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The tyranny of D and G at sessions

Will Fly 19 May 13 - 07:19 AM
Jack Campin 19 May 13 - 07:41 AM
doc.tom 19 May 13 - 07:49 AM
GUEST,Grishka 19 May 13 - 08:30 AM
Mr Happy 19 May 13 - 08:32 AM
Jim I 19 May 13 - 08:32 AM
Steve Gardham 19 May 13 - 08:44 AM
Will Fly 19 May 13 - 08:50 AM
Steve Shaw 19 May 13 - 09:02 AM
Will Fly 19 May 13 - 09:11 AM
GUEST,alex s no cookie 19 May 13 - 09:25 AM
Steve Gardham 19 May 13 - 09:26 AM
Harmonium Hero 19 May 13 - 09:37 AM
Will Fly 19 May 13 - 09:40 AM
Brian Peters 19 May 13 - 09:46 AM
Brian Peters 19 May 13 - 09:50 AM
Will Fly 19 May 13 - 09:54 AM
Harmonium Hero 19 May 13 - 11:38 AM
Johnny J 19 May 13 - 12:06 PM
McGrath of Harlow 19 May 13 - 12:10 PM
Brian Peters 19 May 13 - 12:12 PM
GUEST,Grishka 19 May 13 - 12:34 PM
Marje 19 May 13 - 02:17 PM
Lester 19 May 13 - 02:58 PM
JohnInKansas 19 May 13 - 03:23 PM
The Sandman 19 May 13 - 03:26 PM
Leadfingers 19 May 13 - 03:55 PM
Lester 19 May 13 - 04:03 PM
Steve Gardham 19 May 13 - 04:23 PM
McGrath of Harlow 19 May 13 - 05:09 PM
Gurney 19 May 13 - 05:23 PM
GUEST,Grishka 19 May 13 - 05:36 PM
GUEST,leeneia 19 May 13 - 08:26 PM
JohnInKansas 20 May 13 - 02:45 AM
Jack Campin 20 May 13 - 03:36 AM
Marje 20 May 13 - 04:01 AM
McGrath of Harlow 20 May 13 - 04:02 AM
banjoman 20 May 13 - 04:44 AM
Leadfingers 20 May 13 - 04:46 AM
GUEST,Jack Sprocket 20 May 13 - 04:52 AM
Marje 20 May 13 - 04:56 AM
Vic Smith 20 May 13 - 06:28 AM
GUEST,Grishka 20 May 13 - 06:35 AM
Steve Shaw 20 May 13 - 06:50 AM
GUEST,Jon 20 May 13 - 06:51 AM
Steve Shaw 20 May 13 - 06:52 AM
GUEST,Chris B (Born Again Scouser) 20 May 13 - 07:02 AM
GUEST,guest phil 20 May 13 - 07:06 AM
greg stephens 20 May 13 - 07:07 AM
TheSnail 20 May 13 - 07:12 AM
Will Fly 20 May 13 - 07:17 AM
GUEST,Tattie Bogle 20 May 13 - 07:17 AM
Jack Campin 20 May 13 - 07:22 AM
Will Fly 20 May 13 - 07:32 AM
Jack Campin 20 May 13 - 07:42 AM
Steve Shaw 20 May 13 - 07:48 AM
Alan Day 20 May 13 - 08:39 AM
The Sandman 20 May 13 - 08:40 AM
The Sandman 20 May 13 - 08:40 AM
GUEST,Grishka 20 May 13 - 08:45 AM
TheSnail 20 May 13 - 09:10 AM
Howard Jones 20 May 13 - 10:36 AM
Chris Partington 20 May 13 - 11:42 AM
GUEST 20 May 13 - 11:42 AM
Harmonium Hero 20 May 13 - 11:56 AM
Harmonium Hero 20 May 13 - 11:59 AM
McGrath of Harlow 20 May 13 - 01:37 PM
bubblyrat 20 May 13 - 02:13 PM
Jack Campin 20 May 13 - 02:32 PM
Chris Partington 21 May 13 - 05:00 AM
kendall 21 May 13 - 06:47 AM
Will Fly 21 May 13 - 07:08 AM
GUEST,rob naylor 21 May 13 - 05:44 PM
kendall 21 May 13 - 07:44 PM
Will Fly 22 May 13 - 04:03 AM
treewind 22 May 13 - 05:29 AM
Rob Naylor 22 May 13 - 06:04 AM
Jack Campin 22 May 13 - 06:56 AM
Will Fly 22 May 13 - 10:08 AM
Rob Naylor 22 May 13 - 10:26 AM
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Subject: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: Will Fly
Date: 19 May 13 - 07:19 AM

I'm a great lover of "mixed" sessions and, by "mixed", I mean sessions which are not devoted exclusively to one type of music such as Irish or English or Old-time. I have to say, though, that one way to be out on your own when starting a tune in a session in England is to slip into a key like F or Bb - and quite often it seems that the whole evening is spent playing in D or G.

Leafing through my assorted collection of tune books old and new, it's quite clear that there was a much greater variety of keys used in the playing of older generations. The early 19th century Newcastle fiddler James Hill frequently played hornpipes in Bb and F - perhaps showing his Scottish birth origins in doing so - and the latest addition to my collection, "The Winders of Wyresdale" has a number of excellent tunes in the flat keys. For a tenor guitar (tuned CGDA) player like myself, these tunes are a godsend and break the hegemony of the usual keys.

I think there are perhaps two contributions to the narrowing range of keys. One is the rise and use of the free reeds - concertinas and melodeons - with more restricted key ranges. (Restricted in this country, it seems, because I've heard French melodeon players grumble about the English propensity for D and G and C). The other might be the reluctance or inability of some violin players to progress out of first position, though this is arguable. I would also say that I know some fine Duet concertina players (Irish Bishop and Ralph Jordan for example) who have mastery of a wide range of keys, but these players are relatively thin on the ground.

