunes were way too slow." in 2010, my feedback was, "it was a bit too danceband… they’re looking for more listenable music."

in my head, both styles are valid, and i don’t understand this aversion to fast music that i see creeping up on the internet… likewise i don’t like an aversion to playing slowly, either, cuz then you miss out on such wonderful gems as mike rafferty’s album "speed 78."

the clip you mention of matt molloy is indeed much slower than mine, but i would also say that matt molloy was one of the biggest proponents of listening music played quickly (in contrast to ceili band style of the same speed). i will accept your argument that our phrasing needs some work (though i’d say my timing is the biggest issue), but i think it strange to have a blanket statement on speed when in reality ideal speed is a range, not a strict number.

right now, i am lucky enough to have maurice lennon running the session in the town i grew up in. he is both the fastest and the slowest player i ever play with. so, what do you say to that? should we walk out of the room when he plays quickly? i choose to enjoy both quick playing and slow playing… it is a challenge to keep up with him and the likes of jimmy keane playing quickly, and it is equally a challenge to do justice to his beautiful airs, waltzes, etc.

and for the record… the punters go crazy for both the fast and the slow stuff, so no one’s sensibilities are hurt.

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Re: What is a phrase in Irish Music?

@weejie: by now i think that at least prof and i have concluded that our primary disagreement here seems to be of terminology. and it’s no fair to bring up airs… i would agree that airs are a clear case of phrasing being highly variable in both my definition (pat mitchell’s "building block") of a phrase, and the one being advocated here.

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Re: What is a phrase in Irish Music?

Daiv - on the inguistic point, you have prosodic freedom, but it’s limited by the syntactic structure. Tunes don’t have a syntax the way language does (Bernstein, be quiet) but they do have an internal structure, and I think that phrases are analogous. If you mean "chunks", I’ll agree that most tunes chunk well at about 2 bars, plus or minus. But if you mean phrases, it’s a much more complicated thing - to me.
You can use the terminology you like, as you like, I’m just telling you how I use the terms, which I think is pretty standard. I don’t insist that you follow my usage.

Re: What is a phrase in Irish Music?

Daiv, you are arguing that there is an innate structure on which phrasing (and dancing?) should be based.

While I can accept that most if not all tunes have a fairly clear melodic structure and that this structure can be usefully used to break tunes up *for teaching*, I don’t think the fact that subjects of all kinds are broken up into pieces for teaching implies that these pieces *are* the building blocks out of which "experts" construct these subjects.

Greg

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Re: What is a phrase in Irish Music?

@jon: i think prosody is not limited solely by syntax, but rather that prosody is influenced by underlying discourse and narrative structure. in other words… prosody communicates ideas, and i would consider it paralinguistic.

i definitely think that phrasing is variable and dynamic, but i think that there is such a thing as a phrase, or part of a phrase. personally, i would accept 2, 4, or perhaps 8 measures (with pickups) as a phrase in a reel. but i don’t think it is just random and ever-changing. this is what i was talking about. if you think it is more common to use the word to refer to the idea being expressed rather than the structure supporting these ideas, i don’t know if i agree, but i can’t quantify it…

@greg: i think that most tunes already have a structure which phrasing and dancing is based. why do dancers wait 8 bars into the tune to start rather than 7? i wrote a tune when i was 12 that had an uneven number of measures, and just by listening my grandma said that "you couldn’t dance to it."

i also remember very distinctly hearing james kelly saying "a phrase in irish music is two measures." i could have misinterpreted him, but it was my interpretation is that this is how he thinks about and approaches music. i took that to mean that it is the basic building block… i would accept very readily that a phrase in a reel is either 4 or 8 measures (and this may vary), but i find it hard to believe that there is just no structure on which phrasing is based.

i think of it like the underlying beat of the tune… music is organized according to beats, whether or not any of the notes directly lay on the beat. for example, one could play in front of the beat, or behind the beat, in the middle of the beat, or not at all during a beat.

the structure on which phrasing is based (whatever it is), would be analogous. the musical, expressive phrasing need not always lie on it, but i think that a given tune in irish music has an underlying structure on which phrasing is based on.

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Re: What is a phrase in Irish Music?

here’s a series of questions:

is it unreasonable to say that most irish musicians tend to accent the downbeat of a measure in their phrasing?

also, is it unreasonable to say that when listening to any good player playing a reel that they will tend to minimally emphasize the downbeat of every 4 measures?

why can i sit down in a bar with a stranger and play tunes together, without an underlying structure which acts as a starting point for phrasing?

