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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Those In Between Notes


Please note this is an archived topic, so it is locked and unable to be replied to. You may, however, start a new topic and refer to this topic with a link: http://www.fiddlehangout.com/archive/41631

carlb - Posted - 06/03/2015:  07:27:36


Because of the vibrant and valuable discussion this topic brought on BHO, I thought it might be of interest in FHO as well.



banjohangout.org/topic/304537



Rather then respond to Don Borcholt's comments in the topic on TOTW "Fine Times at Our House"



banjohangout.org/topic/304393

I thought this should be a separate topic. Part of one of Don's posts:

"One interesting thing, Bayard shows the 2nd note of the A part, the F#, as slightly flatted He describes this as a "change of pitch of less than a half tone..."   He only briefly mentions the use of non-chromatic notes, writing that the fiddlers did it deliberately, so that "faulty ear and fingering cannot be blamed for the intervals they play."  In his introduction to "Dance to the Fiddle, March to the Fife,"  he adds little to his explanation, saying only that such notes are "less than semi-tones.  These are the 'neutral' tones: somewhere between natural and flat, or natural and sharp."  When I made up the MIDI files, I couldn't figure out how to produce a note outside of the chromatic scale, so I decided to use the F natural, rather than the F#.  This is because in "Dance to the Fiddle, March to the Fife,"  Bayard says that "the 'shading-off,' as it were, from one mode to another, that characterizes these versions is a genuine, and once common, feature of our fiddling tradition."  So I wanted the A part to sound more Dorian, in contrast to the Mixolydian B part.  But I suspect the actual note was probably closer to the F#, as I believe you have played it, so that the whole is really modally ambiguous."



I do remember a friend once comment that "You know there are only 12 tones in the scale" (an approximation of what they said). My response was "You know that isn't true". Other cultures have different scales then those we know from European music. In my own experience arriving at those type of in between notes came from playing the Burl Hammons' version of "Greasy Coat" on the banjo (long before Edden's music as available), I always felt that C natural was not the right note; neither was a C sharp. When I got my fretless banjo put together, I played the tune and then stopped when I got to that note. I then checked the pitch (which was my preferred pitch) and found it about 1/3 up from C natural (i.e. about 2/3 below C sharp). For me, that was the note that was correct to my ear. Many other tunes that I've learned on banjo and fiddle, since that experience, also have that in between note(s).



On a fretted banjo, I often bend that string, as best I can, to get that note I want to hear. On the fiddle or fretless banjo, there's no problem.



I hope some of you find this topic interesting enough to contribute comments.



Carl



Edited by - carlb on 08/19/2015 04:00:52

fujers - Posted - 06/03/2015:  08:39:45


I know what you mean about those notes. I sometimes will play a note slightly sharp or flat to get the desired affect of what I am trying to play. There are semi tones on just about every instrument knowing what to do with them is the challenge. I liked the article. Jerry



Edited by - fujers on 06/03/2015 08:41:14

blockader - Posted - 06/03/2015:  08:59:48


I think that "neutral" notes, the notes in-between natural and sharp, are an extremely important and attractive aspect of old-time fiddling. I think modern players attempting to play old-time fiddle tend to fall into one of several camps. Theres the ones who try and preserve the character of the music that made it special in the first place. There are the ones who, for one reason or another, change the music to fit modern conventions. They ignore traditional bowings and noting particulars. Theres also people who just play out of tune in general so that just about everything is a neutral note, often despite years and years of playing. The glory of in-between notes shouldn't be an excuse for general bad intonation. I have struggled and worked (and still do) to hear and play in tune partly because I realized I couldn't employ neutral notes until I could hear and reproduce the naturals and sharps correctly. 



Edited by - blockader on 06/03/2015 09:03:44

Cyndy - Posted - 06/03/2015:  09:03:44


I haven't come close to internalizing those in-between notes yet.



I can hear them sometimes--especially when they're pointed out to me--but I suspect, in many cases, my brain interprets  them as more familiar scale pitches rather than as what they really are, especially when I'm just casually listening.



It's something I need to work on -- maybe by playing along with recordings that include them?


ChickenMan - Posted - 06/03/2015:  09:28:17


I just re-listened to Eddon Hammond's version of Washington's March to be sure, and that is one tune with a neutral C. I listened to other versions when first learning that tune and remember thinking 'that is not the right note' when folks played a C natural. It really changes the flavor of the tune. I found it distracting.

The semi tones are yet another reason why I prefer solo fiddle over most fretted accompaniment.

Lonesome Fiddler - Posted - 06/03/2015:  12:23:37


As ChickenMan says, one of the great things about the violin family is the fact they don't have frets. Find the note that makes the tune sing! Create your own scale. Sensitize yourself to the tonal quirks of the artists you admire. Then get out your tuning hammer and re-tune your piano for every tune that shouldn't be done on a tempered scale.....

Cyndy - Posted - 06/03/2015:  12:33:38


When I got a banjo, I was like, "Oh, yeah! FRETS!" 



It didn't take long before I started wishing, sometimes, that it was fretless.


ChickenMan - Posted - 06/03/2015:  13:50:41


quote:
Originally posted by Cyndy

It's something I need to work on -- maybe by playing along with recordings that include them?





