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Playing Fast on the C/G Anglo Concertina


David Levine
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I thought you might have included a link to your own playing there Azalin, but hey.

 

As I said, I would do as bad or worse at the same speed, so if what I said was an insult, I was insulting myself in the process, it's not so bad is it? ;)

Edited by Azalin
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To Fernando I would say I agree that playing in the current spate of sessions in Galway is thought to be too fast by many musicians. I certainly would not bother trying to join in.

 

Luckily for David Levine and myself, we were exposed to fine paced musicians of the older generation around Co.Clare. Playing with Gerald O'Loughlin (flute), John and Paddy Kiloughrey (whistle and fiddle), Micileen Conlan ( concertina), the Russell brothers etc etc... this was a great apprenticeship.

 

Speed ? Yes for the current vogue of set dancing but not for "sessions", either for the musicians or the listeners sakes.

 

As others have said, if it sounds hurried it is probably too fast.

 

Geoff

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I think I'd sound better if I played the tune slower than you, but not at that speed, as you probably would.

 

Ah and sorry about that sentence, the fact that I'm not native english speaker makes me write 'weak' english sometimes. I just meant that you would probably sound better at a slower speed on those tunes, as would I. ("as you probably would... if you played the tune slower") :-)

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I think I'd sound better if I played the tune slower than you, but not at that speed, as you probably would.

 

Ah and sorry about that sentence, the fact that I'm not native english speaker makes me write 'weak' english sometimes. I just meant that you would probably sound better at a slower speed on those tunes, as would I. ("as you probably would... if you played the tune slower") :-)

 

Not at all, it made good sense. (No probs at all with your earlier post, a bit defensive on my part.)

 

 

More generally I will just emphasise that I'm not advocating mindless speed or speed for the sake of it. Lots of Irish music is played too fast, but speed does remain an element. There are plenty of occasions where everyone at a session is having a great time, non-players included, but if one listened to a recording in the cold light of day one would think "Good grief! It sounds awful."

 

Phrasing, shape, proper ornamentation are all great and important things as plenty of people have pointed out, but let's beware turning a good dinner into nouvelle cuisine.

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Well, it seems things have turned reasonable and civil, which is excellent. I hope I don't get folks riled up again by picking a nit:

 

One should try to play well, and speed is totally irrelevant to playing well.

 

I'd say that ability to play at a variety of speeds is a very useful skill in performing music well, and in getting across the feel of the music you're playing. Certainly it's relevant. I suspect you mean playing fast just for the sake of playing fast is irrelevant, which I'd probably agree with. But like most people, I enjoy a lively tune played quickly, if the musician playing it is in control at that speed, and it suits the tune and setting. Speed is just another tool in the musician's toolbox. Practicing playing faster is a completely reasonable thing to do, if you want to play quickly.

 

But I do agree that many amateur musicians play too quickly for their skill level. It's common to hear them (er, us) attempt all sorts of things they can't really pull off -- another very common example is attempting ornamentation before they've mastered it. And it's quite distracting. But that's not to say speed is bad, or ornamentation is bad.

 

I think the main thing to keep in mind is what you're trying to accomplish with your playing. If you're trying to entertain a discerning audience, it's imperative that you play in control. That may mean that you need to simplify your playing, or slow it down. But if you're playing for a noisy party that just wants to whoop it up, you can sacrifice some control for speed or volume or energy. Playing with friends at home, you can take more risks, which can be fun and a learning experience. Practicing by yourself, it's good to occasionally push far beyond your comfort level to help yourself grow as a musician, even though it would be painful for others to listen to. It seems many musicians don't make these distinctions, and play at the limit of their ability at all times. There is no attention left over for lilt, spontaneous variations, listening to the other musicians, responding to the audience, or expressing the music in a heartfelt way. Playing too fast is a common way for that to happen, but not the only one.

 

To agree with the initial post, but say it in a different way: To play in control, you need to practice playing in control, which probably means slower than you usually practice. I agree this is something that would be very fruitful for most musicians to do more often. If you're struggling, that comes across in the music, even if we don't consciously notice it.

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playing slow is a lovely way to enjoy the music. kitty lie over by mick o'brien and caoimhin ó raghallaigh is a great example of this playing, as well is anything by martin hayes. actually, a lot of times you'll realize that music can sound a lot faster than it actually is. great players can play well both slowly and quickly, and do. when i play with maurice lennon, he goes from playing tunes slower than you've ever heard one moment, to playing tunes so quickly that most could not keep up. if he plays for 3 hours he'll spend about 75% or more of it at the medium to slow range, and kick it up towards the end.

 

i remember when i went to milwaukee irish fest summer school in 2004. i saw someone playing concertina in a session, and not only did a think it looked like a toy (i had a stagi at the time), i couldn't imagine how one could ever play the concertina "full speed." it is definitely a strange concept to wrap your head around! confidence in fingering choices, control of the bellows, and a good sense of rhythm are all essential to playing quickly.

 

personally, i think even so-called slow playing can be quite quick. i remember thinking that the kitty lie over album was very slow (which i got in 2004 at irish fest milwaukee), until i tried learning the tunes on it.

 

sometimes i feel like people demonize playing quickly, though. i think this is just about the best piece of music i have ever heard:

but i do not therefore deem anything quicker to be somehow inferior! if music can breathe, be expressive, and articulate itself well, to me it doesn't matter how slow or fast it is. i run a session, and have had people tell me that they are "glad to hear someone play slowly," while others have admonished me for playing too quickly. in actuality i play to both extremes in any given evening, allowing players of all levels and listeners of all preferences to enjoy the music..
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Very interesting!

