Variations can be as or more powerful than other ornaments…discuss πŸ™‚

Variations can be as or more powerful than other ornaments…discuss πŸ™‚

I find triplets for instance can become very predictable in a tune whereas adding the odd diversion in a couple of notes here and there can really renew vigour ind interest on second run etc.

This is great to know. Diversifies ones pallet does it not πŸ™‚. Also there are myriad combos you could add with variations, not so much with triplets or cuts for instance.

Re: Variations can be as or more powerful than other ornaments…discuss πŸ™‚

If played solo or in ensemble for performance purposes, variations can be nice or they can seem like artifice. It depends on the artist’s intent or lack thereof.

Impromptu variation in a session never works. It always sounds like someone made a mistake; not because the variation is wrong, but because the variation has no clear presence, and sounds unintended.

Re: Variations can be as or more powerful than other ornaments…discuss πŸ™‚

Well, I don’t necessarily agree that triplets are "predictable" (other than the fact you can only do them in four spots per reel measure), but maybe you’re thinking of triplets/trebles on the same note (e.g. A/A/A). A lot can be done by just inserting passing notes as triplets (e.g. B/c/d instead of Bd), micro-variations, as in DFAF instead of DF~F2 (just a basic example). Many musicians do this all the time. A certain top-class musician spend a lot of time talking about this very thing during a workshop recently.

Impromptu variation? I know that some are very picky about playing tunes exactly the same way every time, and any minor deviation from that score makes them cringe.

Re: Variations can be as or more powerful than other ornaments…discuss πŸ™‚

If you’re not in a paid gig/band situation, why not use variations?

It’s part of the whole Trad thing. If people don’t like it, then they don’t
like Trad music. You can’t draw a clear line between what’s an ornament
and what’s a variation anyhow.

If you *are* in a band, you will be working out shared versions of tunes
including some pre-planned variations.

Re: Variations can be as or more powerful than other ornaments…discuss πŸ™‚

"some are very picky about playing tunes exactly the same way every time" Isn’t playing the tune the same way every time exactly what we’re NOT supposed to do??

Re: Variations can be as or more powerful than other ornaments…discuss πŸ™‚

‘Variations’ are boring, I prefer playfulness and outright devilry.

Re: Variations can be as or more powerful than other ornaments…discuss πŸ™‚

Did a workshop with Kevin Burke yesterday and he played every variation he could possibly think of for an eight beat passage of a reel, at least ten unique versions. He basically said "they’re all the tune. You know the notes but you don’t play the notes, you play the tune, and the tune isn’t any one of these more than the other". Lots of different philosophies on this but when you watch someone like Kevin lay it down, you see how they’re playing the tune, not the notes. Very fascinating to me. Of course not everyone has the instincts to do that, but I think that’s the point. It’s the instincts that lead him there, not "I’ll play a variation this time". He’s just playing the tune.

Re: Variations can be as or more powerful than other ornaments…discuss πŸ™‚

Exactly!

Re: Variations can be as or more powerful than other ornaments…discuss πŸ™‚

That instinct has come from countless thousands of hours of playing and immersion in the music and probably started with a quite deliberate attempt to copy something heard and liked that was a "variation". I agree though O’Donnell variations and ornamentation aren’t separate, they are the tune. If they are sticking out like a drunken football fan’s neck then you’ve most likely got it wrong.

Re: Variations can be as or more powerful than other ornaments…discuss πŸ™‚

Perhaps that should read, "they are the tune too"

Re: Variations can be as or more powerful than other ornaments…discuss πŸ™‚

So is this the same argument that we haven’t had for a while, where some of us think that ornamentation is just the tune itself and others think it’s something separate?

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Re: Variations can be as or more powerful than other ornaments…discuss πŸ™‚

"β€˜Variations’ are boring, I prefer playfulness and outright devilry."

Yes! I totally agree Cheeky Elf! Playfulness really sets me off.

I like a good melodic variation here and there but *dynamic* variation is where it’s at!

Re: Variations can be as or more powerful than other ornaments…discuss πŸ™‚

I think variations are more interesting than ornaments if done well, and a bit trickier for some to come up with.

The cuts, triplets, rolls are found everywhere and everyone does them slightly differently, but variations range from ‘a few here and there’ to ‘a lot’. At some point ‘a lot’ is enough to define the tune as [insert name here]’s unique setting of the tune.

Too much and then there’s debate on whether it’s ‘the same’ tune, or ‘wasting’ the tune.

Each to their own πŸ™‚

Re: Variations can be as or more powerful than other ornaments…discuss πŸ™‚

"Ideas. I never memorize lines." Bobby Fischer, on chess.

Re: Variations can be as or more powerful than other ornaments…discuss πŸ™‚

To me, once the basic dance timing is there, the melodic variations are where the fun is! Though in smaller session settings I am usually much more conservative with them, which is probably true of most.

Then there are tunes where the variation is the point: The tune is an excuse to create variations. A case in point might be "Bonnie Kate."

That said, even though melodic variation is where the fun is, it’s also where a lot of train wrecks are, too!

