Showier Fiddle Tunes

Showier Fiddle Tunes

I was originally trained classically, and switched to fiddle music a few years ago. In that time I’ve learned all the old standbys of my area, and I want to branch out a bit, and due to my classical training, I feel I have the technical skills for it. There’s only one session in my area I’m in and it seems to be composed of beginners and really skilled musicians, no one in the middle like I seem to be. I’d like to learn a few tunes that I can take pride in so I don’t feel so much in limbo between the really good musicians and the beginners. So, any suggestions of impressive/technically difficult tunes?

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Have you asked anyone in the session which tunes they appreciate hearing & enjoy playing?

In the meantime perhaps something from this excellent collection may catch your fancy.
Paddy Glackin ‎– Glackin Ceol Ar An Bhfidil Le Paddy Glackin
https://myspace.com/paddyglackin/music/albums

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Re: Showier Fiddle Tunes

Little Cascade
https://thesession.org/tunes/1368
and
Reel Beatrice (in Bm for a little more ‘bite’)
https://thesession.org/tunes/483#setting13393

That said, there are a lot of tunes that will work - it simply depends on how they are played. Listen to the recordings of Beoga (box), Natalie McMaster(fiddle), Niall Keegan (flute), Liz Carroll (fiddle), and a lorry load of other names that I can’t think of right now. Irish music is not really about showiness, as much as Scottish is - for which there are many showy fiddlers who play a blaze of notes (but would find it hard to fit into a session).

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If you listen to the likes of Michael Coleman, Paddy Killoran, John Doherty (and where could you ever stop. so… etc., etc., right into the modern age, …..) you’d realise that it’s how you play the tunes that make them showy or not. Such people could make the simplest of fiddle tunes showy. For example, the number one tune added to tune-books on this site is Drowsy Maggie (yawn!). It’s very popular for beginners and I generally cringe when I hear it played, but then listen to Killoran play it and THAT’S showy.

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Eileen Ivers
and
Cathal Hayden
are both into fiddle pyrotechnics.

GO’G is right on the money.

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I think you need to tread very carefully. It might be time to develop two separate repertoires - The ‘showy’ stuff you learn and play for your own gratification and maybe play in performance situations, and a separate set of stuff for sessions. Most sessions won’t thank you for bringing “impressive/technically difficult” tunes - what they are looking for are relatively simple tunes that the rest of the group can pick up from you on the fly.

So if you want to bring new tunes to the session, run down the list of popular tunes in the tunes section of this site, and find a few that you like and which your session don’t (yet) play.

For your flashy personal tunes, I don’t really see how anyone can tell you what to like without knowing your tastes, your level of competence, or even your playing style. Your best bet is to listen to a lot of recordings, find tunes you like, then learn to play them.

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Gobby O’Gobby is spot on! I was fortunate to hear live in my own kitchen one of the best traveling Irish fiddlers that has ever been! I heard him play many times over a few years, he never ever played anything fancy at all!

In fact his settings relied on great timing, sparse decoration and wizard bowing! Better than Paddy Canny by miles! One of his favorites was the reel Paddy Moloney - because, as he said himself, he liked the Dubliners.

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Take a notepad to your local session, write down the tune names of sets you like, and learn them. A wide repertoire, and the ability to play along with a broad range of tunes, is more highly valued in a session than a flashy show tune.

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I’ve only been at ITM for a short while, but the word “showy” doesn’t seem too compatible with the whole idea of a session. Makes me think of The Lord of His Pants.

Since you have a classical background, consider this… I was taking a lesson a few years back, and my teacher related to me a time when he had the good fortune to be in a small group session with a world-famous violinist, whose name escapes me. This violinist had the group riveted by playing a simple A. No other notes, no rhythm, just the most beautifully-played A you’d ever want to hear. He had this group of professional musicians in awe. Not at all showy, but it sounded like it was certainly impressive.

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I’ve never attended a true Irish session as such, but I had a few decades of playing in pub bands as well as participating in lots of folk club stuff. But when I used to play rock music our band worked on the KISS principle, i.e., ‘keep it simple stupid’. Most of the time I played bass, (not by choice but necessity) and for some reason I could never understand I was always told that I was good. Our lead guitarist, who was both practically and theoretically a brilliant musician told me that it was due more to what I left out than to what I put in. My point is that showiness does not always make the best music. And okay, the teamwork required in a four piece rock band doesn’t quite relate to a session where (as far as I understand) most of the melody players strive to play much the same thing. But I’ve given a lot of thought to this in recent months, and my thinking is almost the opposite of yours. I’ll explain what I mean:-

