When did you first realise you were playing too fast?

When did you first realise you were playing too fast?

And this, by the way, is not assuming that you are playing faster than you *can* play, just faster than you *should* play. But if you have grown up listening to the Bothy Band and all the other 120/130 bpm reels, and you can quite happily ornament and not lose the rhythm at those speeds, when did you realise it was actually too fast for the tunes?
For me it was probably 25 years ago going over to a nice village session in West Clare, where the old guys were just rolling out these lovely sets at about 90 bpm and it just seemed that the tunes could ‘breathe’. I’ve been playing slower ever since. It just lets you hear all the glory of the tunes and lets you appreciate that we hold these things in trust for the future. It’s not about our own playing, it’s sharing great tunes with others who will pass them on when we are gone. Now I’m off to play Tom Wards Downfall at 95 bpm. Try it!

Re: When did you first realise you were playing too fast?

Rudall Cart’s question is clearly addressed to the people who are self aware enough to reflect on the tempo at which they’re playing, and make decisions accordingly. It’s the others who might do well to give the subject some thought. For instance those who, for reasons I don’t share, believe that very fast must always be good/impressive/clever but, lacking the competence to match, turn a good tune into a blur of poorly articulated plunking & scraping. Or those that can’t control their pace and clip the last note of each line resulting in a speed increase at every turn of the tune.

More depressing still is the encouragement offered by non-playing listeners who share the ‘fast must be exciting’ fantasy, and who wouldn’t recognise a good bit of playing if they fell over it in the street.

It’s not just ITM that suffers from this. I heard Mozart’s ‘Eine kleine nachtmusik’ on the radio the other day played at a tempo that suggested the entire ensemble was desperate to get to the end and go for a pee.

But don’t mind me. I’m just a curmudgeonly old fart whose advancing years compel me to eschew the hectic …

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Re: When did you first realise you were playing too fast?

@Bazza - for sure, you and me both! Too old and grey for that carry on. Mind you I do have to hold my hand up and plead guilty to playing ‘too fast’ on occasion.

Re: When did you first realise you were playing too fast?

Blame the dancers, and the Bothy Band!

There is a distinct difference between a tune played well slowly and just playing slowly because technical skill levels don’t permit faster play. I suppose it’s all about what you do when you create that space and what ya it with.

I do like slowing down Slip Jigs quite a bit from where most people play them.

Re: When did you first realise you were playing too fast?

There is a tune that has grown near and dear to my heart over the years. It’s not just a "Why I play Irish music…" kind of tune, but it’s more of a, "Why I play music, period…" kind of tune. It’s a Highland Fling that I learned in one of the online classes I took up.
https://thesession.org/tunes/4276

I had already been playing Irish music for several years at that point, but I was still working my way around building a small but well-rounded repertoire of tunes. This fling pretty much changed my entire perspective of how tunes should be played. The melodies and phrasing are so distinct and unique that you want to sit in them and really feel them, instead of blitzing through them and letting them fly by you. With that being said, I don’t always play the tune slowly; But I always make an effort to play it slow enough that it’s charms are apparent and explicit. I haven’t played tunes the same since, and I’m much more mindful of respecting each tunes personal "range of tempo". For me, it’s never been about the speed, but about the stream itself, and how it bends and flows and drives.

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Agree with all of the above. Worth remembering though that The Bothy Band were, and Dervish are, bands. Part of whose job is to entertain. Playing fast is for them part of the exciting entertainment. No need to copy them in a session though. Like the posters above, I like steady, well articulated tune delivery. That includes so-called Slow Reels.

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I realized I was going much too fast after the last session I played, in February of this year. Since then I’ve been much more conscious about my speed and rhythm - I’m still not quite satisfied, but I do think it’s better when I pay attention to when I start rushing.

