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How to play variations ?

GUEST,Les B. 11 Feb 04 - 12:39 PM
greg stephens 11 Feb 04 - 01:01 PM
GUEST,Les B. 11 Feb 04 - 01:08 PM
GUEST, Mikefule 11 Feb 04 - 01:36 PM
Geoff the Duck 11 Feb 04 - 01:49 PM
GUEST,leeneia 11 Feb 04 - 02:27 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 11 Feb 04 - 03:00 PM
GUEST,Les B. 11 Feb 04 - 03:10 PM
Lil Dog Turpy 11 Feb 04 - 05:01 PM
Willie-O 11 Feb 04 - 05:14 PM
The Fooles Troupe 11 Feb 04 - 07:39 PM
Dave Hanson 12 Feb 04 - 07:37 AM
Snuffy 12 Feb 04 - 09:28 AM
M.Ted 12 Feb 04 - 04:10 PM
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Subject: How to play variations ?
From: GUEST,Les B.
Date: 11 Feb 04 - 12:39 PM

Forgive me if this has been covered somewhere in Mudcat's voluminous history - I couldn't find it on a quick word search.

Here's the query - how do you create a variation of the basic tune when playing fiddle, banjo, guitar, or whatever else ?

I can improvise "lead breaks" a bit on banjo and guitar, playing out of the chord pattern, but those breaks aren't quite the same as playing a different, but still recognizable, version of the melody. Is there a standard technique or theory ?

I know that some genres require variation and others don't. Contest fiddlers seem to strive for a slightly different melodic or rhythmic variation each time through. Bluegrass players often don't get more than one instrumental break per song, but, if they do, then they usually play a variation. Old Timey fiddlers and banjo players seem to stick to just one basic melody over and over. I haven't a clue what the tradition is when it comes to Celtic or Cajun, or Jazz, or Blues ???

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Subject: RE: How to play variations ?
From: greg stephens
Date: 11 Feb 04 - 01:01 PM

Well, most musical traditions that I'mm familiar with have two kinds of variations. The kind that involves playing around with the melody is one, where the musician embellishes the tune in some way.Decorations, perhaps: elaborating a slow moving tune with fast notes in between the main ones; changing the rhythm, eg with syncopation; etc etc.
    The other kind discards the melody, and plays around with the harmonic structure of the tune: ie you play something that doesnt sound like the tune, but which fits with chords which the accompanists are playing behind the tune(which tends to mean,in practise, that your variation will probably be a harmony to the tune). In non-harmonic music this kind of variation may involve playing in the same mode(or scale, or raga or whatever) as the tune. rather than with its chord sequence.
Early jazz lead players used to play the first kind of variation(round the tune) but the habit soon spread of palying variations on the harmonies. Theme and variation piecses(whether folky or classical) commonly use both techniques(or a mixture). In the 17th and 18th centuries in England the term for this was "divisions", rather than variations: a good name, because the technique involved dividing the notes of the tune into faster notes to produce the decorative effect.
    Well, there's a bit of classification. Not much help in telling you how to actually do it, but without being able to display the dots or play examples, I dont feel I can add anything helpful like that.

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Subject: RE: How to play variations ?
From: GUEST,Les B.
Date: 11 Feb 04 - 01:08 PM

Greg - I'm glad to know that there has been some classification of this. I apparently do the bit of playing an improvised harmony against the chord pattern. Any sense of what different genres do ?
(ie, don't you and your musical partner play Cajun in addition to British Isles music ?)

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Subject: RE: How to play variations ?
From: GUEST, Mikefule
Date: 11 Feb 04 - 01:36 PM

I suppose it depends on how much variation you want. But think of this: if you have two ways of playing bar 4, 2 ways of playing bar 8, 2 ways of playing bar 12, and 2 ways of playing bar 16, then you have 16 ways of playing the tune.

You can vary by:
Changing the rhythm
Adding notes in the gaps
Using different notes from those "written".

I guess the technical difficulty of these three methods increases in more or less that order.

The basic rules of harmony for writing 2 part pieces are fairly simple and logical. If nothing comes into your head when you play, then a couple of minutes with a sheet of music paper and a pencil will produce some formulaic variations, and you can use those as a basis for something more natural.

I guess few musicians improvise long passages "on the spot". Much improvisation is things which worked before, repeated more confidently, but semi randomly.

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Subject: RE: How to play variations ?
From: Geoff the Duck
Date: 11 Feb 04 - 01:49 PM

On a slow melody, one form of variation is to take the chords which you (or an accompaniest) would fit to the tune, then play them as arpeggios, but taking key points from the melody, and making sure you include enough of the original tune to remind the audience that it is a variation.
Some tunes lend themselves to making variations. Planxty Irwin is one of my favourites for "messing about with".
Other "tricks" include stretching the rhytm, adding "rolls" of the notes above and below the melody note, adding "runs" to a target note, from a lower or higher note in the tune. The kind of "extras" you add will usually depend on what the instrument allows. Decorations on a banjo are very different from the rolls and trills which suit a tin whistle.
With many variations the important thing can be to keep enough of the tune to make it still recognisable.

