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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: How much can you change before the essence of the melody is lost?


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/55524

soppinthegravy - Posted - 07/26/2021:  10:40:34


How much can you change before the essence of the melody is lost? I have a hypothesis that sort of follows the logic of the Traditional Tune Archive's theme code index. It's difficult to explain, but I guess that the essence of the tune is on the first halves of the downbeats, but I'm not sure about that, because "Sally Goodin" still sounds like the same tune to me, whether the "coarse part" starts on the first degree of the scale or the third. What are your thoughts?

Brian Wood - Posted - 07/26/2021:  12:46:41


The essence of a tune is its recognizability. That will vary among people. But when you change enough of the characteristic of a tune, be it chords, rhythm, notes, that it's not recognized as that tune, or it's easily confused as another tune, then there you go. Too much.

darolRanger - Posted - 07/26/2021:  15:16:32


Depends on the tune, I think.
If it's a "sequence tune" such as Blackberry Blossom or Whiskey BB, you can change a lot of the notes as long as you keep the sequence in place.

Really strong melodies can take a lot of ornamentation and variation.
I like that Texas thing of playing the variation first and then playing closer to the tune on the repeat.

With those "note-y" tunes like Sally Johnson, you sort of have to keep the general contour the same, but it gets very nebulous and another fiddler might be able to recognize what a normal lay person might not.

UsuallyPickin - Posted - 07/26/2021:  16:40:07


Well .... I guess my answer is "some but not to much" . There is playing the straight melody , then adding syncopation and some tones . Then there is weaving a pattern of tones where you return to the melody at chord changes and recognizable intervals. These pay homage to the "original" melody. Then there is playing the changes, playing scale pieces and licks where the melody is largely ignored in the interest of speed and flash. The melody becomes implied rather than stated. The best quote I have in to reference this is from the mandolinist Jethro Burns. He stated something to the effect of "If someone walks in during my solo I want them to know what I am playing". And so do I.

carlb - Posted - 07/27/2021:  05:39:00


Do you mean like some of the breaks in this performance?



facebook.com/darolfimu/videos/...790050643

Swing - Posted - 07/27/2021:  11:52:19


There is a big difference between a variation of a tune and improvisation over a tune, but to surmise a total, well I think that 13.5 % is just about right..

Play Happy

Swing

DougD - Posted - 07/27/2021:  15:15:42


I'd say that Darol is on a little different page than many of us here, who are fighting tooth and nail to get a few notes at the right pitch at the right time.
I think of tunes like a horizon or skyline. If I look out I can see the prominent, familiar peaks or buildings with some less recognizable ones. As long as you hit the oeaks I can recognize the tune, but when people play a tune with just one important note wrong or missing it can be annoying.
If you can play virtually any note prettty much anywhere you want, the problem becomes where do you put them, and what ones to leave out.
As far as the video that Carl linked I'll say that the Hillbillies recording has a kind of "chugging" rhythm, maybe because of the piano, and that's retained pretty well in this video. Also, Charlie Bowman played a little figure C-B-C-D-C, sometimes as part of the melody, and sometimes as a kind of puncuation at the end of a phrase, that Darol plays a few times.


Edited by - DougD on 07/27/2021 15:17:02

gapbob - Posted - 07/28/2021:  08:27:32


Darol has some chops, but I don't really enjoy listening to him—probably because the melody vs juicing it up aspect.


Edited by - gapbob on 07/28/2021 08:28:06

RobBob - Posted - 07/28/2021:  19:13:03


Individual interpretations of tunes have lead to many variations that are referred to as, say, Byard Ray's Billy in the Lowground, or so and so's Paddy on the Turnpike. Sometimes they don't even sound like the more common tune that is called by that handle and are treated as a totally different tune. That is taking this variation business to an extreme, but then it happens. I just call them "dis-remembered tunes".

East Texas Fiddle - Posted - 08/07/2021:  05:41:26


quote:

Originally posted by gapbob

Darol has some chops, but I don't really enjoy listening to him—probably because the melody vs juicing it up aspect.






OTOH, that is the thing about his playing that I greatly enjoy. Added to that, his taste and the timing. 


