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michael01612

What Makes A "reel" A "reel"?

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I am a new beginner and working through the Mad For Trad CDROM, which I like very much. I am through the 5 initial airs with marginal competency and understanding of the button layout etc. I am starting to work on the reels, and having some questions with the rhythm of a reel.

 

If I listen to the mp3 on the CDROM on my computer and run downstairs, a good portion of the time I lose the essence of the rhythm of a reel. Then I just end up playing notes and it doesn't sound right. Some of this is related to me hunt-and-pecking for the right button...but some of it goes beyond that. When I lose the song, I can't even hum it in the rhythm I heard on the CDROM.

 

So I gave my wife the sheet music for The Old Concertina Reel to play on the piano. She is a human metronome on the piano...and when she played it it didn't sound right..e.ven though her timing was good. So then she listened to the CDROM...and played it again...subtly adjusting her rhythm...and it sounded good. I asked her to articulate what those subtle adjustments to her timing were ...and she really couldn't articulate it.

 

So I am curious...what is it about the rhythm of a reel that makes it a reel? If there are 8 1/8th notes in a measure...which of them are played longer or shorter or louder or softer or with emphasis or less emphasis? Any tips on understanding the rhythm of a reel?

 

Many thanks,

 

Mike

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Mike,

 

I'm not going to answer your question but I find reels more forgiving if you play them quicker. Trying to get the right rhythm for a Jig is for me the bigger challenge - which maybe why the reels come first in the tutorial!!

 

Ritchie

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Gonna try and help...wish me luck.

 

Reel is in 4 (four beats to the measure). A fast dance form that accentuates the first and third beats of a measure, it can be transcribed to notation in either 4/4 or 2/4 (cut time).

 

Hornpipe is also in 4, much slower and accentuates the second and fourth beats achieving a bouncing effect.

 

Polka is again in 4, goes by at a good clip althought not quiet a reel tempo and accentuates the first beat of every measure.

 

The accents should not take extra time (although if you get others on the same wavelength it can be a blast if you aren't playing for dancers otherwise your name will be mud :huh: ).

 

Ritchie mentioned Jigs, my favorite. They are in the group what's refered to as compound meter: in this case Jig 6/8. two groups of three. I like to think of them in groups of 2 (123/456). A jig can be slow or fast.

 

These are all dance forms and most musicians keep that in mind. They can be thought of as pure music that stand on their own without a connection to dance (slippery slope). Have a blast man! :)

Edited by Mark Evans

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I agree that reels played slowly can sound confusing. I think it's because the phrases tend to be longer than in other types of songs (just guessing here). Listen to it (MIDI files are all over the Web) at regular speed and drill that feeling into your head.

 

One thing that helps me a lot is to think of each section as a series of questions and answers. For instance, the first two measures could be considered the question, and the last two the answer. Listen to, and learn, the question as an entire sentence rather than a string of individual letters (notes). It's kind of like not seeing the forest for the trees.

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A way to remember that I was told

 

reel goes

 

BLACK and DECKer BLACK and DECKer BLACK and DECKer BLACK and DECKer

 

etc

 

 

A jig goes

 

Jig i ty jig i ty jig i ty jig i ty jig i ty jig i ty jig i ty jig i ty

 

 

Might help

Edited by mikebmcnamara

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;) Gee, mikebmcnamara, I was taught that a reel goes:

 

HUMP-ty-DUMP-ty-HUMP-ty-DUMP-ty

 

I did learn the

 

Jiggity Jiggity

 

but with different spelling.

 

Guess it's a matter of semantics, or something. You say to-MAY-to, I say to-MAH-to, you say Black and Decker, I say Humpty Dumpty. Let's call the whole thing "oeuf"! :D

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Cute Allison, I do like that.

 

Humpty Dumpty is one of the nicknames for my bulldog (don't ask). Now when I work on the Flowers of Edinborough I'll think of my little short snouted dog as we go on our morning walk, which given the present temperature and wind chill is at a quick reel tempo for sure!

 

Black and Decker was pretty cool too.

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Guest Peter Laban

Like other forms of (Irish) dance music the reel is built out of phrases, I don't think breaking it down four beats to the bar will get you to play reels well, nor will playing faster, it will only obscure the faults to an inexperienced listener. Identifying the phrases that make up the tune and play them as a 'question-answer' structure will set you on you way though.

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... nor will playing faster, it will only obscure the faults to an inexperienced listener.

What I was trying to express when I said

... but I find reels more forgiving if you play them quicker

was that if you play a reel not too slowly then the rhythm should come eventually as a result of continual listening and playing whereas for a jig I find the rhythm a major challenge which I am starting to despair of.

To put it another way, I was where Mike is six months ago. Now if I record a reel and play it back then I think "that is not too bad considering" whereas I am permanently dissatisfied with my playing of jigs.

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Ritchie, what is it that you are dissatisfied with about the rhythm of a jig? Is it feeling the two groups of three? Clarify please ('cause you gots ta get with jigs...they are so much fun).

 

I'm very happy that a number of folks have talked about tunes in terms of a conversation or a question and answer. However, the basic rhythm has to be a constant and rock solid. For me the converstaion or Q and A has to hang comfortably within the rhythm framework.

