kerryman (wahoo!),bodhran nut (in a good way) and occassionally embarass myself with a banjo
Travelled the length and breadth of this little rock trying to find the truth about what is good and bad about the Bodhran. I can understand why some hate it and more love it , or should that be the other way round. The vast majority of erh! practitioners can’t play beyond a basic level and it suits some people to believe that that is all there is. So you end up with people destroying sessions and I have witnessed this all to often. Of course most melody players hate us and i dont blame them because they have never heard good playing in a live context.
GOOD BODHRANSTANAE ARE AS RARE AS HENS TEETH
Ill add more later kettles boiled
Back again. Where was I ? Oh yeah!
To steal a quote from the great Larry Adler " the Bodhran ( harmonica) is the easiest instrument in the world to play badly". The Bodhran to my mind didn’t exist before O Riada, Mercier, Ringo and Tommy. Well it did but its a bit embarrassing really because they were bad. They saw the light of day just for festivals and coincidently those were the intensive training courses as well. Ten pints and away ye go. Things have moved on thankfully, and to a degree that the average musician is oblivious to.
This brings me round nicely to the whingers and begrudgers. The Bodhran has a bad reputation and deservedly so , for all the above reasons. Most people’s experiences are bad ones.
However , the times they are a changing. There is a movement afoot and people are now taking lessons and sharing information and the instruments are made and taught in scientific ways with sound spectrum analysis and slow motion capture. There are people at university level studying music with the Bodhran as first instrument and they know their stuff to. While it will never be a melody instrument or leading a group , in the right hands it is the equal of any other instrument for accompaniment. It is not singularly necessary to make a session but neither is any other instrument for that matter, but it does add a flavour all it’s own.
It does suffer from being the punters favourite and the public perception is the drum is easy. It takes years to get really good.
By the way , the fiddlers have the best jokes about us. Probably because they spend so much time being envious.
Back again, where was i now, rant, punters favourite, fiddlers,,, oh yeah!
More Misconceptions.. the bodhran as a complex rhythm instrument is no more than 60 years old and you can start that timeline around the time Sean O,Riada brought it into a performance with ……(feck! can’t remember name). some time after you had Tommy Hayes, Johnny "Ringo" McDonagh, Peadder Mercier, and Kevin Conneff who brought it to a world stage. There were others but these were the guys who broke ground.
before this time the bodhran was more of an incidental instument, being brought into use for festivals and festival groups, e.g. Wren Boys ( pronouned Ran), Biddy boys ( st brigids day 1st sunday of febuary i think) and Straw boys which i dont know much about.
that brings back on the timeline to about 150 to 250 in irish terms. there is plenty of evidence to argue a discrepancy of a hundred years in either direction allowing for the plantations and such but im defining it down to predominantly hitting with a stick in an up and downey fashion irish style. the hand style probably there long before that , but i dont think we can claim it as solely an irish invention. Before this, all btool for winnowingodhrans should be described as frame drums and predate when Jesus was still wearing a short pants. it was used as a tool for winnowing wheat and such and arrived with the first agricultural tribes.
styles of play… bit of confusion here so ill keep it simple
whacking styles… hit as hard and as loud as you can with either knuckles or mallety looking stick over an inch thick that you either found or pulled off a ditch ( thats a hedge outside of ireland).
kerry style… slightly more refined but still a whacking style, mostly one end of a "beater ( first evolution of the the Shtick)", occassionally with the double end roll. everybody thinks this is so easy so ill have a go. it is relatively easy and the gateway drug of choice for many people into a session, especially those to lazy to learn a mellody instrument but an authority on how it should be played traditionally. in my opinion, the sooner this style and attitude dies off the better. it is solely responsible for all the bad press and derission. so FECK OFF with it!
jesus is that the time! be back soon.
double end - the next evolution. see Ringo
double end Tommy Hayes Style - a lesson in reverse engineering ( a joke only a bodhran player would get)
top end - kind of splits into three types
no 1 simply refers to playing at the upper end of the drum. the technique of playing differs from other style simply by virtue of the fact that the tipper swing is forward and back rather than the typical up and down and is just more comfortable for that purpose
no 2 is where the held position of the tipper is at the top end of the stick. it is not however confined to playing at the topend of the drum and is played just as commonly in the traditional position.
n0 3 very definate top end of drum and top end hold of tipper. relies far less on double end rolls and introduces single end rolling. developed from drumming techniques such as parradiddles and " mama ,dada"s .excellent for solos and divides traditionalists.
social resposibilities never play loader than the musician left or right of you needs to hear.
position yourself with consideration for others if you can
nothing wrong with offering your seat to a lead musician, it doesnt suggest your second class or anything its just practical sometimes in the interest of getting the session developed. think of it this way, if theres a lone accordian in a pub and hes told theres another musician on the way, does he think " i hope its the best bodhran player ever" no hes hopeing at least to get an average lead musician or a gutarist who can sing. it doesnt mean he doesnt like bodhrans, in fact he may love them. a bodhran is like a good harmony singer. absolutely not necessary but beautiful if its done right. it is possible of course to add something to the playing of an individual instrument but you better be considerate and in balance. if your hopeing to join a random session for feck sake ASK politely you will rarely be told to feck off but you might get a coldness .if you cant thaw it out , show some professional courtesy and leave. if your not sure dont play for a while and see are you encouraged to play.if they are all friends you maybe intruding on a private party and if your getting the cold shoulder leave them alone, its their party. if theyre all strangers youve as much right to be there as any one else so long as your adding something. when i was learning and was only a fair to middlin player i always found that manners got you further than a thick skin or hard neck, i would always ask did they mind if i played in the background. often got the quizzical look and id reply " dont worry ill keep it down and if i dont give me a kick in the shin". i found it a great ice breaker. id tip away quietly and chat away and lo and behold you be told shove in hear quick before that bollocks sits down. the whacker would have landed but now hed be told one drum is eneough. your adopted at that point. didnt always happen like that but i ll leave it as an example of how to make friends and influence people.
no matter how much you pratice there is no replacement for the live feel
THE DRUM ITSELF
don’t waste money on bodhrans with NO tuning system, they will crack you up.
fancy celtic designs usually suggest tourist memorabilia
deep shells do not create volume or base.
sometimes you see tape on the skin, this can reduce the buzzy or pingy effect. the tape reduces these overtones though not always necessary.
a single bar can be used as a leverage point for tonal changes with the hand though this is not as common as it used to be .
goat skin is the most common. calf , emu, kangaroo and deer have also been effectively used.
18" -16" most common for older styles and double end.
#15"- 12" mor common for topend or single end.
rim depth for both 5"-6" most common. no real advantage after that.
rule of thumb for tipper length, the fullest span of your hand plus an inch for double end playing and maybe another inch or two for single or topend. there is also a balance point which you must find to suit yourself.
experiment with cheap dowel rod and o rings for weighting. then buy from a maker.
loads of demos on youtube but you have to focus on what suits you and your ear. there is a lot of stuff that can work against you if you try doing it all.
some people offer fantastic advice others are talking bullshit . beware.
practice to all kinds of music. rock and dance are especially good alternatives to ITM.
learn as many tunes and variations in your head as you can, this is essential as it will help you improvise in unknown tunes.
follow the goddam tune and don’t show off , leave that to a solo IF ASKED.
5 minutes practice a day 7 days a week is better than 2 hrs 1 day a week.
WORK IN PROGRESS