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PostPosted: Thu Oct 13, 2005 9:42 am 
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Slow day at work. Thought I'd throw some of my ideas about this out there.

Thinking about a basic reel pattern:

dudu dudu dudu dudu

There's a ton of expression available by experimenting with where you put the accents. This is your percussion, the thing that gets the music under people's feet.

For starters what not to do: putting all your accents on the downbeats kills the groove instantly:

dudu dudu dudu dudu

Nobody will ever yell wahoo, fling underwear or hotel room keys, or rush the stage if you play like that. The magic lies in the space between.

An obvious place to start is to simply kick the backbeats:

dudu dudu dudu dudu

You can deemphasize or eliminate the upstrokes and get your basic boomchucky contradance sound. It’s nice for hornpipes, but I don't personally care for it in reels.

Another approach is to use a three-against-two pattern:

dudu dudu dudu dudu

That groups your downstrokes in a 3-3-2 pattern. A punchier pattern (that I use more sparingly) results when you group them 3-2-3:

dudu dudu dudu dudu

It's very effective to change chords at those points. You can do all kinds of cute stuff by muting or unmuting particular parts of the pattern, or hitting your high or low strings just on the accents. Think chukka-chukka-chukka WHANG chukka WHANG chukka-chukka.

You could also extend the three pattern and ignore the downbeat entirely for a while, though it’s probably good not to spring this on a melody player unawares:

dudu dudu dudu dudu dudu dudu dudu dudu

A nice slick Lunasa/Jim Murray sort of sound comes from accenting every count of two:

dudu dudu dudu dudu

This imparts a very different feeling to a tune (you’d tend to count in four rather than two) and might not be to everyone’s taste. I really like it a lot, myself. Taking the basic idea, you can drop some other accents into the pattern and get some good sexy grooves:

dudu dudu dudu dudu

dudu dudu dudu dudu

dudu dudu dudu dudu

In jigs, I kick the backbeats as a matter of course:

dud dud dud dud

I’ll change chords there quite a lot too; this gives a tremendous lift.

I also might accent every count of two as in the reel pattern mentioned above:

dud dud dud dud

Or combine the two:

dud dud dud dud

There are of course many more possibilities.


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PostPosted: Thu Oct 13, 2005 11:16 am 
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I take it you're talking mainly about guitar backup here. If so, for ITM do you do full strums, arpeggios, alternating bass, standardized bass runs, counterpoint bass, mix 'em all up, or what?

For Bluegrass, in a setting with several high-range instruments like fiddle, mandolin, and banjo, I tend to play lots of bass runs--trying to work "against" the lead, and my strums seldom hit the two highest strings on the guitar on fast tunes, except for the occasional emphasis. I also tend to synchopate on certain types of tunes. Since I always feel that what I play is dictated by the lead instrument or vocal, I seldom know what I'm going to play until it happens. Of course, I take a more conservative approach when playing with strangers, or in large groups.

But this doesn't seem quite appropriate for IT dance music. I presume that you don't want to do anything that could confuse the dancers. (Bluegrass is more concert oriented these days. Most of the people who dance to it seem to be a bit tipsy and, if you aren't safely up on stage, likely to stumble into the band, driving microphones into instruments.)

Also, if you're playing at a session, where there are lots of instruments playing the melody in unison, can you play full out backup without worrying about drowning out the melody players? This is a serious problem at Bluegrass slow jams, where only one person will be playing lead at any point in time and everyone else--including the high-register instruments--is blasting along playing backup.

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PostPosted: Thu Oct 13, 2005 11:47 am 
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Quote:
I take it you're talking mainly about guitar backup here. If so, for ITM do you do full strums, arpeggios, alternating bass, standardized bass runs, counterpoint bass, mix 'em all up, or what?


Well, "accompaniment," not "backup." I'm too extroverted to play backup. :-) I'm talking about full and partial strums. I use DADGAD and DADGBD tunings mostly.

I don't do bass runs as such, but I do use chord voicings that let the bass notes lead into each other. Alternating bass is godawful in Irish music. (sorry).

Quote:
Also, if you're playing at a session, where there are lots of instruments playing the melody in unison, can you play full out backup without worrying about drowning out the melody players?


