Range and keys

Range and keys

Now and then I play with a bunch of people - hurdy-gurdy, various bagpipes and mandola (I play fiddle and box). As you can see, it’s not Irish music, but they like it and want to include some Irish tunes in the repertoire. The hurdy-gurdy is fully chromatic in two octaves, but sounds best with a G drone (and G as the lowest melody note). In other words, G major/minor and C major/minor work best. Those happen to be the best keys on at least one of the pipes (G drone and more or less G-a, I have heard a low F# as well) Now, considering this unusual range (for Irish music, that is), I simply have no idea what do play. It feels like 95% of my repertoire have gone out the window. G tunes are pretty much out of the question, unless the range of the actual tunes is more or less one octave, from low G to high g (any suggestions?). I could perhaps transpose one-octave tunes in D (if there are any?) to G. Or maybe find tunes in C (from low G to high g - similar to the way G tunes are played on a D whistle/flute).

Any suggestions are helpful. In the meantime, I’ll struggle with tunes in G, C, Gm and Cm on both fiddle and C#/D box (quite a challenge!).

Re: Range and keys

Get your gurdy player to change to D/G tuning. It’s way more ‘Irish friendly’ and will open up a whole new world to him and you. (In D/G the 2 octaves on the chanteurs run from the open the open D of the fiddle to the d on the e string, so the only tunes you can’t play, or need to change, are ones that use the G string of the fiddle.)

Re: Range and keys

You might get away with a number of tunes in the Northumbrian smallpipes repertoire. It seems that in their early phase, their range was confined to a single octave. Round about 1800 - roughly - a top A was added to their G scale. Thereafter many more notes were added, creating the developed smallpipes of today: their scope is considerable, but much of their repertoire may be out of your range.

The repertoire of the earlier, 8-or-9-note N/brian smallpipes is well enough recorded and has some distinctive features. Given such a small range of notes, it deploys them in all manner of sequences and intervals. It tends to be nimble, and go in for successions of variations. In the hands of a good player these can have a cumulative, hypnotic effect. A good starter tunebook for finding this stuff is the first Northumbrian Pipers’ Society tune book (they have a website). Some carry ditties, or snatches of them, and my personal guess is that singing these - rapidly, word-perfect and coping with peculiar intervals and octave-jumps - would have been a challenge for singers to show what they could do and vie with one another. (N.B. - The pipes’ G in the old days seems to have been round about F# in modern standard pitch.)

The subject of one-octave tunes in the Irish tradition has come up in Discussions before now. and others might post the relevant urls. But such tunes seem to be quite sparse, and I think an Irish music repertoire confined to these would be quite truncated. You’d be better off taking up the whistle!

Re: Range and keys

"I could perhaps transpose one-octave tunes in D (if there are any?) to G"

There are plenty of one-octave tunes. The problem is, such tunes don’t tend to be very interesting, e.g.

Winster Gallop

You might try some Morris dance tunes. Some of these were originally meant for pipe-and-tabor and the tabor pipe (having only three holes) has a very limited range.

But again, you may not find these tunes these sufficiently interesting.

Re: Range and keys


"I’ll struggle with tunes in G, C, Gm and Cm on both fiddle and C#/D box (quite a challenge!)…"

I hadn’t noticed that. You’re away there on the grown-up instruments.

Still a good idea to take up the whistle, though!


Re: Range and keys

I’m very aware that D/G is a better choice for Irish music (hey, I’ve been playing this for over 20 years now), but retuning the hurdy-gurdy won’t help the piper (who mainly plays in G/C), so while I don’t have any major problems adapting tunes from their repertoire to other keys (including the minor counterparts), I can’t come up with appropriate Irish tunes on the spot.

There’s no way I’ll pick up the screechy G tin whistle again. ;)

Thanks for the Morris suggestions. I might find something.

Finally, thanks for the link to the old discussion, Teagan!

Re: Range and keys

"There’s no way I’ll pick up the screechy G tin whistle again. "

Agreed the tiny high G whistles are horrid, but the lower G whistles are very nice! There’s something special about those ‘in-between’ whistles like A, G and F (more or less halfway between a D whistle and a Low D whistle).

