Skipping notes

Skipping notes

I’ve experienced a few musicians lately (a fiddler in particular) who tries to play everything at an absolutely ridiculous pace. In doing so, he ends up skipping tons of notes. The tune is still recognizable, and it doesn’t really sound bad, but I can’t help but feel this is cheating in some way.

I’d rather play/hear a song at a moderate tempo so that its possible to hit all the notes. Though most of my playing right now is done at a slower pace - my one year anniversary of fiddling is coming up next month.

What are your feelings on players skipping notes in order to play a song very very fast?

PS. I noticed the past discussion on sessions getting faster, but this is more addressed towards the individual player and the ramifications (perhaps even moral issues) of taking short cuts.

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Everything in moderation, including moderation. And tempos. And skipping notes, or not skipping notes. 🙂

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Well, the moral implications are very serious, indeed. As we all know - idle hands are the devil’s workshop, so it’s important to keep them busy palying each little note or you might go to h*ll. Which according to Gary Larson is a very scary place filled with accordions and banjos!

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I happen to like accordians. Maybe I should start skipping more notes.

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A complicated subject actually, and I’m not up to a long disertation filled with lots of qualifiiers at the moment, but I’ll say this; I wouldn’t put with that sort of nonsense from a student. From the listeners perspective they can just go find better fiddlers to listen to, and from the player’s perspective all he’s doing is building a wall over which he’ll never be able to climb.

Speed is not the goal of music. That’s why God invented JATO packs.

KFG

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One of my students said one day, "Oh - that’s how they play so fast, they’re not playing all the notes."

Wasn’t it Yoda who said, "Easy now, hard later. Hard now, easy later."

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Yes, the wall metaphor is great! I think the skipping notes is partly due to laziness, or maybe we’re looking at it all wrong and it takes intense skill to decide which notes are worthy enough to be played.

Also to clarify, this guy isn’t my teacher.

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19-1-05 5573 Skipping notes
In the classical orchestral world it’s called "faking it", and can happen with the strings in the difficult bits, often at the conductor’s instigation ("make sure you come in on the first beat of the bar" is the usual closing mantra). Solo pianists in concertos have also been known to "simplfy" some of the more difficult passage work, especially if the orchestra is being loud and busy at the same time.

In Irish trad are we talking about simplifications such as changing “gd adbd” to “g2a2b2” (omitting non-essential and unaccented notes), which may be justified in some circumstances (e.g. set dancers going off at a gallop)? Such a simplification would retain both the beat and the essential notes of the tune, and wouldn’t really be noticed at speed. Flute players may want to alter a passage by leaving out non-essential notes, which may be easy to play on the fiddle, in order to make it playable at speed – or vice versa. Again, this is justifiable in some circumstances (e.g. you’re being required to to play unexpectedly fast on an important occasion). The important thing is, if you must skip notes, to make sure they are not essential melody notes and are not on the beat.

I think the reverse can happen when you’re learning a tune solely by ear from sessions. You may well start off by hearing and playing the skeleton of the tune, and then, as you hear it more and more at sessions, you hear notes you have hitherto missed and start bringing them into your own playing.

Trevor

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Being able to play fast and maintain the musical integrity takes years of practice. Being able to play fast by leaving out notes takes a lot less time, but it compromises the music. Play at the speed that’s right for you and your tempo won’t get ahead of your abilities.

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Yes Jack, I couldn’t agree more. It’s just that I was envisaging a musical situation not of the player’s chosing where the only practical thing to do is to skip the occasional note.
Trevor

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Most of the time what I hear in my head is not necessarily what’s coming out of my fiddle. I notice this every time I record myself. Half the time I’m tempted to believe I’ve hit all the notes and played the whole tune, but experience has shown me this is hardly ever the case.

The bit of advice I constantly hear and ignore is: Practice very, very, very slowly. This is why I stink. It’s bloody brilliant in my head though.

I strongly recommend self-recording to disabuse oneself of any illusions one might harbour about the technical brilliance of their fast playing. The purpose of this is to shock yourself into realizing it’s time to start listening to all those old grouches that have been telling you to slow down all this time.

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Grouch, grouch, grouch.

There’s a tool that makes it very easy to slow down you know. 🙂

You can find one at www.metronomeonline.com

And remember, if you want to go fast, buy a Maserati.

