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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Variations, Improvisation and Arrangement


Please note this is an archived topic, so it is locked and unable to be replied to. You may, however, start a new topic and refer to this topic with a link: http://www.flatpickerhangout.com/archive/4685

musekatcher - Posted - 09/05/2008:  08:38:57


In a fiddle tune rendering, do you use variations? And how do you select your variations?

If you don't use variations, what arrangment do you use?

For those who are asking, variations are versions of the melody, that aren't the melody.

Jim Holland
Athens, AL

TonyH - Posted - 09/05/2008:  09:02:30


i use variations.. especially with fiddle tunes, cuz if each instrument takes a turn, the repetition of the melody by banjo, guitar, fiddle, mandolin and maybe dobro gets overkill. if i am playing my turn on guitar or banjo, i will know the notes in the melody and make sure i might state the melody once and then deviate and weave in and out of teh melody and tease otehr tunes as well. just want to keep it fresh.

Chadtheguru - Posted - 09/05/2008:  10:45:57


I usually only deviate from the melody when I know the song well enough to not get lost. Even then I weave in and out of the melody line like TonyH said, inserting licks in place of phrases so the song is at least occasionally recognizable.

If it isn't an arrangement I've memorized or can pull off fairly easily, I typically just play the melody through for a short break.

Chad

Bonnie - Posted - 09/05/2008:  18:54:23


I assume you don't mean improvising - do you? Or do you mean improvising so far away from the melody that you aren't playing the melody anymore?

I guess I try to play variation on tunes and not just stick to melody, but I wish I was better at improvising melodically and not straying so far when I do.

musekatcher - Posted - 09/05/2008:  21:56:37


quote:
Originally posted by Bonnie

I assume you don't mean improvising - do you? Or do you mean improvising so far away from the melody that you aren't playing the melody anymore?

I guess I try to play variation on tunes and not just stick to melody, but I wish I was better at improvising melodically and not straying so far when I do.





I was going to leave it up to the contributors to decide, but I guess my view is improvisation is one way to add a variation, while others play prepared variations, and others still play straight melody. I'm interested in views on all three.

Jim Holland
Athens, AL

bryankimsey - Posted - 09/06/2008:  07:05:01


quote:
Originally posted by musekatcher

IFor those who are asking, variations are versions of the melody, that aren't the melody.



Well, what's the melody? I've been working on "Spotted Pony" for a few weeks. The version I picked up from Grainger's is quite a bit different from the version that my friends are using from FGM, and both are different from the version on Todd Phillip's album "In The Pines". This has been true of pretty much ALL the fiddle tunes I know.

So, my variations might come simply from mixing various versions from different sources and then putting my own guitaristic spin on them. I like for the melody- or at least the FEEL of the melody- to pretty much always be there.

This pretty much sums up my approach to improvisation:
youtube.com/watch?v=KSg1-UkBnzU (see Part 2, too)
On this video, I am actually improvising, playing some stuff I'd never played before. There are a lot of mistakes and a lot of dead ends, but AS I'M PLAYING, I go back and try to refine those ideas. When I'm done fooling around, then I go back and pull out things and refine them even further and get the exact phrase that I was trying to play down. There are very few places here where I totally let the melody go- nearly all of the time, I'm running the melody in my head. After doing this, I ended up with 4-5 distinct breaks that I'll use today- it's rare that I'll get that many breaks anyway. I still might vary these in a jam in response to another player's break- if I'm jamming with someone else who's come up with a bunch of breaks, I might quote something they played back to them, but I always have my set of breaks to fall back on.

If it's a tune that I honestly have never heard before, then I usually spend most of my breaks looking for the melody and since I never hit 100%, I'm playing something that resembles the melody (as presented to me by the other player).








Edited by - bryankimsey on 09/06/2008 07:09:41

Bill - Posted - 09/06/2008:  08:51:39


If I am jamming and a tune I never heard before is played, then I improvise using scales and chord partials. The only thing I do is try to make my improv match the movement of the tune.

If I am working with my band, it is a different story. Then, I work out variations that are based on the direction we want to take the tune. The banjo player and I decided to play a double lead for the ending of 'Salt Creek'. In that case, I will tape his part and carefully work out a lead that compliments what he is doing. If I am take the first lead, I play the melody as accurately as possible. If one of the other instruments takes the first lead, I try and do something different and interesting. As I learn more and improve my technical skills, I take more chances.

