What bpm for reels would you say is the slowest ‘acceptable’ rate/which ‘pro’ player plays slowest?

What bpm for reels would you say is the slowest ‘acceptable’ rate/or … which ‘pro’ player plays reels the slowest?

I prefer a more relaxed playing style rather than the breakneck speed of most sessions of 120+ bpms (talking about 2 beats per bar to avoid any confusion).

I really like the kind of speed of Kathleen Conneely’s playing; I just measured the speed with my metronome and for one vid where she was accompanied by guitar she plays at around 103 but on a solo video she plays slower again at around 96.

That kind of speed reminds me of just sitting on a sunny day on the bank of a river in the grass watching the world flow by vs ‘normal’ session speed being more like a race at the grand national with the jockeys cropping the horses like mad dashing for the finish.

I wonder what would be considered ‘acceptable’ in a session as you deliberately doing it vs you not being able to ‘handle’ faster speeds and people think you are compensating.

What are other slower yet well respected players (doesn’t matter of the instrument in this case) for reels?

Currently it is both the case I couldn’t play at the tearing speed common in sessions but also I do not like it 🙂 but even if I could, to my ear, I still prefer Conneely type of speeds. The faster it gets is the more leveled out the notes get and things just become a blur. I much prefer listening to deliberate and calmer playing rather than where it seems like they are trying to race to the finish line as fast as possible.

Re: What bpm for reels would you say is the slowest ‘acceptable’ rate/which ‘pro’ player plays slowest?

I have never attended an actual session but from the video’s I’ve seen I would be surprised if it is common to play as ‘tearing speed’ (I await informed comments). I only play solo and I can play fast, but it’s not compulsory. There are no set speed limits. I play as fast or as slow as I like, depending both on the reel and my current mood when I’m playing it. And that’s the same way I like to listen to it.

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Re: What bpm for reels would you say is the slowest ‘acceptable’ rate/which ‘pro’ player plays slowest?

Martin Hayes plays a good mix of slow and fast reels and jigs

Re: What bpm for reels would you say is the slowest ‘acceptable’ rate/which ‘pro’ player plays slowest?

Mary McNamara on concertina always seems on the slow side but there’s a lilt to her playing, slow doesnt have to mean stodgy

Re: What bpm for reels would you say is the slowest ‘acceptable’ rate/which ‘pro’ player plays slowest?

This is the slowest "Atholl Highlanders" you’ll find :
https://youtu.be/2m-QjQGRejE

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Re: What bpm for reels would you say is the slowest ‘acceptable’ rate/which ‘pro’ player plays slowest?

@gobby really? I am very surprised by that admission. I thought you were a stalwart of this forum for many years and as such presumed you would be a veteran to the session scene. Most here seem to live and breath the session circuit (not me but most).

The general consensus I have read seems to be you can’t learn trad properly unless you spend a good chunk of playing time in sessions.

I have been to two or 3 different ones over a few years and would say 120 bpms and up is the norm. They seem to want to go faster each repetition to a crescendo.

But if you start the tune hopefully people will respect your pace? but maybe not. I suppose it depends on the personalities at the session in question.

Re: What bpm for reels would you say is the slowest ‘acceptable’ rate/which ‘pro’ player plays slowest?

As long as it still sounds interesting and it’s within the limits of your ability, you can surely play as slowly as you want. Likewise, as fast as you want.

Of course, if you are playing with others, it does help to play at the same tempo.
🙂

Re: What bpm for reels would you say is the slowest ‘acceptable’ rate/which ‘pro’ player plays slowest?

"you can’t learn trad properly unless you spend a good chunk of playing time in sessions."

I don’t agree with this at all. Sessions are fun, don’t get me wrong. But as for learning ‘properly’ IMO it’s far more important to listen to good players. And lots of practice/playing in isolation listening closely to yourself. Playing for dancers, and dancing a little yourself, will help you tremendously, too. Playing with another person or people is another important part, true—but even that doesn’t HAVE to be a proper ‘session’ (unless your definition of session is pretty broad to mean any two people playing together).

Sorry to digress from the main question, though. I think about the slowest danceable tempo would be 85 bpm and many older players keep it around 90 - 105 bpm. 85 is very, very relaxed. If you go slower than that you’re starting to get into creating a pure listening piece—nothing wrong with that but it’s more like a ‘special effect.’ Like most everything these aren’t exact guidelines of course, they’re not carved into stone, they’re just conventions and conventions will differ from place to place. This is just my experience.

