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PostPosted: Tue Aug 13, 2013 6:43 pm 
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I was rooting around the USENET archives (amazing what you can find from the days when, essentially, USENET was the internet) and found this fifteen-year-old post:

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From the Saffron Walden Folk Festival Guitar Workshop:

"You should think of a guitar as a bodhran with strings."

Hazel Wrigley.


Hmmm. Has anyone here ever had a guitar workshop with Hazel Wrigley? Is this another instance of the Wrigleys' Orcadian dry humor or did she mean it seriously?

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PostPosted: Wed Aug 14, 2013 10:11 am 
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I've called the banjo a "bodhrán with strings". Makes more sense physically when you look at the thing. OTOH I've heard the guitar referred to as "tuneable spoons". I like that a lot, and call my cittern that too.

I don't think that humor and earnestness are always necessarily to be separated, if that makes any sense. To my mind Hazel Wrigley would have been giving a sober personal opinion about the place of the guitar in a trad context, delivered in humorous form. The humorous aspect doesn't mean she was just being flippant and meaningless, nor would she necessarily be using the phrase to demonstrate contempt; she's a guitarist herself, after all. I do think it offers a very condensed way of cautioning for a measured view of the instrument and backup playing in general, and I see no reason why she wouldn't have been taking that tack in this instance. I regard my cittern as basically a glorified rhythm device - hence "tuneable spoons" or "bodhrán with strings" - no matter how technically brilliant and subtle I may become, some sunny day, with the playing of it. So just as with a bodhrán it's for me to at least keep good rhythm, preferably do better than that and lend the tune a bit of extra lift, follow the melody in all things, be in tandem with the melody player (and not expect to have it vice versa), and know when doing something is doing too much. That's what I've always taken away from wry commentary such as Hazel's.

Of course there are those who dislike backup instruments on general principle and might use such phrases strictly to vilify them, but in Hazel's case I can't believe this applies.

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PostPosted: Wed Aug 14, 2013 10:47 am 
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Nanohedron wrote:
I've called the banjo a "bodhrán with strings". Makes more sense physically when you look at the thing. OTOH I've heard the guitar referred to as "tuneable spoons". I like that a lot, and call my cittern that too.

I don't think that humor and earnestness are always necessarily to be separated, if that makes any sense. To my mind Hazel Wrigley would have been giving a sober personal opinion about the place of the guitar in a trad context, delivered in humorous form. The humorous aspect doesn't mean she was just being flippant and meaningless, nor would she necessarily be using the phrase to demonstrate contempt; she's a guitarist herself, after all.


No, I didn't actually suspect her of being flippant or contemptuous.

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I do think it offers a very condensed way of cautioning for a measured view of the instrument and backup playing in general, and I see no reason why she wouldn't have been taking that tack in this instance. I regard my cittern as basically a glorified rhythm device - hence "tuneable spoons" or "bodhrán with strings" - no matter how technically brilliant and subtle I may become, some sunny day, with the playing of it. So just as with a bodhrán it's for me to at least keep good rhythm, preferably do better than that and give the tune a bit of extra lift, follow the melody in all things, be in tandem with the player (not vice versa), and know when doing something is doing too much.


The thing is, there are these things called "chords" that guitars do and bodhrans can't do.

I could perhaps understand her point if she was of the minimalist persuasion such as one folk singer (I think it was Bob Dylan) who claimed that playing more than two chords during a song was just showing off.

But Hazel does not play that way. She learned, literally at the elbow of Peerie Willie Johnson, very complex chording (Johnson, as a young man, supposedly sent away for a book that purported to catalog every possible chord on the guitar. He was disappointed when the book arrived with about one-tenth of the chords he already knew)

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That's what I've always taken away from wry commentary such as Hazel's.

Of course there are those who dislike backup instruments on general principle and might use such phrases strictly to vilify them, but in Hazel's case I can't believe this applies.

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PostPosted: Wed Aug 14, 2013 11:08 am 
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Brus wrote:
The thing is, there are these things called "chords" that guitars do and bodhrans can't do.

Absolutely true. But that doesn't change the fundamental principle, at least to my mind. Whether you're a chording minimalist or use them to lushly flesh out the melody's harmonic profile in surprisingly workable ways, those are mere details. Bodhrán or guitar, you must still be a backup player in the end, with all that entails. That means rhythmic, dynamic, and of course chording sensitivity, to me.

There are different ways to see the backup issue in general, and they are often equally true depending on the angle you're coming from. I tend to see myself as being in service to the melody. Another local fellow I know regards himself as a fellow soloist; neither attitude trumps the other, IMO; they're just points of view with their own strengths and potential drawbacks. So long as you know the melody well and do it up right, it's courses for horses, all else being personal ability.

Nevertheless I retain a certain reservation about his viewpoint; if any of us have ever witnessed a bodhrán "soloist" in a session, we know the dangers of being over the top. It's not a stretch at all to apply similar cautions to stringed backup instruments. I have better appreciation for an aware, tasteful backup player - be it on bodhrán or whatever - than for one engaging in a me-fest (not that I'm applying this to the fellow aforementioned; he doesn't do that).