As far as my fiddle playing goes I’ve always only played it for my own satisfaction and have had the luxury of not having to play for others or to have to try and prove myself. I’ve been happy enough with that and over the last few years I’ve developed a style based as close as I can get to Sligo fiddling. In this I focus strongly on a fairly rich left hand ornamentation (as say, in contrast to the Donegal style of doing it all with short bow strokes). Also I tend to add a lot of spontanious variation. Recently however, this site (The Session) has been having a very strange effect on my head (who’da thunk that?) and I’ve been starting to face the likely possibility that in a short while I’ll feel compelled to break my last decade of reclusion and attend a session or two (cold sweat, even in writing that down). In preparation for that possibility I’ve been thinking the opposite way to what you are suggesting and I’ve been spending an equal an mount of practice time toning down and playing as straight as possible (little embellishment and variation). I’d want to be able fit in and the last thing I’d want would be to stand out (and kicked out) for whatever reason. On this I suggest that you take Mark M’s advice and develop two separate repertoires. You could always upload your showier stuff to soundcloud or something. I’m sure we’d all enjoy hearing it. But I suggest in general, you adopt the KISS approach for session participation.

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“This violinist had the group riveted by playing a simple A. No other notes, no rhythm, just the most beautifully-played A you’d ever want to hear. He had this group of professional musicians in awe. Not at all showy, but it sounded like it was certainly impressive.”
Reminds me of a couple of weeks ago when I bought myself a new Gliga Maestro. Due to my social anxiety and the valium the Doc had given me for my trip to Melbourne, I was too scared to play it for myself in front of someone else, and so I confessed this to the woman in the shop and asked her to play a few notes for me. She said, ‘I’ll just play a simple scale’. She did, and I just stood there gob smacked and in awe, thinking, ‘Holy Crap!’. It’s not a very showy tune the Major scale, but she was a very classy player all the same.

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“There’s only one session in my area I’m in and it seems to be composed of beginners and really skilled musicians, no one in the middle like I seem to be.”

You might want to consider further what it is about the really skilled musicians that you want to emulate. I doubt whether it’s actually that they play “showier” tunes. Or perhaps they do, but it will be a lot more than just that.

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I am befuddled by the OP’s question. How is learning a really difficult, showy tune going to make her feel less in limbo between the “really good” musicians and the beginners?

Experienced, been there done that sessioneers, when they hear someone launch into a tune like the Mathematician for the sake of a performance and mainly for showing up the other people in the session, are unlikely to think, “Wow. That person is one of us.” They are more likely to think, “What a tool.” That’s not what a session is about. And if you are good enough that you can play those complicated Skinner (for instance) tunes well, then surely you have nothing to prove anyway. Learning more difficult, complicated tunes isn’t going to convince your session mates that you play better than they already know you play.

Why not ask your session mates the names of the tunes they play, or bring a little recorder and record some of those tunes so you can learn them?

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That’s a good point, David.

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I’m also at a young level of Irish music, but I have played in sessions. I can tell you that what everyone else has said is true. It’s not about “showiness”. The real challenge(and fun) is being able to play tunes that everyone else knows, no matter how simple. Since you have a group of experienced and beginner musicians, a set of tunes that everyone else knows will be a lot of fun. Trust me, playing a set of tunes that noone else knows is no fun, because the fun is in playing together.

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Add me to the list of folks who think that Irish session music is not at all about being technically difficult.

One way to fit in better is to develop a deep repertoire of core tunes, learned from listening to fluent players rather than from the sheet.

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Aha, David, I was just thinking about that old discussion. Main thing that I learned from that entire rant is that playing showy tunes is not the fun of Irish Music, and it’s not appreciated among the session folk. Also, you can take nearly any tune and make it showy/interesting/fun, and still not get the beginners all in a huff about how you always play tunes that they can’t play. If you’re good, don’t show it in what tune you play; show it in the tunes that everyone plays.

Don’t come into an Irish session just to show how good you are. Do it for the love of the music. I love a good “easy” tune to calm down and relax to. Banish Misfortune is one tune that I love to play because of it’s diversity. It’s easy to make difficult, but it’s easy to sit back, play, and relax. AND it’s a popular session tune.

I will second timmy!’s advice to play the Silver Spear 100 times. 🙂

And a last note, I did learn the Mathematician and the Contradiction. They’re fun to play every once in a while, but I would NEVER ever play them in a session, unless it was for a requested solo.

Oh, the real last thing. Hard tunes are supposed to show how good you are. That’s exactly what they’ll do. If you’re not really good, and not ready to be seen as not so good, I highly discourage playing showy tunes. They tend to make a fool of you.