Re: When did you first realise you were playing too fast?

easy-
- dancers complained (alternative - dance caller complained)
- all the other session musicians stopped playing, one by one, and are looking at me with an evil eye
- somebody asked "was that the star of munster?"
- I forgot to play all the difficult notes
- I forgot to play half the notes
- I lost phrasing and pulse and sounded like a machine gun (gatling gun if on banjo)
- metronome is falling behind, cannot keep up with me
- I am about to switch from "britches full of stitches (A)" to "road to errogie (A)" and notice livebpm is reading "140"

personally, I find that beyound 100-105 bpm, reels "compress", space between notes disappears (well, duh, obviously) and things start to sound too heavy. better technique is needed to keep things light and musical.

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Only when forced to do so by others leading the session at breakneck speed. Left to myself I would claim that I don’t do it! (See that halo?) 😉

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There’s music, and there’s speed-typing.
There are some tunes where the tempo seems easily to run amok - “speed the plough” comes to mind. If at a festival, I hear this tune emerging from a session-venue at its customary pace, I’m strongly tempted to walk on by.
That said, there are tunes which work well at a vigorous pace but nevertheless over the years, I’ve had a great deal of fun by slowing stuff down and re-inventing the tune at a slower pace.
Sussex Catillion is great for this… at a slow pace, it’s manageable by beginners and can be savoured.
“Out on the ocean” is another. The key word is “unhurriedly “.
(I’ve deliberately left out any mention of session etiquette.. that’s a hot potato for someone else to juggle with!)

Re: When did you first realise you were playing too fast?

I’m most drawn to the lope and lift of East and West Clare music, and prefer that sort of session rather than off to the races. But the modern trend to treat all of the tunes as "listening" music risks losing the tie to dance, and to a danceable pace. Flow and momentum are also important qualities, even among the old players. Sure, a few sets at 90 bpm might be nice, but a night of that would put me to sleep.

To be fair, a night of nothing but reels at 140 bpm wouldn’t bring me joy either. I’ve played in bluegrass jams where Rawhide at 160 bpm was considered lazy. Speed for speed’s sake, even with impeccable timing, can be as numbing as crawling through polkas at half tempo….

Much depends on the context, and the good players—of bygone days and today alike—can generate lift at a slow pace or create space and a relaxed lope at faster speeds as well when needed. And they know how to mix it up over the course of a session.

For me, a fun session includes tunes at anywhere from 60 bpm (say, a treble jig for a talented dancer) to 126 or 132 bpm (say, for a set like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5uhBb8E4g2o).


Our discussion here might be more illuminating with a few examples (reels, bpm at 2 beats per bar).

Martin and PJoe Hayes at 102-108 bpm:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7MrtctwuVCY


Bobby Casey at 108 bpm:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eY0aSBFbdeI


The Tulla Ceili Band at 120 bpm:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BNPI53O5sC4


A house dance in 1972 at 126 bpm by a mix of musicians including Junior and Ita Crehan, the McCarthy’s, Kevin Burke, and Willie Clancy:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZIDWFZtOsUc&list=RDEMiZWd2Mn9stsSixWbG4qeMQ&index=5


Clare’s own Tara Breen sounding effortless yet spirited at 114-116 bpm:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ioSXKgsr3fk

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Re: When did you first realise you were playing too fast?

A favourite quote of mine, taken from the sleeve notes of the "Music At Matt Molloy’s" recording - "There’s fast music, and there’s lively music. People don’t always know the difference".

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Re: When did you first realise you were playing too fast?

…when I couldn’t keep up with myself.

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Re: When did you first realise you were playing too fast?

When the imaginary bodhran player thats sits on my ear gets up and walks away!

Re: When did you first realise you were playing too fast?

It was when I found out I could nicely keep up with players I thought played too fast.

Re: When did you first realise you were playing too fast?

The better question is when I realized when others were playing too fast. It was when I suddenly realized I knew the tune being played, but hadn’t recognized it.

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Re: When did you first realise you were playing too fast?

NB, also notice that Dylan pushes it up to about 124 for the Foxhunter’s reel, because he’s playing on his own and it suits it.

