Why does everyone here hate the bodhran?
What’s up with the extreme, loathsome and seemingly undeserved hatred for the bodhran here on the session? What do you have against it? I really don’t know why you all seem to hate it so much. Just curious.
What’s up with the extreme, loathsome and seemingly undeserved hatred for the bodhran here on the session? What do you have against it? I really don’t know why you all seem to hate it so much. Just curious.
I think the % of people on here who truly despise bodhran playing in any shape or form is probably pretty low.
I think what some people don’t like is people who want to show up to a session, don’t know any of the tunes, and then play along with all of the tunes. It can happen on any instrument. Bodhran and guitar are probably the most common two but I used to attend a session where someone would show up with a flute and not know the tunes and then play an improvised melody along with the tune to the point where if I was sitting next to that person it would be difficult to hear the tune. I think the main focus of the session is the tunes and people can add to it and that’s fine but when you’re distracting from the tunes it can become a problem.
‘I really don’t know why you ALL seem to hate it so much’ - please dont include me, I like it just fine when its played well. Unfortunately because many people assume [wrongly] that its easy, so it gets played badly much too often.
Its fine if played like Johnny Ringo Mcdonagh.
Two reasons, both based around how distracting it can be to other musicians:
1. when it is played out of time.
2. when it is played too loud.
A good Bodhran player can really enhance a session by providing a solid rhythm for the melody players to lock into. The opposite can literally kill a session. Add cluenessness to the mix and the annoyance factor is high.
More than one Bodhran player can add to the unpleasantness, if they are out of sync or overpowering.
Most likely it gets a bad rap because 99% of the folks that play it picked it up because they didn’t care to spend the effort on learning another more difficult instrument, and the bodhran seemed easy enough to them. Therefore, they haven’t put in the effort to actually learn it more than the rudimentary techniques of banging along to a jig or reel, and sometimes they don’t even know the difference in that timing. I play in a pub that has a bodhran hanging on the wall as a decoration. Several times I have seen members of the audience pluck it off the wall and start beating on it to join in. I think it’s that mentality of wanting join in as a player as opposed to just being a spectator. Makes them feel like a musician, so they can get the free pints.
A man carrying a dark bag quietly entered the pub one late evening and the owner immediately noticed he seemed edgy and out of place. "What’s in the bag?" He inquired.
"Semtex" - the man whispered nervously..
"Oh thank Christ" replied the bar owner, "I thought it was a bodhran"
Q: How many bodhran players does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Who cares - it’s the melody players’ job to know when to change - HUP!
Here is a little video linked below that should help.
Some people think that because they can take a stick and make a sound on a bodrhan that they know how to play and they don’t take the time and effort to learn the music and understand the roll of the drum and importance of learning to play it well. That is annoying no matter what instrument but it seems to happen more with the bodrhan.
I don’t think most players really hate the bodhran, but recognize its potential for ruining otherwise excellent music. I think this is on account of two factors:
1. The bodhran seems like an easy entry point to Irish music. It appears from the outside to be a simple matter of understanding the technique of the instrument and keeping time along with the music, leading a lot of newbies to believe they can learn the basics and jump in without having to understand the music on a deeper level. Experienced players know that the rhythm is perhaps the most important element of the music, but this is not immediately apparent to someone on the outside.
2. The bodhran has an outsized effect on the shape of the music. If you add a third fiddle player to a session who doesn’t have excellent rhythm or plays a few sour notes, it will be noticed, but the sound will more or less blend into the session. The poor playing will usually stand on its own. When a bodhran is played poorly, it disrupts the rhythm of all the players. I had an experience just this week with some excellent players in a closed session who allowed a bodhran player we didn’t know to sit in, and it immediately sounded like none of us knew what we were doing. When the rhythm is disrupted, the glue of the music goes gloopy.
3. The bodhran CAN be loud. The bodhran shouldn’t be loud most of the time, but it is very easily to play very loudly. When you’re developing technique on the bodhran, overplaying is a lot easier than underplaying. I dare say you almost need to overplay a bit in private to get the feel of the stroke. When a player lacks the guidance to be told this is not how you should play in a session, the result is cacophonous. I WAS that bodhran player when I started, and was fortunate to have kind folks who told me I needed to do things differently.
4. The bodhran lacks abundant resources for learning good fundamentals. I have run up against this as a teacher, trying to give my students recordings to listen to. You can find abundant video lessons on YouTube for how to play, but good examples of simple rhythms played in a session or group have to be looked for. Most of what you find when you look for examples of bodhran playing and what you hear in prominent recordings is stylized, syncopated, and (often delightfully) tripletified. These styles add enormous color when employed tastefully by a player who gets the music and knows the fundamentals, but when used incorrectly they draw the ear away from the melody for many consecutive measures of music, which should never happen. Beginners don’t really know the difference, though. It’s no wonder players skip the fundamentals of the instrument because they often don’t know what they are, and bodhran teachers seem to be much less thick on the ground than other instruments.