Without a doubt! It would help to have the ability to slow them down a little to really hear those notes. Also, don't expect to be able to 'immatoot them exarctly' (as Homer Simpson would say) - that can drive you to, I don't know, play the banjo or something! Spend a while really listening to your favorite masters of the semitone, it will seep into your subconscious and one day you will find yourself making the needed adjustments to your pitch like magic!

pete_fiddle - Posted - 06/03/2015:  17:10:54


i like to think of these notes as altered notes of the pentatonic scale,or altered chord tones, just pulled slightly out of line to give them energy,like a magnetic pull back to the nearest chord tone or pentatonic note, or like bending a string for a blue note, but not quite making it, really effective if you get them in the right place and time


fiddlepogo - Posted - 06/03/2015:  18:43:22


I really don't think that the different pitches the oldtimers used were something they were aware of.  It was just the way everybody played at one time.



I personally think that it's too late to change it back, and I don't really see the advantage in doing so.  You have to pick your battles. Fretted instruments with frets laid out according to a tempered scale were introduced, what.... 140 years ago in the mountains?  This is closing the barn door after the horses already left!



I also think most people who play don't have as well developed a sense of pitch as they'd need to, in order to actually use the old intonation successfully.



Why do I think that?   In African and African-American culture, they have a well developed sense of pitch and microtones, and they use it in various ways... bends on electric guitar and harmonica,  and sliding vocally and on slide guitar.   When white musicians who DON'T have this as part of their culture try to do it.... I'm sorry, but most of the time the results are less than satisfactory.   I really can't see the results being any better for modern people who don't have it in the culture imitating the playing of now passed on Old Time musicians who did have it in the culture.



There are exceptions in both cases, I know.



Also, someone said microtones SHOULDN'T be used as an excuse for bad intonation, but the fact of the matter is they ARE used that way.



You might be surprised at me seeing it this way since I'm always advocating for the old bowings.  Isn't this also about preserving the old ways?  But the fact is that when well done, the bowings make Old Time fiddling MORE attractive to members of the general public.



In contrast, I just can't see microtones working that way even when successfully done, and if not successfully done, GUARANTEED to be a turn-off.



Also, if you're going to play with the microtones, yeah, forget about playing in a string band with a fretted banjo or a guitar, and pick your fretless banjo picker CAREFULLY.  Because really, it's a STANDARD, and both players have to adhere to the same standard of which microtones to play, or the results will not be pleasant.



It's similar in that respect to the arguments for tuning fiddles in perfect fifths.... someone here had me convinced.... until I had to play with a guitar picker!!! THAT ended THAT.... REAL QUICK!!!!



Also, for me, the social aspect of the music is important.... but really getting zealous about microtones I think would end up being a lonely pursuit.



Another problem is that most of the generation that DID use the microtones were recorded after they were old enough that their playing had decayed considerably.  I heard two fiddlers in the early 1970's when they were in their fifties.... and they were GOOD, and their intonation was good.... then I heard them in recordings from 30 to 50 years later after their playing had decayed, and their intonation wasn't nearly as good.    Frankly, I don't think we have that many examples of players who used microtones when they were in their fiddling prime.  Too many were recorded after their playing had started to decay.



With the old bowing rhythms you CAN still play with a banjo and guitar, in fact, with things like Tommy Jarrell's beat leading lick, having good backup makes it easier and adds to it's appeal.



Also, I have the sense that successfully playing microtones are one of those things where for most people to do it well, it would have to be programmed into them from childhood.   Most of us started WAY past that point.



Sorry to be such a pessimist about this, but "I calls 'em as I sees 'em!!!!"



Oh yeah.... Old Time music isn't static. If it were, it would be at least as close to Scottish fiddling as Cape Breton fiddling is.   It changes with every generation.  It changes more slowly than commercial music, so it seems old-fashioned, but it still changes.  I'm leaning to the idea that the pitch thing is one of those things that is in the process of changing, and the process is probably well along the way to completion.



Edited by - fiddlepogo on 06/03/2015 18:54:03

ChickenMan - Posted - 06/03/2015:  19:40:01


Nope.  Respectfully disagree with the whole "age argument"  I've heard lots of collected old fiddler recordings from the teens through the forties and  the vast majority of them who used the G-G# C-C# family of semitones rarely used them in every tune, only certain (possibly archaic) ones.



And for the record, I think those tunes and notes CAN be played with a tempered backup and it can totally work (jazz, blues, the other genres you mentioned), I just don't always like fiddling with that kind of back up.  Many of those old recordings are of unaccompanied fiddling and adding chords can alter that which makes those tunes appealing to me.   


pete_fiddle - Posted - 06/04/2015:  00:34:20


I think microtones are used all the time in vocals,and can become a part of a vocalists sound, i don't see why it would be any different with fiddle, even if the player  was using them consciously or not,


fiddlepogo - Posted - 06/04/2015:  01:52:52


quote:

Originally posted by ChickenMan

 

Nope.  Respectfully disagree with the whole "age argument"  I've heard lots of collected old fiddler recordings from the teens through the forties and  the vast majority of them who used the G-G# C-C# family of semitones rarely used them in every tune, only certain (possibly archaic) ones.




And for the record, I think those tunes and notes CAN be played with a tempered backup and it can totally work (jazz, blues, the other genres you mentioned), I just don't always like fiddling with that kind of back up.  Many of those old recordings are of unaccompanied fiddling and adding chords can alter that which makes those tunes appealing to me.   







