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 Post subject: Muddling tunes
PostPosted: Sat Jun 15, 2019 1:51 am 
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There are two tunes that I like to play on the whistle, but I seem to get them muddled up..... does this happen to others here?
In this case the two tunes are Bonny Yew Tree by the Battlefield band and North Country Blues by Bob Dylan. To my ear there are distinct similarities in the melody line, but this could be my musical ineptitude.

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 Post subject: Re: Muddling tunes
PostPosted: Sat Jun 15, 2019 2:09 am 
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DrPhill wrote:
There are two tunes that I like to play on the whistle, but I seem to get them muddled up..... does this happen to others here?
In this case the two tunes are Bonny Yew Tree by the Battlefield band and North Country Blues by Bob Dylan. To my ear there are distinct similarities in the melody line, but this could be my musical ineptitude.

No time to pontificate much for the moment, but yes, those seem remarkably similar to me. There's one that I much prefer to the other. :)

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 Post subject: Re: Muddling tunes
PostPosted: Sat Jun 15, 2019 2:57 am 
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Leaving the rest of us to guess which..... ;-p

Thanks Ben, at least the similarity is not entirely a figment of my imagination.

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 Post subject: Re: Muddling tunes
PostPosted: Sat Jun 22, 2019 1:48 pm 
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benhall.1 wrote:
No time to pontificate much for the moment, but yes, those seem remarkably similar to me.

I can hear it in the first eight bars of The Bonny Yew Tree which then moves on to richer ground, in contrast to North Country Blues, which simply repeats those eight bars throughout. DrPhil's ear is clearly on point here.

I can understand how some might find those sections similar, and to an extent they are. To my ear, however, that is primarily due to the bare-bones harmonic progression; from that standpoint the two melodies are interchangeable if one is to consider them as variations of each other, but in direct comparison each has distinct differences - the question being whether those differences are important. In point of fact, the Battlefield Band's chord progression is actually more complex than Dylan's, but this could be negotiable depending on you. To me the differences are important, but in the end I can't be overly dogmatic about it, because you could play one, then the other, et voilà! Variation. :)

It all comes down, I suppose, to how one weighs differences and similarities. You can point to one, but the other says, "Yes, but...!", and vice versa.

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 Post subject: Re: Muddling tunes
PostPosted: Sat Jun 22, 2019 2:23 pm 
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Yes, we have a polka set that I do that with. Frankly they’re all so similar that could randomly mix the A and B parts and it wouldn’t matter.


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 Post subject: Re: Muddling tunes
PostPosted: Sat Jun 22, 2019 2:36 pm 
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Thomaston wrote:
Yes, we have a polka set that I do that with. Frankly they’re all so similar that could randomly mix the A and B parts and it wouldn’t matter.

And that is why when I craft sets, I want the tunes to have good contrast - especially if they're in the same key. I've known people to play personal sets where the tunes are all very similar and in the same key (I've never understood that aesthetically or strategically), and it's no surprise when they get the tunes mixed up. Setting myself up to be flustered is not my idea of a good time.

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 Post subject: Re: Muddling tunes
PostPosted: Mon Jun 24, 2019 2:47 am 
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Nanohedron wrote:
(.....) I can understand how some might find those sections similar, and to an extent they are. To my ear, however, that is primarily due to the bare-bones harmonic progression; from that standpoint the two melodies are interchangeable (.....)

Thanks Nano, That pretty much describes it for me - when I learn a tune I 'translate' it into the simplest possible melody line for the whistle. I can certainly hear the differences in the recorded tunes but that might be the backing. There may well be more subtle differences in emphasis, or timing that I am not consciously aware of. I would find it interesting to hear a competent whistler play the 'common' part from each tune (unaccompanied) to test if I could hear the difference though I suspect that there are less subtle variations that would give it away. Whether I could use knowledge of such subtle variations to render the melody in a way that you could determine which I of the two I was playing remains to be seen.

Anyway, it seems that the similarities I hear are actually there so that is a relief. I am always hearing similarities between tunes and wondering if they exist.

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 Post subject: Re: Muddling tunes
PostPosted: Mon Jun 24, 2019 12:13 pm 
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DrPhill wrote:
I am always hearing similarities between tunes and wondering if they exist.

I think you can trust your ears. In the ITM world it's a common topic: how tune X is related to tune Y, whether any similarities make the relationship "familial", or are merely elements shared in passing, like having blue eyes. I suspect it goes hand-in-hand with a tendency toward ear learning.

