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improvisation and traditional music

The Sandman 16 Aug 07 - 07:58 PM
Bernard 16 Aug 07 - 08:24 PM
Phil Cooper 16 Aug 07 - 08:42 PM
GUEST,PMB 17 Aug 07 - 03:27 AM
GUEST,Jim Carroll 17 Aug 07 - 03:30 AM
redsnapper 17 Aug 07 - 04:45 AM
Richard Bridge 17 Aug 07 - 05:28 AM
GUEST,Brian Peters 17 Aug 07 - 05:52 AM
redsnapper 17 Aug 07 - 06:18 AM
Grab 17 Aug 07 - 06:48 AM
The Sandman 17 Aug 07 - 07:11 AM
GUEST,Neovo 17 Aug 07 - 08:24 AM
Richard Bridge 17 Aug 07 - 08:35 AM
GUEST,PMB 17 Aug 07 - 08:49 AM
The Sandman 17 Aug 07 - 08:55 AM
Liz the Squeak 17 Aug 07 - 09:02 AM
M.Ted 17 Aug 07 - 10:03 AM
GUEST,Neovo 17 Aug 07 - 10:48 AM
GUEST,Ruston Hornsby 17 Aug 07 - 10:50 AM
Jack Campin 17 Aug 07 - 12:43 PM
M.Ted 17 Aug 07 - 12:47 PM
Fidjit 17 Aug 07 - 02:18 PM
GUEST,Jim Carroll 17 Aug 07 - 02:47 PM
M.Ted 17 Aug 07 - 02:48 PM
The Sandman 17 Aug 07 - 03:31 PM
Richard Bridge 17 Aug 07 - 03:36 PM
M.Ted 17 Aug 07 - 03:50 PM
Fidjit 17 Aug 07 - 05:43 PM
GUEST,Val 17 Aug 07 - 05:49 PM
The Sandman 18 Aug 07 - 06:37 AM
Geoff Wallis 18 Aug 07 - 12:44 PM
GUEST,Jim Carroll 18 Aug 07 - 02:10 PM
The Sandman 18 Aug 07 - 02:35 PM
GUEST,doc.tom 19 Aug 07 - 06:08 AM
Jack Blandiver 30 Nov 09 - 04:50 AM
Will Fly 30 Nov 09 - 06:51 AM
GUEST,Mr Red 30 Nov 09 - 07:21 AM
GUEST 30 Nov 09 - 07:36 AM
Jack Blandiver 30 Nov 09 - 07:37 AM
Jerry Rasmussen 30 Nov 09 - 08:14 AM
GUEST,Ed 30 Nov 09 - 08:42 AM
Suegorgeous 30 Nov 09 - 08:47 AM
Stringsinger 30 Nov 09 - 07:17 PM
jennyr 01 Dec 09 - 03:26 AM
Will Fly 01 Dec 09 - 03:56 AM
Will Fly 01 Dec 09 - 06:46 AM
Jack Blandiver 01 Dec 09 - 07:09 AM
GUEST,Mr Red 01 Dec 09 - 07:14 AM
Jack Blandiver 01 Dec 09 - 08:23 AM
Will Fly 02 Dec 09 - 06:58 AM
Commander Crabbe 03 Dec 09 - 07:25 PM
McGrath of Harlow 03 Dec 09 - 08:07 PM
Jack Campin 04 Dec 09 - 07:36 PM
Tootler 05 Dec 09 - 04:00 PM
The Sandman 05 Dec 09 - 05:23 PM
Stringsinger 06 Dec 09 - 10:37 AM
The Sandman 06 Dec 09 - 01:08 PM
Wolfhound person 06 Dec 09 - 02:07 PM
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Subject: Improvisation and Traditional music
From: The Sandman
Date: 16 Aug 07 - 07:58 PM

Improvisation is a word often associated with Jazz.How do people feel about its use in traditonal[English ,Scottish, Welsh, Irish]music?

By improvisation I mean both chordal and melodic.
Are the melodic variations found in the Northumbrian pipers tune book, improvisation?
Finally when improvisation is written down, in the form of sheet music,eg Northumbrian pipers tune book[Felton Lonnen with variations]is it still improvisation,or does it, when written, cease to be improvisation? Dick Miles


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Subject: RE: improvisation and traditional music
From: Bernard
Date: 16 Aug 07 - 08:24 PM

I think improvisation is essential to keeping traditional music alive. Very few players play a tune precisely as it is written down, because the notation in itself is someone's interpretation. There is no right or wrong for a tune - such is the folk process.