If they only used them on certain possibly archaic ones... then really, how important were those semitones in their playing?  It makes it seem rather optional, and therefore relatively unimportant.  It sounds like they were replicating someone else's intonation, like an older relative's.   There is this phenomenon of "dialect switching" in language- I supposed intonation switching is possible if someone is REALLY familiar with it.  If their intonation varies according to the tune... that makes it kind of nebulous and elusive as to which intonation to imitate.... which is probably why it never struck me as being something essential to imitate.  (I may have developed some kind of mental filter when learning German... imitating those accent characteristics that EVERYONE used, but filtering out variations that seemed local or idiosyncratic)



Eh, I'd say it's kind of apples and oranges.... jazz and blues don't use a whole lot of straight, ringing major chords in the backup.  Lots of 7th chords, lots of 9th chords, lots of muffled backup (palm muted or left hand muted).  In other words, the chords already contained discords, and not being allowed to ring out, the conflicts with melody instruments are going to be minimized.  (Exception: piano, but I'm not that fond of piano anyway!big And it seems more the exception in blues.)



And, if the fiddlers you mentioned used them on the old archaic ones, but not on the newer ones, it sounds like THEY were sensitive to, and avoiding some kind of dissonance.



If you can make the semitones work JUST LIKE the older unaccompanied fiddlers did, I'd have no problem listening to it, since I never did have a problem listening to it on field recordings.  But at the same time it never seemed like something essential.  It was more like something I listened PAST, like the low-fidelity wire recording, or pops and crackles on an old 78, or flawed intonation on an obviously aging fiddler.  When someone records a fiddle tune with some kind of setup that makes it sound like the old ones, there is a certain limited appeal to it, but not enough to totally have to have it all the time.



I suppose if someone could do some intonation switching themselves, do one of those archaic style tunes both with and without the semitones, and if it just totally worked better with the semitones, I MIGHT be able to be convinced that they are worth pursuing.



But for me, the thing that makes the old timers fiddling work is the phrasing, and the bowing connected with it.  I can't remember the name of the tune, but there is this one Luther Strong tune where he's getting these incredible dynamics on a borrowed fiddle, and the drama is powerful because of it.



So far, I've never felt that way about semitones.   Given a choice between someone getting the phrasing right, and leaving out the semitones, and someone getting the semitones, but not having the bow control to put the phrasing across, I'll take the phrasing, ANY DAY.



The phrase "majoring in minors" comes to mind.  (However, in your case Chickenman, I'm VERY impressed with your phrasing, so it wouldn't happen with YOU!)



I suppose in the (at this point) unlikely situation that I EVER found myself in a place where there is an active Old Time scene, and I was surrounded by fiddlers who were all using semitones correctly, I'd probably go with the program- or at least TRY to.  If however the pursuit of semitones was resulting in just plain dodgy intonation, akin to blues guitarists who are bending the notes sharp of the mark, I doubt I would be impressed.  And I think that's the far more likely result.



Tell me.... are there any prominent fiddlers (say, like Bruce Molsky) who are doing workshops on semitones in Old Time fiddling?



Any recordings of such workshops out there?  I fairly often hear of bowing workshops... so far, I've missed anything about microtones!



 



It kind of reminds me of discussions on pre-war Gibsons vs. modern Bluegrass banjo makers over at the Banjo Hangout.



1. The differences are small enough that no one in the audience would likely notice one way or the other.



2.  It ultimately boils down to the player's individual taste whether it's worth the trouble (or in the case of prewar Gibsons, MONEY) to pursue.



Or, it's akin to something someone said about electric guitar tone.... you can guarantee getting 98% of the tone by being willing to pay about $1,000 for a guitar.... after that you are going to be paying more and more money to nail that last 2% of tone.



There are relatively minor details in almost any genre of music that the passionately obsessed will (somewhat understandably) pursue, but they are far from a universal requirement, and some people end up pursuing them to the neglect of more important aspects.



I think my main reason for disagreeing at length isn't because I object to those pursuing microtones who want to, but to offer some balance and make it clear that it's not something that has equal weight with things like phrasing, bowing, or the use of drones and unisons in terms of essential characteristics of Old Time style.


fiddlepogo - Posted - 06/04/2015:  03:16:10


The thought just occurred to me that some of the "inbetween notes" could just have been due to a physical factor:



There was a time when most fiddlers were subsistence farmers in an era of few labor saving devices, playing an instrument with a short scale length with fingers thickened and stiffened from lots of manual labor.  Every now and then someone with thick fingers comes to the Fiddle Hangout, and asks how to deal with the fact that they can't seem to get the middle finger to move close enough to the index for C naturals, or close enough to the third finger for C sharps. A hundred and twenty or so years ago, most fiddlers would have that challenge.  The natural tendency is going to be to fudge those notes somewhat- the thickness of the fingers tends to force an in between position for the middle finger.  Coincidentally those notes most affected in the common fiddle keys are the 3rd and the 7th steps of the scale.  Then you have the African American influence coming in with the banjo, and the 3rd and the 7th intervals are the intervals that tend to get played around with in their musical genres.