KFG

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This is not to say that it’s not FUN to play fast, even if it is faster sometimes than you can actually play well at. Nobody, I think, is disputing that it can be fun to do that. (Maybe not so fun for the listeners, but what the hell, who is a session for anyway!? — oh god, don’t answer that, anybody, stop, stop, don’t pick—-!)

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Zina, check your email! It’s sharing time!

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Got ya, will download and listen over my late dinner!

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you too, eh? just sat down to a dodgy bowl of pasta myself.

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Humiliator = self recording device

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Actually it’s a Humilitron, I just remembered when I hit "post"

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I have "ProTools" but I think it ought to be called "PoorFool’s"

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The whole idea of this thread seems to presuppose that there is an authorized version of the tune, from which notes may or may not be subtracted. This is all well and good for Beethoven, but it seems at odds with the idea of traditional music, oral transmission, that sort of thing.

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Well, you can perhaps take that a little too far, Jon, because if you go far enough, no one could tell what the tune was. I mean, sure, there’s different settings and variations, but you have to be able to at least recognize the tune, don’t you think? Otherwise we’d all just be playing whatever comes to mind at the time, and wouldn’t *that* be a lovely sound…

I had a really nice burrito made by my roommate Beth, Ker — but then I’d think so, it had avocado in it, and I love the stuff.

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Well, would I be skipping notes and going to muso hell if I varied King of the Faeries?

First three times:
|:B,2|EDEF GFGA|B2 B>A G3 A|

Fourth: B,2|E2 F G2 A|B2 etc….

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Jon, we’re talking about tune integrity, not specific versions.

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To address further natharious’s original question; a danger in skipping notes so you can play faster is that you will be teaching yourself bad habits. These habits will be doubley hard to break because they will become your muscle-memory.

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Thank you for all of your comments. It is much appreciated.

If you guys are talking about playing variations of tunes, there’s another thread right below this one.

I wasn’t trying to say that there is only one way to play a tune and that any deviance (by removing notes) is wrong. I originally said that the tunes that Skipper played were recognizable and didn’t sound particularly bad (an untrained audience wouldn’t really notice too much of a difference). What I was getting at was the consequence of taking "short cuts".

Jack hit the nail right on the head: "a danger in skipping notes so you can play faster is that you will be teaching yourself bad habits. These habits will be doubley hard to break because they will become your muscle-memory."

Kerri - I like your idea of recording yourself. It can sound very different than what it sounds like in your head. Practicing slowly is also very good advice. Lately I’ve been using a metronome, only advancing to the "next level" after I am able to play it through without error.

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P.Joe Hayes once said to me "If you play a dozen tunes and only one at the correct speed and with ALL the notes then you have only ONE tune".

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So P.Joe Hayes takes the view that there is only one way to play a tune and that any deviance is wrong.
This is out of step with mainstream opinion in traditional music.

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I think PJ just meant if you play only one properly you have only one tune, and eleven to learn…I think he meant *all* the notes you intend to play…nothing to do with variation……

Jim

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Thank you Jim.

I’m sure you’re right, I was being devil’s advocate in order to invite some clarification. One of the hazards of this typewritten kind of conversation is the lack of visible body language and inflection, which so often leads to misunderstandings and pointless argification.

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So no misunderstanding now! 🙂
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(______|______)

Jim

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Dunno - I’m still having a bit of trouble reading your facial expression, jim

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Sometimes, skipping notes comes from the difficulties inherent in an instrument. For example, a DED triplet that is effortless on a whistle involves pull-push-pull on an accordion that is more difficiult to do quickly and smoothly. I was being taught a tune by an accordion player who called the middle note a "fiddler note" and put a dotted quarter note D in the place of the triplet. As a learning accordion player, some triplets are effortless, the hardest is D-F#-A, again, something that would be effortless on the whistle. So I find myself cheating here and there so I can play a few tunes on my new instrument at the session. But the ultimate goal is to minimize if not eliminate those cheats. There is a danger to going too fast. Last night I was listening to a demo track (jig) our band recorded, and was shocked to find that it was too fast to dance to comfortably—and since this is dance music, that is too fast.
AL Brown

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I’ve found similar AL. Theres a tune we play which I heartily detest, I can never get it right when I practice - then when we play for dances it comes out ok - because when I am practicing alone I am trying to go too fast.