Dick, I'm sure you play tunes (as I know I do) with nuances which differ from someone else's interpretation of the same tune. It has a lot to do with personal playing style.

A classical melody or 'set piece' should not be changed, because we know that is the way the composer intended it to be played. We don't have that restriction in traditional music. We have an indication of the way people have played it in the past, which isn't necessarily 'correct'.

Improvisation in the jazz sense is different from inventing melodic or chordal variations, but there's no reason why it shouldn't be done that way - Blowzabella and Bellowhead are just two examples.


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Subject: RE: improvisation and traditional music
From: Phil Cooper
Date: 16 Aug 07 - 08:42 PM

I agree with Bernard. Though there are different standards of improvisation in folk than in jazz, there still needs to be some give and take.


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Subject: RE: improvisation and traditional music
From: GUEST,PMB
Date: 17 Aug 07 - 03:27 AM

The main thing top remember about improvisation in traditional music is that traditional music is social. Particularly as regards playing in sessions. So any improvisation has to have regard to what the other players are doing. Yes, improvise around the tune- but it has to fit in with the tune itself, not just the chords, and it has to keep to the feel of the tune.

The result is usually, if you like, micro- improvisations of short duration that return to the main tune fairly quickly- a snatch of harmony, a change of time or a syncopation for a couple of bars. Some players are dab hands at incorporating little quotes from other tunes and making it fit- though others do that by mistake and cause a pile-up.

I find that klezmer lends itself to improvisation much more than Irish (or Scottish or English) music. Swedish music is usually based on harmonies in several parts, so it's fair to slip from one part to another. Certain French sessions I've known hold to the (false) idea that French music is traditionally played one tune at a time, not in sets, so it's almost essential to work in variations to avoid RSI.


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Subject: RE: improvisation and traditional music
From: GUEST,Jim Carroll
Date: 17 Aug 07 - 03:30 AM

Traditional music, certainly Irish, IS improvisation, that's what makes it interesting to listen to.
As far as song is concerned, ballad scholar David Buchan claimed that at the height of the tradition there were no set texts to ballads but plots and poetic commonplaces which a singer would use to re-compose at the point of performance.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: improvisation and traditional music
From: redsnapper
Date: 17 Aug 07 - 04:45 AM

While not quite the same as jazz improvisation, I agree with the other views here that variation and improvisation most certainly is part of traditional music. Some tunes lend themselves more to this than others but, as PMB notes, playing in sessions does imply some contraints, etiquette and commonsense unlike the soloing in genres like bluegrass where improvised sections of tunes are "featured" in turn from different instruments.

RS


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Subject: RE: improvisation and traditional music
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 17 Aug 07 - 05:28 AM

If you are playing or singing with others, I don't see how you can change the chords except for including the odd passing chord or using different inversions (or carefully syncopated infills), otherwise those who are still doing the learned version will be out of harmony or time with those improvising. OK, you can pop in a 6th 7th or 9th here or there, or maybe a Bm for a Dmaj or Em for Gmaj, or F#m7 for A maj (or A6 for F#m7) but you really have to watch it.

I see however, absolutely no reason not (with some sensitivity) to improvise harmony in voice or instrument in any song or tune. Indeed, I work pretty much entirely on that basis in tune sessions (which bore me mindless anyway, but if I'm stuck in one I might as well do something) - tell me the key, I can hear the rhythm (keep an eye out for the tacets and ups), and if the note I play is not in the tune, then it's a harmony or countermelody. Gets more annoying when Irish players tear off into a new key without warning and sometimes a very surprising new key.


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Subject: RE: improvisation and traditional music
From: GUEST,Brian Peters
Date: 17 Aug 07 - 05:52 AM

"....ballad scholar David Buchan claimed that at the height of the tradition there were no set texts to ballads but plots and poetic commonplaces which a singer would use to re-compose at the point of performance."