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Enjoying reliving the glory days of those old threads that David posted. LOL. Although it was a bit worrying seeing the rubbish I posted seven years ago. Seven years? Eeek!!!!!!

An Fidleir… I was laughing at the change in your comments then from your comments now. You’ve definitely “got it.”

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🙂 Let’s just say the session experience changes many things. Luckily I had a good session who bared with me for the first couple months…

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“Bared” with you? I never heard of a naked session before! 🙂

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Not so many…but lots of medleys that can be epic!

Tamlin/Devil in the Strawstack/Farewell to Tchernobyl is one…

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Oh, showier! I saw this on Facebook and I thought it said “shower fiddle tunes”. My eyes are old. A vision of a soaked fiddle came to mind, then I thought of someone serenading someone in the fiddle while they showered.

….. all is now revealed.

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I recommend “The Contradiction Reel” and
“The Calgary Polka” which is not a polka - I have no idea about the source of this tune name.
I only know that it’s a really interesting tune, that I’m still working on.

There’s nothing wrong with playing any interesting, technically challenging, or “showy”
tune in a session, even if no one else knows it. If you play it well, the others will be interested in it, and they’ll ask you the name of it.
Then you’ll tell them, and they’ll go home and work on it.
Then, soon enough, it’s a new tune for your
regular session.

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I was going to mention ‘The Contradiction Reel’, but halfwaythere went all the way there, and beat me to it 🙂

There’s also this one (one of my own), if you fancy a bit of modulation :

https://thesession.org/tunes/11870

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Be sure you can actually play the tunes, foot tapping in
a steady beat all the while. Crash and Burn is neither fun
to watch nor fun to do.

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Always remember that your audience aren’t all fiddlers - they don’t know (or care) how difficult or easy a tune is.

When you judge your own playing you tend to make allowances and pat yourself on the back for getting through a difficult tune without actual mistakes, even if you’ve played it very poorly. Your audience won’t make that allowance, they’ll just notice that you’ve played it badly.

You’ll always get far louder applause for playing a simple tune exquisitely than for fluffing your way through a difficult one.

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Well said, Mark.

I am sure we have all met That Guy in sessions, who can’t resist launching into complex Scott Skinner strathspeys or the Moving Cloud, tunes it’s plain no one else is the session will know so no one can rescue him. He flails his way through the tunes all on his lonesome and you think, “But surely you can play Rolling in the Ryegrass and it would actually sound okay.”

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Good point, Mark.

On the other hand, I don’t think there are any Irish tunes would present a difficulty to a fiddler / violininst with a decent bit of classical training under their belt. All else being equal, of course.

Assuming the social context is right (eg there’s a break in communal playing), I don’t there’s anything wrong with something different, be it a story, a joke or a fancy fiddle solo if one has the chops for it.

Doc, I do understand what you mean about That Guy 🙂

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“On the other hand, I don’t think there are any Irish tunes would present a difficulty to a fiddler / violininst with a decent bit of classical training under their belt.”

I beg to differ. Having come from extensive classical training myself, I have personal experience with this. In classical music, the stressed point is to play every note perfectly (in tune, time, and duration), as written, no changes to the music are to be made. This was all I ever knew until I got myself caught up in the Irish music world, and even then, it took longer than you would expect to break myself off that mindset.

When you first start Irish music as a classical musician, you think something along the lines of “simple notes, simple rhythm, ALL in first position… CAKE!” You end up with something like this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7w65438PCGM


Then, later on, you are introduced to new “ornamentation” that you have never heard of before, and sound/feel just completely wrong, and almost sinful to do (best example: bowed triplets. aka that scratchy thing with the bow).

As if that’s not enough, you now learn that you need to start learning the tunes by ear. Uh oh, you’ve been learning from the dots all your life! You can’t do that! Along with that, some of the recordings that you try to learn from play the same tune differently the second time than the they did the first time.

Variations, variations… (improv/noodling)… A classical musician’s worst nightmare. When challenged to play the same tune two different ways without being shown what to do, you play it the way you know first, then when the second part comes along, it crashes and burns. I still have trouble with this myself.

Maybe you now understand the view point of a good many classical musicians in the anti-classical world of Irish music?

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@an fidleir, I take your point, although I do think that Youtube example is at the very dodgy end of the classical-playing-Irish spectrum. Yes, I’ve heard some classical players who struggle with ‘fiddle’ tunes, but that’s usually because they haven’t really listened enough, or don’t even like the genre enough to learn to play it with any kind of authenticity.

