First Principles First Tunes

First Principles First Tunes

Either side of the exchange, as a ‘beginner’, if you can refresh the memories of that experience 😉, or teaching beginners ~ and lets have the good and the bad of it, as we learn from our mistakes, or those inflicted on us by others ~

First Principles - what is it important to distill and transfer about attitudes to the music, it’s context, in what context, what passions are important to share, what understandings to pass on / to achieve???

First Tunes - what’s good, what to look for, what works and what doesn’t ~ and provide links if you can to those tunes if they are on site here, or provide them if they aren’t?!?

I’ll keep this short, my initial offering, or do my damnedest to…

I deal with the ‘dance’ in the music from the start, and historic context, but get down to playing from the ‘beginning’. I always incorporate some dancing in the early lessons, like a figure from say a polka set, to get the physical feel for the phrasing of the dance music. And, God forgive me, I always introduce percussion, the first few basic beats of the bodhran as well as some sense of ‘stepping’ to the music, maybe an eight bar phrase worth in these percussive instances…one part is something I call ‘chairiatric dancing’, doing steps from a seated position, a la Quebec et Cape Breton…

Always a concern for me is that they relax into it, find humour in it, and not build in tension or frustration. I support all along the way and work hard to help them keep things ‘reasonable’ as far as their own expectations and self-criticism. I try to help them to appreciate and value the small steps / accomplishments…

I look for early dance tunes with a lot of repetition in them, and also tunes with limitations, having some that are pentatonic, 5 notes, or limited within a single octave, 8 notes or less in the scale. Here’s a link to one simplified example, "Johnny an Gabha":

Elements I like and look for in an ‘early’ tune, (repeating/mirroring, etc.) include,
examples from this "Johnny an Gabha" - - -

K: D ~ BA

and bars, such as,
K: G ~ | ed Bd | e2 ef |
~ the middle two bars in every 4-bar phrase ~

and endings, in this case the last three bars of both parts,
K: D ~ | BA FA | BA Bc | d2 d2 :|

& that it occurs in two keys…

& I use lilting, singing the tune for a start. Making fools of ourselves is a great release for any tension, something the ‘dancing’ helps with as well…

Re: First Principles First Tunes

Speaking from the beginner’s side of the divide, I think you’re spot on about the first tunes, ceolachan. Simplicity, repetitiveness, something that sounds like the music and that you can do right away, to build and maintain enthusiasm.

My first tunes were polkas and hornpipes (Egan’s, Bill Sullivan’s, Britches Full of Stitches, Boys of Bluehill, Harvest Home). Then jigs like Saddle the Pony and Connaughtman’s Rambles.

As far as attitude, I think picking up on the fact that the music should be treated with reverence – but not sanctimony – was an important realization for me. It should be about real living human emotions, laughter, regret, even maudlin weeping, not as some fossilized museum piece. It’s fun.

I suspect you’re an awesom teacher, c.

Re: First Principles First Tunes

Originally, we started our students out with polkas: Britches and Mickey Chewing Bubblegum. Based on some feedback from visiting musicians, we added in a few marches: Dawning of the Day and Roddy McCorly. The marches have worked very well. They are fairly easy to learn, have good rhythmic qualities and an inherent step to them.

One thing you didn’t mention is the use of visuals. Like with the marches, visualizing a troop crossing the fields, or even being a part of a group marching.

If I could take one tune back from my fiddle class, it would be the Frost is all Over (Kitty Lie Over). I learned this early on, so just assumed it was a good learning tune. It does have a fairly simple melody. However, every one of my fiddle students has had a hard time learning it and then playing it. Especially the B part.

Sounds like you have some great ideas there already. I’d love to sit in on one of your classes to see you at work.

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Re: First Principles First Tunes

Nice one Jode. I learned marches early on too, including those you mentioned. They are a great way to get the feet going too. 😉

I like that you mentioned ‘visualizations’. I worked with dyslexics before being told I was one myself. I had a knack for desiphering their writing, but what I remember most is the importance of visuals, and alternate support to the learning process, including acting things out. On the whole they, and I, see pictures better than words, so any visuals, real or imagined, are highly valued. I suppose, really, the ‘physical’ aspects I try to introduce, such as dance, percussion, ‘marching’ and lilting/singing, are similar. There is another helpful aspect to music, that when you can touch on emotion, can feel it, the memory holds onto what’s being taught that little bit better.

Sadly for me, various reasons, I haven’t been teaching lately. I’m seeking ideas with this discussion, and inspiration. The one group class I had going, and proving successful, had to be brought to a close because, unknown to me, I was growing while the class nextdoor was shrinking. ‘Ego’ intervened, that instructor raised a fuss, and things came to a close. I am currently seeking another venue, for my own sake too. I’m badly out of practice on all counts… The other sad thing is, since that ‘other’ person made the fuss, his class has shrunk to nothing… I promise, I had no intention of stealing his students…

I hope, after certain tragedy at hand and other responsibilities, I’ll be back teaching soon, and learning, one of the best parts of such exchanges…

Re: First Principles First Tunes

Jode ~ just visited your website, I like that motley crew of a ceili band you’ve got. The ‘group’ class I was teaching was a ceili band class, advertised as ‘putting the dance back in dance music…’ We had a lot of fun and laughs in the class. I also tortured them with a tuner and a metronome, but just for a short part of each lesson…

Re: First Principles First Tunes

Ceolachan - An unholy crew indeed, but we have fun, and it is fab working with Paddy.

With our "school", we are aiming for a ceili band and a performance band for the kids. We are doing a little of that right now, on the performance side. It is sort of a summer workshop. The local festival gave us some stage time and we are putting something together lickety split. So far so good!

We also got an idea from looking at the Armagh Piper’s Club, seeing that they have a monthly session instead of a lesson. We morphed that slightly, as we had a majority of beginners and did not have many tunes to play. We started inviting guests to do presentations and tell us about themselves and how they got started with the music. The kids loved that. It was a fun way to give them context for the music.

I hope you get back into the teaching. It sounds like you have a passion for it, and that always draws in people.

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