And does your own collecting experience support that view, Jim? I'm aware of examples of a given singer performing a ballad differently on separate occasions (a completely different tune, for example), but does text really vary so much from one performance to another? And if Buchan's theory (as I understand it) only applied to a pre-literate era, what actual evidence did he produce to support it? I can see how it could be *inferred* from - for example - old and new world versions of ballads that tell the same story in completely different words, but direct evidence?

PS Jim, thanks for the copy of 'Songs of the Irish Travellers' - I will be writing to you more fully when I've got through my present bout of flu and Whitby folk festival next week.


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Subject: RE: improvisation and traditional music
From: redsnapper
Date: 17 Aug 07 - 06:18 AM

Gets more annoying when Irish players tear off into a new key without warning and sometimes a very surprising new key.

I find that part of the thrill of it both as a lead player and as an accompanist! (:>)

RS


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Subject: RE: improvisation and traditional music
From: Grab
Date: 17 Aug 07 - 06:48 AM

I think there's chordal variation you *can* add, especially if you're the one holding down the bassline. When there are plenty of other people doing chords, I often go to drop-D and play as if I was doing bass, using just the lower 3 strings together to get a nice crunchy fifth to anchor the rhythm and chords. And then when world+dog is doing simple Am/G, say, you can throw in the occasional F in place of the Am for example - still works with everyone else playing Am, but makes the whole thing more interesting.

But it does rely on no-one else playing in that range. Stage performance tends to have a low number of peole playing, and they're almost always away from the "standard" chords, because the standard chords are usually so simple that they're not interesting to listen to. But if you're sharing that voice range with a zillion other people, you're limited to playing what they play, which can be a bit of a "lowest common denominator" exercise.


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Subject: RE: improvisation and traditional music
From: The Sandman
Date: 17 Aug 07 - 07:11 AM

Yes I do play tunes and sing songs, differently each time.
I guess that Northumbrian pipe variations,although written down,are intended to be played with a little more freedom,than a classical musician might treat them,my natural instinct is to take variations and then try and work something new from them[When I can] ,but I would hesitate to call myself a Jazz Musician.
Richard Bridge raises an interesting point about the ensemble nature of a good session,the need to cut down twiddles,so that the overall sound gels and the importance of listening to one anothers music.
In traditional jazz instruments take turn at solos,and then come together for ensemble playing,a session does not give the same oppurtunity for individual solos.
over ornamentation in a session can lead to musical cacophony,it is necessary[i.m o] for participants in a session to recognise the importance of the overall sound above individual virtuosity.
Dick Miles
Miles


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Subject: RE: improvisation and traditional music
From: GUEST,Neovo
Date: 17 Aug 07 - 08:24 AM

Is playing a tune differently because of mis-hearing, mis-remembering or the constraints of a particular instrument different from knowing/understanding how a tune "should" or "normally" goes and making a conscious effort to ornament, harmonise etc? Not saying one is better than the other - just wondering.


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Subject: RE: improvisation and traditional music
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 17 Aug 07 - 08:35 AM

I think that's the folk process!


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Subject: RE: improvisation and traditional music
From: GUEST,PMB
Date: 17 Aug 07 - 08:49 AM

Well, Neovo, there's no "the tune". There's the idea of the tune, which each player interprets according to their ability, the instrument and their understanding of the tune, and also, crucially, acccording to what the other musicians around them are doing. That's one reason why some sessions soar, while others seem like a bit of a struggle. A radically differently interpreted version of a tune won't be likel;y to get much encouragement from the other musicians.

I'd add that the development of tunes, and tune sets, is evolutionary- a variation (in the tune or in the sequence of a set), whether brought about by mishearing, error, the limitations of an instrument, or deliberate variation, will survive if other musicians like it, and eventually may become the accepted version of that tune or set.

A prime example of this is the migration of Calliope House from A to G. It was apparently written in A, but most sessions I've been in do it in G, perhaps because it fits whistles and flutes better. As an aside, many musicians just know it as the Calliope, which is perhaps another example of evolution.

That's tune sessions; other sorts of music, like singing, have different mechanisms. But I think the propogation mechanism is the same- it's the adoption of the variant in the community of (those who consider themselves) peers that drives the evolution.


