Jump to content

Define "a good pace"

Recommended Posts

I received the following when I inquired about what level workshop to attend.  "If you can play jigs and reels at a good pace, with embellishments... then consider yourself as advanced."  Emphasis is mine. It made me think about what exactly a "good pace" is and what qualifies as "embelishments" I play anglo and in this case I am talking about Irish music. I am really curious how others would define good pace with embellishments, and in what context, ie in a session, playing alone, playing with a single rhythm player. Interested to see what you think. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'd say Theo's got it about right - and very succinctly too!  Dances are different in different places though so a tune played for Contra might be considerably faster than the same tune played for dancing in the UK (although there are regional differences even here - the tempo in Scotland tends to be a bit quicker than in Southern England where dances are "stepped" rather than walked or run through).


I'd gauge ability in a slightly different way.  To qualify as advanced, you should be able to keep up with a session playing a tune that you're familiar with, without fumbling for the note, slowing down for the tricky bits (and reciprocally not speeding up in the easy bits or where the triplets encourage folk to push the pace).  You don't necessarily have to play at a breakneck speed - even in Irish music, there's a considerable variation in tempo between, say Mary MacNamara and Mohsen Amini - but your playing should be accurate and replicable, not just a lucky one-off!


As for embellishments, I guess I'll leave others to comment, but I guess they mean that where there are grace notes, cuts, rolls and the occasional accompanying chord, you should be able to put them in without tripping over and losing the plot.


I don't think it really matters whether you're playing alone, in a session or with a regular accompanist.  Whether you choose to play fast, slow, with embellishments or unadorned can be musical choices rather than badges of merit.  In a session, I very often adjust how and what I play in order to fit in with others in the room


Alex West

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I’m a complete beginner for concertina, but I play the mandolin etc.

Thinking about some of the other instruments, I’d say that the group ‘Intermediate’ is huge and the group ‘Advanced’ is very small indeed. That’s because many people become really good but only within their field.

-there are great players who can’t read music very well, classical players who can't play by ear, other wonderful players who play a large amount of free tempo music, and on.


One way to get an idea would be to check the tempo on YouTube of a lot of the vids, especially Irish tunes. Check also tunes with swing where the player occasionally  flattens out to be more like straight 4/4 time because they are playing on their upper limit. -basically you play a YT vid of a tune you’ve never played before at maybe x0.75 tempo and see how it goes! :) 


To me, among many, many things, Advanced means someone who can play a tune that they hear the second time through, adding variations each time around because they immediately know the harmonic structure, and know how to fit in with the other musicians. The funny thing is that if this is all you can do, nothing else, then people in an Advanced class may think you’re Advanced. -maybe you are.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

'A good pace'?

Well, it depends on which kind of music we have. For example for Morris it would be the dancing which regulates tempo, not the other way around. While in Celtic, esp Irish, there is no set rule.


Because most jams are not for dancing but listening. I should immediately qualify with the rider, except in Ireland where as soon as a group starts to play, the audience get to gabbing. However here in the USA folks will actually not jabber. To drive home the point,  there are set tunes/selections specifically played by Irtrad groups for dancing. Recently on these pages mention of 'The New Mown Meadow' is one very popular Reel for Sean Nos Dancing. Another is 'Miss McCloud's Reel'; and OC 'The Bucks Of Oranmore'.


For decorations/embellishments; I do not think it matters too much to a novice.


One talented Anglo player/teacher, Edel Fox, encourages not playing them except where most effective. IOW be sparse and precise. And that means having the skill to do them well, as there is nothing more destructive than a flubbed 'cut', or, yet more annoying, a wobbly 'roll'.


When we are on this topic I do not think a novice can do any of that on a student box because the buttons/movement are not quite up to the job, whereas on a good vintage box it is almost too simple. E.g my Crabb C/G (1965) makes it easy to  'chirp' by tapping a button lightly and quickly.




Link to comment
Share on other sites

Simon and others here make brilliant points.


I think this is a really interesting question as I find it difficult to place myself too and feel I'd be out of place in beginner *or* intermediate groups for different reasons.


I've been playing concertina for only a few months, but have played other instruments at a high level for a number of years.


I consider myself a total beginner. I'm new to the instrument, the dimensions, the tradition, the technique, the repertoire, the mechanics, the culture


Am I able to wiggle my fingers quickly, keep up with a tune at a fairly blistering 'session' pace? Yes, no problem, but it's not particularly gratifying nor enlightening to sit and do that on my own.


I can crack the metre, understand the harmonic context of the notes, and repeat by ear something I've just heard at tempo.


