“Dumbing down” a tune - how far can you go?

“Dumbing down” a tune - how far can you go?

What I’m particularly after here is audio examples, and of course discussion is very welcome.

Yesterday after our monthly session I was talking with a fellow learner and sessioneer about this and that related to tune learning. The importance of hearing the tune in your head and knowing it’s structure and what I called the anchor points in the tune.

My challenge to myself tonight was to dress a tune I was working on down as much as I could without loosing the tune, playing it just by myself. I didn’t call it a challenge when I started. It was just something to try while thinking back to yesterday’s session, having a tune pop in my mind that I do kind of play along to in the session but that was’t in the rotation at home. So I played the tune a bit, after some thinkering to remember all the paths. And thinking back to my talk with my session friend I tried to work out the dumbdest down version I could come up with. And that turned out to be a bit of a challenge.

In the proces I went back to playing the more dressed version of the tune and mixing it up some with ‘random’ variations to the paths between anchor points. And that was FUN!!! - Not saying it was pretty ;) but some bits I came up with would actually work as fun variations :)

I never tried to dress down an entire tune before. I have worked at stripping this or that phrase or part of a phrase out and replacing it with just the anchor of that spot and then later trying to fit some other variation there. Why? For fun and practice!!!

For me it’s easier to figure out those anchor points/notes when I heard the tune over and over, learning it from a recording or a very patient player/teacher. As opposed to learning it in full detail first including all the "exact" routes from anchor to anchor. As you do when learning a tune by ear in a class, getting the tune phrase by phrase. I’m not really learning the tune yet then. I do the actual learning of the tune when we play over it time and time again, and then later at home playing along the recording. Then I find the bits where I’m not quite going from anchor to anchor the same way as the source, or where I’m dumbing bits down still for lack of the given path.

So all of that made me think this: How far can one go in dressing a tune down without it loosing it’s identity? Without it being unrecognisable to someone else who knows it?

If anyone here read this far and is up for this challenge, please record and post the barest, most basic version you can think up of of one of your favourite chestnuts.
Those are for obvious reasons most suited to this game :)

If there’s previous threads on this or related matters, feel free to post a reference, I haven’t done an extensive search on account I’ve no idea what search words to use on this one.

Looking forward to any and all contributions!!!

Re: “Dumbing down” a tune - how far can you go?

It’s not possible for me to imagine a tune without what some people call ‘ornamentation’ (to me it’s just how I play the tune). I can’t see the point or the fun in doing that. I constantly go over tunes in my head that I have played for years and I cannot ever stop myself from mentally experimenting with new variations. The variations may be simple or complex in their parts, but why would I want to dumb down a hole tune that I have worked hard to build up? Or more to the point, why would you?

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Re: “Dumbing down” a tune - how far can you go?

The problem is when someone takes a tune they learned including ornamentation and start trying to play it faster while still keeping all the ornaments in. Thing often don’t go so well. I’m a believer in ornamentation as an additive process, scaling the ornamentation to what’s doable for me based on the speed. For example, I can do all kinds of cuts and rolls on concertina playing a reel at 90 bpm, but if I try to stuff all that in at 120 bpm, which I physically can’t do, it will sound awful and I’ll probably injure myself. I think "thinning out" a tune as far as ornamentation is a useful skill for scaling tune complexity at various tempos.

Re: “Dumbing down” a tune - how far can you go?

I can see how what you are saying would be problematic in a session Michael. I don’t have to worry about that as I only play solo. I can play either fast or slow but sometimes it works the other way around for me in that playing slowly often doesn’t accommodate the ornamentation that works at speed.
I wouldn’t argue against first learning an un-ornamented tune and then developing it I have often done that with tunes I don’t know from the tunes section. It offers no alternative, and yes, it is useful to just go through it note by note till you get going (though I find it hard to not throw in my ornamentals from the start. it is just instinctive). Surely the A.B.C. and sheet music in the tunes section is as skeletal as one needs go, but I take it that the O.P. is looking for something even less that that. I don’t grasp why.

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Re: “Dumbing down” a tune - how far can you go?

I realize that this comment runs the risk of derailing the intent of the thread and take us back to an often visited argument, but the following quote highlight my need to ask the O.P. what his motive is for doing what he is suggesting. From Matt Cranich’s, “The Irish Fiddle Book, page107: -

“A traditional musician is not consciously aware of the individual ornaments as such, rather do they form an integral part of the music…. Try to concentrate on playing the tune as a reel or jig etc., more of the overall effect than of the individual ornaments”.

That is how I have always learned and progressed. But as I implied I have no wish to return yet again to the old ornament debates; we all learn differently. I simply don’t understand what the benefit of such radical minimism could be. Unless perhaps, I was reducing a tune to its chord structure.

