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Old Time Tunes?


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Hi there to all, well I have recently had the fortune to play with an American fiddler who plays what he calls 'old time tunes' down here in Arkansas, and he knows quite a few Irish tunes. He plays reels which he calls 'hoedowns' and just a few jigs. He is quickly learning more of the tunes I play but I am having trouble with learning his tunes - the range in most goes lower than I am use to. Our source is The Fiddler's Fake Book from Oak publications. Some of the tunes I am thinking of are: Arkansas Traveler, Flop Eared Mule and Whiskey before Breakfast.

Any comments or suggestions? Thanks. Alan Caffrey.

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Hi Alan,

Is it not possible to change octaves and play your bit in low and higher octave?

There is always a point in the music where changing octaves sounds Ok.Scan Tester did it all the time and as he was always playing in octaves nobody could tell the difference.Why not give it a try.

Al

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1) What is your instrument? (I don't remember, but I'm guessing an anglo.)

2) Are you playing just melody, or are you trying to play melody in one hand against chords in the other?

 

For playing just melody on a 30-button C/G anglo, the notes should all be there, even though you might not be used to playing those below middle C. No trouble at all on the English. Most duets (all but the biggest) would require crossing to the left hand to play a few of the lowest notes, but the notes are certainly there. On a Maccann one could avoid crossing to the left hand by playing the entire melody an octave higher than written.

 

If you're trying to playing melody and chords in separate hands on the anglo, that's a horse of a different color.

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Point of information:

 

Could someone please define what an 'Old time Tune' is. I had never heard the expression before I started frequenting this site, and have no idea what differentiates an Old time tune from any other. At the moment I keep getting an image of 'old-timers' playing concertinas ina rocking chair while drinking whiskey - I'm sure that can't be right!.

 

Thanks in advance,

 

Clive

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Clive, your profile doesn't say where you live. In the U.S. the term "Old-time music" generally refers to the fiddle/banjo-based music centered (until the 20th-century revivals) in the southern Appalachian mountains. It has clear antecedents in the music of the British Isles a couple of centuries back, and in turn is one of the most important ancestors of bluegrass style and some of the Nashville fiddling. (Note to picayune experts: I know I'm generalizing here :huh: )

 

Alan, I have been playing those tunes, and many others, out of that book, with the local Folk Music Society in my part of the U.S. for 11 years now, ever since I had a red 20-button Italian clowncertina. (Try Capri Waltz to work on your low G and arpeggios). I have not had trouble with low notes that I can think of (I play anglo). The fiddle bottoms out on the G below middle C, and the top note in fiddle first position (and therefore in most old-time fiddle tunes) is B almost two octaves above middle C. You'll get it with enough repetition. Have fun; many here will envy you having an accomplished partner to jam with!

 

Ken

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What do you know Helen?

I have that fiddlers fakebook so no need for any more links (thanks for those) I never realised that Appalachian was *old time* or even close to it. So I have heard, and even played a little of it. I even have a couple of cds I think. I will have to check them out again. I'll stick with the irish though as it is easier, especially on fiddle :D

 

Sharron

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:D Oh super Sharron,

 

I was wanting to get some music to you. I love Irish music and a lot of Appalachian or old time music sounds very much like it's roots in Irish (and a little Scottish, I think) music.

 

There are always a lot of fiddlers playing this music. In fact, often the fiddlers drive the beat. I love to hear the fiddle, but am hopeless at playing it. So I play mandolin which I think of as a fretted fiddle.

 

In 2 jams I go to (very rarely, but I'm trying to get out there) Irish and old time keep getting interchanged. They are held on different Fridays and even have different people, but the music seems to cross over.

 

Helen

 

(So if you are playing Irish, often you are playing Appalachian or old timey too!)

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Alan,

 

A lot of Appalachian music is in D. Many people were playing lap dulcimers which are in D unless you use a capo. For the most part, now there are lap or mountain dulcimers set up in different keys. I have one in A.

 

Most of the tunes I can think of off hand are in D and G with a few in C. They should be doable, especially if you have a 30 button anglo. When I had the 20 button anglo, I just skipped the C# or played something else that sounded OK. When playing with others, I just skipped the C#. You have all the other notes.

 

Hope you are having fun.

 

Helen

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Clive, here is a good site for an old-time tune list, and you can listen to them on MIDI:

 

http://hetzler.homestead.com/music_2.html

 

(warning: long-winded essay to follow):

The tunes are divided by key: D, G, A, C, and modal. The first four are the obvious major keys. "Modal" in old-time parlance could be mixolydian or any kind of minor, but is most often dorian, frequently with accidentals, and is almost always G or A. "Bluesy" would be considered modal. Tunes are divided this way because the second most important instrument after the fiddle is the banjo, which is tuned so the open strings match the mode of the tune to be played. Concertinist Ken Sweeney is also good at playing this style of banjo (and I think Bob Tedrow does also?)

