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Nov 5, 2022 - 10:24:53 AM
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6182 posts since 8/7/2009

I'm curious. I’m listening to some versions of tunes that seem to be much more straight forward (sort of speak) – without too many leading notes or embellishments. (Usually depends on the fiddler.)

Those versions don’t include a lot of the extra notes. Those notes may add some "flavor" - but they don’t really define the melody. i.e., the melody is not lost if the notes are left out.  And – since I have learned most of my tunes with embellishments - it became an interesting and challenging exercise to play the tune without them - and still sound polished and musical. I think maybe I should pay more attention to those extra notes.

In your opinion - what does playing without embellishments reveal?

No embellishments shows that you must have learned a festival version of the tune.
No embellishments shows that you are still working on the tune (learning to fill in the spaces).
No embellishments shows that you have a good sense of musical expression – keeping things simple. Your fiddling style is clean, un-cluttered.

And your opinion?

Playing a tune is more about the tune, keep it simple. Embellishments can become a distraction and focuses on your playing – and not the tune.
Embellishments reveals how comfortable you are with the tune and how well you know it.
Embellishments keep the tune from being boring for the musicians and the audience. It shows your creative ability as a fiddler.
Embellishments can make a tune more musical and emotionally expressive.

Do you work towards making sure you add them? …or do you learn tunes without any and want to leave them out?

Like so many other things with playing the fiddle – I don’t think there is a wrong answer. This intended to be more of an opportunity for us to give thought to personal preferences and maybe share your ideas.  I'm curious about what others may think.

Nov 5, 2022 - 11:22:04 AM
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Old Scratch

Canada

1091 posts since 6/22/2016

All the embellishments are inseparable from my playing. But sometimes when I go back and listen to recordings of fiddlers I admire, I'll be surprised by how many moments of simplicity there are, opportunities for embellishments that they've let pass to serve the music, and I'll be reminded yet again of how much more musical they are than I am.

Nov 5, 2022 - 11:57:17 AM
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10742 posts since 3/19/2009

Tony, ''all of the above''.......

Nov 5, 2022 - 12:02:34 PM
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2874 posts since 10/22/2007

I guess there has to be room for embellishments. Take a rag tune, like Ragtime Annie, or Scott Joplin's, Maple Leaf Rag. There's no skeletal version. I can't add stuff to hornpipes, but I'm sure there's them that can. I can't think of the opposite side of the coin type tune? Maybe Bile the Cabbage, or Redwing? Or Faded Love? I play Faded Love Straight and sweet the first time through. Then it gets jazzier and jazzier. There was a guy named Bob Wells. He said, "when I point at you, you give me everything you know." Now, I sure don't know everything about every tune. Like they say, "I do what I can, with what I have."

Nov 5, 2022 - 12:21:35 PM
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680 posts since 7/30/2021

I spend a lot of time practicing cuts, rolls, triplets, etc and figuring out where they could go, because I feel like that is a part of what gives Irish/Celtic fiddling its "personality".

But that said, there are players who use very little, and players who use very heavily, and I enjoy listening to them all!

I think the only bad thing is if a poorly done or poorly placed embellishment interferes with the rhythm or melody line of the tune.

Nov 5, 2022 - 12:29:25 PM
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6091 posts since 9/26/2008

I play "Old Horse and Buggy" pretty close to how Art Stamper did. He had this little trilly thing he does that, too me, makes the tune stand out from the way most people play it. He's my source, possibly ~the~ recorded source. It may be an embellishment but it seems part of the tune.

Unless I'm playing Irish tunes, I don't know how much of that sort of thing I consciously put into a tune. My friend Jon might have better insight since he plays with me more than anyone else.

Nov 5, 2022 - 1:47:37 PM
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3217 posts since 9/13/2009

I've always viewed embellishments are exactly that... as such separate from the core of the tune. I find useful the help vary, shape the feel in different ways; so I often change them during the course of playing the tune... depending in where might take the tune. (sometimes reduced to core, simple straight ahead). Not a fan of embellishment for embellishment sake... they need to serve a purpose toward feel. 

One thing to add, especially pointed out to me early on, about zooming in and zooming out... how it's easy as a musician to zoom in get excited about all these intricate notes, embellishments... but the reality is that audience are not impressed, as they're mostly pretty oblivious to any of that; just focused on the bigger picture of overall feel. Especially playing for dancers. Even sometimes fellow musicians in a jam - Q "did you notice that cool little complicated thingy I threw in there, the second time thru?"; - A "huh?"sad

Edited by - alaskafiddler on 11/05/2022 13:54:14

Nov 5, 2022 - 8:03:36 PM
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6091 posts since 9/26/2008

quote:
Originally posted by alaskafiddler

One thing to add, especially pointed out to me early on, about zooming in and zooming out... how it's easy as a musician to zoom in get excited about all these intricate notes, embellishments... but the reality is that audience are not impressed, as they're mostly pretty oblivious to any of that; just focused on the bigger picture of overall feel. Especially playing for dancers. Even sometimes fellow musicians in a jam - Q "did you notice that cool little complicated thingy I threw in there, the second time thru?"; - A "huh?"sad


That's my buddy Paul when's he's playing bluegrass banjo, "Did you catch that Tony Rice kick I did?"

