Counter-melody on irish bouzouki

Counter-melody on irish bouzouki

Hi everyone! I’m new to GDAD tuning and I want to learn how to create good counter-melodies, are there anyone that can help me with tab/video etc…?
Thank you!

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Re: Counter-melody on irish bouzouki

Counter-melodies aren’t usually associated with this music, except sometimes in performing groups that have worked-out arrangements. If you play counter-melodies, good or not, in sessions, you run a high risk of irritating your companions. Irish music is usually played with just a unison melody and (sometimes) backing harmonies and percussion.

If you are still interested, listen, listen, listen to recordings where that’s done, and get to where you can imitate it. You’re essentially talking about improvisation, which requires 1) an absolute command of your instrument, to where you can think a passage in your head and immediately play it on your instrument, and 2) being able to think of good passages to play. The first is just practice, the second relates to your understanding of the style you’re playing in as well as your own personal musicianship, which despite what I said above should always be involved in anything you play, anyway.

I don’t want to be discouraging if you have a genuine interest; I just want you to be aware of what to expect if you play counter-melodies in Irish sessions where people are used to just playing melodies in the traditional manner.

Re: Counter-melody on irish bouzouki

There are no good counter-melodies, in my opinion. If you want to create some, you’ll have to do it from scratch.
Actually, I’ve just thought of one — Ballintore Fancy has a rather splendid counter-melody, but then it is a somewhat unusual tune, in that each part can be played as harmony to the other, and either part with the counter-melody; which is why, I suppose, it is called a ‘Fancy’.

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Re: Counter-melody on irish bouzouki

It’s important to say that with "counter melodies" I mean styles of accompaniment like Planxty, Danù, Dervish…

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Re: Counter-melody on irish bouzouki

I echo tdrury’s advice: listen. Here’s a great place to start, Frankie Gavin and Alec Finn:

http://www.amazon.com/Frankie-Gavin-Alec-Finn/dp/B000000DV6

If you’re in a band, it’s all good and you can do whatever you like. Be considerate in sessions, though. Not everyone loves countermelody; I think a little bit goes a long way, and it can easily come across to others as aimless noodling, and throw them off the tune.

Edit: Ah, apologies, I cross-posted with your reply, torc.

Re: Counter-melody on irish bouzouki

Torc, your clarification was well timed. I find that my favorite backers employ counter melodies in the sense that you mean- Paul Brady, Andy Irvine, Alec Finn, Donal Lunny, even Charlie Piggot on banjo on those early De Dannan records. The trick, as James Cagney said about acting, is not to get caught at it. Or, as joe fidkid says, a little goes a long way. If you pay attention to good piano backers (and they do exist) you will notice that their left hand frequently plays scalar bass lines rather than just the root note of the chord. This is a good place to start since this approach has been used in Irish trad for at least a century and should therefore raise few eyebrows. This is easier on a keyboard instrument than a fretted string instrument because you will need to get very familiar with a lot of inversions on the zouk. (Inversions are chords that are voiced with a bass note other than the root-D with an F# bass, E minor with a G bass etc.) So if you are playing a tune where the chords go back and forth between D and E minor your bass can climb D-E F#-G-A- B or descend depending on the effect you desire. Eventually, as you try these lines out, you will hear where you might like to place them in an accompaniment. You can then sneak them into a higher register, which again requires different chord voicings.
Another idea you can use is to harmonize the melody of the tune a third higher, or lower. You should do this VERY sparingly, and only for a brief period, maybe for half of a complete phrase or less. Any more than that and eyebrows will ascend. You can also play a little contrary motion lick-for example in a jig where the melody goes G-A-B you could play B-A-G and probably not get into trouble, since this is in fact a melodic variation that happens to harmonize with the original melody. By the way, you can of course play the original melody itself, or snippets thereof. You can also almost always drone away on an open D with impunity.
All these ideas should be used with taste and discretion, in a way that supports rather than detracts from the melody. And it will most likely take years if not decades to master, so good luck.

Re: Counter-melody on irish bouzouki

I would take Tdrury’s advice if you’re planning to play in America, since sessioneers there are more likely to have rules and leaders and the like. In Ireland I have never seen a bad reaction to a little bit of counterpoint. 5stringfool is on the money though……… "less is more".

Re: Counter-melody on irish bouzouki

A bit of counter melody backing in a band can sound great, and in addition to the examples listed above, I’d add Ale Möller’s work backing Aly Bain on the albums "Fully Rigged" and "Beyond the Stacks." I don’t know of any YouTube instruction or books on this, I think you have to learn by listening to the people who do it well.

Doing it in a session is something else again. The general rule for backing is "Do No Harm," and counter melody backing is fraught with potential for distracting the melody players. You can try the inversion ideas mentioned above, or just arpeggiate the chords you know with cross-picking to find a melody line. Still, it’s very easy to distract the melody players when you go off piste this way.

I know a local amateur bouzouki player whose idea of backing was never to learn the tunes, but to just try to figure out chords on the fly and use that to play counter-melody. He was actually disinvited from a local ITM session for being too distracting. I think the words used were "Please don’t play, if you don’t know the tune." He might have been tolerated if he was just the usual strummer finding chords to tunes. But his approach of always finding counter-melodies in chords that were wrong at least half the time, was a session disaster.

So don’t be that guy. If you’re going to try this in a session, do it sparingly and know the tunes inside and out before you try it.

Re: Counter-melody on irish bouzouki

My tips would be to try and learn the tunes really well and understand the chord structure, substitutions etc. As others say, use counter melody sparingly, against key phrases, but you need to get it right. If you get it wrong first time, don’t repeat it hoping it will work. A good place to start is to use 3rds. So on a tune in D, which starts on a d chord, you would start with a hammer-on the f# on the middle d string. Tunes in G you would start on a b. The notes you chose then, obviously, have to fit within the chord progression. Mix it up with partial chords and you will start to get bits of the sound of Finn, Lunny, Irvine etc. it’s good if you can record yourself and listen back to pick out what you think works.

Re: Counter-melody on irish bouzouki

The tuning of the instrument is irrelevant.
To produce counter melodies in any music,you need to understand harmony, IMO you need to have immersed yourself in Irish trad music, so that your counter melodies are appropriate style wise.
"So on a tune in D, which starts on a d chord, you would start with a hammer-on the f# on the middle d string."
Not necessarily, it depends on the melody note, One could start with any note of the D major chord.D F#or A., Starting on the d note if the melody is not d establishes very clearly what the chord is because you are playing the root note of the chord
At the same time taking into consideration the melody notes and chord progressions that followed

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Re: Counter-melody on irish bouzouki

You should never do countermelodies to a tune where you cannot play the melody. If you do, you are just noodling along, and detracting from the melody. Start by learning the tunes, and you will find it much more fun than bobbing along in everyone’s wake.

Re: Counter-melody on irish bouzouki

Just my tuppence worth. The better bouzouki players don’t just play straight chords, but bridge using melody fragments and embellishments such as bass runs as mentioned above. Counter-melody doesn’t detract from a session if you know what you’re doing and who you are playing with! But you definitely need to know the tunes before you jump in with something which is extended or "off the wall". Just playing chords on a bouzouki to me sounds incredibly boring and defeats the purpose of the instrument - why not just use a 12-string guitar?