This is a tune!

This is a tune!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=olkS6KdF0Mw


I know you’re sitting there, shaking your head, thinking, "AB! Not Irish, not a tune. Jimmy; he’s singing…as in ‘it’s a song’.

And you’re right. Now tell me "Sitting Here in Limbo" is not a tune. Tell me a song is not a tune. Tell me a tune is not a song. You tell me that & I’ll say you’re like a bird without a song.

Birds know tunes. Birds sing w/out words or notes.

People, however, always have a story to tell. That is why every tune tells a story, every song is a tune and every tune is a song.

Like it?

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I’ve always loved that song. As far as Irish trad goes, it’s a question of whether we’re going to maintain conventions in the genre, where we refer to people singing as songs, and instrumentals as tunes. I don’t see how this example refutes that.

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My bird is a fish, but my fish is a cat, but my cat is a rat, and my rat might possibly be a hat.
Maybe my tunes are sheep.

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Okay, AB and BB, let me light up a spliff here (legal in my state!) and see if I can get on this wavelength. 🙂

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Careful there Andrew, that was almost as cryptic as some of Ben’s posts (Smiley face, Ben).

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I just don’t like when my friends apologise to me for saying *songs* instead of *tunes*. I don’t want them thinking it’s my criteria. Which they do because they read it here and assume I do too. But I don’t object when anyone refers to a tune as a song. I am more concerned with how they relate to tunes; not what words they use to describe it.
As a teenager I knew many musicians who called songs tunes and I always liked that. But this convention (tunes are not songs) seems more about talking points, which I’m not about. I like music. I’m good with blurring lines when they become too fixed.

Cheers,
Ben

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I try not to be a Session Nazi about it, just mentioning it casually when a newcomer calls an Irish dance tune a song, and explaining that there’s a convention of using tune for instrumentals in this music. I think it’s only a problem if someone is being too pedantic and forceful about it. It’s a convention, not a rule.

The convention is useful because we do have songs in Irish trad — both the Sean-nós tradition and the Clancy Brothers type folk songs. It allows us to say things like "this tune is based on an old song" or "this song is based on this old tune put to lyrics," and we know what’s being said.

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It’s just easier when words maintain distinct meanings - however, there is a tendency for the meaning of individual words to become less specific with time and use, until their meaning needs to be clarified or guessed at whenever they are used … sometimes, they are then replaced with new words, and the process starts all over again. Nothing to be done about it: there will always be people (coughBencough!) who will defend their right to have a word mean whatever they want it to mean, like that oft-cited character in Alice in Wonderland, so - what can yuh do?

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meself, I don’t know how to be more clear but I am not defending anything. I know exactly what you mean though.

Ben

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Right (regarding the Janice reference), in the Pop music world the two words are basically interchangeable, because Pop music is entirely vocal these days. No need to make a distinction. We’re a long way from the days when an instrumental like "Telstar" or "Pipeline" would show up on the Top 40 charts. 🙂

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I don’t think that it’s pedantic to distinguish between a tune and a song. If a tune is played only on musical instruments it is NOT a song, it IS purely a tune. There are no blurred lines. And that doesn’t only apply to this genre. A song NECESSARILY has a tune but a tune is only a song if it is vocal and has lyrics.

As for, "Birds know tunes. Birds sing w/out words or notes"… Well I would have a bird brain to know if that’s true or not, but from my human interpretation, they make notes and I would imagine they are expressing a bird language to each other. I would call it song because it’s vocal, but ultimately that argument can only be inappropriately anthropocentric. It has nothing to do with how we organise our human definitions of music.

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" in the Pop music world the two words are basically interchangeable"…. just because it becomes popular to get something wrong doesn’t make it right. If there are two words there must be two distinguishable meanings. If both words meant the same thing there would only be one word.

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"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less."

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Janis probably did use the term tunes. I heard it mostly from music which was not predictable pop genres but a lot from tune (melodic) based music. So it was common for many musicians I knew to say tunes for all their music.

