Chords with the tunes

Chords with the tunes

Hi all,

I wonder if there is a method to putting the chords in with the tunes. I cannot figure that out myself. I can read music but only basically.

Posted by .

Re: Chords with the tunes

Try a chord. If it works use it; if it doesn’t, try another chord. But bear in mind that what you think suitable might be thought unsuitable by someone else.

Posted by .

Re: Chords with the tunes

I wouldn’t do what gam suggests in public. Do it in private by all means, but, at a session, if you don’t know what the chord should be, don’t play.

Having said which, I reckon gam’s method would be pretty good, and may well be the way to go, so long as you do it that way for a few years before ever playing chord backing to tunes in public.

But maybe that’s not what you wanted this for? Are you, yourself, a guitarist or other chord whacker?

Re: Chords with the tunes

Learn the tunes. There is no other formula. Yes it’s a lot of work. Welcome to Irish Music.

Re: Chords with the tunes

For SUGGESTED chords, (incoming!…), our website (http://home.comcast.net/~saustin98/lark) has chords for all of its tunes (not nearly as many tunes as theSession).

Remember, these chords are kind of a starter kit. Read the disclaimer at the top of the page. There are no “correct” chords for these tunes. In fact, a good backup player tries to tastefully vary them on subsequent repetitions. But it should get you going in a reasonable direction.

Best of luck!
Steve

Re: Chords with the tunes

AlBrown’s Beginner’s Guide is a great place to start.
As Eulic says, learn the tunes. You don’t necessarily need to be able to play the tune on an instrument, but you should know the melody good enough to “dittley-dee” it in your head.
You also need to know the key and mode of the tune.
Sometimes you need to know the tune better than the melody players to sound good.
And sometimes the B part changes keys.
And sometimes chords that “should” work don’t sound good.
And sometimes chords that “shouldn’t” work do sound good.

Re: Chords with the tunes

There surely must be ‘correct’ chords for tunes. How else do I keep hearing all those incorrct ones? I think what Steve is getting at is that this music is more flexible than the type of stuff they teach you using the standard chord progrssions they normally start you off with for blues/rock/ country etc. To answer directly just the question you asked I think you need to learn a bit of that type of chord theory, BUT…. then you have to learn how it doesn’t suitably relate to this kind of music, and start again. It would be the same thing if you wanted to play chords in Jazz.

Re: Chords with the tunes

One more thing. I agree wholeheartedly with Eulic.

I think a good backup player needs to know the melody just as well as the melody players do. Not that you need to be able to PLAY the melody on your chosen axe, but at least know it cold in your head. There’s no way to know what chord you’ll need next (on an unfamiliar tune) if you don’t know where the melody will be at that point. If you wait to hear it, it’s too late, and your timing will be off (which, in my book is even more egregious than an inappropriate chord).

The harmony (chord selection) isn’t random, of course, but needs to “agree” with and support the melody, and very often (not always) a good chord choice includes that melody note. There’s a clue for when you’re trying out chords at home like Ben suggested - know the notes that are IN your chords, and the melody note you’re aiming to match. That pares down the list of chords you need to choose from a lot.

IMHO, Irish tunes rarely “need” chords. The harmony is so implicit in the melody anyway. But I do like a good backup (I’m a fiddler myself, but can back up when called upon). The guitar (bouzouki, etc) is really (at least) two instruments in one - a chordal base, and a pure rhythm instrument like a bodhran, washboard, whatever. But that rhythm has to be dead on.

I’d guess that the reason Dow (wisely) didn’t include chords on theSession was just that there are many ways to do it well, and wanted to avoid fist fights over which one was “correct”. Just a guess.

My site was started about ten years ago, strictly for our own local session, which included a lot of beginners, and the goal was to at least get everybody playing the same thing (both melody and chords). That’s why I included some chords, and I’ve just kept doing it over the years, even though most of our players are well beyond that need now.

The bottom line is listen, listen, listen (CD’s or good sessions). And listen both to the melody, and what the backup player’s doing.

Steve

Re: Chords with the tunes

Like has been said, everyone will harmonise a tune in a different way, and there is no one correct way to do it. You have to know what key you are in to start with, and there are chords which are more likely to be used than others, so that can give you a head start. These chords are first, fourth and fifth chords in any given key. So for example, in C major, the most commonly used chords would be C major (first), F major (fourth), and G major (fifth).

Like Steve said, it’s a question of matching up what notes are in the melody with what chords might fit. Some of my students find it useful to draw a chord diagram for whatever key they’re working in, until they get more used to what notes are in what chords. Here’s an example of a chord diagram in C major:
G A B C D E F G
E F G A B C D E
C D E F G A B C

Re: Chords with the tunes

One thing that I don’t think chord bashers appreciate enough. It actually harms my playing if I get into a session where someone plays the wrong chords. It often takes weeks for my playing (on fiddle and flute) to recover from it.