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PostPosted: Wed Aug 14, 2013 1:37 pm 
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It's a funny thing, and I've puzzled over this for a long time - it applies to both Bodhránistas and guitarists. The best, most acceptable of either have often, in practice and in my experience, been the loudest.

I honestly don't understand that ... is it a confidence thing? If you're going to hit it at all, hit it like you mean it?

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PostPosted: Wed Aug 14, 2013 1:45 pm 
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benhall.1 wrote:
The best, most acceptable of either have often, in practice and in my experience, been the loudest.

Best and most acceptable? To whom, and in what situation?

If I were backing up a session of three or four by banging away as loudly as I could, I'm pretty sure the others would soon force-feed me my Gizmo via my nether end.

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PostPosted: Wed Aug 14, 2013 5:15 pm 
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Only thought I ever had about the Wrigley sisters is that maybe they should do a Doublemint gum jingle.

More seriously..... I am sure that the context in which the bodhran/guitar statement was made would be very pertinent.

But as has been indicated they are both rhythm instruments supporting the melody players. When I took up bodhran I found it quite easy since the right hand motion was very much like the strumming action playing rhythm for Irish music. And when playing in support of Irish music it is necessary, in my mind, for the guitar and drum to be in sync. When I first ran into John Doyle I was struck by how percussive his style was. His playing is part rhythm guitar, part bass and part bodhran. While the bodhran does not play chords it can be sort of a bass instrument which follows chord changes by changes in the left hand pressure. It is not an instrument locked in to a single note. I don't find the statement as being at all unusual advice.

Melody playing on the guitar being quite a different deal.

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PostPosted: Thu Aug 15, 2013 4:09 am 
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A very simply way to easily discern how the guitar in a traditional music setting adds beautiful

harmonies
, additional rhythm and bass and fits in place musically, where a bodhran or banjo just can't be (with no dig aimed at any instrument) is

to listen to a nicely performed piece like the following

The Bloomers - Earl's Chair / Frank's Reel

Quote:
From the Saffron Walden Folk Festival Guitar Workshop:

"You should think of a guitar as a bodhran with strings."

Hazel Wrigley


Imho, Wrigleys statement in it's very fleshless appearance would be best taken in the context it was intended and that I gather

was in a work shop hence it was advice, most likely to guitar playing beginners in the traditional music

genre
.

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PostPosted: Thu Aug 15, 2013 6:34 am 
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Nanohedron wrote:
benhall.1 wrote:
The best, most acceptable of either have often, in practice and in my experience, been the loudest.

Best and most acceptable? To whom, and in what situation?

If I were backing up a session of three or four by banging away as loudly as I could, I'm pretty sure the others would soon force-feed me my Gizmo via my nether end.

I ought to nail my colours firmly to the mast, I suppose, as background. I am of the school of thought that holds that any non-melody instrument can never add to the musical experience. The best they can hope to do is not to detract. This is strictly referring to sessions, not gigs.

With that caveat, and another - that I'm only trying to answer Nano's question, and not any others that may arise - it'll probably become apparent where I'm coming from. I think you have to separate out small sessions and bigger sessions. I'm going to take an arbitrary figure of 4 or less melody players to mean "small". Anything more I'm counting, for these purposes, as "bigger".

Firstly, for small sessions. I have, on very rare occasions indeed, enjoyed the contributions of guitarists and bodhrán players in small sessions. They've been exceptional players, and it really is a rare thing. So rare that, on the whole, I'm just much happier, in small sessions, if there's no 'accompaniment' at all. Sorry, Nano.

For bigger sessions, guitarists and bodhrán players can be fun. But they really have to be heard. If there's a dull rumble coming from somewhere in the corner, or the pathetic scraping noise of a thinly hit guitar, then it's just irritating. If you're going to play it, play it like you mean it.

None of the above applies for gigs, or the occasional 'solo' or small group numbers that sometimes occur during the course of an evening's session. In those cases, it's all about the particular performance, and the above may well not apply.

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PostPosted: Thu Aug 15, 2013 12:46 pm 
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benhall.1 wrote:
Sorry, Nano.

No need to apologise to me. I totally get that when decent backup is hard to come by, a small ITM session is best with just melody instruments. I agree that backup is unnecessary. With or without it, at that level nuance especially counts. :)

Where I live, small sessions are almost invariably by invitation, as open sessions usually wind up on average with around 12 to 18 people playing away when things are at their height. So when I speak of playing backup in the occasional small session, you can be sure that it's probably closed and all members were selected. Now, I'm no great shakes, but all the same I wouldn't insult their taste by suggesting that they made a mistake in asking me on no matter what I happen to think about it. :wink:

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PostPosted: Thu Oct 24, 2013 1:52 am 
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I think that in the strict confines of trad that comparing the guitar to the bodhran makes some sense, unfortunately (as a guitarist). A lot of the time when a guitar is heard on a trad recording (or in a session) the chords are played with a fast strumming action and in such a way as you only really get an impression of the chord - it's more of a rhythmic sound than anything. To my ears they might as well be muting the strings and just strumming them dead.

Personally I think that it's the fault of the groups and the guitarists just accepting that's the guitar's role. It's laziness.

You only have to look at someone like Kris Drever and how he accompanies Aiden O'Rourke and Martin Green in Lau for what the guitar is capable of in a trad setting, though they're not a conventional trad group by any means.

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