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"So it was common for many musicians I knew to say tunes for all their music."… I wouldn’t have any argument with that. I think musicians would see songs as tunes because they play them, and all songs have tunes. what I think is wrong is to call a tune without lyrics a song. As I am currently inly on a snail paced dial up I can’t, to my frustration, see Johnny Jays video’s, but I anticipate that they are samples of some sort of vocalised tunes. Well how I see it is that the voice can be used as an instrument of music, and if you say, lilt, or whatever the Scottish version is called, they are tunes and not songs. That’s because there are no real lyrics, the voice just makes noises. It’s a bit like yodelling, - I mean, show me the lyrics for a yodelling ‘song’!

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Gobby, I learn most of my tunes by singing them. I know they are not songs (i.e. there are no lyrics). I realise that may sound confusing, but it is all true & that is one example of where I accept some blurring of the lines.

Also, I learn tunes from Shannon Heaton’s Tune of the Month series. In some of her lessons she sings phrases of the tune. Again, it is a tune though her singing blurs the lines. Is it acceptable to ever blur the lines between what is a song and what is a tune?

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To add to the confusion, many tunes are also instrumental versions of songs, airs etc while many "songs" were originally tunes which so called "folk singers" stole (Sorry, I believe the accepted terminology is "borrowed") and added their own lyrics. A particularly rife practice in Scotland although there have been some good results over the years.

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But Johnny, how can you even explain that unless you understand that there is a distinction between the word ‘song’ and the word ‘tune’?

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And what about lilting? Take Séamus Fay. He’s a great lilter but, at least on his recording Cavan’s Lilter, there are no instruments except bones and the like, which only serve to accompany his vocals. So yes, they’re tunes, but I would argue they’re in a bit of a gray area when it comes to lilting, especially if lilting is your primary medium for expressing the tunes.

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Lilting is an interesting case, similar to yodeling. I suppose the pedantic answer would be that if the content is intelligible and could be written down as lyrics, then it’s a song. Otherwise it’s a tune: pure melody with nonsense inflection to shape the sounds. Like whistling. Of course you can get a mix, and sometimes the nonsense *is* written down (cue Julie Andrews/Mary Poppins):

High on a hill was a lonely goatherd
Lay ee odl lay ee odl lay hee hoo
Loud was the voice of the lonely goatherd
Lay ee odl lay ee odl-oo

Re: This is a tune!

Cheers, everyone. I appreciate the distinction. Also agree it is best to not confuse anyone by being too casual with my basic use of terms. I sincerely trust most of the musicians I play with understand what constitutes a tune, what constitutes a song and the obvious distinction between their fundamental meanings.

Maybe people are too lax with a misuse of these terms. Obviously the internet has been the worst culprit of the ubiquitous application of the term song for everything. That to me is the crux of the matter, not the use of song for tune but the absence of musicians talking about tunes. That is why I used it in my title (tune!).
Or did you lot not see it there?

ps ~ Yes, I do think up my topics just to drive Gobby bonkers. That is my sole purpose.

But it’s from the heart, Gobby.

lots of love

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The fact that there may well be a grey area does not negate the usefulness of the distinctions between the meaning of the two terms. Despite our awareness of the existence of the platypus, we continue to distinguish between and among mammals, birds, amphibians, etc.

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Absolutely, meself. ;)

thesession.org has a substantial collection of Tunes, not Songs. It has thousands of tunes in a variety of formats. A few songs, but it is primarily a collection of tunes.

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So simple…..

I sing songs…..

I play tunes…..

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I sing tunes as I’m learning them.
Am I the only one who does this?

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I don’t sing tunes when learning them, but if it helps then why not? We’re just disputing the terminology, not the practice.

I’ll sometimes ask my S.O. "what tune is this?" and then vocalize a few notes to jog her memory. She’s much better at remembering tune names and how tunes start than I am. I wouldn’t say I was singing though. If I had to call it anything, it would be lilting. Not that I’m a lilter as such, but anyone can fake "la-de-diddle-la." To me, singing means intelligible words, but your mileage may vary. 🙂

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I’m not disputing the terminology.