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Re: What is a phrase in Irish Music?

@david: i listened to the clip again in itunes…. it is quite lovely! it’s now on my list for albums for my next buying spree. i definitely would like to play like that! but i’m not going to say that i would ONLY like to play like that, if that makes sense.

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Re: What is a phrase in Irish Music?

James Kelly (or his brothers and father) plays very clearly structured music. If you ever cared to listen to him closely you wouldn’t keep yapping on about ‘two measures’.

Read the fecking article.

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"@weejie: by now i think that at least prof and i have concluded that our primary disagreement here seems to be of terminology. and it’s no fair to bring up airs… i would agree that airs are a clear case of phrasing being highly variable in both my definition (pat mitchell’s "building block") of a phrase, and the one being advocated here."

My quote from O’Canainn was not directed at your discussion, Daiv, but simply returning to the original question - "What is a phrase?" - rather than "how long is a phrase?" etc. Much of what he says can apply to dance music, though one musn’t forget (if playing for dancers) that choreography is full of phrases too (and surely the phrasing must agree?). In particular, this extract responds to someone’s analogy with phrases in language (the word has more than one definition in linguistic context).


" I think one might regard the actual phrasing as a movement from the first note of the phrase to the final, which I regard as a resting place — a plateau where one may pause to look around for the next resting point, which is, of course, the final note of the next phrase."

Re: What is a phrase in Irish Music?

Should read "returning to YOUR original question" - which seemed to start off on the wrong track. - Oh for an edit facility on this forum!

Re: What is a phrase in Irish Music?

Reading through that quote Weejie I found myself wondering about the extent to which the melody and the rhythm move together. From the sentence you just quoted last ( "I think one might regard…) the implication is that they do. But in other forms of music, and I think I hear it in ITM, thee sometimes don’t. The rhythm can come to a rest when it seems a cadence is just round the corner (which may or may not come). Once in a while, possibly deliberatly quirky playing, the exected resolution happens on or just before the ‘pick-up’ for the next phrase. Sort "Ah there we are … oops no, now we are off again"

Just wondering.

Re: What is a phrase in Irish Music?

I’m not sure that daiv knows what phrasing, in the context of playing diddley music, is. And maybe the language analogy is partly to blame.

Phrasing in written language is mostly indicated by punctuation. A comma is a slight pause, for example - a shorter pause than a dash, but less than a full stop. Does a question mark indicate a raising of pitch towards the end of the sentence? But none of this is directly analogous to diddley music, of course, because it would interrupt the timing, the structure and the melody.

I’m at a loss really how to describe diddley music phrasing with words. Except to say that it’s a different thing from pulse and lift and drive and structure. and that it’s what makes the music human. Phrasing in language is the difference between an automated computer voice and a real voice, and phrasing in music is also the difference between an automated computer voice and a real voice … but in a completely different way.

With very careful computer programming you can easily imitate structure and reasonably successfully imitate lift, drive and pulse. (Dr Dow had a go at it with the ABCs for a jig some time ago, and it was very clever). But you will never get a computer with elegant phrasing.

Phrasing is chaotic. (In the strict definition of the term as used in chaos theory, not in the definition of it being a shambles.) A chaotic system is one which cannot be modelled because any successful model would be as complex as the original. So it’s really impossible to describe accurately. I know its like throwing in the towel on this one, but I really think its just one of those things you just have to "get". It’s non-reducible. And yet it’s the thing that can come naturally to any human when you play the music without analysing it.

I’m of the opinion that it’s just one of those things that the more think about it, the more it’s very nature, its essence, will evade you.

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"@jon: i think prosody is not limited solely by syntax, but rather that prosody is influenced by underlying discourse and narrative structure. in other words… prosody communicates ideas, and i would consider it paralinguistic"

You’ve missed the point entirely of my original example. The places where you could and couldn’t pause for breath are purely determined by syntax, that is, by the underlying structure of the sentence. Those are phrases in a purely technical sense.
While I think that there isn’t an underlying structure of the same sort in music, there is certainly an underlying structure, and it works across the beat, in the same way that syntactic and semantic units of a sentence work across the metrical pattern of the sentence

Frost knew this:

"O stormy, stormy world,
The days you were not furled
around with mist and cloud
and wrapped as in a shroud
And the sun’s brilliant ball
was not in part or all
obscured from mortal view
were days so very few
I can but wonder whence
I get the lasting sense
of so much warmth and light…"

Look at how many times a syntactic or a semantic unit crosses that main metrical bar line. Read it allowed, and get a taste of how you read across the bar from line two to line three, and the meter puts its own emphasis on the strong beats, so you don’t have to.
You could read it with strict emphasis on the beats:

"O STORmy STORmy World, the DAYS you WERE not FURLED aROUND with MIST and CLOUD…"

but Frost himself would rise up and smack you about the head with a fencepost.

