A better appreciation for reels?

A better appreciation for reels?

I’ve been into ITM for over ten years, now … both listening and playing (mostly fiddle). I love the jigs and the hornpipes and the polkas, but I’ve never really warmed up to reels. I only know a few that I’d ever play in a session.

I know there a lot more reels than any other type of tune; probably more reels than all of the other tunes types all together. Many sessions are heavily "reel-weighted," and, I realize that lacking an appreciation for reels is holding back my growth in ITM.

What would you recommend (albums, specific tracks, etc) to develop a better appreciation for reels?

Re: A better appreciation for reels?

You can listen to, and purchase, individual tracks through "iTunes".

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Re: A better appreciation for reels?

If you don’t mind me asking, where does this "lack" of appreciation for reels come from? Aren’t you better off approaching each tune individually regardless of whether it is a reel or a jig?

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Re: A better appreciation for reels?

Boyen: If you don’t mind me asking, where does this "lack" of appreciation for reels come from? Aren’t you better off approaching each tune individually regardless of whether it is a reel or a jig?

I’m not sure where the lack comes from, that’s why I’m trying to change my attitude. For some reason, reels just don’t seem to "stick" in my head the way a jig or polka does. I generally try to learn a tune by listening to it (as many different versions as I can find on Rhapsody) until I can "play" it mentally, then I look at the sheet music to make sure I’ve got it right and then practice it on my fiddle until I can play it competently. Reels seem to get stopped at the first step…

It’s frustrating….

Re: A better appreciation for reels?

I’m in the same boat but my avoidance of reels comes from the fact that I don’t play them well. I don’t seem to be able to get them up to speed. I find myself sticking to jigs, hornpipes etc. I read a lot about bowing reels but my approach is just to listen and try to emulate the sound. I slow the reels down and try to "get" them but I’m not happy with my results and when I go to our session .. speed is an issue.

Re: A better appreciation for reels?

Speed could well be an issue — people seem to play them a lot faster than they did a few years ago. If you can’t play a reel at 80 to 100 bpm, you won’t be able to play it faster with any degree of musicality. Maybe the answer would be to slow down and try to get the ‘feel’ of a reel, rather than getting up to speed — which will come later.

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Re: A better appreciation for reels?

Reels didn’t make a lot of sense to me either, until I watched people dance to them. There has to be a bounce and drive, or they are just fast tunes. I think that I had heard too many old time versions of Irish reels, and they tend to be more ‘straight-up’, for lack of a better description. When I learned how to do the little time-keeping reel step, it all kind of clicked. I can still murder a reel, but I’d like to think that I do it rhythmically. 🙂

Take a look at the dancers here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MUTP58l1dxk


These people are all capable of playing that reel at warp speed, but don’t. (Don’t want to kill the dancers.)

Re: A better appreciation for reels?

i dont know if this is true but my dad told me that alot of reels are actually poems if that makes any sense. i like to look into the songs i pick out and see fi there is any kind of story behind it and maybe get a kind of sense of what its about.

Re: A better appreciation for reels?

Where does the idea that a reel should be at 120 bpm come from? Those guys playing for the dancers here are at 113 bpm. I regularly find that people play even faster than 120 and it really bothers me because even if I know the tune very well I can’t play along because there is no breathing room. In any case reels are my favorite, but I don’t like anything that is done too fast.

Re: A better appreciation for reels?

Yeah just tried to play a well known reel at 120 bpm it was ridiculous. I guess I wouldn’t want to play for dancers if that is the "proper" speed.

Re: A better appreciation for reels?

It’s all relative. Play a reel at 150 bpm and then 120 will sound kind of slow.

Re: A better appreciation for reels?

Jump off a really high cliff, then jumping of a building will seem easy. Yeah, right.

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Re: A better appreciation for reels?

Phew, I was afraid nobody would glibly naysay my post!

Re: A better appreciation for reels?

Depends on the building, gam. Don’t know if the Empire State Building would be much of an improvement over the cliff. 5th Ave is a loooooong way down.

Re: A better appreciation for reels?

One common theory …
People play reels overly fast because they find it hard to add lift to a tune. Speed is a cheap way to mimic lift. Dancers enjoy getting some energy from the music, and a skillfully played tune doesn’t need to be fast to create that effect. But if everyone plays a tune flat (i.e., without lift), then they tend to play faster to create some kind of energy to drive the dancers.

Re: A better appreciation for reels?

Playing skills aside, I wonder if there is anything to be said about listening skills in regards to speed. After struggling to get my reels up to ‘session speed’ it seemed that my ear progressed as well, and fast tunes sounded slower with all the notes becoming a little clearer and less of a nonstop blur of notes. I wonder if that might be what is going on with the OP?

Re: A better appreciation for reels?

@Cheeky Elf — knowing a tune intimately allows you to play it faster, not just by virtue of knowing where to put your fingers, which doesn’t really make much difference (the knowing, not the putting) but also by creating a dedicated neural network that allows you to concentrate much more precisely.
As a result, the ‘non-stop blur of notes’ effect becomes a clear map, where you can see exactly what is going on, look ahead, make decisions, zoom in and out at will and generally maintain control over what you are hearing.
A juggler once said that when he was concentrating everything seemed to slow down so that it was easy to keep track of where everything was. It’s the same with playing — time seems to slow down, while you yourself actually seem to play at the same speed
When you have the map in your head, playing faster is relatively easy — it’s when your muscles can’t keep up with your brain that the problems start.
Once you begin to leave out notes or change the tune to let you play it faster, you are on a downhill slope to mediocrity.

