Tunes which always seem to always be played differently than they are written.


Tunes which always seem to always be played differently than they are written.

I think we may have discussed this before too but no matter.

I’ve found over the years that certain tunes will regularly sound different and are often played differently from that which is written down on “the dots”.

I’m not looking for a Ears V dots discussion here but I’m wondering if anyone else has noticed this phenomenon which seems to occur for certain types of tunes.

I realise that many, if not most tunes, have alternative settings but I’m not talking about that as such. No, there seems to be something else.
It may be that some players just take “short cuts” with some tunes or the actual rhythm of the tune isn’t noted accurately/comprehensively on “the paper”.

Or, perhaps, we also hear the harmonies etc from other instruments in the overall sound and this causes us not to clearly identify every note in the melody?

Anyway, has anyone else noticed this?
I realise that in the great scheme of things, it doesn’t matter too much. Things will usually “blend in” and/or we just adapt in most cases. However, it’s curious that this just seems to be the case with certain tunes.

Some examples

https://thesession.org/tunes/2014 Third part

https://thesession.org/tunes/4428 Fourth part

https://thesession.org/tunes/1002 Second part

https://thesession.org/tunes/10023 Fourth part

https://thesession.org/tunes/2210 The “join” between parts one and two.

There are others, of course.
It’s not a real issue when you are leading the tune or playing it yourself but you can get caught out sometimes. Also, as I said, it’s sometimes just a case of learning what you hear “by ear”. 🙂

Re: Tunes which always seem to always be played differently than they are written.

Well, three of those are GHB tunes.

On the GHB the high A is a relatively quiet note so that in the third part of Troy’s Wedding (https://thesession.org/tunes/2014) the notes other than high A really stand out. Some players of other instruments might choose to miss out the high As and just play |A3 B2c|z2 d2 e2|faa gec|dcd f2d|… The same thing applies to the fourth part of Last Tango in Harris (https://thesession.org/tunes/6124).

The fourth part of The High Drive (https://thesession.org/tunes/4428) also has that syncopation thing going on. Some non-pipers might choose not to play the part as all quavers but do something like |a2da- ada2|g2dg- gdg2|f2df- fdf2|….

Erm… Jock Broon’s (https://thesession.org/tunes/10023) doesn’t have a fourth part!

Re: Tunes which always seem to always be played differently than they are written.

Oops, I meant third part. 🙂

Re: Tunes which always seem to always be played differently than they are written.

Regarding that third part of JB’s 70th, I sometimes play it “as written” and other times, for variety, play some of the double A quavers as either a crotchet A or two semiquavers and a quaver, as in:
|A2GA- AG A/A/A|GAAG A2dc|A2GA- AG A/A/A|GAde d2 …., etc.

Re: Tunes which always seem to always be played differently than they are written.

Is there a case where a ‘famous version’ exists on an influential album, and people subconsciously play that rather than the ‘standard version’?

If the likes of Martin Hayes or Leo Rowesome or Micho Russell (etc) play a tune a particular way, that’s the version that pops out when people are relaxed and enjoying themselves?

I know I’m occasionally guilty of that on certain tunes - for example I have to concentrate to *not* play what I think of as the Andy Cutting / Chris Wood B part of Morgan Rattler …

Re: Tunes which always seem to always be played differently than they are written.

I don’t know that it’s necessarily “subconsciously” that people play a tune the way they heard it on an influential album, I think it’s more that people learn the tune directly from the album, especially if it isn’t a common tune… The Long Drop comes to mind. The biggest conduit for that tune into the mainstream was probably Kevin Crawford’s In Good Company album. That’s where I first heard it and learned it. Kevin did not play it as it was written, to the chagrin of Richard Twomey, who wrote it. The differences are mainly in the resolves, but they’re pretty different. (Kevin finally met Richard at my house a few years ago and apologized). But I still play it the way that Kevin recorded it, because that’s how the tune goes in my mind, and if I try to play it the way that Richard wrote it, it doesn’t work well when everybody plays it the other way. And there have been several recordings of it, like the one from Breaking Trad, which play it the way Kevin played it. So there’s probably no stopping it…

I compose a fair number of tunes. The way I think about it is that once I put a tune out there, I no longer have any control over it, and if people play it differently than I wrote it, that’s not the end of the world. (Not that any of my tunes have ever come back to me changed. But I, myself, have changed them subtly over time for sure…)

Re: Tunes which always seem to always be played differently than they are written.