Now think of a tune. The places where your foot falls, if you play it right, are emphasized for you - that emphasis is built into the tune, you just have to play the tune "from the inside", as it were. You then have to observe the phrases that are built in to the tune, as you do with the phrases of the poem, and bring out the ones that you want to bring out on this reading of it.

I might bring out the phrase "so very few" and also, a little less, "wrapped, (breath) as in a shroud", or I might lean on something else, depending on what was catching my attention on a given day.

Where I can put those pauses is conditioned by the syntax, but where I choose to put them is determined by my reading of the poem, and I use the internal drive of the poem’s meter to make those choices work. Phrasing is simply not a matter of observing the metrical pattern.

The same goes for a tune: you play it in time, of course, but what’s important about the tune when you’re playing it is the interaction of the rhythm with the phrasing, and that’s where the player collaborates in a way with the composer, as the reader and the poet form a team for the duration of the reading.

Go and listen to John Carty playing the Piper From Glasgow. Notice how he takes it three times and each time you hear a different way of looking at it. Notice how his phrasing is independent of the bar lines. That’s what I mean by phrasing.

Again, I think what you’re talking about is "chunking" the tune for learning. For those purposes, you could play that tune in two-bar chunks and do no damage:

FA A2 BAFA| dfed BcdB|
FA A2 BAFA| dfed B2 A2
FA A2 BAFA| dfed BcdB|
g2 ge f2 fe | dfed B2 A2||

No harm done, but it’s not how the tune is phrased - it’s just a convenient way of teaching the tune, as you could teach someone that Frost poem ("Happiness Makes Up in Height For What It Lacks in Length") by reading it line-by-line with simple emphasis.
If you ever broke it up that way in session, you might get a visit from the tune’s long-forgotten composer. Bearing a fencepost.

Re: What is a phrase in Irish Music?

daiv said:" is it unreasonable to say that most irish musicians tend to accent the downbeat of a measure in their phrasing?

also, is it unreasonable to say that when listening to any good player playing a reel that they will tend to minimally emphasize the downbeat of every 4 measures?"

Yes, that is unreasonable. The beats in this music fall not just on the downbeats, but also—at least as often—on the back beats. If you count a reel as 1-2-3-4 1-2-3-4 you will hear players emphasize the 1s and 3s, but rarely just the 1s or just the 3s for very long. In short, the beat moves around among those 1s and 3s.

The pulse is still steady, because the beat is always on the 1s and 3s. And that’s how two strangers who know this music can sit down and play together.

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Re: What is a phrase in Irish Music?

I guess folk may come along and quibble about that jon, but to me it seems to be a very useful analogy, well explained.

Do you think someone reading the poem would have more options for expression if they knew english ? ;-)

Re: What is a phrase in Irish Music?

Fewer options, I’d say, but more good options. :)

(Quibblers are welcome, but thanks for the upvote!)

Re: What is a phrase in Irish Music?

What about the beat on slides, it moves around as well. Although, I simply don’t listen to or play enough slides to recognize how much the beat moves around. (mostly the standards) Any suggestions for some players or styles & tunes (slides, of course) to listen to?

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Re: What is a phrase in Irish Music?

Seamus and Brendan Begley are great players for slides (and polkas).

With any jig form (double, single, hop, slip, slide), the beat is nearly always on the 1s, but it’s up to the tune and you to decide *which 1s* to emphasize. Doesn’t have to be (should *not* be, except when it is) every 1, and not even every measure.

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Re: What is a phrase in Irish Music?

Thanks, Will. I have listened to Begley & Cooney. Perhaps I’ll begin by revisiting those tunes.

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Re: What is a phrase in Irish Music?

@prof: personally i think a two measured units are the basic unit of structure, which are thus are combined together to create fuller ideas. a good player thinks on the larger scale, and phrasing goes beyond innate tune structure. we agree on this… and yes i have listened to james kelly closely.