Re: Range and keys

Hi Jeff, Jack Campins website has a page with 400 9 note tunes, quite a few Irish, scroll down the page to find the link: http://www.campin.me.uk/ I have a file of them somewhere, transposed into D and G, message if you want that. Several years ago Bogman put up tunes on this site suitable for playing on the Scottish pipes, 9 notes: https://thesession.org/members/6479

Re: Range and keys

A flute in G will solve your problems. It is ideal for traditional French.

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Re: Range and keys

Play your Irish tunes a string lower on the fiddle. This puts them in the range and keys that will be comfortable for the hurdy-gurdy. The piper can fold notes, come up with harmony lines, or insist that you try a different tune if the pipe’s range is a problem.

It sounds like an interesting mix!

Re: Range and keys

"The piper can fold notes… if the pipe’s range is a problem."

One thing to keep in mind is that the Central French pipes (variously called Cabrette, Cornemuse, Musette, etc) aren’t limited to one octave, but can have a range nearly that of the uilleann pipes.

A French chanter in D can easily reach G in the 2nd octave, some can reach A. So a French pipes in D aren’t all that limited for playing Irish tunes in their normal keys.

Re: Range and keys

By the way the French pipes’ keys are reckoned in ‘pouces’

The common key is G-C (16 pouces). (The ‘six finger note’ is G, the ‘three finger note’ is C, both are commonly used as the tonic for tunes.)

They make deeper ones in D-G (20 pouces) which are exactly equivalent to an uilleann chanter in D, both D and G being used as the tonic for tunes.

Re: Range and keys

@ plantgnome - I’ll have a look at Jack’s site!

@Ailin - in another life, perhaps - I’m too busy with my current instruments.

@stanton135 - yeah, I’ve tried a couple of tunes on the two lowest strings. That works OK, although the sound is sometimes too "dark".

@Richard - I’m not sure what kind of pipe this G/C beast is;the only thing I know is that it’s possible to play an F# (even an F natural) below the tonic G, and that the highest note (I have heard so far) is an A. So, a little bit over one octave. Maybe something like this? http://www.albanfaust.se/instrumentbyggaren/trad-saeckpipor/medeltidspipa/fingersaettningar-tonomfaang-gc.html

I agree that a D/G pipe (and a hurdy-gurdy tuned in D) would be a lot more versatile. Then we’d have MANY of tunes.

Re: Range and keys

If you have two fiddles, you could always tune one of them down a tone. Or if you only have one, re-tune it for the one session.

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Re: Range and keys

Tuning it down to FCGD doesn’t really help because:
1 I know how to transpose tunes into other keys, especially a tone above or below
2 D tunes in C still won’t be playable (on the pipes) because of the range - most will go either too high or to low. (see the whistles and keys discussion from last week)

So, thinking in terms of "pipes with a tonic G" would rather suggest that I got myself a viola. But the playable repertoire for us would still be limited. I’ll have a look at those nine note tunes plantgnome linked to.

Re: Range and keys

I was thinking more of the A-mix tunes, many of which are pinched from the Scots, and have mostly one octave. But if you can transpose easily enough, that wouldn’t help much either.
Some nice tunes to try (but not Irish)

Aires de Pontevedra

some more of his repertoire here:-

and some nice tunes here

Something a bit slower

A couple of tunes here

And Busybody:
and Mrs McPherson of Inveran

Is this the sort of thing you want?

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Re: Range and keys

I think your best bet is to find one octave tunes to transpose, and there are more than a few. And there are a number of song airs that fit within an octave, and would make good little tunes when played at the right pace. I admire your flexibility—that is an interesting mix of instruments—sounds fun and challenging at the same time.

Re: Range and keys

Thanks Gam, Aires de Pontevedra is definitely a tune that will work. I’ll check out your other clips!

@AlBrown - there are some Swedish tunes, some French ones, the occasional Medieval tune and a couple of English ones. No surprise, Blowzabella is a band some of us listen to a lot.

Thanks again for your input and encouragement.