Frustrating tunes

Frustrating tunes

OK, I mentioned it in the "When you hit a roadblock" discussion, and I really want to know your opinion about that. So here it goes:

I’m sure all of you have found yourself struggling with a tune, and eventually realising (or maybe convincing yourselves after hours of unsuccesful practicing and a deep feeling of frustration) that the tune was originally intended for another instrument. Haven’t you?

So here’s my proposal:

Could you guys name those ‘reluctant’ tunes and the instrument you believe is most suitable for??

It might be silly, but I think it’ll be good fun.

I’ll start with a few of them, my wannabe but neverwillbe favourite whistle tunes:

The Atholl Highlanders (fiddle tune)
The Humours of Tulla (fiddle/box)
Around the World -aka The Wise Maid- (fiddle)
The First Slip (fiddle/box)

Note that, as a whistle player, most of the tunes in my list are what I believe fiddle tunes. No flute or pipes tunes, obviously. So I’m really interested on what you mighty fiddlers will say.

Happy Easter.

Toni

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We often run into this when trying to figure out which tunes to play, me and Dirk, since I play fiddle and he plays the pipes and sometimes there are just tunes that aren’t set up well or at least easily for the pipes (especially the newer ones). It doesn’t help that we’re relative beginners and are still finding our way around woogy-ing the tunes to work for us. The two that leap to mind:

Fly Fishing Reel (fiddle/box) (I’m noticing a trend here already)
Gravel Walk to Grania’s (fiddle, although playable by the pipes, but definitely NOT a natural flute tune)

Zina

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Wow, just Tuesday Night I went to a session where the "Wise Maid" was accused of being non fiddle friendly & the "Gravel Walks" as being a Flute tune.

I think it’s the approach one takes to a tune, also it’s good not to get married to a written setting of a tune. If there’s a AFA triplet that’s pretty easy on flute/whistle/pipes but is more difficult on fiddle. However just a straight AAA triplet will generally produce the same effect & your not busting your hump trying to sort out a triplet when you should be realising the tune as a whole. Oftentimes in music ornaments are written in but when learning a tune leave them out till you’ve got the tune together.

All that aside I would feel safe in saying that "The Banks Hornpipe", "Dowd’s Favourite" & "Paddy Ryan’s Dream" are slanted towards the fiddle.

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I thought the Atholl Highlanders was unpleasant on any instrument 😀
It’s certainly not my favorite on fiddle….

The problem with this line of reasoning is that a tune can have different settings for different instruments and so appear to "lean" one way or the other depending on which setting you’re looking at. Farewell to Erin, for example, comes in two flavors—a pipe/flute friendly version, and a fiddle version that runs the A Part mostly on the 4th string, below the standard D flute range.

Other tunes seem to work on anything—the reel Boys of the Lough is relatively easy on whistle, flute, fiddle, and box.

I don’t disagree that many tunes reflect the advantages and limitations of the instruments they were orginally composed on—they seem ready made for fiddle, say, and less inviting on other instruments. But I wouldn’t want to use that as an excuse to avoid certain tunes. On whistle, it helps to have whistles in several different keys so you can find a fingering that will fit a tune. For example, you can play Burning of the Piper’s Hut in E dorian or A dorian on a D whistle, but E dorian is easier. If you want to play it in (the more common in my area) A dorian, buy a low G whistle. This is at least part of the reason behind Whistle Obsessive Acquisition Disorder…one of our local whistle wizards has so many that he carries his arsenal around in a foam-lined rifle case.

In the end, it usually comes down to finding a technique or approach to a tune that will allow it to happen on your instrument. I play Boys of the Lough on both fiddle and whistle. They’re different settings—some of the rolls go in different places and I do some triplets on fiddle—but they blend together just fine. Mary Bergin’s version of Last Night’s Fun doesn’t translate well onto fiddle, but I can play my fiddle version along with her on tape and she doesn’t miss a beat (and she sounds just fine on my end too 🙂.

Sometimes it’s a matter of finding the technical key to unlock a problem (like the bowing example I gave on the other thread for the fourth part of Maid at the Spinningwheel). Then a tune that seemed impossible can become one of your favorites.

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Another way to look at this is that a tune that could use a lot of low D crans would be avoided by a beginner flutist who doesn’t have crans working yet, but the same tune might offer an advanced flutist a chance to shine. Same with other instruments. I think Brad listed Maids of Mount K(C)isco as an easy flute tune on another thread, and I think of it as a relatively easy fiddle tune—but ONLY if you’ve got your bowed triplets working well. Without those triplets, it would frustrate the most determined fiddler.

Is this making sense?

