Jig Timing and the Second Line March
Ok, so someone asked me on the Irish Session Guitar Playing Rules thread about the 2nd Line March beat, as it relates to timing in Irish trad. I was thinking about posting something about this idea anyway as soon as I collected my thoughts about it because it’s actually helped me a lot as a teacher, in explaining it to people struggling with, say, jig rhythm.
Our adventure starts with the origins of jazz in America, mostly in its birthplace around New Orleans and the Mississippi River delta. But bear with me, there is a connection to Irish music. In fact, I think it’s central to what makes it work, and goes to the heart of what I suspect Michael Gill was talking about when he would use the term "torque," on these boards a few years back.
The term ‘2nd line march,’ as the Googlers probably found out, is the subject of a bunch of bad drum tutorials (and a few good ones). It originates in the New Orleans African American/creole traditional funeral processions. The first line in the procession is the family of the deceased, and the band marches along in the second line.
While western classical music out of Europe usually plays out in simple time (a single time signature and rhythm) jazz time is rooted in an import from Africa: simultaneous juxtaposition and interaction of two different rhythms, simultaneously. In the case of the 2nd line march beat, the simultaneous playing of 4/4 and 3 against 2.
I’ll let a much better musician than myself, Mr. Wynton Marsalis, explain and demonstrate:
The most relevant section starts about 4 minutes in.
Now, I’ve tried to explain this concept a few times in workshops and to folks struggling with it, with limited success, because I was trying to explain it linearly… but when I saw this vid a while back, I explained it more like Marsalis explains it, and the lightbulbs started to come on over peoples’ heads.
"We hear music in one time. But the Africans, though, they hear music in TWO times! They play in two, AND they play in three… at the same time."
So he demonstrates a little 6/8 rhythm, which is ok, but nothing special.
And then, a bit after 7:20, he says: "More difficult, is when we add the four to it." And he has his buddy clap the same 6/8 rhythm, and Marsalis claps the 4 over the top… and the room comes alive. The tension and push-pull effect from those two intersecting rhythms is like a nuclear reactor powering the music.
I heard it and said to myself "THAT is jig timing!!" It was very easy to mentally overlay a jig to what was going in the vid, with just the sound of the two men clapping. It’s ^two times, at the same time.^
With a little more imagination, though, you can also mentally overlay reels over the same idea. The dominant timing (for me, anyway) in reel playing is the 2/4, but the 6/8 is baked into the cake.
Now, back to the 2nd line march beat… I got the concept from the teaching of Hal Galpers, a great jazz player and educator, who is constantly after his students to really get into the 2nd line march. I figured "he knows what he’s doing. Must be something to this." And I watched several drum tutorials but most of them were bad. The drummers just didn’t get it.
But this guy, Mark Lanter, gets it:
But the key isn’t so much in the Brazilian ‘Clave’ pattern (Think Buddy Holly and ‘Not Fade Away,’ ) but in the 8th notes he plays on the snare just after 1:40. They aren’t straight, of course (If you’re really feeling two times simultaneously you won’t play them straight!), but swung a little bit, and it creates a wonderful, live and spirited, rollicking sound. (The other drum tutors didn’t understand that in my view). At any rate, when he plays the 2nd line march, you can tap out the 2/4 or the 6/8).
I submit that the ‘two times at the same concept,’ and specifically the feel of 2/4 overlaid on 6/8 (or vice versa) is the same concept at the heart of jig playing as played in recent years, and while I had believed that this polyrhythmic concept was at the heart of how I wanted to play jigs for years, hearing it explained in this way, and therefore being able to explain it in this way, really kicked my teaching ability up a notch…
It seems to work to, say, play a jig, and challenge the percussionist, "don’t play until you hear it." "can you hear both? times? Tap out the 6. Now tap out the 4."
As I mentioned, I had grasped it for jigs, but it is great fun to go back to the Marsalis vid, go to 7:40, and imagine any number of reels over the same 2/4 vs. 3/2 timing… and that clued me in that this concept is central to a lot of great reel playing as well.
I don’t hear the same layers in jigs or polkas… not in the polyrythmic sense, at this time, but maybe that’s my own musical limitation: It’s there and I just haven’t mentally cracked the code yet.