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Jul 17, 2020 - 7:37:47 PM
2665 posts since 9/13/2009

From the topics about learning tunes, idea of consistent performance...  how one might define learning a tune (and/or practice?).  The one idea or goal to play a very fixed... the same every time. 

Just thought might be interesting different views and thoughts of degree of importance is it to folks?

As musician, performer or as listener. 

If folks listened to you, live or recording, from different days... would the expectation or goal be to essentially sound the same, to which most listeners would not much notice difference?

Probably involves an aspect of folks comfort zone; safe vs risk?

I wonder if this fixed idea has some relation to influence of formal music?

Edited by - alaskafiddler on 07/17/2020 19:47:07

Jul 18, 2020 - 4:54:53 AM
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Players Union Member



2307 posts since 2/2/2008

I do have a set way of performing numbers when I'm leading a tune or song in an old time band. My only thought is "can I pull it off", i.e. without too many mistakes. The one exception is when I play clarinet for a jug band or blues number, my breaks are not completely predictable and that's the way I choose to do it. I do try and give good performances and do think about making all the lyrics clear and easily understandable.

One's style is affected by a lifetime of musical experiences.

Jul 18, 2020 - 5:11:23 AM
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2253 posts since 10/22/2007

If i were to record the same tune (one take) five days in a row, it would sound the same. I don't think that's ness. a good thing. It kinda tells me i only know the tune only so well.

Jul 18, 2020 - 5:17:12 AM
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2336 posts since 10/1/2008

Hmmm ... I will play a tune or song "mostly " the same way. My bowing tends to cause more changes than my noting of a piece. As often as not when I add a little something in the middle of playing it promotes changes in the remainder of that phrase. Sometimes it is interesting and sometimes I am just trying to catch up.
IMO when learning a melody I have to learn it well enough to play it correctly / the same way repeatedly before I start "having fun" with it. The more complex the music the closer I have to stay to my original learning / playing of it.
Listeners are likely not as prone to hear small changes in a players rendition of a piece than musicians. The non musicians will not have developed / educated their ear in the same manner as people that have spent time studying.
There are always anomalies but music as background is common and true listening less so. R/

Jul 18, 2020 - 6:11:53 AM
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431 posts since 8/6/2013

"Consistent" is something just about impossible for me to maintain when playing a fiddle tune. It's hard for me to play anything exactly the same way each time through (not counting mistakes). Frankly, I enjoy doing this and it's something I listen for in other players.
"Performance", well that's something that doesn't exist for me, unless you count my wife, the only one listening these days and even before Madam Corona.

Jul 18, 2020 - 7:08:21 AM
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5851 posts since 8/7/2009

A carry-over from my bluegrass days... I try to play a tune pretty much the way I learned it (recording) on the first round - so everyone recognizes the tune. After that - depending on how well I know the tune, I'll add a few slight variations or ornamentations. Nothing dramatic, and certainly not "jazzed" up (I'd mess that up for sure).

Most tunes have phrases that are easy to spruce up or change a bit. Those usually won't change the melody. Slight changes may not even be heard or recognized by others.

Sometimes I will add a variation of of part I learned from listening to someone else play the tune (Durang's Hornpipe, Cheokee Shuffle, Cumberland Gap). I'll add those variations in one of the rounds - just because it makes things interesting (see if anyone is paying attention).

But it seems that there are phrases that define a tune that are not so easily manipulated without changing the melody. Too much and you really aren't playing that tune's melody any more (imo).

Jul 18, 2020 - 7:50:46 AM
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5096 posts since 9/26/2008

As had been said, certain tunes lend themselves to more variation than others. Also, depends on the music being played.
When I'm learning a version of a tune, I try to be consistent and get it "right" particularly if there is a tricky passage in, say, the turnaround. Often what grabs me about a tune is something (feel, passage, turnaround) that I'm trying to catch and imitate. Eventually, with enough repetitions, the tune becomes mine and no longer sounds (to me) like I'm trying to imitate. Then I get together with others and usually find that I paid attention to different or too many details as they don't play as many notes. Or my version is too player specific (even though that player might be the original source of the tune). Then I adjust if needed. This only applies to tunes I say are on my list - tunes I know as opposed to tunes I've played.

Other genres:
Depending on the audience or music style, I learn the song as recorded and stop there OR internalize it and do what I feel when performing (think radio rock or pop vs jamming band like blues or jazz or Greatful Dead etc). Sometimes it is a combo of 'as played by so-and-so' plus improvised soloing, or a unique arrangement altogether. Most of this depends on the genre and audience expectations (which you don't always know unless it is an audience you've cultivated over time).