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Subject: RE: improvisation and traditional music
From: The Sandman
Date: 17 Aug 07 - 08:55 AM

When it comes to chordal variations the accompanist is not as limited as has been suggested,firstly he can try different inversions of the same chord,there are loads of different e7,if the key is a major,and at least four A major chords., at leastThree different D Major,at least three different g major.
Plus if in open tunings many different D modal ,g modal dyads, A7. In standard tuning this applies to a lesser extent,But there are still a number of options,substitution of dominant 7,with dominant 11,or D min[with doubled third] for g7,sometimes will work.
Of course this is easier if you are the only accompanist.Dick Miles


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Subject: RE: improvisation and traditional music
From: Liz the Squeak
Date: 17 Aug 07 - 09:02 AM

Even classical choral music gets tweaked by sucessive musical directors.

Although the notes don't get changed, the tempo, the phrasing and the dymanics are often different from rehearsal to rehearsal!

It's interesting that in my experience, most classical choral singers cannot sing without the music in front of them, even if they know the piece inside out. They find it hard, if not impossible to harmonise a tune unless it's written out for them. Many classically trained musicians are the same - they find it hard to improvise or fly without the dots.

LTS


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Subject: RE: improvisation and traditional music
From: M.Ted
Date: 17 Aug 07 - 10:03 AM

Improvisation is the mechanism for creating music. That means that there has to be a system for improvising in every kind of music. You may not know what that system is for the kind of music you play, either because you learned it intuitively or because you don't really improvise, you just cut and paste bits that you've memorized--but the system exists.


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Subject: RE: improvisation and traditional music
From: GUEST,Neovo
Date: 17 Aug 07 - 10:48 AM

What I meant and probably didn't express very well is that the "folk process" is a gradual evolution but improvisation is an on-the-spot conscious effort to add variations in a particular time and place. Getting philosophical - can you hear that tree fall in the forest?


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Subject: RE: improvisation and traditional music
From: GUEST,Ruston Hornsby
Date: 17 Aug 07 - 10:50 AM

I have this theory that every folk tune started out as "Speed the Plough" and just mutated into everything else via the Folk Process...

I've certainly mutated enough tunes over the years and continue to do so.


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Subject: RE: improvisation and traditional music
From: Jack Campin
Date: 17 Aug 07 - 12:43 PM

Calliope House was written in E but is most often played in D.


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Subject: RE: improvisation and traditional music
From: M.Ted
Date: 17 Aug 07 - 12:47 PM

For the purpose of arguement, I'll say that there is no such thing as the "folk process"--that you as an individual can only play a melody as you know it, and in that process, embelish it, simplify it, or use it a reference to create something new.

Over time, you can look at the way different people have added or changed things, but you have to remember that people make their changes at a given moment in time, of their own will--


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Subject: RE: improvisation and traditional music
From: Fidjit
Date: 17 Aug 07 - 02:18 PM

Ah the process.

Nervo.
I've been playing the B part of Centenary March wrong for years.
Wanted some Swedish friends here to play it too. I don't read music and they can only play by dots, so gave them Nick Barbers music.
Oh Dear.

You play that all wrong, they say.

Tried to explain the folk process, but Ah well.

What do I do? Go back and re-learn it? Tear up the music?

Chas


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Subject: RE: improvisation and traditional music
From: GUEST,Jim Carroll
Date: 17 Aug 07 - 02:47 PM

....ballad scholar David Buchan claimed that at the height of the tradition there were no set texts to ballads but plots and poetic commonplaces which a singer would use to re-compose at the point of performance."
"And does your own collecting experience support that view, Jim?"
Brian,
Not often, but we were dealing with a tradition that was very much in decline.
It occasionally happened with Travellers Mary Delaney and Bill Cassidy who were the most stylish singers we met, and it was was interesting to compare Mary's singing of the same songs as her brother Paddy - both of them learned the songs from their father Terry.
The most spectacular example I ever heard was that of Tom Costello of Spiddal in Connemara when he was recorded by friends singing 'The Grand Conversation on Napoleon'
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: improvisation and traditional music
From: M.Ted
Date: 17 Aug 07 - 02:48 PM

Write it out the way you play it. Then you'll be right.


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Subject: RE: improvisation and traditional music
From: The Sandman
Date: 17 Aug 07 - 03:31 PM

Fidjit,I second MTed s comment.


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Subject: RE: improvisation and traditional music
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 17 Aug 07 - 03:36 PM

Neither of you read Fidjit's post "I don't read music".