It’s terribly damaging when chord bashers play the wrong chords. It really is hard to overstate the harm it can do.

Re: Chords with the tunes

Suew, what instrument are you thinking of when you say ‘what chords?’

For guitar (eg), playing simple chords like tonic + [5th above] + [octave above tonic] can be a good start.

Re: Chords with the tunes

Suew, I don’t know if you’re asking about guitar chords, backing chords, or perhaps some ways to harmonize. In either case I hope the following quote from AlBrown is helpful;

Re: Guitar backing advice needed

“It is more important to hit the beats right, rather than hit a lot of beats. Like Jon says, don’t get caught up in patterns. An easy strum played well, or even just a strum at the beginning of each bar, is better than what you hear from people who hit every eighth note, but sound like they are barely in control of what they are doing. And the same thing with chords, three chords in the right places (or even two will do in some of the Dorian tunes) are better than a whole bunch of moving or passing chords that clutter up the sound. Since standard tuning is what you know, stick with it. If possible, chord in a way that minimizes, if not avoids thirds (for example, if you are using that standard D chord shape on the top three strings, damp that top string to avoid the F sharp on the top of the chord).”

“Simple played well beats flashy but ragged any day of the week.”

Posted by AlBrown on June 28th, 2011
https://thesession.org/discussions/27881#comment592924

Posted by .

Re: Chords with the tunes

Thank you for all your replies. Some of you went out of your way to type and give links and type, type, type. Appreciate that.

I play the fiddle. I never play accompaniment.

My accompanist is a piano player well aged. She “cannot” accompany a tune without the chords showing on the music. All the music here is chordless.

I love getting the email list of tunes from here and sitting down and going over them, trying them out. When I come across a tune that I’m interested in, only I can enjoy it because it’s just too hard to figure out the chords for my piano player.

I really don’t have the desire to go into another way of life….figuring out chords. My brain isn’t a sponge anymore and learning tunes is hard enough for me…although I love it.

So, I guess there isn’t any easy way around getting chords for a tune without being a master of music theory.

Thanks all🙂

Posted by .

Re: Chords with the tunes

I’ve had this exchange in various forms with unknown guitar players that show up at our session over the years.

Do you already know how to do backup for this kind of music?

Yes - Great! How about you sit in on a set and see how it goes, but if it doesn’t work out, I may ask you to sit out the session.

No - Can you already flatpick the tunes or do you already know the tunes from another instrument?

Yes - Great, there’s hope, how about you play melody on the tunes you already know. Let me know a set you already play. Here, I’ll loan you my mandolin/fiddle/spare whistle.

No - Go buy a mandolin or whistle, spend the next three to five years acquiring a basic repertoire of tunes. Then, if you still have the desire to play backup, come back and begin the process of learning to play backup using all the great resources that are available here and elsewhere.

But I don’t have three to five years, I’m already pretty good at guitar and I want to play backup tonight…

I’m sorry, that’s the deal. Don’t like it? There’s plenty of other musical genres with a much more constrained range of harmonic choices and rhythms that may be a more appropriate choice.

Why are you being so mean to me?

I’m not being mean, I’m just telling you how this session works and how to actually have a chance at being a serviceable backup player for this kind of music. Follow my advice and five years from now you’ll probably thank me.

Or some variant of the above… 🙂

Re: Chords with the tunes

My method is the same as it is for putting chords with tunes in any genre of music. Look at what notes the melody player is playing and base the chords off of that. I learned how to do it in my music theory class at the local college. I had to adapt a few things to accomodate for how commonplace modes are in Irish music, because in my music theory class we didn’t really go too deep into modes, so I did some self study after that. I am still learning though, it’s not always about looking at the notes. Some tuns like Old Bush sound good with chords that just match the overall feel of a phrase.

Re: Chords with the tunes

yes, it really is firstly a case of understanding the theory (primarily of scales and corresponding chord structure).

Re: Chords with the tunes

I think it’s about knowing the possible harmonic progressions in a key and then listening really hard to what the tune is doing: is it just moving through a I-IV-V pattern, going from VI to V, rising or falling?

Posted .

Re: Chords with the tunes

Geraldine Cotter: Seinn an Piano (Paperback)
http://www.abebooks.com/servlet/BookDetailsPL?bi=8177059816&tab=1&searchurl=isbn%3D9780946005925%26amp%3Bn%3D100121501

Re: Piano Backing?

“I think Cape Breton and Shetland styles are quite different from Irish style: C.B. style is obviously influenced by Jazz.