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Subject: RE: How to play variations ?
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 11 Feb 04 - 02:27 PM

Other ideas:

Add or subtract dots. For example, if a jig has a measure of eighth notes, make them dotted eighths followed by sixteenths. or vice versa - take the dots away and regularize it.

Add octave hops - for example, turn a long G into high G-low G - high G.

Add thirds (double stops) using harmony notes from the chord the others are playing.

Play the B part down an octave.

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Subject: RE: How to play variations ?
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 11 Feb 04 - 03:00 PM

Variations on a very simple tune- Listen to Mozart's Theme and Variations [12] on Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. Yes, classical, but sure to stretch your imagination, and I can't think of an instrument which hasn't been covered by someone.

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Subject: RE: How to play variations ?
From: GUEST,Les B.
Date: 11 Feb 04 - 03:10 PM

leeneia, et al - thanks, some great ideas here, I like the octave hops. I do play parts of tunes up or down an octave when it's feasible. I'm still trying to figure out how to play 3rd or 5th harmony notes - it's not as easy as I first imagined!

My problem is I don't read music, so sitting down and writing out a variation is out of the question.

I also find that when I sit down and learn a tune note for note, then I have a hard time getting off it - my ear & hands keep telling me I'm playing a "wrong" note. If I don't know the tune by heart I have a better time improvising around it.

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Subject: RE: How to play variations ?
From: Lil Dog Turpy
Date: 11 Feb 04 - 05:01 PM

I play a lot more variations than I intend. Usually I just screw up somewhere and then get asked about my "interesting variation" :-)

That also brings in problems with my whistle breathing. I take breaths when I make a mistake while I'm learning the tune. By the time I can play it properly I haven't left any space for breaths and I end up turning blue!

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Subject: RE: How to play variations ?
From: Willie-O
Date: 11 Feb 04 - 05:14 PM

Geoff pretty much covered most of what I do to make variations on a tune.

The key ingredient is to figure out what notes are essential in the tune to make it recognizable, and messing around with the other stuff. Or leaving them out entirely. For example:
  1. in The Rights of Man, play just the first note of each of the series of triplets that open the tune. (You can almost always do that with a riff of triplets)
  2. listen to the intro of Loreena McKennit's version of Bonny Portmore--there's a pipe thing that is just a very selective part of the tune.

When you expect to hear something, your ears fill in the blanks.

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Subject: RE: How to play variations ?
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 11 Feb 04 - 07:39 PM

Lil Dog Turpy

You're supposed to take breaths at the end of phrases....

If you don't read written music, then it can be very difficult when learning tunes by ear while sitting in a 'fast diddlydiddlydudlydum' session... but if you look at the sheet music for a tune (printed in Classical Music style) you will see a curving line over a section - that's a phrase. With other styles of printed music, there is usually a printed pause (silence) symbol that is a dead giveaway.

You should listen to the tune more, and try to reproduce the pauses that you hear very good players introduce, they do this at the end of phrases - here you can breathe...



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Subject: RE: How to play variations ?
From: Dave Hanson
Date: 12 Feb 04 - 07:37 AM

Most variations [ mine anyway ] stem from making a mistake and if it sounds OK keep doing it.

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Subject: RE: How to play variations ?
From: Snuffy
Date: 12 Feb 04 - 09:28 AM

You can breathe anywhere in a tune and call it a variation: instead of playing a triplet, just play the first note and breathe for the next two. You can then run on at the end of phrases if you want. By varying where in the tune you do this you can add quite a bit of variety

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Subject: RE: How to play variations ?
From: M.Ted
Date: 12 Feb 04 - 04:10 PM

The simplest answer is to this is probably "Go spend a few years studying your music and your instrument and in time, you will start to understand how it works"--However, after years of trying to figure things out on my own, I have come to believe that it helps a lot if you know what to look for--

The most important thing, if you are going to improvise, is to learn the melody cold--First, so can play it precisely when ever you need to--but secondly so that you know and can use all of the different melodic and rhythmic ideas in it--

The next thing is to figure out what the "bag of tricks" is for soloing in the sort of music that you do--do they simply ornament the melody with a fixed set of musical figures? Do they substitute scales for parts if the melody? Ascending or descending? Do the scales come out of the chord or do they play against it? Do they substitute arppeggios for melodic phrases?

It helps a lot to isolate the "cadence" of the basic melodic phrase --that is, the rhythmic pattern-- Also to identify the variations of it that occur in the whole melody, and to also find a simple (like a single measure) form of it, and a fuller form(2 and 4 measures)--

A lot of music, particularly jazz, have an antiphonal or "call and response" structure--which means that a short musical phrase is played(often two measures), followed by an answer phrase that has a different cadence--if you don't recognize this when it is happening, your solos will be dead in the water--

A surprising number of solos aren't even variations of the melody--they simply repeat a part of the rhythmic cadence over the chord changes--I once filled in for the bass player in a country bar band that began and ended each set with and instrumental break that was just "Quack-quack here, Quack-quack there, Here-a-quack, there-a-quack, everywhere a Quack-quack"--

The thing to remember is that all improvised music is essentiallly traditional--the elements are passed from player to player within the context of playing the music, each one may add or leave out little bit, and individual practice and work is necessary, but it is a collective thing, and you have to become a part of the community in order to do it--

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