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“…turn a good tune into a blur of poorly articulated plunking & scraping. “

Nailed it, Bazza.

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This is a bit off the subject but….

I’ve been debating with myself all day whether I would post anything and I suppose I’m about to call down the gods of the mustard board like a ton of bricks upon myself. It’s about that Dylan Foley youtube Rudall Cart posted.
You see I’ve watched it four times during the course of the day and well… I’ll just say it.
It doesn’t do a thing for me whatsoever. Playing fast? Yeah, sure. There. Said it.

A brilliant performance no doubt, the execution, the technique, the interpretation all virtuosic. Very pretty and crowd pleasing. And for me? Left me stone cold, didn’t feel inclined to tap the feet or maybe dig out the bodhran and play along. Nada. I suppose there must be something in the saying ‘you had to be there’.

Anyone who wants me - I’ll be that vanishing dot on the horizon.

Re: When did you first realise you were playing too fast?

We’re not required to like everything, John.

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Re: When did you first realise you were playing too fast?

I like that clip of Dylan Foley, though that NY Sligo style isn’t really my cuppa. He’s clearly playing to the crowd, showing off his technical mastery (with no loss of nuance and life). But loads of pulse, and no shortage of fun variations.

These threads about when the music’s "too fast" make me wonder if the plaintiffs have a hard time hearing the music at a tempo faster than they themselves can play. Dylan’s in full control there, as are the Hayden brothers in the clip I posted above, and there’s no loss of musicality. If your ears can’t keep up, it might sound like a blurred rush, but that’s not what I hear in those clips.

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Re: When did you first realise you were playing too fast?

@gimpy. Not a case of my ears couldn’t keep up, just a case of me left wondering if it was ‘just me or….’ And that was the reason I was so hesitant to post because I knew someone would ask me why I didn’t get it/like it. For the life of me I don’t know why and I can’t put my finger precisely on what it is about it I find so uninspiring or whatever.
Anyways - you can’t please all of the people all of the time and I’ll move along to the next tune.

Re: When did you first realise you were playing too fast?

Gimpy made a great observation in "playing to the crowd". I suspect that the well repeated advice is true … ‘fast and loud, please the crowd, sweet and slow, watch ‘em go". The Crowd is rarely a good judge of the quality of the music. Don’t get me wrong, fast can be good, exciting, and a real treat if you can pull it off. Some of us can (not often me) just not very many. Forgive me if that’s cynical. I’ve too often found that speed alone is no substitute for satisfying.

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"…speed alone is no substitute for satisfying." Agreed. But neither is slow.

If a tune is played with lift, pulse, musicality, and ease, I don’t really care what the tempo is. In fact, I probably won’t even notice the pace. A good musician’s pace is often faster than it sounds because they find the spaces between the notes and use them expressively.

john knoss, my previous post was more in reference to the OP than your comment, and thank you for not taking offense at my "ears" notion. None was intended to you or anyone else. But given this conversation, it’s fair to point out that some people do in fact struggle to hear the music in this music in part because it goes by "so fast" and is so full of notes. Ears accustomed to a Celine Dion song or Moonlight Sonata can’t help but feel at least a little overwhelmed by an Irish reel at 126 bpm. Likely even at 102 bpm. It’s one reason newcomers to this music complain that it "all sounds the same."

My experience is that some people, despite playing this music for years, never manage to get up to speed, so to speak. They struggle to play at dance tempos, and based on comments I’ve heard, they also struggle to *hear* at tempo. So the music doesn’t sound meaningful to them above a certain pace.

To be clear, I’m not saying that everyone who prefers music at an easy lope can’t play or hear at faster tempos. Surely some people just like the music better when it has "time to breathe." Personally, I enjoy creating, hearing, and savoring that breathing space whether the tune is going by at 108 bpm or 132 bpm.

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Re: When did you first realise you were playing too fast?

