Tune set speed differential

Tune set speed differential

What are some of your thoughts on varying tempos (or even time signatures) in a set of tunes? For example…
A) Jig, same jig but played as a reel
B) Reel @ 115, reel @ 100, reel @110
C) Reel @115, reel @ 95 speed up to 115

I’ve played many variations of this at a few different sessions or jams and am curious about differing opinions (particularly examples B and C).

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I doubt that I would ever think to play a jig as a reel, or vice-versa, if it’s possible. I don’t like breaking from the tradition. The most I ever do is to play the occasional hornpipe as a reel if it fits in better with my set (I play them either way depending on the higher context). I do however, often vary my tempo’s and tune types within a set, depending very much on what I have just played and what my instincts then tell me to follow it with. That’s a large part of the fun of it. It’s easy for me though because I only ever play by myself. Dancers seem to like it.

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In a seisiún, the key would be communication and maybe any basic commonly accepted ground rules. It’s
no fun falling all over yourselves in some sort train wreck. Starting with a moderately paced reel followed by a reel or two at a more accelerated pace would be fairly safe ground. Going from fast to slow is problematic because random players would have a different idea of rubato.
Performances are an entirely different thing. Whatever you think you can pull off. A common convention is to present an air then its generally accepted pairing with a jig or reel. One of the ‘big’ pairings is The Blackbird as an air, then a hornpipe, and a very brisk set dance.

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Why? :-?
I can’t see a reason for it, other than to show off.

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You really want my thoughts? OK.

Nopity, nope, nope.

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In sessions I would agree with the two previous comments, but there are solo examples, especially in the Cape Breton style of playing, that it works really well to change tempo’s and tune types. I only play Irish(y), but I have tried to learn from the way that Cape Breton fiddlers mix it all. It adds a dynamic. But like I said earlier, I only play in isolation.

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Thank you for your thoughts. 🙂

I’ve played in sessions where we traded off leading the tune every 1-2 tunes making the set last upwards of 20 or 30 minutes. That’s one of the reasons I was asking. 20 minutes of reels in D and G gets…boring. A way we’ve shaken things up is to slow down or speed up every so often, depending on how we feel. Varying the key helps too, of course, but we’ve also (in a session where it’s mostly the people) changed tunes up in style. Playing a jig as a reel or a waltz in 4/4. When it’s all the same group of guys it’s a lot easier to play around with stuff like that. It’s fun :D

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I am all in favor of experimentation with changing tempo and tune types. If you can manage to co-ordinate this with a group of other people then great. It’s a bit beyond my imagination though to play a waltz in 4/4 time. I mean, WHY?

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(not to mention, HOW?)

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Gobby, but you play jigs as reels and reels as jigs all the time, I would imagine, whether or not you’re aware of it.

A feature of the older traditional music is reworking the same melody for use in various contexts; the same melody can appear as an air, a jig, a reel, a march, a polka.

So Bucks Of Oranmore and Lark In The Morning are the same tune, but in reel time and jig time.

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Though I would say that playing the same tune in various meters perhaps no longer popular in ITM- you find it in the older music.

But it’s alive and well in the Highland piping scene, where it’s quite common for 6/8 tunes to be played in 4/4 and visa versa.

Perhaps it’s because the same tunes have always been played both as Strathspeys and reels so the Scots are used to this sort of thing.

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Gobby: "I doubt that I would ever think to play a jig as a reel, or vice-versa, if it’s possible. I don’t like breaking from the tradition."

I think the OP is probably referring to a handful of reel/jig pairs that are obviously versions of the same melody squeezed into a different rhytmic framework - e.g. https://thesession.org/tunes/1514 and https://thesession.org/tunes/3111 . In fact, using the same melodic material for tunes in different rhythms is very much part of the tradition and, with a bit of close listening and analysis, you will find that quite a lot of jigs have a counterpart in the form of a reel or other dance rhythm.

I imagine, however, that by "breaking from the tradition", you were referring more to the practice of putting different tune types together in a set. I think perhaps ‘the tradition’ is a lot more nuanced than it is often given credit for. That said, I like the ‘groove’ aspect of staying in one rhythm for a whole set - and the fact that it is more socially ‘inclusive’. The matter of ‘inclusivity’ of sessions has been the subject of interminable discussions here before and I do not which to divert this thread down that course, so to summarise my own view: I do not think that inclusivity has to be fundamental to a session but I do think that making it easier for visiting musicians (or those not in the ‘inner circle’) to join in seamlessly ultimately makes for better quality music.

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Erin ‘Prairie Flower’ Haslam: "… 20 minutes of reels in D and G gets…boring. A way we’ve shaken things up is to slow down or speed up every so often, depending on how we feel."

Well, you have the option of playing jigs, hornpipes, polkas, slides, slip jigs, mazurkas, waltzes, barn dances, highlands, marches… and keys other than D and G. Of course, it is entirely up to you and your session mates what you do in your session - the main thing is that you all enjoy it. But I think a lot of non-regulars would find tempo changes mid-set a bit off-putting. As I stated in my last comment, I like the comfort of settling into a groove for a whole set - I can concentrate on playing and varying the notes, while the rhythm just sort of ‘happens’.

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I just tried to find the similarities between Bucks and Lark. Maybe im missing something or playing em wrong. They’re different species!

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@Copperplate: If you can hear them as two completely unrelated tunes, then maybe *I’m* missing something. Vive la difference!