In conclusion, I do not think there is a lot of hate for the bodhran itself. If every bodhran player approached the instrument with the patience and seriousness of flute or pipes, I doubt there would be any bodhran stigma. But too many folks have sat next to someone who in some combination, 1) doesn’t know the music, 2) doesn’t realize the disruption they’re causing to the music, 3) overplays and drowns out half the room, and 4) plays over-syncopated, triplety noise that distracts from the melody.
It makes sense for folks to be a bit gun-shy after all that. A bodhran player is like a seasoning. It can sweeten a dish, or just as easily ruin it, so make sure you know what the flavor is before you throw it in the pot.
If one reads my previous comment attentively, they’ll understand the real problem: bodhran players can’t count.
My thought is this: When you play for a dancer, particularly in sean nós dancing, it is the dancers job to ´point-up´ and to make ´tell´ the rhythmic beauty of the melody being played. When the melody player and the dancer are in synch, even to the point of minor rythmic variations, it can become a timeless experience for the ages. It would help if no one were issued a bodhran until they can dance more than a step or two… .
Most trad players hate bodhráns because they are all vegans and vegetarians. And they don’t like to witness cruelty inflicted on bits of goat, even though they are dead. That’s a fact. Honest.
"… folks that play it picked it up because they didn’t care to spend the effort on learning another more difficult instrument …"
The fact that there are bad players out there only shows that the bodhrán is, like any instrument, a difficult instrument to play well.
Could probably have been reworded as "spend the effort on learning what they perceived to be another more difficult instrument". The sentiment is correct.
Many years ago at Girvan Festival, there was a bodhran player thumping away on his own and protesting that nobody was joining in with his tunes. He seemed to think that everyone was being unsociable.
Some of the musicians there tried to explain that his accompaniment could have fitted any number of tunes(or not) and it was impossible for them to tell which "tune" he was playing.
However, it all fell on "deaf ears" … 🙂
Unfortunate that even good people responded to the OP’s baiting wind-up.
In ITM, I think it’s really important to try, especially if you haven’t got a clue what you’re doing. Bring a bodhran for your first few sessions, or if you can’t afford one, borrow some spoons from the bar. Eventually you’ll be ready to start playing the tin whistle. At ten bucks, it’s a great way to join the fun without spending any money. Or time, even. There’s only six different holes, so it’s tough to screw up.
Or you could bring a guitar! You can see how welcoming a session is to guitar players by counting how many guitar players are already there. (The more guitar players there are, the more welcome they obviously are.) Most of the chords you learned around the campfire in your Bob Dylan / Simon and Garfunkel days will work just fine, as long as you’re random about the order you play them in and don’t get stuck in any predictable rhythm structure.
bow wow rans made from dog skin are very scary.
The Bodhran at sessions I play, is used by people with no musical talent, so they can feel like they are joining in the fun. This desire manifests itself in trying to follow the melody line instead of laying down a fundamental beat. In general, they are not students of music.
‘However it all fell on "deaf ears"…’
Hi Johnny Jay
That’s so funny!
Do you know that bodhrán means a deaf person. It’s actually the first definition in Foclóir Gaeilge - Béarla.
So, your comment was very in keeping with the definition!
All the best
PS Which Girvan was that?
"The Bodhran at sessions I play, is used by people with no musical talent, so they can feel like they are joining in the fun."
My good fortune then that at the session I attend the bodhran player knows all the tunes and is a very sympathetic player, in that you only appreciate what he adds when he’s not there.
They’re just jealous ‘cos they can’t play it properly and have no sense of timing or rhythm!
Ok, tongue in cheek, but I came to it as a previous orchestral percussionist and knew well what damnation would be heaped upon me if I ever played out of time, stamped my foot as I played, or participated in any other such nonsense!
It was not that easy to translate from playing an isolated suspended cymbal roll in bar 397 to playing competently on time in every one of those 397 bars, but I served my apprenticeship by going to a bodhran workshop every day of the week two years running at the same festival BEFORE ever launching myself on the innocent and unsuspecting public of snooty am-I-not-just-wonderful-instrument players and bodhran-haters.
I rest my case, your honour! 😉
Because they’re jealous that someone who just bought one a month ago was able to master it, and join a session without having first put in decades of practice on any other instrument before even daring to show up at a session. Also, because they don’t know how to pronounce the word.