The listener expectation is a big variable. Are you playing for a dance? Are you playing for an audience specifically there to see you or is it background music? Are you playing a music event where the audience is there for music in general? Are you just social playing without an official audience beyond your fellow musicians? Are you playing music that is familiar to the audience or is it a new experience for them? Each has a different way of approaching the performance.

Jul 18, 2020 - 10:02:18 AM
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1879 posts since 8/27/2008

Yes, when I've learned a tune it's specific, so I would present it the same playing it at different times. That especially applies to the first or second go around. I may start to play with a melody a bit after that to amuse myself. Occasionally I come up with a variation that I particularly like and it will become a part of the tune, but I'll always begin with the, to me, essential version.

Jul 18, 2020 - 11:51:48 AM
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295 posts since 6/21/2007

Usually, the first time through, I will play it very closely to the way I first learned it. If I get to take more breaks, then I start to gussie up a little. Once, major crash and burn, the guitarist smiled at the crowd and said “Thank you, Vassar!

Edited by - stumpkicker on 07/18/2020 11:53:24

Jul 18, 2020 - 7:00:37 PM
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11840 posts since 9/23/2009

Not sure I understand the question. I try to play according to my mood. So...if I'm getting the question right, then, no? I play things according to my mood on that day, in that hour. Not sure if I'm even smart enough to play something the same as I did before.

Jul 18, 2020 - 7:41:07 PM
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224 posts since 6/3/2016

Some tunes like Greasy Coat and Five Miles from Town are simple and the perfect canvas for improvisation. I never play them the same way twice. Other tunes like The Princess Reel are so difficult to play even one way at 120 bpm that even after 10 years I can't really improvise on it. 

Jul 18, 2020 - 9:32:55 PM
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1774 posts since 12/11/2008

What ChickenMan sez.

Jul 19, 2020 - 4:55:27 AM

2665 posts since 9/13/2009

Originally posted by groundhogpeggy

Not sure I understand the question. I try to play according to my mood. So...if I'm getting the question right, then, no? I play things according to my mood on that day, in that hour. Not sure if I'm even smart enough to play something the same as I did before.

I think you got what I was raising just fine. There is a little different interpretation of what I was meaning. Kind of stemmed from discussion of notation/transcription standpoint. Wasn't referring to where one learned it, or how accurate to other source (recording, notation), nor mostly wasn't referring to greatly changing the tune, taking liberties, or improvising as in jazz. Just more in terms of details and articulation; perhaps degree of how fixed.

The one idea, is you go on stages, recording studio, or perhaps jams... and you are going to consistently nail a rather fixed ideal/perfect version, what you meticulously worked out, practiced, note for note, bow  for bow, including aspects of articulations, feel, dynamics, tempo... to an single  ideal or perfection; and pretty much idea of exact technical duplicate every time.  It would match a technical notation or transcription almost exactly. It can requires a high degree of discipline.

Certainly there are rewards, arguable pros (and con) to doing it this way...  less risk; band tightness; predictable consistent end product to listeners.  Evaluation would be based on, compared to how well you executed to fixed ideal.

In certain realms there is perhaps high expectation to sound same. Like classical, and some popular music. Even some players in genres (such as jazz or bluegrass, rock); that are associated with "improvisation" are at times not so much.. the breaks are all meticulously worked out, well practiced, memorized and performed with that sameness in mind. Similar vein arrangements might be fairly fixed.

The other idea involves using a same overall model, concept or framework; still sounds like the model of the tune through out.  But specific articulation and exact details are not exactly fixed and rehearsed (nor specific arrangement). A bit of using a sort of "wing it" attitude for those performance/arrangement aspects. Not difficult to assess that it wouldn't conform well every time to one specific notation/transcription of your playing. The ideas (from experience) are there, but just not fixed; involve bit more flexibility, adaptability, improvising aspects, choices made in the moment... might involve more emotion/sensory input than technical... that might involve taking degree of risk. Evaluation would be different metrics.

I've done both. Certain paid gigs, former can be better, safer; more predictable end product results. Certainly some people I play with are much better suited for that and I admire many folks that can do that. I struggle with it, view not so much "smart enough" but discipline. I mostly gravitate to the latter, as player and a listener; even if risks less consistent, bit more hit/miss... but when it works the reward is greater for me.

