Tune Types

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Tune Types

Postby InvertedPiper » Fri Aug 04, 2017 5:52 am

Hullo pipers all,

I was wondering whether people might be able to give me a broad idea of the tune types to be found in the repertoire? While the words 'jig', 'hornpipe' and 'polka' for example are well-known to me, that's in the context of Irish music and I know better than to assume they all mean exactly the same thing in the Northumbrian tradition!

So I suppose I'm after some idea of the general characteristics / feel of the reasonably common tune types.

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Re: Tune Types

Postby RobSay » Fri Aug 25, 2017 11:42 am

Well now there's a question over which many arguments can be had.

Your question is perfectly valid and I can remember asking similar things of various people - the answer is there is no definite list of tune types. Lots of people use different labels to mean different things - and there are always exceptions to any given rule. If you're starting from a generic 'Irish' music context - then the labels are going to be the largley the same but the playing style is going to be different. Even within Northumberland I change what I call the type of tune depending on who I'm playing with. Just picking out a couple of tunes in the 1st NPS book: Jimmy Allen can be a march or reel .. or used as a rant in some circles; Nancy is often played at a reel tempo (which destroys it) - I play at a slower tempo .. which gets called a march .. but it's vastly different in style to Peacock's March.

Musical traditions are to be experienced rather than catalogued - but here we go ... every label covers a huge range of tunes styles and intepretations:
  • Reels - Scots, Irish (actually relatively uncommon), Northumbrian, Country Dance, Quadrille, Fancy ... some things called reels might also be marches or hornpipes or rants which is ..
  • Rants - a whole topic by itself, superficially they look like reels but the feel is different, some tunes crossover
  • Marches - many time signatures: 2/4,4/4,6/8,9/8 - many different styles
  • Polkas - this label covers a whole variety of musics. It'll probably be written in 2/4 but could be classic 19thC dance hall or a simple melody. Some things labelled 'Fancy' might fit into what you would call a Polka, not many Irish polkas have crossed over - and where they have they're played differently.
  • Jigs - lots of different sorts, dotted, undotted, single & double - many borrowed and modified from elsewhere - style depends on who you learnt from or play with but you won't find many pure 'flat' or smooth jigs. And then you have the triple time jigs (9/8) which get lumped in with Irish slip jigs ... but they really aren't the same.
  • Waltzes - numerous different styles here - dotted, undotted, songs ... also covers older minuets ..
  • Hornpipes - Clog hornpipes, fiddle hornpipes, modern, old - great variety and played far more in Northumberland than elsewhere in my experience. A huge number of these have been exported and mangled in other traditions over the last 150 years. The traditional step dance tune in Dartmoor is a version of a Tyneside clog hornpipe, various regions in Ireland claim 'Miss Thompsons' ... but then we have absorbed and changed Mdm Bonaparte ..
  • Triple time hornpipes - get their own section - 3/2, 3/4, 9/4 ... outside of the most common 'standards' (Lads of Alnwick, Rusty Gulley, Berwick Johnny) the field is wide open to intepretation
  • Airs - well this covers anything played for a listening audience; style is down to how you learnt the piece and what you (skill & experience) bring to it. Chevy Chase is in 3/4 but don't you play it like a waltz, Lea Riggs is in 2/4 and has a lot in common with children's rhymes but woe unto those who go there - especially if you play it with ...
  • Variations - at this point you hit the one category where there is a definitive & shared understanding - there is ~250 years worth of material passed down through various players and accompanied by what is an extraordinary written record. It's not static either - every significant player changes or adapts their settings (even if only by choice of repetoire), new strains are combined with existing sets and whole new sets are written.
and as you can see, pretty much every label and has an accompanying can of worms!
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