Re: What bpm for reels would you say is the slowest ‘acceptable’ rate/which ‘pro’ player plays slowest?

Digression is ok, was one I am interested in too; I brought it up after all 🙂. gooseinthenettles said the other day they learn better from learning in sessions than from recordings which I said at the time seems impossible given that there is no way anyone could get the fine grained control from listening in sessions that they could from recordings.

Yes good point about the slowest acceptable danceable tempo, which is what this tune type is about after all; I guess below that and it is then called a ‘slow reel’.

Re: What bpm for reels would you say is the slowest ‘acceptable’ rate/which ‘pro’ player plays slowest?

There will be different answers according to what specific question is being asked, the question depending on the context:

1) what is the slowest speed acceptable to good players at sessions?

2) what is the slowest speed acceptable by dancers?

3) what is the slowest speed that pro players might perform on an album or in a concert?

About #1, it all depends on the session. There are "slow sessions" where that’s the expectation. If you started a tune fast you would get looks.

When you get a group of great players the speed can ramp up. If you started a tune slow you would get looks. Once at a session a very good Irish player blew through a jig at over 140BPM. When he finished he looked at me and asked "don’t know that one?" and I replied "I play it…as a jig."

About #2, it depends on what dance. Some step dances require the tunes to be very slow. What’s the heavy jig, around 65BPM? But if you’re playing for ceili dancers the jigs and reels are going to be at a good clip, what, around 118BPM? It’s been a long time since I played for a ceili.

About #3, it could be practically anything. Matt Molloy in concert and on albums will play reels down around 60BPM on his huge Alto flute. I’ve clocked famous groups like Danu and Lunasa playing reels at over 130BPM.

Re: What bpm for reels would you say is the slowest ‘acceptable’ rate/which ‘pro’ player plays slowest?

As a ‘developing’ player I’m also not able to keep up when the session pace gets frantic… but as a listener, I find speed to be a relative thing— which is to say that in the hands of a superb player, whatever speed is chosen usually sounds ‘right’ for that tune and style. As is often pointed out here, effortlessness is part of the equation— sometimes I’ll pull out a metronome and be astonished at the nominally breakneck speed of a reel recording that sounds totally relaxed and so full of lilt. This leaves me in awe, and I can only aspire to achieve a speed that allows me to sound effortless, even if it’s only 100 bpm.

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Re: What bpm for reels would you say is the slowest ‘acceptable’ rate/which ‘pro’ player plays slowest?

As LoAP mentions, there are such things as "slow reels" i.e. written to be slow reels, maybe with that direction at the head of the (dare I mention it?) sheet music and I really like them: they have a different feel from a "normal" reel being played slowly: atmospheric, even a bit trancy….!
As for dance speeds, that can vary with the ability of the dancers: you might tend to take them a wee bit slower for complete novices but not so slow that they’re sagging at the knees! Quite a lot of our dance band members also play in local sessions, and I would say that often they tend to play most of the dance tunes (even the waltzes!)faster in sessions than would be the desirable speed for dancing, and some of them have to be reined back when playing in band practices or gigs! ("Oi! You! You’re not in the pub now!") And with the adrenaline pumping in a gig, there can be a tendency to speed up, and play faster than in rehearsal.

Re: What bpm for reels would you say is the slowest ‘acceptable’ rate/which ‘pro’ player plays slowest?

"…you can’t learn trad properly unless you spend a good chunk of playing time in sessions."

That’s maybe an exaggeration of the sentiment, I think. (Although, gooseinthenettles has been known to state things that bluntly before). 😉 I have often said that "the real learning comes from playing in sessions". That’s not necessarily to say that sessions are where you learn specific techniques, but it is where you really start to develop as a musician. It’s where you’re forced to play steadily, and build your tempo up to "session speed" (which is really a generalization, and not a specific bpm). It is where you learn to interact with other musicians. It’s where you will start to feel the lilt and lift in your own playing, and it is where you can start to really build your toolbox of expression.

Can you do that without ever attending a session? I think it’s possible. Over the years, I have actually met two very beautiful players who learned it all on their own, simply from playing with recordings. One of them was actually that way because he was painfully shy, and couldn’t stand being around groups of people, especially if he didn’t know them. And he had listened to so much DeDannan and Frankie that he was able to really play like that, with a great combination of flash and nuance… A bunch of us chipped in and bought him a ticket to go to Willie Week, but when he got there, he refused to even take his fiddle out of the case. Sigh.

