Changing Tunes and Keys

Changing Tunes and Keys

Being new to the ‘The Session’ and being relatively new to Irish traditional music I just wondered if anyone had some good ideas about the best way to change between tunes when they are in different keys. For example I am learning a three tune jig set of ‘The Blooming Meadows’ in Gmaj going into ‘Rakes of Kildare’ which appears to be in A Dorian ‘ish/Modal ‘ish then back into ‘Out on the Ocean’ in Gmaj. Is it best to try and create a run up/run down into them or a pause between them. I find it difficult to get the key and tune change to flow well. On a CD I have where a Chelidh band is playing this set they use Gmaj throughout which is much easier but not so suitable for the type of tunes. Any help thanks in advance…Barry

Re: Changing Tunes and Keys

You don’t "do" anything. You just go straight from one tune to the next tune.

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Not necessarily as easy as the Doctor says.

True that some tunes resolve (or cadence) neatly on the second beat of Bar 8 giving time for the pickup notes to Bar 1 of the next tune to be played (if there are pickup notes).

In many tunes, however, Bar 8 doesn’t resolve but is designed to continue flowing back into Bar 1 of the same tune (as you would when repeating the tune), and oftentimes Bar 8, as it thus stands, won’t work with many/most other tunes. In these cases Bar 8 has to be modified, either by making it resolve/cadence on the 2nd beat (and creating a pause or gap) or by creating a new Bar 8 designed to flow into Bar 1 of the next tune.

It’s often a moot point with fluteplayers, when they take breaths immediately after the 2nd beat in Bar 8, because the pesky notes are thus missing, and the required gap is already present.

Fiddlers, it seems to me, are particularly adept at creating tasty pickups/transitions for Bar 1 of the next tune in a medley, though they will often "take a breath" like the fluteplayer in such cases.

In my little Irish group we often find that the best transition is no transition: the fiddle and flute "take a breath" and sometimes the guitar "chops" to emphasise the utter break between tunes.

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It can be a matter of personal choice; for dances or other performances where you want to keep the music flowing you can go straight from the end of one into the start of the new key without missing a beat which is what I’ve personally done in the vast majority of tunes, but I’ve also heard groups playing a short piece in between tunes to facilitate the key change.

Re: Changing Tunes and Keys

For "performance"(groan) purposes, many bands or "musical groups" will tie two or more tunes together with a small "bridge" or some other (not unusually)naff musical interlude. Often these are tunes which wouldn’t normally sit together very well and may also be of a different time signature.

For session purposes, as the good Doctor states, it’s really just a case of moving from one tune to the next although sometimes it may be helpful to add or change a "lead in" note or miss it out altogether. Usually, this comes fairly naturally though and it doesn’t have to be a perfectly "clean" change on every occasion.

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Hi Richard Cook,

I think it is as easy as the SS Dr says, at least I don’t recall any difficulties of the type you describe in moving from one reel to another or one jig to another. There are often problems with remembering how the next tune starts, but that’s a different issue.

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Re: Changing Tunes and Keys

In nine years of playing Irish music, the only "bridge" I play when transitioning from one tune to another involves some bum notes and a lot of swearing (if Father Jack played the pipes, I’d give him a run for his money). Really, you can just hop from one tune to the next, provided you can remember how the next one starts. Yes, I too have seen bands, in a performance setting, play cutesy bridges between tunes but you wouldn’t do that at a session or when playing for dancers.

Some tunes don’t hang together very well. But that’s part of the art of it and takes experience and spending lots of time listening to good players — figuring out what goes with what and sounds good.

Re: Changing Tunes and Keys

It’s entirely up to you. The changes between those three tunes, in terms of both melody and key, are very comfortable and natural.

You have to decide whether you want the changes to be smooth and seamless, or exaggerated and dramatic, or cheesy, or whatever. Then rehearse each change in your head for a while using every variety of change you can think of. Use the one you think best fits the set.

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SS, I’m not sure if you are specifically responding to me or Richard but I actually more or less agree with you.

The last note of the previous tune and the first note of the next does make a slight difference to the "smoothness" of the change but, as you suggest, whether or not to make any slight adjustment just comes naturally with experience and there’s no real need to think about it too much unless you are rehearsing for something specific.

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Mostly aimed at Richard and Footerin’. 🙂 I don’t think that hard (or at all) about the kind of changes Richard describes. It either works or it trainwrecks.