Sometime, even when I am jamming a song that I am unfamiliar with, I will recognize what key melody tones are, a 7th, a 6th, etc. Then, I try to hit those tones in my improv.

tocotodo - Posted - 09/06/2008:  19:08:17


quote:
Originally posted by bryankimsey
So, my variations might come simply from mixing various versions from different sources and then putting my own guitaristic spin on them. I like for the melody- or at least the FEEL of the melody- to pretty much always be there.


That's what I was going to say.

OldD18 - Posted - 09/06/2008:  22:13:39


Playing the straight melody-well-is such a respectable thing. You can hear a lot of great players pay homage to the melody on a 1st break...and then cut loose on a 2nd solo....bringing in more personal style (in some cases the melody disappears entirely and the thing becomes a lickfest)....this is where Tony Rice would play his signature bluesy licks and where Ron Block would do some killer full-step chokes...or Tim Stafford would play some of that floating stuff.... And, on the final solo, bring it home with more respect for the melody....perhaps not as straight as the original solo...with slight variation.

The great players never leave that melody on the side of the road, completely....melody is to be nurtured and developed...like a beautiful child...

regards, bud

rookie_davis - Posted - 09/10/2008:  02:31:42


This is a great topic!

I think it's useful to consider that improvisation is (and should be) different for bluegrass and jazz. They are both wonderful traditions, and once one is experienced enough, the distinctions probably fade a little, but for me the best bet is to be diligent about learning to play within a very specific style before attempting anything crazy. Jazz improvisation is based on the harmony of the tune and the players are literally crafting their own melodies through their improvisations. Bluegrass musicians, on the other hand, can't merely "blow over the changes" and expect to be taken seriously within the style. The melody should always be intact in some way, shape, or form. However, certain songs call for a break that is more than just the melody, and fiddle tunes come to life when they are given a little shot in the arm.

I've been working on this for a few months now. I've come to favor the approach taken by my teacher, John McGann. That is, I always try to start with the simplest version of a melody I can find: if it has a lot of quarter- and half-notes, I'm thrilled. Having the most basic melodic framework in place gives one far more options to work with when crafting variations. This is why -- if one is truly interested in learning how to improvise -- I think it is counter-productive to learn fiddle tunes out of a Kaufman book (nothing again the man or his methods, of course). To be more specific on that point, I think that the best way to learn tunes is by ear, so it follows that the best way to learn to improvise is by ear.

When I first started working on this, I tried to play variations up-to-tempo and always ran into "the wall". Nothing worked out! It wasn't until I slowed things WAY down -- 60 bpm metronome scale -- that I could improvise variations in real time. I truly believe that after some time working at this speed, I will be able to come up with real-time variations at 70 bpm, then 80, then 90, and so on.

I think that the ability to improvise melodic variations is a particularly important skill for all serious guitarists. Consider the guitar relative to the fiddle: it it has no sustain. As beautiful and exciting as guitar music can be, one has to seriously take its limitations into account. On tunes where a fiddle has no problem sustaining quarter- or half-notes to great effect, the guitar needs to find another way of filling up the time -- not over-playing -- but when there is a rhythm section chugging away things don't quite sound right when notes of longer duration are sustained on guitar. This is one of many excellent opportunities for embellishment.


Edited by - rookie_davis on 09/10/2008 02:47:51

Chadtheguru - Posted - 09/10/2008:  05:35:41


Thanks rookie_davis. That was a great post. I've been playing guitar for about 15 years on and off, but I'm just now getting serious about learning to flatpick decently. The first couple of fiddle tunes I learned from Kaufman tab and it is difficult to break away from how I learned it initially. Lately I've been picking up tunes I hear on the mp3 player. Those tunes I feel much better about improvising and making my own fills without being exactly like the tab says but still playing 90% of the melody. Great post. Thanks again.


Chad

Guy - Posted - 09/17/2008:  11:44:41


For what it's worth, I subscribe to the school of thought that says you should learn how the tune goes before diving into an improvisation. Please note, I'm not talking about jamming here.

Your variations will always have far more impact if they are informed by a proper knowledge of the tune

Guy

You hum it son, I''ll play it!
salmagundi.me.uk

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