Trad. numbers of bars in parts 1 and 2 of Irish dance tunes

Trad. numbers of bars in parts 1 and 2 of Irish dance tunes

I have been called out re tune submitted because non-trad. numbers of bars in, say, a reel, jig or waltz.

Please comment. How rigid are the rules? Surely some writers of dance tunes deviate from "rules" but the tunes are worth learning and melodious. Do ancient tunes follow the rules and when was the tradition set please? Irish tunes in particular but Scot. tunes maybe have similar bar number traditions (possibly following Irish rules??).

Re: Trad. numbers of bars in parts 1 and 2 of Irish dance tunes

Historically there are no bar "rules" in Scottish music, not so sure about Irish, but dance tunes, as you call them, need to suit the dances. That’s why for dancing they’re normally in multiples of four bars.

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Re: Trad. numbers of bars in parts 1 and 2 of Irish dance tunes

‘I have been called out re tune submitted’

I have never heard of this before. How was it done: did you get a pop-up message, or what?

Re: Trad. numbers of bars in parts 1 and 2 of Irish dance tunes

Most tunes have equal-length parts, with a two part tune being either 32 bars AABB or 16 bars AB. See https://www.irishtune.info/rhythm/reel-structure.html for a breakdown of reels.

Other formats exist, but are very unusual exceptions that people familiar with trad would shout out quick:
- Say ABB, respond "Sailor’s Bonnet"
- AABCC, "Maids of Mt. Kisco"
- AABCBC, "Trip to Durrow"
- ABCDD, "Gravel Walks"
These unusual structures can match up nicely with some set dancing figures, but for set dancing most bands seem to just play tunes with equal parts and stop after the house-around.

Traditional set dances for step dancing (Blackbird, Job of Journeywork, etc.) break the mold as the number of bars explicitly matches the steps.

Re: Trad. numbers of bars in parts 1 and 2 of Irish dance tunes

Tunes with that don’t have parts that align to multiples of 8, like the one you posted, are even more rare. Basically just traditional set dances and unusual contemporary tunes like The Guns of the Magnificent Seven or Arthur Darley’s Swedish Jig.

I’m confused by the tune’s comment history. First you posted it (under an Italian title), then 7 months later stated it sounded more Irish than Italian, and tried for an air of mystery with this comment: https://thesession.org/tunes/17916#comment884560 Then a month after that you admitted it was your own composition. Why not tell the truth from the start?

Re: Trad. numbers of bars in parts 1 and 2 of Irish dance tunes

It’s true that there are Irish tunes that have odd numbers of bars (set dances often do, for instance), and tunes that have odd numbers of notes in a bar sometimes (like Guns of the Magnificent Seven, for instance), and even tunes that switch meter in the middle (like Donogh Hennessy’s tune, Come Back With My Bloody Car). So it is certainly not unheard of to break out of the mold in certain circumstances.

With the possible exception of the set dances, which are usually quite old tunes, these tunes were composed by people that were already established and respected within the Irish tradition. These composers had earned their wings, and thus their non-standard tunes were (at least loosely) accepted into the tradition. If you don’t know what those conventions and standards are, then it’s rather presumptuous of you to post self-written tunes into the archive in the first place (put them in your profile, instead, like I do), but even more so to do it with a tune that doesn’t fit within the generally agreed upon standards of Irish traditional music.

Re: Trad. numbers of bars in parts 1 and 2 of Irish dance tunes

Not rules as such, but it’s easy enough to find out what usual practice is by looking at the notation of most of the tunes on this site - or major published collections (O’Neill, Breathneach, etc). There will be exceptions to suit specific dances - as explained above - and oddities that follow the design of a composer in achieving a particular rhythmic or melodic effect. (E.g., see ‘Leaving Friday Harbour’ by John McCusker’).

The thing is, there are also errors. It may be an idiosyncrasy of mine, but I do find it a tad vexatious when I try to play through a piece that has been posted here, and it makes no sense because, for example, the number of beats in some bars does not confirm to the time signature in which it’s written. Or the number of bars shown in a passage means that the thing just doesn’t flow. Why, oh why, oh why . . ? Am I alone in thinking that it doesn’t take much to read or play through the tune as shown on the screen before pressing the ‘Post’ button?

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Re: Trad. numbers of bars in parts 1 and 2 of Irish dance tunes

You are not alone, Bazza, although I must confess I have been guilty in the past of posting transcription errors (all later corrected) because of not playing through the sheet music on the screen.