I don't often play reels (they all sound the same, so where's the point? :P ) but when I do, I notice that there's a critical tempo that has to be reached, otherwise they just don't "get off the ground." And then there's a "super-critical" tempo that should not be exceeded, bacause it sounds hectic. Perhaps this "super-critical" tempo is higher with a really good player than with a less adept one, but probably every player has his or her speed limit.

 

As a listener my feeling is that, when a reel is too slow, the durations of notes and ornaments get out of proportion. Ornaments have to be fast, and if the gaps between the notes are too long, the ornaments don't fill them out. If you slow down the ornaments proportionately, they sound like notes. On the other hand, when a reel is too fast, my feeling is that, to keep the ornaments in proportion, they're just too short in duration to register on the ear.

So there's a "tempo window" where it sounds right. I would say that the Fiddle Hangout recording is at the upper edge of this window, and the comhaltas recording is at the lower edge.

 

As I say, the thoughts of a listener, not a player, and not a dancer!

 

Cheers,

John

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Very interesting!

I don't often play reels (they all sound the same, so where's the point? :P ) but when I do, I notice that there's a critical tempo that has to be reached, otherwise they just don't "get off the ground." And then there's a "super-critical" tempo that should not be exceeded, bacause it sounds hectic. Perhaps this "super-critical" tempo is higher with a really good player than with a less adept one, but probably every player has his or her speed limit.

 

As a listener my feeling is that, when a reel is too slow, the durations of notes and ornaments get out of proportion. Ornaments have to be fast, and if the gaps between the notes are too long, the ornaments don't fill them out. If you slow down the ornaments proportionately, they sound like notes. On the other hand, when a reel is too fast, my feeling is that, to keep the ornaments in proportion, they're just too short in duration to register on the ear.

So there's a "tempo window" where it sounds right. I would say that the Fiddle Hangout recording is at the upper edge of this window, and the comhaltas recording is at the lower edge.

 

As I say, the thoughts of a listener, not a player, and not a dancer!

 

Cheers,

John

 

normally i'd agree with you, but martin hayes can play a reel unbelievably slow and make it still sound like a reel!

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He wasn't a concertina player either, but here's what Giraldus Cambrensis wrote about Irish music in 1185, speed is nothing new....

 

"I find among these people commendable diligence only on musical instruments, on which they are incomparably more skilled than any nation I have seen. Their style is not, as on the British instruments to which we are accustomed, deliberate and solem but quick and lively; nevertheless the sound is smooth and pleasant.

 

It is remarkable that, with such rapid fingerwork, the musical rhythm is maintained and that, by unfailingly disciplined art, the integrity of the tune is fully preserved throughout the ornate rhythms and the profusely intricate polyphonyand with such smooth rapidity, such 'unequal equality', such 'discordant concord'. Whether the strings strike together a fourth or a fifth, [the players] nevertheless always start from B flat and return to the same, so that everything is rounded off in a pleasant general sonority. They introduce and leave rhythmic motifs so subtly, they play the tinkling sounds on the thinner strings above the sustained sound of the thicker string so freely, they take such secret delight and caress [the strings] so sensuously, that the greatest part of their art seems to lie in veiling it, as if 'That which is concealed is betteredart revealed is art shamed'."

 

 

 

His mother was Welsh and his father Norman I think so he must have heard the reel 'celtic' stuff on harp. Interestingly he said the celts of Wales and Yorkshire liked playing and singing in parts ( as we still do! even after all the conquests)

Edited by michael sam wild
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Someone on thesession.org posted a link to a video of some fine, relaxed playing by a young banjo player:

 

 

As I was watching, I wondered if we would also get to the hear the very young concertina player at his side. Alas, no ... but wait! She appears in another video:

 

http://www.youtube.com/user/oakhillrider#p/u/5/AE4E-fTifo8

 

I think you'll be charmed.

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Someone on thesession.org posted a link to a video of some fine, relaxed playing by a young banjo player:

 

 

As I was watching, I wondered if we would also get to the hear the very young concertina player at his side. Alas, no ... but wait! She appears in another video:

 

http://www.youtube.com/user/oakhillrider#p/u/5/AE4E-fTifo8

 

I think you'll be charmed.

 

 

If I am not mistaken is that not the wonderfull Frances Custy on fiddle ?

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Someone on thesession.org posted a link to a video of some fine, relaxed playing by a young banjo player:

 

 

As I was watching, I wondered if we would also get to the hear the very young concertina player at his side. Alas, no ... but wait! She appears in another video:

 

http://www.youtube.c...u/5/AE4E-fTifo8

 

I think you'll be charmed.

 

 

Very nice! If it was played at a certain session around here (You know which one I mean, Michael!) it would just be a supersonic blur.

 

 

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Someone on thesession.org posted a link to a video of some fine, relaxed playing by a young banjo player:

 

 

As I was watching, I wondered if we would also get to the hear the very young concertina player at his side. Alas, no ... but wait! She appears in another video:

 

http://www.youtube.com/user/oakhillrider#p/u/5/AE4E-fTifo8

 

I think you'll be charmed.

 

Wow, sounds so musical to me, both of them.

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