In ITM parlance we refer to the "bones" of a tune. It's a somewhat subjective concept, but the gist is that in any given tune there is a root melodic contour that makes the tune what it is - what you've said you are looking for when you learn a tune, so you're already on board with that - and around which all else is detail. The more two tunes share bones and details, the more related they are. To my ear the the melodic and harmonic contours of North Country Blues, and those of the first eight bars of The Bonny Yew Tree, are absolutely related. Melody-wise they are not identical, but they share pretty much the same bones without question. But after the first eight bars of TBYT, that is where the similarities abruptly end, so beyond that, how much it can be said the two are ultimately related is open to debate. I would say the two simply share those eight bars bones-wise, but in terms of the end product, that's it.

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 Post subject: Re: Muddling tunes
PostPosted: Mon Jun 24, 2019 12:26 pm 
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Thank you Nano, that does help to remove some evidence of my insanity. Of course with only 12 notes (assuming I could reliably fold) there will always be a limited number of arrangements so similarities are bound to crop up. The similarity I perceived was all within the first section. I cannot count bars but 8 seems about right ;-) My simplistic rendition starts identically for the two hence the muddling when finger memory takes over.

Nanohedron wrote:
I suspect it goes hand-in-hand with a tendency toward ear learning.
That is interesting. Did you say that because I have mentioned my desire to learn by ear and that I am practising it, or because it is a general observation? The questions I am asking myself are graduating from 'what are the notes' to 'how does he make such a simple sequence sound so good' eg: The Ruby

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 Post subject: Re: Muddling tunes
PostPosted: Mon Jun 24, 2019 12:47 pm 
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DrPhill wrote:
Nanohedron wrote:
I suspect it goes hand-in-hand with a tendency toward ear learning.
That is interesting. Did you say that because I have mentioned my desire to learn by ear and that I am practising it, or because it is a general observation?

Just general observation. If you'd ever said that you were trying to learn to learn by ear, I missed it - but I did assume that your own observations of tune similarities meant that was probably what you were doing. :)

DrPhill wrote:
The questions I am asking myself are graduating from 'what are the notes' to 'how does he make such a simple sequence sound so good' eg: The Ruby

That's a different issue. Tunes have the potential for beauty, but it's the details in the playing - ornamentation, pulse, swing, tempo, phrasing - that bring it to life, or, it must be said, crashing ruin. You could play The Ruby all flat and wooden, after all, but that's just getting through the tune rather than expressing it. When I hear that recording, I don't hear the tune so much played as expressed, if that makes any sense. :)

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 Post subject: Re: Muddling tunes
PostPosted: Mon Jun 24, 2019 1:07 pm 
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Nanohedron wrote:
When I hear that recording, I don't hear the tune so much played as expressed, if that makes any sense.

It makes a huge amount of sense, and is probably the sentiment I am groping for. Somehow I never seem to actually manage to learn air(e)s - or at least finish learning them to my satisfaction. Maybe it is in the expression.
I am deliberately trying to learn tunes with no ABC and preferably with no lyrics to distract me, hoping to get a bit closer to the feel. I suspect, however, that my producing a clone of that performance is not the real desired endpoint. Something more subtle is required.

Hey I hijacked my own thread! Sorry. That's alright.

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 Post subject: Re: Muddling tunes
PostPosted: Mon Jun 24, 2019 2:07 pm 
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DrPhill wrote:
Somehow I never seem to actually manage to learn air(e)s - or at least finish learning them to my satisfaction. Maybe it is in the expression.

It's entirely in the expression.

If you're interested in airs, that's a special field of study (and probably my favorite); for example, it makes a difference whether they're Irish or Scottish for a number of basic reasons, but there's nothing particularly wrong with code-switching so long as you know what you're about. I'm more familiar with the Irish side of things, so let's go with that: In Irish airs it is almost axiomatic that there will be lyrics to go with the tune. There are exceptions, but it's best to assume otherwise until you know otherwise. SO: If you are learning an Irish air and want to do it right, you really, really must know the lyrics if you are to get acceptable phrasing, because if you wish to play traditionally your playing must mirror how the tune would or could be sung in a reasonable way. This is non-negotiable, because there might be someone in the audience who knows the song the air comes from, and that standard counts. English lyrics are one thing, but Irish lyrics pose problems for those of us who don't know the language. Fortunately, we have recordings readily to hand. In that case, listen to it being sung, and absorb the phrasing that way. Listening to more than one source in Irish is also a good idea, because different singers might have different styles, and knowing this can only enrich your capabilities. If you cannot find either lyrics or a recording of it being sung, then try to find at least three played versions from different established artists for comparison. It's better than nothing, and if their versions roughly concur, they will probably be based on the singing.