I should add that the majority of players I meet at my regular monthly session in Ditchling are fine players (some of them are in the band that I play in!), and that the sessions themselves are great fun. But even we joke sometimes of an evening with remarks like "here's another one in D..." and, if you listen to Scottish music, music from Cape Breton, music from France, for example, there seems to be more key variety.

Is all this worth bothering about? Well, I believe every key has its own resonance and playing a bunch of tunes in different keys gives colour to an evening.


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: Jack Campin
Date: 19 May 13 - 07:41 AM

This is always a source of culture shock when I go to Whitby. Even A is seen as something foreign and exotic. And there is a gruesome English way of doing the Bluebell Polka that simply leaves out the section in C, screwing up the whole point of tunes like that (they typically have a key progression that goe I-V-I-IV-I).

Come to think of it, I can play the Bluebell a tone down as well, giving a sequence F-C-F-Bb-F-G-D-G-C-G. There are guitarists up here who can follow that.


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: doc.tom
Date: 19 May 13 - 07:49 AM

Blame Peter Kennedy for persuading Hohner to produce their cheap 2-row melodeons in G/D for 'his' english market. It's amazing what effect doing something like that can have in the longer run. Will's absolutely right.


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: GUEST,Grishka
Date: 19 May 13 - 08:30 AM

Absolutely agreed, Will. Listeners grow very tired if the key does not change.

Of course one has no choice if the policy is to tolerate (largely) diatonic instruments, or chords from a limited free-reed-"basses" preset. But in all other cases, the result is well worth the additional effort.

Guitarists can use capos. As for fiddlers, the problem with flat keys is not the first position as such, but players who heavily rely on the use of empty strings. This is generally discouraged anyway, because the sounds differ from the ones of fingered notes. (There are exceptions to this rule, of course.) Thus, flat keys provide a good training.

If singers are involved, trained or untrained, they should be allowed to determine the key freely, or at least up to a semitone.


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: Mr Happy
Date: 19 May 13 - 08:32 AM

.........so the squeezers need Strebs, Rolands or PAs?


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: Jim I
Date: 19 May 13 - 08:32 AM

"Come to think of it, I can play the Bluebell a tone down as well, giving a sequence F-C-F-Bb-F-G-D-G-C-G. There are guitarists up here who can follow that."

Hi Jack
I seem to recall the late Jimmy Greenan playing like that but he also added another repeat which I think may have been in E flat! He used to grin at the guitarists (usually me!) in evil anticipation.


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 19 May 13 - 08:44 AM

Most sessions are there so anybody and everybody can join in, including instruments in restricted keys. Most sessions welcome the odd solo in whatever key. I personally don't see a problem, but then I prefer to just join in rather than show off.


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: Will Fly
Date: 19 May 13 - 08:50 AM

I agree with you Steve - they exist for fun - but it's a shame that the key restrictions of some instruments also restrict the colour and shape of an evening's music in a way it wouldn't have done some years ago.

It's not a question of showing off - some tunes just sound so much better in a particular key. Here's an example. That nice Detroit strathspey (!) by Joan Macdonald Boes "The Sweetness of Mary" is invariably played down here in Sussex in D. The written key - aimed at the violin - is A, and it sounds so much more vibrant when played in A.

I'm not making a big deal of it all - just sorry that so many different and lovely tunes are crammed into a few key ranges.


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 19 May 13 - 09:02 AM

I can play a 10-hole diatonic G harmonica in G, A Dorian, E Aeolian, D Mixolydian and C Lydian. I can play a 10-hole D harp in D, E Dorian, B Aeolian, G Lydian and A Mixolydian. OK, so Lydian is pretty infrequent. I can, and do, switch harps in sets of tunes. I use an A harp quite frequently in addition to the above if I need A major. Apart from the A major in some cases, I believe you can do all those on a simple D/G melodeon. Not only that, if someone decides to do a set in Bb/F, you can always drop out for a bit. This discussion strikes me as being somewhat spurious.


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: Will Fly
Date: 19 May 13 - 09:11 AM

Well I don't think it's "spurious" - "false or fake" - it's a perfectly valid argument to propose: (a) that the range of keys at sessions has become more restricted over the years and (b) that such restrictions of key diminish the tone colour and range of the musical event.

You may disagree or not even care - but spurious it ain't.


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: GUEST,alex s no cookie
Date: 19 May 13 - 09:25 AM

I agree with Will - different keys do give different "flavours", which is very welcome to guitarists like myself who find the D/G tyranny a bit monotonous in a session.
Capos are great when playing for vocalists, but I also try to use the different major shapes whenever possible in sessions, as each has its own special characteristics. For example E major capo 3 is still G major but sounds very different. Ditto A major capo 5 instead of D. And I love it when a tune slides into a minor key, where again you get different sounds - D minor capo 2 is not the same sound as E minor.
Vive la difference, as our French cousins would say.


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 19 May 13 - 09:26 AM

To be honest all the sessions I've ever been to A is an accepted additional key anyway and I wouldn't sit long in a good session without somebody going off into A. I can play in A on the DG melodeon, stuff like Athole Highlanders, and on my concertina I have ADGC anyway so Bluebell Polka isn't a problem. If I was in a session and enough non-restricted instruments were there as well I'd probably give it the full works, but if it was mostly DG boxes I'd miss out the C. Banjo players frequently shoot off into A and you either follow or have a sip of your pint. If somebody starts up in some exotic key, it's obviously someone after a solo so you sit politely and listen.

I understand your point, Will, but for me the main point of a session is as many people joining in as can and having a good old time.