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Re: “Dumbing down” a tune - how far can you go?

The last line of that quote should read, "thinking more of the overall effect than of the individual ornaments”.

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Re: “Dumbing down” a tune - how far can you go?

One player’s "dumbing down" may be just another setting or arrangement.

Personally, I like a happy medium as far notes and ornaments are concerned. Too many and a tune sounds "cluttered" and "over busy". However, if these are replaced by long "extended" notes or not played at all, the overall effect can sound too aggressive and the tune seems to "jar" and irritate.
That’s just my opinion, of course.
Many of the younger, trendy bands like to do the latter which, I’m afraid, does little for me at all. However, they are generally aiming for a more rhythmic feel as opposed to focusing exactly on the actual melody.

As regards the type of instruments I generally play, in my experience, mandolin/tenor banjo players etc will often add extra notes to a tune, e.g extra triplets, sometimes two half notes instead of a crotchet and so on. Fiddlers may actually play fewer notes, on occasion, and often just play single notes. Of course, they will also play triplets, ornaments etc too depending on their own playing style.

However, when we use the term "dumbing down", the implication is usually that we are trying to make things easier for ourselves as opposed to playing or adapting to a different playing style or arrangement of a tune.
While there are times we may end up doing this e.g. in a fast and furious session when we are "flying by the seat of our pants" or while picking up or learning a new(possibly tricky) tune, it’s not something which we should be aiming to do as a mater of course. At least, not as a permanent solution.

Re: “Dumbing down” a tune - how far can you go?

I do like that idea of ‘anchor points’ it helps describe the process of ear learning quite well, I would gradually build up a picture of a tune in my mind by attending sessions weekly and getting my head round the main ‘hooks’ of a tune. Gradually I could’ join the dots’ and get a good hold of a tune.

Another way I have thought of it would be like making a sculpture where you start off with a very rough hewn version of the shape you are looking for and gradually work in more and more detail over time. With tunes, as your internal concept of the tune comes into focus, you build that back into your playing.

My initial concepts of a tune could be very dumb indeed, though I have never felt the urge to go in the other direction, simplifying a tune I knew well. Perhaps it is up to the learner to find their own ‘hooks’

Re: “Dumbing down” a tune - how far can you go?

I am loth to use the the term ‘dumbing down’, since it suggests simplifying a tune for the sole purpose of ease of playing or learning, but for tunes stripped down to their bare essentials without compromising their musicality in any way (quite the contrary, in fact), I recommend having a listen to Elizabeth Crotty, Micho Russell and Lucy Farr - and possibly some other Clare and Galway players of their era, if you can find the recordings.

Re: “Dumbing down” a tune - how far can you go?

Gobby said "why would you?"
Like zaivanbuijs said "For fun and practice!!!" I think its a good idea, get the bones and build on it.
Though in my opinion I don’t think this is the site to do it on. You probably need a more private space where tunes can be uploaded and ideas about ornaments etc can be discussed with any interested participants.

Re: “Dumbing down” a tune - how far can you go?

You can miss out all the ornaments you want - but be careful missing out notes.

It’s instructive, refreshing and creative for a fiddler or a whistler to take a tune that you assume cannot naturally be played without certain ornaments-rhythmic/articulatory devices and then find a way of doing just that.

But if you start leaving out too many notes a dance tune will die. There are unaccented notes that are the glue between the accented notes that make a tune hang together. I occasionally hear people who miss out one too many of these and invariably want to rummage in my instrument case for a large trout.

Re: “Dumbing down” a tune - how far can you go?

Agree with Johnny Jay about leaving out some notes in the session environment when the going gets too fast, though preferably not if you are the one leading the session! It was also a tip given to me a fiddler friend way back when I was fairly new to my instrument and struggling to keep up: "don’t try to play every note". Better to keep the inherent rhythm and timing of the piece being played than lag behind. (And of course, go away and practise the tunes until you CAN get all the notes in up to speed.)

Re: “Dumbing down” a tune - how far can you go?

It’s easier to ruin a tune by dumbing up than dumbing down.

I think it’s important to know and play the base tune - absent any stylistic embellishments - as a baseline reference. Thereafter the experiments in removing or simplifying probably follows the same rule as for ornamenting, varying and other flourishes - LESS IS MORE, more or less.

Re: “Dumbing down” a tune - how far can you go?