Regarding lengths of parts I think you either get it or you don’t. It becomes so ingrained that parts are eight bars long that it can be quite a struggle to break the rule. But if you’re not hearing it, then the tune can have any number of bars (or even part bars) and you’ll be none the wiser.

Re: Trad. numbers of bars in parts 1 and 2 of Irish dance tunes

benhockenberry : I didn’t own up to tune being mine as I know Jeremy says this site isn’t really for self-written tunes. Also I’m mischievous at times. And if I want to send one of my tunes to a friend, it’s good to get it in printed notes rather than the more illegible hand-written script. Devious you may think but you may understand my motivation? I can’t do Sibelius and I am a poor OAP.

Thanks to all, I see that the DANCE rules the bar numbers for a tune, makes sense. As an aside, when I read Irish tunes on piano from Ir. folk dance books (2), the dance name and the tune name would come up, leading dotty Susan to get names mixed…

Re: Trad. numbers of bars in parts 1 and 2 of Irish dance tunes

For getting nicely formatted dots from your ABC, there are lots of sites that can help with that. Try https://www.mandolintab.net/abcconverter.php, punch in your ABC, hit ‘Submit’, then click the ‘pdf’ link below the dots, and you’ll have nicely formatted sheet music in a PDF to save, or send to friends!

Re: Trad. numbers of bars in parts 1 and 2 of Irish dance tunes

I know it’s English, but I’ve always found it interesting that the Morris tune "Sherborn Jig" is a jig in Part 1 and a waltz in Part 2. I don’t think I’ve heard any others like that.

Re: Trad. numbers of bars in parts 1 and 2 of Irish dance tunes

@ Whimbrel. If you mean this tune https://thesession.org/tunes/13491 then I have heard it played as a waltz "The Sherbourne Waltz" and as a Morris jig "The Orange in Bloom" . As one or the other all the way through.

I wouldn’t put it past an English session mixing things up for fun.

Re: Trad. numbers of bars in parts 1 and 2 of Irish dance tunes

Yes, I understand the motivations. Just a bit awkward!

Seconded to Reverend’s plug for the mandolintab.net converter as a quick fix for getting ABC into notation. For a more full-fledged tool, I use ABC Explorer on PC as a tool for generating decent sheet music out of ABC — easy enough to use, lots of playback and formatting options, transposition tools, the whole bit, and it’s free.

Re: Trad. numbers of bars in parts 1 and 2 of Irish dance tunes

So good, he played it twice.

Re: Trad. numbers of bars in parts 1 and 2 of Irish dance tunes

So good, it was posted twice!

Re: Trad. numbers of bars in parts 1 and 2 of Irish dance tunes

It’s not going into a waltz of course, but into what are called "slows." Lots of Morris tunes do this because they are following the form of the dance.

This is, of course, the answer to the original question too. The basic "rules", the patterns of numbers of bars and repeats etc. were set long ago in Country Dance. Traditional social dances in Britain and Ireland are variations and developments of Country Dance.

This can sometimes turn into a two way discussion of course, but the structure and style of dance music is basically determined by the needs of the dance.

Re: Trad. numbers of bars in parts 1 and 2 of Irish dance tunes

I’ve heard "slows" in Morris jigs before but assumed this was different, because in the others I’ve heard, they are usually played fully through at "normal" speed before they play it again with the second part slower.

Re: Trad. numbers of bars in parts 1 and 2 of Irish dance tunes

Well I suppose the majority of Scottish dance tunes are in 32 bar format, 16 bars each of 2 sections, but then there are dances that call for 40 bar or 48 bar sets too, and then there are a number of 4-part tunes (often pipe marches) used for Gay Gordons, Canadian Barn dances, Military Two-Steps and the like. But all multiples of 4!

As Andrew says, the "slows" in Morris dancing often relate to what is happening in the dance, especially such things as solo jigs, where there may be spectacular leaps into the air at this point, although they can happen in group dances too.

Re: Trad. numbers of bars in parts 1 and 2 of Irish dance tunes

Whimbrel : nice to know of an English dance tune’s 1/2 jig and 1/2 waltz. I suppose the dancers stop midway and waltz?? Would be great to watch. Haven’t had dancers join in any session I’ve been at.

Irish dance tunes also seem more given to exact nos of bars for parts 1 and 2 than Scottish? Do I understand aright? Meself, being a lousy dancer, am just keen on TUNES - disregarding dance conventions. And I think tunes I write reflect that, I call a jig 6/8 time and just make up my tune regardless (some sounding good to me though not "right" according to Irish dance conventions on this website!)

Am finding comments here most enlightening, thanks.