NOBODY, but NOBODY…….can master it in a month, halfwaythere! And that is the whole point! Being less tongue in cheek, and more serious now! The hatred comes from those who have suffered, as others have said, inconsiderate numpties who think they can just pluck one off the wall, or buy a cheap one second-hand and go straight into a session and batter away…. out of time, wrong time signature, play through everything (even slow airs) and so on.
And following on from what Johnny Jay said further up the thread: I once heard a bodhranista complaining, on the Sunday evening of a weekend festival, rhat his wrist was very sore after so much playing: I bit my tongue, but was tempted to say, "If you hadn’t insisted on playing through every single tune, your wrist might be feeling OK".
Wasn’t going to weigh in here, but I changed my mind. The issue isn’t about the round goatskin it’s much bigger than that. Over my years I’ve been involved with auditioning a lot of drummers. Almost all of them could pound mercilessly on a lot of "drummy" things with no real relation to what a tune/song was doing. (I’ve been exposed to endless variations of simple triplets). The minority were musicians. Thus it’s not a bodhran problem it’s the chair/drum interface. And that’s why a drummer who can keep time, playing with the music instead of in spite of it, is pure GOLD!
Good bodhran playing can be a great asset for getting lift into a tune. I like good bodhran playing. However, such playing needs to be informed by the melody of any given tune because the melody of the tune sets the rhythm by demanding for each note a beat count - whole note, quarter note, etc. This rhythmic structure is innate to a given tune.
Good bodhran playing follows the melody like a hawk (listen to Kevin Conneff of the Chieftains, for example). A bodhran player who doesn’t know the melody cannot coordinate their playing with the melody. The result is disruption - it becomes difficult for the melody players to stay on beat because they are actually hearing two different rhythms: the tune itself with it’s own intrinsic rhythm, and the unconnected improvisation coming from a player who doesn’t know the melody. The music is thus made inferior to what it might be if everyone playing knew the tune properly.
because despite what many drum players think irish traditional music sounds perfectly wonderful without a drum. it frequently sounds worse when one is added. I feel qualified to make this comment as a guitarist who took longer than it should have to realise the same thing about guitars. 🙂
I think that we can extend the topic like “why musicians hate percussionists”. I remember this sentence when I first opened my drum learning book:
“In a band, when something goes wrong, they will blame the drummer.”
Before shifting to the fiddle, I used to play the percussions for about 15 years, in bands and at jam session.
When playing in an acoustic context I think a percussionist must follow three golden rules, that make the difference between a (some) good percussionist and (many) bad.
1. Keep the time.
2. Keep the volume.
3. Keep it simple.
The most annoying thing is a rhythm line that goes out of time, shakes the beers in hand to the audience and it is a solo that starts at the beginning of the session and terminates when everybody has left the place.
Maybe I am wrong, but I think that the best percussion line is which you forget about during the song/tune. But many percussionist do not understand that, so there is this bias.
Aside consideration: making noise with a bodhran it is easy. Playing it is not.
Somone, though your three points made above are true, as are most of the bodhran playing points made on this thread, unfortunately they make little difference. The problem is not good bodhran players, it’s the countless terrible ones who pick it up as a vehicle to join sessions, who will never read these posts and are oblivious to the fact they are usually ruining the music. Most tune players, I think, are happy with a good bodhran player or guitar player, but there’s an uncomfortably high probability that a random turning up at your, or my session is not one of them. That’s why most tune players share a feeling of dread when one of these instrument cases are carried through the door. It’s nothing to do with "hate the bodhran".
I love it when it’s played well!
Anything back from the OP? Or was it as Barry Morse suggested, just a wind up ? Summed up in the quaint old English saying ‘throw the cat amongst the pigeons’ ……………………
I don’t know. Maybe it’s time to "Wrap it Up"?
thanks JJ - Gino Lupari, the original Goatskin Hero………………..
One bodhran is ok, two is a mess
I was playing in a session recently where a bodhran player was playing significantly behind the beat, and it just kept dragging everybody down, slower and slower. Even when I was leading sets on the percussive banjo, I felt like I was slogging through mud trying to keep any semblance of tempo and lift. So there are legitimate reasons for disliking the bodhran, or at least certain bodhran players…
But I chalk a lot of the bodhran negativity here to pure and simple slagging. Just like the banjo players. If you’re going to play an instrument with a skin on it, you better make sure you have a thick skin 😉
Reverend, about playing behind the beat - I’ve experienced this too, with bodhran players and drummers, also with electric bass players.
