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'arranging' Tunes For Concertina


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Hello to all,

I've played concertina for about four years now and from early on I realized that some tunes were harder to play than others - kind of obvious that isn't it? At our local Irish session we've had "tunes of the month" for quite a while - that's a tune published on our web site that's either a common tune in session that the lesser mortals may not know, or a requested tune that someone wishes introduced to the session. So these tunes are downloaded from various sources and are not specifically for concertina. I presumed that there was no difference, but maybe there is.

I taught myself from the Frank Edgley book mostly and some from the Mick Bramich, and noticed some of their tunes differ from the same tune when derived from other sources. So is arranging tunes for concertina something that is frequently necessary? What are the rules if any? Example: Maggie in the Woods, I got the tune from a web site and I have a devil of a time fitting all the "little notes" in. Could it be arranged more appropriately for concertina?

Thanks in advance for thoughts and hints, Alan.

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I taught myself from the Frank Edgley book mostly and some from the Mick Bramich, and noticed some of their tunes differ from the same tune when derived from other sources. So is arranging tunes for concertina something that is frequently necessary?

Two questions there: Arranging? and Necessary?

 

I'd be inclined to call the first "variation", rather than "arranging". It can happen for various reasons, and to make it easier to play on a particular instrument is only one. Sometimes it's imperfect memory. Sometimes it's just because a small change makes it "sound better" to a particular person. Sometimes one player will add an ornament, and then play it so consistently that someone else will assume that it's part of the "bare" tune and even publish it as such. Etc.

 

As for "necessary", the question should be whether it's necessary for you. Some people can play note sequences that others find difficult or impossible. More important than to get in "all the notes" should be to make the tune flow, IMO

 

What are the rules if any?

No "rules". Traditional music and the folk process so far have no established government (though here and there you may find groups or individuals trying to assume that role). Long live anarchy!

 

Example: Maggie in the Woods, I got the tune from a web site and I have a devil of a time fitting all the "little notes" in. Could it be arranged more appropriately for concertina?

An interesting example. In my experience, Maggie in the Woods doesn't have any "little notes", though I often add them in here and there as ornamentation. Give us a link to the version you're referring to and I'll be more specific.

 

Which is not to say that it's either uncommon or wrong to make small adjustments to a tune to make it easier to play on a particular instrument. E.g., many tunes in G have a D-E-F# run up to the G in the main octave. On a C/G anglo it's much easier to do just D-E-G. Leaving out the F# avoids a rapid bellows reversal, and doesn't significantly alter the tune. Swapping a note for a different note from the same chord is another common practice, e.g., a B for D or vice versa in a G tune. If that makes it easier to play, then why not?

 

Others changes can be musically significant, and can lead to interesting and exciting tune variants. I've heard some melodeon players do beautiful variations on common tunes. Maybe these were originally done by someone because they didn't have all the notes needed for the standard version, or maybe even because certain quick bellows reversals were too difficult on a leaky old instrument. But they got passed on, and have a life and beauty of their own. I don't know if it's something like that or simply musical creativity that accounts for all the different variants of Morris tunes. Probably some of each. Princess Royal is a particularly striking example.

 

If you're playing with others in a session, you need to be sure that what you play is at least compatible with what the others are playing. Leaving out a quick note here or there probably won't be noticed. Playing F-natural when all the whistle players have "corrupted" the tune to have nothing but F#'s isn't likely to get smiles. (My position on Banish Misfortune. Alone I play the high F's in the third part as natural, which is what I was taught. In the session I follow the others and play F#.)

 

Different can sometimes even be the result of clumsy editors. I've seen Hardiman the Fiddler published in two versions with identical notes, except that the one version had two sharps in the key signature and the other had only one sharp. (And I knew one person who played all those C's as B's, a note otherwise missing from the tune.) I'm not sure if that was a printer's mistake, but another certainly was: Two tunes in two different books, published with identical notes, but with the names reversed. :o

 

Which reminds me: There are a lot of good transcriptions on the internet, but there are also a lot of crap transcriptions. Transcriptions which aren't just different versions, but are inaccurate. I can say that with confidence because I've seen cases where the source recording is mentioned, and I can listen to the recording and hear that the "transcription" is different. "Wrong", I would say.

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On most instruments some note sequences come more easily than others. The ornamentation in particular differs from instrument to instrument. Flautists will play a tune differently from fiddlers. The same applies to concertinas.