Edited by - East Texas Fiddle on 08/07/2021 05:42:41

Earworm - Posted - 08/07/2021:  09:35:58


Less is more. It seems like the thing to do is to play & learn the basic tune so much that it plays itself, focus on the basic beat, rhythm & chord choices. As embellishments creep in, play the hell out them them and see which ones stick. Then play the basic version, and it will have a little more juice to it. But it has to tell the original story.

groundhogpeggy - Posted - 08/13/2021:  20:01:38


Most people could never end up with what Darol and Rushad did...lol...that's why they're them, and the rest of us are just us...lol. But artistic license is still there...just sorta on a smaller scale.

pete_fiddle - Posted - 08/14/2021:  13:10:12


I like arrangements that sound like improvisations, and improvisation that sounds like an arrangement. As long as a melody is stated, well known, or even just alluded to, i can usually go along with it as a listener. But sometimes the whole point of the arrangement/improvisation is to get as far away from the melody as possible, i can usually live with that as a listener also. i think i would like it to return to a recognizable version of the melody though, before it becomes hard work to listen to. And that would be subjective, and dependant upon a host of innumerable factors. Like whether or not i was under the influence of alcohol at the time....etc

NCnotes - Posted - 08/21/2021:  22:41:02


IMHO....I think every tune has a distinctive something about it, that "catches" or "sticks" in the ear...whether it's a certain run of notes, or an unexpected key change, etc. I think I figured out that if you wander around a bit for fun, but then get back at just the right moment to repeat that part that "catches" or "sticks", then it's quite satisfying.

Wandering around with no relation to the melody, is usually not as nice.
And just repeating the melody and what the people have just sung, seems to be like, "Well, I can't think of anything".

Another theory (I'm working on it!) is that the farther into the song you get, the more "far out" you can get with the breaks.
LIke, break #1 is pretty true to the tune.
Break #2 takes the tune and twists it, adds on a bit.
Break #3 is like, wild and far out, anything goes!
Curious if other people think my theory is valid? :-)

NCnotes - Posted - 08/21/2021:  22:46:35


Swing I think actually, 14.2% may be more accurate.

pmiller510 - Posted - 08/24/2021:  06:12:23


I agree with what DougD wrote:

"I think of tunes like a horizon or skyline. If I look out I can see the prominent, familiar peaks or buildings with some less recognizable ones. As long as you hit the oeaks I can recognize the tune, but when people play a tune with just one important note wrong or missing it can be annoying.
If you can play virtually any note prettty much anywhere you want, the problem becomes where do you put them, and what ones to leave out."

When I was learning banjo I always thought of it as "making sure you get the big notes." Think that also applies to fiddle. Without those notes you're just banging away and it will pretty much sound like a washed out version of the tune after a short time. Some people are better at variation than others and pull it off, some don't. Personally, I get tired pretty quick of folks trying to turn Angeline the baker into some sort of high art form. Some folks love it.

sbhikes2 - Posted - 08/24/2021:  07:10:27


I suppose if you are capable of wandering away from the tune but you have to ask how far you can wander before the tune is lost you've wandered too far.

farmerjones - Posted - 08/24/2021:  08:49:43


1st time thru, play it square. They call it the head in Jazz.

2nd time through could be anything.

Remember, I'm not an OT guy. I don't even play one on TV.smiley

pete_fiddle - Posted - 08/24/2021:  09:13:18


Grappelli used to dedicate about a bar or so to the melody.

Larry Ayers - Posted - 08/24/2021:  09:32:29


I've played for quite a few dances which lasted four hours or more. Speaking for myself, I'd go nuts if I didn't vary a tune after the first few times through it. As long as the beat stays the same and the main notes of the tune are there the dancers don't care. There's a reason medleys are popular in the contra dance community!

GeoB - Posted - 09/13/2021:  06:08:26


Depends on the listener's ear training.

Entertain the audience before you.

Ornette Coleman could read an audience after a time.

That time period was probably after his audience was established and anyone at the gig who was put off, didn't know Ornette.

But that was Ornette and we're not.