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Subject: RE: improvisation and traditional music
From: M.Ted
Date: 17 Aug 07 - 03:50 PM

I read the post, and my advice still stands. I'll add the "Rosencrantz and Guilderstern" caveat--never give anyone something to read unless you know exactly what it says(and can play it)--


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Subject: RE: improvisation and traditional music
From: Fidjit
Date: 17 Aug 07 - 05:43 PM

Yes M Ted that would work and that's the process I intend to take. Even have a "Doty" friend that can help.

Had no problem at the session in Oslo as they all picked it up by ear. Seemingly those that read scarcely improvise.

Strange, here in Sweden they all get out their music at a session. (Er, not always and not everyone)

Chas


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Subject: RE: improvisation and traditional music
From: GUEST,Val
Date: 17 Aug 07 - 05:49 PM

I'll admit to being an ignorant Yank who has only rarely attended a proper session, and who (like any good 'Murican) gets much of his education from the movies. That said, I recall a scene in "The Boys and Girl From County Clair" where the bandleader berates the young whistle player (who had thrown in some improvisation to make it more "interesting") for "playing AROUND the tune, not PLAYING the tune". Granted, this was supposedly in rehearsal for a competition between ceilidh bands and so might be a different paradigm from an open session.

Assuming that scene reflected SOME real-life attitudes, that would imply that there are some people who believe there is only one "right" way to play a particular tune.

Personally, my playing is so sloppy that I can never do something the same way twice, so I just tell people it is improvisation and act like I MEANT to play it that way rather than admitting to a mistake. [grin]

And the advice I gave my sister, who is starting to occasionally attend sessions in Oklahoma: "When in doubt, trill"


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Subject: RE: improvisation and traditional music
From: The Sandman
Date: 18 Aug 07 - 06:37 AM

Jim ,do you mean Tom Costello made up new words to Grand Conversation,as he went along,or that he introduced spontaneous melodic variation,into the tune.,or do you mean he introduced new verses to the song, which he repeated at every performance.


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Subject: RE: improvisation and traditional music
From: Geoff Wallis
Date: 18 Aug 07 - 12:44 PM

I think I know what Jim's trying to say, but Irish traditional music has little to do with improvisation as the term would be understood in other genres. Since maintenance of a tune's melody and its rhythm lie at the core any improvisation is limited to subtle variations around said melodic elements via means such triplets, rolls or the piper's cran.

Indeed those who do improvise around a tune's melody are often regarded as being outside or divorced from the tradition. The late fiddler Tommy Potts certainly fell into such a categorisation and Martin Hayes has also fallen foul of this criticism. Personally, I regard such suggestion as unjust in both cases.


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Subject: RE: improvisation and traditional music
From: GUEST,Jim Carroll
Date: 18 Aug 07 - 02:10 PM

Cap'n
His improvisions were melodic.
Anybody who has heard him will recognise his being a very skillful singer, but in the three recordings of 'Conversation' I have heard his melodic variations were startlingly different.
He can be heard on the CCE album 'Tom Paidín Tom'.
Can I say that basically I think I agree with Brian Peters that Buchan was talking about the pre-literate area, which, as far as I'm concerned, would take in the Travellers.
As far as the music goes, we have recordings of interviews of musicians, notably PJ Crotty and Kevin Burke (recorded in the early 70s), talking at length about musical improvisation
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: improvisation and traditional music
From: The Sandman
Date: 18 Aug 07 - 02:35 PM

Thanks Jim.
In my experience,most good singers sing the song differently each time.
when I sing, melodic improvisation is something that just happens,Iwouldnt have given it much thought before I sang the song.,Iam sure that is the case with most other singers.
I doubt if many singers think consciously,I must put in a trill at this bit,or decorate this other bit.


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Subject: RE: improvisation and traditional music
From: GUEST,doc.tom
Date: 19 Aug 07 - 06:08 AM

My memory seem to be nagging at me that Buchan was actually following Lord in his 'Singer of Tales' analysis of The Oddessy. Some interesting newevidenced slants the argument in Folk Song: Tradition, Revival, and Re-creation.(ed. Russell & Atkinson ~ Elphinstone Institute, Aberdeen University, 2004).