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: Harmonium Hero
Date: 19 May 13 - 09:37 AM

Steve S.: I was just about to say what Will has just said; he got there while I was signing in. Another point that hasn't been made (although it may have been implied)is that it limits the number of key changes within a given set of tunes. I think the problem lies more with melodeons than everything else. They tend to be the louder instruments, and also come with the bass accompaniment, which does rather tend to allow them to take the lead, especially if there are more than one, as is often the case. In fact, it is possible to play in C on a D/G box. there are usually a couple of buttons at the bottom of the rows giving the accidentals for the middle octave. A bit limiting, I grant you, but they are there. Use the bloody things! OK, you haven't got an F chord. Use your imagination. There are ways round this. Or learn to play a chromatic box - B/C, C#/D etc. or a C#/D/G box. Get something with more basses. Then you can play sets which run G-D-A, or G-C-D, etc. It makes things more interesting and more of a challenge. It also means that you can switch from major to minor in the same key, where the tune is written that way rather than reducing everything to stright G major, D major or E minor. It means that, possibly for the first time ever in an 'English' session, the C music in the Horse's Branle might actually be played as written. Well I can dream, can't I?
John Kelly.


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: Will Fly
Date: 19 May 13 - 09:40 AM

for me the main point of a session is as many people joining in as can and having a good old time

And for me too. I've run my own session in my local pub for nearly 5 years now - through thick and thin, including a recent furore when the landlord and landlady decamped overnight, thus closing the pub for 10 days. I'm proud to say that everyone is welcome - regardless of skill or material - and the purpose of the evening is to make music, have fun, keep music live and join in good fellowship. I'm proud to say that people I've encouraged over time have summoned the strength to sing and play before people for the first time - and that's important.

As a host, these are my principles. As a musician, I have slightly different aspirations. One of the problems of "as many people joining in as can" - which I fully support - is that the opportunities to play something slightly more off the beaten track diminish. Or rather, not that they diminish but that you're out on your own, as I said in my first post. Which is a shame, IMO.


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: Brian Peters
Date: 19 May 13 - 09:46 AM

I certainly take Will's point about different keys having a different sound and feel to them, but it's a bit harsh to blame it all on the box players. I take my fiddle along to a good few Old Timey sessions (not usually places that welcome melodeons), and they're even more restricted - you can be playing in D for a hour or more. That's partly becasue the fiddle style involves heavy use of open strings, but also because banjos are even less flexible than boxes, so you tend to stay in one key until - by mutual agreement - all the banjo players retune, and you then spend an hour in G instead.

If Peter Kennedy hadn't demanded G/D boxes, we'd probably have ended up with a nation of C/G or C/F melodeons, like they use on the continent - in which case the choice of keys would be just as limited, and the fiddle players would be complaining. I find it hard to believe, incidentally, that French musicians would complain about tunes in C, since that's home territory for them.

If you play harmonica it's easy to take along a boxful but, although more than a few melodeon players have boxes in C/F and other keys, you don't always want to clutter up a packed session room with them. Pretty well all G/D players can find their way around E minor, and plenty can play in A, Am and Bm as well. However, I agree with Steve that inclusivity is an important aspect of sessions and, while it can be refreshing if someone dives off into a non-standard key from time to time, doing too much of that is similar in terms of etiquette to leading off technically difficult tunes that most of the room can't play.


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: Brian Peters
Date: 19 May 13 - 09:50 AM

"Or learn to play a chromatic box - B/C, C#/D etc. or a C#/D/G box. Get something with more basses"

But that's a different instrument - and not the one I like to play. You might as well tell a five-string banjo frailer to take up tenor.


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: Will Fly
Date: 19 May 13 - 09:54 AM

Points taken, Brian.

One thing that I mentioned in my original thread - which I don't think has been touched on - is the change of key range over time. The old general tune books that I have (and I exclude the ones aimed at a particular instrument like the small pipes) do seem to contain tunes with a wider span.

I suppose that "sessions" as we know them now are a comparatively more recent phenomenon, and the tune books - particularly the family tune books - were collections used mainly for accompanying dances and social events.


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: Harmonium Hero
Date: 19 May 13 - 11:38 AM

I take Brian's point that the chromatic box is a different instrument. I know box players who can play both systems, although admittedly not many. However, the C#/D/G box is a combination of both systems, and is a good way of easing your way into the other system.
Actually, I read somewhere that Irish players used the D/G box up until the 1950s, and then switched to the B/C, and in more recent years, many have moved to D/D#, or C#/D etc. And it's not entirely the melodeonistas who are to blame. Flute and Whistle players don't like playing in A either, although flute players could, if they wanted to. Some do. The whistle is a bit more problematical, but it's a small instrument, and even the expensive ones are not in the same price range as squeeze boxes, fiddles, banjos and such. You could always get a couple of whistles in different keys, just as the moothie players do. Of course, there is the option of learning to play a chromatic instrument as well as your flute/whistle/pipes/melodeon, so that you can join in with whatever is going on.
John Kelly.


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: Johnny J
Date: 19 May 13 - 12:06 PM

You can choose to play in whatever key you wish at a session but it all depends on how inclusive you wish things to be.

The great majority of Irish tunes tend to be roughly based on "G" or "D" while in Scotland it's more likely to be "D" and "A". Of course, this includes all those which are in closely related modal and/or minor keys and so it's not quite as simple, as most guitar accompianists will (Or ought to!!!) know.

Even then, there are many popular tunes in other keys such F, C, Bb,Gm and so on which are still very common in many sessions. So, they are certainly, not all excluded.