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A) Jig, same jig but played as a reel -
B) Reel @ 115, reel @ 100, reel @110
C) Reel @115, reel @ 95 speed up to 115

A) Can see no problem with playing both the jig and reel versions of a tune in a session. Colliers jig and reel are often combined in sessions. In Keady, they regularly play a set which consists of the following: My Darling Asleep jig - Calliope House jig - Cliffs of Moher jig - then a jig followed by a reel version of the same tune. Not 100% sure of the name but think it’s the Star of Munster. So don’t see the problem.

B and C) Changing the speed of tunes in a session? Why would you want to? Don’t see how it would work. Everyone else would be still playing at the pace established during the opening tune of your set (or possibly playing even faster). I suppose it might work as a rehearsed performance piece on a stage for an audience although I have my doubts about even that.

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This is maybe a side issue/straying from the point a bit, but there are certain tunes/songs which started life in 3/4 but have been converted into 4/4, and not for the best, IMHO: or e.g.
Dougie Maclean’s "Caledonia" or The Corries’ version of "The Rose of Allendale"
or 4/4 into 3/4:
"A Man’s a Man for a’ That" or "My Love is Like a Red Red Rose" made into waltz tunes by dance bands.
Sorry my examples are all Scottish, but there will no doubt be similar conversions in the ITM repertoire.

And "The Old Grey Cat" is played as a hornpipe in one band I’m in, and as a reel in the other.

And finally, are you really sitting in a session with a metronome distinguishing between 95, 100, 105, 110 bpm, Erin??

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It’s quite possible to change the speed in a set of e.g. reels in a session.
As long as only one person starts the second tune.
Usually it’s a matter of speeding up the second tune. Perhaps because you realised you started the first one too slow.
This happens now and then in sessions in my experience.

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There are some classic sets of the same melody theme played as a jig and then reel, or march, jig, and reel like the Welcome Home Grannia set popularized by John Doherty (it’s in The Northern Fiddler book).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Gr6iUlsvS0


If it works, it works (and I love this set), but not every melody lends itself to that treatment.

As for B) and C), I can’t recall ever hearing a session group slow down the tempo in the middle of a set of reels. If anything, there is a slight increase in tempo towards the end, due to enthusiasm. It’s dance music after all. Even though most of us are not playing for actual dancers in a pub session, I think the spirit is still there. The tunes lose something when we play them in a way that a dancer would be lost.

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Since ITM originated as dance tunes, doing a set of all the same dance makes sense. In the classical world, dance suites were made up of different types of dances, usually in the same key. I’ve done both kinds of sets. We’ve even done "thematic" sets: Fox Hunter reel followed by Fox Hunter slip jig.

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@Richard D Cook and CreadurMawnOrganig :- thanks for your very educational responses to my comments. I honestly had no idea of this. Obviously my theory is badly lacking. But I am very happy to have had my eyes opened to new experimentation.

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@Gobby: Theory doesn’t really come into it, you either hear it or you don’t; if you don’t, well, you don’t necesarily play the music any worse or enjoy it any less. But I am glad to have played a small part in your musical education.

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Jig to reel is sometimes fun. Definitely requires communication. We usually keep underlying foot taps at a steady BPM, and just play four notes in the space of three. It requires conscious communication to make the transition work, but can be done in-session. Slide to Polka can work the same way.

Actual speed shifts like in the OP are a different thing — that would need to be practiced really tightly to get everyone slowing down to the same speed at the same time (chaos ensues). Unless one person is setting the tempo by starting solo, that is. It seems like more of a thing for band performance than for a session.

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Just listened to that 4/4 Atholl Highlanders that Richard Cook put in: to use the title of another thread, it’s "weird and wonderful"! (But maybe only so when you are used to the usual 6/8, whether as March or Jig.)

And yes, it is very tricky to go from faster to slower: easier to go from slower to faster!

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I mean, there aren’t any serious rules about how fast you play a kind of tune. The rules are never concrete, and they are more like guidelines. It’s all about how fast the session leader (or leaders or regular people running the session) play the tune.
In terms of how I like to play tunes: I like slow tunes slow, and everything else super-fast, because youth is on my side and I might as well enjoy being able to pick a banjo at warp speed while I can.

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I can think of two examples, both by the band De Danann (or is it Dannan?) and both use slightly different tactics.

They are not difficult nor complicated, and if the rest off the sessioneers are agreeable (or even interested) then here are two models based on the above :

1 .. hornpipe/reel/reel : hornpipe at a relaxed pace, then the next two reels a little faster, but each reel at the same tempo.

The tunes they play : 1 .. [Collectively knows as Humours of Galway] Golden Eagle Hornpipe / Maudabawn Chapel / Hand Me Down The Tackle. After Golden Eagle, the bodhran [Colm Murphy] plays a little 4-bar link to set the slightly faster tempo, then that tempo stays for the two reels.

So, in session, after the hornpipe, everyone stops, except whoever is leading the set continues with the reel. After a few bars of the reel, the others could join in again.

2 .. jig/reel/reel, all at the same tempo - Langstrom’s Pony/Tap Room/Lord Ramsay’s Reel. After the jig, Frankie Gavin then "lurches" into The Tap Room.

So, in session, same idea - after the jig, everyone stops, except whoever is leading the set continues with the reel. After a few bars of the reel, the others could join in again.

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Bands is bands.

Sessions is sessions.

Bands is not sessions.

Sessions is not bands.

Some bands do sessions. It works.

Some sessions try to do bands. It’s a flustercluck.

🙂