 

Perhaps the "little notes" are ornamentations which may suit another instrument more than concertina. Some books are aimed at fiddlers or whistle players, for example, and whilst the tunes can be played on any instrument, the ornamentation may be more specific.

 

As Jim says, it's more important to have the bare tune right and to be able to play it at the correct speed and rhythm than to worry about ornamentation. Once you have the bare tune, then you can ornament it to suit you.

 

There is no "right way" to play any tune. Part of the pleasure is to take a tune and make it your own, to personalise it in a way which suits your instrument, and your style. Of course, if you're playing in a session you have to fit in with the others, or take the lead.

 

However, if you have a different version of a well-known tune, you may find that the others will run away with the "standard" version, unless you're very assertive. I play an East Anglian version of "Off She Goes" (Humpty Dumpty) which has an extra bar in the B music. This invariably throws the other musicians in the session, and I have to really take command, until they get their heads around it.

 

With instruments such as melodeon and anglo concertina (especially those with less than 30 keys), sometimes you have to alter the tune to make it playable - the note sequence might be unreasonably difficult, or you might not have the note at all. If it's a choice between not playing a tune and "bending" it to fit on the instrument, for me it's no contest. And as Jim has pointed out, sometimes the results can be musically very interesting.

 

Howard Jones

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However, if you have a different version of a well-known tune, you may find that the others will run away with the "standard" version, unless you're very assertive. I play an East Anglian version of "Off She Goes" (Humpty Dumpty) which has an extra bar in the B music. This invariably throws the other musicians in the session, and I have to really take command, until they get their heads around it.

Hi Howard,

 

I always wondered where this version came from. I prefer the 34 to the 32 bar version (where the B music seems to naturally accelerate the tune to a ridiculously fast tempo); the 34 bar version seems to hold back the tempo. When I play this tune in a session, I normally say "34 bar version" before I start playing. I guess that there are other tunes with different bar lengths, but I do not know of any.

 

I have a variant of the "Cliff Hornpipe" which I learnt from a recording of a mouth-organ player from Devon. The A music is very different, but the B music is exactly the same as the standard version (if I play this in a session, no-one joins in until the B music). One year at Sidmouth, Lisa Sture was co-hosting an informal concert/tunearound, and she asked me to play a tune. I obliged with "Cliff Hornpipe", and Lisa immediately started step-dancing to it :) . Another memory triggered by Concertina.net correspondence.

 

Regards,

Peter.

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There is no "right way" to play any tune. Part of the pleasure is to take a tune and make it your own, to personalise it in a way which suits your instrument, and your style. Of course, if you're playing in a session you have to fit in with the others, or take the lead.

I agree; if it feels right, and sounds right, then it probably is right. I think that this is the beauty of traditional music.

 

A written "source" is a useful reference document; either an approximation of how the tune was played, or an accurate record of a performance (if all ornamentation is included). However, if a tune has been learnt from a manuscript, I think that the onus is on the musician to interpret that tune in an appropriate manner (traditional or otherwise). Once into the public domain, any good new, or re-discovered, tune will eventually develop a character and identity of its own.

 

Regards,

Peter.

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Playing F-natural when all the whistle players have "corrupted" the tune to have nothing but F#'s isn't likely to get smiles. (My position on Banish Misfortune. Alone I play the high F's in the third part as natural, which is what I was taught. In the session I follow the others and play F#.)
the whistle players might have considered that it was you that corrupted the tune,not them.

Aye, they might, though I suppose that neither I nor they are personally responsible for "corruption" if we each learned it from someone else.

 

For what it's worth, it was a whistle player who first taught me the tune, emphasizing the F-naturals, and for years that's how I heard it played quite generally. It wasn't until "Irish sessions" and their attendant hordes of newly-minted whistle players began spreading on the earth like kudzu that I started hearing it regularly without the F-naturals. And there have been various other tunes that seem to have undergone similar "changes" -- or simply changes of key -- that make them easier for players of D whistles. These days I mainly consider them to be just different versions, though I do struggle to see that versions which I learned and really like get passed on and not lost.

