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Tempo for dancing

Les in Chorlton 07 Dec 10 - 12:57 PM
GUEST,FloraG 07 Dec 10 - 01:54 PM
Will Fly 07 Dec 10 - 01:59 PM
mandotim 07 Dec 10 - 02:03 PM
Alan Day 07 Dec 10 - 03:12 PM
GUEST,pariskan 07 Dec 10 - 03:18 PM
John P 07 Dec 10 - 03:27 PM
jennyr 07 Dec 10 - 03:52 PM
JohnInKansas 07 Dec 10 - 04:28 PM
The Sandman 07 Dec 10 - 05:23 PM
Les in Chorlton 08 Dec 10 - 05:44 AM
GUEST 08 Dec 10 - 06:28 AM
greg stephens 08 Dec 10 - 06:34 AM
SteveMansfield 08 Dec 10 - 08:25 AM
G-Force 08 Dec 10 - 09:09 AM
Alan Day 08 Dec 10 - 09:35 AM
Les in Chorlton 08 Dec 10 - 10:19 AM
acegardener 08 Dec 10 - 10:28 AM
greg stephens 08 Dec 10 - 10:28 AM
Desert Dancer 08 Dec 10 - 10:33 AM
Sarah the flute 08 Dec 10 - 11:13 AM
Alan Day 08 Dec 10 - 11:19 AM
The Sandman 08 Dec 10 - 12:31 PM
SteveMansfield 08 Dec 10 - 12:35 PM
The Sandman 08 Dec 10 - 01:17 PM
The Sandman 08 Dec 10 - 01:21 PM
Les in Chorlton 08 Dec 10 - 01:37 PM
acegardener 08 Dec 10 - 02:28 PM
GUEST,999 08 Dec 10 - 02:37 PM
Alan Day 08 Dec 10 - 02:37 PM
GUEST,LDT 08 Dec 10 - 05:18 PM
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Subject: Tempo for dancing
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 07 Dec 10 - 12:57 PM

I guess experienced dance bands play at an appropriate tempo intuitively and because they have played together a lot. But how do such bands get there?

Do they sit down with a metronome, mechanical or other wise, and play each tune, work out, agree and write down the beats per minute then some one uses a metronome to estabish the intro. to each tune as they are about to play it?

How crucial is a drummer in this process? And if no drummer?

Cheers
L in C#


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Subject: RE: Tempo for dancing
From: GUEST,FloraG
Date: 07 Dec 10 - 01:54 PM

Hi Les

I both play and call so the rest of the band follow me - I usually use a melodeon for this. If I start too quick then I will slow down - but usually I do the reverse of this - starting a bit slower until the dancers know the dance and then speed up a bit. Children dance quicker than adults as they have short legs. If its a single set dance I would tend to slow down for anybody struggling with the speed, and speed up for the young blood. The melodeon has a good volume range so there is no problem holding the band together and the band have all been with me for ever. We don't have a drummer.

I remember when I started, listening to Alistair Andersons dance music and being surprised at how quick it was. Radio 2 also did some barn dance tunes with calling - and I got an idea of the speeds from that.

The rest of the band just have to listen - I prefer them not to use music so they can also watch the dancers.

I find waltzes the most difficult to get the speed right.

We started as a band that played in pubs so we tended to do most things at break neck speed so I now use different tune sets for the pubs than the dances. This way I'm less likely to muddle the two up.

I'm always facinated to know how scottish bands manage the speed as they have a single chord introduction and then they are off.

How do you manage the speed Les?
FloraG.


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Subject: RE: Tempo for dancing
From: Will Fly
Date: 07 Dec 10 - 01:59 PM

Every band I've played in - and I've played in several different bands in different musical genres - gets its tempos from a variety of sources. In the case of rock'n roll, there is a widely accepted repertoire of songs and tunes which people dance to. Same in jazz and - I suppose - the same in ceilidhs.