I would suggest that 'written' variations are just that - variations - not improvisations although they may have started out that way. The Northumbrian pipes do have thier own tradition of 'variations' of course.

My own opinion is also that variation in accompaniment, although it may be improvised or accidental (or both!), is still accompaniment and a different beast to true improvisation of the (critical) melodic line which, among the 'trad' performers I've known, has always been linear and not chordally based.

I once asked Packie Byrne about variation and improvisation during a whistle workshop he was running in the beachstore @ Sidmouth in about 1968 - only to discover that he couldn't play a scale without decorating it! Creation and recreation is constant.

All that probably doesn't help

Tom


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Subject: RE: improvisation and traditional music
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 30 Nov 09 - 04:50 AM

I was about to start a thread called Improvisation & the Folk Process but this seems to cover it quite nicely. I wonder, to what extent does improvisation play a part in what people do - especially with respect of Traditional Song - or if they have any thoughts on that?


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Subject: RE: improvisation and traditional music
From: Will Fly
Date: 30 Nov 09 - 06:51 AM

I very occasionally take a traditional tune and give it a twist here and there. There was a wonderful CD by Dick Lee and Hamish Moore called "The Bees Knees" - came out around 1990 or thereabouts - where they ran some rings around traditional tunes, including a superb ramble around "Staten Island" on two high whistles in D.

I recently did a little "homage" to that track with guitar and tenor guitar - it usually brings a smile to faces in clubs (probably for the wrong reasons) - and, if you're interested, you can see it here. I've buggered about with the key (G instead of D), added the odd Eb7 chord here and there, and inserted several extraneous notes!


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Subject: RE: improvisation and traditional music
From: GUEST,Mr Red
Date: 30 Nov 09 - 07:21 AM

I hear improv a lot. Especially when you can't remember how it goes. It is called the Folk Process. You couldn't call it that in Jazz.

Apparently when Seth Lakeman is present in a session you will hear it from every wannabe, but not from him. He could blow them away with a couple of bars, but what would it do for his image? The wannabes are there to prove something to themselves and he gives it to them.

Now that is a professional at work.


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Subject: RE: improvisation and traditional music
From: GUEST
Date: 30 Nov 09 - 07:36 AM

I play irish trad, i think the tune lets you know what it wants. 8-)


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Subject: RE: improvisation and traditional music
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 30 Nov 09 - 07:37 AM

Good stuff, Will - as ever; that's the sort of rambling warmth a chap needs on a cold day like this.

Who's Seth Lakeman??


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Subject: RE: improvisation and traditional music
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 30 Nov 09 - 08:14 AM

Just for perspective, improvising lyrics isa standard practice in black gospel music. I sing with a Men's Chorus in a black church, and after a swing through the lyrics to the song, the lead singer will improvise lines while the chorus repeats a short phrase to keep the rhythm going. The song lasts until the lead singer's imagination runs out. I sing several leads where I do that, and it's great fun. Some of the lines are familiar to most of the people in the church, but others I improvise off the top of my head.

Jerry


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Subject: RE: improvisation and traditional music
From: GUEST,Ed
Date: 30 Nov 09 - 08:42 AM

Will Fly,

Your Staten Island Steps is superb. I hate you!

Not really, just jealous as hell...

Keep up the good work.

Ed


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Subject: RE: improvisation and traditional music
From: Suegorgeous
Date: 30 Nov 09 - 08:47 AM

Thanks for starting this, SOP. I'm very interested in if and how other singers improvise.

I don't think I do - I do sing a song differently each time (expression, rhythm, varying line length, etc), depending on how I'm feeling and what I connect with in the song itself that day - but is that improvisation? as I don't think I depart from the basic raw notes in my head. (I don't yet have the courage!)

But I've been thinking a lot recently about improvising and experimenting more, to try new ways of singing the songs, so am keen to hear what other singers think/do.

Sue


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Subject: RE: improvisation and traditional music
From: Stringsinger
Date: 30 Nov 09 - 07:17 PM

Traditional musical passages and scale patterns suggest a role for improvisation in folk music. The trick is to stay with what's appropriate and not range too far afield with reharmonizations or stylistic departures.

In Irish music, a "chune" can be played numerous ways. There are certain patterns such as ornamentation and rhythm that provide the unique flavor of this style of music. I think recordings of James Morrison or Micheal Coleman reveal that these masters never played the tune the same way twice.