Re: Changing Tunes and Keys

Write out or copy the last bar / phrase of one tune and the first bar / phrase of the next in ABC, and play along with it in a loop. When you come to the transition in a set, you’ll have no problem.

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Re: Changing Tunes and Keys

Thank you for your varied suggestions, it has helped me and given me some things to try out. 3 things stand out to me as being true and/or useful; 1) As I am still learning these tunes I am so hung up getting current one correct as to forget how the next one starts. 2) Using a bridge is a very good idea provided you are playing with other people who know you are going to change using a bridge so they can hold back. 3) Very good idea for me is to copy the last couple of bars into ABC with the first two bars of the next tune play it in a loop slow it down and play along. Then of course gradually speed it up.

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Implicit in your last post, banjoboy, is that using a bridge is ONLY good if others know you will, and you will do better without that kind of a reputation. Sometimes just a good deep breath before starting the next one is all the time you need to remember how it goes.

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Taking a breath between tunes will more than likely end up with an extra beat that doesn’t belong. If you are playing with others, that will screw everyone up. If somebody else knows the tunes and can transition from one to the next, just wait to join them until the second time through the A section or the next phrase. Then learn to do it, at home.
Playing a bridge, well our session does that with just one set, and it’s newer stuff, and we all know what is happening. I wouldn’t recommend it for regular session tunes.
Practice the transition. no need to notate it and loop it with a machine, you can do that with your brain.

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No, don’t get into the habit of playing bridges. Trust me, it’s only cool in a band when you have very tight, carefully thought-out arrangements. At a session, you just don’t want to be that guy*. Practice getting straight into one tune from another. The only way to do it is with practice. Those folks in bands (well, the good ones) who play cutesy bridges between tunes could easily go straight from one tune to the next while half asleep and hammered. The bridge is really for a band performance. It’s not a crutch because going from tune A to tune B is hard (and if you work at it, it won’t be).

*Some individual sessions like Wyogal’s may do the odd silly thing like this for specific tunes, just for a laugh, but it’s not the norm and you really don’t want to do it because you can’t play one tune into the next. I used to play at a session where we would play "Painted Black" in the middle of "Man of the House" but I would not recommend doing this at a random session.

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Exactly, it is on a set we play at the end of the night, and we never get anyone just stopping by for a session. We all know what’s happening, not for a laugh, just because we like it. and yes, it is taken from a recording of a band. It’s the only set where that happens.

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Barry - don’t overthink it. Practice playing the three tunes together until you feel comfortable. The esteemed Dr Spear summed it all up in the first reply. You can spend hours in curious mental exercise trying to link tunes based upon the way certain phrases fall, or breath placement, or key changes etc etc. But the longer you stay with this session thing the more you’ll come to realize that linking tunes you like based upon who is in the session or your mood at the moment is far more fun than some memorized set of repeated transitions. Get cozy with each individual tune until you don’t have to think about how its starts. Once the tunes are firmly entrenched into your grey matter, transitions between them will be a breeze. Good luck banjo brother!

Re: Changing Tunes and Keys

The hard art is trying to remember how the next tune goes while still playing the first one 🙂

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Re: Changing Tunes and Keys

I agree with what DrSpear is describing. When you do it in real time, it happens naturally. What is important is to get to the first note of the new tune right on the downbeat. Concentrate on that, and with experience, it will work out for the best. Many tunes have some pickup notes (which can be varied or left out). You can decide whether you want to use a pickup note before the downbeat, or leave a gap, or hold the first tune’s melody right to the end of the bar. There is no best answer, and it depends on what sort of transition effect you want to make. I agree with the idea that adding a special bridge is not needed — and can make it sound artificial.

Re: Changing Tunes and Keys

"It’s often a moot point with fluteplayers, when they take breaths immediately after the 2nd beat in Bar 8, because the pesky notes are thus missing, and the required gap is already present."
# Posted by Richard D Cook

Oh well, simply taking the obvious breath in the last bar is sooo boring….