Was it an ear thing?  Or a finger thing?  Or did the two reinforce each other?


carlb - Posted - 06/04/2015:  08:30:24


Fiddlepogo, It's an ear thing. It's independent of the instrument.


blockader - Posted - 06/04/2015:  08:31:10


Sorry Pogo, you are wrong. As Billy pointed out, if they were choosing to use semitones/neutral notes sometimes and not others than it obviously wasn't by accident or due to physical issues. Just put on Tater Patch or June Apple or Chilly Winds from Tommy and listen to his neutral 7ths (and  also 3rds for Chilly Winds). Than put on Greasy String or another Tommy tune that is a fully major A tune and listen to the G#s and C#s. Now put on a Tommy D tune and you'll hear fully natural sevenths (G) on them. So if he consistently played G naturals, G neutrals, or G sharps depending on the tune or the mode/key of a tune, than it does not follow that it was unintentional. That could go for any fiddler, obviously.



 



 


fiddlepogo - Posted - 06/04/2015:  09:11:58


quote:

Originally posted by blockader

 

Sorry Pogo, you are wrong. As Billy pointed out, if they were choosing to use semitones/neutral notes sometimes and not others than it obviously wasn't by accident or due to physical issues. Just put on Tater Patch or June Apple or Chilly Winds from Tommy and listen to his neutral 7ths (and  also 3rds for Chilly Winds). Than put on Greasy String or another Tommy tune that is a fully major A tune and listen to the G#s and C#s. Now put on a Tommy D tune and you'll hear fully natural sevenths (G) on them. So if he consistently played G naturals, G neutrals, or G sharps depending on the tune or the mode/key of a tune, than it does not follow that it was unintentional. That could go for any fiddler, obviously.




 




 







Wrong?  MOI???shockwink   I had a feeling you'd feel that way about it!wink



And yeah, I see your reasoning- point taken!



Edited by - fiddlepogo on 06/04/2015 09:20:21

blockader - Posted - 06/04/2015:  10:08:32


I really can only respect people who are okay with others thinking they are wrong sometimes and who also can even admit to being wrong once in awhile.

fiddlepogo - Posted - 06/04/2015:  10:26:13


So how did Pogo get to this?



I think it went like this:



1. Pogo was surrounded by music when he was a child... his parents' music, which included big band swing, crooners, some classical (Stravinsky, Mozart), and some folk boom folk.  I don't think there was a neutral 3rd or 7th in the whole lot.



2. The first fiddling I heard was on those Time-Life albums that had the Jeannie Ritchie cut on one of them.  The tune was major, and I don't think there was a trace of semitones.  The name of the fiddler wasn't mentioned... I wonder who it was.   The bowing was somewhat syncopated, probably giving me a taste for syncopated bowing.



3. I took clarinet in Junior High band.... no semitones there.



4. I was in a BAD rock band early in high school.  Bends and blues were beyond me.



5. I started classical guitar later in high school, and started to pursue it.  No semitones there!



6. My grandma played piano, and Liberace was on the TV fairly often.  I didn't like him much... but the influence was there.... and I took 3 months of piano in high school.  No semitones there.



6.There were only two places where I was exposed to semitones that I can figure:



A. There were singers like Pearl Bailey on the Dinah Shore Chevy Show which my parents watched.  I didn't dislike it, and I think it became useful during my mid-life crisis blues guitar interest, but I wasn't passionately interested in it at the time.... so I think it stayed isolated in a corner of my brain.



B. There was the Indian influence on the Beatles... Ravi Shankar and all.  So I heard some sitar music that certainly had semitones.  Pogo didn't salute- in one ear, and out the other.



Basically, by the time I started listening to and learning Old Time fiddle at 19 and 1/2 years, my brain was already strongly programmed for 12 tones.



Most of the fiddlers around me had gotten there start with the Folk Boom... probably were fans of the New Lost City Ramblers.  Did the Ramblers do semitones? Well, Mike Seeger had a slidey singing style, but aside from that?



So when I heard the Library of Congress American Fiddle Tunes album in the school library, and then bought the County Tommy Jarrell/Fred Cockerham albums, I guess I filtered it through my 12-tone-programmed mind.  And no one told me any differently.  Because as far as I knew, I was the main one in Los Angeles listening to and somewhat obsessing on Tommy Jarrell.  I even turned another fiddler onto Tommy who later took it MUCH farther than I did.  But my fascination was the rhythm.  I didn't learn that many Tommy Jarrell tunes, and now that I think about it, they were all major ones! (Maybe the neutral 7ths made the modal ones not stick?) At the time, fretless banjos weren't common in the L.A. Old Time scene.



Then in the winter of 1976-1977, I got de-obsessed with fiddling- in fact, I tossed out my Old Time albums and sold my best fiddle to break the obsession!!!shock  I kept on fiddling however, but it was basically in polishing and maintenance mode.  "I had other fish to fry."  It was a good thing.... I had been a binge drinker, probably one of the two most problematic fiddlers in Los Angeles. (I've heard back that some of my fellow L.A. musicians were WORRIED about me at the time!)  If I hadn't refocused and settled down as best as I could into small town life, I probably would have been LONG GONE by now.  And in those small towns, I was almost completely isolated from any Old Time players.  As far as my old bandmates knew, I'd disappeared, and they had all left Los Angeles for points north (Pacific Northwest) and east, so before the internet, I had no way of finding them.