Blues obviously requires improv. String band music Appalachian style played at hoe-downs and set-runnings could go on for hours and so improv on the tunes would relieve the boredom.

Traditional music is not fixed like classical music. It is subject to change continually.

There will be differences of opinions on how certain traditional music should be played
even with traditional musicians and singers.

Blues, Calypso, Cubano, Puerto Rican and many other forms of traditional music require
improv skills in making up lyrics as you go. Improvisation in lyrics is prized in various musical cultures.

The trick is to observe the guidelines in the style of traditional music.


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Subject: RE: improvisation and traditional music
From: jennyr
Date: 01 Dec 09 - 03:26 AM

A couple of people have commented on the limitations to improvising around the tune in sessions, and I'm not sure it's quite as limited as implied. I've had the pleasure of attending some pub sessions in the past with a core of sensitive, accomplished musicians who were able to follow each other into a whole world of chordal and rhythmic improvisation, and always come back to the 'original' tune - so it can't have been too far lost.

I agree that it's really difficult to do, and that it's probably easier with simple English tunes than with complex Irish melodies (for example), but it does happen, and it's magical when it does.


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Subject: RE: improvisation and traditional music
From: Will Fly
Date: 01 Dec 09 - 03:56 AM

I don't think there are limitations on improvising around session tunes. The only borders are the skills of the improviser and the collective taste of the session players, i.e. being sensitive to the feel of the session as a whole. Our monthly session in Ditchling in Sussex has a wide repertoire of styles and, at times - when we have the sax, serpent, trombone and occasional trumpet - the folk stuff suddenly takes on a good New Orleans feel! We had "The Runaway Train" sung last Saturday - to the backing of Cajun accordion and assorted improvisers - and jolly good it was.


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Subject: RE: improvisation and traditional music
From: Will Fly
Date: 01 Dec 09 - 06:46 AM

Coincidentally, my new copy of David Brody's excellent publication, "The Fiddler's Fakebook" arrived this morning. I quote from his preface:

The tunes which follow are not to be taken as the "right" or the "real" version. An application of these terms to a musical genre so wonderfully capable of change and variation as the fiddle tune, that chameleon in binary form, is to misconstrue its nature... In some sense all aural music is improvisational. You only begin to internalize the possibilities of variation and improvisation in a given style through repeated listening.

In other words, use your ears as well as your eyes. This is one of the subjects twittered over ad nauseam in TheSession forum - dots or ears, ears or dots. Using both makes sense to me.


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Subject: RE: improvisation and traditional music
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 01 Dec 09 - 07:09 AM

As an inveterate free-improvising / experimental (experiential the spell checker suggested - well, that's about right too!) intuitive and most certainly non-muso I have a life-long passion for Traditional English Speaking Folk Song and Balladry. I can quite happily lose myself in recordings of Davie Stewart, whose seemingly random chord-voicings often hint in the direction of the avant-garde however so innocent this might be, though I suspect Felix Doran's programmatic Fox Hunt (which appears shorn of its intro on VOTP) might be more deliberate in this respect. In his imitation of farmyard animal sounds there emerges something of the primal that rests at the heart of much so-called modern art and music.

I suppose I crave a more fundamental communion with the essence of Traditional English Speaking Folk Song & Balladry, but with few historical exceptions I'd be hard pushed to think of many established revival performers I could hold up as an example of someone I could listen to as happily as I might Cox, Larner et al. With the traditional singers one gets an immediacy, the pure drop, warts and all which always makes them a perfect joy to listen to as much in terms of sonic experience as in terms of their mastery of an idiomatic musicality. In the revival there emerges, increasingly I fear, a musicality entirely at odds with the raw sonic immediacy of The Tradition, whose masters have been side-lined as mere source-singers and yet whose performances represent a noise-aesthetic which, to my ears, is as integral to the music as the verses of the songs themselves.

Free-improvisation is founded on an appreciation of the beauties of the noise-aesthetic in direct opposition to the corporate blandness of commercial musicality of whatever genre. The noises of the street, estuary, dockyard, building site, factory, farmyard and the hedgerow are essentials of an everyday sonic ambience and offer us another level of musical possibility. To the feral folk musician this is par for the course...