Mobob - Posted - 09/13/2021:  08:14:14


If, after hearing you play your version with variations another experienced fiddler can name the tune correctly, your probably not too far off. If not, there you go.

fiddlenbanjo - Posted - 09/14/2021:  02:38:21


The melody of a tune is almost always a bit arbitrary, even on tunes with vocals. I think one should try to get as close as you can to the bare bones/no frills version first. Then, that will give you an understanding of what you can and can't do to stay within the tune.

Dick Hauser - Posted - 05/23/2022:  10:03:08


For many country and pop tunes, just listening to melodic breaks would not enable a listener to identify the name of the tune. Impressive displays of fingework, but little enjoyable musical expression.

fiddlerjoebob - Posted - 05/23/2022:  18:30:58


Try playing Happy Birthday with three "wrong" notes...heh heh.

wilford - Posted - 05/23/2022:  19:19:17


IMHO when the melody is no longer discernable its essence is gone.

carlb - Posted - 05/24/2022:  06:09:13


Thinking about a tune's character, I'd appreciate comments about this source recording and what's happened to the tune since.



Source recording

slippery-hill.com/content/big-scioty



A more modern version

youtube.com/watch?v=Gyj7m0QdFkM

alaskafiddler - Posted - 05/24/2022:  14:12:30


That's not a singular what it's become, just one of the many ways people play it in modern times.



That's why folk music is awesome... it's not fixed, it's malleable, can take tunes/songs and be adapted and changed in many different ways, to suit the players, style (or genre),  time, context, subjective taste...  and incorporate own unique ideas. Those can spawn other ideas. One can listen to many diverse versions, even go back to the older sources... and decide how the want to play and arrange it.  In the big picture, boils down to accommodating subjective appeal of what sounds good in the moment.

gapbob - Posted - 05/25/2022:  14:56:39


I guess as long as you play the first note of a measure, the last note of the measure, and play the notes where the chords change, you have a good shot at it?

TuneWeaver - Posted - 05/25/2022:  15:01:27


quote:

Originally posted by gapbob

I guess as long as you play the first note of a measure, the last note of the measure, and play the notes where the chords change, you have a good shot at it?






If one were to keep a steady rhythm and play any note in the key, quietly, in a jam, nobody would know if you were playing the tune or not.. and they wouldn't care either.. Works for me every time..

Lonesome Fiddler - Posted - 05/25/2022:  15:30:32


Switching a few notes around is fine. Altering the rhythm, on the other hand, can render a familiar tune unrecognizable.

TuneWeaver - Posted - 05/25/2022:  18:41:10


quote:

Originally posted by Lonesome Fiddler

Switching a few notes around is fine. Altering the rhythm, on the other hand, can render a familiar tune unrecognizable.




I attended a house concert/contra dance a while back.. Us local fiddlers took turns playing while others danced.. During one dance the fiddler played an interesting tune.. Afterwards I asked them the name of the tune.. "Soldier's Joy" was the response.. I've played that tune for over 40 years but didn't recognize it when the fiddler played it.. Then I recalled that the fiddler, while talented, has a way of PHRASING tunes that just doesn't work for me.. Another fiddler friend agrees with me that there is something we can't put our fingers on about how the person phrases tunes such that we can't recognize them..!!!

alaskafiddler - Posted - 05/25/2022:  19:48:47


I have heard players, that haven't really changed the tune; playing the right sequence of melodic notes/values... but have greatly changed the essence of the melody.



One guy esp that used show up at our jam, was a bit as Lee mentioned, would start a tune, and we can't even quite recognize what tune they are playing. (even though they learned from us or same source).



Sometimes perhaps it's more seemingly subtle nuance stuff that really help identify essence of a tune.


Edited by - alaskafiddler on 05/25/2022 19:51:13

TuneWeaver - Posted - 06/11/2022:  14:51:15


This topic came to mind today while I was busking.. I was extremely tired and thought that passersby probably didn't really care if I played a notey tune or a 'sparsely' noted tune.. SO.. I chose the tune Pretty Little Indian in cross A... I tried to see how Little Fingering I could do and still feel like the tune would be recognizable. Well, I'm no Ward Jarvis but I managed to feel/hear that I was playing the tune recognizably using just ONE finger, the middle, and open strings..I pulled it off..(the tune, not the fingerwink)....I'd thought about making an mp3 of my efforts but then decided... nah!