Several years ago, I seem to remember Michael Gill making a rather passionate argument that the tune and the ornamentation are not inseparable but essential to the nature of the tune. I’m paraphrasing of course, but I believe his point was that a simplified version of a tune held together with just "anchor points" for example, is no longer "the tune." For example, take a bog-standard reel like The Congress - that little twiddly bit in the B-part is essential to the expression of that tune. Certainly you can work around it, simplify it, or sluff your way through it, but Gill’s point was that it was no longer "The Congress Reel." At least that’s how I remember the debate as presented. At first, as a learner at the time, I disagreed. But now with a few more years under my belt, I tend to see his point. Obviously there are many ways to express a tune. But creative variations are different than intentional avoidance because a key phrase within the tune is initially too challenging.

Re: “Dumbing down” a tune - how far can you go?

There are ornaments that are part of the tune and ornaments that aren’t. If you learn from dots you probably only see the ornaments that are part of the tune. If you learn from another player or a recording then you also hear his ornaments that aren’t part of the tune, and it’s good to strip those away and then think about ornamenting it your own way (or don’t think about it, just let it happen). But I didn’t think the OP was really talking about ornaments, more about stripping back the tune itself - stripping out the pedal bowing, reducing triplets to single notes, that sort of thing. Someone earlier talked about reducing it to the chord sequence, which is what you might be doing although a melody player probably wouldn’t think of it that way. That can be a useful thing to do (in the privacy of your own home) as it helps you understand the tune and might help remember it, but it also tells you which notes you need to leave alone and which ones you can mess about with in making variations.

Re: “Dumbing down” a tune - how far can you go?

I tend to agree with JNE and llig about the tune not being *the tune* when you "dumb it down" too far. And maybe that’s the point of the thread - where does it cross the line? I guess it’s like anything else subjective like that, each player would have to decide for themselves whether it was still the tune or not (both with simplifying the tune, and with variation… how much variation can you do before the tune loses its identity? That has been discussed here before…)

But I also like the exercise of simplifying to see what you learn about the tune, and see if you can still make it sound good without all the clutter… I often talk about this when I’m teaching. I talk about the "important notes", or "anchor points" as the OP put it. I usually talk about this in the context of melodic variation, and how you can change a lot of notes and still tell the same story if you’re not mucking around too much with the anchor points. And to demonstrate that point, I will often play them a tune that they know with just the important notes. It’s not *the tune*, but it suggests the tune, maybe in the same way that a double stop suggests a chord.

Re: “Dumbing down” a tune - how far can you go?

The OP might be talking about what I’d call "ghosting" when you can’t play at full tempo, or are busy recovering a tune you haven’t played in a long time. You have some of the main notes in the tune under your fingers and you skip the rest. I’ll do that sometimes in a session. But "dumbing down" isn’t something I aim for as a final result (even if it would let me play faster). It’s just a temporary phase until I have the full tune under my fingers.

Whether or not to start learning a tune with articulation is a different issue that has many variables (and yeah, it’s been much-discussed here). I think we could all agree that a total newbie to the music should stick to learning the bare notes. After that, I think it’s just personal preference and degree of experience. People who have been playing this music for a long time may just do it automatically, not even thinking about it.

There are also differences between instruments. I’m not a highly skilled or experienced player, but I find it much easier to articulate without thinking about it much on flute, even when first learning a tune. On mandolin, I have to think about it. I’ll learn the bare notes first, and add trebles and pull-offs later.

That might be due to the difference between sustaining and non-sustaining instruments. On a sustaining instrument lilke flute, it hurts my ears not to do *something* to break apart two or three consecutive notes at the same pitch. So I’ll just throw in a cut, tap, or glottal stop. It just makes sense, and it avoids doing something like a breath pulse or tonguing that I might need to unlearn later on. On mandolin the note dies more quickly, so "breaking" consecutive notes at the same pitch with an articulation, isn’t an immediate concern when learning a new tune.

Re: “Dumbing down” a tune - how far can you go?

Wow, great responses/discussion/food for thought here everyone!!! Of course I’m still hoping for some fun and games of trying to guess what tune’s skelleton I’m hearing :)

Why? It was a fun little excersise/experiment for me, like you say it’s hard to think away all the ornamentation and strip back more and more, including linking notes and still be able to (at least in my own mind) recognise the tune. That’s why I was hoping for some examples from others, to see if I then still recognise the tune (given it’s a tune I know).

Of course the plan is not to actually play it like that on my upcoming solo CD ;) eh, I mean leading it off in a session :)

Also, the one I messed with isn’t really a tune I worked hard on to build up, it’s one I kinda picked up along the way and never really had worked on as such, so it was actually ‘intermission fun’ between the minutes working on the tune and the next round of working on/playing with the tune in question. Which reminds me to later play it to tunepal to find the name so I can put a name to it now that it’s in the tunes-I-can-start-myself quadrant of the tuniverse :D

As for the Matt Cranich quote, I like that! The ornamentation for sure is an integral part of the music, but even though some tunes seem rather ademant about what to use where there’s always room for variation (esp. when playing just by oneself).
And what you say about chord structure, maybe that’s what I’m getting close to/subconciously aiming for. I play fiddle and am not at all handy at working out chords for tunes.

