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Obligatory Tunes

Posted by bj on Saturday, November 29, 2008

I've really been making a conscious effort lately to get a distasteful task out of the way. The task? I'm learning those tunes I'm in no hurry to learn since they just don't really have all that much appeal to me. I tend to like edgy modal tunes that have quirks and corners, raspiness, the mournful moaning sound of wind in the pines, and odd twists to them, INTERESTING tunes, instead of all that more run of the mill pretty and melodic stuff, which, to my ears, sounds saccharine sweet and/or overly sentimental. Problem is that if I go to a jam, a lot of those pretty and more ordinary tunes I didn't really want to learn are the ones that are being played. Over and over and over again.

And I NEED to play with other people to increase my own skills. I know this, even though my inclination is also to just bury myself in my own house and just play, play, play.

So I'm trying to get all these dang obligatory tunes outta the way. And it's not much fun.

I know this song choice thing is a matter of taste, and I don't DISLIKE these tunes, they're just not, by inclination, at the top of my list. I find it much more satisfying to dive into the twisty turny mixed modal oddness of Kitchen Girl than the smoothly melodic strains of Redwing. I'll always pick (Cold) Frosty Morning over Soldier's Joy, or Red Haired Boy over dang near any waltz.

But at the jams I've been to recently, whether OT or bluegrass or whatever, what tunes and songs keep getting played at every one? Angeline the Baker, Soldier's Joy, Redwing, Golden Slippers, a few others. And if I want to participate in the jam, I better know these songs. In fact, though there were a lot of modals played at the Lyons get together since it was all day and I made a point of pushing one of the smaller jam circles into it with the help of a single modal loving banjo player, the other jams I go to you'll never hear a modal played. It's major scale (with just an occasional off-scale note diversion) all the way. And I think I know why-- banjo and dulcimer. **sigh**

So I find myself learning rudimentary versions of these obligatory tunes just so I can play along, though I'd MUCH rather be spending my time bowrocking on Pretty Little Dog, or coming up with some new weird double stops for Elzik's Farewell, or practicing that signature slide of Bill Huber's that sounds like he's sliding up to the next string. And I'm so intrigued by the crooked tunes that I can't wait until my reflexes catch up with what my brain hears in them. So that'll be the next swath of uncharted territory into which I venture . . . and at least I can look forward to there being at least one jam circle up at Lake Genaro that shares that fascination, thank you Christina Crowder and Terri Lukacko!

There is an answer to all this. I guess I have to get good enough to start my own jam so that, hopefully, I don't have to ALWAYS play those obligatory tunes, and so I can get out of Ionian Mode at least ONCE in awhile. The goal is to be good enough by May. And the first thing I have to do is figure out a way to plug that hole in my head outta which my tune list falls every time someone asks me, "What tune ya wanna play?"

Why do I have a feeling that by the time I get to this point next May I will be SO deep into crooked tunes that I will end up killing my own jam? ;-)

Wanted-- Oldtime Musicians in the Easton PA area who love MODALS! And who won't run in the other direction when they hear a crooked tune. And who love to jam. Apply here by sending me a PM.



12 comments on “Obligatory Tunes”

fiddlepogo Says:
Saturday, November 29, 2008 @5:24:05 PM

Well, Soldier's Joy works in ADAE,
and I think Tommy Jarrell has a cool version you might like.
Adding as many drones and unisons as possible is a good way to
oldtimify anything, too.

Careful, you might find someone who likes to play modal tunes,
but doesn't like to talk about modes!
Say modal if you must, but purge the dreaded words Ionian, Aeolian, Dorian and Mixolydian from your vocabulary!
I dared to mention them at MY jam, and it got the same kind of reaction we got here...

fiddlepogo Says:
Saturday, November 29, 2008 @5:27:20 PM

Another strategy is if the tune in question has a high part, and most do,
learn the high part DOWN an octave, with drones.
It sounds really cool when the other fiddler plays it normal and you do that.

bj Says:
Saturday, November 29, 2008 @5:37:31 PM

Yeah, God Forbid someone mention Modals on the Music Theory area of the Forum! LOL! Actually, I'm finding them fascinating, and have no problem dishing Mixolydian and Dorian to those who can dish it.