But in my mind, that’s the hard path, whereas playing regularly in sessions is more likely to get you there faster…

With regards to tempos, I think it’s important to develop the skill to play well at any tempo. You may prefer the relaxed pace and style of E. Clare, for instance, but you will get into situations where people aren’t playing in your preferred style, and it’s good to be able to match what they’re doing, even if it’s playing blazingly fast. But for most people, once you’ve built the ability to play fast, it’s actually playing slowly that is harder to do well.

I have also found that a lot of developing players don’t like the fast pace because they don’t do it well, but a few years down the line, when they’ve developed the skill to be able to play fast well, all of a sudden they love it…

Re: What bpm for reels would you say is the slowest ‘acceptable’ rate/which ‘pro’ player plays slowest?

My $.02, I think it can be misleading to think of ITM tempo in the abstract, in terms of what feels right to you, without reference to the fact that these are essentially dance tunes. It can lead to playing at a tempo that’s comfortable instead of where the tune "wants" to be.

Dancers have a preferred tempo, and I think it’s helpful to use that as a baseline. Learn to play at typical dance tempos, which opens up the potential of playing with others in sessions. Once you’ve developed that skill, you can then can make an aesthetic judgement about where you want to take the tempo when playing alone at home.

There are several tunes I intentionally play as "slow reels," like The Morning Dew (based on a John Doyle recording). Not something I would try at a session though, and there are many reels that would lose their essential life and lift when slowed down. Not every reel benefits from that approach.

I’ve probably posted this video before, but I think it can help new players understand how tempo and time signature relates to the physical motion of dancing. Jamie is talking about Contra Dance, but it applies to ITM also:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z9Q4paAfQw0

Re: What bpm for reels would you say is the slowest ‘acceptable’ rate/which ‘pro’ player plays slowest?

@ LOAP , re- "I thought you were a stalwart of this forum for many years and as such presumed you would be a veteran to the session scene .
Well I guess the answer to that is that I love Irish traditional music but suffer social anxiety. That, in fact, is what has made this site so important to me.
In some previous life I used to play other instruments in pub rock bands, so I have had years of experience playing with others, but that was decades ago. I know that I enjoyed it then, but…. well what can I say? What can one do about a mental illness? I rarely leave home now, and I love the fiddle so much because unlike other things I have played, it ALLOWS me to play solo, and to play the music I have loved since being a kid. I am confident that I could hold my own in most sessions, but nowadays I just prefer not to leave my ‘Splendid Isolation’.
Perhaps it’s a reasonable assumption, held by many that, "you can’t learn trad properly unless you spend a good chunk of playing time in sessions, " but I concur with what Reverend says on that. Also though, as I see it, playing solo allows freedoms that are restricted in a session. Further I would point out that solo fiddle playing has had its own place within the tradition.

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Re: What bpm for reels would you say is the slowest ‘acceptable’ rate/which ‘pro’ player plays slowest?

There is no acceptable rate of "bpm" some reels just sound better when played at a slow pace, like the Paddy Fahy compositions. And The Jug of Punch and other such tunes.

Re: What bpm for reels would you say is the slowest ‘acceptable’ rate/which ‘pro’ player plays slowest?

Sorry to hear about your affliction, Gobby. All these years of interacting, and I didn’t know that. But it sounds like you’ve found ways to satisfy your musical yearnings. And it seems like all of a sudden, the whole world has come more around to your way of thinking - we’ve reached the dawning of the age of introverts! 😉

Re: What bpm for reels would you say is the slowest ‘acceptable’ rate/which ‘pro’ player plays slowest?

> That’s maybe an exaggeration of the sentiment

One would hope so, given that the session is a thing invented within living memory.

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Re: What bpm for reels would you say is the slowest ‘acceptable’ rate/which ‘pro’ player plays slowest?

Thanks Peter.

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Re: What bpm for reels would you say is the slowest ‘acceptable’ rate/which ‘pro’ player plays slowest?

Gobby sorry to hear about your predicament. I hope you gain peace and contentment from your playing,Best of luck.

Re: What bpm for reels would you say is the slowest ‘acceptable’ rate/which ‘pro’ player plays slowest?

Thanks Goose. Best get back on topic before I get told off.

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Re: What bpm for reels would you say is the slowest ‘acceptable’ rate/which ‘pro’ player plays slowest?