Re: Variations can be as or more powerful than other ornaments…discuss πŸ™‚

I can’t think of a time, other than in a teaching situation, where I’ve played a tune the same way twice… ever…

IMO, sticking too rigidly to a "version" of a tune is a good way to kill it. Isn’t the whole point to tread that fine line between honouring the tradition and expressing yourself? I mean, sure, I’ve got any number of tunes where I’ve got a variation (or two, or three) that I’ve picked up along the way, and I might choose to play them or I might not. I might improvise something new, too, and it might not work - but that’s the joy and the risk of playing trad music; ‘fun’ and ‘train wrecks’ are exactly it.

But that’s where it gets a bit more complicated for me. I think you could argue that there are a wide variety of variations, depending on where they come from, and some are more acceptable (to my tastes) than others:

1) historical variations:
Basically an accepted (canonical) variation that a player adopts from the playing of somebody else. Might seem like musical plagiarism, but for a lot of players, using the variation of a musical "great" is a strong tribute to a revered musician. For example, there’s a way of playing the "B" part of The Happy Days of Youth https://thesession.org/tunes/1669 that comes straight from the playing of John McKenna - go into most sessions, play the two tunes together, and there it is on the third repetition, regular as clockwork. Can get a little dull, but equally a good way of establishing common ground in a session.

2) version variations:

- a) Actual musical plagiarism. Picking up a version of a tune straight from another players playing, sometimes right down to the last grace note, along with all their variations. Can feel a bit like dΓ©ja vu in a session - "where have I heard that before?" and there it is, same version as x, y or z. Same tunes, same order, same ornamentation, same variations… I get that people have musical heroes, but it does my nut when they feel the only way to play is to try and impersonate their style - if I wanted to listen to that, I’d go buy the CD. Only, I probably won’t.

- b) having said all that… if there’s a nice way of playing a phrase, or a particular version of a tune from a CD, and somebody feels like throwing that in for a different "flavour" (in effect using that as a variation from the way they were playing it before), then that doesn’t bother me at all. Quite like it in fact.

3) arranged variations:

Yuck. A written variation? One you’ve written yourself, or one you’ve learnt? (I’d also include second parts/accompaniments, like the one I’ve heard people play for things like Flower of the Quern) Want to play it in a session? Hm… think twice. Check if people want to hear your performance piece, because what you’re basically saying is "I’m so fantastic I want you to sit and listen to my brilliant arrangement…" Not very session friendly, IMO. Mason’s Apron, anyone? Just, yuck.

4) improvised variations:

- a) showing off. Usually fine, but if you knock yourself of the tune with your improvisational brilliance, be aware that you might take other players down with you, which is inconsiderate at best and downright bad manners at worst.

- b) sympathetic improvisation. This, really, is where it’s at for me. Picking up the style of another player while you’re sitting with them and giving it back to them - changing your own playing in sympathy with their style - is a HOOT, but it’s not easy. You’ve got to be a good listener, and quick to learn/adapt the way you play a tune. Definitely my favourite, when it works. If it doesn’t, you can look like you’re taking the proverbial out of them…

So yeah, lots of ways to change the way you play a tune. Just another set of toys to add to the mix.

Re: Variations can be as or more powerful than other ornaments…discuss πŸ™‚

@tdrury:
"Isn’t playing the tune the same way every time exactly what we’re NOT supposed to do??"

Yes, that’s what I meant, and intended to write something like "obsessed" instead of "picky". Whatever. As you said, we’re NOT supposed to play things exactly the same way each time, and therefore even minor changes could be called variations (at least varied ornamentation), and that’s pretty much impossible to avoid.

Re: Variations can be as or more powerful than other ornaments…discuss πŸ™‚

@Jason - thanks for the Tony D clip — I like his playing, and his variations, a lot.

One fiddler I can’t listen to is Eileen Ivers. She’s a fine fiddler in the trad style, but I can’t take her variations. I realize she’s not trying to be trad at this point, but I’m using her as an extreme example. Check this out at about :22…

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

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Re: Variations can be as or more powerful than other ornaments…discuss πŸ™‚

Great fiddling, but I think the 00’22 bit is not a variation, but a pludge πŸ™‚

Re: Variations can be as or more powerful than other ornaments…discuss πŸ™‚

I must say tho that in the past ive found it really hard work trying to figure out what notes will work and which wont i would be mentally worn out from it.

Also regarding variations if its only a couple off notes here and there is that acceptable when playing with others in a sesion and does it sound good? Ie presumably it will stil be harmonious just like how in recorded music you have two or more melodies going at once.

Re: Variations can be as or more powerful than other ornaments…discuss πŸ™‚

Arthur, do you know any music theory, as in which notes that make chords? If you want to explore variations, that’s a good starting point.
Say that you know a tune where one bar goes dF~F2 AF~F2… These alternatives (made up as I type) are nothing more than notes that fit the "chord" (D major):
dF F/F/F AF~F2 - a treble instead of a roll on the first F#
dF~F2 AF F/F/F - a treble instead of a roll on the second F#
dF F/F/F AF F/F/F - on both F#s
dFFF AFFF - single F#s
dF~F2 DF~F2 - a low D instead of an A
DF~F2 AF~F2 - a low D instead of a high D
…and so on….
Depending on exactly what you do (and where you play them), you can get away with other notes like B or E. You don’t have to play through all the possibilities, nor should you "learn" entire variations. They’re just simple (REALLY simple) options that should come by nature after a while.