I've had huge difficulty trying to get my ear in to the lilt of Irish trad. I've found it tough, even despite listening to it for years, to pick this up. This is one of those things that cannot be intellectualised or taught from any book. I've heard many markedly pedestrian recordings by seasoned members of this forum from across the globe, fine in tone but distinctly lacking in any rhythmical spunk whatsoever.



Link to comment
Share on other sites

The question was about pace, and while there have been many excellent answers, nobody has yet suggested a number or range of numbers, and it is numbers that define pace.


Irish trad is not my thing, but I have been contra dancing and playing for contra dances for 45 years. For contra dancing, 120 beats per minute is a little too fast. Usually a tempo between 110 and 116 works well.


From what I’ve heard of Irish trad (and I’ve heard a lot) much of it is played at tempos that would fit in well on the contra dance floor (ie., the above range) and some of it tends to a bit faster. Perhaps a “good pace” might include 120, and undoubtedly there are those who play faster.


I suspect the answer to your question is in here, somewhere. Start that metronome ticking (or start walking and use that).

Link to comment
Share on other sites

3 hours ago, JimmyG said:

I've had huge difficulty trying to get my ear in to the lilt of Irish trad. ... This is one of those things that cannot be intellectualised or taught from any book. I've heard many markedly pedestrian recordings by seasoned members of this forum from across the globe, fine in tone but distinctly lacking in any rhythmical spunk whatsoever.

Yes, there is sometimes a tendency to forget that a dance tune is not just a time signature and a tempo - in the same way as a dance is not just movements of the feet.


I had this brought home to me when two German orchestra violinists I know asked me to help them work up an Irish tune, of which they had the sheet music. It happened to be "The Irish Washerwoman", probably the most widely-known jig in Ireland. So we tuned up, and off we went ... I'd never realised before what a lovely waltz the "Washerwoman" makes! When I asked what they were doing, the violinists said they were playing in the indicated 6/8 time. They were counting each bar "1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6", with a secondary stress on the first note of the second half-bar, like you're supposed to.

But what came out wasn't a jig, by any means.

I tried to get them to stress the 1 and 4 even more, but that didn't help; it was just a more energetic waltz.

Then I found the solution: "I know it's written 6 quavers to the bar, but think of it as 2/4 time, with the quavers played as triplets." So they did that, counting "One-and-a-Two-and-a," and immediaterly we had the typical "Diddely-Daddely" of the Irish jig!


I think what happened was that the violinists now took each group of triplets in one bow-stroke, whereas they had previously taken each individual quaver on a separate bow-stroke. And this made the difference between a pedestrian one-note-after-the-other and a directed, overall movement with the lift of a dance tune.

It's taking one note at a time that takes the "spunk" out of any music. Instrumentalists are perhaps more prone to this failing than singers, who have the grammar and syntax of the lyrics to guide them.





  • Like 3
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hi all, 

Thank you for your thoughtful replies.  To me, a player needs to communicate the rhythm and lift of the tune, by using ornaments and held or punched notes to both accomodate the intrument and enhance the tune's lift and drive. I agree with Edel Fox's comment "ornaments that are sparse but precise".   I also do not necessarily think meeting the needs of the dancers is the final word on pace and I would say that most people can play faster in a session, where they are supported by a bigger group.  


I suggest that playing reels competantly at 100 bpm and jigs at 115 BPM would be a good milepost for considering that you could comfortably take an advanced class. Most recordings may be faster than that, but most people recording are pushing the tops of their ability and they are also generally more expert than those of us taking lessons. Other milestones might be the ability to add ornaments without any hesitation and spontaneously, being able to play variations or to key in alternative ways on the fly, and to pick up quickly by ear to suite the faster pace of an advanced lesson.  I meet these criteria, so technically, I think I could manage in either one, but which one would help my playing the most? Truthfully, this probably depends on the individual teachers methods and tune choices. 


So, beyond our own abilities and whether we qualify, what do we get in an advanced or intermediate workshop?  Of course this will vary with each teacher, but probably both advanced and intermediate will include some element of repertoire and style. Personally, I am fascinated by better bellows control, fingering choices that increase the rhythm, and I love learning tunes that are accessible enough that I can master them and introduce to my local players. I want to know the teacher's fingering and ornament choices and to follow those in the class, even if I do not always stay with them in the long run. I am also practical - I don't particularly care to labor over a tune that has been transposed into a key for easy concertina playing even though nobody plays it in that key at sessions.


So from our collective experiences, do we get these things in both intermediate and advanced workshops? 


Love hearing your thoughts :)



  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I always think that my ability to play in itm sessions at a good sounding pace has improved since the previous session. What I find though is that everyone else has upped their pace since last time, and I can't keep up!

That is what it feels like anyway. I think that players can get carried away when they are having a good time.


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...