While I've got Tommy Jarrell roots to my fiddling.... I was also exposed to J.P. Fraley.... a friend and band member invited me to the Fraley festival.  I wasn't that impressed at the time, even though I had a J.P. Fraley album, it was really too smooth for me.  It was like the Kenny Baker album I had- something that I enjoyed but didn't mean to pursue.



NOW however.... I think that's really more where Pogo is headed, if he can even find the energy.  Art Stamper too.  When I was listening to Sugar in the Gourd "radio" a few years back, I think it was the Art Stamper cuts I liked best.



Edited by - fiddlepogo on 06/04/2015 10:32:13

fiddlepogo - Posted - 06/04/2015:  11:48:35


Okay.... I did some homework.... I went to the Banjo Hangout threads.... listened to the fiddlers.... last of all to Eden Hammons playing Fine Times at Our House.



As far as I can tell, Dan Gellert is the only one besides Edden Hammons playing it with the semitones.  And I have to admit... it sounds kind of cool, and it kind of makes sense.



But when I then listened to Edden Hammons playing it....  ah yes... it brought back memories.... I had that recording, although I can't remember whether it was on tape or on LP, but I had it and even sort of, kind of, learned the tune.



And I have to say I think that was one of the toughest recordings I had to listen to and try to learn from.  Listening directly after Dan Gellert's version, I can pick out some places where he's deliberately playing semitones, but there is also quite a bit of decayed intonation due to him being old and infirm at the time of recording.  And quite frankly, there was NO WAY at the time it 1974, with my 12 tone background and no one in my jamming circles using semitones that I was capable of sorting the two out.... so I just filtered it ALL out.  In fact, I even filtered some of the right notes outblush... my version is quite a bit different, probably because the original was so painfully hard to listen to.   In the low part it's like his left hand is so weak and shaky he's kind of skittering over the notes, or maybe it's because his bow isn't synching properly with the left hand and is cutting off part of the value.



I have the Matt Brown recording of it, so maybe I'll get around to learning the tune right... having done that, MAYBE... MAYBE I could adjust it to what Dan Gellert is intonating..... it would be an interesting experryment!

 


fiddlepogo - Posted - 06/04/2015:  16:25:04


quote:

Originally posted by fiddlepogo

 

Okay.... I did some homework.... I went to the Banjo Hangout threads.... listened to the fiddlers.... last of all to Eden Hammons playing Fine Times at Our House.




As far as I can tell, Dan Gellert is the only one besides Edden Hammons playing it with the semitones.  And I have to admit... it sounds kind of cool, and it kind of makes sense.




But when I then listened to Edden Hammons playing it....  ah yes... it brought back memories.... I had that recording, although I can't remember whether it was on tape or on LP, but I had it and even sort of, kind of, learned the tune.




And I have to say I think that was one of the toughest recordings I had to listen to and try to learn from.  Listening directly after Dan Gellert's version, I can pick out some places where he's deliberately playing semitones, but there is also quite a bit of decayed intonation due to him being old and infirm at the time of recording.  And quite frankly, there was NO WAY at the time it 1974, with my 12 tone background and no one in my jamming circles using semitones that I was capable of sorting the two out.... so I just filtered it ALL out.  In fact, I even filtered some of the right notes outblush... my version is quite a bit different, probably because the original was so painfully hard to listen to.   In the low part it's like his left hand is so weak and shaky he's kind of skittering over the notes, or maybe it's because his bow isn't synching properly with the left hand and is cutting off part of the value.




I have the Matt Brown recording of it, so maybe I'll get around to learning the tune right... having done that, MAYBE... MAYBE I could adjust it to what Dan Gellert is intonating..... it would be an interesting experryment!

 







Or maybe NOT.... found the link to a sample of Burl Hammon's version in Don Borchelt's BHO post, and.... THAT's the one I learned from.... no wonder my version is so different from Edden's!!!!  So it was an album with Burl Hammon's on it or a copy of it that I had.


DeamhanFola - Posted - 06/05/2015:  08:03:10


quote:

Originally posted by blockader

 

I think that "neutral" notes, the notes in-between natural and sharp, are an extremely important and attractive aspect of old-time fiddling. I think modern players attempting to play old-time fiddle tend to fall into one of several camps. Theres the ones who try and preserve the character of the music that made it special in the first place. There are the ones who, for one reason or another, change the music to fit modern conventions. They ignore traditional bowings and noting particulars. Theres also people who just play out of tune in general so that just about everything is a neutral note, often despite years and years of playing. The glory of in-between notes shouldn't be an excuse for general bad intonation. I have struggled and worked (and still do) to hear and play in tune partly because I realized I couldn't employ neutral notes until I could hear and reproduce the naturals and sharps correctly. 







Can't speak to old-time, but in Irish trad there's definitely a tradition of what I heard one seanduine (elder) call 'blunt notes'! As blockadder notes, it's clearly a deliberate choice, part of a different sense of a scale than the standard Western one. This can be seen in the presence of the 'ghost D' on the uilleann pipes chanter, a note not quite D#/Eb.



I'll similarly suggest that it's not an excuse for dodgy intonation.


fiddlepogo - Posted - 06/05/2015:  13:02:30


Thanks for sharing that Deamhan. Which reminds me, don't the Highland pipes have a seventh interval that's in-between?



