Get ready to reach beyond your comfort zone. This is one of those nearly impossible tunes that just begs to be played. This version is based on Alisdair Fraser’s playing on The Road North, and the tarbukas are the bongo-sounding drums that pop their sinuous syncopation throughout the tune. More traditional arrangements of this tune fall in Eminor and are known by the name Old Sparky. If Gminor is new terrain, warm up by playing a Gm scale, with flatted Es and Bs, and Fnaturals. Two measures in this tune give fiddlers fits—the last measure of Part A, jumping from G to g and then back down the A string, and the 2nd and 6th measures of Part B. The only advice I can offer is to isloate this measure and play it over and over. Use your 4th finger to catch those eflats on the A string and watch your intonation. It helped me to tape the tune off the cd, and then play along with Alisdair slowed down about 20 percent. Even so, I flub this passage as often as I nail it, and I’ve been playing the tune for months. Good luck!
That is one fiendish tune! I love how the second part sounds. I don’t think I’ll ever quite get it, though. Still, it certainly exercises the fingers.
Wow. I could actually HEAR my fingerbones snapping on the B part! (I wonder if this tune had anything to do with the introduction of bones snapping along to the rhythm being widely accepted.) I’ve put it in my tunebook. I can play it ok as long as I keep it dirge tempo.
It’s my understanding that Alisdair Fraser is the author of the tune. The editor of the Portland Collection (a really great contra dance tune resource, if you’re not familiar with it) had the dickens of a time getting permission to include the tune in the book from Fraser’s producer/publisher of The Road North.
Someone I know took a workshop with Fraser, who explained what the problem was, and was using the tune in the workshop under the title of Bang on the Floor.
Helluva tune, though. I’ve almost got it down. :)
Alisdair certainly gave this tune it’s notoriety, but I’ve seen it called Old Sparky in collections that predate his time on the planet. The tarbukas, the new-age key change, and the new title may be Mr. Fraser’s contributions, but the tune itself came before he did. I suppose the publisher might be justified in trying to protect Fraser’s arrangement of the tune. Maybe we should ask Alisdair directly, through the Valley of the Moon fiddle camp site?
This should clear up any confusion about the authorship of this tune.
I received this email from Sally Ashcraft who has first-hand knowledge of the composing of this tune:
"Hi there, Jeremy! Useful website, thanks! I stumbled across the page listing the tune "Tommy’s Tarbukas", and thought I’d take a moment to clear up some of the confusion regarding the tune’s origin/name. I can confirm that Alasdair Fraser wrote the tune— sometime between 1985 & 1987—and that the copyright is held by Nara Music. My credential? I was present when the tune was born, and inadvertantly provided the reel with its working title "Bang on the Floor." (Pianist Susie Petrov recorded it under that title.) When Alasdair Fraser himself recorded the tune for the album The Road North, the arrangement featured Irish percussionist Tommy Hayes. Alasdair re-christened the tune in Tommy’s honor. The "Sparky" association came about as a result of Sharon Shannon recording Tommy’s Tarbukas as part of a medley of three tunes which she collectively entitled "Sparky" on her "Out the Gap" album. The liner notes for that release credit Alasdair as the composer of the first tune in the medley, but neglect to mention the title. All the best, Sally Ashcraft"
This one is a challenge in G minor on hammered dulcimer, too. (Actually, many hammered dulcimers lack the high B flat needed to play it in this key. In my case, the dulcimer is willing, but the flesh is slow!)
The most comfortable way I’ve found to do the "A" part is to start with a right-hand lead, and then change leads by double-sticking on the repeated G’s in the 1st, 3rd, and 5th measures. I change back to right-hand on the C’s following the quarter note D’s in those same measures, and on the B following the quarter note D in measure 7. Then I DON’T change leads on the repeated F in measure 7. It felt really akward at first, as I"m not accustomed to changing lead so much, but after numerous repetitions it flies right along. The only place I tend to flub is that if I don’t think about it, I find I want to double-stick on those F’s (like I did on all the G’s), and then the last two measures just don’t work.