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Didn’t Rutherford split the basic unit of structure?

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@weejie: oh, i see. well, then quite a contributing quote, indeed! i always get confused when i see airs written out…. i have all sorts of airs written out by noel hill with changing time signatures and series of short and long notes, that are not really present when i hear them, which supports the idea that phrasing and structure are different.

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Re: What is a phrase in Irish Music?

@llig: i don’t disagree with anything you say. i was using the term phrase to refer to innate structure, but the article that prof linked to has given me reason to reconsider this.

so, you may disagree with me on thinking that 2 bars are the basic unit of STRUCTURE, but i think it is unfair to say that i don’t know what phrasing is. especially since throughout the whole discussion i have differentiated between structure and phrasing (though i started off using the term phrase for structural unit).

i think that in irish music that there is a basic organization structure which is innate (to each tune, at least), and thus the basis on which phrasing is built. good phrasing is dynamic, and both hints at and contradicts this organizational structure.

in other words, i think that structure and phrasing are two separate representations in the mind of the player that interact. to say that structure and phrasing are completely separate is to what i object. i can listen to any musician playing a reel and i can hear two, four and eight measure structures, as well as sections and individual tunes. by now, i hear this completely automatically. don’t you?

that is my argument to support my initial question. it is wrong to infer that i do not understand what phrasing is.

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@will: i didn’t say that the accenting the downbeat or the backbeats were mutually exclusive. obviously a good player will vary the degree which they accent the downbeat and the backbeat on any given phrase. my point is that even though one may play the backbeat to be more accented than the downbeat, the downbeat is still given special consideration, and almost always "sounds like the downbeat." i point this out to show that there is innate structure which interacts with phrasing, but does not solely determine phrasing.

a good example of downbeats not sounding like downbeats is in toss the feathers on james kelly’s melodic journeys. no matter how many hundreds of times i listen to the album, if i am tapping my foot i lose track of the downbeat between 1:53 and and 1:55.

i know it IS there, because i know james kelly’s philosophy regarding the beat: that the beat continues independently of whether or not the melody deviates from it or hits it directly. i will admit fault in that i cannot hear it, though i have been able to find it if i slow down the music.

so, that is an example where i am showing that the structure and the phrasing of the tune are disjointed, without sacrificing either.

@prof: what do you think, have i listened to james kelly closely? :-P

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@will: i definitely agree that it is up to the musician to decide which 1’s to emphasize, but clearly they almost always sound like 1’s. this is the chaos in phrasing that others have referred to…

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Re: What is a phrase in Irish Music?

To be honest I am turning towards Michael’s idea. The one that says you don’t know what phrasing is, not in the sense it is commonly used for Irish music anyway.

A I said, if you listen to James (or John, John jr or Johnny or any of the others from that family for that matter) Kelly you would hear their phrases and know without a doubt in your mind they are not the full two bars.

So for that reason I think continuing this is not useful.

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Re: What is a phrase in Irish Music?

Daiv: "it is wrong to infer that i do not understand what phrasing is."

Um, I think most of us inferred that from the title you gave to the thread: "Re: What is a phrase in Irish Music?"

So it was a rhetorical question then? :-/



Of course downbeats are there, in the music. But this music, played well, routinely takes the emphasis off the downbeats and puts it on the backbeat instead, and then entirely removes any emphasis from a long string of notes, and then emphasizes *both* the down and backbeats in a chunk.

If you want to ponder the existence of beats at all (down or otherwise), go ahead. Strikes me as silly—it’s music, of course there are beats, that’s how music is organized, and so is distinguishable from noise.

What *matters* is whether beats are strong or weak.

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Re: What is a phrase in Irish Music?

@jon: i agree with you in that syntax, semanticity, and prosody all operate at different levels.

my argument is that the syntax in irish music would be the basic structural unit of 2 bars, which is based on the underlying pulse of the music.

to extend the metaphor, semanticity would then be the melodic development, and prosody would then be variable phrasing, accentuation, and varying rhyhtm.

the semanticity of the music can go across this structure, clearly, which is in line with your initial objection to my outlining of the phrases in tobin’s favorite.

i do not disagree with anything you said in your poem-based example. but your initial phrase-based example from wikipedia is off. here’s why:


you said: "the house at the end of the street is on fire" is a sentence.

that it is.