There are *fundamental* definitions of terms and I have reiterated those definitions.

There are *additional* definitions of terms which apply in different context.

The terms are useful in *both* the fundamental meaning and also in ambiguous, less precise definitions.
We are talking about music. Music does not need be limited to precise, fundamental definitions; does it?

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I thought you lot might like my OP.

Did anybody like it?

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Yup! Thanks (although I’m not sure it belongs here … !).

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;)

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That’s all folks.

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" Yes, I do think up my topics just to drive Gobby bonkers. That is my sole purpose."
Ha, ha,…. Too late Ben I was already bonkers before you got to me. Anyhow, it’s good fun.

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Catch you on the flipside, antipode.

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Maybe this is where Kevin Johnson went wrong?

"she followed me through London, through a hundred hotel rooms
Through a hundred record companies who didn’t like my tunes"
🙂

For those who can’t remember, Kevin was Australian and a kind of "Poor man’s Kris Kristofferson"

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RSJEsBwH4FQ

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A tune is a melody. Songs have melodies. (Rap does not.) A song is a piece of music in which the tune is sung by a singer. Don’t make me explain this again.

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"A tune is a melody. Songs have melodies. (Rap does not.) A song is a piece of music in which the tune is sung by a singer. Don’t make me explain this again."

A little off topic, but why the off handed put-down of rap music? If it isn’t to your liking that’s fine, but your assertion that rap music lacks melody is demonstrably false. It may be a less complex melody than is present in other music, but melody is present and made more interesting by the rhythmic complexity. PM me if you want examples.

I’m as guilty of getting upset about the "songs vs tunes" nomenclature thing as any trad musician, but language is about communication, not dictionary definitions, and most people using the term "song" to refer to a melody without words played on an instrument other than the vocal chords aren’t meaning any harm by it. The aggressive gatekeeping of the terms used to talk about ITM doesn’t do much to make the musical culture inviting to newcomers.

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I think it’s a North American thing where a lot of fiddle tunes also have words and may even have started as songs.
Wikipedia describes "Cripple Creek" as an "Old Time Appalachian folk song for the fiddle", by way of example.

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"aggressive gatekeeping" ?? No, no’- it’s called ‘Discussions’ meaning that differences of opinion are welcome and tolerated in the hope that somebody MAY learn something. Nobody is forcing anybody to agree.

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Right Gobby, so I would hope that you will welcome and tolerate my point of view.

What I mean by gatekeeping is the phenomena of a person entering a new culture (in this case ITM culture) and then being chastised because they are not using the accepted jargon of that group. The only reason I can think of to be upset at someone for referring to a melody as a song is that the chastiser wants to make that person aware that they are not part of the in-group, and thereby make them feel unwelcome. It’s a silly semantics argument that usually has little bearing to the topic posed.

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I certainly do welcome your point of view Wesley. It’s all good to me.

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Didn’t the whole thing of referring to everything as a song come from the iPod/iTunes?

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No, don’t think so - seems to me I was hearing that long before the whole digital thing.

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I never heard an old fiddler call a tune a song, though - unless, maybe, in reference to a tune known primarily as a song melody.

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Radio people and other non-musicians are the ones who call any shortish piece of music a song, whether it features a singer or not. I’m not that upset about it, Wesley, just clarifying. And yes, I’m sure you can find examples of rap using melody, so I profess to be guilty of a generalization.

#This is a tune!

"What I mean by gatekeeping is the phenomena of a person entering a new culture (in this case ITM culture) and then being chastised because they are not using the accepted jargon of that group."

#This quote is exactly why I felt compelled to post on this specific topic.