As far as ceilidh bands are concerned, some have drummers and some don't. The process of setting tempos is not as mechanical as writing down BPM or a metronome. In many cases, experience tells you what speeds to play the dances at. And how do you get experience? By playing at dances and watching the dancers! Catch 22! :-)


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Subject: RE: Tempo for dancing
From: mandotim
Date: 07 Dec 10 - 02:03 PM

I play in a Bluegrass band, and our 'concert' music is often very fast indeed. We also play for barn dances and other dance events; the tempo is very different, and we don't have a drummer. I think the key is to imagine yourself dancing as you are playing, and to watch the dancers as you play. It's also useful to have a system of communication between band members, such as gestures or other movements that suggest 'faster' or 'slower'. The rhythm in our band is generally set by the bass player (who does the 1 and 3 beats) and me on mandolin (doing chops on 2 and 4). It's also useful to be able to play a tune at a 'very slow' tempo, in case the caller wants to walk the dancers through a particularly difficult set of moves.
As always, a lot of it comes down to practice and experience, and it does get easier the more you do it.


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Subject: RE: Tempo for dancing
From: Alan Day
Date: 07 Dec 10 - 03:12 PM

I have played in Ballroom Dance Bands ,English French Traditional bands and in almost every case dancing the dances, or studying the dances will help set the tempo.By carefully looking at the dancers feet you can also quickly see if you are playing too fast or slow. For English Dancing if you are playing too fast the steps taken by the dancers will be smaller to enable them to keep up with the music. French Dancers take smaller steps so their music is played much faster than ours.
The most difficult place to play set speed dancing is C # House some like fast tempo, others slower .All sorts of hand signals pass between the dancers and the band ,some say speed up, others slow down.It is a place where you cannot win.
Al


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Subject: RE: Tempo for dancing
From: GUEST,pariskan
Date: 07 Dec 10 - 03:18 PM

If you're not used to playing tunes fast enough (or slow enough) to dance by, then a metronome is indeed helpful to practice with. A good range is 112 to 120 bpm for contra. At the dance itself, look to the caller for instruction -- they'll tell you if you're too fast or too slow. Watch the dancers, too. If they're struggling with the dance, you might slow it down; if they're looking bored, speed it up. :)

You don't need a drummer; the music is rhythmic enough that even the melody players can express the tempo for the band to pick up. It does help for an inexperienced band to have a rhythm player, though -- guitar, keyboard, accordion, etc.

As a Scottish country dancer, I never had a problem predicting the tempo of the music from the chord. There's usually a couple of pick-up notes, or an in-breath that signals the beat between the chord and the tune.


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Subject: RE: Tempo for dancing
From: John P
Date: 07 Dec 10 - 03:27 PM

Learn the dances. It becomes obvious. A lot of drummers aren't any better than anyone else at keeping a steady tempo.


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Subject: RE: Tempo for dancing
From: jennyr
Date: 07 Dec 10 - 03:52 PM

In my experience as a caller, experienced bands generally know how fast to start a tune and can adjust their tempo if the dancers need it. Adding to Flora's suggestions, it's generally a lot easier for bands to speed up than to slow down, so if in doubt they tend to start a bit slow.

Less experienced bands quite often ask me to set the tempo, which I can only do by galloping around the stage a bit. I like to hope it provides extra entertainment, as well as an incentive for the bands to work out their own speeds fairly quickly!

Some of the bands I work with have drummers, and others don't. Of those which do, I can only think of one where the drummer sets the tempo - generally there's one melody player leading, to a greater or lesser extent.


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Subject: RE: Tempo for dancing
From: JohnInKansas
Date: 07 Dec 10 - 04:28 PM

Most "called dances" can use a pretty much fixed temp, but an additional difficulty appears with "ballroom dancing."

While it probably makes little difference at a high school prom, there may still be some "elder" dancers who actually learned to dance, so when playing for the Elks or Moose club (with mostly older and more experienced dancers) it may be important to vary the tempo within each song to accomodate the "dips" and "swings" that the dancers want time to insert.

The appropriate changes usually are a little "hold" on a note or two, usually at the end of a phrase, although more subtle variations may be appropriate for some tunes and with some dancers.