Re: Trad. numbers of bars in parts 1 and 2 of Irish dance tunes

I think the so-called "mischievous" use of TheSession to store and print scores of self-written material isn’t in the spirit of the site. Jeremy is reasonably flexible/practical in how ITM relevance is policed and interpreted but materials which don’t fall into the ITM classification aren’t "fair use".

Curated data sets which form the core of the site (tunes, recordings, sets) are an invaluable shared COMMUNITY resource. A huge community RELIES on the quality of the tunes for sharing and developing repertoire. Many volunteers have spent significant time and effort in entering, referencing and commenting on RELEVANT collections of tunes and settings. PROVENANCE and quality of transcriptions do matter. It is important that they are genuinely part of the Irish TRADITIONAL Music corpus.

"Contributions" outside the ITM genre really isn’t adding to that store of knowledge, especially if intentionally mislabelled. TheSession is "open" for contribution which is a huge strength. It is based on an honour system/trust that contributions are relevant and correctly classified as to source, authorship etc.

The good news is that, as some have outlined, there is no need to circumvent the rules to obtain a nice PDF printed sheet music of your compositions for sharing with friends. The free online service at http://www.mandolintab.net/abcconverter.php will take any ABC tune and generate the necessary score. There are also nice text editors which support ABC including display of the score - some of which are free like EasyABC (PC/Mac) and ABCExplorer (PC only). Unfortunately the EasyABC is 32-bit application only and so doesn’t run on the latest MacOS ๐Ÿ™

Keep up the composing. The world needs plenty of tunes with irregular bar counts and unorthodox structure. Variety is the spice of life. They may prove to be a bit of a challenge for ordinary mortals to dance to. The pattern of Jigs/Reels/Hornpipes/Polka’s is regular and structured so a fella isn’t left with a foot dangling in the air unexpectedly during or at the end of a phrase. Cheers and best wishes

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Re: Trad. numbers of bars in parts 1 and 2 of Irish dance tunes

"nice to know of an English dance tuneโ€™s 1/2 jig and 1/2 waltz." … no. Really, no. No-one is playing 1/2 waltzes or jigs. The basic construct of a waltz or a jig tune is the same as in Irish traditional music. Morris is a display dance, not a social dance. Therefore its form is different, ie. it makes a display that is designed to be watched.

Here’s a whole Youtube channel of decent Morris videos. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCbfSy6XGvrpl9L0XFhKl9lw

Now I’ll get back to the Irish stuff ๐Ÿ™‚

Re: Trad. numbers of bars in parts 1 and 2 of Irish dance tunes

OK, dances and tunes.

The form of Irish traditional dance music (I put it in that way because there are obviously airs and show pieces not meant to be danced) has a symbiotic relationship with dance. It would not sound like it does, or be played like it is if not for dance. Irish traditional music would exist in an entirely different form if it was not danced to.

If you want to understand why it is structured like it is, in sets of 4, 8, 16, 32, 48 bars, and why some dance tunes are different (40 bars or something), you have to refer back to the dances.

You want your playing to have lift? You want to articulate the tunes in the traditional way, something that moves people, gets their foot tapping? This is all because this is dance music.

Now, someone could say, ah, but we can do what we like, right? We don’t have to follow the "rules", we’re not bound by the strictures of dance. OK, do that, but if you ignore half of the tradition, then you’re no longer playing traditional music but something else. It may be nice, you or I may enjoy it, but it’s still something else.

OK, last point. One of the things that happens in traditional music is that it changes its form in different social situations. Though informed by the dance, I wouldn’t play the same way for actual dancers as I do in a session. Tunes are played differently in a concert band setting to a dance band setting, a solo spot in a folk club, or for step dancers. However, for me, if you lose the fundamental understanding that these are dance tunes, then you lose the whole purpose and character of traditional dance music.

Re: Trad. numbers of bars in parts 1 and 2 of Irish dance tunes

Briefly getting back to that morris jig. If you search youtube for "Lord Sherborne’s jig" there are several clips which make clear Andrew W’s point that it is a display dance. The dance rhythm of the second part comes through quite clearly in the stomping feet and jingling bells of the solo dancer.

A waltz it is not.

Re: Trad. numbers of bars in parts 1 and 2 of Irish dance tunes

"Irish dance tunes also seem more given to exact nos of bars for parts 1 and 2 than Scottish?"

What do you mean here? A tune is a tune. The number of bars are usually divisible by 4 whether people dance or not. There is also the element of call and response, and resolution. Even extra half bars in crooked tunes from other traditions have some kind of logic. I find tunes that have too short or long phrases somewhat less straightforward.