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Tech: Setting and keeping tempo in dance bands

Les in Chorlton 05 Aug 13 - 09:43 AM
doc.tom 05 Aug 13 - 10:12 AM
GUEST,PeterC 05 Aug 13 - 10:13 AM
GUEST,leeneia 05 Aug 13 - 12:03 PM
Richard Bridge 05 Aug 13 - 12:38 PM
Les in Chorlton 05 Aug 13 - 12:51 PM
GUEST,highlandman at work 05 Aug 13 - 03:36 PM
GUEST,leeneia 05 Aug 13 - 05:42 PM
GUEST,Guest MWH: 05 Aug 13 - 06:56 PM
GUEST 05 Aug 13 - 07:17 PM
Les in Chorlton 06 Aug 13 - 03:36 AM
GUEST,PeterC 06 Aug 13 - 05:01 AM
GUEST,FloraG 06 Aug 13 - 06:04 AM
Mo the caller 06 Aug 13 - 06:24 AM
Steve Gardham 06 Aug 13 - 03:44 PM
Lester 06 Aug 13 - 05:25 PM
Les in Chorlton 07 Aug 13 - 03:15 AM
Brakn 07 Aug 13 - 03:46 AM
GUEST,FloraG 07 Aug 13 - 03:57 AM
Les in Chorlton 07 Aug 13 - 04:31 AM
SteveMansfield 07 Aug 13 - 05:20 AM
GUEST,FloraG 07 Aug 13 - 06:37 AM
Les in Chorlton 08 Aug 13 - 05:05 AM
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Subject: Tech: Setting and keeping tempo in dance bands
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 05 Aug 13 - 09:43 AM

I don't want to be too metronomic about this but starting a tune for country dances and keeping to any appropriate tempo does seem to be fairly fundamental.

What are the best strategies for starting a tune at the right tempo and staying close to that tempo - and stopping the band from racing away in easy tunes?


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Subject: RE: Tech: Setting and keeping tempo in dance bands
From: doc.tom
Date: 05 Aug 13 - 10:12 AM

Using good musicians. Seriously though, make the band do the dances - lots before they try the tunes and get it into their heads that they are PLAYING FOR DANCING, not having people dance to their playing.


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Subject: RE: Tech: Setting and keeping tempo in dance bands
From: GUEST,PeterC
Date: 05 Aug 13 - 10:13 AM

Start slowly! It is quite easy to speed up, but much more difficult to slow down (IMHO)


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Subject: RE: Tech: Setting and keeping tempo in dance bands
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 05 Aug 13 - 12:03 PM

I like that idea about having the band do the dances. It will get the dance in their whole bodies, not just in their fingers.

Besides that, I think there are two ways that music speeds up. One way, as discussed, is that lead instruments speed up for the easy parts. We deal with that by pointing out that it's happening. Also, I encourage everybody to LISTEN TO THE GUITAR. We have a good guitarist, but people used to ignore her. We've changed. If you have some other humble, looked-down upon instrument as accompaniment, then people have to be told to listen to that, too. Even if it's a drum.

Another way music speeds up is when you have a long note, say a whole note, at the end of a phrase. Lead instruments and singers tend to cut those short. They may cut it off after two or three beats, their attitude being, "I've sung that. Let's move on." Again, they need to pay attention to other people's parts. For example, if it's a whole note, it's not over till other people have played four beats of music.


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Subject: RE: Tech: Setting and keeping tempo in dance bands
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 05 Aug 13 - 12:38 PM

Rhythm Section. Drum(s) and bass guitar. Follow them.


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Subject: RE: Tech: Setting and keeping tempo in dance bands
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 05 Aug 13 - 12:51 PM

thanks Richard I think I can organise that. Are good drummers almost by definition a bit metronomic?

We, the Beech Band, are basically a large collection of 'Improvers'. Some jigs we can play at 108 and some need to be at a staedy 100 or even a bit less. Tunes in 4/4 2/4 and 2/2 are all over the place. How do the core musicians - say melodeon, bass, drum, guitar arrive at the appropriate tempo?


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Subject: RE: Tech: Setting and keeping tempo in dance bands
From: GUEST,highlandman at work
Date: 05 Aug 13 - 03:36 PM

Yes, leeneia, the tendency for vocalists especially to shortcut the held notes is real. It drives me crazy when playing for hymn singers. I always have the metronomic thing going in my mind's ear while holding a note. Probably comes from playing while marching - you want to start the next phrase on the correct foot!
I also find there's a counter-intuitive tendency for some lead instrument players to SPEED UP in the hard parts. Seems to be a subconscious temptation to slur over the tricky bits rather than articulate them carefully and accurately. I have to fight this tendency myself on the pipes, not so much on guitar or keyboards.
It doesn't hurt (once you know what tempo you're after) for the starter to check his or her watch discreetly before launching a number. I find this helps me keep from starting at too fast a clip sometimes.
You would think a "good" drummer would be metronomic by definition, but being human they are subject to the same sensory illusions we all are. It definitely takes practice and not every player cares.
It does help to keep an eye on the dancers. Their whole-body involvement in every beat (even the held notes) tends to keep them more consistent. If you're starting to get to the strong beats while they are still in the air... back it of a bit.
-Glenn


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Subject: RE: Tech: Setting and keeping tempo in dance bands
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 05 Aug 13 - 05:42 PM

Good advice, highlandman.