Funny you should mention playing the high part down an octave. I was just playing Redwing that way. It sounds just a bit less saccharine sweet, and almost bearable, though I forgot I was tuned ADAE and couldn't hit the last low note! I might also work up a harmony part for that high part and play it on the middle strings. I just have to figure out something else to do with that freaking bouncyhappy A part. Oy.

Thanks for the steer on the Tommy Jarrell version. I generally like anything he's done, though my skill level is such that his methods are still somewhat of a challenge. Okay, okay-- a HUGE challenge.

OTJunky Says:
Saturday, November 29, 2008 @7:16:25 PM

Geez - I don't think I could learn a tune I didn't like.

That's for "professional" musicians...

Happily, I like most, if not all, of'em - though you do have to mess around with some of'em to make'em really likeable... :-)

--OTJ

bj Says:
Saturday, November 29, 2008 @7:29:16 PM

Yeah, well, maybe I haven't messed around with 'em enough.

I think the problem is I have no problem playing the major scale stuff in the spring and summer when I'm in an up mood. But it's now graysky gloomy out, and Modal Time.

FiddleFish Says:
Sunday, November 30, 2008 @9:00:08 AM

Good advice from fiddlepogo on turning lemons into lemonade.

Another tactic you could try would be to exert a little influence on the group repertoire if they're amenable to it. Perhaps you could make comp CDs of recordings you really like. FHO and BHO are rich sources of recordings that you could legally distribute and should be able to readily get permission for. Otherwise you could make recordings of yourelf and friends for distribution.

If the group happens to have musicians who read music and the group does not mind learning tunes from scores, you could make your own transcriptions with ABC or other notation technologies. Just because you create transcriptions doesn't mean you personally have to use them (it seems funny at times that I produce these transcriptions but I reall can't use them). The music library page on my web site, combined with an update notification mailing list is an example of a distribution tool our group uses.

I've used these tactics to good effect in our own jam group, but they obviously won't work everywhere.

bj Says:
Sunday, November 30, 2008 @9:12:30 AM

LOL! That won't work here!

About the only thing that I can do is call a tune occasionally IF it's in the key being played (which opens another can of worms since Betty only crosstunes to GDGD and will play both A songs and G songs there. CONFUSING if I'm trying to pick up a tune by watching her!) and IF it isn't a modal that makes the banjos have to retune. This issue was the reason I posted the infamous Playing With Banjos forum post a couple months back. The two folks who run the jam seem to have a bias against modals, and they pretty much rule the roost with a velvet lined iron fist. The other banjo is the guy who LOVES modals, but he goes along with the group. I wish the modal loving banjo player lived closer, but he doesn't. Oh, and Betty doesn't allow written anything in this jam. Not a biggie since I don't care to read, even if I'm capable of it.

Anyway, it's why I'm trying to get stuff started elsewhere, like an OT circle at this BG jam. I have a feeling the modals are what might draw a few players away from all that twangy stuff. :-)

janepaints Says:
Monday, December 1, 2008 @1:58:47 PM

There's some overlap in meaning between 'modal' and 'minor key'...but, having now heard you play a bunch, IMO you've a natural inclination towards 'minor-key' tunes. Which, in fiddle/banjo parlance, often coincides with 'modal. (or is identicalt). No 'yay or nay' meant by this, just an observation. This also, in part, aligns with your love of blues/jazz/r&b--which exploit 'blues scales' characterized by walking a no-man's-land where things are neither truly-major or truly-minor but, at the same time, can be interpreted as being 'either' AND/OR 'both.' 'Interpreted' being a key word there.

So (seems good policy), go with yer natural bent. Nothing to worry about much.

bj Says:
Monday, December 1, 2008 @2:18:49 PM

Yeah, you're right that I'm leaning more toward Dorian, such as Elzic's Farewell and Cold Frosty Morning, but I think that Red Haired Boy has a bit of Mixolydian going on, though the Fakebook doesn't have it being that. I think Old Joe Clark has a bit of that too. Also a couple others I like.