Wow Kenny, that is truly very slow - I don’t think I could have actually played it that slow without getting lost…

Re: What bpm for reels would you say is the slowest ‘acceptable’ rate/which ‘pro’ player plays slowest?

>One would hope so, given that the session is a thing invented within living memory.

Wait what? Maybe the pub sessions but the house sessions where all the locals would gather round someones fireside in their little house on the hill for drinking, music and dance have been going on for hundreds of years I would imagine?

You could even feasibly extend it beyond that to being the communal gatherings that have lasted through the whole history of humanity where music and a gathering of people is involved.

And that leads to what is the definition of a session. I think I would say 2 or more people gathered for any legnth of time to play tunes no? whatever the place they choose to play it.

Maybe you would want to only count gatherings of groups of a certain number like 5+ but I thought the whole name is just that you are playing a lot of tunes, has to do with the duration, rather than the number of people. Like having a drinking session, relates to it being an extended period of time doing that activity not the amount of people involved.

On that reckoning you could have a ‘solo session’ in which case our friend Gobby is indeed a session expert; but I would say 2+ for an extended sitting for the purposes of this discussion.

Re: What bpm for reels would you say is the slowest ‘acceptable’ rate/which ‘pro’ player plays slowest?

LOAP, I fear you have a false picture the social background of traditional music in Ireland. Dancing at the Crosroads, before and after the Great Hunger (potato famine) were substantially different to today, as they were different from organized ceilidh dancing to Ceilidh Bands in dance Halls in the 1930´s, and the difference before and after the ´Dance Hall Act´. If anything can be said about the circumstances our favorite music has been played under for the past couple of hundred years has been their changes, and the adaptability of the music to those changes and social upheavals. Pub Sessions were born out of necessity by the diaspora of musicians to London before and through WWII, even in defiance of laws proscribing music in public houses. It could easily fill up several College Sociology courses to discuss all of this. . and lord knows Reg Hall took almost a thousand pages just to document the emigre music culture in London! Why try to pin something as varied as this music down to one expression.

Re: What bpm for reels would you say is the slowest ‘acceptable’ rate/which ‘pro’ player plays slowest?

Well I was thinking of pub sessions. I have indeed played Irish stuff with two other people, but that was just a spontaneous, thing out on the street. I imagine sessions as they are held nowadays are more organised than that, and they would definitely be more organised than my daily solo ‘sessions’. Some days I’ve even had to kick myself out of those for some really bad fiddling.

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Re: What bpm for reels would you say is the slowest ‘acceptable’ rate/which ‘pro’ player plays slowest?

Hmmm. Even speaking about ´organized´ sessions is to my mind problematic. There´s a continent of distance between a session ´organized´ by say for instance Comhaltas, and say a few friends who regularly get together in a pub or a kitchen.

Re: What bpm for reels would you say is the slowest ‘acceptable’ rate/which ‘pro’ player plays slowest?

It totally depends on the venue and who’s attending. For example, Claudine Langille, who runs a session in CT, prefers to play them slowly.

Re: What bpm for reels would you say is the slowest ‘acceptable’ rate/which ‘pro’ player plays slowest?

Yes LOAP-

Just say to whoever is at the session that you want to play slowly and go for it- if you’re wondering if it went down well just ask someone if it was ok or a bit too slow for the session etc.

A pro player could play as slow as they like - the main thing is that it’s an enjoyable experience for the musicians there- it’s a communal experience.

Don’t be shy of asking for feedback on your playing - just first of all sincerely check if you’re genuinely wanting it. If you’re ready to be told that you’ve just bored the pants off everyone (if that’s what happened) then go for it. Nobody’s going to grudge a learner for learning - and certainly not a sincere request for feedback!

‘Bum sets’ will happen from time to time so don’t over think it and be scared of giving it a go!

You’d be more than welcome at my local session to play a set very slowly- I’m sure we’d all join in and make it a lovely thing for us all to enjoy - but each session’s different as you’ll know!

When playing slow it’ll be important to do a good job with it. Our melodies are simple and it’s often the pacey dancey rhythm that gives it its character. Maintaining that at a slower pace can be more tricky - but bring rewards.

The key is to enjoy it - and enjoy it together - if that’s not happening then it’s no bother - just time to move to the next set 🙂 That’s what will answer your question- and certainly not a BPM ;)

‘Is it enjoyable for you and the group?’