Anyway, great topic.....I also tried that same tune just using saw strokes but the effect seemed lost..



 


Edited by - TuneWeaver on 06/11/2022 14:52:52

Fiddler - Posted - 06/11/2022:  15:15:26


My first instrument was a mountain dulcimer. I started after I graduated from college. Why? Because I could afford it - at least the kit. It was $15, I think. I couldn't afford a fiddle at that time. But, fiddle tunes, the melodies, resonated with me. So, I started learning on the dulcimer.

Now, those who know the mtn dulcimer, know the challenge of playing a bunch of notes at tempo. So, to get the tune on to the fretboard, I started removing notes - lots of them. I got it down to the "skeleton." Once there and I knew the tune pattern, I was able to fill in the passing notes.

The result was that I basically reduced the tune to about 2 notes/measure. The tune was still recognizable at the point. In fact, I still do this when learning a tune, especially by ear. And, I use this as a variation.

As Doug pointed out, this is like finding those landmark buildings in a city that define the location. I like that analogy.

Peghead - Posted - 06/25/2022:  18:52:29


I think a lot depends on the particular tune and the player's discretion. Some tunes are fragile, I think of J.P. Frailey's melodies, they collapse if you change them just a little, other tunes are more robust perhaps more generic? and lend themselves easily to variations. You could think of tunes as constellations, there are the major bright stars that define the overall shape, and there are others that you can move and still not effect the shape too much. Experience and experimentation will tell you where the tune lives and when you've gone too far. Sometimes the defining characteristic is melodic, but it could be a rhythmic thing, the syncopation, or the overall movement of the lines. One thing I've learned is to be very cautious when going above the highest note of the "established" melody or at least be sure that if you do, it fits well. For some reason when you do that it's like upstaging the melody and is noticeable to the ear. It can quickly sound like improv. JMHO.

TuneWeaver - Posted - 07/04/2022:  11:46:50


Today while busking I was thinking of a jam mate who always looks like he is only hitting every third note.. So.. because my left hand was Tired... I tried to minimize the number of notes is several tunes and still keep the tunes recognizable.. I don't normally play that way, but it is comforting to know that one need not hit every note.. Many tunes are forgivable...

Mobob - Posted - 07/04/2022:  13:17:46


Bill Monroe used to do that in his later years, he called it deconstructing a tune.

Kye - Posted - 07/07/2022:  20:59:15


Was going to comment as others have. The first page of comments seem to be about adding / dressing a tune up. Comments on the page lean the other way in minimizing a tune. It also makes me think of tune books. I've picked some up, excited to finally fully unlock the mystery of a tricky tune, only to find it has an 'easy version. One idea to play with, can you play a tune and just hit the chord notes? Or the key arpeggio? I'll have to try tommorow, but I'm curious how that would work. In my mind, it's similar to guitar. When they just play the chord changes. Ive always wondered how that could be fun.

alaskafiddler - Posted - 07/07/2022:  21:13:59


quote:

Originally posted by Kye

...One idea to play with, can you play a tune and just hit the chord notes? Or the key arpeggio? I'll have to try tommorow, but I'm curious how that would work. In my mind, it's similar to guitar. When they just play the chord changes. Ive always wondered how that could be fun.






It would not likely really produce recognizable melody of the tune.



It can work as "accompaniment" chordal harmonization... similar to a guitar. This is idea behind seconding.



Melodies overall are not just chord changes, or key arpeggios (though bits of melody might be).

pmiller510 - Posted - 09/03/2022:  04:59:34


Quoting from gapbob: "I guess as long as you play the first note of a measure, the last note of the measure, and play the notes where the chords change, you have a good shot at it?"

In general, I think this works if you are playing along, but not if you are leading the tune.

Leading the tunes at sessions is different and leading clearly and with a solid version (particular version doesn't matter) of the tune is important. In the past I have thought I knew tunes and then when asked to lead them at sessions, folks would ask what they were or worse yet look completely confused and lost.