Famous Irish piano accompanists I think of are:

Charlie Lennon
Carl Hession
Felix Dolan
Geraldine Cotter
Brian McGrath
John Blake“

Posted by slainte on February 12th, 2005
https://thesession.org/discussions/5808#comment123869

Fabulous Clip

https://thesession.org/discussions/30976
Posted by Tony O’Rourke on December 2nd, 2012

Nora Hogan & Aidan Coffey
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l3JbSmNcykQ

Posted by .

Re: Accompany the tunes

I particularly like the piano accompaniment of Deirdre McSherry… so while we’re at posting clips…
http://vimeo.com/39600660

I think this one kind of substantiates what Eulic said – and she does know the tunes, obviously! 🙂

Re: Chords with the tunes

Suew, you don’t have to be a master of music theory, you just have to have a good ear.

Use AlBrown’s guide or The Six Million Dollar Man’s website as a guide and write in the chords for a few tunes.
Your “well aged” accompanist should be able to pick it up. That is, assuming “well aged” also means “experienced and somewhat musically knowledgeable”.

Just as an experiment, have her play the melody of a tune. Then ask her what chords she thinks would go along with it. Sometimes people who only play from sheet music don’t know how much they know.

Re: Chords with the tunes

I don’t think there’s a “method” as such, or a “formula”. You’d have to study each tune as an individual piece of music. But I would very much agree with the list of accompanists “naeisc” posted. Study their choices of chords, and their rhythm.

Re: Chords with the tunes

I hadn’t realised that you were asking in reference to an aged piano accompanist. So that’s easy then:- just get her to listen to old records of Michael Coleman, get her to put on a pair of boxing gloves, and simply copy what his pianist did.

Re: Chords with the tunes

Your piano player should be able to read the music with a pencil in hand and write in her own chords. I would be shocked to meet a piano player that can’t do this. Personally I would just play through the melody notes slowly and guess and check using chords that contain most of the notes in the melody. It’s really no that hard. Is the first note in a phrase a C note? are there no flats or sharps in the tune? Well then try using a C chord, When the C chord no longer sounds good with any of the melody notes try switching to to another chord that includes the note you are playing in the melody. I am a very very novice piano player and that is really what I would do. Work through each note of the melody and experiment with chords with my left hand until I had something that sounded good. Is she trying to only play chords? I think it is much more preferable to play melody with right hand and chords with the left, that is what piano is designed for.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0EUO0wx61cI


I know it also goes against what is being said but I care much more for a type of playing that has lots of transitional walking motion in the accompaniment. The bass notes and the notes she is bouncing off with her thumb make up two notes of a chord but she doesn’t play them both at once, and it has a nice rhythm to it.

Re: Chords with the tunes

This one is backwards in the video but you can still listen and sort of get an idea by watching how it is done. This has more of a leaping motion in the bassline and chords but again he is bouncing between different notes of the chord, not playing the whole thing at once.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ok3vKBA3i-E

Re: Chords with the tunes

In that last one he is holding out the chords for longer, its sort of an easier way to play and also allows more freedom of rhythm in the melody.

Re: Chords with the tunes

I don’t want to be rude about anybody, especially as I often have to endure my ageing father (i.e., the ageing father of an aged son) trying to accompany my fiddle playing, but here we are again with an example of an accompanist asking the melody player for the chords. It’s not our job to tell them! I played rhythm guitar and bass for most of my life and all I ever really asked when I didn’t know, was what key the tune was in. Now I play fiddle I couldn’t even answer that question most of the time, but as far as what chords you play with this music, I wouldn’t have a clue unless I just picked up my guitar or bouzouki and did it by ear. But Suew,for the sake of your pianist, you can get the chords to just about all these tunes by just googling the tune name and the word ‘Chords’. I keep a lists of chord charts to many tunes I play, just in case I ever get visited by a guitarist.

Re: Chords with the tunes

I meant well aged as a senior in life.

Posted by .

Re: Chords with the tunes

“I think Cape Breton and Shetland styles are quite different from Irish style…”

Personally, I think Violet Tulloch (Shetland) would be a welcome addition to an Irish session. Not so keen on the Cape Breton piano style, myself - a bit too busy for my ears.

Re: Chords with the tunes

Many tunes follow the anglo I,IV,V format. Of course that does not apply everywhere, but it’s useful for a first guess. Look to the relative minor of the I also. If a tune starts out in Em, for example, the I,IV,V also applies with the I as the Em and the IV and V relating to the relative major, G.

A good rule of thumb for tunes in the Ionian mode (major) is: I,IV,V +rel.min.

If a tune is in a mode other than Ionian (common modes in Celtic music are Dorian, Mixolydian, Aeolian), different rules apply, but you are generally safe with the I and the V for chords.