Edited by - alaskafiddler on 07/19/2020 05:02:54

Jul 19, 2020 - 5:14:38 AM
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1600 posts since 1/21/2009

I might have a few subtle variations or snippets of different versions that I can insert into a tune if I think it's appropriate, but I don't "improvise" over fiddle tunes. For me each tune has a personality all it's own just as it is, and I try to get to the bottom of that (as I see it) and convey it as clearly as possible. The players I like best are very consistant with their versions and can repete indefinitely without being mechanical or sounding like a wind up toy. We all love repetition don't we? DON"T FEAR THE REPETITION! I find it deceptively difficult not to drift off and start changing it up too soon. It's the 80/20 rule, each successive repete takes a little more energy and focus to maintain the message. I would like to be able to play my versions the same way without any hitches maybe 4 or 5 times through ? before I would consider changing or inserting anything new. That's just me. BTW, the average non-musician listener needs to hear the tune many more times than we do to "get it".

Jul 19, 2020 - 5:39:01 AM
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9037 posts since 3/19/2009

The idea of playing music, to me, is just that..Playing... On tunes that I know well, I might try to insert different bowing patterns to see how they fit into the tunes, and how the different patterns make the tune sound..Then, sometimes I'll focus on intonation, or rhythm..just playing around.....At times, I'll hear someone playing a tune I know and be 'taken' by their interpretation... can't wait to get to my fiddle to try to replicate what it was I heard that I liked so much...

Jul 19, 2020 - 6:40:19 AM

11840 posts since 9/23/2009

Well. yeah. I used to get gigs but still just played according to my mood...but I think I drove the BG band I was in crazy because I just had trouble doing it that way. I agree that would be the way to do it, though.

This morning I had about an hour...almost...before stuff gets going here today. I had this moody thing going on my fiddle and felt like playing it...anymore I just turn on the presonus when I feel that way. Well...on the first track it morphed from the Dying Californian, into Sourwood Mt., and ended up Angeline...then I thought this whole morning is hopeless for fiddling...just now delted that whole weird thing and now onto getting the day mood went astray on me. but I guess it was fun watching it all go haywire.  I decided to ditch the idea of a scratch track first on guitar...that mighta kept me in, or at least on the same tune.

Edited by - groundhogpeggy on 07/19/2020 06:41:35

Jul 19, 2020 - 10:07:19 AM

11840 posts since 9/23/2009

Just remembering though...the mando player in that little amateur band, who was really a great singer and mando player, was worse than I was. Where I always stood playing was in a position where I couldn't see him at we never knew if he'd be in the mood to take a break, sing a lead or the banjo player would look to him and receive a nod one way or the other..."Yes, I'll play/sing here..." or, "Nope, don't wanna right now." Then either I'd hear that guy play or sing, or see the banjo player look my I was and still am so insecure on the fiddle that it was really hard for me to be ready in a split second to come in because the mando guy didn't want to. Or singing...still...I'd kinda stumble around for words if I just suddenly saw it was my  Didn't wanna accidentally jump the gun and come in at the same time either.

Edited by - groundhogpeggy on 07/19/2020 10:09:16

Jul 20, 2020 - 11:12:15 AM
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210 posts since 4/22/2009

"From the topics about learning tunes, idea of consistent performance... how one might define learning a tune (and/or practice?). The one idea or goal to play a very fixed... the same every time."

I think there's a difference between a consistent level of quality, and always playing a tune the same way. Playing with consistent quality is a matter of playing a lot, knowing the material and practicing to get the rhythm right [especially with a metronome]. Always playing the same notes would be a lot less fun. Like a level of creativity is gone. I think I would have to quit. :^) The best players seem to have a flexibility in their playing re: note & rhythmic choices. I used to play dances with a very good fiddler who never changed the melodies he played. One problem though, if he missed a note, he had to wait until the top of the tune. Disconcerting to say the least. Learning tunes was memorizing a series of finger movements. Being able to sing the tune wasn't part of it.

Edited by - Joel Glassman on 07/20/2020 11:25:50

Jul 20, 2020 - 11:19:34 AM



1600 posts since 1/21/2009

Originally posted by Peghead

I would like to be able to play my versions the same way without any hitches maybe 4 or 5 times through ? before I would consider changing or inserting anything new. 

Just in case anyone is misled, I'd want to point out that this has yet to happen -

Edited by - Peghead on 07/20/2020 11:29:52

Jul 20, 2020 - 11:30:47 AM
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1879 posts since 8/27/2008

Originally posted by Joel Glassman

Always playing the same notes would be a lot less fun. Like a level of creativity is gone. I think I would have to quit..

To me there is a certain pleasure in playing some tunes pretty much note for note every time. Some tunes are little jewels with built in charm. In fact most of what I learn doesn't require embellishment and variety for me to enjoy. I do that on some, especially if I'm playing the tune for many choruses, but usually tunes I pick interest me for their own essential character.