@ Johnny Jay, yeah, and no, the idea is that this is something to do as part of the getting to a know a tune more then I did before, it’s just one thing that one can do as part of the getting well acquainted.

@ Peter Wsll
Yessss! Like making a sculpture like you say or like how one starts a painting!!! (I used to be a painter in a previous life).
And yes, finding your own ‘hooks’(I like that term!) works much better then using ones that you get in bite size bits from somewhere. However, someone like my friend might benefit from hearing some examples and I’d love to be able to present him with more diverse input then with just what I have to offer. And of course it would help my own experimintal process.

I was pretty hesitant to use the term I used and I did use the "" since it’s by no means the intent or purpose to simplify in order to make anything easier :) I’m just using this little challenge as part of gaining a greater understanding of the tune at hand and the music as a whole. Thanks for the listening tips!!!

Any ideas for a place for that? Does everyone do FB? I could create a private group there…

That’s exactly the border I’m trying to chart :)

@Trish Santer
Agreed :)


@Jusa Nutter Eejit
I’d love a link to that thread!

@Mark M

When one has not been at the tune learning as long yet it can be difficult to see/hear the bones of the tune because of all the great sounding stuff going on around it. That’s what got me thinking to make this post in the first place. And yes, I’m a melody player and a very melody centric person I guess so yeah, in my messing around last night I was pretty much down to the most basic chord structure, combined with the rhytm/phrasing of the tune I suppose is the best way to describe it.

***********Phew, I thought I was done replying but two more posts here since I started….

Tnx for that reply, I feel very well understood now :)

@Conical bore
All good points there!

Re: “Dumbing down” a tune - how far can you go?

Also, I forgot to include, if anyone does feel like taking the challenge but prefer to not post recordings on here I’d love to get them by mail and of course I promise to not ever publish them, ever. But I might let my session friend have a listen as an example of what I meant at some point.

Re: “Dumbing down” a tune - how far can you go?

There are too many tunes to play — and too little time to play them — to follow every point in this thread. I do find some of the terminology strange and maybe inappropriate. Is "dumbing down" the same as "simplifying?" If not, what is the difference?

And at the end I wonder what Micho would have had to say about the concept of playing a tune simply and effectively.





Re: “Dumbing down” a tune - how far can you go?

Lovely stuff there in those vids! :)

Simplifying sounds nicer, doesn’t it? Sorry for not being able to think of that word last night, I’m not a native speaker as you might have guessed, hehe. And I sneakily also thought that a controversial term might get more people to click & read & reply *evil smiley* :D

Re: “Dumbing down” a tune - how far can you go?

Certainly, for the process of initially learning the tune, working through a simplified version makes sense. And God knows when the tempo is at a cracking session speed that exceeds my abilities, ornaments begin to fall away like old car parts off a careening Chevrolet down a steep hillside. Really anything can be simplified to its core concepts. For example you could take the whole Bible and sum it up to say "love God and treat your neighbor as you would like to be treated." But then you’d leave out all the delicious parts about rampant lust, revenge killing, incest, genocidal wars and that bizarre bit where the prophet Elisha commands some bears to attack a group of teenagers for calling him "baldy." And let’s be honest - those are the best bits of the whole book from an entertainment stand-point. So yes, while there is some value in simplifying a tune to learn it, I still contend the end game should be about expressing the whole tune, especially the juicy parts that have to do with wanton lust and murder - or their musical equivalents of it.

Re: “Dumbing down” a tune - how far can you go?

Oh yeah! I love all those juicy bits!!! :D

Re: “Dumbing down” a tune - how far can you go?

This reminds me of a late night conversation with a piper friend of mine, a very good one I hasten to add, his approach was very similar to mine, simplify to an extreme , get the tune as minimal as possible and still maintain the flow and structure , this is the base line, everything else developed from that over the years and decades. It gives a solid structure which is unshakeable , reliable.
Simple is strong. Rhythmical and melodic. Then this structure , the bones so to speak , is fleshed out with cranns triplets roles etc etc etc all the diddly bits, of not as the case may be and depending on the instrument.
To suggest a tune is not a tune unless it is ornamented or has roles etc is silly , it’s like saying tunes can’t be played on concertina or banjo or box ….. clearly incorrect. Some instruments have a wealth of ornaments available , like the pipes, some like those mentioned above , not so many….
The tune is where it’s at, the melody it’s all about the tune ….
The expression phrasing the life that the player gives it , the excitement and enjoyment the player feels is passed to the listener. The most heavily ornamented tune is going to sound boring and lifeless if the player is bored and lifeless!!
It’s about spirit , heart !!!!
The technique and manual dexterity required to play are merely tools for the artist to create .
It’s like looking at a piece of sculpture in a workshop and just focusing on the hammer and chisels required to form it!!! Wow look at that hammer ….