 



Not all mountaineers were Highland Scots, but some were, so it might have been an influence on early immigrants trying to replicate the sounds of their homeland without one of the actual instruments of their homeland.



Then too, many immigrants to the colonies were from Ulster.  Were the Uilleann pipes common in Ulster in the 1700's?  Or their predecessor?  Or the war pipes (aka Highland pipes), or both?   Does anybody even know?



DDAD tunes in particular with that low D drone seem like a deliberate attempt to mimic some kind of bagpipes. Imitating the semitones might also be part of that.



 


pdfarrell - Posted - 06/30/2015:  21:27:19


I rarely venture into Music Theory, but I'm glad I took a peek.  This is  a great discussion.  



I suspect that this is one of the reasons that some tunes seem so elusive (I'm especially thinking of some Tommy Jarrell tunes).  I listen and listen and still can't figure out what note he's playing.



I don't have much else to add except to say that on a lot of  days I can't seem to play anything other than semitones  



Edited by - pdfarrell on 06/30/2015 21:28:12

TomGlos - Posted - 07/01/2015:  07:39:50


The term "blunt notes" comes up in British/Irish fiddling too.



Some people use the term "microtones" for those in-between notes. Semi tones versus semitones could get confusing, why use a term that has another meaning? (A matter of International English?  Over here an octave is divided into twelve semitones, the term half tones isn't used.)



Much the same arguments as above get discussed around old styles of Irish/English/Swedish fiddling. I've yet to hear microtones used convincingly by a player who's intonation is otherwise excellent.



I'm suspicious about equating consistency with intention. If the same sequence of notes is played differently in different tunes, that's more convincing, otherwise the variation could be just muscle mechanics.



Tom



Edited by - TomGlos on 07/01/2015 07:47:31

Lee M - Posted - 07/02/2015:  13:01:48


This is all just a little disconcerting..After I spent years trying to play just one string and not hit the others, then they said to play on two strings at once.. for this "drone" effect... Then, I spent a lot of time trying to play just the scale notes and NOW they say to hit the notes in between.. Is it any wonder that us fiddlers are all crazy???..


VivianW - Posted - 07/02/2015:  13:19:25


quote:

Originally posted by Cyndy

 

When I got a banjo, I was like, "Oh, yeah! FRETS!" 




It didn't take long before I started wishing, sometimes, that it was fretless.







So, why not get a fretless banjo?  They preceded fretted banjos, and are still available, and can sound VERY cool.  Especially with gut or nylon strings.



Vivian Williams


fujers - Posted - 07/02/2015:  13:44:23


Hmm. A fretless banjo. I would think you need some pretty strong hands to play one of those.

The notes are further away than that of a fiddle and you're going to have to be right on the money with your pitch

Do they really make these. Jerry

Cyndy - Posted - 07/02/2015:  13:48:00


quote:

Originally posted by VivianW


So, why not get a fretless banjo? 




I did! I bought a simple fretless tackhead banjo less than a year after I started playing and I love it. If I had one with a slightly different feel and sound, it would probably be rare for me to pick up the fretted one.



Fujers--You're right about the hand stretch, but it really isn't that big of an issue. Somehow, it strikes me that banjo intonation is just a little bit more forgiving than fiddle intonation--but, maybe I'm just hoping that's the case. :)



It's funny--when I play the fretted banjo, I often find myself thinking in-between notes and moving my hand in a way that would get them even though they're not really there.



Edited by - Cyndy on 07/02/2015 13:54:05

fujers - Posted - 07/02/2015:  14:21:16


Well my hat goes off to you Cyndy. I mean playing something that isn't there. I tried that is just sat there waiting for something to come out....nothing

The playing of these notes are not uncommon. You can hear them in Blues and Western Swing and Jazz

Lets say I was playing Harmonica with a blues band and I went to hit an A

Well when I got to the A I didn't hit it I hit something else. It wasn't an A nor was it an Ab but somewhere in between.

It's found a lot in Jazz mostly with the horn players. I think it's pretty neat to listen to and I don't practice it like I should to many other things on my plate. Back to playing something that isn't there. I'm going to go to my room and try to practice this one more time and I can only hope that something comes out. Jerry

DeamhanFola - Posted - 07/08/2015:  12:48:17


quote:

Originally posted by TomGlos

 

The term "blunt notes" comes up in British/Irish fiddling too.





Much the same arguments as above get discussed around old styles of Irish/English/Swedish fiddling. I've yet to hear microtones used convincingly by a player who's intonation is otherwise excellent.




 




 







I take it that you haven't listened to much 'pure drop' Irish music then, in particular as played on uilleann pipes--especially in slow airs. 



If an uilleann pipe chanter has a purpose-drilled hole for the production of a note that's quite outside the standard Western scale system, isn't that pretty convincing evidence of the presence of deliberate 'blunt notes' in Irish music? If a pipe-maker is taking the time to drill the hole in the chanter then s/he undoubtedly is imagining that the performer using the chanter is going to use said hole to produce the note.



Have a listen to the great Séamus Ennis to hear 'blunt notes' in action, in particular in the form of 'ghost D' on the pipes. His live and studio performances of the reel 'Jenny's Welcome to Charlie' are evidence that 'ghost D' is not just for slow airs.



