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PostPosted: Tue May 15, 2012 11:07 am 
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I'm trying to learn how to accompany slow airs on piano and/or keyboards and I'm having a hard time with it. I've been searching for some information on this and haven't had any luck. I can accompany reels & jigs using the <boom><chick> type style (which isn't terribly exciting I know but it's a big step for me), but I'd really like to learn to do some simple backing for slow airs. I have the book Celtic Back-Up which is excellent but I need a bit more hand-holding I think.

If anyone knows of lessons via skype that could help me, I'd be very interested.

Thanks


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PostPosted: Tue May 15, 2012 11:42 am 
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I'm posting here with the obligatory (and predictable, but nevertheless absolutely true) reminder that you must be very familiar with a tune to be able to back it up well and do it credit in a traditionally-informed way. If that matters to you, then this is not an option; after that it comes down to a certain amount of personal style. Added to the question of airs would be the necessity of familiarity with the words to it, or at least with how the song is typically sung. Phrasing counts, but this weight is most on the melody player. Nevertheless, I don't think the accompanist should be really any less familiar with it, either.

I've heard some pretty galling results from people who really didn't know what they were doing, nor did they particularly care about any traditional context, apparently. They might have been fine with the result, but from my end it sounded like a type of chaos. It was nothing to emulate, IMHO.

But don't let me scare you off with my canonical gloom; it can certainly be done, and I don't think it's necessarily all that difficult with practice. Sometimes it is a matter of aptitude, though. :)

Listening to how people tackle backup is a great resource. Here's a YouTube vid of The Wounded Hussar, fiddle and piano, and I was struck by how tasteful and tender, without going overboard, the piano backup is:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2u8EU4ofXVw

Is there any one particular hurdle that stands out for you most in the business of backing up airs, cunparis?

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PostPosted: Tue May 15, 2012 5:48 pm 
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Is piano a traditional string instrument? :wink:

I'm not convinced that trad backup can be taught, only learned. Despite the fact that I'm about to start teaching Irish backup. :o

The problem is that accompaniment is not a single skill but an interlocking set of discrete but related skills and knowledge. To wit:

o Technical facility on the accompaniment instrument (piano, guitar, etc.), including knowledge of how to apply that facility to produce the effect of different styles.

o Knowledge of common practice Western music and harmony theory, or at least the subset commonly expressed in popular music. The knowledge may be intuitive (gut-level) or formal and explicit, but it must be there.

o Thorough familiarity with the tune repertoire and its 4-Mode melodic and harmonic context, and the ability to extract the implied harmonies present in monophonic or heterophonic tunes.

Take those three, and put them together under the guidance of successful performance models from other players, and voilà! See you in a few years. :-)

I guess there are a Irish trad piano players who come to mind:

viewtopic.php?p=1016962#p1016962
viewtopic.php?p=906927#p906927

Also Donna Long with Cherish the Ladies.

For airs, I think you take the same approach as you would for any trad vocal accompaniment - since airs are songs, after all. Sing or hum the melody, and create a harmonic framework underneath - putting less emphasis, perhaps, on rhythmic drive, and more on your voicings, inversions, and voice leading. It doesn't have to be dense; sometimes a light accompaniment in the mid and upper range works well. And listening to fingerstyle guitar accompaniments can provide creative ideas that may cross over to piano.

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PostPosted: Tue May 15, 2012 7:41 pm 
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I'm not sure what kind of airs you might be talking about, nor, for that matter, why this post is in the Trad. String Inst. forum, but that's a different matter. Many if not most of the Irish "airs" tend to be performed without accompaniment. You should be aware of that and sensitive to it.

But setting all that aside MT and Nano seem to have covered the main points.

One of the finest Bodhran playrs in the US was always threatening to accompany the sean nos singing. Oh my.... :boggle:


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PostPosted: Wed May 16, 2012 12:16 pm 
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MTGuru wrote:
Is piano a traditional string instrument? :wink:

You winkie smiley acknowledged and my usual gut reaction to piano aside (which is especially why I find the backup so darned delightful in the link I provided above), I wrestled with this but only a bit, remembering that we have the likes of McKenna and Coleman, and a whole piano-fueled subset of accompaniment in the Tradition, to lend weight to the supporting vote. Perhaps the question really belongs in the ITM Forum since, as I see it, it's not about the instrument per se, but about the bigger question: How does one accompany airs?

