The tune and the turn

The tune and the turn

At a session the other night one of the fiddlers said he had been told that originally ITM tunes had only one part and the "b" parts were improvised by the player.Hence the expression The tune and the turn.
He was not sure about the truth of the story but thought it might explain the similarity of "b"parts.
This was all news to me. Does any one know anything about this?

Re: The tune and the turn

I quite like the idea of it, but I doubt it. (I often play like this if I am the only melody player playing for dancers, but that’s only ‘cause I have a low boredom threshold). But improvisation in this music is on the micro level and not in the broad sweep of it. The "turn you refer to is, as far as I know, merely the direction the notes take. As in: "that tune has a lovely unexpected turn to it".

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It’s likely that tunes with lots of parts may have developed from variations played by pipers which then became fixed as part of the tune.

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This is the modern approach taken in bluegrass, but was ITM really like that? Hmmmmm….

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Re: The tune and the turn

Just another way of saying A and B part:

These tunes are always constructed from eight-bar
statements. Generally there are two statements: the tune and the turn of the tune, the latter being
a development of the theme of the tune in a higher register. There are, however, many examples
of tunes with three or more parts.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/northernireland/schools/11_16/music/traditions/pdf/series1/notes02.pdf

The majority of Irish tunes follow a formula, they consist of two parts, the tune and the turn. The tune last for eight bars, is often in a lower register and it is then followed by a turn of another eight bars often pitched a fifth or more above the first passage. Sounds archane, but in reality it often means moving from one string to the next higher on a fiddle. This is sometimes referred to as a call and an answer system. For dances, the formula was to play the tune of eight bars, then follow it with the turn of eight bars, this is called singling the tune by traditional musicians, each part is played only once. As the music has drifted away from dance, the structure has become more complex. Today most tunes are doubled. The first part is played twice, often the second time round with variations, the turn is also played twice, again with a second round incorporating variation. Complex patterns may develop.The tune and turn are more often called the A and B part by players, so a typical pattern is AABB, this gives a thirty two bar piece.
http://www.iol.ie/~didly-didly/journal3.html

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I came across a nice little description a while back along the lines the first part of a tune can be considered the question, the second as the reply. The turn therefore is the change of voice. Worth thinking about when you’re playing…

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"This is the modern approach taken in bluegrass, but was ITM really like that?"

Back in the late 1600s early 1700s, yes and no.

Bluegrass has been, since it’s invention, heavily influenced by jazz and it was always "listening" music as a stage performance (which is why traditional clothing for the bluegrass musician is a suit), hence the improvisations are very free form.

The improvisation of the "turn" of the tune followed the baroque practice of the time. It was variation at the discretion of the player, but it followed fairly strict rules and the main theme of the tune had to remain recognizable throughout. You "turned" the tune, but you didn’t just go off somewhere noodling. Think of it as an improvised fugue with the parts played sequentially instead of simultaneously.

As such each player actually develop personal standard "improvisations" and the best liked of these very quickly developed into "standard" B parts as other players copied them. Not unlike people today copying the versions of recorded tunes they like.

The whole evolution from improvised B part to standard B part happened in the timespan of a single lifetime, much as modern traditional music has developed from naked fiddle for dance accompaniment to sessions in the timespan of a single lifetime (although the fact that it hasn’t happened within the timespan of your single lifetime obfuscates that).

KFG

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Every tune originated in improvisation of some kind, so why should the B part be more likely to be the improvised bit rather than the A part?

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john doherty used to make up his own parts of tunes. others of the older famous fiddlers have been thought to have added parts as well.

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"…why should the B part be more likely to be the improvised bit rather than the A part?"

Yes, every tune is just an improvisation that you choose to repeat, which, as I wrote above, is how B parts became standard, just as many "standard" jazz tunes are people slavishly copying some recording that was originally improvised on the spot.

However, to create an variation on a *theme* you must have the theme first, as the theme provides the standard for the variation; and improvising a variation on a theme is the standard because, well, that’s the way things were done, and, for the most part, still are. Even "pure" improvisational genres like jazz start with an agreed upon standard tune and diverge from that.

First you make a movie, then you make the sequel (unless you’re George Lucas, and we can see how well that idea works out in practice right there).

Before comes before after, and Oh, Mother Let Me Tell You (Twinkle, Twinkle) came before Mozart’s variations *on* it. It just doesn’t work the other way around. B parts are, by definition, after A parts. It’s a Second Law of Thermodynamics thing.

Improvising an A part is called "noodling " (or New Jazz S**t) until you repeat it, when it suddenly becomes "composing." Taking a composition and playing a certain note a fith up is variation. Irish B parts are variations, not pure improvisation. They maintain relationship to the A part.