For some reason, "C tunes" are often more ragtimey than the other keys, with more chord changes and "circle of fifths" progressions. They are more frequently "crooked," meaning not of the normal AABB, 64-measure structure of typical two-part reels. The modal tunes are sometimes connected with old ballads about murdered lovers and such.

 

Because you don't want to make the banjo player retune over and over again for every separate tune, sessions/jams (or performances, for that matter) are characterized by playing many tunes in a row in one key, then deciding together to change to another key and giving the banjo player time to retune (although he might have to only move a capo). They are also characterized by _not_ playing medleys; instead, the aesthetic is to achieve a zenlike state of chugging along train-like on the same tune until everyone has gotten it out of their system. This is a very good system for learning the tunes by ear!

 

It is fun to play old-time tunes on the concertina, but I would not take a concertina to any old time jam that I would not take a tuba to. That being said, I put two old time tunes in the Tune-o-tron, Little Billy Wilson and Ways of the World. They are playable on a treble English, YMMV. Also, St. Anne's Reel and Soldier's Joy are perennial favorites you probably know from one of the other traditions.

 

One last thing: I think American old-time music more closely resembles Scottish music than Irish, in that the fiddlers embellish the tune primarily through rhythmic bowing techniques rather than through extensive left-hand ornaments.

 

-Eric Root, Floyd County Virginia, one hour north of Mt. Airy,NC, one hour northeast of Galax, VA.

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It is fun to play old-time tunes on the concertina, but I would not take a concertina to any old time jam that I would not take a tuba to.

I would... and I have. And I've even been known to play the tuba, though never at a session. (I have met a couple of tuba players who would probably be welcome at any session that welcomes a standup bass, but such "tasteful tubas" are rare, IME.)

That being said, I put two old time tunes in the Tune-o-tron, Little Billy Wilson and Ways of the World.
Well, "Little Billy Wilson" is a good, old-timey sounding name, but "Ways of the World" is an old Irish favorite. That's not to say that it isn't also old-timey.
Also, St. Anne's Reel and Soldier's Joy are perennial favorites you probably know from one of the other traditions.
"Other traditions" is right. The tune we know as "Soldier's Joy" is so widespread that it's considered native in both Finland and Poland, among other places. :)
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I have found another source of "old time" music, B.A. Botkins' classic Treasury of American Folklore. It was put out under the aegis of the Works Projects Administration during the Great Depression.

In it are collected all kinds of stories, both folkloric and Popular. In the final section are page after page of songs collected during the project. They range from obvious Scottish Border Ballads to Civil War songs to cowboy songs to African-American field hollers... you name it. Given are the melodies, words and sometimes brief notes showing antecedents and sources.

The book itself must have been very widely published, for most used bookstores that I haunt have multiple copies available. It's a good read, and the collection of songs alone id worth the modest price.

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Randy Millar's and Jack Perron's New England Fiddler's Repetoire is also a good source of old time tunes, although it focus more on the New England/French Canadian repetoire that is common in Contra Dance Music. I bought it at House of Musical Traditions many years back, but it was a great resource.

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Randy Millar's and Jack Perron's New England Fiddler's Repetoire is also a good source of old time tunes, although it focus more on the New England/French Canadian repetoire that is common in Contra Dance Music. I bought it at House of Musical Traditions many years back, but it was a great resource.

It has recently been updated and rereleased. Now edited by Randy Miller (note spelling) and Robert Bley-Vroman. It is available for $20 at:

 

http://www.cdss.org/sales/american_dance.html#books

 

Here is their description:

 

>2nd Edition: Revised & Illustrated

>A classic resource - newly revised and illustrated to celebrate

>the 20th anniversary of publication. Same great 168 New England

>fiddle tunes commonly played at New England contra dances,

>including jigs, reels, hornpipes, and marches. New features:

>chord suggestions, key index, alternate title listings, sturdier

>coil binding and Randy's own engravings. 2003 94pgs

>Written Music Included

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Another source of tunes is The Old Time Fiddler's Repertory, by R.P. Christeson. Oriiginally there was just the one book; later a second volume was produced; I don't know if it went any further. I personally think the better tunes are in the first volume.

 

But there are (or at least were) a lot of regional styles and even regional tunes, which I don't think you'll get from books. Unfortunately, I'm not the expert when it comes to recordings.

 

There's been a lot of blending of styles over the past quarter century... and the words don't always mean the same thing. "Old time" in New England often means old New England style tunes, not Appalachian tunes, though I know plenty of New Englanders these days who play both... and switch their playing styles to match the tune. The more specific term I'm used to which designates only Appalachian playing is "old timey", not just "old time".

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