The "B" part is what is going to take long-term practice, and I may never get it up to reel speed. I use a left-hand lead until I get to the second-to-last measure, where I do LLRR for the first four notes. Like the "A" part, that measure just took some repetitions in order to feel smooth. The real challenge is the E flats in measures 1,3 and 5 of the "B" part. The lower E flat is at the bottom of the dulcimer on the left side of the treble bridge, and the E flat one octave up is way at the top of the dulcimer on the right side (the bass bridge). [I sometimes describe the dulcimer to people as a non-linear manual piano.] Covering that much distance quickly and accurately is a challenge.
If any other HD players out there have tried this, I’d love to hear how you do it! I’m a novice, and I may well have overlooked a much easier way to go about this. (Short of playing it in E minor, which would eliminate those long reaches.)
Dueling fiddle & HD?
Hey, I had a great idea: since the trouble spots for fiddle and different than those for HD, it could be done as a back-and-forth duet. The fiddle would play measures 1, 3 and 5 of the B part, and the HD would play 2, 4, 6 … The A part could be alternated so the HD would take the last bit that’s hard on fiddle. It might come out kind of like an Irish "Dueling Banjos". ;)
I’ve heard this tune affectionately referred to as "Tommy’s Testicles" on a few occasions. Makes for an interesting variant…
i like it, sounds kind of like a harder version of tam lin and sleepy maggie combined (sleepy maggie a part, tam lin b). I enjoy it.
I’ve been working on this one every day for over a week now. I find that, in order to get it up to the tempo on A.F.’s Road North, you almost have to isolate the bowing just to the fingers. If you use any arm to speak of, you’ll lose it — it’s just too fast. It also helps to really get your left arm ‘way under, tight to the ribs, to give your fingers the most facility. I agree on the measures mentioned being the hardest to get clean and in tune when playing in tempo. I don’t know why this tune is so hard on the fingers/arm, but if I practice it too long, I feel it when playing the next day. Pace yourself!
Try fingering the B section in 3rd position - it’s actually a little easier because it reduces the number of string changes.
E minor version
Great tune. On my CG Anglo concertina I do not have all the notes so I transposed to Em. Thought it might make it more accessable to people who do not have chromatic instruments.
This my first attempt with both transposing and with ABC. I hope I have not mashed it up too badly.
T: Tommy’s Tarbukas (Em)
(3FGA|:B2 ABGEEG | FDAD BDAD | B2AB GEEG | FDAF GEGA|
| B2 AB GEEG | FDAD BDAD | B2GB FDDF |1 EeBA GEGA :|2 EeBA GEED|
|: B, EGE CEAG| Fadc BgdB | B,EGE CEAG | FdAF GEED |
B, EGEC EAG | Fadc BgdB| dBGc AFDC|1 B,E ^DE GEGA:|2 B,E^DEGEE2 |
Sharon Shannon Out On the Gap
I heard this tune on Sharon Shannon’s Out on the Gap.
They play it in Am, it goes like this. Interestingly enough, as I was learning and transcribing this tune, I checked the session and found Lonelyheart’s version which, although in a different key, helped shed some light on some of the hazy phrases.
|: e2 de cAAc | BGdG eGdG | e2 de cAAc | BgdB cAAG |
| A2 ed cAAd | BGdG eGdg | e2 de cAAc | BgdB cAAd :|
| EAcA FAcA | GBdc BgdB | EAcA FAcA | BgdB cAAc |
| EAcA FAcA | GBdc Bgg^g | aede cAGF | EAGB cAA2 |
| EAcA FAcA | GBdc BgdB | EAcA FAcA | BgdB cAAc |
| EAcA FAcA | GBDc Bgg^g | a (3aaa afed | edcB A2 Bd :|
The last measure in the A part, in Miss Lonelyheart’s version has a low G where I have the B above it. I play both notes interchangeably, I found the B easier at first , but now the phrase isn’t as difficult to play in time.
I play it in Bm. Works well on flute or whistle that way. Starts on the high F sharp.
“Tommy’s Tarbukas” ~ Alasdair Fraser, Paul Machlis & Tommy Hayes
Re: Tommy’s Tarbukas
20 years ago, I recorded Tommy’s Tarbukas on the hammered dulcimer on my CD "The Coming of Spring" preceded by Hunter’s House and Jackie Coleman’s. I played it in Dm, and it played very easily. Now that I am concentrating on the fiddle, I find that it plays very easily in Dm on the fiddle as well.
Re: Tommy’s Tarbukas
Correction: I played it in Bm, not Dm. Cliff Moses