The only way to do it right is to watch one or two of the couples and "make it easy for them." Usually it's best to pick the couple that is "performing" best to watch. The tempo "schmaltz" that fits their dance is very necessary to them, and won't hurt anything for the rest of the crowd.

I've related before here the incident when, after several polite requests to our "band leader" that he "watch the dancers," a sweet little old lady walked politely up to the stage and shoved an ice cream cone ..up..the..bandleader's .... into the bell of our "leader's" trumpet.

He just didn't listen. She was right (if a little extreme). He was wrong.

She came back to the stage (escorted by her partner this time) to thank us for doing "much better" on the next number, and politely didn't mention that the trumpet was missing in that piece since he was still trying the get the muck out of his bugle.

John


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Subject: RE: Tempo for dancing
From: The Sandman
Date: 07 Dec 10 - 05:23 PM

metronomes are useful for practise for certain set dances like the blackbird, garden of daisies, rodneys glory, these solo dances are normally played at a particular precise speed for competitions, it therefore makes sense to practise them at the speed that is required for competitions, the same goes for solo hornpipes and slip jigs and double jigs and reels when these tunes are going to be used for solo dancers.
for example solo slip jigs 113, solo hornpipes the same, garden of daisies 138 etc


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Subject: RE: Tempo for dancing
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 08 Dec 10 - 05:44 AM

It looks as if nobody much actually sits down with a metronome and sorts out an appropriate tempo. It also looks like somewhere between 4 to 8 band members, a caller and dozens of dancers a tempo happens. Is that about right?

L in C#


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Subject: RE: Tempo for dancing
From: GUEST
Date: 08 Dec 10 - 06:28 AM

Scottish bands often have either a piano or an accordion that is played with a prominent bass, so even without a drum they have a very solid rhythm behind them. Also, RSCD dances (for instance) don't vary much in tempo - both jigs and reels are played at - I think - about 112 beats per minute. I expect some Scottish bands get so used to these speeds that they can produce them almost without thinking about them.

English ceilidh is much more varied, not just in the dances and the tunes but also in the ages and styles of the dancers. Even the amount of space available in the hall can make a difference to the optimum speed - more space allows bigger, slightly slower steps in a dance like, for example, Cumberland Square Eight.

So even if someone had worked out a metronome tempo for each dance, there would be no easy way of referring to this when playing for the dance, and in any case it might have to be varied according to the criteria above. I guess there's normally one player who, in communication with the caller, sets the speed and whom the others keep an eye (and ear) on during the tune.

Marje


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Subject: RE: Tempo for dancing
From: greg stephens
Date: 08 Dec 10 - 06:34 AM

The best tempo for dances will vary according to where you are, and what social grouping you are playing for. Historically,in Britain people have tended to play faster in the north, and slower in the south.I cut my teeth playing in traditional bands in Lancashire in the 60's, so I naturally feel a "right" tempo in my head appropriate for there. So I tend to feel Scottish bands are too fast, and the south coast and Cotswold clumpers too slow. Interestingly, modern researched showed this regional variation could be statistically traced in the popularities of tracks played for dancing at night clubs throughout Britain. After that research was published I wrote a letter to the Guraidian (see below). This contians followable links to the reports of that research.

"The research in your article (Rhythm of life is quicker up north, February 5) mirrors what has been often observed historically, most famously by Keats 200 years ago. He went to a dance in Ireby in Cumberland, and said the local dancing compared to London as did beating up batter to stirring a cup of tea. This pattern applies to folk music to this day, just as much as to dance music in clubs. I find the fusion band Shooglenifty at full pelt in Scotland a bit overexciting, whereas if I go to Brighton and hear Dan Quinn and Will Duke play I often fall asleep while waiting for them to play the next note.
Greg Stephens
Stoke-on-Trewnt"


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Subject: RE: Tempo for dancing
From: SteveMansfield
Date: 08 Dec 10 - 08:25 AM

It looks as if nobody much actually sits down with a metronome and sorts out an appropriate tempo. It also looks like somewhere between 4 to 8 band members, a caller and dozens of dancers a tempo happens. Is that about right?