This is a quote that captures the essence of what I’ve been saying here for many years now and bears repeating ….

“The beginner should Approach style warily , realizing that it is an expression of self, and should turn resolutely away from all devices that are popularily believed to indicate style- all mannerisms, tricks ,adornments . The approach to style is by way of plainness, simplicity, orderliness , sincerity ” Roger Angell from ‘ the elements of style by William Strunk and E B White

Re: “Dumbing down” a tune - how far can you go?

I’m 100% in agreement with Will for a change.
To suggest that a tune can’t exist w/o the "diddley" bits IS silly.
When you get the rhythm, lift and "feel" right the ornaments will come where you feel they should.
And, as suggested, not only will they differ from instrument to instrument, they may differ depending on who you’re playing with and their skill level. If all the instruments in a session are playing their own ornaments at the same time it can sound awful. You will want to listen to what’s being played around you and fit accordingly.

Re: “Dumbing down” a tune - how far can you go?

I’m an accompanist in this strange place of Trad Irish music* and I have to strip a tune down to it’s most basic state in order to do build it up it again. The underlying implied harmony of any tune maybe important but funny or distinctive melodic motifs also define pieces.

* compared with some other musical communities that one is familiar!

Re: “:-O” a tune - how far can you go?

Well said, Yhaal House.

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Re: “Dumbing down” a tune - how far can you go?

I must admit that although I was a fairly good guitarist for many years before I took up fiddle, I have not found it easy to do what Yhaal House describes when it comes to Irish trad. I often try stripping a tune back to it’s basics so that I can work out the appropriate chords, but it seems so much harder than the simpler stuff I used to play (pub rock). And then there is the rhythm aspect. I mean right now, for example, I am struggling with the backing for "The Kid on the mountain". The chords are very simple but how to play them with good timing is driving me potty. Well I’ve given up actually. But I would hardly call that effort ‘dumbing it down’. Anyhow, I am driven by the challenge of ever greater complexity with my fiddling.

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Gobby, I doubt Yhaal House is dumbing anything down. I don’t know if the original poster is.
The title of this thread certainly is.

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Re: “Dumbing down” a tune - how far can you go?

Yeah Ben, I wasn’t suggesting that what Mr House describes constitutes ‘dumbing it down’; just the opposite really. I understand the process he describes, but the end result is beyond my ability. I’ll stick to melody.
But with melody, well to quote myself from earlier, " Surely the A.B.C. and sheet music in the tunes section is as skeletal as one needs go, but I take it that the O.P. is looking for something even less that that. I don’t grasp why".
Maybe I am just being blinded by the wording ‘(dumbing it down), but as I see it as soon as you play those skeletal tunes from the tunes section, you must be aiming to improve them. That is regardless of whether you play them in simple form or, as I a rather automatically do, with lots of Sligo type slurs and ornaments (depending on the tune of course…. I am versatile enough to go Donegal or even Scottish to accommodate a good tune) . But I am not suggesting that playing slow and simple is easier. A good player will play however they play it. So how is it even possible to dumb a tune down below what is given in the A.B.C.’s, or heard on the associated midi file?

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Re: “Dumbing down” a discussion?

"I find the bits where I’m not quite going from anchor to anchor the same way as the source, or where I’m dumbing bits down still for lack of the given path."

Just sing the tune. It’s cannot be as elusive as you are trying to make this if you simply sing almost any tune in trad music.

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Re: “Dumbing down” a tune - how far can you go?

IMO it is of no use to separate ornaments, the melody, the phrasing or other stylistic elements in this way. Micho Russels supposedly ‘simple’ delivery of his tunes works because the whole, the total sound is wonderful. There are rolls and cuts, legato & staccato parts etc. It’s just a very pleasant, subtle, direct way of playing.

Re: “Dumbing down” a tune - how far can you go?

Why should it be "dumb" to search for the essence of a melody. Even if some ornamentation is essential to Irish music, a lot of ornamentation is not. You are not a slave to the music. You are allowed to use it to express yourself by playing it and make it yours. Your audience instantly hears whether your music is authentic or whether you are a nimble-fingered show-off. Personally, I like it when people keep it simple.

Re: “Dumbing down” a tune - how far can you go?