I am given to understand that in the Scottish tradition, airs do not necessarily have lyrics to begin with, so there is perhaps more leeway in how you express those. I haven't studied that aspect of the Scottish tradition enough to be able to state definitively. But if the air comes from a song with words, then I would personally apply the lyric-phrasing standard, just to be on the safe side.

I think a good Irish air for an English speaker to begin with is The May Morning Dew. The song was written in English, and the lyrics are easy enough to remember, so right phrasing falls into place with ease, and you can take it from there.

The best compliment I ever got after playing an air was from someone who knew nothing about Trad music, much less what an Irish air was: he said, unprompted, that he could almost hear lyrics under it. So I couldn't have been doing it entirely wrong. :wink:

DrPhill wrote:
I suspect, however, that my producing a clone of that performance is not the real desired endpoint. Something more subtle is required.

You suspect correctly. Parroting someone's version note-for-note may be good as an exercise, but it is not desirable performance. Experienced players would not admire it, because it is not your own. You have to find your own version and express that. Don't be daunted and think, "Oh, I couldn't possibly rise to that level." Of course you can. It just takes exposure, practice, and critical listening. :)

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 Post subject: Re: Muddling tunes
PostPosted: Mon Jun 24, 2019 2:59 pm 
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DrPhill wrote:
The questions I am asking myself are graduating from 'what are the notes' to 'how does he make such a simple sequence sound so good' eg: The Ruby

A related, if slightly tangential, question might be what makes any composer or performer sound like themselves when the possible ingredients are typically shared with so many. For example, a Phil Cunningham tune always sounds like a Phil Cunningham tune and a Phil Cunningham performance like a Phil Cunningham performance even if you can't quite explain why.

Nanohedron wrote:
I am given to understand that in the Scottish tradition, airs do not necessarily have lyrics to begin with, so there is perhaps more leeway in how you express those. I haven't studied that aspect of the Scottish tradition enough to be able to state definitively. But if the air comes from a song with words, then I would personally apply the lyric-phrasing standard, just to be on the safe side.

I'd agree with all that; we have purely instrumental airs, but lyric-based phrasing still matters for those taken from songs.

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You suspect correctly. Parroting someone's version note-for-note may be good as an exercise, but it is not desirable performance. Experienced players would not admire it, because it is not your own.

It's fine for karaoke and tribute bands (IMHO less so talent shows), but not much more. Good covers should go beyond; a favourite example of mine being John Lennon's version of Stand By Me, which stands recognisably and respectfully alongside the original while being satisfyingly distinct in its own right. Others I think go too far, for instance Eva Cassidy's much-admired version of Over the Rainbow, where I think she tries just too hard and ultimately loses the memorable simplicity of Arlen's perfect line.

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 Post subject: Re: Muddling tunes
PostPosted: Mon Jun 24, 2019 3:16 pm 
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Hmmm, I think that either I mis-spoke or that the term 'air' has multiple shades of meaning. In no way am I up to the endeavours you suggest. Can I retract the term and replace it with 'slow tunes' please? I think that I have tripped over this definition before. Apologies.

I enjoyed your description of the definitions though - clear and interesting. When I know the lyrics I always find it easier to learn the tune, but ultimately it seems to have less depth, though that may be my lack of perception. Or it may be that I am not up to the challenge of singing with the whistle.

For example one slow tune I like to play is caoineadh cu chulainn but I believe that this would not qualify as an air by your definition - it is too modern and has no lyrics (leastways I do not think so. I have been wrong before). Likewise Cape Clear as a slow tune which might be old but has no lyrics that I know of. Both of these I find continually evolving in my hands (for good or ill) and may never be 'finished'. The Ruby is likely to become another.

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 Post subject: Re: Muddling tunes
PostPosted: Mon Jun 24, 2019 3:40 pm 
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Peter Duggan wrote:
A related, if slightly tangential, question might be what makes any composer or performer sound like themselves when the possible ingredients are typically shared with so many.

No, I think that is a relevant question. It is part of the answer, too.

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