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argy-bargy

#MusicMatters
the rest of the fluff is just bluster…

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Re: This is a tune! ~ “Radio people and other…”

michaelr, clarification is a good thing, cheers…

Ben

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Conical bore-"Lilting is an interesting case, similar to yodeling. I suppose the pedantic answer would be that if the content is intelligible and could be written down as lyrics, then it’s a song. Otherwise it’s a tune: pure melody with nonsense inflection to shape the sounds"

I would think it would be considered a song due to it being vocal, from the vocal chords and nonsensical lyrics could be made out of it eg: "Tu rey ya, faddle diddle ah" etc, while whistling is not and would be a tune?
Just another opinion..

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So Michelle, how would you write the lyrics for yodelling? Try singing this for instance, it’s in A major.;- Yodel yodel yodel, Yodel yodel yodel, Yodel yodel yodel, Yodel yodel yodel: x 8, Ah! They don’t write SONGS like that any more.

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"This quote is exactly why I felt compelled to post on this specific topic." If it is chastisment then I think it is chastisment for joining a conversation before having listened to it for a while. Use of ‘songs’ for ‘tunes’ flags someone up as an ‘outsider’ to the group.

As with doing the same thing in a pub sometimes people think it is impolite, sometimes they welcome enthusiasm (but may give a friendly caution), some people wouldn’t dream of doing it, some people do it and don’t notice that it causes annoyance to some others, etc, etc. Most people are quite good at joining in without causing offence. Many people don’t mind being given hints on local usage.

I had probably read a hundred discussions here before I joined in, others just can’t wait. Is it all that important?

Bird song has been called bird song for a long time and it only has words in fiction.

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"Bird song has been called bird song for a long time and it only has words in fiction." Trust me, you will give up on youtube before you find a parrot that can really sing.

But I did get my first ever advert for something that I might buy!

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I can hear my kookaburras laughing at that David.

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As a sometimes singer and sometimes tune player. I sing a song using words put to a tune or play the tune without any words or I may even lilt a tune using my voice but no words. Whats the problem? A song has words a tune does not.

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More nostalgia…..

On Radio Luxembourg, there used to be a programme called "A tune a minute". Here’s a sample..

https://offri056.home.xs4all.nl/sound/part3.mp3

It was revived later in the sixties, I believe, but they just played a minute of the latest pop hits from recordings. They never played any "songs" or "tunes" in full on that station even at the best of times. They were all edited as the programmes were sponsored by the record companies and the presenters were obliged to give as many of the records an airing whether they were worthy of it or not.

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Oh good… I was just thinking it had been too long since we had a good old semantics argument here… 😛

Certainly there are edges of the tradition that are blurred, where other culture has been appropriated and brought into the tradition, whether it be instruments, tunes, or techniques… But I tend to draw a harder line between trad and pop, because I really don’t want to see the tradition blending in that direction. (Watching TV on New Year’s Eve struck me how blurred the lines have gotten between rock and roll and country music - hard to tell them apart in a lot of cases these days… I’d just assume keep our tradition a bit more pure than that…)

So for me, it’s something that I tend to bring up as politely as I can both here and in real life, because using the term "song" for a tune is a sure fire way to brand yourself as either a beginner, or clueless about the tradition. And the sooner that people learn that this is a distinction that is made by the vast majority of people who play Irish traditional music, the better off they are with the knowlege, and less blurring of the tradition will occur…

BTW, I would not consider lilting to be "song", other than in the most basic sense that it is sung. I still consider it to be a "tune", as it doesn’t have any fixed words or meaning, other than the lilter’s intention to put style into the tune, just as a player would…

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I don’t think it’s actually a semantics argument. We all know what the terms mean in the context of this genre of music. Apparently the underlying issue is that some people think it’s rude and "chastising" to point out how these terms are used, when a newcomer arrives and uses the word "song" to refer to a tune.

Personally, I think it’s a non-issue. I’ve been here long enough to see it pointed out to newcomers many times, and it’s almost always done in a polite way. Along the lines of "by the way, in this genre of music we call instrumental melodies "tunes" and reserve "song" for those vocalized with lyrics." I just don’t see that as chastising, gatekeeping, or in-group signaling. It’s useful information, to avoid confusion in a genre of music where instrumental melodies and songs often share the same identifying name.