Well sort of ... if nobody in the band, and the caller, all don't have the vaguest of gut feelings about how fast a particular tune should be played for a particular dance, then the only way that a speed is going to evolve is by watching the dancers. Basically, if they're struggling to keep up you're too fast, if they're asleep it's too slow. But a group of experienced dancers will enjoy zipping through a dance that would completely flummox a group of absolute beginners, so you play to your audience.

As discussed in the previous thread about A-ceilidh you need a lead musician (by no means necessarily the drummer!) who takes the overall responsibility for finding the tempo, and everyone else pretty needs to agree to go along with that. The caller should have a rough idea of what sort of speed they've got in mind, and any decent caller will also quite happily speed up / slow down the band as necessary.

Go and listen to other dance bands (live, playing for real dancers, not on CD) and that will give you a lot of basic feel for tempos. I'd regard a metronome as an absolute last resort, because unless you're actually going to have it ticking away on stage (and what a fun band that would be!) you'll not stick rigidly to that tempo anyway, thank God.

Greg's point that different occasions & places warrant different speeds are a good one.


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Subject: RE: Tempo for dancing
From: G-Force
Date: 08 Dec 10 - 09:09 AM

" But how do such bands get there? "

The sad truth is that some bands and musicians never do. We stopped going to our local folk dance club because the resident musicians always played everything far too fast. The dancers could hardly get their feet off the floor, and went shuffling round like a sand dance.

Another thing I've noticed is the more musicians you've got, the faster they play and the more they tend to speed up.

And don't even get me started on morris bands.


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Subject: RE: Tempo for dancing
From: Alan Day
Date: 08 Dec 10 - 09:35 AM

I think you are being unfair Greg ,Will Duke and Dan Quinn X F & F are VERY experienced players of Country Dance Music and as near to strict tempo as you will get with two squuzebox players. Speed is not the essence of dancing but playing with lift and bounce.English Country Dancers lift their feet high off the ground whereas French Dancers and perhaps up North they do not lift their feet up at all.
Al


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Subject: RE: Tempo for dancing
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 08 Dec 10 - 10:19 AM

Maybe Greg was poking fun?

A related issue is speeding up. Some tunes seem to be traps for this. We have had 28 in The Beech Band and generally have more than 10 so organisation and tempo are a bit tricky. We will be discussing stuff with Greg in a bit more detail probably in terms of a workshop sometime next year so perhaps we will sort stuff ouy then.

Cheers

L in C#


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Subject: RE: Tempo for dancing
From: acegardener
Date: 08 Dec 10 - 10:28 AM

Quite right, lift and bounce not speed is the essence of a good dance tempo. When I used to play lead in a band I had a sytem of foot tapping that would bring the rest of the band, drummer included, back into line. If the dancers were walking, too slow, skipping just right, then lift the music with a bit of bounce in the tunes. My pet hate now is the trend of using a big drum in morris/street dancing which drags the tune down and the dancers plod around.


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Subject: RE: Tempo for dancing
From: greg stephens
Date: 08 Dec 10 - 10:28 AM

Alan Day: as Les in Chorlton spotted, I might have been avin a larff. Dan Quinn and Will Duke are old friends of mine.
Having said that, the currently modish received wisdom that English dance music should be played slowly so that the dancers could leap up in the air a lot was a fabrication: by southern nouveaux fogies like Peta Webb, the Stradlings, the Old Swans, the Flowers and Frolics etc. This became accepted "best practise" on the folk scene, creating a parallel universe interface between the trendy "English country music" types on one side of the wall, and the infinite variety of actual folk traditions on the other.


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Subject: RE: Tempo for dancing
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 08 Dec 10 - 10:33 AM

Yes, metronomes are certainly useful for practice -- they (or an attentive dancer) can alert you to variations in tempo: are your jigs all faster than your reels? B parts slower than A parts? If during practice you can get an idea of appropriate tempos -- perhaps with the help of a caller -- then you can get a feel for those tempos. Use the metronome to check yourself at the beginning and end of a tune or set of tunes. Do you have a tendency to speed up or slow down?

A good dance musician and band use all the cues mentioned above, but for learning, use all the tools available.