“but as I see it as soon as you play those skeletal tunes from the tunes section, you must be aiming to improve them. “
A good tune is a good tune , it needs no improving. The player takes a good tune and through personal expression technique imagination and excitement creates a living breathing piece of art .
The dots are merely a way of transmiting the idea of a tune on paper.
Like a map is not the land and a photo is not the object photographed .

It’s up to the individual how they play it….
The idea is to simplify as part of a process that might also involve a lot of ornamentation as well as or instead of the bare bones . It’s a matter of taste , style and artistic expression.

Re: “Dumbing down” a tune - how far can you go? - maybe should have called it ‘with how few notes are you able to suggest a tune’

Everyone, this turned out to be a very inspiring thread, with a lot of good points. I appologise for the title of it, I couldn’t at the time think of better wording and even now I can’t think of the best words.

Let me be clear, I hate it when things actually get dumbed down to end up being that way. But I also have a great admiration for artists who can suggest an object or a person with a single line or just a few lines!!!

So it’s part of the artistic process for sure!

Added: and of course I also admire the artist that can paint something with so much accuracy that they trick you into trying to pick up something that’s actually just paint or ink on a flat surface :)

Re: “Dumbing down” a tune - how far can you go?

Good for you Will Evans.

Re (@ Birgila) : "You are allowed to use it to express yourself by playing it and make it yours."
It will never be "yours." The music, the tunes, belongs to millions of musicians who went before you and those still living and developing the tradition. Before you think about making it "yours" (whatever that means… owning it?) you should think of playing your music within the tradition. Tommie Potts, The Lone Wolf of Irish Music, the polar opposite of Micho Russell, knew that he fit within the tradition and only borrowed the tunes for a while. You can hear TommiePotts in the playing of Tommy Peoples. And Micho’s music is there, too, if you listen carefully.
The music is freeing, but still, I am a slave to the music.

Re: “Dumbing down” a tune - how far can you go?

The music doesn’t belong to anyone, the playing is one’s own though :) Maybe the making a tune yours could be interpreted as in how a person in love asks another person to be theirs. But of course tunes don’t have monogamous relationships :D

Re: “Dumbing down” a tune - how far can you go?

OK, zaivanbuijs, I finally got a few minutes to take up your challenge… This may not actually be what you were looking for, but this can illustrate the idea of taking a tune, and distilling it down to the important notes that basically define the shape of the melody.

So here’s the basic tune. Rolling In The Rye Grass (often called Shannon Breeze). https://thesession.org/tunes/87


Nothing too fancy in there, but not completely plain. If I were to play it multiple times, I would end up doing a lot more to it, but for the purposes here, I kept it pretty basic.

Now, if I try to distill it down and just pick out the "anchor notes", it sounds something like this:


So I can still tell what tune it is, but it’s not *the tune*, it’s just suggesting the tune to me. If I were to build it back up again, I might choose to add different notes in between the "anchor notes" than I originally played to give it a different feel, but it would still be the same tune (depending on how much I changed it, of course).

But since I’ve distilled it down to the fundamental notes that shape the tune, there’s nothing that stops me from building it back up as a different kind of tune. In this case, a jig (albeit, without the normal repeats that a jig would have).


So is that the same tune? I guess I would have to say no, but you can still tell from whence it came.

Re: “Dumbing down” a tune - how far can you go?

Reverend, yesh!!! That´s what I´m after with this. All as part of courting the tune and trying to get to where I feel right to ask it to be mine ;)

Thank you so much for this. Also on account I sometimes try to ‘jiggify’ a reel, just for the fun of it and because doing that gives me a more intimate understanding of the tune in question :)

Also, I love that you chose this tune, it happens to be in my ‘stack’ of favourites at the time :)

Re: “Dumbing down” a tune - how far can you go?

All kidding aside (the be mine bladiha), I wonder if it’s possible to strip away even more notes and still feel the actual tune being suggested enough to be recognised :)

Re: “Dumbing down” a tune - how far can you go?

Hmm! After hearing Reverend’ sample and the reading though this whole post again I think I must have been reading too much into the concept of ‘dumbing it down’. Because the thing is that although Peter’s sample of Rolling in the Rygrass is stripped bare-ish, I wouldn’t regard it as dumbed down. Firstly, to call it so would be to forget how difficult it is for a beginner to even get to that stage. Not, of course that I am suggesting that Peter is a beginner; he just chose to play that as his example of a bare minimum. But it does take me back a few years to when our Blind Bard posted that same tune for assessment as his first learned tune. Even though Andrew (i.e., Mr. Bard) would no doubt now look back at recording as being basic and lacking compared to his present way of playing it, we should remember the amount of effort that it takes a beginner to get even to that simple skeleton of a tune. There is definitely nothing ‘dumbed down about it.