With regard to Gordon Duncan tunes and specifically “Troy’s Wedding”, they are usually played “differently” by players who aren’t good enough to match the original versions by the composer. These are not easy tunes to play.
“Differently than they are written”. Depends on who did the “writing”.
All 5 of the OP’s examples are Scottish tunes. Is this a “Scottish” thing, do you think ?
PS - just after posting this, I remember Hammy Hamilton complaining that no one EVER played his jig “The Woodcock” as he had composed it. Only a matter of a few single notes, but that is one Irish example.

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Re: Tunes which always seem to always be played differently than they are written.

Re Troy’s Wedding…

Here’s Ossian https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tQlK5UOsKko&ab_channel=Ossian-Topic


A version from a piper

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O4QC2PL_WPY&ab_channel=BraemarMedia


and one by Mr Midi 😉

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JHQL6TXwWmk&ab_channel=ChanterMaeven


Ossian’s version is great but neither their one nor Stuart Liddell’s seems to sound like it is written.
The midi version gets all the notes but it doesn’t sound that great.

Donald K’s comments are interesting.
The pipers would still be playing all the notes(inc in the Ossian version) but some of them might get lost to the ears of a non piper?

Incidentally, we had a previous discussion about the third part of Troy’s Wedding too.

https://thesession.org/discussions/40640

Re: Tunes which always seem to always be played differently than they are written.

It might not be what you meant but for me it helps to put the speed of the midi to the maximum for pipe tunes. The fourth part of the high drive starts to get similar emphasis as intended that way for example.

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Re: Tunes which always seem to always be played differently than they are written.

Well the issue here is that, as far as I know, there is no one definitive edition of many tunes (aside from those explicitly composed and written down to begin with) that variants then follow from - more that the written versions we have are collected from listening to people. This is why most tunes on here have multiple versions.

Some written versions have a kind of canonical authority (O’Neill’s etc) but as far as I know he collected them from players. It’s an oral tradition and a lot of tunes are a bit like recipes or fairy tales - lots of variants but no single definitive source. That’s how I understand it any way - others more knowledgeable than me will, I’m sure correct me if I have this wrong.

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Re: Tunes which always seem to always be played differently than they are written.

Thanks, Boyen.
I wasn’t thinking about midis, really, although I just posted an example.
More of just how you would play “from the dots” if you hadn’t heard the music.

However, I’ve just tried it here with yet another G D tune 😉

https://thesession.org/tunes/8294 and I see what you mean.

When you hear this tune played fast in a session, it sounds f3 f3 |g3 g3 | etc which, of course, still blends in. So, I guess many non pipers just take shortcuts.

Re: Tunes which always seem to always be played differently than they are written.

The Ossian setting of Troy’s Wedding is what I’m used to hearing. The third part has all the notes but, as I said, the high A notes are quieter so perhaps you’re not hearing them.
Stuart Liddell, I guess, is playing a “clever” variation of the third part.

“…people play a tune the way they heard it on an influential album,…”

A good example would be Charlie McKerron’s “Islay Ranters”, the original of which is: https://thesession.org/tunes/1688#setting15117
But more often than not gets called “Islay Rant” and played like:
https://thesession.org/tunes/1688#setting1688
which probably got popularised by Catriona MacDonald on Opus Blue.

Re: Tunes which always seem to always be played differently than they are written.

“When you hear this tune played fast in a session, it sounds f3 f3 |g3 g3 | etc which, of course, still blends in. So, I guess many non pipers just take shortcuts.”

I dont think so actually, or atleast I strongly doubt it. When played at speed drone notes become silent. Have you ever listened to thunderstruck from Gordon Duncan? It’s a perfect example of that.

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Re: Tunes which always seem to always be played differently than they are written.

Yes, Donald. I agree that all the notes are there and I would have expected Iain MacDonald to play the tune correctly. You can hear them all if you listen closely enough.

I guess a lot has to do with emphasis too. You are probably right too about non pipers “adapting” as we are sometimes unable to exactly copy some of the subtleties involved.

Re: Tunes which always seem to always be played differently than they are written.

Boyen, I was referring to “non pipers”.
As I said above, I’m sure pipers themselves(esp Gordon)play all the notes and more

Re: Tunes which always seem to always be played differently than they are written.

I’m not sure I’ve seen even written examples from different sources that are exactly the same. So no huge surprise then that tunes get played differently, too. Don’t you just kind of play slightly different things each time through, anyway?

Re: Tunes which always seem to always be played differently than they are written.

Indeed, fidkid.

However, as I mentioned in my first post, I wasn’t thinking of the typical variations you tend to encounter and or different settings.
It’s usually the most common written setting and, often, one published or approved the composer him/herself.

As I said, it’s just certain tunes where I notice a difference.

Re: Tunes which always seem to always be played differently than they are written.

