The ever-elusive Jig rhythm

The ever-elusive Jig rhythm

I’d like to start off by thanking any and all repliers in advance, just because in the past life has gotten in the way for a day or few, and by the time I got back to reply the discussions had fallen off the main page and though I did reply to thank people and comment, I’m not sure if anyone who replied ever saw that I had (I did!). So if my life in the next few days gets hectic I want to do so now!

Anyway, so I guess I’m all about trying to really figure out the beautiful, the mysterious, and ever-elusive (at least it feels to me right now) jig rhythm. I was just gifted a whole bunch of really good flute albums and have been doing so much listening. I have a teacher (who I’d name but fear I might embarrass him more than a little since he is kind to take on students new to the tradition). And so I am doing these things…

It is just, every time I start to think I might be getting a handle on what it is and a slightly lengthened first note, all of a sudden the first note of the "three" seems shortened, but then they all seem close to equal, and then before I know what’s happening it has all shifted again and is dancing away from me. I can hear something, I can hear that this is nothing that I could ever put in any of my classical music boxes and my ingrained conception of 6/8 rhythm so woefully doesn’t capture it. I can hear that I get closer to it if I learn by ear from good players. But I’m still not there yet and can’t generate it on my own and can’t quite grasp it.

I know that I am at the point where I don’t want to listen to any other kind of music because I feel like I need to immerse myself in Irish music for the time being to really really hear it and get it.

But I don’t yet. I know there’s not necessarily a short-cut or an easy way to it and that’s not what I am looking for.

Just maybe a map or the steps to the dance (am I overdoing the metaphors here)? Or somehow to get a little closer to really understanding this piece and how to confidently play the lift on my own?

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Swinging the rhythm is less important than accenting the note that falls on the beat.

Slow down recordings, learn the tunes, play along to them. Mirror them as best you can. IMO, learning the music by feel is more important than the intellectual aspects. Both are needed to some degree, but we learn best by imitation and relation.

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Sarah, you can analyze any rhythm down to the nano-second if you like, the technology is there, and still get nowhere. My advice is to don’t overthink it. Listen without being analytical. Feel it, move to it. Hasn’t come to you yet? Turn off the brain for a time and relax. Just like a pet cat the rhythm will come when you stop chasing it around.

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I’m pretty sure that it takes years to really get these things

You have to a) have the music itself inside you almost like a foreign language that you can speak, and b) you have to have the skill with the instrument to express it. This takes years.

You can get it by playing along with others, either in real life (however much they’ll let you at your session) or by playing along with recordings. Start with what you CAN do and keep playing the same tunes over and over again along with the recordings or with the other people. Never consider any tune "learned". They are never learned. there is always something new in there to learn in every tune.

It’s less important to get the whole melody perfect than it is to get the rhythm and play in time with everybody else. While you play, listen just as hard as you’re playing. While you listen, observe the others. You’ll start to intuitively know the rhythms and where the ornaments should go and how to adjust the melody when someone plays it differently than you learned it. If there’s stuff you can’t do, sounds you can’t figure out how to make, skip them and keep going. It’s more important to play in tune, in time, with the right rhythm and accent than it is to get every single note or do all the ornaments.

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I just typed a reply & the result too was ever-elusive. Maybe next time. :-(

Sorry,
Ben

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Aaron,
definitely working on a lot of those things!

Ross,
the jig-rhythm as Pangur Bán? One of those almost Zen Buddhist, stop trying, striving, and doing, and trust the process/rhythm sort of things?

Sbhikes,
(wait, does that stand for Santa Barbara hikes? My extended family lives there and it is so beautiful. If it does I hope you get to go on lots of lovely hikes in the area!). And I too have a Casey Burns flute. But that’s the catch…the right rhythm and accent. Wondering how many of these questions would be solved if I just got on with it when I have time in my life and learned Gaelic language, figuring that a lot of what sounds right in the music might stem from the language itself?

AB(Ben),
So many questions. I mean I could see answers to this question kind of feeling circular perhaps, like the only way to get to get it, is to get it over time and then when you get it, I could see it feeling really hard to describe to others. Or I could also see your response potentially as a gentle-humored way to point out that without a clear-cut and well-asked question, all answers one is likely to get might be elusive to some degree.

If the former, I’d be interested in what you had to say, even if it was elusive. If the latter, my apologies, it’s hard to ask about what you don’t know exactly what or how to ask about, just that you need to!

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Listen to fiddler Brian Conway playing jigs. His rhythm is clear, like a heartbeat, and maybe easier to hear and feel than listening to flutes.

