Change of tempo

John Chambers

Message 43405 · 4 Dec 2005 00:19:17 · Fixed-width font · Whole thread

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Mike commented:
| ... "opinion if you have/had a real live musician for the teaching
| part of
| your class?"

| Of course it would, if you could rely on a good musician to be
| able and willing to follow one´s directions. The problem is that
| many musicians have an automatic metronome in their heads, and if
| the musical selection approaches 32 bars, they often relapse into
| the tempo with which they are confortable, as opposed to that
| which you spefied. As all my musicians here in Spain are simply
| reading the score to music with which they have no dancing or
| cultural affinity, I usually place a handy metronome where it can
| be seen.

Here in New England, we have a similar problem for the opposite sort
of reason: Most of the SCD musicians play for New England contras
more than for SCD. The tempo for NE contras is slightly faster (120
or so) than for SCD (112 or so). Unless you have a backup musician
(piano, bass, or drum) with real SCD experience, you often find that
the musicians will start off at the SCD tempo, and slowly speed up to
the contra tempo that they're comfortable with. At that speed, SCD is
possible but rather hectic, and the dancers usually don't like it.

The main problem here is that the two tempi are too close, so that
the musical difference is subtle. I've also occasionally had the fun
of teaching musicians to play for rapper sword, where you want jigs
played at a tempo of around 160. The footwork doesn't work much
slower than that, so you have to play at that speed. If you have
contra or SCD musicians, you pick a few tunes that they know, and
play them at rapper speed. Inevitably, the musicians' reaction is
"Wow!! That's fast!" They know they're facing a challenge. But with a
bit of practice, if the tunes are already familiar from their other
dancing, they find that they can do it with only a little work. And
they aren't tempted to slow down, because the feel of the music is so
radically different.

The same sort of thing happens when playing for Morris dance, but in
the other direction. In this case, the tempo is so much slower than
SCD or contra tempo that you can't confuse them, and there's little
temptation to speed up. All four of these dance types use many of the
same tunes, so playing for several can be a real educational
experience for a musician. But the biggest challenge is SCD vs contra
because their tempi are so close.

I've seen that many of the experienced SCD musicians hereabouts often
carry a metronome with them as a reminder, if the dance leader isn't
good at giving the tempo. Both my accordion and fiddle cases have a
resident electronic metronome. I don't use them much, but they come
in handy at times.

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