I was once at a workshop conducted by a member of the Flanders Recorder Quartet. (check them out on YouTube) We tended to panic at the sight of 1/16th notes, to speed up, and to fall apart. The leader said he didn't know why people always do this, and he suspected it had something to do with Adam and Eve. An English speaker would have said "original sin."

I believe that's similar to what you've observed about some people speeding up in the hard parts.


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Subject: RE: Tech: Setting and keeping tempo in dance bands
From: GUEST,Guest MWH:
Date: 05 Aug 13 - 06:56 PM

It should be the drummer who knows tempos and counts them off - period. It is the job of the bass player and the drummer to lay a bed down for the melodic instruments to dance on - period. The drummer and the bass player work together to keep everyone together - period. I have much pro experience at this and that is how it's done.
Any questions?


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Subject: RE: Tech: Setting and keeping tempo in dance bands
From: GUEST
Date: 05 Aug 13 - 07:17 PM

"How do the core musicians - say melodeon, bass, drum, guitar arrive at the appropriate tempo?"

The "appropriate tempo" depends in part on the nature of the audience. You often need to play at a slightly faster tempo for inexperienced dancers, as they will usually just walk or run through the figures - more experienced dancers like to have a bit more time to put in some stepping or fancy moves. So you need to pay particular attention to the first few dances to see how they respond to the music.

You can also get a feel for the dance from watching the walk-through, and this can give an idea of the sort of rhythmic patterns and helps you to choose an appropriate tune for the dance.

If you're still not sure what speed to start off at, ask the caller. And keep watching - the caller will soon signal you to speed up or slow down as necessary, and you should be watching the dancers anyway.


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Subject: RE: Tech: Setting and keeping tempo in dance bands
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 06 Aug 13 - 03:36 AM

At the last count around 110 people have played in our 'Improvers Tune Session'. We play together every other week and most weeks around 20 people turn up, a core of around 10 then a variable group of 10 or so.

When we play for a Ceilidh all 110 are invited (!) and generally between 15 and 25 turn up. We have our own Tune Book and a 'Dance Version' that contains a list of 20 dances and pairs of tunes for each dance.

As you can see we are quite well organised. We have discussed tempo at some length. The lead melodeon takes us in to each dance with one A or a few bars and off we go. This usually works the main problem being speeding up.

Do any bands actually use a metronome to establish appropriate tempo or is it all 'seat of the pants'? Do established bands simply evolve appropriate tempo?

Thanks for all help so far


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Subject: RE: Tech: Setting and keeping tempo in dance bands
From: GUEST,PeterC
Date: 06 Aug 13 - 05:01 AM

"GUEST" has a good point about inexperienced dancers needing a faster tempo, and experienced dancers needing the music slower. This means using a metronome is not such a useful idea - nothing is simple! Our band (Amazing Matchless Band - 20 or so years of playing together) tends to start slowly, and speed up a little if necessary. We also have found a short introduction by the leader - at least 4 bars - better than the single chord some bands use for setting the tempo


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Subject: RE: Tech: Setting and keeping tempo in dance bands
From: GUEST,FloraG
Date: 06 Aug 13 - 06:04 AM

A breakdown tune is used for the speedy bit at the end of a dance - when everyone has got the moves and you want to signal to the dancers the dance is coming to its end. It does not work if the base or the drummer ignore this and continue to play at the starting speed.
In morris dancing the speed often changes - sometimes in the middle of a bar. With sword dancing there is often a walk on speed and a dance speed (s). Again- this can be ruined by a well meaning but unpractised muso who wants to join in.
Establishing a lead instrument sounds a good idea - maybe the only one with PA if the band is large. The caravan and camping club use this idea with often quite large scratch bands. It seems to work well. Encouraging others to be the lead instrument in turn also works well.
The trouble with practising a tune is that often in a music session you would play it faster than you would for a dance.   It might be best to have set dance tunes and always play them at dance speed.
Childrens dances need to be faster then adults - they have shorter legs.
The most difficult thing is if you have started too fast ( or too slow)for the ability of the dancers and you want to slow down or speed up a little while playing. It happens to the best of callers. Its worth practising this with the band. It should sound seemless.
Enjoy
FloraG


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Subject: RE: Tech: Setting and keeping tempo in dance bands
From: Mo the caller
Date: 06 Aug 13 - 06:24 AM

It's not just experienced/inexperienced dancers who want different speeds.
It depends on the style of dance too.
American contras and squares are done to a light smooth walk (not a plod) so a fast tune is needed. Most of the ceilidh/barn dances I learnt 30 years ago were done to a walking step or a rant. Dancing to Ramsbottom took some getting used to until we discovered that you had to galumph around.

No use playing to slow for a room full of pensioners, the knees and hips are not up to staying off the ground too long.