Ross, the crowd at Foley’s concert were almost all musicians themselves. It was at Irish Arts Week in the Catskills, and a launch for Dylan’s CD release. Kevin Crawford seems to be thoroughly enjoying Dylan’s playing, responding to both rhythmic and melodic variations and nuance. My guess is that he’s a pretty good judge of this music (and he’s not just mugging for the audience). The crowd too responds heartily at appropriate times, not just the key changes from one tune to the next. Never mind that Dylan is an All-Ireland champion. In this case, in playing to the crowd, he was playing to an informed, discerning crowd.

All that said, the best music happens when it touches our emotions rather than aiming to impress with cleverness or technical virtuosity. A faster pace can create drive and momentum, which is exciting—an emotional response of its own. But only if the playing is musical as well.

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Re: When did you first realise you were playing too fast?

This is just me but there is no *one right way* to play the tunes. And playing in sessions isn’t always perfect, or ideal. The way I know when I’m playing too fast is the rhythm is off. Not sure how to explain it.



Aren’t sessions so you can play? Or do sessions need to always strive for something else. Don’t get me wrong I don’t appreciate when things are rushed. I do strive to be a better player, a good listener, to play well. But our sessions have had it’s share of trainwrecks. In a performance, or recording it would be unacceptable.

Shit happens & sessions are for playing. Sometimes the music’s at it’s best. Othertimes; not so much. I like some room to flex. Not ragged, just a session which has me wanting to come back for both the music and the company.

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Re: When did you first realise you were playing too fast?

Shit happens & sessions are for playing. Sometimes the music’s at it’s best. Othertimes; not so much. I like some room to flex. Not ragged, just a session which has me wanting to come back for both the music and the company.
……………

This, exactly! A session is a lovely, human and imperfect creature. But sometimes it rises to nobility (usually when it is playing the Otter’s Holt, I admit). The other thing is that a session was where I really learnt to play after starting off practising with the black dots. It is learning to listen and respond to other players that makes you the player you want to be. And I want all other players to have the same chance to listen and learn there.

And when it flies, oh it’s lovely!

Re: When did you first realise you were playing too fast?

John Knoss wrote: A brilliant performance no doubt, the execution, the technique, the interpretation all virtuosic. Very pretty and crowd pleasing. And for me? Left me stone cold, didn’t feel inclined to tap the feet or maybe dig out the bodhran and play along. Nada. I suppose there must be something in the saying ‘you had to be there’.

……………………………

No ton of mustard bricks from me John. I liked Foley’s playing but I completely get the point about ‘cups of tea’. Some players really float your boat and others don’t. Some people, for example, love the gently noodling style of Martin Hayes (I do) but it brings others out in hives. Same with Matt Molloy’s flute playing, by the way. And even if you were the only person in the world who didn’t like X, I defend to the death your right to.

Re: When did you first realise you were playing too fast?

Playing fast is different from playing with energy. The energy comes from playing the notes in the right place in the line of music, taking into account the swing of the tune, giving notes appropriate value and emphasizing notes in the line to keep the beat. Relative speed allows for ornaments (or not). A tune gets to be too fast when it sounds like the players are always trying to catch up with each other.

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Not a word of disagreement gimpy, et al. I’m just stating the obvious. If speed is all a player’s got, is their goal, well … I wish them success.

And, a knowledgeable crowd isn’t impressed by speed. I’d argue that they are impressed by talent, by skill and sensitivity, delivered in large measure, at speed. I once heard a rather likable American C.W. guitarist say "I’m faster than I am good". He could put on a good, entertaining show, but as a musician he was right.

Re: When did you first realise you were playing too fast?

Apart from the tendency to speed up while playing, which is a whole different problem, I think we also have a bit of a mind set engulfing many players that fast = good with session tunes, so very fast must = very good. I have often observed people playing just slightly too fast for what they can really cope with. And although to the casual listener it probably all sounds fine, to me it often sounds increasingly horrible, with ornaments squeezed out altogether and ‘bluff’ filler notes appearing between the real ones when people haven’t quite got the tune under control. I don’t know how to counter this other than starting all sets myself at a much slower pace.