And I think it's a question also of connotation vs denotation. When you say a song is modal and you're in a jam circle, they're usually thinking "minor", which is connotation. Which isn't necessarily true-- and that's denotation.

Re nothing to worry about overmuch-- that's easy for you to say, you just sit yerself down and plunk along with any old thing. I WISH I was that far along, but I'm not yet.

janepaints Says:
Monday, December 1, 2008 @11:25:02 PM

Keep on playing and you WILL be 'that far along.'

That's perhaps the best thing about playing music--we begin in tangled, confusing minefields of theory/squibbly little dots/painful fingers/screechy noises/arcane terminology/etc.

But things soon mellow-out into a second-nature 'language', things proceed intuitively and merrily, all kind of unexpected benefits for the mind, body and psyche. What first required much thought & effort becomes evermore natural & effortless.

it just keeps getting better and better, the further we go with it.

I do indeed believe music is a language. One I wish EVERYONE learned. Recently, talking with a non-playing friend, I was trying to communicate why I feel thus. In doing so, I realized a few things:

1. Music is language where everybody can talk at the same time and not only are the results NOT bedlam, they're perfect! Constant, mutual communication. Merry buzzing in the hive.

1. Music is a language in which it's impossible to lie. A musical newbie might be awkward in their 'speaking', but awkwardness isn't lying. (talking here about music--not song. Since song employs lyrics, it's easy to lie in songs.)

3. IMO music is an area of human activity which suggests that we DO have some form of telepathic faculties. Perhaps not yet evolved within mankind as a whole, or a faculty which can be developed within each individual, but only with lots of exercise, with music being an exercise which does just that. Many who've played in combos can testify to moments where things happen which can't be explained logically. An entire ensemble collectively improvising with such perfect serendipity that listeners assume the music must've been carefully worked-out beforehand. Etc.

4. Similarly, music pointing towards spiritual forces. In the company of the right kindred-spirit players, to suddenly find yourself playing WAY beyond your skill-level, watching your hands in amazement, as if you're channeling the music from elsewhere, MUCH better music than you know you're capable of playing. As if the music itself is in charge, and the combo is just delighted servants doing the bidding of the music. When an ensemble mutually experiences that, it's VERY heady. And makes ya want to experience it all the more. Read as many bios of musicians as possible--over and over again, similar thoughts are expressed, regardless of genre or era.

These kinda things are (some) of the reasons why I'm SO GLAD I learned to play music. And why I'm glad for everyone who plays music. There's many things I regret, but music is like the total opposite of regret. My only regret about music is that I didn't start playing at 2 years old, instead of age 13.

Oh what a cheerleader for music-making!

So, Brenda Jolene McCoy Hatfield, don't worry about a none of this much, jes' keep on a sawin' on yer fiddle. Soon you'll be effortlessly twirling around the Pixie Lydian Mold, fulltime.

Swell Zen Quote from a master musician:

"There's only one note. You just push it this-a-way and that-a-way to make different songs."--Keith Richards

Swell Zen Quote #2, From Buddhism:

God likes us when we pray.
God respects us when we work.
But God loves us when we sing.








robinja Says:
Wednesday, December 3, 2008 @3:54:44 PM

BJ - I divide tunes into two categories - those that rock and those that don't rock, and I have a hard time making myself learn the tunes from the latter category. (OK, some of the tunes in the first category don't literally rock, but they have some groove about them that sets them apart.) However, some tunes that don't inherently rock can be taught to rock with the right bowing, slides, and syncopation. Sometimes this makes them incompatible with other peoples' versions, but often they can live in peace and harmony. Angeline the Baker is one great example - I play it very slidey and syncopated, and it's great fun and seems to go OK with the group version.

By the way, thanks for the comments on my blog. I can't wait to try that beer bread recipe - maybe this weekend!

Judy

bj Says:
Wednesday, December 3, 2008 @5:08:56 PM

Yeah, well, I think I'm gonna limit my "don't rock" tunes to one a month. Otherwise I get seriously bored and end up doing things like turning on the hard rock station and jammin' to metal just to get the sweetness outta my head.

You are gonna LOVE that beer bread! It is definitely on the "seriously rocks" list!

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