Now, I could be wrong about that, and cunparis might be actually asking strictly about the physical, technical aspects of backing airs on piano, in which case I have nothing to offer.

MTGuru wrote:
I'm not convinced that trad backup can be taught, [but rather, that it can be] only learned.

Brackets mine, for clarity. Don't mind me. :wink:

I tend to agree with this. I mentioned earlier that aptitude comes into it, and I think that you have to have a native ear for accompaniment ahead of time, or it's likely to be an exercise in trying to get a fish to learn to ride a bicycle. Sorry, folks - I don't want to come across as being elitist and exclusionary, but this is just a simple observation based on what I've seen time and again. OTOH, one must try if one is to find out, no? The thing is, if you already have an aptitude, you probably already know it in your gut. It's not even a question; all that remains is whatever additional guidance you may need, and how far you can go with it.

MTGuru wrote:
Despite the fact that I'm about to start teaching Irish backup. :o

Te absolvo. :wink:

I would say that if you have a student with prior aptitude you're probably not so much teaching, as you would be guiding. Who was it who said that you can't be taught what you don't already know?

I can't break things down into their components with the laser precision that you can, MTGuru, but in a more general sense I would certainly maintain the value - necessity, even - of finding recorded examples of a style one wants to emulate, and actively, absorptively, listen, listen, listen. :)

cboody wrote:
Many if not most of the Irish "airs" tend to be performed without accompaniment. You should be aware of that and sensitive to it.

Absolutely right. This is the root of the performance tradition of Irish airs, and that counts. Yes, sir.

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PostPosted: Wed May 16, 2012 2:18 pm 
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Thanks everyone for your responses which were very helpful in getting me to think about what it is I'm trying to do and where I need help. I'd like to make some individual replies with some general ideas mixed in.

Nanohedron wrote:
Listening to how people tackle backup is a great resource. Here's a YouTube vid of The Wounded Hussar, fiddle and piano, and I was struck by how tasteful and tender, without going overboard, the piano backup is:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2u8EU4ofXVw

Is there any one particular hurdle that stands out for you most in the business of backing up airs, cunparis?


I liked what I could hear, but unfortunately I could barely hear the piano. I sent a message to the pianist to see if she has some advice and/or gives lessons.

I have been working out of a classical piano repertoire book, I'm at the end of Level 1 (it goes from 0-? so level 1 isn't as bad as it sounds). But I also like to play from fake books and learning patterns. And so I guess I'm looking for some patterns to use for slow tunes, doesn't have to be airs, can be slow waltzes or reels or whatever. the boom-chick doesn't sound too good with slow tunes.

So today I picked an air and listened to many versions of it. Thanks to Spotify this is now possible to do without buying all the tunes just to listen to them once. I picked Roisin Dubh. one of my favorites was this one by Innisfree Ceoli:

http://open.spotify.com/track/0v0qDAJ7XCWj28OBTfgbPh

The accompaniment was just.. drones. Played on a synthesizer. sounded so simple and lovely.

there was another version where piano played some arpeggio runs (possibly similar to the youtube video linked above, I'm not sure because I can't hear the piano very well). This was done in the style that a harp or guitar would do. So I guess that's where I should start. How do harps and guitars accompany airs? I have harp & guitar patches for my synth so I can use those. I plan to listen to it some more and see if I can do something similar. I can do basic arpeggios but they usually only have 3 notes of the major chord + the bass and doesn't sound as full.

Here's one with a really full piano accompaniment, a bit too much in my personal opinion:

http://open.spotify.com/track/39eulcjs6u3gexJ9lOOQuF

I can't find the one I liked better, I'll have to listen to them all again. ;)

Which brings up a later question about is this piano specific? no it's not. I'll be playing on a piano because I don't have a harp and I can't play my guitar. But this really is a general question that perhaps could be located in the ITM forum.