I think you nailed it in how I view embellishments. They are used to vary the tune, in the moment, tastefully and used in moderation. 

Edited by - ChickenMan on 11/05/2022 20:04:27

Nov 5, 2022 - 9:18:38 PM
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6182 posts since 8/7/2009

quote:
Originally posted by ChickenMan

I play "Old Horse and Buggy" pretty close to how Art Stamper did. He had this little trilly thing he does that, too me, makes the tune stand out from the way most people play it. He's my source, possibly ~the~ recorded source. It may be an embellishment but it seems part of the tune.

Unless I'm playing Irish tunes, I don't know how much of that sort of thing I consciously put into a tune. My friend Jon might have better insight since he plays with me more than anyone else.


Yeap. My choice as well. I probably learned more tunes from his recordings than anyone else.  Love his playing / style.

Nov 6, 2022 - 5:31:37 AM
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JonD

USA

130 posts since 2/12/2021

Yeah, here’s the thing about audiences— they may or may not recognize the melody, but chances are they won’t notice the little ’extras’ unless they are done too extravagantly (or poorly). What they will respond to is the totality of what the player is putting forward— good, bad or even indifferent.

In Irish trad many of the ornaments (as they are often called) seem to be inseparable from the tune itself. But they are alway optional and often traded around (slide instead of roll).

Funny thing, until I picked up a fiddle 18 months ago I had no idea whatsoever that the left hand had any role in Irish tune ornamentation! (How ironic, since I’ve listened to and loved the music for 50 years…) Now it’s the biggest challenge I face, to get my left hand to ‘dance’ confidently through those rolls and cuts…. But should I ever master them and play a tune in public, who would notice and be at all impressed with that little skill? Probably no one!

My favorite old time players do things I can’t fully analyze or replicate (and I haven’t committed to that task in any case). The magical things BillyK does aren’t related to embellishment necessarily but come through something in the bow pulse and a sprinkling of subtle sliding around the note. How’s that for a first-hand analysis Chickenman? :-D

Nov 6, 2022 - 11:48:10 AM

971 posts since 3/1/2020

A lot of it depends on the piece itself. Some melodies have enough in them that they don’t require anything to be added to work well and sound complete. On the other hand, some are not particularly interesting in their skeletal form, so some ornaments are necessary to give them life.

In the baroque era, it was common to play the original form of a line first, then repeat with ornaments. That way, the listener could hear both the original composition (or the basic melodic line) and the interpreter’s own take on it. Just as bass lines were written in figured notation rather than fully realized, the melodic lines were written in a basic form and expected to be embellished.

Although I’d agree that audiences don’t necessarily catch everything a player does, I’d disagree that they don’t pay any attention to or understand technique. After all, what does everyone ask to hear? Orange Blossom Special. Everyone has plenty to say about Michael Cleveland’s bowing, but I’ve yet to hear anyone discuss his tone. When I was at Galax a while back, the audience went wild when the player who ended up winning played a bit off the string in one phrase. When Jascha Heifetz played the Hora Staccato, the audience would crowd the stage trying to get a closer look at his hands. And who could leave out Paganini, who took the world by storm with his unheard-of technique, often referred to as the first rock star?

Nov 6, 2022 - 12:32:42 PM

2874 posts since 10/22/2007

Better shown as an example of what I have to contend with, matriculating with a certain bunch. Bound and determined to "make a tune out of it."

youtu.be/hzrbLEbKk8A

So you may ask, How do I play O.J.C.? The answer is, I don't generally.

Nov 6, 2022 - 5:57:45 PM
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359 posts since 6/3/2016

I am a "notey" fiddler. So I tend to use a lot of embellishments. I don't generally try to mimic embellishments of others from performance or recordings. (Not exactly) And I try to mix them up, especially for simpler tunes.

I get bored playing simple melodies at moderate tempos without embellishment.

Now, for slow airs a lot of the "embellishment" would be expressive bowing and subtle left hand oranaments..

Nov 13, 2022 - 7:27:37 PM
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6182 posts since 8/7/2009

quote:
Originally posted by Old Scratch

All the embellishments are inseparable from my playing. But sometimes when I go back and listen to recordings of fiddlers I admire, I'll be surprised by how many moments of simplicity there are, opportunities for embellishments that they've let pass to serve the music, and I'll be reminded yet again of how much more musical they are than I am.


enlightened  I have come to a definite conclusion:  I can play my version of tunes so much better that I do anyone else's version.  