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I would find someone whom you really like in terms of how they play their jigs and try and emulate that style. Many years ago I heard a box player called Frank Gavigan on a video, it might have been from a Paddy O’Brien festival. He had the loveliest touch for playing jigs and I remember trying to play all of my jigs in that style on my banjo and guitar. Over time I developed my own way of playing them but I was certainly inspired by his approach.

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One concept I find useful teaching 6/8s to students is the crotchet-quaver beat. By that I mean that almost every beat of 6/8 time has a quaver (sorry, eighth note) at the end of the beat, and no matter the style that quaver beat remains very consistent. I think getting hold of that rhythm (ONE-two-THREE-ONE-two-THREE-ONE-two-THREE-ONE-two-THREE) and locking into it is really useful, and once you have that in mind it’s easy to play around with feel in the crotchet beat, where you can insert any sort of rhythm you like.

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Playing along to a very slowed down recording(s) would be my suggestion.

It’s the key to playing fast and well.

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Here’s another thought: if you can, take a class in Irish dance. Learning to dance to theses rhythms will internalize them like nothing else.

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"Wondering how many of these questions would be solved if I just got on with it when I have time in my life and learned Gaelic language, figuring that a lot of what sounds right in the music might stem from the language itself?"

It may well be true that there is some sort of correlation between musical style and language/dialect. But if you were to learn Irish (Gaelic) in the hope that it would magically transform your playing, I think you might be disappointed (besides, you would have to be sure to learn to speak Irish with the right rhythm and accent - which is the same thing you are struggling with in your playing - if you wanted that to carry across to your music). The majority of traditional musicians in Ireland are not native or fluent Irish speakers. Learn Irish, by all means, but learn it for the love of the language itself, not with any secondary goal in mind. Learning the music is itself like learning a language (as sbhikes says above).

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Thanks for the reply/feedback, SarahC. Your OP was clear and I understand what you’re asking. The reason
I pulled my reply (after writing & posting it) was a technical glitch. Unfortunately there can be limitations on basic text forums such as this one. Given that, I want to encourage you to keep doing what you’re doing & work with your teacher; because sometimes the best source is the one who is closest to you.

-Ben

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I’m a fiddler, and I love playing jigs. I’ll mention two things.

One, all jigs are not the same, in terms of flow, or spirit. Each has its own personality. So don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all approach to learning them.

Two, there’s an exercise I like to do because it’s fun, and it opens you up to the various possibilities in playing jigs. It’s best done with a metronome, or at least that’s how I like to do it. Play a jig, slowly, and start by emphasizing all the "one" beats in each group of three. Then do it again and emphasize the "three" beats in each group of three. For the sake of flexibility, you can also do it emphasizing the "two" beat, although that’s not something that would apply in typical jigs. The one and three are important, and this exercise will help your hearing and playing by giving you control over how you approach what can be very subtle rhythms.

Again, take your time and don’t try to "accomplish" anything - you don’t even have to play an entire jig. But do try to have fun listening to - and feeling - the differences.

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…and do it slowly. No reason to rush.

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There isn’t *a* jig rhythm— there are a lot of variations. I would find one tune uou like and listen to a bunch of diff pl playing it.

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some of us are naturals to jig beats and then we struggle with reels

seems like you are struggling with jig, which means you are gifted with the reels

you are either a freestyle swimmer or a butterfly, but you can never be both. We are all blessed with these handicaps and blessings. I struggle with the reels. Any jig can be broken down to a waltz, try that and then speed it up till it ceases to be a waltz. We all fall in and out of time with Irish music. you are on the right track. keep it up

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Ergo: "all jigs are not the same, in terms of flow, or spirit. Each has its own personality. So don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all approach to learning them."

chris stolz: "There isn’t *a* jig rhythm— there are a lot of variations."

I would add to that two points:
i. Individual players have widely differing ways of playing a jig, ranging from ‘straight’ to ‘dotted’ (although those extremes are probably rare) and varying in the amount of emphasis placed on particular beats or parts of the beat.
When musicians play together, for the most part, they either ‘meet in the middle’ or the differences are too subtle to be problematic.
ii. There can be considerable variation in swing and emphasis within a rendition of one tune. This may be a by-product of phrasing, string crossings, breathing points etc. but it all contributes to the style.

So, on the one hand, there may even more to it than you realised; on the other hand, all you have to do is keep playing and keep listening.

beid: "some of us are naturals to jig beats and then we struggle with reels … seems like you are struggling with jig, which means you are gifted with the reels"

Hmm… not sure that follows. I’ve done (and continue to do) my fair share of struggling with both.