It's not really a big deal to be able to play tunes in a less usual key if you know your instrument well enough.
However, I find that it's much easier to do this with those tunes I've already learned in these keys rather than have to do this "on the hoof" so to speak.
So, perhaps, this is where the problem arises for most people when it's more difficult to pick up these tunes and play them "on the fly" in a session situation when the keys are a little more unusual.

It's true though that traditional music has been played in a wide range of keys historically. For instance, the clarsach is usually tuned in Eb and there are many tunes arranged for this key and Bb which just involves chaging the A levers(from flat to natural).


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 19 May 13 - 12:10 PM

Different keys can change the colour, but on a guitar only if they involve different fingering. Capoing up to play in a different key can make it sound brighter, but the sound stays basically the same.


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: Brian Peters
Date: 19 May 13 - 12:12 PM

"The old general tune books that I have (and I exclude the ones aimed at a particular instrument like the small pipes) do seem to contain tunes with a wider span."

Like you, Will, I've spent time with old MS collections and been strcuk by the frequent use of flat keys. But I think you're talking about more recent collections here. Those little landscape format books that EFDSS published in the 1950s have tunes in A, C, F and Bb (I have '100 English Folk Dance Airs' in front of me). However, back in those days a dance band would more than likely have been led by a paino accordion. The whole aim of the English Country Music Revival of the 1970s was to get away from the piano accordion and non-English repertoire, and to paly tunes like Oscar Woods did.

Harmonium Hero is right in that some melodeonists at least eventually find the limited flexibility of their instrument frustrating, and go either for a diatonic/chromatic hybrid, a three-row, or a machine with extra buttons and chords (I've a few of those myself). There's always the feeling, though, that you're losing the essential simplistic beauty of the instrument - which is why other players go the other way and switch to one-row. Mind you' I've heard the great cajun player Steve Riley execute key changes in mid-song that really ought to be technically impossible on a ten-button one row!


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: GUEST,Grishka
Date: 19 May 13 - 12:34 PM

McGrath, you are addressing the - quite distinct - topic of chord voicing. Good guitarists will vary it even within the same key, bad ones just strum off, which is unsatisfactory whatever the key. I am quite sure that Will is aware of the problem.

Still, using more than two keys is a relief for the ears, particular of those who just listen (- are there any? -), but also to many players. A possible solution is to offer two events, one in D/G, and another one with a larger variety of keys, announced in advance. -

Those melodeons seem to have been designed for affordability; nothing wrong with that, and still an issue for many. But wherever the main problem is lazyness, in may be overcome if the reward is appreciated.

Idiomatic fiddle music should of course never be transposed; just mix it with other music in different keys.


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: Marje
Date: 19 May 13 - 02:17 PM

It's not lazy to play a diatonic instrument in the keys it was made to play in. If it doesn't have the accidentals and/or the basses to play in other keys, no amount of effort will make that happen. And I don't think affordablity is the main issue - my melodeon is often the most valuable instrument at a session.

Different events for different keys would be a nonsense. If a player wants to play a tune in Eb or F#, they're entirely free to do so, and others may join in if they wish. Not everyone has to play all the time. What's the problem?

Marje


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: Lester
Date: 19 May 13 - 02:58 PM

I've been known to turn up at sessions with 3 boxes D/G, C/F and Bb/Eb so cover a lot of bases.

Interesting when guitar players see me play on inside row and assume G and then take a long time to cotton on that I'm in Eb :-)


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: JohnInKansas
Date: 19 May 13 - 03:23 PM

In our area we're less sophisticated, and playing in "simple" keys arises simply from the fact that 90% of the participants play guitars (and 90% of those are of course Martins "because they're louder").

A session may typically have 9 guitars, sometimes a fiddle, perhaps a couple of mandolins, and on occasion a banjo.

(Hammered dulcimers are popular in mearby "Irish" sessions, but knowledgeable players of any other kinds of music avoid those sessions, since HD players always think it's a speed contest and some of us prefer music.)

Resistance to changing keys is of course attributed to the constant need for the banjo player to "retune" whenever the key changes, should we happen to have a banjo in the band. Since we all know that tuning a banjo is pretty much fruitless anyway, we mostly pretend we're happy with the key from the preceding tune.

In actuality, some of us just play in whatever key we choose and ignore the rest of them, since with all those power-chord Martin whangers nobody else can ever be heard anyway so it doesn't much matter what we do. (We don't tell the git-whangers how much more fun we have than they do.)

Of course I'm describing a rather local "music community" in an area with little real musical tradition.

John


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: The Sandman
Date: 19 May 13 - 03:26 PM

and those people that play in C plonking like a frog in ditchwater, an evening of C has the potential to be as dull as ditch water, and in my opinion is marginally more interesting than someone singing in a monotone.


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: Leadfingers
Date: 19 May 13 - 03:55 PM

It seems to me that there are two fairly seperate problems - Cost and Laziness ! Melodeons are NOT cheap and a lot of players are not as fortunate as Lester , so cant afford three boxes (As well as the Space problem) so D / G tends to be the order of the day at a lot of melodeon led sessions .
Because of that , a LOT of musicians with Chromatic instruments get used to ONLY playing in with the D / G boys and cant be bothered to look into the possibilities of other keys .
I dabble at Guitar , Banjo , Mandolin and whistle , and refuse to pot a Capo any where near the Mando , and am trying to do the same with the Guitar and the Banjo (Except Fifth String)
Whistle is more fun , and I quite enjoy working round the keys as long as the tempo is not too fast - One of my 'fun' things is 'The Lark in the Clear Air' on a C whistle , starting in A and working through D , G , C ,F and finishing in Bflat.


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: Lester
Date: 19 May 13 - 04:03 PM

LF

My 3 Hohner Ericas cost a darn sight less than most peoples single Costalottie. :)


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 19 May 13 - 04:23 PM

I like Grishka's suggestion. If there is a perceived problem with repetitive keys, occasionally offer a session with wide range of keys.