Nov 13, 2022 - 8:35:02 PM
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2874 posts since 10/22/2007

Tony, I'm glad you fluffed this thread up again! There's truly much to be said about your approach. If we were on a guitar forum, I'd say something like, one should let a Telecaster be a Tele. and let a Les Paul be a Les Paul. (2 types of electric guitars) But since we play this thing where we so control the note & tone, it's one of these things that sort of must be an extension of you, it's worth discussing, for sure. Do you suppose that the choice of embellishments or lack there of, sort of extends from the player's brain but then still have to make it down to the fiddle and bow? I'm hearing, think/play like Tom Jerrol, of Art Stamper. That's alright. I understand. We all know playing is more like a fingerprint than a fingerprint. Sometimes I wish I never heard Cyril Stinnett. It would be easier on my brain. Like the first time Oscar Peterson heard Art Tatum. Oscar said, he quit playing for a good while. I'm no Oscar Peterson of the fiddle. It seems like life would be easier if there weren't so many choices. It is a good thing I can only do so much. John Hartford said style is built upon limitations. Well, I'm limited for dang sure.

Nov 14, 2022 - 7:14:27 AM
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6182 posts since 8/7/2009

quote:
Originally posted by farmerjones

Tony, I'm glad you fluffed this thread up again! There's truly much to be said about your approach. If we were on a guitar forum, I'd say something like, one should let a Telecaster be a Tele. and let a Les Paul be a Les Paul. (2 types of electric guitars) But since we play this thing where we so control the note & tone, it's one of these things that sort of must be an extension of you, it's worth discussing, for sure. I'm hearing, think/play like Tom Jerrol, of Art Stamper. That's alright. I understand. We all know playing is more like a fingerprint than a fingerprint. Sometimes I wish I never heard Cyril Stinnett. It would be easier on my brain. Like the first time Oscar Peterson heard Art Tatum. Oscar said, he quit playing for a good while. I'm no Oscar Peterson of the fiddle. It seems like life would be easier if there weren't so many choices. It is a good thing I can only do so much. John Hartford said style is built upon limitations. Well, I'm limited for dang sure.


Your analogy is not wasted. Been playing guitar for almost 60 years. Love it.

"Do you suppose that the choice of embellishments or lack there of, sort of extends from the player's brain but then still have to make it down to the fiddle and bow?"

Without a doubt!!!   John Hartford titled his Old Time Fiddling DVD - "Trying to Teach My Hands to Do What I Hear in My Head"   John is one of my heroes. 

The issue I was speaking to was an awareness of how I seem to interject embellishments in tunes I've learned from listening to the versions of tunes I like (without any real regard to who the fiddler might be). And then finding out later that the embellishments I have added were not a part of the version I learned from.

Is that a bad thing?  Not necessarily. But like Old Scratch said earlier - a lot of times I have come to realize that sometimes less is better. But - then again - I have had other fiddlers say "I like what you do there." It is a growing awareness.

So what is the issue?  The real issue is my listening skills.  And for me, that is very important on so many levels.  

...how well do I listen to the version I am learning?  ...apparently not as good as I sometimes think. It's one thing to make a choice to add something or leave something out - and another to say "HA... how did I not hear that before now?"

...how well do I listen to others when we are playing together? ...not always as good as I need to. I have come to realize at times that I have played a tune louder than needed in an effort to lead others. Not so good - especially when you are joining a group of players for the first time.

...(most important) how well do I listen to myself when I play? Do I really hear (and know) what I'm playing sounds like?  I hope - as much as anything - I am learning to do this well.

If my embellishments contribute to the tune, and they blend in well with what others are playing, then there is no reason to think that I "have to change" anything.  Except when I hear something in my head that I think would be even better.

And that's where the last part comes into play. Do I really hear (and know) what my playing sounds like?

I've watched and listened to a number of recordings, videos, live performances of fiddlers - and wondered at times, what is it that make them think that is good?  And because I have to think that - they feel like they are playing good (or they wouldn't play it)... are my listening skills letting me down? My fear is - there is someone out there that is asking that same question when they hear me.

Irrational fear?  Perhaps. But I think it is a healthy check and a good question to ask myself - continually.

Nov 14, 2022 - 10:21:19 AM
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2075 posts since 4/6/2014

" what is it that make them think that is good?"...i am usually asking myself "what is it that makes "me" think that is good?"

Often when analyzed minutely, (made possible by the incredible tech we have nowadays), the answer is, Smoke & mirrors, misdirection, slight of hand,, musical knowledge, great timing etc. in short, Magic!

Thanks to stuff like This

i can sometimes get a Tentative handle on it....in my own way.