 

Hmm. I just looked up Banish Misfortune in O'Neill's (I'm surprised that don't recall doing that before), and I'm intrigued to find that aside from other differences, its key signature is two sharps, and there are no C-naturals. Those C-naturals are what makes the "modern" versions distinctive, and I don't know that I've ever heard it played without them. Well, it's already been commented that variants and versions are common -- and commonly accepted -- in traditional music.

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...a metrognome can be helpful here.

Ah, yes. We had one in the Copenhagen Metro for a while, but he fell in love with a ferry, and now he's left the underground and spends all his time travelling back and forth -- a regular beat of 20 minutes each way -- between Helsingør and Helsingborg. :D

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Maggie in the Woods, I got the tune from a web site and I have a devil of a time fitting all the "little notes" in. Could it be arranged more appropriately for concertina?
Thanks for the responses: here is the Arkansas session web site - http://www.arcelts.com/acms1/index.html. Click on "sessions", scroll down and click "Tune of the month", the tune "maggie in the woods" is January 2004 - I think.

Hmm. Difference perspectives, I suppose, as I don't many "little notes" in that transcription. The main difference from what I'm used to is the B-A-G-A sequence of 16th notes that occurs in a couple of places, which I'm used to as an 8th-note A followed by G-A 16ths (i.e., a longer A instead of the B-A bit).

 

Before I make suggestions, though, I have two questions:

... 1) Is that B-A-G-A sequence the only one that gives you trouble, or are there others?

... 2) Do you play mainly on the C row, mainly on the G row, or range freely across the rows? The suggestions I make would be different in each case.

 

Aside from potentially leaving out that "extra" B, though, the suggestions I would make are for fingerings, rather than changes to the tune itself.

 

I also wonder what speed it's being played at in your sessions. Some folks try to play simple polkas like that one much too fast for actually dancing a polka, and I wonder whether that could be a factor for you.

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Banish Misfortune using Csharp sounds good to me. Quite Swedish to my ear. The C part is particuarly interesting using Csharp along with the high Fnatural.

My guess is if you listened to some old (as opposed to young and taught with precise intonation) trad fiddlers they would be using intermediate notes on some of those Cs and Fs.

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From your opening post and then the link you posted, Alan, I figure that the setting you posted is the one that your group is learning. Right now, it doesn't matter whether the rest of the world accepts that setting, only that the people you're playing with do. If it differs from another setting you already know, you're now on your way to learning two settings.

 

It's a pretty straight forward tune for the concertina, that setting of "Maggie in the Woods." You'll be able to access all the notes in that setting relatively smoothly on a 30 button C/G or 20 button, once you loosen up a little. If I were learning by ear from that midi, I'd try to find the original ABC file then delete the chords so I could focus on the notes.

 

When you've hit the wall in a tune, don't be a slave to concertina methods, helpful as they can be. Look around. Make your fingers submit to your ideas even though you haven't published a concertina tutor book, yet. Are you trying to play most of the tune in the G row or are you stepping outside the "home" row? If you're playing a two-row C/G, search among the two rows for a simpler method to do any of the "little note" phrases. If yours is a three row C/G, then using a note from the accidental row also may give you an easier time.

 

For example, some of the ways the B/A/G/A phrases can be played are:

1) using the B on the C row then getting the rest of them from the G row;

2) all on the C row;

3) all on the G row, and/or;

4) on a 30 button, using the C, accidental and G rows!

That list doesn't even touch what bellows direction to use because you'll get that when you start opening yourself to mining for more options. If I had a two row, I'd be playing plenty of this tune on the C row even though the tune's in the key of G, and I'd probably end it on the G in the left hand C row.

 

On a three row, 30 button Jeffries layout C/G, I'm sometimes playing the first G note in the tune on the accidental row, left hand! The last G note in the tune, I'm playing a pushed G on the left hand C row with a D from the G row, but could pull G on the accidental row and the D from the C row. I might even use the left hand pushed G/D chord on the G row, but usually I play across the rows because it's the way I enjoy playing most, right now.

 

One of the coolest things about playing an anglo is when a new way to play a note or phrase of notes pops up at you.

 

To allow the notes to flow, allow yourself to leave the systems you know so you can find tactics that work. When you do that and then are able to make the tune flow, the other players, dancers and listeners will appreciate it. How you do it should only matter to the people who want to learn how you do it.