Aug 8, 2020 - 9:28:23 PM

644 posts since 8/10/2017

> From the topics about learning tunes, idea of consistent performance... how one might define learning a tune (and/or practice?). The one idea or goal to play a very fixed... the same every time.

The way I've learned tunes, especially OT, is to start with an outline of the tune and fill in more notes over time. So there isn't any consistency there as I'm always trying to fill in more, even years later. I can find new notes. I do sort of end up playing very fixed most of the time, but I'm always striving to change or improve my playing a little in some way.

I've also found over time, and maybe it's because I still play mandolin a lot, that the more I learn these OT tunes the more I realize that the notes don't matter as much as the chords. The chords are the tune and the notes are the embellishment. There's always some group of notes you have to hit for it to be this tune and not that one, that give the tune the character that makes you identify it, but over all, the chords are the tune, not the individual notes.

As for Irish music, I have two ways I learn. One is I just try to learn little phrases. A lot of these phrases get used in other tunes. If I can get enough of them under my fingers, maybe I can get a whole tune. The other way is I make a recording and then try to find the sheet music on I find whatever comes closest, learn it from the sheet music and then clean it up with the recording. Sometimes if I've heard an Irish tune enough times I can just play the melody from memory. Playing things up to speed is still something I'm struggling to do.

One way I practice is to just let the tune play in my head when I'm walking. As my friend said, it has to go from the ear bones to the head bones to the finger bones. The head bones phase is useful.

Aug 9, 2020 - 7:20:47 AM

89 posts since 6/8/2020

Coming from a “classical” music background where one is expected to closely follow the composer’s stated intentions and where I studied the piano and to a lesser extent the guitar, I find playing traditional music liberating in that there is room within these simple structures to explore and vary a performance at will. I think it’s tremendous fun to play, with certain elements of OT fiddle playing that absolutely fascinates me. After several years of close listening, my take is that there is no definitive version of any of these tunes so why should I limit myself?

Aug 9, 2020 - 8:30:20 AM
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5096 posts since 9/26/2008

The notes ARE the tune. The chords are just that, chords, provided to support the tune (or melody of the song if words are involved). If you played the chords without the tunes (or song), many would sound the same, that is, they don't stand alone as anything individual. I would counter that chords are unnecessary and are more of an affectation of modern times, the influence of western art music and pop music.
Irish music is the same, individual tunes that stand alone. Chords were added in modern times, likely to facilitate the band idea.

Edited by - ChickenMan on 08/09/2020 08:31:50

Aug 9, 2020 - 8:45:11 AM
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10033 posts since 12/2/2007

"I've also found over time, and maybe it's because I still play mandolin a lot, that the more I learn these OT tunes the more I realize that the notes don't matter as much as the chords. The chords are the tune and the notes are the embellishment."
I would say that its just the opposite. There are many examples of music that doesn't involve chords - traditional ballads, solo instruments (including Bach's sonatas and partitas for solo violin and 'cello). Thoreau in his journals describes the beauty of a solo flute being played in the evening.
Why don't you try playing the following chords on your mandolin C,F,G,C,D,G,F,C and then ask people to sing the melody? I don't think you'll have much success.
BTW, I think the basis of music is not melody or harmony, but rhythm. Bill Monroe said the same thing, but also there are (or were) many cultures in the world that use only percussion instruments to accompany singing and dancing.

Aug 9, 2020 - 11:10 AM

89 posts since 6/8/2020

I’m glad more folks posted on this thread as it allows me to further expand on what I so boldly :) stated above. Firstly, that though there is this supposed room, I shouldn’t pretend that my variations, at least so far, are particularly profound. Second, that I could easily have substituted the word “fascinates” with the word “astonishes”. For instance, the amount of variance and the power that a simple rocking of the bow/grabbing of an adjacent string can produce, is quite significant. And finally, I do tend to limit myself largely due to what I wrote under Firstly (which is kind of dumb sounding word).

Aug 9, 2020 - 2:04:48 PM

644 posts since 8/10/2017

I don't think you guys read the sentences that followed. There are notes that must be played for it to be this tune and not that one, but overall it is the chords that form the tune.

A super simple example is that a lot of tunes end with BGAF#G. That would be chords GDG. Does it really matter if you play BGAF#G or if you play BBAAG or BCAF#G or BCDF#G? Is the tune police going to correct you if you play that little thing different each time? Of course not. What matters is you riffed on that GDG chord thing to end the phrase.

I've observed enough variations among tunes to see that what makes them all the same are a few key phrases and the overall chords. The variations and differences are in all the other notes. It can sound like a completely different tune sometimes, but I've noticed that the chords stayed the same.

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