At the session I lead, there are a bunch of us who play both melody instruments and guitar or bouzouki, so we trade off playing accompaniment. I never play guitar if there's somebody else playing it; we're bound to clash. Actually if I'm at a session where there's more than one accompanist playing at a time, I'll tend not to want to play anything. But that's another rant. :-)


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PostPosted: Fri Oct 14, 2005 10:17 pm 
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I just got Chris Smith's Celtic Back-Up For All Instrumentalists, and I've just read through the intro.

It seems like a great book, but now I'm thinking that if I ever do find a slow session, I should probably stick to melody for the first several years.

I suspect that session playing is really just a fantasy for me, anyway. I still haven't even been to one as a spectator.

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PostPosted: Fri Oct 14, 2005 10:59 pm 
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Ro3b wrote:
Well, "accompaniment," not "backup." I'm too extroverted to play backup. :-) I'm talking about full and partial strums. I use DADGAD and DADGBD tunings mostly.
Not being in this line, I was unaware of the difference between accompaniment and backup. Could you explain exactly what this difference is? What is the role of the accompanist? What is the role of the backup player? What should the role of chords be in Irish (I guess you are talking about Irish music) music?

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PostPosted: Sat Oct 15, 2005 8:57 am 
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I backup a group of melody players with a bass heavy accented strum or a light chordal drone that the melody can modulate leaving room for the style to get through and other stuff in between to fit the tune.

I accompany a soloist by lightly picking a few strings at a time with lots of accent ala Dennis Cahill.

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PostPosted: Sat Oct 15, 2005 11:01 am 
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Hi Baglady--It sounds like you define the terms based on the number of melody players there are, unless I missed something. In both cases it seems as though you consider backup and accompaniment to be subsidiary to the melody---the focus is on the melody, your purpose is to enhance the melodic line, not to showcase your rhythm guitar. Your means of accompanying a soloist sounds almost harp-like. It sounds very nice.

I confess I have a serious problem with almost all the guitar backup or accompaniment I hear. I hear it on CD's and in live performances as well. The backup almost always seems way too loud to me. It interferes with the melody rather than enhances it. The guitar player appears to be wanting to show how into the music he is and does not seem to consider that his playing of chords should be subsidiary to the melody. S/He whangs away quite loudly and happily.

The people playing the melody in performances and on CD's apparently want this sort of obtrusive backup or they would seemingly be able to tell the guitar player to back off. Sessions are something different and I know nothing about those.

On Cape Breton Island (music evolved from Scottish tradition) it is the tradition to have piano accompaniment for fiddle music (interesting that the word backup is not used for piano). The accompaniment is something I enjoy and it is always very well in the background, it is never too loud. You aren't particularly aware of it unless you listen specially for it, but you would notice if it weren't there. So I don't really have a problem with accompaniment or backup in itself, although sometimes I do wonder why it is needed, but just how loud it is.

Thanks for answering my questions, Baglady.

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PostPosted: Mon Oct 17, 2005 10:47 am 
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I recommend Chris Smith's book. I think it's head and shoulder above anything else I've seen on backup. A lot of people who play good backup don't write terribly well about it.

Listen to good restrained playing IMO. Well, good playing anyway. Arty McGlynn for one. Donal Lunny is about as sensitive as string accompaniment gets. Andy Irvine is good too.


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PostPosted: Tue Oct 18, 2005 9:33 am 
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Chris Smith has some interesting articles on a variety of things at this website:
http://coyotebanjo.com/music.html
Just keep scrolling down the page. Some articles everyone would be interested in, some for backup, some banjo, etc.

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PostPosted: Tue Oct 18, 2005 10:06 am 
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Chris Smith actually is a member here and just posted to the ITM board.

As well as his web site, he used to run something like a blog in which he posted remarks about all sorts of musical things—technical, social, anecdotal, informative discographies ... I don't know whether it still exists.

It was especially interesting for me as he likes a lot of the same music ITM, technically interesting rock, African, Middle Eastern, jazz, blues. He also plays several of the instruments I play. I wish he'd take more of an active part in proceedings here.


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PostPosted: Tue Oct 18, 2005 10:48 am 
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:lol: Yeah, seeing his post reminded me of this thread and that's what made me come back and post his website since he had been mentioned. I have just given a cursory reading to some articles, but the one about modes is one I have bookmarked and want to study over. I don't play any instrument worth a darn, but I am interested in ITM and am trying to understand what I'm hearing a bit better.

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