 

A bodhran buddy o mine told my class something very revealing I had not even thought of:

 

He plays drums with a number of blues bands where he is of course responsible for the beat. The attraction of Irish music for him is that the bodhran is not responsible for the tempo or meter. He is free to add color at certain points (and as he admonished the class, to listen and never obsure or interfere with the tune). The rhythm is carried by (for lack of a better term at this moment) the lead musicians.

Edited by Mark Evans

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Ritchie, what is it that you are dissatisfied with about the rhythm of a jig?

Nothing at all, I like the rhythm of a jig..... I'm dissatisfied with my playing :(

Is it feeling the two groups of three?  Clarify please ('cause you gots ta get with jigs...they are so much fun).

Yes, a while back if I played a jig I never knew where I was in the tune - i.e. none of the notes had a special significance. Now, If I record and play back then I can hear the groups of three but it lacks the smoothness and laziness of a proper jig.

It is something about the relative emphasis and length of the notes and the spacing between the groups of three that I find very hard to master.

When I listen to proper players the groups of three are very distinct and there is often a clear gap between them. When I play I either over emphasise or under emphasise - it never sounds right.

 

I did try playing very slowly and trying to emphasise the rhythm and then using Audacity to bring the recording up to full speed which didn't sound too bad but once I pick up the pace I lose the rhythm. I don't know whether there is a secret to be uncovered or whether I just need more patience....

 

Ritchie

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I did try playing very slowly and trying to emphasise the rhythm and then using Audacity to bring the recording up to full speed which didn't sound too bad but once I pick up the pace I lose the rhythm. I don't know whether there is a secret to be uncovered or whether I just need more patience....

 

Ritchie

Ritchie

When it sounds OK when you play at low speed and less satisfying at high speed, I think that you should be more patient. I suppose that at high speed all your attention if focussed on the speed and as a result rhytmic emphasis is lost.

Try increasing the speed just a bit every time and listen to the result (in Audacity)

 

What helped me in getting the "jig-feeling" is to lengthen 1 and 4 (from Marks 123/456 scheme) at the cost of 2 and 5. At the same time try to play 1 and 4 with some emphasis, so it sounds (looks) like 1 23/4 56

I hope this helps... and have fun!

Edited by Henk van Aalten

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Thanks Henk,

that is what I try but I never get it quite right. I will just have to keep trying, I suppose <_<

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Richie,

 

Have you got any English Morris music recorded that you can listen to? I personally found it much easier to play English jigs than Irish jigs to begin with to get the rhythm right.

 

I made myself a tape of Morris music and played it in the car every day. It took months of practice to begin to sound "right" (4 months until I was confident enough to play in public).

 

all the best,

 

Peter

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If you really want to understand jigs, reels, etc. try to find an Irish Dance Studio near you. If you speak with the instructor, he/she might let you observe some beginers lessons. There you will find the essentials of the music.

 

Lift-step-down, lift-step-down, one--two-three-four-five-six-seven, turn-two-three-four-five-six-seven, and-a-lift and-a-lift and-a-hop-step-back.

 

Seriously, this is dance music and often only makes sense when observed. particulary important in French, and Eastern European music.

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If you really want to understand jigs, reels, etc.  try to find an Irish Dance Studio near you.  If you speak with the instructor, he/she might let you observe some beginers lessons.

Even better, learn to dance. Too few Irish dance teachers are willing to teach step dancing to adults, but Irish "sets" and "ceilidh" dances are generally more open and use the same rhythms, though not always the same tempos. If you don't have an opportunity to join in Irish dancing where you live, try contra dancing. It, too, will help.

 

Learning to feel the rhythm by moving to it helps imprint it on the non-intellectual parts of your brain that control your hands as well as your feet. When I first tried to play those "strange" Balkan time signatures -- things like 7/8 and 11/16, -- I found myself unable to experience the difficulty I was warned about, because I had already been dancing to them for several years, and suddenly being aware of the numbers couldn't interfere with the feel I had developed.

 

But I think the most wonderful example of interaction between the music and dance happened just last night in Sweden: A fiddler playing for the dancers started playing a tune which had a very infectious lift to it... and I suddenly realized that it was in "7/8", yet the dancers all swung into a polska as if it were the usual 3/4 rhythm. None of the dancers had any difficulty whatever, and I suspect some of them weren't even aware of the "strangeness".

 

The reason -- I believe -- is that the rhythm of the polska has a very strong distribution of stress/intensity throughout the measure, and to the dancers the extra length of the one beat (this 7/8 is really 3 beats, with relative "lengths" of 3, 2, and 2) was "felt" as no different from stressing it with extra loudness.

 

In fact, this lengthening of some beats for emphasis is very common in both Swedish and Irish music, it's just that ordinarily the extra lengths are unevenly distributed and are compensated by shortening other beats in each measure, to keep the measures of steady length. What this fiddler did was to keep the higher-level rhythm of the measures steady by doing the same "stretching" in every measure, without any "shrinking" to compensate, and the dancers just naturally fell into that steady rhythm.

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