If they are otherwise playing "in time", do you think the time lag is because of poor motor skills ?
(If I remember rightly, you did an essay on this subject many years ago ?)
I wouldn’t say I did an essay, but I had a few long posts about it here 10-12 years ago. One was about a fiddler who played in front of the beat, and I wasn’t disciplined enough as a player to hold steady, so I would match him, and he would feel like I was speeding up, and it would become a vicious circle of acceleration… In this recent case, the bodhran player was just staring off into space from their lonely little space capsule, where all they were paying attention to was their own little bubble of tempo.
I think "dragging" is common to all instruments. My experience, sometimes as an observer and sometimes as the guilty party, comes from either not knowing the tune and where it’s going (as with a backer) and/or a lack of confidence with the instrument. Too often backers jump in with almost no knowledge of the tune and it’s lift, and just as often melody players don’t know the tune well enough or where "that note" is on their instrument. Either way leads to following the notes and not playing the tune. A drummer, "strummy thing" player, or bassist (of which I am) who ignores the melody in favor of his own riff is guilty of a felony at least.
Can’t say much about somebody who plays ahead of the beat. I think sometimes it’s just somebody whose in love with the sound of is own instrument, a showoff. Or, as with one fiddler I know, doesn’t always play the full value of some of the notes. Oh, and sometimes playing a bit behind or ahead of the beat can be creative, just not very often, not very much, and always on purpose.
Playing consistently in front of or behind the beat - "personal equation?"
I understand the term came from astronomy?
I tremendously enjoy good bodhran playing. It adds much.
Here’s a fine example. Look at her focus and concentration, how she’s in complete sync with the piper
and it’s tough for me to imagine this performance without the bodhran; it’s made itself essential to the overall sound and arrangement
Simple: haters gonna hate
‘’Here’s a fine example. Look at her focus and concentration, how she’s in complete sync with the piper”
I’ve played in a session with her before, her name is Nicolle Fig and she’s great! Nary a beat out of place…
She’s super. That’s the video that I share with drummer friends who ask "what is a bodhran?" and "how do you play it?"
THAT is how you play it.
(No flies on the piper either.)
If a new bodhran owner were to read up on this web site about the rhythm of a hop jig (I just did) and play what they read to that piping, without listening, then I think it would screw up the rhythm.
At a big session in London years ago a guy walked in with a beautiful leather case and took out a very nice looking bodhran and he was useless, later a guy arrived with a round cardboard box and took out a very shabby looking bodhran and he was worse than the first guy.
@ross faison: it’s people who just do not listen to the other musicians around them. Sure, to oneself, your own instrument will probably sound the loudest, but you HAVE to get beyond that and listen to what others are playing. In rock mysic, the ethos is "follow the drummer"; more like " follow the lead melody player" for playing trad music and bodhran.
My sentiments exactly Trish. Failure to listen is probably the best way to not fit in. As for "follow the drummer", well, it works if the drummer is any good.
gooseinthenettles That made me laugh out loud!
Anyone have a title for the last tune in 4 Winds ‘Tandragee Set ’ above? It’s been earworming me for a week now and its driving me slowly crazy………………
Parnells March, yes. Thanks Cheeky Elf!
"I once heard a bodhranista complaining"
The correct term is "bodhranus" and the plural is "bodhranii" (pronounced "bo rawn ee eye")
Here endeth the lesson.
What’s not to like?
It is not the bodhran itself that is the object of ire. It is the wannabe muicians who come in and bang away. I used to play bodhran, I learned to play in the early 80s at the Boston Comhaltas sessions. I learned to follow the melody and add a percussive enhancement to the song. I learned when to play simple, when to roll and how effective an occasional rim shot can be (Ringo McDonagh style). I also learned button accordion so I was familiar with the tunes we played. I have to laugh, when at a session, someone starts to move their hand around the head to play a melody on a percussion instrument. They think it is so cool. This is fine for solos but when other instruments are playing it is right out! They are usually "out to lunch" with their playing. I got so fed up with these "bangers" that I stopped playing bodhran, and I was pretty good according to the musicians I played with. And yes, I have seen multiple "bangers" going at it at a session. I just sit and smile until it passes. A bodhran well played is a asset at a session. Unfortunately, they are few and far between.
Some bodhran players try to control the pitch and emulate a melody. Mostly bodhran is a percussive,
rhythmic instrument with no distinct tonal qualities. But every good drummer knows how to use tone effectively. Tone matters; even when it’s percussive. Definitely a bodhran player shouldn’t assume more than they or their instrument is capable of when a melody instrument is playing a tune. Some very repetitive tunes are more rhythmic than melodic; great with bodhran. Other tunes are very melodic and percussive instruments should listen and follow so the melody comes through the melody instruments. I hope I’m preaching to the choir.
