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Nov 23, 2022 - 5:20:57 PM
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368 posts since 4/15/2019

When I learn a new song I play it straight until I really get to know the tune. Then I find the more I play it the more embellishments I throw in it. Not intentionally but they just come naturally as I get wrapped up in my playing! Quincy, I think that is what you were saying! It is not that I practice the embellishments , they just happen!

Nov 24, 2022 - 7:35:54 AM

6180 posts since 8/7/2009

Originally posted by TradFiddler418

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. 

This reminds me a lot of what I realized while learning to play mandolin. A lot of tremolo is used to fill-in the spaces between the melody notes - mainly because the mandolin really doesn't have much sustain.  

I think you point about providing support for dancing is a good observation. 

When a tradition calls for embellishments, is there liberty in what can be played, or is a particular "embellishment" part of the expected recitation? 


In Bluegrass, I think there is almost a tradition in being as improvisational as possible. Some of it (imo) gets carried away.  I recall a saying attributed to Bill Monroe, "I want you to learn how to play it just like they do, but don't play it that way."

In Old Time fiddle tradition, not so much so (imo). For the most part - a traditional old time fiddler can play each round of a tune exactly the same and it would not be considered inappropriate. On the other hand, it seems that some contemporary old time fiddlers are experimenting with how much "embellishment" they can get away with - and still be called old time. ...and there is everything else in between.

Like me. I will learn a tune based on my favorite recorded version - and usually that is not exactly what was originally played (melody) or how it was played (style) on the "source" recordings. You take that and add my tendency to embellish what I play (to an extent) - and what am I doing?  

BB King is regarded as a great guitarist - not because he played a hundred notes a second, but because he played with taste and style. His playing had more expression with less notes.  

I think the tendency to embellish has a way of contributing to watering down traditional / regional styles. I think it also contributes to morphing the melody of a tune overtime.  

But mostly - this post was about me gaining some awareness of how I could add less to the tune and end up with more. I don't know how to do that exactly, but I do think that being aware of it and wanting to "do that" is a path in the right direction.

Keeping that awareness is the next step.

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