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Yeah Will, having whistles in different keys is one solution … but you cannot keep changing whistles on the same set during a gig. Can you?

Brad has a point here, I also believe is the way one approaches the tune, and I also agree on ‘the marriage’ point. But if the player is not familiar yet with these tricks experienced players can do, he/she can get tired of fighting with the tune and give it up.

C’mon boys. This is getting interesting.

Toni

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Ask Matt Molloy what he considers frustrating. He seems to be able to play ANYTHING on the flute!

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Well, if we’re going to build a typology of tunes, how about saying that all tunes in G are insufferable on fiddle? Locally, we do a set of Boys of the Lough, Dunmore Lasses, and Peeler’s Jacket. A whistle player put this set together, and by the time we hit Peeler’s (usually at mach 9 when the whistler’s around), my left hand is starting to wear out. And here we are in a blessed G tune. Mind you, not a particularly difficult G tune, but it feels like I’ve got two or three fingers clamped to the strings most of the time, trying to squeeze in rolls and cut notes, and then you get this goofy downhill run at the end of Part B that asks you to stretch all those cramped fingers and make ‘em fly in a counter-intuitive little pattern. Aarrggghhh! Maybe it’s just me, but despite going hypnotic and transcendental hoping to keep my left hand relaxed, I’m usually in a knot of full lactic acid burn by then. And the whistler just whips through it all, and he’d be smiling if he could…..

Does this mean that no G tunes were composed on the fiddle? Of course not. But G tunes typically demand a more agile left hand and lots of string crossings for the bow, relative to tunes in D or A or E dorian anyway. So they’re rarely "easy" beginner type tunes on fiddle. If I were going to teach a newcomer how to play Foxhunter’s Reel on fiddle, it would be in A, not G, though the G setting is considered a showpiece of sorts for fiddlers. My discomfort with Peeler’s Jacket is more a symptom of my limits, not the fiddle’s.

I just wonder how useful it really is to try to class tunes by instrument. I prefer to approach each tune as an individual, perhaps acknowledging where it belongs in a family of tunes (for example, understanding that Rakish Paddy, Bank of Ireland, and Jenny Picking Cockles are all cousins), but not worrying too much about whether it’s a pipe tune or harp tune or whatever.

And on the question of switching whistles mid-set, yes, I’ve seen it done. We also have a guitar-bouzouki player who juggles those instruments from tune to tune. When we’ve arranged sets for gigs, we tend to build them around his shifts from one to the other.

Zina mentioned Gravel Walks as "not a flute tune," and that’s the sense I got from the wooden flute listserve. But then someone logged on and explained how they played the tricky passages and talked about how rewarding it was to play Gravel Walks on flute….

I dunno.

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Fiddling in G

That’s very interesting. I though they’d be good for you, having so many open strings you can use (that is, all of them!). But G tunes are very nice on the flute.

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Ah, well, note that I said not a NATURAL flute tune. I love the tune itself, and it certainly is an audience pleaser, and I’ve heard some great flute renditions of it, but I do know flute players who play it beautifully who will still tell you that they hate it. *grin*

zls

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Glauber, the problem is that most G tunes make use of the A and E strings, which are less important notes in G major than in D or A major. So you end up holding the G, B, and D notes a lot.

Heh, Zina, since I’m new at flute and still very much enjoying the total lack of ability I have for it, I can assure you that there is no such thing as a "natural" flute tune—they’re all quite impossible. I am working on just blowing an A note in polka time. I call it the Table Leg Polka (aren’t polkas the "Barney songs" of ITM?). *Grin back at ya*

Did I ever tell you guys about the gig we played where our guitar player came out in the head of a purple Barney costume? We billed him as "Blarney" the Irish dinosaur….

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Another way of looking at "frustrating tunes" just occurred to me. I heard an interview once of Martin Hayes, and he was asked why he still plays the fiddle he got from his attic when he was 7. The interviewer pointed out that Martin had gotten to play a Guarneri and an Amati at the Library of Congress (or some other repository of old things—seems odd to play a fiddle in a library!).

Martin said that rather than think of "good" fiddles and "bad" fiddles, he preferred to think that some fiddles were just easier to get the sound out of that he was looking for. In other words, he could eventually get *that* sound out of most any fiddle, but it would take some noodling around.

I think the same is true of tunes. It’s possible to get the sound you’re looking for out of most any tune, but it will be easier on some than on others. Call the "others" frustrating, or just think of them as needing a little more time.