A more experienced and better fiddler introduced me to the idea of leading through tunes once or twice more slowly and very clearly. I found that when I did that the tune communicated to the other people at the session much better. Based on that experience I now figure I don't really know a tune and won't lead it until I can play it slow and clear so that others can make out the tune.

I think it's easy for fiddlers, usually beginning ones, to have the tune in their heads and they hear their playing as being the complete tune when that really isn't the case. Tuneweaver's experience with Soldiers Joy is a good case in point. (Though that does sound like the player has played for a long time, so won't go to far out on a limb on that one.)

TuneWeaver - Posted - 09/23/2022:  18:17:03


This topic has come to mind lately when I've been busking. Sometimes I get physically tired..and try to entertain myself by taking out as many notes as possible in a tune to actually find the essence of that tune..Try it some time. I've noticed that booklets containing sheet music for beginners are very good at finding a bare-bones version of a tune. There is a place for that.

The OP might be rephrased to be, "How much can you ADD before you have lost the essence of a melody?"laugh

fiddlenbanjo - Posted - 10/20/2022:  17:35:13


quote:

Originally posted by gapbob

Darol has some chops, but I don't really enjoy listening to him—probably because the melody vs juicing it up aspect.






If that isn't a joke, what a ridiculously stupid and mean spirited thing to say.  Every fiddler has "some chops" and every person's tastes are different.



I personally love to listen to any fiddler with decent time and intonation.  Darol Anger has both of these in spades.  I hope posts like that don't discourage him from posting more here.

sbhikes2 - Posted - 10/20/2022:  18:05:40


There have been arguments among jam friends who insist we have butchered a tune and are not playing it right at all and should just stop playing if we're not going to do it right. I asked them to play it how it's supposed to go. They just put more notes in, that's all. You can play our "wrong" way at the same time as their "right" way and it's the same tune, just fewer notes and fewer double-stops.

I find nobody at our jam can figure out what the hell you are playing if you start a tune full of double-stops and you don't put the accents in the right place, you don't give it that swing it's supposed to have. If you leave out the fancy stuff you think has to be there, maybe you can git it the lift it's supposed to have and be a better player.

A friend of mine used to say just get the "square" of the tune. You can fill in the rest later. That's how I've always done it. I haven't always filled in the rest later, though.

gapbob - Posted - 10/20/2022:  20:49:26


quote:

Originally posted by fiddlenbanjo

quote:

Originally posted by gapbob

Darol has some chops, but I don't really enjoy listening to him—probably because the melody vs juicing it up aspect.






If that isn't a joke, what a ridiculously stupid and mean spirited thing to say.  Every fiddler has "some chops" and every person's tastes are different.



I personally love to listen to any fiddler with decent time and intonation.  Darol Anger has both of these in spades.  I hope posts like that don't discourage him from posting more here.






Sure, he has those in spades, but not every fiddler has "some chops."  He is good, like Mark O'Connor is good, like Richard Greene is good, but I have found that the styles they play is beyond what I enjoy.  They can play circles around me, without even trying.  I've not really listened to Darol in 35 years, mostly because it was on vinyl, and haven't sought him out on the internet, I probably should give him and Richard another listen, but i'm old and curmudgeonly about what I want to listen to—just like I mentioned that Perlman's playing in the album "in the fiddler's house" left me wanting more, it did not feel right to me.  My wife bought tickets to see Mark O'Connor on my birthday years ago, and I was quite disappointed, since he was somebody I had always had a lot of respect for, even awe.



This is me describing my musical taste, not that the players are bad—mostly it is about me thinking that someone's playing is beautiful and I'd like to be able to play it that way.



it is ironic that you have done the same thing, written about me being "stupid and mean-spirited," when I was being judgmental about what i choose to listen to and want to learn..  I suppose that might have hurt Darol's feeling, but that was not my intent, nor was discussing what I perceived as a polyrhythm style an incrimination of the playing of Tatiana Hargreaves, though she might take it that way, which again is not my intent.



Similarly, I once bought James Joyce's book, Ulysses.  I threw it away without finishing it, I did not see the brilliance that many conferred on it.


Edited by - gapbob on 10/20/2022 21:11:58

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