Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  
Perry Werner

Reels and Hornpipes

Recommended Posts

Howdy:

I'm guessing that this topic has been discussed many times before but I cannot seem to locate the previous threads (if they were indeed here) about my following query.

 

Earlier this week I started to work on a fiddle tune I found.

I played it for several days as a reel not thinking that it could be any other form.

Then I noticed a footnote that indicated the rhythm for the same tune written to be played like a hornpipe.

Seems that it was just suggesting that you might want to play it that way also.

I've run into this situation many times when I'm not sure if I should play a tune as one or the other. I'm guessing that this is also quite common for others.

 

So, the question is, what kinda tune is it.

If it says "hornpipe" or "reel" (or some other form) in the title I'm reassured. It's when there is no indication of how to play it. again "correctly". I do realize that in the end I can play it any darn way I wish to.

I realize that many hornpipes sound great as reels and vice-versa but I'm curious to know what the consensus is on how to play the tunes "correctly".

Thanks,

Perry

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I don't think there is a 'proper' answer to your question Perry. I used to think that the distinction was to be found in dotting or swinging a tune to create a 'lumpy' rhythm that defined a hornpipe but apparently tempo is a better indicator, hornpipes are slower than reels, as are strathspeys which may or may not have the dotted notes reversed to give a different kind of limp to the tune. It's a minefield, really it is!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Much though I'm a huge and unshakable advocate of music notation as a means of transmitting, learning and storing tunes, this is definitely one of those cases where you need to interpret the dots with experience and knowledge.

 

On top of what tallship has said there's also the subtle variations in emphasis and 'swing' that cannot be conveyed in music notation (or, rather, cannot easily be conveyed in music notation that doesn't hide the tune under a welter of expression marks and performance directions). Most traditional tunes are notated to provide the overall bare bones of the tune: the tunes published in sources such as my abc transcriptions, the Village Music Project and the source-books the VMP works from, and O'Neill's Music Of Ireland, are all representations of the 'core' of the tune, not performance editions.

 

Reels, hornpipes, and schottisches can all be notated 'straight', yet when you hear them played the difference is clear. Roxbrough Castle springs to mind as an example of a common Northumbrian tune which can be found notated 'straight' or 'dotted', and can be heard played straight or dotted - both versions have precedent and are 'valid'. A French bourree can look pretty much like an Irish polka on the printed page, a mazurka can look like a waltz, and don't get me started on the myriad attempts down the years to notate Swedish polskas in 3/4, 3/2, 9/4, 9/8 ....

 

The only way you'll get more experience at turning the printed page into music is through going through the process of playing, listening and learning, figuring out why a particular tune works better (or is most commonly played, which is not at all the same thing!) in a particular version; and for me that process is part of the fun of playing music with other people, absorbing their experience and influences and building and sharing your own at the same time.

 

Things were so much easier when hornpipes were in 3/2. Apart from the ones that got notated in 6/4 of course ...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Howdy:

Both excellent and intelligent responses tallship and Steve.

Al lot of what you suggest I have figured out.

I guess I've been wondering what was intended when these tunes first came on the scene but then again I have to remember that these are traditional tunes which were passed from ear to ear and most probably not notated for many years in order to give us a "written" record of them or to simply really confuse us.

The problem for me has been that I sit down to learn a new tune, play the heck out of it for maybe weeks and there I am having a good time when I suddenly ask myself "am I playing this correctly". Probably not a great way to proceed. I have to learn to just gently say to myself "OK, now I have the tune under my fingers somewhat, what else can I do with this"?

Anyway, a lot of self talk goes on during the learning process which I find nothing wrong with.

I just want to understand which direction to head in and what others might be thinking about a particular tune.

The bonus is that many of these can be played several ways and they will be "correct". Kinda like getting 2 (or 3 or more) for the price of one. Not a bad deal!