Just though I'd slot in these thoughts to provide another dimension to the discussion! Here's Part one of Derek Bailey's documentary about musical improvisation 'On the Edge' which is well worth a look:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rl6g7AP235Y


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Subject: RE: improvisation and traditional music
From: GUEST,Mr Red
Date: 01 Dec 09 - 07:14 AM

Seth Lakeman is one of the young crop of UK musicians. I haven't seen him in concert (to protect my ears) but he gets a fair outing on national radio and what I hear is a very skillful muso with all the attack that young guns have. He does the UK festival circus pretty well and I have seen ads for his concerts nationally.


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Subject: RE: improvisation and traditional music
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 01 Dec 09 - 08:23 AM

Here's something I did yesterday by way of improv & traditional folk music, albeit freely improvised in D on violin over a drum-loop sampled from an old mate by way of hearty festive provenance:

30 Days Hath November


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Subject: RE: improvisation and traditional music
From: Will Fly
Date: 02 Dec 09 - 06:58 AM

That's an interesting groove. I'm just about to set off up the motorways to Stoke and it would have been good to have this playing in the car through the thickets of the M25. But not enough time to get it from computer to disc at the moment. The loop reminded me of bits of Little Axe's stuff, with just a hint of Massive Attack...


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Subject: RE: improvisation and traditional music
From: Commander Crabbe
Date: 03 Dec 09 - 07:25 PM

I do it all the time

"adapt, improvise and overcome"

CC


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Subject: RE: improvisation and traditional music
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 03 Dec 09 - 08:07 PM

Anytime I get the tune wrong I call it "improvisation". Any time I get the words wrong I call it "a variant". And I'm not far out in saying that, either.

Mistakes that work are the thing that keeps the music alive.


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Subject: RE: improvisation and traditional music
From: Jack Campin
Date: 04 Dec 09 - 07:36 PM

Someone who went to one of Alasdair Fraser's workshops told me about an improvisation exercise he does - play a tune over and over, then go round the circle with each participant improvising a variation on the fly. That sounds like fun.


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Subject: RE: improvisation and traditional music
From: Tootler
Date: 05 Dec 09 - 04:00 PM

I had a similar experience some years ago at an early music summer school. We were working from a book called "The Division Flute" which dates from about 1720. The idea is that you improvise over a "ground" which is essentially a bass line in long notes - typically about 8 bars, usually one or, at most two notes to a bar. The group as a whole played the ground and each member in turn had to improvise a line over the top. It was very stimulating and got me interested in the possibilities of improvisation. I often used to sit at home and start a melody off, then let it take me where it would. I haven't done it much lately, I perhaps have spent too much time learning tunes, so maybe I should start again.

The book itself contains sets of variations played by well known professionals of the day and was written for amateurs who lacked the confidence to produce their own variations.


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Subject: RE: improvisation and traditional music
From: The Sandman
Date: 05 Dec 09 - 05:23 PM

Subject: RE: improvisation and traditional music
From: Jack Campin - PM
Date: 04 Dec 09 - 07:36 PM

Someone who went to one of Alasdair Fraser's workshops told me about an improvisation exercise he does - play a tune over and over, then go round the circle with each participant improvising a variation on the fly. That sounds like fun.
but would they approve of this on www.session .org,would there be mutterances of outrageous?


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Subject: RE: improvisation and traditional music
From: Stringsinger
Date: 06 Dec 09 - 10:37 AM

folk thrives on improvisation of a sort. A variant is often created by learning a
song "the wrong way" with "mistakes".


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Subject: RE: improvisation and traditional music
From: The Sandman
Date: 06 Dec 09 - 01:08 PM

im my experience most of the improvisation is of a melodic nature,rather than chordal.


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Subject: RE: improvisation and traditional music
From: Wolfhound person
Date: 06 Dec 09 - 02:07 PM

What Tootler describes - the use of ground and divisions - underlies some of the Northumbrian pipe variation sets, which are a continuing tradition amongst a minority of players.
They're mostly melodic divisions with occasional forays into rhythmic. The chordal basis is largely defined by the drones in this case.

Some top players improvise them in sessions, in fact there is one who can improvise harmonies to the existing sets on the fly. Some write them down, and learn - composing them for future use.

Paws


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