Awkward Tunes

Awkawrd Tunes

What are the most awkward tunes that anyone knows for their instrument, and what makes them awkward. I’ll start by saying that for fiddle, the most awkward tune I know is Jenna Reid of Quarff because of
1: The speed
2:Lots of triplets in quick succesion
3:Lots of 4th fingers
4:The Key its in

Re: Awkawrd Tunes

Just noticed the spelling mistake in the title. That’s a bit it embarrassing…

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*slow clap*
Well, there is a very easy solution to number 1 of that list— slow down!
Don’t always need to play tunes at a breakneck speed like you’re trying to get to the finish line. Saver the tune like a fine glass of whiskey, or wine, if you prefer!

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For me, as a B/C buttonbox player, it’s tunes with lots of pulling and pushing directional changes in them: such as Flowers of Edinburgh, Soldier’s Joy, which seem so simple to a D/G box player! On the other hand tunes like "Dancing the Baby" in A can be played entirely on the pull, although you’ll run out of air and arm space if you don’t throw in the occasional alternative E on the push! Ornamentation too is easier to do if you have a run of either push or pull notes and don’t have to change direction.
Keys: well that’s where the B/C scores over the D/G: all the notes are there if you can find them and know your scales! but not brilliant in Ab - yet!
As for whisky, I prefer to savour the Scottish varieties (without an e!)

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On banjo probably Julia Delaney’s or anything else in Gm or F because of the stretches involved

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"Awkward tunes" are generally, I’d suggest, those at the physical limits of an instrument’s range and a player’s physical abilities. There is no real reason for any physically possible tune to be any more awkward than another except the quality of an instrument and issues of dexterity, musicality and memory. All reason’s that I suggest a tune first, tune only approach to learning an instrument will almost always be flawed.

Amateur musician’s will always hit the wall somewhere in their capabilities, as do the pro’s eventually, learning tunes by rote ingrains certain methods of playing that become habit and do not stretch capacity in a way that structured attempts to master an instrument’s full range can do. It might be fun though to accept those limits and just do what you do. A lot of amateur session players do just that.

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"Well, there is a very easy solution to number 1 of that list— slow down!"

You don’t always have that luxury, in fact, only when playing solo or starting the tune. A specific example for me the Sheila Coyles reel is played after Hidden Love as played by Four men and a dog. Covered by my band, it’s absolutely breakneck speed and cannot be slowed down unless you want the song to sound lame or have a sudden change in tempo when going to the reel.

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Also, to add to Boyen’s point, I think Jamie was talking about specific tunes. Maybe like one that comes up in a set of tunes that are otherwise comfortable at the pace they’re being played. Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses, meaning we don’t all find the same tunes easy or tricky. Also, slowing down is not always the answer. Sometimes a tune is tricky because it’s a lot slower than you’re used to.

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I’ve been making an effort over the last few years to overcome the elements that make a tune awkward on banjo — string crossings, flat keys, and long fret stretches particularly. Some exercises that have helped are playing tunes, scales, and arpeggios entirely with fretting (rather than using open strings) and switching their keys around to hit on the less common keys (Bb, Eb, and E can be a workout). And not practicing too fast!

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There are quite a few tunes I learnt 20, 30, 40 or even 50 years ago in one version and key - usually A - but now find everyone playing in a different version and key - usually D or G - and at a different speed. If it was a new tune I could learn it quite quickly and play along - and I can change the key on the recorder reasonably well - but on the fiddle or mandolin I set off after (a moment’s agony) in the key which is being played and then find my naughty fingers going back to my original key and version. Examples are, for instance, the tune I learnt before I can remember as Mrs Macleod of Raasay in A but find now played universally faster and without any adornment in G as Miss Macleod’s. Someone played it at the session I was at last night and my fingers just wouldn’t do it. I had to stop. Then someone played "Tam Lin" which I can play in Dm or Am - but they played it in Em and much slower. I managed to play the first part by going up a string and resolutely sticking to it - but then it had to drop down for the second part instead of going up and I had to stop. It wasn’t just the key. My whole way of playing it was geared to a greater speed. Now I have to decide whether it’s worth trying to relearn the tune. It’s much, much easier to learn new tunes than endless rehashes of the old ones.

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Paddy Faheys Jig #1 in a session as its almost impossible to agree on where to play B nat or Bb, or F or F#, with resultant hideous discords. Though when I play it on my own, I never know if my fingers will go for a B or a Bb………….

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Same here, the setting which I play is based on what Kevin Burke once recorded and it has a little bit of everything, which I like.

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If the Cap Fits - yes that’s a great version I also like the old Martin Byrnes set with Cliffs of Moher.

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With my poor skills they’re all a little awkward. But I do find anything that takes advantage of bow-rocking on the fiddle is really hard for me on the flute.

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We’ve had similar discussions before.

As the OP says, some tunes can be more awkward on some instruments although "Jenna Reid of Quarff" is actually a fiddle tune itself and composed by a fiddler!
So, I would suggest that it’s probably got more to do with the style of tune or music and what the player has been used to doing up until that time.

For me, this is where the "awkwardness" usually occurs. While I can learn almost any tune with effort…..
(As Steve T says, it’s not always possible to do this entirely by "rote" or "ear" as such. Of course, you don’t necessarily have to be able to read the "dots either. However, you sometimes consciously need to work out slightly different fingering method or sequence depending on your choice of instruments)
….. sometimes other musicians may play slightly different versions/settings and the style or tempo may also differ. Certain tunes are more "awkward" to adapt in a session situation but most of us can get better at this sort of thing with experience.