Ennis was not only an amazing fiddler and uilleann piper, but a collector of Irish traditional music for the Irish Folklore Commission in the 1940s who went around the country recording and transcribing the oldest forms of the aural/oral tradition. (His field diary of this enterprise is fascinating reading and is now available in English for those who can't read the original as Gaeilge.) I don't think you can accuse Ennis of 'bad technique' or lack of knowledge of the tradition.



While there may be lazy fiddlers/pipers out there who blame their bad intonation on attempting to be 'pure drop', their jiggery-pokery shouldn't obscure the fact that there is indeed a real tradition of 'blunt notes' in Irish trad.


TomGlos - Posted - 07/16/2015:  08:04:07


You take it wrong DeamhanFola, but fair point as regards those glorious notes on pipes, yes I forgot that example, although I was thinking purely of fiddle.
Now you mention it there are tunes where I'd play a note blunt in imitation of pipes. Whether I make it convincing is another matter.

pete_fiddle - Posted - 07/17/2015:  01:31:54


Another theory/opinion of mine is that pitch changes with key/mode(at least in just intonation) ,and so a pitch can be borrowed,or have to be used (in the case of diatonic instruments)from another key or mode,the same way that chords are. Then there are personal,cultural and genre related preferences that will effect intonation as well. I'm lucky enough to know a few of instrument makers of pipes and flutes,and it seems that their ideas on intonation differ from each other, so as a fiddler i would have to alter my intonation accordingly. And if there was a particularly strong player in an area,who used a certain set of pipes, flute or diatonic box,my intonation would alter if i wanted to play with them.Then it may hang over into my solo efforts as well,or i may be able to choose to play it with different intonation


Dick Hauser - Posted - 07/27/2015:  15:09:53


In one music book I am working on, each note can be played with varying degrees of "sharp" and/or "flat". They are referred to as microtones. Musicians in India playing their music use a scale which has more notes than the scale(s) discussed in this website. As a result, these musicians develop better note recognition abilities than we do.

A lady New England fiddler wrote about a musician from India asking to play her instrument. Then he asked her if he could retune it to standard tuning. She told him to go ahead. After he was done playing her fiddle, he gave it back to her. When she played the fiddle she was amazed. It sounded much better than it did when she handed it to him. His note recognition abilities enabled him to better tune the fiddle. The sympathetic vibrations increased.

BTW, the book I am working on is a blues book, not a book on the music of India. I am guessing the original blues fiddlers copied the vocal version of the tune. This created all the variations I am encountering with those blues tunes. They make a fiddler stretch his/her abilities. Your "ear" starts hearing new phrases and unusual noting patterns. With any luck, some of these blues phrases will start appearing in some of my regular tunes. Just a little here and there.

fujers - Posted - 07/27/2015:  20:47:24


I personally use some of the scaling's discussed here but in a different way.

The music of the country India has some very interesting scale property's in it's music and so does Africa and Peruvian.

The in between notes can be heard from coast to coast and it doesn't just belong to us..the US

If you really want to know how these scales are played listen to Mark O'Conner from his Heroes Cd. That will explain it all...at least in my mind it does

He doesn't really play the in between notes but he plays every note that you can hit.

I try to hit every note in tune but sometimes I slip and some might construe that the note I hit was in between when in fact I was out of tune and I may have just missed my mark.

Early people played the same way...out of tune and didn't hit there mark

I would be very interested in whatever you find out and I think it would be a good read. Good Luck with your adventure. Jerry







DeamhanFola - Posted - 08/18/2015:  08:53:44


As luck would have it, Caoimhín MacAoidh has a column on this very topic in the context of Irish trad in the latest Fiddler magazine. In it, he recounts how microtones and the bowings associated with them-- once widespread, as heard in recordings of the early 1900s 'Sligo masters'-- had faded from widespread use starting in the 1940s with honourable exception of players in southwest & central Donegal such as the Dohertys among others. However, thanks to the playing & teaching of people like MacAoidh, John Carty, Brian Conway & others, trad players outside of Donegal are re-discovering the 'old music'. A couple brief quotes from the article:



'In my experience, many pupils looking to play traditional forms of music come to such classes with a good foundation in the principles of music theory. These principles are almost certainly founded on western classical concepts. This is where the problem lies. Many elements of the sounds which make "old music" are not explicit in basic western classical music. As a result, the techniques needed to make "old music" are not in the hands of the players seeking to make such music. Also, by being grounded in the principles of western classical music, an emerging player may well have already trained his/her ears to detect certain sounds and pitch relationships to the degree where they are not capable of aurally detecting others which define the sounds of "old music'"....



'My point is this: musicians coming into the [Irish] fiddle playing tradition from the 1940s onwards often found it hard to source a grounded teacher who was aware of the technique and could demonstrate it. As a result, many players learned from players or publications who, by virtue of the basis of the standard tempered eight note octave, would never consider playing such an interval, let alone delivering it with such bowing. As a result, I expect players' ears also became attuned to expecting a standard A-G-A sequence in the example above. In short, despite the fact that the old 78s had firmly documented the 'old music' sound, most players heard the 'new music' intervals'.



Lest any classically-trained folks take the hump, it should be noted that MacAoidh praises the work of people in the 'formal education channel of some third-level institutions' who 'are doing very interesting and important work on microtonal and bowing analysis of seminal traditional players'. He's not having a go at classicla folks, just recognizing the reality that many people come to the tradition with a different set of aural expectations (that can be altered).