Johnny Jay, if you or someone sufficiently motivated could submit these tunes (as “incorrectly “ played) as variants in the Tunes section of thesession.org then the problem would be solved! 😀

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Re: Tunes which always seem to always be played differently than they are written.

Another one that came to mind is the tune Christmas Eve. If I understand correctly, Tommy Coen wrote the tune, but didn’t name it. And I am led to believe that the ceili band that he was a member of played it on the radio on Christmas Eve one year, and didn’t attribute it to him. On top of that, there was apparently a disagreement between the way that Tommy wrote it and they way that they played it by only one (fairly prominent) note. Combining the facts that he wasn’t given credit for it and that they played it “wrong”, this situation apparently led to Tommy leaving the ceili band. And without a formal name, folks said “let’s play that Christmas Eve tune”, which is how it got its name. And to this day, it is still played with the wrong note…

Re: Tunes which always seem to always be played differently than they are written.

Well, when the tunes are played by good musicians esp the pipers they will likely be played correctly . However, they don’t always sound quite what you might expect for some of the reasons mentioned above. Especially when played at speed. Some notes are played subtly quieter and others are more emphasised.

However, I’ve noticed that non pipers and many session musicians will often play something else which sounds more like what they think they hear as opposed to the exact original version of the tunes. I’m guilty of that myself, of course.

replying to JonD

Re: Tunes which always seem to always be played differently than they are written.

OK, I think I see what you’re getting at Johnny Jay. It’s like The Flying Wheelchair that is played a bit differently than written, even by Lennon himself. I think his dots in “Musical Memories” are intended to include a number of ideas for variation, not be a note-for-note documentation of how he recorded it.

Re: Tunes which always seem to always be played differently than they are written.

@Reverend:
“And without a formal name, folks said “let’s play that Christmas Eve tune”, which is how it got its name. And to this day, it is still played with the wrong note…”

Which one? 🙂

Re: Tunes which always seem to always be played differently than they are written.

I see there’s 14 settings of Christmas Eve in the tune section. So, there must be at least 13 wrong notes.
🙂

Re: Tunes which always seem to always be played differently than they are written.

Re: Christmas Eve. That first setting has more than one odd note.

Which leaves me to think, shouldn’t this thread be titled “Tune which always seem to be written differently than they are played” ?

But are tunes ever played just one “correct” way? I wouldn’t say that the first setting of Christmas Eve is “incorrect,” just different. Some of those differences are interesting and would make good variations from the way I usually play it.

It’s fun to find other notes that fit the tune but sweeten it or give some small surprise, so any given tune ends up with a few different notes every time it’s played.

Any one written setting is just a single snapshot of the tune. It won’t (usually) show how it’s played differently each of the three times in a row, or how it might be played by the same person next week or a year from now, or how it might be played by another person or on a different instrument.

That doesn’t make any one setting “correct” or the others “wrong.”

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Re: Tunes which always seem to always be played differently than they are written.

"Boyen, I was referring to “non pipers”.
As I said above, I’m sure pipers themselves(esp Gordon)play all the notes and more"

From my experience something else is going on here. If you learn a tune by ear and never bother to check the sheet music or slow down a recording you probably wont pick up on the drone notes. I honestly don’t think it’s a matter of skill… I play all the notes for some of the tunes you listed and I’m not a good player by any measure. It’s more the commitment to learn a tune inside out.

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Re: Tunes which always seem to always be played differently than they are written.

Not sure if you are talking about this, but I will give two examples:

- Chief O’Neill’s Favourite (hornpipe).

There are two versions that are very different, one with alterations that is played quite a lot nowadays and the other without alterations that was transcribed in O’Neill 1001.

- The Flogging (reel)

I thought the only version of this pretty standard reel had alterations, F naturals. But not, there is another version without alterations.

I guess these variations have to do with the available notes that exist in the instruments. I am thinking in one row melodeons, diatonic harmonicas or keyless flutes and uillean pipes.

Re: Tunes which always seem to always be played differently than they are written.

When do so called variations become wrong interpretations or hackneyed versions of the tune .At the end of the day everyone seems to play the same tune slightly differently---don’t they? 😉

Re: Tunes which always seem to always be played differently than they are written.

My understanding of the note in Christmas Eve that people play “wrong” is the e:

DB,DE G2GA|B2eB ABG2

Where people invariably play a d:

DB,DE G2GA|B2dB ABG2

But apparently, this was a big deal to Tommy Coen! (shrug)

Re: Tunes which always seem to always be played differently than they are written.

Clearly a completely different tune with the d vs. the e. 🙂

Re: Tunes which always seem to always be played differently than they are written.

