To Lilt or Not To Lilt…

To Lilt or Not To Lilt…

Hi, I’m a first-time Session discusser— please go easy on me.

This is probably a fairly stupid question, but: some musicians play with the slight "swinging" feel to their reels, while others play straight. I hear this both on recordings and in sessions. Does this have to do with regional styles, personal preference, or what?

Thanks for your help,

Mark

Re: To Lilt or Not To Lilt…

Welcome, Mark! Yes, it has to do with all those things. Some players play with a marked swing (lilting, by the way, is usually defined as something different — it’s singing a tune using nonsense syllables), until even their reels sound a lot like hornpipes (although of course there’s a style of playing hornpipes that’s largely in 2/4 that sounds remarkably like a reel), others play with almost none.

These days, the regional styles are kind of blurred — I’d say it’s more unusual to find an Irish person who has been all over Ireland rather than someone who has never been more than a couple of miles around their home (which wasn’t unusual at all at one point). It’s rare, though to hear Irish music played absolutely straight (unless you’re the Boston Pops doing Toss The Feathers — Will, I have GOT to find a recording of that somewhere…). Usually it’s because the person who is playing it learned off of music rather than from an experienced player.

You can find lots of comments on this kind of thing by searching the threads — I’d search for "swing" or some such. 🙂

Look forward to seeing you round!

Zina

Re: To Lilt or Not To Lilt…

Welcome Mark. It’s not just different players than have different amounts of swing or "lift," but in my experience the tunes themselves are more or less suited to lift. You can’t just group all reels together and play them all the same. You’ll likely be able to put much more into a tune (and get more out of it in return) if you treat each one as an individual with its own personality.

So try an experiment. Go to the tune archives and noodle around on "Within A Mile of Dublin." To my ear, that reel swings like crazy. You can play some notes way ahead of the beat or way after and it just skirls around you and won’t quit.

Then try the Annamaculeen Reel. Now I can make this one swing if I have to, but it sounds better to me played fairly straight. Not dead-on straight, mind you, but no Glenn Miller or Bob Wills beat is going to work here. If Within A Mile is at 70 percent swing, Annamaculeen is down around 15 or 20.

Some tunes have more "drive" or "punch" than "lift." And some tunes, in the hands of a decent player, can move from one rhythm to the next. The reel "Eileen Curran" comes to mind. You can slow it down and sway every bar, or play it straight and square, or punch the gas pedal and hang on.

Note that speed plays a part in all this. I tend to think of "drive" as "lift at full tilt." The effect is more sublte because the swing goes by so fast, but the timing ratios from note to note are about the same.

Bottom line is—find a style or sound you like and emulate it. Once your comfortable with that, try another. Eventually, you’ll be able to play tunes however you hear them in your head.

(Geesh…I read what I’ve written here and it’s like a geometric proof that there are no stupid questions, only vapid answers *snort*)

Posted .

Re: To Lilt or Not To Lilt…

Lilt is both regional & personal, some players turn it on & off. others tend to be more set with an amount of lilt they use, Frankie Gavin is a heavily lilted player - even when he’s playing a bzillion miles an hour he’s still swinging it. On the straight & even side i’d have to say that Paddy Glackin is one of the straightest players I’ve ever heard. Now Paddy is from the North where lilt is sometimes seen as showboating or a cheap trick & Frankie’s from the south where lilt is just how you play the music. I’ve noticed a whole boatload more lilt in Tommy Peoples playing in later years than in earlier years & he’s from the north. With Tommy’s skill he can probably turn it on & off, but i think at this point in his life he just likes more lilt. My experience taught me that it’s safer to develop the skill of swinging early& forget it if you want than try to learn how to swing the tunes later in your playing. Lilt has been my No. 1 priorty for about a year & I’m still working on it.

Re: To Lilt or Not To Lilt…

Definitely *not* a stupid question, Mark. I used to wonder why some reels could easily be "driven", fast as I could go but others seemed to want to sort or amble and take in the scenery 🙂 I finally decided (with help from the Session) that it must have to do partly with the structure of the tune. Some of the ones that seem to want to go slower sound frantic and rushed if they’re played faster, at least to my ears. The two tunes that come to mind as an example are The Morning Dew (fast) and the Dunmore Lasses ( bouncier). Once I realized this, I stopped trying to force one tune to fit the shape of another, if that makes sense.

Welcome to the Session!

Re: To Lilt or Not To Lilt…

As a relative beginner to Irish music - I have been playing about 5 or 6 years in all - I find my style is constantly changing as I listen to more different styles, learn new tunes, techniques and ornaments. It felt like a great turning point in my playing when I cracked the ‘swing’ thing. I found I could make a tune sound energetic and ‘danceable’ without necessarily playing it very fast (there are still some sessions I can’t keep up with).
Having spent last summer in Clare, I’ve developed a preference for playing at a much slower pace. I’ve found that, when playing slowly, the swing doesn’t come as naturally. If it is there at all, it tends to waft in and out, even within one tune. Since my instruments are mandolin and whistle, there are not really any regional styles to follow, so my own style of playing is a synthesis of every musician I’ve ever heard and liked (not exclusively Irish and not exclusively mandolin and whistle players) and my own imperfections.

I think it is very important, as well as learning from the masters and mistresses, to find one’s own style and let one’s heart decide how much swing is appropriate.

Re: To Lilt or Not To Lilt…

mark, in my experience, the clare style of playing is the liltiest, and it also seems to be where *most* of the session material comes from (at least that’s the case at my session). there are many people who have learned to play in a very different style - i’ve heard people from cape breton or the ottawa valley playing these ultra-melodic clare songs with the drive of a speeding train and it still sounds sort of OK, but i don’t (getting into a touchy subject here) consider it "correct". (maybe I should join the comholtas trad police after all).

i think a lot of people who have learned to play in this energetic, straight, liltless way, (or people who play in rock/folk bands,) find it extremely tough to slow things down and pull the lilt out of a tune… i speak from experience. all of a sudden I need to think about which way my bow is going, and how fast, and learn how to do rolls instead of triplets. who needs that kind of punishment? I am trying to learn, though, to play the Clare songs in a Clare style. I think I need to be able to do that before I take liberties in my interpretation of the tunes. Ie. I’d rather break from tradition by choice than because I’m unable to play traditionally.

bla bla bla. How’s that for vapid, will? it’s early. give me another hour and two cups of coffee and I’ll be full of insight.

Re: To Lilt or Not To Lilt…

Keep in mind, Mark, that even when it sounds straight, it’s often still swung just the tiniest bit. I discovered that when I slowed down a recording of James Kelly — I could have sworn it was straight, until I slowed it down and discovered that it was almost exactly swung the same rate all the way through.

Zina

Re: To Lilt or Not To Lilt…

A good example of a Clare lilt/swing can be heard on the CD "A Touch of Clare" by Kitty Hayes (an elderly lady concertina player). I say "a" Clare lilt because there appear to be several ways of giving a rhythmic pulse to a tune that can be Heard in Clare. The one that most attracts people