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 19 May 13 - 05:09 PM

"and playing in "simple" keys arises simply from the fact that 90% of the participants play guitars '"

I don't get that,. The guitar is probably the most flexible nstrument there is when it comes to playing in just about any key.


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: Gurney
Date: 19 May 13 - 05:23 PM

But think of the singer/guitarists (like me!) who aren't very good guitarists. It's bloody hard enough singing and playing at the same time, without doing it in a different key, one that you're not practised with. ;-)

I appreciate that, for a performer of competence, it can be hard to listen to a parade of lesser talents, as happens when the compere is presiding over 'singing round,' but maybe this thread will lead to some of us rethinking our 'keys.'


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: GUEST,Grishka
Date: 19 May 13 - 05:36 PM

Marje, about affordability (relative to a fully chromatic instrument with basses for all keys) I was referring to doc.tom's post of 19 May 13 - 07:49 AM. I have never had a melodeon in my arms, and the last time I witnessed such an English "session" was in a different millennium. Thus there is no problem for me personally, but I like to encourage those whose main problem is lazyness to overcome it. The benefit of playing in various keys is not only to sustain musical interest and prevent boredom: It may help keeping people's minds flexible, which many believe to delay Altzheimer's and other diseases.

The conflict (as told by the above posts, not by myself) is that choosing a rarer key may make some participants feel excluded against their will, and against the perceived character of the event.


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 19 May 13 - 08:26 PM

Loved your post, John in Kansas.


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: JohnInKansas
Date: 20 May 13 - 02:45 AM

With most of my early experience in bands - school and dance combos - or before that walking to/from school with a harmonica, the basic principle I found was that you can play any tune in any key you want to. Switching to a particular key isn't necessary unless you want to play backup for a song someone wants to sing, or you want to play with other instruments. (Some instruments do have a lot of difficulty playing "outside their key.")

When all the music was in churches (the organ pealed the potatoes) the traditional "true enharmonic tuning" did give different "color" to different keys, and it's probably worth knowing a little about it for "theoreticians;" but while portable instruments might have attempted to tune that way the "mythical true pitch" tuning of nearly all of them was more imaginary than real.

The universal use of equal-tempered tuning, built into virtually all modern instruments, leaves very few people who can tell what key something is played in without checking the score.

It's all relative, but mostly its only the intervsals that count for much.

The instrument you happen to prefer determines whether you need to worry about whether the relatives are the inlaw or outlaw kinds. (How well you play it may also matter some.)

If you're tied to a diatonic instrument, or one that can play (easily) in only a couple of "keys," it can seem quite important what key you're in; but unless you're tied to "only playing the melody" you can fake it through most misfits just by flipping between the harmony "parts." It's one of the things that makes "improv" so much fun. (Play something that doesn't quite fit, but sounds like it does - and pretend you did it on purpose.)

John


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: Jack Campin
Date: 20 May 13 - 03:36 AM

The universal use of equal-tempered tuning, built into virtually all modern instruments

The commonest instrument in the world is the diatonic harmonica, which is not tuned in equal temperament. It's more or less mean-tone, to give pure thirds.


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: Marje
Date: 20 May 13 - 04:01 AM

Grisha, I see what your'e saying now. But I'm a D/G melodeon player with no accidentals, and I don't often feel excluded when the key goes beyond the capability of my instrument. There is one particular - and lovely - tune that the locals like to play in F, and my instrument doesn't have an F natural anywhere on it, let alone a Bb (so there's not question of faking it) , but hey, I can still enjoy the tune. I have a recorder and sometimes use that for other keys, but not playing is always an option. Whatever the mental-health benefits of switching keys may be, there are definite emotional and musical benefits from just sitting and listening sometimes.

I still think that to advertise a session restricted to or including particular keys would be crazy. How would you advertise it? How would you control it? What would you do with a singer who wanted to sing in a key other than the permitted ones, or even unaccompanied? Most people would be put off attending an event where the spontaneity and inclusivity were restricted by such rules.

Marje


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 20 May 13 - 04:02 AM

But think of the singer/guitarists (like me!) who aren't very good guitarists

True - but that is an entirely different point.


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: banjoman
Date: 20 May 13 - 04:44 AM

Earlier in this thread someones said that banjos were inflexible.
Well I am happy to play in any key (without a capo) on my five string. Howeve, I get funny looks if I start a tune in a key other than D or G especially from a room full of melodeon players.


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: Leadfingers
Date: 20 May 13 - 04:46 AM

We have a 'label' problem here straight away - A 'session' in the context of the OP is primarily TUNES with occasional songs - If the purpose of the meeting is primarily to sing , in UK at least this is NOT normally called a session .


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: GUEST,Jack Sprocket
Date: 20 May 13 - 04:52 AM

As for fiddlers, the problem with flat keys is not the first position as such, but players who heavily rely on the use of empty strings. This is generally discouraged anyway, because the sounds differ from the ones of fingered notes.

Grishka, I think you should pop across to Clare and tell Tommy Peoples that. Clearly the Irish tradition has got it all wrong.

As for getting tired of the keys, well, a session is not a show, it's for the musicians, and presumably they aren't tyrannised or they'd stop. If you want other keys, find a set of like- minded musicians and play with them.

There was a vogue (a Boolavogue?) in Irish sessions a few years ago to play in keys based on E flat. This was accomplished largely by tuning the fiddle up a semitone, and they claimed it was for the brighter sound, but many people think it was to leave annoying box players high and dry. A lot of old six- hole flutes are tuned to E flat anyway, they were used in bands with brass instruments which for some unknown reason have nearly always been in flat keys, and these sessions might have been a cynical ploy by dealers to offload slow- selling instruments.