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Subject: RE: Tech: Setting and keeping tempo in dance bands
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 06 Aug 13 - 03:44 PM

Good points, Mo.
I'm retired now after 40 years playing in a ceili band and about 30 years calling, but I have to disagree with most of the posters here. The dancers inform the caller and the caller informs the lead musician and the rest, percussion or not, take the tempo from the lead musician and nobody else.


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Subject: RE: Tech: Setting and keeping tempo in dance bands
From: Lester
Date: 06 Aug 13 - 05:25 PM

Wot Steve said!


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Subject: RE: Tech: Setting and keeping tempo in dance bands
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 07 Aug 13 - 03:15 AM

Thanks Steve! Whilst I like the idea of responding to dancers, I find it a relief to see Steve's point. I don't think our band could collectively respond to a room full of people - our 'problem' if it can be called that - is responding to each other.

I guess most of the time our lead musician takes us in with one 'A' at about the right tempo and we try to stay with him.

But I am still interested in how other bands arrive at the right tempo and saty there.


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Subject: RE: Tech: Setting and keeping tempo in dance bands
From: Brakn
Date: 07 Aug 13 - 03:46 AM

I would think that drums and bass are there to keep the tempo steady. If others speed up they will get dragged back by these two. If the beat is dominant others will not be able to ignore it.


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Subject: RE: Tech: Setting and keeping tempo in dance bands
From: GUEST,FloraG
Date: 07 Aug 13 - 03:57 AM

Steve- I don't think anyone is disagreeing with you - just that it is complex.
I mostly play for the birthday/ fund raising sort of do so no point asking the dancers. I have an idea of the speed I'd like it played. Sometimes I will go down on the floor and demonstrate a move - usually to a bit of an easy tune with me singing. The band then pick up the tune speed and the key. They all look very pleased with themselves. When I get back to the band I find I'm having to play in something like b flat. Ouch.
Les - a whole A is OK ( good if you have people playing by ear) but a long time for the dancers to hang about. Do you all start together on the second A or do some drift in during the first A? It could sound raggity and give confusing signals to the dancers. I do admire the Scottish bands that start with a chord and Go.
FloraG


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Subject: RE: Tech: Setting and keeping tempo in dance bands
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 07 Aug 13 - 04:31 AM

Thanks Mike - is this your secret Rock & Roll background peeping through -

Thanks FloraG - We gerally play a whole A and people don't drift in.

I am still looking for advice on how the tempo is: 1. decided, 2. generated and 3 maintained.

We are an Improvers band and some of us cannot play some tunes quickly. If the tempo is too high or - more likely speeds up chaos may insu.

I am reassured by Brakyn, who is actually in our band, above and Richard near the start of this that bass & drums lie at the heart of tempo.


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Subject: RE: Tech: Setting and keeping tempo in dance bands
From: SteveMansfield
Date: 07 Aug 13 - 05:20 AM

What Steve Gardham said.

> 1. decided,
That comes from the lead musician who should be sufficiently experienced to pretty much 'know' what speed they need to set off at. They will be working closely with the caller on any adjustments required as the dance goes on.

> 2. generated
The lead musician plays the intro, and everyone else starts at the speed set by the lead musician. If someone in the band disagrees with the lead musician and wants to play at a different tempo, then they should debate that offstage, and are perfectly at liberty to go and be the lead musician of their own band that plays things faster / slower.

> 3 maintained.
The lead musician is primarily responsible for that too. If other musicians can't play the chosen tunes at the speed required for the dances, they shouldn't be playing those tunes for the dancing. Depending on the instrumental line up, the availability of decent on-stage monitoring, etc., the drums and bass etc may have a special responsibility in this respect as they may be the elements of the band that are most immediately communicating the tempo to the other musicians and the dancers; but ultimately the responsibility lies with everyone, and anyone who doesn't like it is again perfectly at liberty to go and start their own band that plays things faster / slower.

All the above is deliberately black-and-white and rarely if often has to expressed in such terms - but if you are playing for dancing you are playing for dancing, which means that the core purpose of your presence as a musician is to provide music suitable for and fitted to the dance.


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Subject: RE: Tech: Setting and keeping tempo in dance bands
From: GUEST,FloraG
Date: 07 Aug 13 - 06:37 AM

Les - PA up a lead musician and the caller only. A stand alone mike is good so you can vary the lead muso. Have some fold back towards the rest of the musos.
In practice sessions deliberately play 3 As 4 Bs and an obvious slow down ending. Encourage listening. Try playing a 6/8 as a waltz. etc. To encourage listening skills ask some of the band sometimes to just listen and then Comment on
did you all want to tap your feet? If not your doing something very wrong.
did we have a balance between top / middle / base line ( if not some instruments can go higher/ lower)
was there a balance between loudness of instruments/ percussion. Could you hear each instrument?
- some groups of instruments need to play louder/quieter

Look on you tube for the speed of dances - you'll find quite a variation but within limits. Some dance books will give the metronome speed.
FloraG


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Subject: RE: Tech: Setting and keeping tempo in dance bands
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 08 Aug 13 - 05:05 AM

Thanks FloraG, i think we do some of those things and we will ponder the others.

Thanks also to other posters


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