No noodling unless you’re composing an A part. In that sense you are correct, by definition A parts are pure improvisation and created before the B part, because the B part comes after (except in those cases where a part was composed as an A part and became a B part later on, but I’m not even going to bring that issue up).

But it’s the A part that got standardized and passed around first, because they come before the B part, which was the player’s improvisation on the A.

Call-Response. You cannot respond to this post until I have already improvised it, at which point it has become a composition.

Later.

KFG

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There’s probably a little truth in this story, as there is in most myths, but, like all myths, it shouldn’t be taken too literally. Improvising of B-parts goes on a fair bit today: How often do we hear musicians playing the B-part of one tune to the A-part of another, perhaps with a little of the right B-part mixed in?

Perhaps in a time when there were fewer tunes (if there was ever such a time) and when musicians most often played alone, such practices of mixing, matching and modifying were more acceptable. For the musician playing solely for dancers, the most important criterion was to play the right number of measures.

Re: The tune and the turn

Old Time American fiddlers used to call the A part "the coarse" and the B part "the fine"

Re: The tune and the turn

I don’t know what the opinions here expresed are based on, but I have to say that I like MG’s comment best of all about the turn.
"that tune has a lovely unexpected turn to it".
This is what the word means in relation to the music. A turn is a change of direction not just shift up a string. A good tune is one that hangs together as a unit but has interesting "turns" to it. That turn might be at the start of the B section or it might be halfway through a section. A good "turn" in a session might be a point where someone (educated listener) will give a timely little whoop or holler - ya boyo! Sometimes to show that they know the tune they might give the signal just before the turn, in anticipation.

This was just to give this thread a bit of a turn ;)

Re: The tune and the turn

Suppose you think you are a bit of a ‘Star Turn’ yourself there Donough? ;-)

What about all those Scottish Pipe tunes which have four parts & where there are perhaps only one or two note differences between the 1st & 3rd, or 2nd & 4th parts!

How would you describe the 3rd & 4th parts? ‘Turn Again’ & ‘Still Turning’ - or what?

I don’t see anything wrong with the likes of the John Doherty’s of this world adding new parts to tunes. If they work & sound well, then folk will want to learn the new part or parts - if they don’t, they will be forgotten. There are some very tasty third parts of tunes which have possibly been added later as an afterthought - thinks………., but then can’t think of any right now, …………….so the thought passes!

Which came first, the B part or the A part? I’m sure it is not always the case that the A part is thought of first.

Then there are those tunes which start on the high part & end on the low part - do they turn before they tune?

It is true that there are some ancient tunes still around today, with only one part & as we have a few of those, then there most probably were loads more at the time.
However, can we really class these ancient relics as being part of ITM as we know it. I would have thought that what we think of as ITM came into being much later.

On the one hand Comhaltas, for many years, poo pooed Carolan music as being no part of ITM.

While Breathnach believed that if you knew the composer of a tune, then it couldn’t be classed as a ‘traditional’ tune at all.

Don’t you just love all those hard liners? Comhaltas, Breathnach, Dow etc :-)

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Well ain’t it just great to see a grouse really living up to it’s name.
Some tunes with variations really don’t do it for me as they just don’t have an interesting "turn" at all, whether they have 4 or more parts. So for me those tunes just don’t "turn" at all!
How does Dow feel now that he has been lumped with Comhaltas and Breathnach.

Re: The tune and the turn

‘ER-OOK-OORA"!

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Hey Dow, yer ‘caps’ over there!

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I suspect Praetorius compiled one of the earliest Western collections of tunes (Terpsichore c. 1612). His tunes had more than one part.

Re: The tune and the turn

In the pipe tradition you can see the development of the turn in the Piobaireachd of today. The ground or urlar is followed by the addition of more and more complicated gracing each time through. This ancient practice was eventually adopted by the Gaelic harpers and became the basis of most tunes today.

I have also seen the development of different parts happen before my eyes. Sorry for the name-dropping but, I was at an after concert session with Cathal McConnell and Paddy Keenan and I was watching them noodle around before things got going. They each had a different B part to a tune so they decided to play them as second and third parts. Later when then tune came up during the session, when Cathal and Paddy went into the ‘third’ part the rest of the session was thrown into chaos and I could see the spark of mischief in their eyes.

Re: The tune and the turn

There have been some assumptions here in this thread that the B (or C or D) part is "The Turn" and that they are little more than variations on the first A part. I realise this was part of the old piping tradition and is still in evidence in that form today but I don’t see that it applies to our current jigs and reels etc.
Also as I said before I see the word "turn" more along the lines of what was said earlier by Michael Gill - where are you MG now when i need you?
Ptar said what about the Piping tunes with multiple parts where each part only changes very slightly - well for me this just doesn’t hack it as a "turn". Variations yes.
This is enough to give anyone a funny turn :)