A strong rhythm player who has the idea is a good thing, but it's pretty hard to drag the whole band along. Everyone's got to work on it, individually, as well as together.

One last thought - a band of players who are all staring intently at written music will be much less likely to be playing together in time and maintaining good tempos. I'm not entirely against having the dots handy, but you need to know the music well enough that the entire focus is not on the page: ears and eyes elsewhere are essential.

~ Becky in Tucson


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Subject: RE: Tempo for dancing
From: Sarah the flute
Date: 08 Dec 10 - 11:13 AM

LOOK AT THE DANCERS !!!
That is the only real guide.
The caller will keep them in check but it is up to the musicians to alter the speed according to ability.
You need to aim for a steady rythmn not one that varies so the dancers can easily tell the number of steps to the string of music.
Some experienced players are able to slot in an extra couple of bars to allow people to catch up (especially when two sets are slightly out of sync) and caller chucks in an extra swing to get everyone back together.
The worst thing of all (especially if the caller is a musician) is playing the "wrong" part of the tune to the "wrong" part of the dance - then it throws everyone dancers, callers the lot.
Another problem area as has been said is waltzes. The problem is that a lot of waltz tunes that are played in pubs etc are not in strict ballroom tempo and so are incredibly hard to dance to.
The other thing to be aware of is different styles ie the rythmn for a Scottish dance will be different to the more flowing style of an Irish dance.
Best thing to do is to go as a band to a few ceilidhs and learn the dances and get a feel for it all.

Sarah

Best thing to do is to go to a few


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Subject: RE: Tempo for dancing
From: Alan Day
Date: 08 Dec 10 - 11:19 AM

Sorry Greg, missed your smile as you wrote it.
Metronomes create accurate and consistent timing, but they do not create the lift created by a good experienced dance musician.
There are some fantastic bands to listen to in a row of seats , but to dance to they are rubbish .
Al


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Subject: RE: Tempo for dancing
From: The Sandman
Date: 08 Dec 10 - 12:31 PM

correct Alan,... but accurate and consistent timing is also VERY important, as is the correct speed for particular solo dances, by using a metronome for practise, it is possible to have a pretty good idea of speed for such dances as Blackbird, Garden of Daisies., OR FOR SOLO SLIP JIGS , HORNPIPES ETC.
Of course nothing is as good as actually practising with the dancer.
... if the dancer indicates a little slower or faster, the player must be able to adjust.


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Subject: RE: Tempo for dancing
From: SteveMansfield
Date: 08 Dec 10 - 12:35 PM

Sorry, are we talking about solo dances in competitions here, or (as I surmised) ceilidhs?


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Subject: RE: Tempo for dancing
From: The Sandman
Date: 08 Dec 10 - 01:17 PM

well, sfmans,
if you were at a ceilidh in ireland you might have a solo dancer want to dance the blackbird, whether it is a competition or a ceilidh having a clue about the correct tempo is important, so in the event of not being able to practise with a dancer, a metronome at a certain speed for practice can be useful.


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Subject: RE: Tempo for dancing
From: The Sandman
Date: 08 Dec 10 - 01:21 PM

and .....competitions have dictated what modern day dancers want as speed, so to satisfy the dancers an idea of APPROPRIATE spEed needs to be known.


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Subject: RE: Tempo for dancing
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 08 Dec 10 - 01:37 PM

No, just trying to decide how to get from silence into a dance tune that social dancers can dance to without falling asleep or tripping up

L in C#


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Subject: RE: Tempo for dancing
From: acegardener
Date: 08 Dec 10 - 02:28 PM

2 long notes then in.


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Subject: RE: Tempo for dancing
From: GUEST,999
Date: 08 Dec 10 - 02:37 PM

Tempo for dancing        

I`m in favour of it.


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Subject: RE: Tempo for dancing
From: Alan Day
Date: 08 Dec 10 - 02:37 PM

That's no good at the end of the first long note Les will be asleep!!
Al


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Subject: RE: Tempo for dancing
From: GUEST,LDT
Date: 08 Dec 10 - 05:18 PM

Maybe a musical equivilent of a rolling start. ;)


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