Best,

Perry

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hi Perry, Sometimes it is the form of the tune that gives a hint to what it might be. I have noticed that in many hornpipes the last part of the "B" section of the tune is a mimic of the "A" section. Does your new tune do this? Doug

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I personally find it difficult to learn a hornpipe when the notation is not given in the typical form, but I have nearly always been able to find the tune where it is provided with that form. For example, Nigel Gatherer's site provides it for many tunes. Once the tune is digested, then it is not an issue. For example, I could never have learned the Steamboat Hornpipe on Alastair Anderson's new teaching CD if Steve Mansfield had not sent me the music, which was notated with the indicated rhythm.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I personally find it difficult to learn a hornpipe when the notation is not given in the typical form, but I have nearly always been able to find the tune where it is provided with that form. For example, Nigel Gatherer's site provides it for many tunes. Once the tune is digested, then it is not an issue. For example, I could never have learned the Steamboat Hornpipe on Alastair Anderson's new teaching CD if Steve Mansfield had not sent me the music, which was notated with the indicated rhythm.

In contrast, I personally find that where someone has written out a tune to be played with a 'horpipe' swing as dotted pairs using "dotted-quaver semiquaver" (in abc parlance, c3/2d/2, or c>d) that it is harder to read, and when played back as midi is far too lumpy. This is one of the limitations of traditional music notation - it can't express fractions of a note other than halves, quarters, eighths. When I play a tune that can be played straight or 'hornpiped', then I subconsciously lengthen the first and shorten the second of each quaver pair, but I don't make the first three times as long as the second. Maybe 60% 40% is close, but one can't write that in standard notation (maybe with a time signature of 20/20 !).

 

When transcribing tunes in to my Session Tunebook (http://www.pghardy.n...tina/tunebooks/), I've generally taken out any explicit dotted pairs, and put them back to straight quavers (eighth notes), which makes them easier to read, and lets players choose how much to swing (if it all). One can take a tune like "The Rights of Man" and play it in very different styles - from very smooth to very lumpy (and various shades in between) and from strict beat timing to free singsong durations. Great fun to experiment with!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hi Perry, Sometimes it is the form of the tune that gives a hint to what it might be. I have noticed that in many hornpipes the last part of the "B" section of the tune is a mimic of the "A" section. Does your new tune do this? Doug

 

Hey Doug:

Are you saying that this happens (in your experience) more frequently with hornpipes or have you noticed it in reels and other forms also if I read you right? I'm guessing that the answer is yes since many most? all?) of these tunes, as they are transferred from ear to ear and from sheet to sheet can differ. That seems like something I have never considered and might be something to be on the lookout for. And yes, the new tune does this!

Can you name an example or two?

 

Perry

Edited by Perry Werner

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hornpipes often end each section with three quarter notes, especially the tonic repeated three times, or a 1-3-1 pattern. They also tend to have a bouncy, jaunty melody that becomes familiar after you hear a lot of them. For example, larger intervals between melody notes, especially single notes that are a good interval away from the surrounding melody line.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This is such an tough topic to talk about. As already mentioned you can play hornpipes like reels (Harvest Home and Durang's come to mind, though most folks consider Durang's actually a reel). And you can play reels like hornpipes. And, let's not even consider barn dances which are a sort of hornpipe derivative. That said though there are a few "finger prints" for hornpipes...at least to me: The melodies tend to have lots of broken chords as the melody; There may be lots of fills of notes a third apart to make a triplet (like B d eighth notes becoming B c d as a triplet); The Tonic - third - tonic (d F# d) quarter notes at the end are common, and the form is often AA' BA' (that is the tune from the last half of the A section becomes the second half of the B section. That is not to say that the two sections are not repeated. I've left the repeats out for, I hope, a clearer example. Of course the tempos are quite different (hornpipes being much slower, particularly if being played for solo dancers), and the basic rhythm tends to be uneven (though usually written out as equal eighth notes). I like to think of the rhythme as "Humpty Dumpty, Humpty Dumpty"

 

There's probably more to say about melodic shape differences. I think I can usually tell them apart from that, but I'm sorry to say I can't really provide clear example.

 

And, let's face it, one can play tunes either way. At t he "Jink and Diddle School of Scottish fiddle," run by John Turner, who is considered by many to be at the level of Alistair Fraser, they will frequently play a tune as a reel, and a strathspey, and a hornpipe, and a slow air, and even (with some alteration) a jig. The world of recorded stuff is full of these sorts of alterations. So my advice is learn the tune, try it various ways, and decide how you like it. Then play it that way. If you go out and play and discover folks playing it a different way...well...adapt :)

 

Edited for spelling errors...

Edited by cboody

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  

×