But okay, I have admitted that I have tended to take the expression ‘dumbed down’ too literally. I tend to do that when I read words. However, let’s get back to it, and to Peter’s sample. It strikes me after listening to it that although he has done his best to pare the tune back to its bones, he still hasn’t truly managed. There are still a few twiddles and double stops in there (excuse me if I am wrong, - due to me still being on a snail paced dial-up system I was only able to hear it once). But my point is that Peter is an experienced player. Listen to his stuff on i-tunes. As such he is, without a serious effort which to me doesn’t make sense, struggling to go beyond what now comes natural to him when he plays. Sure, he can play it either simplified or complex, but as I said in an earlier post it can never get dumbed down much more than a midi file in the tunes section. From there onward it is inevitably an upward mental challenge, no matter how you represent the tune (In its simplicity or complexity).

All of that said, I have realised that I do all of that dumbing down process in my head whenever I learn a new tune, but only as part of a greater process. Even when I hear a tune played in a complex manner and strive to emulate it, I will be going over it mentally, analysing all the bare bones and rising structure, so that I can then start adding the muscle and fibre. But I constantly do that only IN MY HEAD. I don’t play like that.

This makes me consider again what people mean when they say playing by ear. I am a so-called ear player, yet I don’t play by ear in the sense that I merely imitate what I hear. My playing starts with the ears and enters my brain, but it emerges in its played form from my mind, where it is constantly analyzed (downward) and synthesized (upward) in a continual process. I can’t separate this process of analysis ( dumbing down) from the synthesis (creation).

I have to accept that if the O.P. finds it fun to dumb down a tune to its limits then fine. We all approach things in our own way. Myself however, so-called ‘dumbing down is just part of the necessary process of upward creation and I don’t see it as being separable.

But by now I feel somewhat apologetic for kind of high-jacking this thread and not either simply doing what the O.P. requested (though I couldn’t), or just not biting (I’m an old dog and can’t help it). The O.P. however did invite discussion and I happen to know that he/she, has enjoyed the topic so far. So maybe I’ll just shut-up now and await some more examples?

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Re: “Dumbing down” a tune - how far can you go?

@David Levine " ‘You are allowed to use it to express yourself by playing it and make it yours.’
It will never be "yours." The music, the tunes, belongs to millions of musicians who went before you and those still living and developing the tradition."

That is not what I meant. Nobody owns a tune. What I was trying to say was that a tune becomes unique when you express yourself by playing it. A tune can sound completely different depending on the player. "Make it yours" means "do not copy someone else, be yourself when you play and bring the music to life in a way you feel is right for you." - And when this means to play it slower or faster or more cheerful or more melancholic as "tradition" demands, just do it as long as you’re sincere.

Re: “Dumbing down” a tune - how far can you go?

Thank you Reverend - as usual, you waded through the muck and got to the core of the topic at hand.

Re: ” :-O” a tune - how far can you go?

"I guess I would have to say no, but you can still tell from whence it came."

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Re: “Distilling down” a tune - how far can you go?

Great post Gobby, tnx! Up till I tried this I think I kinda did what you describe. I did find it surprising to try the distilling down (thanks for that term Reverend, I love it) process on my instrument instead of just as part of the mental process with the tune. Today I had a lot of fun with the concept again and recording some of that so I could play the full tune over the distillate.

I think this distilling down of a tune is something that people who never played from sheet music before they actually were ‘playing’ might not find as interesting or useful as it is to people like myself who first started trying to play by use of sheet music and only after that got away from needing it to learn tunes (or to play). I think this distilling tunes down is in particular helpful for people who are trying to get away from being more dependent on sheet music then they want to be.

As for how far one can go with the distilling I think now very much depends on not only the player’s skill level but very much on the instrument of choice as well. I play fiddle and there’s a lot one can do on fiddle, distilling wise. On non sustaining instruments it works differently. I seem to recall someone mentioned this in one of the comments :)

Reverend, I had another listen to your recordings and esp. the jig version interested me, as I said I sometimes ‘jiggify’ a tune for fun, and I actually did that with this exact tune a whiles back, and it’s fun to compare how my Rolling in the Ryegrass jig to your take on the same concept. Yours sounds much less ‘modern tune’ then mine :)
As for the anchors version, I tried for myself and stripped out even more notes then you did. Not sure I left enough in. Once I come up with a version of which I think it’s pretty much what for me is as minimal as possible yet still enough to suggest the tune strongly enough so that someone not knowing what tune I try to suggest would recognise it (given they know the tune) I’ll post that on here.
If you want to hear the what I got so far pm me your e mail and I’m happy to mail it you.