Not one of the settings in the tune database here has that e. I wonder how many recordings do. I’d wager not many.

The Reverend may have it right—“invariably.”

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Re: Tunes which always seem to always be played differently than they are written.

The Christmas Eve compromise?

DB,DE G2GA|BedB ABG2

Re: Tunes which always seem to always be played differently than they are written.

“My understanding of the note in Christmas Eve that people play “wrong” is the e … Where people invariably play a d …. this was a big deal to Tommy Coen! (shrug)”

I’m not at all surprised he was particular about it. The D is obvious (which is why most of us play it); the E is not. So he was making a particular musical statement with that note. Perhaps he heard that one cheeky note as the very thing that made the tune special, whilst others heard a great tune, but with just one awkward note in it.

Re: Tunes which always seem to always be played differently than they are written.

I like your compromise, Rick, but it’s also a good example of how people end up playing tunes differently than written! 😉 And CMO, I agree that Tommy might have considered that note to be a signature of the tune. And I agree that the D is obvious, I just can’t decide if it’s obvious because that’s how we always hear it played, or because the E actually stands out more…

Re: Tunes which always seem to always be played differently than they are written.

Rick, your compromise works, but it places the ‘e’ in an unaccented position, serving as just a passing note. The ‘d’ ends up in it’s usual accented position, on the backbeat.

I was thinking along the same lines as Reverend, wondering if I prefer the ‘d’ simply because that’s how I’ve always heard it. But the ‘d’ is “obvious” because it fills out the G major sound (all those other ‘G’ ‘B’ and ‘D’ notes) of the phrase. If you play ‘e’ on the backbeat instead (as Tommy Coen apparently wanted it), does it want an Em there (because of the pair of ‘e’ and ‘B’), or some trazzy G6 chord? Either of those sounds off to me.

Dolores Keane and Mairtin Byrnes recorded Christmas Eve on their 1978 album, There Was a Maid, and they both play the ‘d’. But several times Mairtin simply holds onto that B, either sliding into it and holding it, or rolling it, no need for a higher note.

On Rarities & Old Favourites (1966), Micho Russell plays the ‘d’.

Anyone have the 1961 release of Eddie Moloney: Master Musician? On it, Eddie plays this tune along with Tommy Coen on fiddle. Do they play the ‘e’?

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Re: Tunes which always seem to always be played differently than they are written.

Yup, talked about before. I’m certainly not at all surprised when tunes aren’t “played as written”. I believe that’s the nature of the aural tradition. We play a tune as we think we remember the way we think we heard someone else play, often on a different instrument. To make matters more interesting not everybody can create an accurate score. Add to all that we often include our own ideas of how a tune works. Let’s not forget how time interferes with memory. I’m skeptical that any tune, written down or passed on by ear, is free of transcription errors.

Re: Tunes which always seem to always be played differently than they are written.

Of course, some of the “transcription errors” aren’t errors at all but preferences, or a blending of differences in how a tune was played each time through or by different instruments.

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Re: Tunes which always seem to always be played differently than they are written.

@Fernando Durbán Galnares - the usual English term is “accidentals”, not “alterations” - the latter introduces the idea of a deliberate change, which may be appropriate in the cases you discuss, but not in general. 🙂

The accidentals in Chief O’Neill’s that you are referring to must be the F naturals that people play at the start of the second part. These have clearly come about as a result of players of fixed-pitched instruments (e.g. Barney McKenna and his banjo) trying to get the note that old-schools fiddlers would have played, i.e. a natural F#, flatter than the F# on a banjo. (So in that sense, these particular “accidentals” are indeed “alterations”.)

Listen to Paddy Glackin’s playing of the tune on “In Full Spate” - he is definitely not playing F naturals in either the first or second part, but you can hear why banjo players or accordionists would conclude that their F# was not the right note.

Re: Tunes which always seem to always be played differently than they are written.

There are several tunes that I know/play where there is perhaps just that one note difference between what is played in local sessions and what the composer actually wrote. The problem is that that one note is likely to be just one whole tone away from the “correct” one, so if both are played together there’s a bit of a clash. Depends how many people present and/or if I’m leading the tune. If it’s a large gathering playing the “wrong” version, then I’d just go with that to keep the peace, although probably internally cringing. But if I’m leading a smaller group, I’ll play what the composer wrote.

Re: Tunes which always seem to always be played differently than they are written.

Thanks for all the responses.

I see the discussion has opened out a bit to include different examples and scenarios as to opposed to what I was thinking about. That doesn’t matter though.