Here are some audio clips/examples from the article. Transcriptions of the tunes are included with the article. 



 



'Double sharp sequence' demonstrating a note 'sharp of G#, but not A': fiddle.com/_mndata/fiddle/uplo...uence.MP3



Part one of 'Ballinasloe Fair': fiddle.com/_mndata/fiddle/uplo...ample.MP3



'The Merry Blacksmith': fiddle.com/_mndata/fiddle/uplo...ample.MP3



 



Once again Fiddler mag and MacAoidh show why it's worth your while to subscribe! (I have no financial ties with the mag--just a devoted reader.)



Edited by - DeamhanFola on 08/18/2015 08:58:14

Shawn Craver - Posted - 08/19/2015:  08:54:14


A tune comes to mind with this discussion... I can listen to Dwight Diller play Abe's Retreat, then Wilson Douglas playing the same named tune, then the many versions of Jordan is a Hard Road to travel, or Jaw Bone, or The Allegheny Mountain, or It Thundered in the East, and all the names... and get an idea of what traditional fiddling is all about. Some of those versions speak to me more than others... I think traditional fiddlers fiddle the way they want to fiddle.

alaskafiddler - Posted - 08/19/2015:  15:42:25


quote:

Originally posted by DeamhanFola


by being grounded in the principles of western classical music, an emerging player may well have already trained his/her ears to detect certain sounds and pitch relationships to the degree where they are not capable of aurally detecting others which define the sounds of "old music'"....




Spot on. I think this applies to other music as well;  such as various American Old-time and blues.



I think those different, non-western-art concepts sound awesome, have a richness and expression not found in 12TET art music. The cool things about fiddle, voice, fretless banjo, fretless guitar... is the music that can be created in these other concepts.



Those  "between notes" are only between from a trained western art music concept; often from a fixed pitch (such as 12TET) perspective. As are the concepts of slightly flat, slightly sharp, bent, wild, de-tuned; even in some ways,  the concept of micro-tonal is more a western art music, fixed pitch view.



As mentioned - thee are some folks that just view these, as if  the goal is to play slightly  "out-of-tune" - slightly off; de-tuned; to seem "folk". In a random way. Not focused on any positive concept. Of course if you can't grasp what you are aiming for, it will be random.



Some other concepts in Western Art Music training (the way it's often taught/learned) - can further make filters to grasp some aspects of these other music(s). One (related to intonation, pitches) has to do with Major/minor, functional harmony - and the idea that it's all either major or minor, chord based; some even think all melodies come from major/minor functional harmony chords and chord progressions. (the  A-G-A sequence mentioned for example).



These other concepts can be quite elusive to those trained in WAM filters, to grasp (noticing denial and/or some elaborate alternative reasoning).; and difficult  to explain through those filters. 


pete_fiddle - Posted - 08/20/2015:  22:33:02


ok,after extensive research (googling)



i think that some of the"in between" pitches (and why they just seem to "feel" right) can be explained by the differing intonation systems explained here:



 youtube.com/watch?v=QaYOwIIvgHg



coupled with the concept of "modal Borrowing" explained here:



colby.edu/academics_cs/courses...xture.pdf



imo it's an essential part of the fiddle's "voice" to use devices like these to emphasize or signal a change of mode for instance,by widening of major,or narrowing of minor thirds, or sharpening a leading note etc. i don't think  the theory would have to be fully understood (i certainly don't) for players to be using devices like these, (though some obviously do understand them fully) but i suppose the more you understand them,the better you could use them



 


fujers - Posted - 08/25/2015:  20:55:23


In the early days folks didn't care if a tune was sharp or flat they just played. I guess in a lot of ways this is how tunes with the just a little bit off center thing came about....can't say for sure.

But I play on purpose a little bit off center for effect some of you might do the same. I play western swing and other and I find just playing the tune just a little a bit off give me just a little bit of excitement to what I'm trying to play. I may only play it once but I think it works

Not really sure if it was a tuning issue or not. But being off center has it's advantages. Jerry

janolov - Posted - 09/02/2015:  03:18:36


Many of the "in-between tones"  belongs to the series of harmonics or overtones of the root, so they have a musical relationship to the root.


alaskafiddler - Posted - 10/05/2015:  10:45:51


Thought I would post this example of one version of intentionally using those in-between notes. Not sure if it nailed it but gives the idea. The goal sound can't quite be got  using major or minor notes. Making it  major or minor, would make it sound different,  the intent lost.



These are not just random choices made by a player, or a culture. This layout  version appears in various cultures. The third, seventh and fourth relate to the root and fifth in in the same ways, and to each other. There is an intended sweet spot target for each note. But there are similar yet slightly different variations, using slightly different third, seventh and fourth, that work well too, just sound different.



There does seem to be a bit of music theory rhyme and reason to it, explaining why it appears in many cultures, would think it sounds good..



Granted it's not everybody's cup of tea. Some folks only like 12TET. That's fine. They would probably just hear these as out of tune. They should just realize some folks enjoy the diversity the sound these others offer that isn't in 12TET. (Ironically, the 12TET folks labeling these as poor sense of intonation; to me, these actually seem to require a finer sense of "in-tune")




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