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Reverend comments on "how blurred the lines have gotten between rock and roll and country music" …..

If I recall, "Rock and Roll" originated as the result of a "marriage"(in the loosest term) between Blues and Country music. So, there has always been a connection there.
It’s probably true that things are veering more to the Country side of things these days though and "Black music" seems to have moved in a different direction too in recent years, i.e. Hip hop, Rap, etc and what is now referred to as R ‘n’ B is nothing like that of the early days either.

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When you join the crew of, oh, say, The Flying Cloud, you are free to call the deck the ‘floor’, the hatchway the ‘door’, the bulkhead the ‘wall’, the porthole the ‘window’, etc. - but you might not be among the crew when the ‘boat’ gets back to port …….

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Reverend, I know how helpful and polite you are. I was not referring to you at all when I mentioned how players have been chastised. I sincerely want to be clear that I don’t consider talking about this with players is chastising in itself and it’s never how Reverend treats fellow musicians. I (too) strive to be civil. What I’m pointing out is that it happens, some do chastise and I have personally seen it done.

Ben

Reverend, what did you think of the OP?

edit: after reading the last few replies it appears that some of you consider it a serious transgression to call a tune a song; or actually to refer to anything without intelligible words a song. [BTW there are tons of *pop* songs with unintelligible words.] I will concede it is likely the chastisers I have witnessed were not decades in *the tradition* and perhaps were over eager in getting their point across about not saying "songs" when one is talking about "tunes"… the saga continues

;)

ps
full disclosure ~ When I discuss the music I play on flute & whistle I say I’m "playing tunes". 🙂

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Yes, I do have this tendency to be meself ….

(Boswell: "Mr. Johnson, I do indeed come from Scotland, but I cannot help it."
Johnson: "That, Sir, I find, is what a very great many of your countrymen cannot help.")

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And you wear your me well.

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I’m one of those "radio people" michaelr is talking about, and if it’s a jazz tune I call it a "tune," if it’s a classical piece I call it a "piece." Don’t play too many "songs," but when one does come up I label it accordingly.

Funnily enough, I was recently corrected by a saxophonist I was interviewing when I called one of his purely instrumental compositions a "tune." He preferred "song." Maybe I should forward this thread along to him!

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in Old Timey music there are plenty of tunes with optional lyrics which may or may not be sung - Angeline the Baker, Old Joe Clarke, Cotton Eye Joe, etc - in Irish music we have to name but two, Rocky Rd to Dublin, Frost is all Over that could be sung or just played instrumentally - are they songs or tunes? How long is a piece of string?
How long will this thread run for???

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A piece of string is always twice the length as half the piece! Christy, it looks to me like you answer your own question there because if you read your own words you do, in fact distinguish between what is a tune and what is a song. The melody may well be the same but still, you sing a song and play a tune. How could you have even written what you did without knowing there is a difference to be distinguished? I don’t think it’s a pedantic thing to recognise the difference, however, as somebody pointed out earlier (and like many, I missed it) the focus of this post is about how politely we should be in correcting the linguistic mistake. I don’t by the way, believe this is unique to ITM, I would correct anybody at any time, just as I often correct people who say ‘decimate’, without understanding that the word refers uniquely to 1-in-10. Oh how I miss Gam (for those who remember him). He was the master of correction. He corrected me just about every day, and I appreciated it. It’s called education.

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Gobby, i think we should always be polite in our corrections - but i am surprised that so much time has been expended on what is ultimately a minor point of semantics. It just seems to be the case that most newcomers to
our music refer to everything as ‘songs’ [and sometimes they actually are songs!] but no use getting too steamed up over it……………..

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Usage here, and in a lot of tradional music, seems clear. But can usage of words distract from aspects of the thing itself?

To me, not knowing Irish, hearing an Irish speaker playing a sean nos air on an instrument is not that much different from hearing it sung. If there is no audience reaction from people who do understand the words then I think hear it has a tune with the voice is an instrument.