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Some people just like to play and prefer sparse settings of tunes, and it *may* not be a matter of "musical integrity" — I’ve heard some mighty fine players play some very simple, non-"notey" versions of tunes and they were lovely. I’d have to hear the guy myself to even begin to start deciding if it’s one or the other, and even then it’d still be only my opinion. There’s a lot that goes on between choosing to not "play all the notes" and simply playing a very sparse setting of a tune, and dropping notes out because you don’t have the skill to play them all, and whether it’s acceptable has a lot to do with the authority and experience and skill of the person playing it.

There’s no way any of the rest of us can tell what your man’s doing without listening to him and his tunes, and we have to take your word on what he’s doing, but I’d hate to think I was slamming another player without leaving an out.

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natharius said "it doesn’t really sound bad" so it’s hard to tell whether we’re talking about sloppiness or a conscious decision to simplify the tunes because this fiddler thinks it sounds good that way.

It’s also possible the source of his / her tunes is suspect. If s/he is picking them out of books or learning in a group, s/he might think the simplified only-half-the-notes-made-it-into-the-sheet-music version is the way the tunes actually go.

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In general, the session I attend most regularly is an "advanced beginner/intermediate" affair, and most tend to play simpler settings of the tunes, so I like attending other sessions sometimes, and also listening to others as much as I can. One can really get caught in a trap when they only hear/learn the tunes in one session. The best written resource I have found is the series of books by David Mallinson (Mally Presents the 100 Essential Session Tunes, etc, etc), nice clean versions of the tunes, very close to the version one hears played at sessions (at least here in New England). O’Neill’s tends not to always reflect the ways tunes are currently played, and some of the other books have settings that don’t fit as well. Of course, books are only one leg of the "strategic triad" of learning tunes (those three methods being use of books full of notes, playing in sessions, and listening to concerts or CDs).
AL Brown

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I have to say, I don’t like to teach "simple" settings at our tune learning session. i feel it’ll just mark them even more out as beginners, and they’ll just have to learn the tune properly later. I’d rather that they can play fewer tunes but play those tunes really well.

I might give them variations round playing a roll if they can’t roll yet (and since I’m not their actual teacher, it’s not really my job to teach them how to roll or whatever, although I’ll show them how if they’re unaware of what a roll is or whatever — if I WAS their teacher, I’d make them roll it and simply make them play slower til they had it), but that’s about it — I try to teach them the tunes they’ll be playing at the local sessions in more or less the ways they’ll need to play them.

Though I’m not above teaching them my settings of tunes in order to make it more likely that I can play my settings out at the sessions. ;)

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What you want to watch out for are communities/sessions run by Celtic gnomes who never had any personal contact with the tradition, and think that "it’s not a mistake, it’s a variation" is all the license they need. I’ve been to sessions where these people have taught their overly simplistic versions of common tunes to all their friends, and now that’s the local version. That’s one of the ways that tunes mutate and maybe it’s not a really bad thing, but there’s a lot of complaining when somebody wants to play the "normal" session version of the tune. Having had some of these people as students, I agree with Zina - "hard now, easy later" is going to prepare them for a lot more fun down the road.

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"Celtic gnomes" — this would be the ones with the GREEN hats instead of the red ones? Does the color of the fishing pole make a difference? ;)

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I was at a great festival over the week-end with a whole bunch of great players who stuck all kinds of fabulous notes into the tunes that are not a part of the versions played at our sessions. But they generallly never played the tune the same way twice either, so it would be kind of tough to learn from listening to a concert or recording.

Workshops are brilliant, because it turns out these players know the tune inside and out, but you have to sit down with them so they can show you a) the "actual" notes, and b) a bunch of possibilities for variations and ornaments.

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If you cant play all the notes at a fast tempo that you could do at a slower tempo (including all ornamentation) then quite simply you arent good enough to be playing that fast.

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"I was at a great festival over the week-end with a whole bunch of great players who stuck all kinds of fabulous notes into the tunes that are not a part of the versions played at our sessions." - Kerri

Uh… sorry, this is the "skipping notes" thread. The "adding notes" thread is two doors down and to the left.

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"I’ve come to buy an argument"

"Sorry, this is Abuse…"

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The abuse thread is four doors down in a thread on the previous page I think.

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I hear it’s a growth industry.