To take this to an extreme, I’d wager that Frankie Gavin could drop an accordion (*grin*) down a flight of stairs, tape record the notes it played on the way down, and then play ‘em on fiddle and make it swing. *cheesy grin*

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just one other tune to add to the discussion:

Fred Finn’s Reel- a flute tune by far
thats all

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Ha, ha. I agree Will, all tunes are quite impossible for a flute beginer.
As for The Foxhunters, I struggled a lot to learn it in G, with this awful changes from B to C natural and back to B that drive me mad, to find out later on than the rest of band (box and fiddle players) decided to play it in A.
Aaaaaargh!
I sometimes change whistles in the middle of a set, but I don’t like to do it very often, and when I do so, it is to play a low whistle instead, which gives the set a ‘different sound’.

I also agree with Niamh that Fred Finn’s is a flute tune.
BTW, I believe Peeler’s Jacket is very suitable on pipes

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A while ago Zina brought up a point about teaching her students dance - she said do not use the term "can’t". I feel the same way when I approach terms I try to stay away from "hard" or "frustrating" & stick to "New" or "Different". When I first delved into the world of Flat keyed tunes (Bb, F, C) I knew it was possible, it’s not really harder - just not what I’m used to. Same goes for the tune "Bunker Hill" I learned it a little bit earlier than I should have & at the time I thought it was "Hard" in retrospect it’s not really hard - it’s just different. Once you get those things under your belt your all the better for it.

Will said the same thing about the "Maid at the Spinning Wheel" the fourth part was difficult for him when he first learned it - but now it’s second nature & one of his favorite tunes. You just need to keep the nose at the grindstone while keeping your chin up. That’s the only "hard" part.

Wow, Someone must’ve slipped me a ‘lude ;o)
~b

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Hi ya -

Anyone want to identify Spike Island Lassies? Although I have the notes, the ABC’s, and three awesome taped recordings in order to learn it, and have been working on it for nearly a year and a half (on box) I wondered if it might have come from another planet. It reminds me of Bunker Hill in its’ "loopiness," but much worse. Comments welcome. Gail

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hey
this is a very interesting discussion. sometimes I thought that I

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Oddly enough, Bunker Hill is one of my favorites (that lovely quarter note in the second measure is such a great moment! I don’t ornament it at all, so as not to ruin it) and I don’t find it a weird tune at all, but I can’t make heads or tails of Christmas Eve, which I also love. Is Spike Island and the Dionne in the archives? I’ll have to go look…

Zina

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*Ahem* Gail and Quincy, neither Spike Island Lassies nor the Dionne are in the tune archives. Would you mind posting them so I can be lazy and not go hunting them down? hehehe.

Zina

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Great discussion folks! I was really having a hard time with "Gravel Walks" at first. But, I love the tune, and I stuck with it. Since it was such a challenge for me on the pipes, I had to slow down until it was excruciating, and I still couldn’t play it, and I had to swallow my tangled nerves and slow down some more. This went on for weeks. Eventually, something clicked, and I figured out how to do what was previously impossible - hitting the upper octave A cold after the lower octave A and back again rapidly.

As a result, I can now play an ornament that I could never get before on another tune.

These tough tunes are great! It is so much fun to play "Gravel Walks" now, because I’ve learned so much from it.

I only wish I felt that way about the "Fly Fishing Reel." That awful thing kicks my butt. I better slow down and practice it…

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The best way to learn a tricky tune is really slowly. See, if you get the pattern into your hands, you can stop thinking about the tune with your head - which really frees you up to listen to your tone, rhythm, how well you fit with other musicians, etc. Your hands will work a lot better after you stop trying to think each note.

I always start learning a tune by playing it slowly enough that it can’t surprise - as I work on it I speed it up and work out all the idiosyncrasies. After a week or two of solid practice the tune is a pattern in my hands and those little hitches are no issue - because my hands are on autopilot.

Maybe this is getting metamusical or something, but that is what practice does. Anyone can play fast and badly - but slow and well is much more difficult.

That said, some tunes are definitely linked to certain instruments in that they were often composed on or for a certain one. It gets tricky. My trouble tune right now is Finbar Dwyer’s favorite on flute…yuck!

Thomas

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Speaking of hard tunes: Is "Humours of Whiskey" (Altan’s "Harvest Storm") a jig or a slip jig. I can’t get it. It sounds to me like it jumps back and forth, but that can’t be, can it?

Linda

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Oops! I mean it’s on Altan’s "Another Sky"

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Linda,
Altan’s version of Humours of Whiskey on Another Sky is indeed a slip jig all the way through. They kick into it kind strangely, coming from a 6/8 jig, but then it stays in 9/8.

It’s also basically the same version as posted by Jeremy on this site back on May 25th, 2001, in the tune archives, if that helps for learning it. It’s a quirky enough slip jig, especially the first half. I’ve seen it throw otherwise capable musicians into snits, so take it slowly till you’re sure you’ve got the notes and the rhythm. Once it’s in your fingers, it will seem surprisingly easy to play—not as convoluted as it sounds.