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PostPosted: Wed May 16, 2012 2:21 pm 
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MTGuru wrote:
For airs, I think you take the same approach as you would for any trad vocal accompaniment - since airs are songs, after all. Sing or hum the melody, and create a harmonic framework underneath - putting less emphasis, perhaps, on rhythmic drive, and more on your voicings, inversions, and voice leading. It doesn't have to be dense; sometimes a light accompaniment in the mid and upper range works well. And listening to fingerstyle guitar accompaniments can provide creative ideas that may cross over to piano.


Excellent advice. I'm not good at accompanying non-ITM songs either. Like playing from fake books. I end up doing really basic and bland stuff with the left hand while the right plays melody. So in this respect, my question isn't specific to even ITM. And that means if I can find a teacher that can teach basic accompaniment techniques (playing from chord charts) then that will help.

As an aside, I got Tracy Dares video "A'Chording to the tunes" and it was exactly what I was looking for (for dance tunes). I also got "Interview with a Vamper" and that is excellent too. But both are for dance tunes. So I would love to have something similar with slow tunes but I don't think it exists. I've been searching outside of ITM circles for this as well.


Last edited by cunparis on Wed May 16, 2012 2:38 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Wed May 16, 2012 2:29 pm 
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cunparis wrote:
I liked what I could hear, but unfortunately I could barely hear the piano. I sent a message to the pianist to see if she has some advice and/or gives lessons.

Good idea. Yes, unfortunately the piano was a bit hard to hear, but in all honesty, I counted that as an aesthetic plus, perhaps intentional: just a silky wisp of a suggestion of a hint.

cunparis wrote:
But this really is a general question that perhaps could be located in the ITM forum.

Aaaand...Abracadabra. :)

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PostPosted: Wed May 16, 2012 2:35 pm 
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Nanohedron wrote:
.. but in a more general sense I would certainly maintain the value - necessity, even - of finding recorded examples of a style one wants to emulate, and actively, absorptively, listen, listen, listen. :)


I'm going to work on this. Listen to different variations of the same tune and pick a few and try to learn what they're doing and play it in a similar manner.

While I'm thinking about it.. I have "Complete Irish Tin Whistle Tunebook" which I really love. It has some, in my opinion, pretty good accompaniments on the CD. There are two slow tunes, Caitlin Triall and The Flower of Magherally. The former is accompanied by a guitar and I was able to do something very similar on my own. You can hear the result here:

http://www.box.com/s/fd54zcp859fl5vciqtun

Disclaimer: that was recorded less than a month after I received my low whistle. Listening to it now, I can't believe how much tonguing I did!! I need to re-record this one.

If anyone has comments on my admittedly lame guitar accompaniment, I'm very interested. I think if I could just vary it a bit, it would be a big improvement.

The latter tune, The Flower of Magherally, has a piano accompaniment that I absolutely love. I've tried figuring out what exactly the pianist is doing but I get lost. I mean I get the general idea but I'm not able to play it myself. If anyone has that tunebook and can listen to that tune and give me some pointers I'd be very grateful. If anyone is interested I can send you a sample of that track.

One more thing before I forgot, I can't see the post now so I forgot who, but someone mentioned voice leading and inversions and things like that.. I'm not very good with that and I think that may be one reason I'm not able to play something I hear in a tune. i'm not sure which inversions they're using and how they're chaining them together and I get a bit lost. So that's a skill I need to work on but I'm not sure how. All this has been a detour on my classical piano repertoire but I find it so much more fun & interesting than the beginner classical pieces.

So I guess these posts sums up where I'm at and where I'd like to be. Thank you all very much for taking the time to share your thoughts & ideas, it's very helpful to me.


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PostPosted: Wed May 16, 2012 3:14 pm 
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cunparis wrote:
...Caitlin Triall...is accompanied by a guitar and I was able to do something very similar on my own. You can hear the result here:

http://www.box.com/s/fd54zcp859fl5vciqtun

Disclaimer: that was recorded less than a month after I received my low whistle. Listening to it now, I can't believe how much tonguing I did!! I need to re-record this one.

If anyone has comments on my admittedly lame guitar accompaniment, I'm very interested. I think if I could just vary it a bit, it would be a big improvement.

You have the basics down, seems to me, and that's where you have to start from. There's no other way. What you did is tasteful enough for a start, too, I think.