As you say, the tune will still sound good, as long as the other musicians don’t play something out of this world.

I don’t even hear them as "variations". As in the Kevin Burke quote above, "they’re all the tune".

Re: Variations can be as or more powerful than other ornaments…discuss πŸ™‚

No i dont know any theory but i have had a passing interest in it since i consider myself a logical kind of fellow and like to have ‘methods’ and routines for doing things.

Re: Variations can be as or more powerful than other ornaments…discuss πŸ™‚

This is a very interesting conversation because the East Galway Irish Music Tradition (EGIMT) is defined very much by variations. Ornamentation is very much a variation and in EGIMT and it is also about the placement and how to execute the ornamentation. For example, lets take that common jig Tom Wards Jig (I hope I have the name right!). The first note is a G roll and it occurs about 3 times in the first part of the tune. This has the potential to be very boring or it could be a goldmine for a EGIMT player!. First time you can do a long roll, second time you would do a bowing roll and third time you would do a double-stop. Then second time around of the first part, you would do all of these though change the order. Then the second time round of the whole tune, you would swap up the order again (playing what you did the second time, the first time, if that makes sense). The variation is the contrast between the (1) types of ornamentation and (2) is inclusion vs leaving it out for the East Galway Irish Music Tradition, and I would say specifically the music and teaching of Eddie Kelly. The choice of the type of ornamentation i.e long roll vs bowing roll, creates texture (they ‘feel’ different to the ear) and again, this creates another layer of variation. There are lots more examples like this one in EGIMT.

Great conversation and great feedback and ideas from everyone!
BeannachtaΓ­,
Γ‰ilΓ­s

Re: Variations can be as or more powerful than other ornaments…discuss πŸ™‚

Given that, e.g. rolls can be used in different places in different runs through a tune, variation is not another type of ornament (i.e. the ornament can be or be part of the variation). However, in general I agree that variation can be seen as another kind of ornament. And sometimes extremely powerful: I recently posted a transcription of Seamus Tansey’s recording of Up Sligo #1 (The Creel of Turf) from his Seamus Tansey - King of the Concert Flute (Remastered). It is interesting to compare this version to Kevin Burke’s In Concert version. Burke’s remains fairly close to Michael Coleman’s ‘original’ while Tansey’s is wildly different — to the point where, particularly in the ‘A’ part, it could be said that the tune has been lost. Nevertheless it is a fascinating and very powerful recording. The B part, with its brilliant ~B3 bge idea, is just amazing. I don’t know how to post a link, but copying this should get one to the transcription: https://thesession.org/tunes/537. (Please don’t hesitate to correct any errors — parts were difficult to hear.)

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Re: Variations can be as or more powerful than other ornaments…discuss πŸ™‚

Γ‰ilΓ­s mentions a ‘bowing roll’, can anyone tell me what that is?

Re: Variations can be as or more powerful than other ornaments…discuss πŸ™‚

I don’t think ‘bowing roll’ is an ‘official’ term, but I take it to mean bowing the individual notes of the roll, rather than the component notes in a single bow.

So, in the jig mentioned previously (I think it’s Jim Ward’s, not Tom Wards) here : https://thesession.org/tunes/793

…the first note does indeed start with a G roll, which would be the notes [GAGF#G] , normally on a single bow.

I think the ‘bowed roll’ means playing each of those notes with a separate bow. Γ‰ilΓ­s, is that what you meant?

In a similar way people refer to ‘bowed trebles’ or ‘bowed triplets’ to mean that each of the 3 notes is done on a separate bow, regardless of whether it’s a single note (eg A-A-A) or a fingered group (eg B-C-D).

Re: Variations can be as or more powerful than other ornaments…discuss πŸ™‚

I’ve never heard of this term, but Jim, if you bowed all the notes separately, that surely wouldn’t be a roll?? (would it?)

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Re: Variations can be as or more powerful than other ornaments…discuss πŸ™‚

I read it as a bowed version of what a banjo would do instead of a G roll (G G/G/G).

Re: Variations can be as or more powerful than other ornaments…discuss πŸ™‚

[I’ve never heard of this term, but Jim, if you bowed all the notes separately, that surely wouldn’t be a roll?? ]

Well, a roll is essentially a rhythmic left-hand ornament. It’s usually done in a single bow, but it’s still possible (although more difficult) to use other bowings and keep the rhythm the same as if done in a single bow.

Re: Variations can be as or more powerful than other ornaments…discuss πŸ™‚

That would sound horrible though wouldn’t it? I’ve listened to Γ‰ilΓ­s’ record and I didn’t hear anything like that.

Re: Variations can be as or more powerful than other ornaments…discuss πŸ™‚

Yeah, a roll bowed like that would sound very different from what we’re used to hear, especially if all five notes are given equal focus and length (hint: a roll is not a quintuplet). and I’m still convinced that the "bowing roll" referred to is a treble.