I hear the concept of variations mentioned a lot.

We are all aware (or should be!) that one players rendition of a tune can be quite staggeringly different to anothers. The speed, timing, ornamentation, articulation and even the notes themselves can be completely different.

It may even be that you play a tune differently the "second time through" to the "first time through" or the A and B repeats differently in the same run through etc etc

So the question then, what is your own personal take on variations?

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Mike, so glad you brought this up, because the topic has been a bit of a "bee in my bonnet" lately :-)  If you haven't seen it already, there is a blog which will feature a tune every couple weeks and post as many various recordings by different artists as can be found.  The blog address is:  http://rjhetc.blogspot.com/ .  It an interesting study in variations.  

To me variations of a tune are analagous to the children's game "Whisper Down the Lane".  The phrase starts out as one thing, then by the time it gets around the circle of players, it may be something quite different, yet somewhat the same.  Perhaps each player "hears" only what they want to hear and passes along the message in their own unique arrangement.  Its sometimes frustrating to me when I listen to a recording 30 times, and still learn the tune , in my own head, as something slightly, or considerably different.  Maybe its a matter of the tune speaking differently to each interpreter, or its a function of skill and musical background, there is definitely regional influence at play also.  

Overall I find it all fascinating and will be pursuing learning as many variations of as many tunes as I can for a long time.  Another analogy comes to mind.  One can take classes in a spoken language and learn the basic grammatical rudiments.  But its when one gets to experience the local cultures that one may embrace the deeper nuanced meanings and context and be better able to express themselves and be understood by a wider audience.

Yup Ben, were singing from the same hymn sheet - I had a chance conversation in a pub the other week where it was put in a good way.

"When you listen to Irish music being played well, you have the sense that your never quite sure where the tune will be going next"

When I'm *playing* Irish music I often have the sense that I'm never quite sure where the tune will be going next.  Often not a good thing.

Ahmen to that sister!

Hi Mike....Interesting question!!....Two Issues here....Firstly...the issue of evolution......Some variation comes down to the differing ways people learn tunes. Many people in the trad world seem to learn 'by ear' rather than by note...and thats fine when you consider a lot of Irish folklore and singing was traditionally handed on as an aural tradition. The expression in Gaelic for this is "ó Ghluin go Ghluin.." meaning from knee to knee!. I believe the aural approach fosters gradual variation because what is perceived as the core of a tune by one person might be slightly differently interpreted by another person, perhaps playing a different instrument. And then they put their own unique ornamentation on tunes and that can become part of the core tune. I Figure the more times a tune is "handed on", the more it evolves.  Good or Bad - the fact that it evolves says its a living tradition tradition.

Secondly, a tune which is not written down may be considered to be more 'fluid' in the mind -  there is no fixed definition of it per se (more a process of approximation perhaps). That leaves room for one to add ones own style of playing into the mix and style is something that is unique, multilayered and infinitely variable.  The more one masters an instrument, the more one is able to vary the style on the fly. In fact I suspect most prolific musicians are probably unaware they are even doing it.

Hi Eddie, I'm sure your "on the money" as well - and just to chuck another variable into the pot, I'm sure regional styles must play a part too.


The learning by ear / notation theory is interesting as well. I learn mainly from dots myself but always combined with a good old listen as well. Then again, the final honing of a tune is done after the dots have been discarded and I am listening chiefly to my own output, taking it to where I want it to go. And, having said that, I'm just saying that that is what I do, not that its right and therefore it must be same for everybody! In fact, that is what prompted me to post the question, I want to know how the rest of you do it and pick up tips and pointers along the way!

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