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Skipping notes is great, as long as it’s intentional. One of my favourite variations of all time is in Mick O’Brien and Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh’s Rolling in The Ryegrass, on their CD ‘Kitty Lie Over’. On the 3rd time round (I think), for the first two bars of the A-part, instead of the standard

A2 AF DFAF|G2BG dGBG|

they play

A2 AF DFAF|G8|.

Omission par exellence.

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I drop notes all the time if I’m playing the flute in order to take a breath. Sometimes I can take a breath and play a note at the same time, but that depends on the tune and part thereof. The nice thing is that for flute, it can actually enhance things, becomes part of your phrasing. I do try to not drop downbeat notes. The third note in the bar for reels is an easy one to drop without sounding bad.

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Dropping notes to breath is a flute technique. I don’t think natharious is talking about that in his question here.

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Yeah, I know, I was just using that as an example of a case where dropping notes works fine.

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What I was getting at in my previous post, and I think some people caught this, was that the whole idea of "skipping notes" is simply not a way of thinking about a traditional music. Either you’ve played the tune or you haven’t, and the way you know is if it sounds like the tune. If I play

|c2 Ac BAGB| AGEF GD D2|EA AG ABcd|eaaf gfed| …

you’ll know I’ve just started Star of Munster.

There are many places where I can hold a note, and you’ll still know it’s SofM:
|c2 Ac B2GB| AE2F GD D2|EA A2 ABcd|eaa2 g2ed| …

If I do them all in the same run through, it sounds weird, but still recognizable. If I make a habit of holding some of those notes, it’s a way to let the tune breathe, to leave room for another player to come through, or just a way to emphasize a particular moment of the tune. Silence is often your best ornament, particularly in a busy setting of a tune.

In any case, you’ll still recognize it as Star of Munster, and can play the notier version just fine with it. So did I "leave out notes", or did I come up with a setting, or did I come up with a variation? Is my intention the issue? Suppose I tell you that I came up with a setting for playing real fast, and it’s like the latter version - does that make a difference?

The problem seems to be more that the fiddler is playing too fast, and Natharious doesn’t like their settings or variations (which word you use depends, I suppose, on whether the omitted notes are omitted before or after the fiddler starts playing).
I’d agree - that sounds like a fiddler I wouldn’t want to play with. However, if they play something and I know what tune it is, it’s just a lousy version of the tune. It’s not that they’re playing it wrong (an authoritative judgement) it’s that they’re playing it BADLY (an idiosyncratic judgement). The difference is simply that you can disagree with the latter without saying that someone’s wrong.

Still doesn’t mean that a player who plays too fast for their fingers shouldn’t be chided (chid?) for it now and then. We had a guy at a Portland session who loved to play at top speed. When he muffed it, he was usually called "Lightning". When he dropped our jaws for us, we called him "Butterfingers." Go figure.

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Skip notes? Absolutely. Relax. Just do it.

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Those are some very good points, Jon. I agree with a lot of what you have to say.

I know it is hard to make a judgement on this fiddler (we’ll call him Skipper) so I’ll give you an example:

Now, Skipper and I were playing the other day. We were playing a set in which he likes to end with the Devil’s Dream. Now we arrive at DD and, completely out of the blue, he kicks it up about 8 notches so that the speed is almost unbearable (a big no-no to begin with). I was watching hairs fly off his bow, waiting for his fiddle to explode. What he was playing was an over-simplified version of the song (unlike Jon’s example where it was demonstrated that holding some notes can be very effective). Skipper flat out skipped entire runs and phrases, nearly tripping over his bow. I know this because I have heard him play the tune in the past at a regular speed and he was playing three times the amount of notes. He was sacrificing all of the ornamentations, runs, and the overall tune in order to play it at this speed. You’d have a seizure trying to clap along.

Maybe in the end he was just trying to show off?

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"Maybe in the end he was just trying to show off?"

I suppose it’s just remotely possible that once in a lifetime one could meet a musician who was inclined to show off.

;o)

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Only once in a lifetime? Here in Bristol we have a young muso to whom showing off is as natural as breathing, and he is genuinely, as far as I can make out, completely unaware of it. He is also one of the finest young musicians in the genre I’ve met, both technically and musically.
Trevor

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*can* you be showing off and not be aware of it? I mean, technically?

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No.