At the extreme other end, there are top classical players who play Irish very well, like this guy :

http://worldfiddlemusic.com/guest/some-bloke-playing-diddley-etc.mp3

I know quite a few players of the instrument who are as comfortable playing in a concert orchestra as they are playing fiddle music (Irish, Scot, bluegrass, even jazz) and they play both damn well.

I think I probably get to hear a wider range of players than most Irish-centric musicans do. I’ve met some incredible classical players who have attended my Fiddle Hell workshops, and are deliberately low-key in their presence, mainly because they are interested in fiddling, and would not ever play any of their usual repertoire, simply because it would attract attention to their high skill level, and possibly distract others who are there purely for the subject of the fiddle workshop.

So, I’m not surprised to find that it’s a common complaint in the session community - namely classical musicians ‘having a go’, without first having taken the trouble to get to know the music properly. Just in the same way as an Irish fiddler having a stab at classical, or jazz 🙂

For the people I described earlier (ie the ones who can play classical and Irish music well), then there’s unlikely to be any Irish tune that would be difficult to play. A tune like ‘The Contradiction’ or ‘The Mathematician’ would be child’s play, in that respect.

I hope that clears things up a bit.

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This all has me thinking while I was practising the Knotted Chord today. It is often the simpler tunes that lend themselves to more variations. The B part of this tune for instance is pretty steady shifting between an Am chord to a G major chord, and the possibilities for variations between these two parts of the melody are almost endless. I’m coming up with variations on the B part that go all over the place and it’s almost becoming hard to play the B part without such variations as they just seem to come out of nowhere in my head and fingers.

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A couple of advanced fiddle tunes I love are: Dowd’s Favorite, Paddy Ryan’s Dream, Paddy Canny’s Toast.

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Earl, what’s advanced about them, iyo? Keys, string crossing, unusual patterns, big interval jumps, etc? It’s a genuine question and something that interests me 🙂

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If you really must add some ‘showier’ tunes to your personal arsenal (as in, don’t learn them to trot them out at a session), might I suggest tracking down some Paddy Fahy recordings and learning those by ear. Even one of his tunes can give you a lifetime of learning, and if you listen attentively, I guarantee you will hear new things every time you listen or play the tune. Tommy Potts and Bobby Casey would be equally well served for this.

For what it’s worth, I echo the advice of -really- learning the simpler tunes, and taking joy out of exploring those.

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[*For what it’s worth, I echo the advice of -really- learning the simpler tunes, and taking joy out of exploring those.*]

Don’t you mean ‘getting joy out of exploring those’? OK, just ribbing you 🙂

I take your point, but it’s not helping the OP.

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“I take your point, but it’s not helping the OP.”

That, in itself, is a matter of opinion. In my opinion.

😀

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[*“I take your point, but it’s not helping the OP.”
That, in itself, is a matter of opinion. In my opinion.*]

Well, opinions and aesthetics aside, clare99’s suggestion is not really answering the OP’s question, which was “any suggestions of impressive/technically difficult tunes?”.

That was my meaning in my last post.

Some of the other posts did try to address the original question.

Re: Really learn & explore tunes

Jim are you saying advising Suzie to “really learn” & “explore” each & every tune she plays is not helpful if she wishes to take pride in all of them so she won’t feel so much in limbo?

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Re: Showier Fiddle Tunes

[*Jim are you saying advising Suzie to “really learn” & “explore” each & every tune she plays is not helpful if she wishes to take pride in all of them so she won’t feel so much in limbo?*]

Difficult to say, Ben. Imo, that advice you just quoted may benefit eg, a trad fiddle player who has only ever played Irish fiddle tunes, and wants a bit more motivation - but the request is from a player with classical experience, clearly for tunes outside the standard ‘repertoire’, with the bias on technicality and all that goes with it.

I’m just trying to keep to the subject of the OP. Too often on this board, we tend to stray away from that, and I’ve been guilty of that too.

Kind of like, if someone genuinely asks what the best way to improve their bodhran technique, being given the answer, ‘get yourself a tin whistle first.’

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Both those who answered the OP with examples of ‘showy’ tunes, and the ones that counsel against that mindset, are sincere in their attempts to help the poster.

So learn Kitty O’Shea’s Champion Jig, from listening to both Tommy Peoples and Kevin Burke’s versions. That will get everyone in the session rolling their eyes and looking at their watches.

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Thanks for the advice guys. I’ll work on getting the old standbys perfectly polished, and play with some of the new tunes suggested. I guess it’s kinda that I want to prove myself a fiddler rather than a violinist playing fiddle tunes, which again is better accomplished through styling the simpler tunes instead of learning some showy reels.