you said: "the house at the end of the street" is a phrase.

it is not… that is a clause. it constitutes an entire proposition,. to outline it as non-linguistic preposition, it would be something like: location(house, place(street, end))

you said: "the house", "at the end" and "of the street" are all phrases.

yes, they are.

you said: Musically, putting a breath between the second and third or fourth and fifth bars of Tobin’s would feel a lot like pausing for breath at the parens:
"the house at () the end of the street is painted () green"

i agree that breathing there is disjointed. however, the phrases in the sentences are:

the house (noun phrase)
at the end (prepositional phrase)
of the street (prepositional phrase)
is painted green. (verb phrase)

my musical example of tobin’s favorite is analogous. no single phrase fully stands by itself, and the melodic flow definitely goes between phrases. just as the semanticity goes between phrases in this sentence ("of the street" needs the previous phrase to make sense).

earlier you presented "the house at the end of the street" as a phrase, but it is a clause. the sentence is composed of two clauses, "the …. end of the street" and "is painted green." in tobin’s, then, i am proposing the two bar unit would be a phrase, the four bar unit a clause (question or response, as it would be often called) and 8 bars would be the entire sentence.

now, i am not necessarily advocating this lingusitic metaphor, but i think it clarifies that i think that an individual building block is insufficient to express a full musical idea, and that "phrasing" is separate from this.

people keep saying that i don’t understand what phrasing is… the point i made to you earlier was that prosody does indeed act independently of structure.

think of it this way:

i can imagine someone telling a story about a murder who who has a green house. then, the story teller becomes melodramatic, and says: "the house AT…. the end of the street is painted… GREEN!"

so, no i don’t think i missed your initial example.. there the prosody is determined by the underlying discourse structure, interacting with but largely separate from the underlying syntax.

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Re: What is a phrase in Irish Music?

@will: yes, it was rhetorical. i wanted to get other people’s perspectives… in general i am enjoying the perspectives, but not enjoying the assertions that i clearly don’t know what i’m talking about (which i may or may not).

i think that a deep understanding of the music is important, and this is something i have been thinking about since i was about 12.

i remember spending a few years contemplating the importance of pick up notes, based on the way my grandma played them, and emphasized their use. i also came up with a system of how irish music tends to be emphasized, based on the downbeat, upbeat, and length of each note and how early or late a note is played, etc.

the purpose of that was to practice all the possibilities, in order to learn to vary my phrasing. i think it held it’s purpose, because now i do vary my phrasing (if you look at the video of me playing earlier in the thread, you might not LIKE my phrasing, but it surely does vary, which it did not before).

the purpose of this discussion is to gain a deeper understanding of phrasing and the organizational structure of music, so i can work on how i organize the music when i play, and of course on my phrasing.

i think this discussion is helping me deepen my understanding, though nothing has been explicitly new conceptually. for example, i already appreciated the distinction between the term phrase as i was defining it (innate structure) and phrasing (musicality). however, i think that people pointing out and emphasizing this distinction (or not realizing i was making it) has helped me in my deeper understanding of this distinction.

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Re: What is a phrase in Irish Music?

Ofcourse you could have avoided the assertions, by adequately responding to what was put forward in Pat Mitchell’s article (Pat is one of the closest listeners in the tradition and quite articulate about his views about music) or the music of James Kelly.

I am sure you have listened to his music but did you hear what he is about? Just repeating what you think he may have said about two measures doesn’t really cut it, especially if you consider his actual phrasing. Which, at lest on this thread, you didn’t.

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Re: What is a phrase in Irish Music?

part of a deeper understanding doesn’t come from discussing terms, or trying to be specific; I think it comes from being musically flexible & always being ready to let the tune surprise you, in a good way when you don’t expect it.

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Re: What is a phrase in Irish Music?

(the Burke quote)

Re: What is a phrase in Irish Music?

i was a way for a few days because of school work and the midwest fleadh.

@ben: i agree that understanding of music involves spontaneity and flexibility. i just think it doesn’t hurt to discuss music either.

@prof: i don’t understand why thinking organizational structure is important means that i don’t listen to james kelly….

as david levine said we’re dancing about architecture. does an understanding of phrasing show up in the video i posted above? ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u_NXCYUtpQ8 ). we can argue whether or not my execution of phrasing needs work (certainly dynamics and timing does), but i’m curious to know if my playing exhibits as flawed an understanding of what phrasing is as you and others have asserted…

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