Can you play too fast?

Can you play too fast?

This came about from this video by Fidil: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R4jgiYirvDo


They keep at it for the full 4 minutes (credit where credit’s due!) but is it *too fast*? Blazin’ Fiddles and Fiddler’s Bid sometimes spring to mind for the same reason - they keep it tight, and it sounds impressive, and their gigs are electric, but is it to everyone’s taste? Not forgetting Sir Cathal Hayden of course 🙂

Just some ramblings….

Re: Can you play too fast?

I can’t.

Re: Can you play too fast?

I think it really depends on a lot of factors, but overall yes. Speed is, like many other things, a novelty which can add entertainment value, but which can be overused. As long as a performance doesn’t showcase speed exclusively, I don’t think it’s a problem. But if it’s a piper playing everything at breakneck speed and not showcasing the true sound of the instrument, I’d say it’s a complete waste.

Re: Can you play too fast?

The music in the clip doesn’t strike me as that fast at all by Donegal standards.

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Re: Can you play too fast?

Yes, but the musicians in that clip aren’t.

Too fast is faster than you can play.

Re: Can you play too fast?

I think that’s OK for performance speed. I measured that at the 125 bpm mark on a mechanical metronome. Frankie Gavin and Cathal Hayden have gone around the 128 mark, and maybe faster. Donegal fiddler Johnny Doherty has been clocked at 132+ … so there are the figures in basic terms.

Kevin Burke has also been clocked around the 125 mark, although to me, it doesn’t sound that fast. Maybe it’s with the slurring in his bowing - fast, but un-hurried.

I’m not sure what a comfortable reel speed would be in yer average session - maybe around the 110 mark?

Putting a little perspective on things, it’s not uncommon for a bluegrass fiddle break (in the same time sig) to rip out at 136, although the length of the break is short, by comparison to the original clip. More perspective - you won’t hear any pro performance of Paganini’s Moto Perpetuo at less than 160bpm (again, same time sig).

Yes, quoting all these figures sounds a bit geeky, but comparative perceptions of ‘fast’ really don’t really mean much unless you know the actual speed of them.

Re: Can you play too fast?

I think Madame Doctor Silver Spear has the essence of it–too fast is when the wheels start coming off. And too fast for me is comfortable for some other musicians. That being said, I just went to a concert from whistle player Kathleen Conneeley, where the music all flowed along at a nice leisurely pace, and found it most refreshing.

Re: Can you be too refreshing?

I agree with Jim. Without the actual speed, Al, your perception of a nice, leisurely pace doesn’t really mean much.
What? Wait, no! Numbers are relative to everything else happening at the same time ~ the interpretation, who’s playing, the style, who’s rules, where you’re playing…

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Re: Can you play too fast?

partly depends on how fast you can hear, for me, at least.

Re: Can you play too fast?

Unless its for dancers, maybe playing for a set or something, I’m not a fan of playing too fast. It’s ok in a performance to play some faster tempo tunes but a variety must be found.

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Re: Can you play too fast?

I’m a Scottish Country Dancer & I’ve noticed that there’s a bit of a fad for playing fast at present. The old ‘strict tempo’ jigs sometimes made one keel over while setting but the present ultra-fast reels leave us scrambling through it without any elegance or social graces whatever. So yes, you can play too fast…

Re: Can you play too fast?

I think most competition reels are (or ought to be) danced at 113 bpm. It’s as fast as I’d want to play most of the reels I know. About 100 bpm - a typical speed at most sessions I get to - is a lot more comfortable and leaves space for ornaments to be executed clearly and cleanly.

In my view sheer speed most impresses the audience that is least informed.

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Re: Can you play too fast?

In my view sheer speed most impresses the audience that is least informed.
Couldn’t agree more with that …. I remember listening to a similar performance with a non trad musician who was trying to understand Trad music. He confessed that it sounded all the same to him and couldn’t distinguish any change in the tunes. Why the rush he asked and I told him that the first one to finish got a free pint. I had hoped that he took my remark with a pinch of salt but I think he believed me.!!!!

Re: Can you play too fast?

As is implicit in Fiddle Aunt’s comment, gravity has a lot to do with the speed at which it is comfortable to dance certain steps. It would be impossible to dance on the moon at 100 bpm, for instance. I think the Scottish ‘competition’ reel speed of 104 is a good benchmark, as it gives the dancers time to go up and come back down, which always helps, without undue effort.

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Re: Can you play too fast?

“Do you play too fast”, shurely?

8))

David

Re: Can you play too fast?

DrSS and AlBrown are spot on. It is only too fast if you can’t keep up. If you are able to play at a breakneck speed and yet the rhythm and the ornaments are tight then it is not too fast. It is only too fast when it seems rushed and the playing suffers. Quite often you probably don’t appreciate quite how fast some of the top players are going because it seems relaxed, easy even.

What is too fast will vary greatly from player to player.

That said there are some tunes that sound better played at a more gentle pace and others that sound better flat out. It depends on the tune.

Interesting (if a bit sad) that this sentence is not a contradiction:

I can play too fast, because I can’t play too fast.

Re: Can you play too fast?

Speed is nothing
Timing is everything

David

Re: Can you play too fast?

The best sessions I’ve been to (not necessarily joined in with), in my opinion, have been played at what one would regard as moderate speed. Also, they have not been aimed at “an audience.” If you’re trying to impress an audience, you might play fast. There have been bands like De Dannan and Four Men And A Dog who can play at breakneck speed and hold it together (I suppose their excuse might be that they are bands, not sessions, and all power to their elbows). But, once holding it together becomes the achievement, at the expense of good ornamentation, then that’s too fast for my taste. Back to that MacDara CD…

Re: Can you play too fast?