For now I’m hoping some more people will give it a try :)

No idea how much time I’ll have to spend with the fiddle the next week, but I plan to record a couple tune-distillates at some point in order to get some feedback on whether or not people recognise the tunes I thusly ‘abused’ :)

Re: “Dumbing down” a tune - how far can you go?

Yeah, zaivanbuijs, I would love to hear both your "more stripped down" version and your "jiggified" version too! I didn’t put much thought into the jig version, it’s just what came out when I tried it. But I, too, do a lot of turning tunes into other kinds of tunes, because it’s really good mental exercise. And I credit my attempts at turning jigs into reels for really helping me with melodic variation, because in that case, you have to add notes, not just subtract them. It’s a similar skill, but challenges your creative brain more.

And I’ve also done a little playing around with "slidification", "polkafication" and "hornpipification" of different tunes too. Not as something I would necessarily do in public, but as a learning tool.

I sent a PM with my email address. :-)

Re: “Dumbing down” a tune - how far can you go?

I was recently reminded of a grand old word: transmogrify

Web results
Transmogrify | Definition of Transmogrify by Merriam-Webster
Definition of transmogrify. transitive verb. : to change or alter greatly and often with grotesque or humorous effect. intransitive verb. : to become transmogrified.

Re: “Dumbing down” a tune - how far can you go?

Reverend - good examples there, demonstrating the stripping down and modifying a tune :)

I thought I’d have a go too - so here is my attempt at stripping bare, leaving only the "anchors", and changing a few notes here and there.

Just to home in on the point of keeping the tune recognisable, I thought I’d just post the clip and see how many recognise the tune, and thus show how far a tune can be "dumbed down" (well, that phrase has negative connotations, I know, but anyway …)

If no-one can recognise it, then I’ve gone too far. Let’s just say that it’s one of the most common tunes around, so what say y’all? :)


Re: “Dumbing down” a tune - how far can you go?

Just a wild guess, Jim … is it Maid Behind the Bar?

Re: “Dumbing down” a tune - how far can you go?

I think you’re right, Skitter!

Thanks for that one Jim! Great to hear how different people approach this concept of ‘distilling’ tunes (less negative right?).

So, fellow musicians, more is more in this case. Keep ‘m coming!!!

Re: “Dumbing down” a tune - how far can you go?

Skitter and zaivanbuijs - correct.

"Maid Behind The Bar" it is :)

Re: “Dumbing down” a tune - how far can you go?

At first Jim, I thought it was The Maid Behind the Bar Hornpipe!

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Re: “Dumbing down” a tune - how far can you go?

Could be Coppers and Brass but not sure…

Re: “Dumbing down” a tune - how far can you go?

Great energy there Jim!!! That sure startled my twink :D

Re: “Dumbing down” a tune - how far can you go?

When we first started performing in public with other musicians, their background was a cause for concern with several of the fiddle sets we had worked up. Our other fiddler was blind and came from a bluegrass background, and could only learn by ear. Some of his work with two fiddles was great, some not so, especially the rhythms that weren’t a part of his earlier learning. We had the same issue with guitarists, mandolin, bouzouki, and flute players. Those not raised and weaned on the tradition had difficulties picking up and out the rhythm, embellishment, accents and other associated bits that make ITM and STM stand out from other genres of music. So to make a very long story shorter, we found it necessary to dumb down fiddle pieces at first, as Doyle became more familiar with the piece, Beth, my wife, could start putting the grace notes, turns, rolls and such back in gradually. Usually, by the 4th or 5th performance of the tune, we were back to where it should have been from the get go. There were a number of O’Carolan tunes though, that remained duet pieces arranged for fiddle and guitar/bouzouki throughout the 17 years we performed.A couple of Scot’s tunes as well.

Re: “Dumbing down” a tune - how far can you go?

Folk music used to be downbeat music. Now you get guitarists at sessions stressing the upbeat. If you just look at the downbeats, you can distill away all of the non-folk, diatonic elements. Here’s a description of how to do it: https://www.academia.edu/1536150/The_Celtic_Lyre

When you do this to a really old song/tune, you get the natural scale which is not octave-equivalent (there’re no D4s, F4s, and B4s but there are D5s, F5s, and maybe B5s). For detailed instructions and examples of how to do it, see: https://www.academia.edu/2627765/The_European_Folk_Music_Scale_A_New_Theory

Re: “Dumbing down” a tune - how far can you go?

I should mention that these examples are the most difficult tunes to dumb-down that I could find. Most are much easier. The ones like Brother John and Row Row Row Your Boat require the most cutting but are the most rewarding (you get perfectly in tune triads with these when played in the round). It was probably tunes like these with their perfect triads that the early Church layered on their diatonic scale (thirds were 22 cents out).