An aspect of this that I haven’t thought through yet is that am not too keen on most sean nos, I generally prefer singing where the rhythm seems to follow that of the spoke language even though, for example with Scottish Gaelic, I get no meaning from the words.

I think I have read ‘popular science’ writings, by experts, on the way music (might) work in our heads that use ‘song’ where we would use ‘tune’. That might be a choice that has semantic significance in their field.

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David50, songs sung in Irish or Gaelic (or whatever language) have meaning to audiences who understand these languages, which is who they were intended for in the first place. To dismiss these as not being songs and essentially tunes is a strange kind of relativism (it’s only a song if you understand the lyrics?) and verges on Anglocentric arrogance. By this argument, the arias in Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro would not be songs because most people don’t understand Italian! But the effect of these songs in Italian - even for those who don’t understand the language - is rather different than if they were simply played on instruments without any singing. A song is still a song even if you don’t understand the lyrics.

I think that most contributors to this thread have been trying to maintain a helpful distinction. A song is something that is sung (yes, the clue is in the name) and has lyrics and a tune. But those lyrics may often be sung to different tunes, and the same tune may be used to a variety of lyrics, so why not keep the two ideas separate?. I take the point that diddling/lilting/puirt a-beul is sung, but in these cases the voice simply uses meaningless vocables to put over a tune.

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You seem to miss my point Borderer. I was careful in my wording. Where did I dismiss anything?

My point is that focus on a semantic difference may lead us to miss interesting aspects of our perception, and appreciation, of what we hear.

To me the difference between hearing a song in a language I do understand and one that I don’t is, usually, greater than the difference between hearing a tune played on an instrument and a song in a language I do not understand.

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Daveid50: I’m sorry if I misunderstood you or distorted your views. I can understand that for you personally, listening to a song in a language you don’t understand will sound more or less like listening to a purely instrumental piece. However, at the production end there is a big difference between the two. My main concern was to maintain the distinction between "song" and "tune", which I think is a useful one.

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Yes, that’s it;- a ‘useful distinction’. Without such very legitimate distinctions we are just dumbing everything down. That doesn’t excuse people from being rude about correcting people though (if that actually happens… I have never experienced it).

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I like the “song” in the op.

Schematica semantica, don’t let language get in the way of music. If it can be diddley’diddlytised then it would be a tune? Thx for posting song!

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"don’t let language get in the way of music". Sorry but that’s a ridiculous statement!

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?an bhfuil Gaeilge agut?

Or slum Doram?

Ridiculousness yes. I agree

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I’m too ignorant to know what that means because I don’t understand the language. The same as I couldn’t think linguistically about music if I were a chimpanzee. (Smiley face, by the way Trinca).

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Whilst looking up something else I was reminded of this…

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less."
"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."
"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master - that’s all."

From "Through the Looking Glass."

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Hi! Thanks for all the responses, very lively.

Here is another bit of Alice w/Humpty Dumpty. Hope you like it.

;)

" ‘The piece I’m going to repeat,’ he went on without noticing her remark, ‘was written entirely for your amusement.’

Alice felt that in that case she really ought to listen to it; so she sat down, and said ‘Thank you’ rather sadly,

‘In winter, when the fields are white,
I sing this song for your delight —

only I don’t sing it,’ he added, as an explanation.

‘I see you don’t,’ said Alice. "

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I have a love-hate relationship w/forums. Actually just this one since I’m not active on any other social media.
I love the interaction over commonly shared interests. I love Irish traditional tunes. I love playing.

I hate argy-bargy. I accept that sometimes trad musicians cope with other trad musicians through passive-agressive means. This is probably why so many Irish musicians play tunes. It is impossible for a tune to be passive and agressive. Songs do have intelligible lyrics. And those lyrics can soothe some listeners while boiling the blood in other listeners (passive & agressive). I think everyone knows what I mean. If you don’t quite follow my drift please send me a message so we can have a conversation off line. I would appreciate that, if anyone wishes to talk outside the group forum.

And the last word here (thread) is my last word on this thread.

;)

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