Personally I prefer the speed taken down a bit because then you can really hear the tunes as opposed to they all start to sound the same when mushed out too fast.

But then the ‘sound quality’ in a session can often be challenging - sometimes I can’t hear myself play sat all o no idea if/what this may sound like to anybody else.

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Was I playing too fast? Oh, dear - sorry!

Re: When did you first realise you were playing too fast?

@Edgar Bolton, I so agree!

Mind you, it’s taken me ten long years to be able to play fast enough for dancing, which is the speed that sounds best, in my opinion. So I suppose I have never had the chance to ‘realise that I’m playing too fast!’

I go Scottish Country Dancing, and there’s the occasional tune we use which is played ‘far too fast’, and it just spoils it. We scramble through the figures so as to be in the right place at the right time, but there’s no elegance, no precision, no sociable engagement with other dancers, and no true enjoyment.

When a traditional tune is played, I like to hear the distinct notes and the lively emphases. Too fast, and it goes all blurry. Every tune has its character, and too fast (or way too slow) denatures it.

Re: When did you first realise you were playing too fast?

edit:

"There is no *one right way* to play the tunes."

That’s all I needed to post.

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Re: When did you first realise you were playing too fast?

Heh. I don’t play that fast. And I’m STILL playing too fast. 🙂

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I was once handed a metronome by a much more experienced musician when I had only been playing a few years. I asked if my rhythm was unsteady or what, and he told me to put on the brakes there was no rush to get through the tunes.

I still start tunes faster than I’d like sometimes…such as that reel tempo hornpipe set I played yesterday. I just apologize afterwards now.

Eric

Re: When did you first realise you were playing too fast?

Imagining a walking pace is a handy way to rein in the start tempo when you’re about to launch a set at a session (and not likely to have a metronome available). I’ve found that both my inclination and my ability to play fast are waning as I get older, so it helps that our walking pace also tends to slow with age. I’m happy to mostly play at a stroll these days. 🙂

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Re: When did you first realise you were playing too fast?

…all of which is fine for those with the luxury of lots of like minds, or for those who just play to please themselves. For those of us who like playing for audiences (but which are inevitably generalist in nature) there is no doubt that it is speed and foot-tappability that gets the punters interested. I’m pretty sure an evening of Martin Hayes tempo would get very few return bookings round here… And even in the places where there is choice, see this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5j2-9x4LJTM from The Ben Nevis in Glasgow about ten days ago. (I didn’t dare join in).


All of which does not prevent me from pleading guilty; I agree with whoever mentioned to problems of growing up listening to The Bothy Band et al. The problem is, the tunes go a certain speed in my head, and any slower than that just feels like wading through treacle, even when it really isn’t….

Re: When did you first realise you were playing too fast?

LOL, Ian that’s a good example of the upper range—132 bpm—which might work for a talented duo or well-rehearsed band. But in a sizeable session, the blend of abilities and instruments turns the tune into a messy wash.

Foot tappability and speed are often inversely related. I do agree with you about having a mental model of a tune and how that nearly dictates how it comes out in our own hands. It took me years to get the Bothy Band’s driving version (at about 120 bpm) of the Morning Star reel out of my head and learn to enjoy it at a more lyrical pace.

That said, I don’t subscribe to the myth that Martin Hayes plays everything at a crawl.

Here he is (very tappable) at ~102 bpm:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fT0SDbs3auo


But consider this at 108-114 bpm:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d0YkxvXOuys


Or this at 144 bpm:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TvHotiBkTGs

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Re: When did you first realise you were playing too fast?

I know one who realised they were too SLOW, after requesting a certain tune and the response was: We just played it. (I wasn’t there, but since this was a mere beginner into ITM, I have no reason to believe that the session per se was too fast, but rather that the person hadn’t practiced the tune "up to speed" nor could "process" the tune at such a speed when they heard it.)