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: Marje
Date: 20 May 13 - 04:56 AM

I agree, we need to keep this discussion to sessions, but there are plenty of mixed sessions in the UK, with mostly tunes and occasional songs. The one I run in Totnes is one of them, and the other sessions I attend regularly also have a mix of songs and tunes. Some evenings it's all tunes, but most often there are a few songs in the mix. I'm not talking about round-the-room singarounds, they're just open pub sessions where anyone who wants to start a song can do so.

It would be very odd if a singer started a song and had to be interrupted to be told it was not in any of the accepted keys.A guitarist, for example, might choose to play and sing in Eb (with or without capo) because it was the right pitch for his voice and that song - or possibly even because he didn't want melodeons and pipes joining in. And an unaccompanied singer will often not know what key he's chosen, he'll just pick a note out of the air and start to sing. Dictating the agreed keys for the evening in advance would rule out such singers.

Marje


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: Vic Smith
Date: 20 May 13 - 06:28 AM

Brian Peters wrote
"Mind you' I've heard the great cajun player Steve Riley execute key changes in mid-song that really ought to be technically impossible on a ten-button one row!"


Yes, I've heard him do it at the Festival Acadian in Lafayette, but in spite of the exhilarating brilliance of Riley, Savoy, The Balfas etc, of that weekend, it was noticeable that the vast majority of the music throughout the festival was played in G.

Mark Savoy's website says that he will make accordions "in any key" but I'll bet the majority he makes are in G.


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: GUEST,Grishka
Date: 20 May 13 - 06:35 AM

JohnIK, I do not think "mythical true pitch tuning" is the main point. The rule "never play two pieces in the same key consecutively" applies to all music programmes including those of classical pianists, who always play in equal temperament.

Marje, I do not organise such events. My idea was: if there is a conflict between multi-keyers and everybody-play-alongers, separete sessions may stop them complaining. Besides, I now live in Germany and France, where folks have similar problems (with different preferred keys), and generally envy the British folk scene.

Jack Sprocket, you are quoting me incompletely. In fact Irish solo fiddling, like most fiddling traditions, uses empty strings for special effects, but still requires a very good command over the left pinkie. In contrast, the typical first position players Will had in mind tend to hide away their little finger. If they have a physical defect, they are excused. For example, the finger may have been cut off by kidnappers, when understandably nobody payed the ransom.


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 20 May 13 - 06:50 AM

As for getting tired of the keys, well, a session is not a show, it's for the musicians, and presumably they aren't tyrannised or they'd stop. If you want other keys, find a set of like- minded musicians and play with them.

My sentiment exactly. And what Marje said about just sitting and listening. I'm still struggling to see why D, G and all their related modes should represent a tyranny. traditional Irish music, played in the "usual" keys, is wonderfully varied and colourful and can be played by people with limited resources and inexpensive instruments. In D, G and related modes! So wassup!


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: GUEST,Jon
Date: 20 May 13 - 06:51 AM

As is often the case with these threads, it seems to me to come down to each session to its own aims...


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 20 May 13 - 06:52 AM

Yes, I do know where capitals should go... :-(


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: GUEST,Chris B (Born Again Scouser)
Date: 20 May 13 - 07:02 AM

The keys of D and G (and their relative minors) predominate because most players in sessions can only play in those keys. Try playing 'Calliope House' in the key in which it was composed and just watch in all go quiet.


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: GUEST,guest phil
Date: 20 May 13 - 07:06 AM

Just to prove you can play bluebell polka C section in C on a bog standard d/g hohner (with accidentals). here's ed rennie

Bluebell Polka

I like to play it this way and am impervious to the glares of other melodeonists :)

phil


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: greg stephens
Date: 20 May 13 - 07:07 AM

Vic Smith: just to be irrelevantly technical, the majority of Cajun music is played in G but the accordion is a actually a C one row, played "backwards" in G(like cross harp blues playing on a harmonica, when players almost invariably use a C harp to play in G. This trick of playing backwards enables you to play tunes in A on the D row of a D/G melodeon, which is well worth mastering.


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: TheSnail
Date: 20 May 13 - 07:12 AM

Will Fly
That nice Detroit strathspey (!) by Joan Macdonald Boes "The Sweetness of Mary" is invariably played down here in Sussex in D. The written key - aimed at the violin - is A, and it sounds so much more vibrant when played in A.

As a matter of interest, Will, have you tried playing it on the fiddle in A?


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: Will Fly
Date: 20 May 13 - 07:17 AM

Yes - I have! After much practice and some tuition by Linda Game, my violin teacher, I've learned how to get out of first position and back again for that tune. And, I have to say, it does sound sweeter in its original key. :-)


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: GUEST,Tattie Bogle
Date: 20 May 13 - 07:17 AM

I play a B/C button accordion so "I can in theory play in any key provided I can find the notes". The downside is that I can't do as much chord and bass stuff, but I'm finding more and more right hand chords as I go along.
I've now reached the stage that any strange key is a challenge rather than a no-go area, flat keys being more tricky, tho' not impossible. I did do a lot of music theory in my long-distant youth, so I know how many sharps or flats I'm looking for, or can tell others in the session what key the tune is actually in. Being a guitarist also helps as I can guess from chord shapes and which fret the capo goes on what key is being used too.
As for " all inclusiveness", it is good if the majority of music is accessible to the majority of players for a good proportion of the time, but if you never do anything new, sessions can get horribly predictable and boring. Playing something different is not necessarily showing off: it may well be injecting new life into a session especially if the tune can be slowed down to allow others to pick it up.


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: Jack Campin
Date: 20 May 13 - 07:22 AM

Well faked that man. Can we persuade all the Whitby D/G melodeonists to watch that Ed Rennie video?