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I think the best ‘bridge’ was done by de Dannan on ‘Humors of Galway’ - on CD and on the TV ‘Bringing it all back Home’ series. Golden Eagle hornpipe in G, then a little bridge on bodhran by Colm Murphy, and into reels Maudabaun Chapel in G and Hand Me Down the Tackle in D. I’m sure it’s on Youtube somewhere, but I couldn’t find it …

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Not everyone can do it easily. It is essential if you are playing for dancing; the ceilidh/barn dance bands that play for dancers have it off to a T; see if you can check one out.
Sometimes even renowned musicians can’t do it; I remember watching/listening to The High Level Ranters somewhere, many many years ago, and my friend, who was already used to playing in barn dances, nudged me and said "Colin Ross can’t change tunes.", and indeed, on watching him, he would stop playing a few bars before the end of a tune, letting the rest of the band carry on, and be poised to start the next tune on the beat. But he couldn’t play all the way to the end of a tune, AND be ready to start the next. So don’t feel ashamed if it doesn’t come easy.

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Count me as another who recommends you learn to change tunes without skipping a beat. That is the way you do it for dancers, the way it is done at sessions, and making that smooth transitions is seen as one of the basic skills a musician in this tradition should have.
There are cute tricks you can pull later on, but don’t learn the tricks before you learn the basics…

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Sometimes where the transitions are tough you can start playing the last phrase of the last part of the tune that you are leading into and sort of meld it onto the last phrase of the last part of the tune you are just ending. Most of the time you try to find tunes that don’t require lots of work to put together. I tend to play tunes together that I learned around the same time, or tunes that are strikingly similar or contrasting in some way.

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I should clarify that I wasn’t talking about creating a bridge consisting of extra bars outwith the tunes themselves, or skipping beats, or adding beats, but merely changing the last notes of Bar 8 in the first tune so that they flow into Bar 1 of the second tune, or leaving those notes out creating a breath or gap.

Without having a flute in my hands it’s hard to think of an example, and this might not be a very good one, but the only one that pops into my head at the moment:

Say you’re playing The Hunter’s House. Now, the way I play it the second beat of Bar 8 of the 2nd part goes

CAF#A

which is designed to flow to the B which starts the first part. But let’s say the next tune is in A minor and starts on A. Sure you can play CAF#A A but it’s tad clumsy-sounding.

I would wager that many experienced players would change CAF#A a bit to make a better transition to that initial A of the next tune, either CAF#G A or CAF#B A. Obviously at a session the entire group isn’t going to do such a thing spontaneously but if an individual player or performance group where to play this transition they would probably end up doing something like it.

On the flute it’s moot as I would probably play CAF#’ A, the breath eliminating the final A of Hunter’s House.

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Many, many thanks for all replies which were not only interesting but very useful for future reference. I have toiled with some of the various suggestions. However have decided (chickened out really) and put Blooming Meadows with The Fiery Clock Face into Fox and Geese. All in G maj. but easy transitions. Saving Rakes of Kildare to go with something else at a later date, when I’m more confident to tackle simultaneous key and tune changes. In a session I have found that sometimes when pre-arranged with a Bodhran player; he/she can solo a few bars between tunes works well. A bit Chieftain’ish but hey ho they were good at it.
Thanks to all once again.

Re: Changing Tunes and Keys

Hi Banjo Boy, I like playing ‘Rakes of Kildare’ with ‘The Blackthorn Stick’, in A and ‘Tenpenny Bit’ in Aminor. These tunes get a regular airing at one of the sessions I go to. 😉

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They play Rakes of Kildare after Rakes of Clonmel around my parts.

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Pick up phrases that work within the harmonics of the two keys, or at least into the trailing tunes has worked for me in both Irish and non Irish Traditional music. This actually works pretty well for the Irish I haveplayed because of the dominance of G, D and A in the Irish tune vocabulary.

Alot of cues if you are not into Theory and Harmony- look to the circle of fifths, thirds and minor thirds for ideas.

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So many tunes, so many combinations. Sometimes I think I have too many to pick from. Some tunes more naturally flow into each some contrast extremely well and are easy to transition. However it is the ones that are new tunes to me that I find more difficult to transition. For the time being I will stick to my tiny reduced practice list of 9 sets of 24 different tunes. Thanks once again for your help - and now it’s back to doing it rather than talking about doing it.

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If you have MP3 copies of your tunes, BanjoBoy, you could put them all into a playlist and select random. Then make a note of any pairings that take your fancy as you play them. Each time will be different; but you can change the arrangement in the playlist —group them into sets of two or three or more if they incline that way. Plus you will get a bit of practise at linking tunes together on the fly.

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Re: Changing Tunes and Keys

Thanks gam - so many ways to keep oneself busy. I will try anything at least once.