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I would go right back to extreme basics and think of 6/8 jigs as being only two beats to the bar, i.e. 1 - - 2 - - 1 - - 2 - -, the 1 and 2 being the strongest beats in the simplest jigs. ( See also what Aaron, Calum and Ergo said.) If you are a foot-tapper, tap your foot (lightly) on those notes.
I would not, at first, even try doing the 1 - 3 thing (Calum) or - - 3 - - 3 until you’ve got that 1 - - 2 - - completely and firmly embedded.
You mention lengthening the first note: it’s more about accentuating it or emphasising it: you may well lose the rhythm if you lengthen it(or shorten it!) Try playing loud-soft-soft loud-soft-soft for the 6 quavers in a 6/8 bar. Sure, not all jigs are like this: some have dotted notes, tied notes across the middle of the bar, which make it syncopated, or even across bar ends and beginnings, but that’s all complicated stuff which can wait for later.

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SarahC,
> (wait, does that stand for Santa Barbara hikes? My extended family lives there and it is so beautiful. If it does I hope you get to go on lots of lovely hikes in the area!)

Yes, it quite literally does stand for that. You can look it up and that will be me.

You will naturally get the jig rhythm right when you do it over and over in the presence of the music. If you can’t actually play when you are at the session, you can tap your fingers or something along to the rhythm. The jig rhythms are sometimes different for different tunes, too, so really you just have to learn the tunes. I’ll admit that I’m incapable of playing jigs. I just haven’t got the skills to play jigs on my fiddle. I’ve only ever played reels, polkas, breakdowns and the like. I end up having to skip the middle notes of jig three-somes (whatever they are called) because I’m not classically trained on the fiddle and lack the skills. I sit out a lot of jigs. I figure it’ll come to me eventually just like somehow all of it came to me when I was new at old-time music. It’s still coming to me, actually.

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I read this thread this morning and it has been on my mind all day whilst working (contract welder - onsite).
I have never really given any thought to this subject. So this evening I got to it, saddled up, closed my eyes, and played 6/8 jigs. And there it was. Take Morrison’s for example; twice through equals 32 bars, 192 beats (crotchets), and the rhythm (love that word, no vowels:) ) was definitely there, bump da da, bump da da, all the way through. And so on it went. Same with every other tune (jigs). Cognitive breakthrough…heh, heh.

So…. In my mind just *one* person got it right.. Totally!!
Trish Santer. (two posts up)
Trish, I feel that you got it, word for word. Everything you wrote is correct. Everything. Concise too.

Sarah, my thought is, read that post, keep things simple and just let it grow. You’ll get there.

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Yeah, right!!
What was that?
Crotchets!!
Nah, couldn’t have.
(log in) Yep, there it is - "192 beats (crotchets)"
They are quavers, you dipstick, quavers!!
Why don’t we all use the U.S. system, like - Whole note, Half, Quarter, Eighth, etc…
Oh well!!

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Y is the vowel.

Jigs are not all the same: some are dotted, some swing; some are straight. It depends on the company.

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>allan21
I am of course very well aware that all "Jigs are not the same".
That is why I mentioned Morrison’s in particular. It is all single (quaver) notes, (without embellishment of course), so it is easy to use as an example. To try and explain it with tunes that have *crotchets*:) and/or dotted notes, plus swings/straight etc. blah, blah, blah, would have complicated the matter, I feel.
All the tunes I have are fairly a consistent rhythm because I play for dances.
I don’t know Sarah’s level of competence/experience, and I do not like to assume.
Coming from a classical background, it may be a tad foreign for her to pick up a jig feel, so perhaps the best for her is to keep it simple.
I see a fair amount of beating around the bush with lots of superfluous info here, but not a great deal of good teaching for Sarah, so I still believe that trish’s post is most appropriate.
Yes allan, "a,e,i,o,u and sometimes y". Got that in 1960’s. Still - I like to have a bit of fun with it.

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Peter: just checking. I’m not so sure about non-scottish education.
Why the rest if the world just doesn’t embrace our standards I’ll ne’er ken.

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Probably because they mainly drive on the wrong side of the road!!

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Thanks for your kind words Peter. I was also thinking of tunes that have long runs of quavers (eighth notes??) which might be good ones for getting the rhythm ingrained. Ones like Humours of Glendart, My Darling’s Asleep, also spring to mind.
I don’t play flute, so have no idea if it’s more difficult to play jigs on Sarah’s instrument compared with others.
There are jigs (or Gigues!) in classical music, by the way!