Edited by - pete_fiddle on 11/14/2022 10:30:01

Nov 14, 2022 - 10:28:56 AM

2075 posts since 4/6/2014

HERE

Is how his fiddling sounds in context

Nov 14, 2022 - 11:01:34 AM

6182 posts since 8/7/2009

quote:
Originally posted by pete_fiddle

" what is it that make them think that is good?"...i am usually asking myself "what is it that makes "me" think that is good?"

Often when analyzed minutely, (made possible by the incredible tech we have nowadays), the answer is, Smoke & mirrors, misdirection, slight of hand,, musical knowledge, great timing etc. in short, Magic!

Thanks to stuff like This

i can sometimes get a Tentative handle on it....in my own way.


With regard to the tunes that I like and the folks who recorded them - you've raised an interesting perspective. To be honest with you I don't usually ask that question of myself.

Typically, I choose versions of tunes to learn based on their musical appeal to me (it sounds better to me than other versions I've heard). It is usually a particular phrase that's has an expression and presents a challenge. I want to be able to play that, and that tune will give me the opportunity (context).

I know what I like about it - and most of the time I can point to that very thing. But I've never spent much tme wondering about why I like it. My personal taste is the only thing that comes to mind.

And as was said somewhere else today: "De Gustibus non disputandum (est)"

Edited by - tonyelder on 11/14/2022 11:03:05

Nov 14, 2022 - 11:21:52 AM

2075 posts since 4/6/2014

Are we talking about "Embellishments" (ornaments?) in general, or embellishments in a specific genre?

Nov 14, 2022 - 12:03:22 PM

2075 posts since 4/6/2014

quote:
Originally posted by pete_fiddle

Are we talking about "Embellishments" (ornaments?) in general, or embellishments in a specific genre?


I ask this because it would greatly effect the answers to your questions. Some genres are all about the ornaments, and others rely on beautiful melodies and the way they interact with the accompaniment, others have very specific ornaments that must be strictly adhered to. In some genres the ornaments are a device to be able to play the tune at breakneck speed. Then there are questions like is a blue note an ornament? Other genres are a cross pollination of 2 or more other genres.....etc...etc

Nov 14, 2022 - 4:48:59 PM
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6182 posts since 8/7/2009

quote:
Originally posted by pete_fiddle

Are we talking about "Embellishments" (ornaments?) in general, or embellishments in a specific genre?


Fiddle wise,,, I don't travel too far from Old Tiime fiddle tunes. So, I can't really relate to "embellishments" outside of that.

Nov 14, 2022 - 6:30:02 PM
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JonD

USA

130 posts since 2/12/2021

Hey Pete thanks for the links to Imar and their Manx fiddle player, Tomas! Good stuff. It’s kind of interesting that Tomas basically invented his own embellishment as he demonstrated.

Nov 22, 2022 - 9:36:32 PM

Quincy

Belgium

527 posts since 1/16/2021

quote:
Originally posted by tonyelder

In your opinion - what does playing without embellishments reveal?


Without getting too brainy about it (that hurts lol) , I'd say embellishments first need to happen coincidentally, before they can be brought into practice :-)

Nov 23, 2022 - 5:06:36 AM
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10742 posts since 3/19/2009

Last night I was playing my favorite tune, Shuchin' the Brush, when it was my turn to lead a tune at our jam.. I played the tune basically unembellished except ONE time through..That time I put in several embellishments and got a great response from the other musicians.. So, what I'm saying it that embellishments can be great if not overdone.. Had I embellished the tune the same way every time through then the response would probably not been as good.

Nov 23, 2022 - 2:30:59 PM
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14 posts since 11/20/2022

What a great and very thoughtful discussion. As a trad fiddler, embellishments are very much a part of my playing. What’s interesting though is the degree to which it changes even within the tradition. I play primarily in the Donegal tradition, which comparatively to other styles such as Clare or East Galway, has slightly less embellishment, but still very much present. The degree of presence depending on the player, of course. The embellishment is a part of the tune and has purpose. Cranning and droning, for example, are used to replicate the sounds of pipes. Certain embellishments were also born out of necessity to make the sound fuller when ceilidh houses were a thing and there might only be a fiddle or two. So, in short, while I don’t consider myself heavy with embellishments, I also can’t imagine separating the tunes from the embellishments because of how richly rooted they are to the style and the history of the tradition. That said, I do agree that it can be over done and care should be taken to respect the tune. In the case of trad, tunes are for dancing. The tune and the stability of the tune should always be present. Fonn Mall (airs), open more room for heavier embellishment and interpretation. 
 

This is speaking purely from my realm of knowledge. I know little about Appalachian and bluegrass styles. It would be interesting to hear if the same significance of embellishment holds for other styles of fiddling. 

Edited by - TradFiddler418 on 11/23/2022 14:34:11

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