To me the big question is: Can you say you would have come up with much the same thing, at least in your head, if you hadn't heard the accompaniment beforehand?

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PostPosted: Thu May 17, 2012 12:20 am 
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Nanohedron wrote:
You have the basics down, seems to me, and that's where you have to start from. There's no other way. What you did is tasteful enough for a start, too, I think.

To me the big question is: Can you say you would have come up with much the same thing, at least in your head, if you hadn't heard the accompaniment beforehand?


Thanks for the feedback. No I wouldn't have come up with that myself, because I don't play guitar and I wouldn't do it like that on piano. But I don't mind "copying" accompaniments in order to get new ideas and learn new "patterns" that I can string together.

PS: This is for my own personal enjoyment. I'm not interested in a commercial CD or anything..


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PostPosted: Thu May 17, 2012 12:29 pm 
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cunparis wrote:
No I wouldn't have come up with that myself, because I don't play guitar and I wouldn't do it like that on piano.

I'm afraid I may not have been quite as clear as I'd hoped; I was referring in the main to the roughly general choice of chords given the harmonic profile of the tune, not to how you'd tackle the execution. Paring it down: when you hear an unaccompanied melody, do you typically tend to imagine (or "hear") some kind of basic chordal accompaniment that goes with it, all on your own and in your head?

cunparis wrote:
But I don't mind "copying" accompaniments in order to get new ideas and learn new "patterns" that I can string together.

Hey, I nab new ideas from others all the time, myself. :)

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PostPosted: Sun May 20, 2012 6:46 am 
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Nanohedron wrote:
I'm afraid I may not have been quite as clear as I'd hoped; I was referring in the main to the roughly general choice of chords given the harmonic profile of the tune, not to how you'd tackle the execution. Paring it down: when you hear an unaccompanied melody, do you typically tend to imagine (or "hear") some kind of basic chordal accompaniment that goes with it, all on your own and in your head?


I can determine the chords from the sheet music but I'm not able to do this real time. It's something I've read about people doing and seems a mystery to me but I'd love to be able to do that one day.

I'm going to be studying some accompaniments that I find on youtube & spotify and I will update the thread when I learn a little more. I'm also looking for some piano lessons where I live, if I can find someone, in order to learn more about accompaniment.


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PostPosted: Thu May 24, 2012 3:03 pm 
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The nicest piano accompaniment I can recall hearing on traditional Irish airs is by Brid Cranitch on this classic album of airs recorded with her husband the fiddler Matt Cranitch in 1984:

http://claddaghrecords.com/WWW/catalog/ ... ts_id=2417

She doesn't play on all the tracks, such as those where Matt probably wanted a more free-form sean-nos approach, but I feel like she adds something to the one where she does. Her playing is understated but grand at the same time, and very musical. I feel like she understands the music. It's a lovely album.


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PostPosted: Fri May 25, 2012 8:30 am 
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bradhurley wrote:
The nicest piano accompaniment I can recall hearing on traditional Irish airs is by Brid Cranitch on this classic album of airs recorded with her husband the fiddler Matt Cranitch in 1984:

http://claddaghrecords.com/WWW/catalog/ ... ts_id=2417

She doesn't play on all the tracks, such as those where Matt probably wanted a more free-form sean-nos approach, but I feel like she adds something to the one where she does. Her playing is understated but grand at the same time, and very musical. I feel like she understands the music. It's a lovely album.


Excellent recommendation. I've listened to it twice now. I really like it. The piano is really subtle.

I've spent the last few days listening to as many accompanied airs as I can find. And I'm learning to appreciate the really subtle accompaniments. It seems my basic guitar arpeggios that I used on Caitlin Triall (mimicking the guitar on the tunebook CD) is not that far off track. I hear the piano doing something similar but even more subtle where not every chord is played. She leaves pauses of silence so the melody can stand out.

Another example I found is this youtube video of Joanie Madden accompanied by guitar. It's nice and soft and the focus is always on Joanie. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iAyENIYI328

So perhaps less is more and I was trying to make this more complicated than it should. I'm going fool around with the piano and see if I can come up with something similar to Brid Cranitch. Thanks again for recommending this CD. My daughter is going to be playing violin so she liked it too.

Edit: to add forgotten link to Joanie Madden video


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