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However, if you have a different version of a well-known tune, you may find that the others will run away with the "standard" version, unless you're very assertive. I play an East Anglian version of "Off She Goes" (Humpty Dumpty) which has an extra bar in the B music. This invariably throws the other musicians in the session, and I have to really take command, until they get their heads around it.

Hi Howard,

 

I always wondered where this version came from.

 

I have to admit I've been playing this version for so long that I'm not entirely sure of its provenance, but I's certain in my mind that it's from East Anglia. I was living in Essex at the time (not strictly East Anglia, admittedly) but we tended to look in that direction for material and style. But who I learned it from is now a complete blank.

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[... 1) Is that B-A-G-A sequence the only one that gives you trouble, or are there others?

 

Has anyone yet mentioned the fact that sometimes inserting an extra passing note can make a passage easier to play?

 

On my Hayden Duet especially, sometimes I need to use the same finger on two successive notes (or conjure up an awkward fingering sequence to avoid that). By inserting an extra note as a "stepping stone" for another finger, I can make the transition smoothly. And make the tune more interesting, or at least busier :blink:

--Mike K.

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[... 1) Is that B-A-G-A sequence the only one that gives you trouble, or are there others?
Has anyone yet mentioned the fact that sometimes inserting an extra passing note can make a passage easier to play?

To me, the word "passing" suggests a note that is pitchwise in between those on either side. (I don't know whether it means that in standard music theory.) On an anglo that's likely to rerquire one or more extra bellows reversals, which is more likely to make things harder rather than easier. It doesn't have to be "in line" to fill the gaps caused by "finger jumping", though, and then it might simply be called an "ornament".

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Hi Jim and all.

 

O'Neill's key signature of D maj for Banish Misfortune is most probably an error. O'Neill's books are filled with key signature mistakes, especially on the many 'modal' tunes. The key signature was indicated as D (2 sharps) because the tonal center of the tune was clearly 'D', not 'G' (one sharp). The natural C's should have been indicated, at each measure when required, in the body of the tune.

 

O'Neill himself was not a formally trained musician (commonly accepted that he did not read music, though I'm not so sure). James O'Neill (no relation) did all the actual transcribing, and I assume did the proofreading of the the final versions before printing. With a background in engineering I can say that it is always dangerous to have anyone check/proofread there own work. Mistakes that would jump out at an objective observer are often invisible to the perpetrator of the error.

 

So how can one indicate the key signature of a modal tune? Banish Misfortune has one sharp, but it is certainly not in the key of G (or Em), so indicating one sharp in the key signature can be misleading.

 

Skinner came up with a very clever solution. He would indicate a key signature of 2 accidentals, in the case of Banish Misfortune, F# and C nat right in the key signature!!! Problem solved, the key signature clearly establishing the tonal center and the mode.

 

Cheers to all.

 

Say Hi to my new avatar, Rikki. Grand-niece of my past/passed avatar, Maddy.

Edited by Sandy Winters
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O'Neill's key signature of D maj for Banish Misfortune is most probably an error. O'Neill's books are filled with key signature mistakes, especially on the many 'modal' tunes. The key signature was indicated as D (2 sharps) because the tonal center of the tune was clearly 'D', not 'G' (one sharp). The natural C's should have been indicated, at each measure when required, in the body of the tune.

Which is in fact done with other tunes in the collection. So while the key signature might be a mistake, I would hesitate to say "probably". It could be the way it was played by someone (or multiple someones) who thought it sounded "right".

 

There are a number of entries in O'Neill's which seem "unsettling" to my ear, but often these are added accidentals, so I'm convinced that they're not simple editorial oversights, but that certain melodic styles that were popular among Irish musicians 90-100 years ago may have fallen into disfavor. And there are tunes in contemporary tradition which use modes or accidentals that on first hearing many people think are "wrong". Except that that's the way they're consistently played.

 

And many tunes today have multiple traditional versions in which individual notes differ only slightly -- often by a half step -- from one veersion to another. In "Banish Misfortune" as I think most people play it today, many of the C's are natural, giving the tune its special flavor, but some (e.g., in the final d-c-d) are played sharp. But on some of the C's, not everyone agrees as to whether they should be sharp or natural. And I've known a few people who insist that they should all be either sharp or natural.

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Hi Rikki.

 

Hi Sandy.

 

Sandy, how did he indicate C natural in the key signature? By writing C natural or well I guess I can't imagine how. That's why I am asking. This is so interesting. Thanks.

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