When in doubt set your instrument down & listen. That is one way I contribute in a session.
"Bodhranista": I lay claim to having invented the term: I like it: I’m keeping it! Tough. MP1996.
And in answer to AB: the bodhran DOES have a pitch range, and can be used to follow the tune in ups and downs. We had a bodhran workshop whole weekend event in Edinburgh some years ago at which one of the esteemed bodhranistas mentioned by name, not too far above in this thread, told us all to "tune all your bodhrans to D". As an ex-timpanist, where you CAN tune your drum to a definite pitch, I was a bit gobsmacked, having previously thought of the bodhran as being a drum of indefinite pitch, but with a wide range of potential sounds in the hands of a skilled player, especially one who knows exactly what they are doing with the hand on the reverse side of the skin, and not just using said hand like a windscreen wiper, as is so often seen!
Good post, Santer.
"Bodhrans and banjos, here they go again
An instrumental nightmare that never seems to end
There’s singing in the kitchen and there’s fiddling in the hall
But bodhrans and banjos massacre them all"
I do not hate any instrument. I love a player who knows how to play with session mates.
Having said that I appreciate a banjo player who sounds each and every note and a bodhran player who doesn’t.
Banjo is a wonderful instrument in it’s simplicity. Even though the player/the instrument may be capable of ‘more’ I savour & envy the tune when it’s played in it’s most basic strain. Bodhran (no doubt) has been lifted to previously unimagined virtuosity. It blows me away and I’m sure many bodhranistas are eager to strive for pure melody & forget anything which suggests they are percussive players. In my mind percussive rhythm is not a 4-letter word. It is in the roots of the tunes.
Also good post, AB.
Btw, it was one of the younger tutors at that bodhran workshop weekend, not Johnny R McD, who told us to tune to D!
Ah, that song by Ian McCalman, Johnny Jay!
I just came across this discussion, which looks to be a couple of years old. As a bodhran player myself, I felt my self-esteem collapsing with each new comment I read, thinking "Maybe I suck and nobody has the heart to tell me!"
Anyway, here is my perspective. I am relatively new to the bodhran (5 years) but I have played the double bass for 20 years and the electric bass for 40. To be a "good" bass player (i.e. other musicians want you to play with them) you need to learn two characteristics that are also vital for bodhran: timing and humility. Timing is obvious. A bass player or bodhran player without good timing is failing at their primary role: keeping the beat and setting a groove that makes all the other players sound better. Your role is supportive. We know that nobody is there to hear the bass or the bodhran*. You need to play just the right amount of notes so that you aren’t that noticeable when you’re playing, but there is something important missing when you are not. Here’s my controversial opinion - I don’t believe that bodhran players need to be highly skilled, technically proficient musicians; they do need to be highly musical. You need to hear and understand how each of the other instruments and vocalists contribute to the overall sound and do what needs to be done. Then you can be the glue that holds everything together.
*This point notwithstanding, a tasteful solo no more than once in a performance can be a read crowd-pleaser that raises the energy in the room to the benefit of the whole band once your shining moment is over.
"With a penknife" is the "where’s the beef" of ITM, except that for some people it never gets old.
"Then you can be the glue that holds everything together." I don’t think that’s the role of a drum in this music. In some of the "not trad all the time" bands I have enjoyed the drum(s) and bass can overtly switch - between tune sets - into and out of the role of laying down something that gave the melody more freedom.
The other role being ‘accompaniment’.
Agree with you 100% David50. The key is to know how trad the other musicians are. I have played in bluegrass bands who love slap bass and some that are horrified by it.
bodhran lover here!
I go to irish music concerts and irish sessions to hear and to listen to bodhran players (and
mandolin/cbom players). our sound guys proudly get amazing sound and tone from them,
especially from those small diameter drums with deep walls that are popular these days.
In our town, bodhran players have rhythm and taste, take lessons, practice at home and are
welcome at sessions. I am sorry to hear that elsewhere things are different.
I actually haven’t heard "bad" bodhran yet! I think that somehow, the bad ones get subtly "chased away" from sessions? Well it’s either that, or I just like all bodhran-playing whether good or bad, and as an American, I have no taste… 🙂
Don’t hate it - used to play it a long time ago - but the truth is that the music sounds just fine without the bodhran. The rhythm is there in the tunes already, so it doesn’t require ‘supporting’. And a bad player will actively harm the session. And when *two or more* bodhrans turn up you Cannot have both playing together. So several strikes against it, if you’ll pardon the expression.