I was at session yesterday that went into E on two numbers - "Maple Sugar", which is a fiddle tune in A and E that nobody ever does in other keys, and "Caledonia" which the singer decided to do in E. E isn't difficult on a recorder, and I knew "Maple Sugar" pretty well anyway, so that was fine. "Caledonia" had me beat because the way the performance went I needed to do an improvisatory break, and I didn't have enough ideas, as I hadn't practiced just noodling around in E very much. Conclusion: I need to work on that. Next time!


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: Will Fly
Date: 20 May 13 - 07:32 AM

Without wishing to over-egg the original argument, here's another example other than "The Sweetness Of Mary" one which I've quoted.

There's a great tune in Andy Hornby's "Winders Of Wyresdale" compilation called "The Physiognomist" - it's a 3-parter in Bb-F-Bb and, as I said in another thread, great for the tenor guitar. And it sounds fine in that key.

Now - I like sessions very much, and I like it when everyone joins in as much as possible. To me, that's what it's all about. BUT (and it's a reluctant BUT) - if I play this tune at my next session, I'm probably going to be a soloist, which I don't really want.

An alternative, then, is to transpose it into D (say), so that everyone - melodeons and concertinas included - will be with me. But, d'you know, I like the tune in its original key and don't want to play it in a different key. And... if such transposition keeps getting done again and again, then - there you go... Everything sounds the same and you lose the integrity of the tune somewhat.

Or perhaps I'm just nit-picking. :-)


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: Jack Campin
Date: 20 May 13 - 07:42 AM

Here's Anahata doing the Bluebell Polka on a D/G:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lyHB6n9Nwv4


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 20 May 13 - 07:48 AM

Most people play Calliope in D. It works best in second position on a G harmonica. Playing it in E would be no problem as most self-respecting harmonica players at a session would have an A harp with them. And it's fine in E on a fiddle. If you really must. Our set goes Connaughtman's Rambles-Saddle The Pony-Calliope House (in D). Plenty of mode-change lifts in there, all doable by me on a G harp, no tyranny!


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: Alan Day
Date: 20 May 13 - 08:39 AM

This is an interesting topic because I have heard a number of comments regarding a small group of players locally ,that only play in C to ensure that only they are playing the tune . For that they are considered anti social to the other players present.
I say nothing as I always take my CG box just in case.
Al


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: The Sandman
Date: 20 May 13 - 08:40 AM

his trick of playing backwards enables you to play tunes in A on the D row of a D/G melodeon, which is well worth mastering."
yes but can you play the corresponding basses, in a major, i know tunes like langstroms pony can be played, the ideal for playing in a major is a 23 and a half row dg


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: The Sandman
Date: 20 May 13 - 08:40 AM

should read 2 and a half row


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: GUEST,Grishka
Date: 20 May 13 - 08:45 AM

I watched both renderings of Bluebell Polka (both well done, in my ears) and did not see any "faking". These melodeons seem to have extra keys for C and F at the top.

Will, have you considered writing simple harmony voices for the diatonics, only using the available notes? (It would not be "faking" as described by John, since other instruments would play the correct melody.) Even if Bb and F are missing, you'd still have the D to represent the Bb chord. For the chord accompaniment, the capoed guitars will do.

You would be in good company, for example with Joseph Haydn writing for natural horns and trumpets outside their native keys in his symphonies. (BTW this is also a good way to form a large orchestra at family celebrations, including countless kids playing up to three different notes on their borrowed recorders etc., while the professionals jam.)


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: TheSnail
Date: 20 May 13 - 09:10 AM

I look forward to hearing your Sweetness of Mary, Will, but I'm afraid I won't be joining in, not on fiddle anyway. I might join you on English Concertina which is, of course fully chromatic and can play in any key. (The instrument can, I'm not sure that I can.)

On the fiddle I'll stick to D. At least I get a bit more mileage out of that expensive bottom string.


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: Howard Jones
Date: 20 May 13 - 10:36 AM

Peter Kennedy didn't ask for D/G melodeons on a whim, he got them so that melodeon players could join in sessions which were already in D and G.

A D/G melodeon is pitched rather high, and I think most English players would actually prefer it if our standard instrument was in other lower-pitched keys, as they sound a lot better. Instead, we have been forced to adopt D/G as standard in order to accommodate fiddlers, and then we get the blame for everything being in those keys!


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: Chris Partington
Date: 20 May 13 - 11:42 AM

Not that it affects what we should, should not, or want to, be doing in sessions, a couple of years ago I did some number crunching on this topic a couple of years ago. It was specifically in relation to some Lake District manuscripts (Barnes, Lishman, Betham, Harrison, Wilson, Stables, and Browne) from the latter 18th C and early 19th C.
It involves quite a good number of tunes overall. All pre-date free reed instruments.
D - 44%
G - 34.5%
A -   5.5%
C -   5.4%
F -   2.5%
Em - 2.5%
Bb - 2.3%
Am - 1.1%
Ador- 0.8%
Bm - 0.4%
Eb - 0.1%
Dm - 0.1%
Ddor- 0.1%
Dmix- 0.1%

There were some differences between the MSS, Betham for example was 44.8% in G and 41% in D, etc.


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: GUEST
Date: 20 May 13 - 11:42 AM

Yes, there are some lovely really mellow low notes on my B/C. In some pieces I play along with the cellos! ( Well at least half of their register).