I’m aware of different variations, settings, and the odd note or two here and there but I was particularly interested in the type of tunes which just don’t sound the same as written nor seem to be played that way. As Gimpy suggested, maybe the thread should have been more accurately titled “Tunes which always seem to be written differently than they are played” 😉

As regards the tunes in my examples and others like them, I think Donald K’s early explanation is very good and probably correct(in my opinion). Especially as regards the pipe tunes.

Re: Tunes which always seem to always be played differently than they are written.

The polyrhythms in Troy’s Wedding ( https://thesession.org/tunes/2014 Third part ) are often problematic for fiddlers (me included). So, for ages, I simply played the bare notes that blended in with every other player.

I realised that this was a [questionable option], so I decided to learn the proper version. I got it off perfectly, but after a short time I realised I liked the “bare notes” version better!

Musicians are weird 🙂

Re: Tunes which always seem to always be played differently than they are written.

gimpy asked:
“Anyone have the 1961 release of Eddie Moloney: Master Musician? On it, Eddie plays this tune along with Tommy Coen on fiddle. Do they play the ‘e’?”

e!

https://www.irishtune.info/tune/321/

Re: Tunes which always seem to always be played differently than they are written.

Yep, there’s a snippet of the recording here: https://www.irishtune.info/album/EMlny/, and they do, indeed, play the e.

Re: Tunes which always seem to always be played differently than they are written.

Good find, you two!

The ‘e’ certainly jumps out, and perhaps makes the case for playing without accompaniment. Cue backers to tell us what chord they’d play behind that ‘e’ (I’m genuinely curious).

Still, I prefer the ‘d’ likely because it’s what my ears are accustomed to.

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Re: Tunes which always seem to always be played differently than they are written.

Jim says “I simply played the bare notes that blended in with every other player”

Well, that’s what I think seems to be happening with some of these tunes or a slightly "adapted version is being played.

“I got it off perfectly, but after a short time I realised I liked the “bare notes” version better”

Yes, I have learned these parts with all the notes too and they don’t sound quite right on the fiddle, mandolin and similar. OK if you are playing on you’re own but they don’t seem to blend in that well with other people are doing in the session.

As Donald and one or two others have suggested, it’s probably the case that non pipers can’t hear all the notes that pipers play (You can if you really listen) but will still absorb the basic tune. I’m not saying we are cheating as such but just naturally adapting our playing to suit.

After all, most of us don’t play all the intracacies in some classic fiddle tunes e.g. Skinner etc.. in session situations either although we might well try this(or attempt it) while playing solo or in a performance situation.

Re: Tunes which always seem to always be played differently than they are written.

“Anyone have the 1961 release of Eddie Moloney: Master Musician? On it, Eddie plays this tune along with Tommy Coen on fiddle. Do they play the ‘e’?”
As Reverend said, yes they do. It’s actually not the only difference either. Their way of playing the tune definitely makes the whole tune more interesting.

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Re: Tunes which always seem to always be played differently than they are written.

Out on the Ocean sounds nothing like it’s written, it’s swung much harder for instance. I learned it off the paper (on guitar) before I ever heard it recorded or in a session so I got a little surprise he first time it popped up …

Re: Tunes which always seem to always be played differently than they are written.

That’s an interesting comment on several levels.

I’d say the internal experience of someone looking at written notation depends entirely on the experience and context of the person looking at the notation and isn’t something inherent in the notation itself.

I look at the written version and it sounds in my head exactly like it sounds, but I’ve been playing this music for a very long time, so I can’t hear it any other way.

This is the challenge in teaching this music, it’s hard to remember what it was like when the notation didn’t sound like it sounds.

Re: Tunes which always seem to always be played differently than they are written.

Well there you go: midwayfair says that “Out on the Ocean” sounds nothing like it’s written and that it is “swung harder”. I’ve only ever heard/played it as a very straight, unswung 6/8 jig. Can you give us a link to this hard swung version then, midwayfair, please?

Re: Tunes which always seem to always be played differently than they are written.

Jigs aren’t played straight. They are swung. In which Irish universe are jigs unswung, straight 6/8?

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Re: Tunes which always seem to always be played differently than they are written.

The vast majority of trad musicians that I know can’t read music so wouldn’t know if they were playing wrong notes from the written music.

Re: Tunes which always seem to always be played differently than they are written.

Is there a definitive ‘written music’ ? Pick almost any tune from the database here and you’ll find an average of 6 0r 7 ‘settings’, sometimes a lot more. As a non-reader I browse through the audio samples and play the version that’s closest to what’s in my head and where my fingers want to go. So ‘how they are written’ seems to cover a very wide range and right or wrong notes a matter of individual choice.