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Re: A better appreciation for reels?

I’m with you on all that gam - What I am saying is that along the way my ear has begun to hear faster as an unexpected consequence. Not just while playing, but also when just listening to recorded music. What sounded very fast at one point just sounds lively now. The notes may be going by too fast in the reels for the OP to really catch the beauty and the individual personalities of the reels and they may all just be sounding the same. Pure speculation on my part. For what it’s worth, I am still very much on the steep incline to mediocrity. 😏

Re: A better appreciation for reels?

KF

I am in the same boat. Playing box for 7 years with a great teacher. So by enforcement, my repertoire is nicely balanced (tho my play is only starting to be worthy of the tunes).

In Chicago, we have some very fine fiddlers (as well as other instruments) and a flock of up and coming really good young fiddlers. My complaint since getting involved as an adult-amateur-trying-get-up-to-speed learner is that our sessions tend to be reel heavy because they reflect the repertoire of the Fiddles.

Out of interest in learning the tunes a couple of the sessions played commonly (Herself might argue with that and say out of sheer frustration) I recorded hours of sessions- Iphones are magic that way. and my inner engineer plotted the frequency of tune genre over a two month period.

Reels 3:1 0ver everything. Next not surprisingly followed by jigs. Hornpipes- one to two sets tops in a 2 plus hour session, usually the front end when the kids are playing. Polkas were measured in weeks per set instead of sets per week. Sad. I find Polkas fun to play. Slides- hardly ever, probably because based on the number of Irish freinds and musician colleagues I have who have birth/family/strong ties to Ireland come from the Southwest. BTW totally unscientific, so Chicago folks don’t beat me up. Herself’s roots are paternally Donegal and maternally Mayo. So that challenges my assertion.

John William’s sessions are pretty balanced and include a number of Waltzes, Mazurka’s and hornpipes, but the Fiddlers still bring strong ‘reel’ influence since his sessions have some wonderful Fiddlers.

So for the past year, I have been trying to learn as many of the common reels as I can on the side of my normal lessons. There are soooo many.

Re: A better appreciation for reels?

Fiddler3 is right. For most session players I know, myself included for long enough, speed can be a substitute for lift.

Although I played Irish tunes, reels included, for many years on tenor banjo, latterly to a reasonable standard, I didn’t begin to understand reels properly until I took up B/C accordion. The unforgiving dynamics of the B/C system made me to analyse what (in my view anyway) makes reels sound as they should, so that I could develop a playing style that allowed me to apply stresses as and where I wished, rather than only where the box allowed or forced me to.

I think the reason that it took transition to box to work this out is that, without proper technique, trying to play reels fast on the box just doesn’t work at all.

I’ve applied all that I learned about reels back into playing the banjo, with beneficial effects, so my friends tell me.

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Re: A better appreciation for reels?

MBC

Agreed. Reasonable pace works well sitting in the family room or playing for a group actually listening to the tune so the player can go moderately to show of the nice bits.

Personally though, I know what FK is talking about. When the session gets going, grab on an hold on for a very fast ride. There are several reels I can fly on, but there is not much too them at that point.

Re: A better appreciation for reels?

I’ve never had a problem with reels as you talk about, but I think that comes from me being a dancer too, so I’ve had years and years of hearing hundreds of reels and having to speed them up/slow them down in my head to work out steps etc. Maybe try listening to some slow reels? It brings a whole new dynamic to the tunes because they’re played in a completely different way to if it were played up to tempo at a session or performance. There’s plenty of beautiful recordings of slow reels out there.

Funny that hornpipes were mentioned a few times tho, I’ve never yet heard a recording of a hornpipe that I’ve liked enough to bother going out of my way to learn. Maybe that’s just because I’m a flute player and don’t think that hornpipes translate as well on a flute, or because I’m so used to dancing hornpipes that I can’t separate them away from the dancing.

Re: A better appreciation for reels?

@Oisin Cooke
"…don’t think that hornpipes translate as well on a flute…"
The flute is a fabulous instrument, and hornpipes are wonderful tunes, so I can’t see any reason at all why hornpipes wouldn’t ‘translate’ well on a flute.
Have you tried here?
http://errantelbows.podbean.com/category/hornpipes/
or here?
https://www.youtube.com/user/concertinette/videos
or here?
http://comhaltas.ie/music/tag/Hornpipe
You’re missing a treat if you bypass a whole category — especially if you know how to dance it. There are various approaches to playing the hornpipe, from almost reel-like to very slow, from very swung to very square — try everything and see what fits.

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Re: A better appreciation for reels?

Reels are tough to play on fiddle because the rhythmic
structure varies so much from one to another and within
the same tune. You could try slowing down a lot and pretending
they are hornpipes (temporarily).

Another thing I do is to single bow the whole thing slowly, including doing the whole
tune with all downbows and then again with all upbows. Unless you are
a good classical violinist, that forces you to go really slow - no way you can get out of
control with that bowing. After doing that exercise, go back to normal bowing
and it feels easier.