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: Harmonium Hero
Date: 20 May 13 - 11:56 AM

Regarding the vexed question of tuning: I'm going to put forward what no doubt someone far cleverer and more highly educated than I am (this is Mudcat, after all) will regard as heresy. Don't bother comung after me, as I am a very long way away, deep in my bunker beneath a very high mountain, guarded by a three-headed dragon; I don't feed her (for it is she; as any fule kno, the females are more deadly, the males just growl a lot, leaving the little lady to do most of the flesh - rending); we have an understanding: she doesn't expect to get fed, and I don't ask awkward questions about what she's eating or where she got it. But if you're feeling lucky... Here goes:
it is scientifically impossible (whatever that means) to tune s fretted instrument.
Discuss at whatever length seems appropriate.
John Kelly.


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: Harmonium Hero
Date: 20 May 13 - 11:59 AM

Damn! It had to happen sooner or later; That was supposed to go on another thread - the one about what to do about poor singers. Any chance of it being transferred?
John Kelly.


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 20 May 13 - 01:37 PM

Fits in here quite well, really. One of the downside of playing in different keys is that some people are likely to use it as the signal to start retuning...


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: bubblyrat
Date: 20 May 13 - 02:13 PM

Depends on your material ; I play in D a lot because my top and bottom E-strings are tuned to D , and I like it that way --I have been called "Mr D" at sessions ( by Derek Tarrant) but I DO use other keys . Patrick Bouffard's waltz sounds good in G , Far Away is lovely in Bm , Maid of Culmore is nice in Am ,and Flower of Magerhally is great in Em ( as is Nights In White Satin ,if you like that sort of thing !). I often used to play at the Herschel Arms , Slough , Irish session ,and a surprising amount of stuff was in A , actually .


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: Jack Campin
Date: 20 May 13 - 02:32 PM

Chris Partington: did you take statistics on effective range (lowest and highest note) as well as key? Range doesn't usually feature in tune indexes, and it should.

What I mean by "effective range" is leaving out notes that could be moved without making any real difference to the tune - a lot of violin arrangements have upbeats on the G string that might as well be an octave up (a flute player would shift them without even thinking about it).


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: Chris Partington
Date: 21 May 13 - 05:00 AM

No Jack Campin, that wasn't the task I'd set myself. Paul Roberts trawls through a collection now and then looking for 'bagpipey' tunes though, sometimes within the compass, and sometimes shifted by a fiddler. See The Village Music Project .


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: kendall
Date: 21 May 13 - 06:47 AM

Variety is the spice of life. On guitar, if I know the tune, I play along in any key. On banjo, different story; e flat demented gives me problems, so I simply back off and listen.
I get irritated by someone playing along when they clearly don't know the tune, it's like a bodron player who just has to bang away on every tune from Henry Martin to Ava Maria. Of course, the good ones don't do that.
Another thing that bugs me about sessions or jams whatever you call them,people who just decide to do two in a row when the rule is one at a time.One each then one together.
I don't do many sessions, the egos get in the way of a nice gathering.


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: Will Fly
Date: 21 May 13 - 07:08 AM

Shame you can't get to our monthly session over here, Kendall - all done in the best possible taste - and egos parked at the door! :-)


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: GUEST,rob naylor
Date: 21 May 13 - 05:44 PM

Well Will, last time I was at the Bull session and I started off Banks of the Sweet Primroses in Eb *someone* sitting on your left complained that it was awkward for him to follow so I restarted in D, which doesn't suit my voice. He did have the grace to say afterwards that I should have stuck with my original key :-)


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: kendall
Date: 21 May 13 - 07:44 PM

The singer decides the key!


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: Will Fly
Date: 22 May 13 - 04:03 AM

The singer does indeed decide.

I remember that particular evening, Rob - a most uncharacteristic comment in that session. I was also irked by the remark because I recall urging you (at the previous High Brooms night) to capo up to get the best from your voice!

Nowt wrong with Eb either... It's also always interesting to hear the snick of capos being fitted to guitars when someone starts a tune or song in an "odd" key. I never use a capo at sessions for accompaniment - only for singing using a specific guitar voicing. We get the occasional piper playing in F and - at the last session - one great piper from Belgium playing in Bb. Those keys are no problem for me after years of playing jazz. But of course even Homer nods and I can cock up an accompaniment as well as the next player! Normally, if I can't hack it, I shut up rather than capo up.


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: treewind
Date: 22 May 13 - 05:29 AM

"Can we persuade all the Whitby D/G melodeonists to watch that Ed Rennie video?"
Jack, if we meet again in Whitby I'll be very happy to have a Bluebell Polka with you in the right keys
(and by the way I was there before Ed)

Nick Barber is another D/G melodeon player who likes to surprise session musicians by starting tunes in C.


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: Rob Naylor
Date: 22 May 13 - 06:04 AM

Will...yes, I'm getting better at adjusting keys to fit my voice now. Hoping to make the Bull session again for the first time in months next Sunday. Unfortunately the few tunes from your "tune set" that I've boned up on are in D or G :-).

On another note....the High Brooms Tavern has been saved from the fate of being knocked down and turned into a block of flats by a pair of locals who've bought is and are refurbishing it as a pub! It'll probably be called "The Brick Works". They're knocking through the 2 bars, which is a shame, but they have stated that they fully intend to open the place to live music sessions, so by about September we should have the "Diddley" singaround or a close facsimile back in production!


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: Jack Campin
Date: 22 May 13 - 06:56 AM

Treewind: I'll be there this year again.

Just working on the Bluebell in Eb/Bb/Eb/Ab/Eb. Not as easy as F or G, but doable.


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: Will Fly
Date: 22 May 13 - 10:08 AM

Rob, as it's a Bank Hol weekend, the Bull session will be on the Monday, rather than the Sunday.

Good news about High Brooms!


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Subject: RE: The tyranny of D and G at sessions
From: Rob Naylor
Date: 22 May 13 - 10:26 AM

Ah, OK, thanks for the update....would have looked a bit of a berk turning up Sunday (though I'm sure Mr C will be putting out a note)!


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