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I was lucky enough to attend an Altan’s gig last year. They played and extra-fast-and-lively version of "Humours of Whiskey". They actually played the same set as in the record (a jig and two slip jigs, as far as I recall), but just twice as fast.
I agree with Will. It’s a tune easier to learn than it seems.
Good luck with it Linda.

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I play regularly with folks who play both fiddle and recorder (I’m on hammered dulcimer) and I’ve noticed that some tunes that flow on the fiddle sure don’t on the recorder, and vice versa. I love fiddle tunes because they translate so nicely to the dulcimer. But…I really get frustrated by "Haste to the Wedding". Love the tune, but the hammering pattern it requires is awkward.

Susan

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It would seem to me that a common error of beginners is to tackle tunes that are way too difficult. This is understandable, as these are the sorts of tunes that usually get recorded. For flute or whistle, start with easy reels — if it’s reels you want to start with — like, "The Little Bag of Potatoes", "Famous Ballymote", or "The Yellow Tinker" (the version that starts EAAG EGDG).

Tunes like "The Wise Maid" and "The Bucks of Oranmore" are very hard to get right (IMHO) and take some experience.

And keep the speed down. Don’t be bedazzled by speed merchants. Learn the tunes slowly, and get the lilt and pulse into them. And do lots and lots of listening; not necessarily to flash bands.

Hope this helps.

P.

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Just found this quote today, attributed to Henry Ford:

"Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you are right."

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I don’t think Henry Ford could fiddle Tommy’s Tarbukas.

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Maybe if he thought he would be able to (with enough practice), he could have! 🙂

zls

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I guess I basically agree with Mr. Ford on this one, although some of us hit our limits sooner than others, and there is such a thing as being delusional about our talents. But I’ve seen lots of good musicians delude themselves the other way—not realizing how good they are.

What it comes down to for me is consciously choosing when to be critical of one’s own playing. When I’m playing in public, I generally try to enjoy my own playing and live with whatever comes out. Sure, some night’s are not as good as others, and I might take the volume down a notch or two to blend in behind someone else who’s having a good night. But when everthing’s clicking, I’m not exactly shy with my bow. But by and large I just play for the sheer fun of it when I’m in a session or otherwise playing where other people are listening.

Most of my "practice" times also work this way. I purposefully don’t monitor my sound for mistakes—I just play. But I also set aside some time to focus very closely on the areas that need work. Typically this takes the form of working on a particular tune, or several tunes that share the same troubling characteristic. But it’s far less "frustrating" if I think of that time as a true working practice rather than just playing a tune and getting frustrated because it refuses to come out right.

The overall point I’m stumbling toward here is that I want the majority of my playing time to be fun and enjoyable for ME. I have to listen to it, after all. And when I’m ready to focus on a spot that needs work, it’s easier to get through if I’m not expecting the angels to sing along with my stellar performance.

So…think you can while you’re playing tunes you know you can sail through, and realize that you can’t YET when you’re working on the tricky stuff, and you’ll progress with less stress in the noggin.

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I think this maybe not so much a problem of whistle-friendly but of Bloomfield-unfriendly: I cannot seem to get the hang of the B-part of Drowsy Maggy. The A-part is fine, a lot of fun actually, once you learn to leave your fingers down, but that B part just goes against the grain. The same is true for me on a couple of measures of St. Anne’s Reel, the ones that go

K:Dmaj
…|BGBd cAce | d2…

Throws my fingers into knots… and the fiddles seem to be really enjoying it….

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Hey Manfred:

St. Anne’s isn’t a particularly easy reel, I’ve been told, unless you’re using the "dumbed down" version, as someone called it once — apparently John Denver recorded it and used the simpler setting, so there’s lots of people who use that setting, I hear. A fiddler who helped start me off told me that St. Anne’s isn’t one she’d give a beginner, for sure.

And which setting of Drowsy Maggie are you using? There’s an easier one and a harder one there, too…Patrick Street’s new album will have a very old setting of Drowsy Maggie in a set of reels on it, I’m given to understand — I can hardly wait to hear it.

Zina

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Interesting, I kind of find the B part of Drowsy Maggie a bit easier on flute, esp with ornamentations, well except that run at the end, but it’s close darnit. I had to sight read St. Anne’s during last month’s contra dance, a last minute ‘special’ request from the caller so I ended up reading over the concertina player’s shoulder…by the third go-round didn’t seem terribly difficult, however, perhaps I should dig it out again, & I wonder how big a chunk of my brain I’d have to give up to memorize the darn thing….