Shall I assume you need help “making” a chord? Chords are made up of the 1,3,5 of the scale. So if you’re in G major, the notes of the chord will be G,B,D; also if you’re in the relative minor, then the notes will be G,Bflat,D (the 3rd is always lowered by 1/2 step in the minor chord).

As to where the chord falls in a given tune, most tunes are 16 bars repeated (32 bars total). Sometimes the tunes are 8 bars repeated (AA, BB).

Chords generally fall in similar places: The first bar, then in 4 bar phrases with the 4 chord at the end of the first phrase, the 5 chord at the end of the second phrase - repeat that in the 2nd half of the part with the 5 and the 1 finishing up the section:

A: 1,4,5
A: 1,4,1,5,1
B: 1,4,5
B: 1,4,1,5,1

Of course these rules only apply to tunes that are 2 parters, 16 or 32 bars in length:

Re: Chords with the tunes

celticagent-I beg to differ with your above post-In my experience the chords in Irish music fall in unpredictable places. You can go for three and a half measures on the same chord, and then have three quick changes in the next bar-and-a-half. This is part of the beauty of this style, and part of what makes it so difficult for backers. As has already been said, each tune is different and must be approached this way(by learning the melody) rather than trying to fit it into formulas which will inevitably lead you astray.

Re: Chords with the tunes

The relative minor is vi

Re: Chords with the tunes

My granddaughter is a relative minor. 😉

Re: Chords with the tunes

I agree with 5 string. The chords are in strange places when you are looking through a beginner’s eyes.

Re: Chords with the tunes

As 5-string said; the tunes are unpredictable.
You can work through a tune, bar by bar, saying “the strongest notes are part of the chord of whatever” so that will be the best chord, ignoring the weaker notes as just being passing notes, or you can try to train your ear to do the same thing.
What is certain and sure is that you cannot lay down hard and fast rules; e.g. what do you do for tunes where some parts are in the major, some in the relative minor ? Sometimes you can’t even decide how to end/resolve the tune.

Re: Chords with the tunes

AlBrown-your granddaughter is named vi?

Re: Chords with the tunes

😉

Re: Chords with the tunes

@celticagent The I and V chords are certainly NOT good choices for Dorian and Mixolydian tunes. Did you really mean that?? Some would say I and VIIb, since some theory books teach it that way. I prefer just to think of the home chord (minor in Dorian and Major in Mixolydian) and the major chord one step below. So, Em and D or Am and G for Dorian (in the most common keys) and A and G or D and C for common Mixolydian. Now before folks jump all over this I know other chords will commonly be used too. I’m just reacting to the statement that I and V are common for those modes, and not trying to spell out anything more.

Re: Chords with the tunes

I highly recommend Dr. Chris Smith’s book “Celtic Backup for All Instrumentalists”, published by Mel Bay, for anyone already familiar with tunes who wants to move into playing backup and already has some basic understanding of scales and music theory. I found it very useful when I was first learning to do backup many years ago.

http://www.amazon.com/Mel-Celtic-Back-Up-Chris-Smith/dp/0786640650

Re: Chords with the tunes

You can substitute V for vii. This is because they are a third apart and share two chord tones. I agree the vii chord is better for those modes.

Re: Chords with the tunes

Yeah you can substitute, but the sound will be much better with the VIIb than with the V. If there is a bass line player you could also disagree and end up with a VIIb7 which combines the two…though I would not prefer it.

Re: Chords with the tunes

How about I send someone the page of music I am trying to put chords on?

pls don’t hate me🙂

Posted by .

Re: Chords with the tunes

Suew-Sure-if you send me the music I’ll be glad to write chords in for you.Do you want staff notation or would just the chord names be OK?

Re: Chords with the tunes

Yeah I meant VII, of course.

Re: Chords with the tunes

I just read through this thread, gotta say, gam pretty much nailed it with “Try a chord. If it works use it; if it doesn’t, try another chord”

btw, haven’t heard the rather pejorative “chord basher” before; very creative and helpful.

Posted by .

Re: Chords with the tunes

btw, haven’t heard the rather pejorative “chord basher” before; very creative and helpful.

…I believe the previous pejoration was ‘boom-chucker’.

There’s a pejorative name to attach to just about every instrument, in the appropriate circumstances 🙂

Re: Chords with the tunes

Thank you for your offer, 5stringfool. I did email you. I hope I am not out of line and did what I was supposed to do.

Posted by .

Re: Chords with the tunes

Suew-chords are on their way

Re: Chords with the tunes

Thank you, Steve, I really appreciate this. 🙂

Posted by .

Re: Chords with the tunes

Found the discussion very informative..great resource !