It took me a few moments to parse your sentence, fidkid, but once I did, I have to agree 100%. Amen!

Re: Can you play too fast?

Skillful fast playing is enjoyable in reasonable doses, but sometimes it crosses the line from making music to digital gymnastics. You change the meaning of a tune by changing its tempo, and many tunes have more meaning when they are not played in a hurry, I would say.

Re: Can you play too fast?

The big problem is that we watch and listen to performances, then try to emulate them in sessions.

In a performance, on stage or CD, you can work the audience’s adrenalin to the point where at the end of the set you play The Mason’s Apron in 2.7 seconds flat, and they’re all screaming for more.

You can’t do that in a session. Best bet is to play at a pace that everyone is comfortable with - those that know the tunes can play with you. those that don’t can learn them. Any faster and you land up playing solo (or with just an out of time bodhran and a guitarist guessing chords) while everyone else goes to the bar.

Re: Can you play too fast?

skreech – why can’t you do “that” in a session? Not that I am promoting it, just curious why you think it is impossible…

Re: Can you play too fast?

Not impossible, but I would not want to share a session with someone who felt it was “The ME Show!”

Re: Can you play too fast?

Nicely put, skreech.

Re: Can you play too fast?

I could never learn that tune from them, but it sounds a good speed for listening, to me.

Re: Can you play too fast?

i can play as fast as anyone but i prefer to play at nice pace like paddy clancy or danny o mahoney its ok to play fast for dancers

Re: Can you play too fast?

Two levels here. One-AlBrown and the Good Dr. are spot on. you don’t learn anything trying to play over your head. Spoken from personal experience. And My teacher fights that battle with me every few weeks when I am having a bad morning- or have had a bad practice week and am trying to force what I am playing. John picks that up real quick….

The second level- The way I look at it, if you have to ask the question about someone/somegroup playing too fast (and good at it)- they probably are not, and you may be at cross purposes with them.

I’ve stopped complaining about ‘high test’ fiddlers and flute players at some sessions. It is a futile and angry exercise. If they control the session, and that is the character of the session, and you want it to slow down, you are probably in the wrong place. If they willingly won’t accommodate a “rising player” shall we say by playing at slower paces, it is their venue and the speed is what ‘floats their boat’. Sit back and enjoy, or leave.

You need to search out a session that accommodates, or is specifically a moderate session (Couple of types I’ve crossed paths with “old guy’s” sessions“, “intermediate sessions”). Or start one with the intention of doing a moderately paced session.

The Music does many things for many people. One shouldn’t get one’s nose out of joint because another’s goals are not copacetic with One’s purposes. 🙂

I am beginning to enjoy the pontification part of ascendant Old Fartism!

Re: Can you play too fast?

Great points zippydw.

Re: Can you play too fast?

What’s too fast for me on banjo might not be on fiddle, or it will vary from tune to tune depending on how easy the rhythm feels under the finger. I’ve never been able to play tunes very vast that extensively use both the 3rd and 4th finger as I just can not coordinate between those fingers as easily as other finger combinations, especially on banjo where the stretch is huge and I might not be able to shift up, say in Musical Priest. I would just rather play guitar for this tune as it’s a lot more fun.

Re: Can you play too fast?

Good topic.
Good posts.

Perhaps “Too fast” is purely relative to the listener.

I have observed audiences/listeners/punters who were
impressed by mere speed, even when the ornamentation
turned into mush and, some might think, the customary,
or typical perhaps, “swing” or “feel” for the tune had been lost.

The listeners were pleased, but to me it came off as a mere explosion -
exciting, yes, but more a visceral experience than a spiritual one.
Like a “Transformers” movie, even when done well it seemed nothing but
a sensory overload. Nothing but cramming in notes-to-the-bar, and
showing how many rolls stutters and bowings you can race through.

It might not be “perfect” but I have my own preferences.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l1vmbylZ3tE


Two cents.
Post-inflation.

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Re: Can you play too fast?

Wow, I’ve got some reading to do before I reply! Cheers all!

Re: Can you play too fast?

If it’s ‘too fast’, I usually can’t savor it. I feel it’s then an acknowledgement of the fiddler’s technical ability and not necessarily their interpretation of the music.

Re: Can you play too fast?

I like to listen and play at various speeds. A steady diet of fast is like only eating candy. I need a bit of that savory fat!

Re: Can you play too fast?

Last month, I spent two weeks in Clare, going to sessions nearly every night, led by some of the finest musicians around. At no point did I have difficulty keeping up with their tempo on tunes I knew, and sometimes could pick up tunes on the fly.

Upon returning home to Massachusetts, I went to a session where I struggled to keep up with nearly every set, and sometimes had to give up and put my instrument down on tunes I knew well.

There was plenty of dancing at the sessions in Clare. I don’t remember there being any at the one in MA.

Re: Can you play too fast?

Gary

Nice post. An unscientific observation. I record some of the places I play- particularly the ‘hot licks’ fiddlers since they play faster that I can keep up with at many sessions. I found out if I slow the recording down in Audacity 20% the tunes sound much nicer…and for someone like me i can catch the little twists and ornaments.

The Session’s Bannerman (RIP) did the Foine Sessiun collections for Comhaltas a long time ago. There is a series of tunes in one of the CD’s that are sooooo fast. slow them down, they still sound good. I always wondered about those if the CD’s were intended as a learning aid. Great collection in any case.