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Author Topic: Making up new tunes  (Read 3080 times)

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Mike Higgins

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Making up new tunes
« on: July 29, 2009, 05:31:09 PM »

Having just listened to Rees' tune 'zuppa inglese' (seconda me molto bravo lui). I wondered how people who make up new tunes do it. When I have a go at making up a new tune the result is usually banal and derivative. Do you clever composers 'hear' something in your head? Do you fumble about on the thing until something good appears? Is it design or accident? I am always surprised to hear a new tune as there are only 12 notes in a chromatic scale and only minims, crotchets, quavers and semiquavers to play them on. Yet there are millions of tunes  ??? ??? ???
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Mike from Ponte Caffaro

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Re: Making up new tunes
« Reply #1 on: July 29, 2009, 05:59:29 PM »

I've written a few things and on odd occasions have been asked by people what the tune is and can they have the notation (which is always, always nice) and I generally find that with regards to accident/design that it's a bit of both. Some tunes have emerged from my fingers in a totally random unexplained manner, while others have been based around a certain phrase or pattern that I hear in my head, decide I like it and try and fit something to it.

The more I do it the easier it becomes, my 1st ever tune was a bit of a dog, but in a strange way I'm still quite proud of it
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Theo

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Re: Making up new tunes
« Reply #2 on: July 29, 2009, 06:05:45 PM »

I am always surprised to hear a new tune as there are only 12 notes in a chromatic scale

But the result of that is simply an enormous number of possibilities.

Take one bar in jig time, 6 notes,  mathematically each note could be one of 12 different tones so there are 12x12x12x12x12x12 possibilities which is nearly 3 million combinations.  That's just one bar, and also assumes playing in only one octave and only one note at a time, and neglects the possibility of using fewer longer notes.
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Theo Gibb - Gateshead UK

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TomB-R

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Re: Making up new tunes
« Reply #3 on: July 29, 2009, 06:06:00 PM »

I think there's a good principle that if a tune "comes easily" it's probably partly from memory, even though you think you're making it up!

If it's harder work, it might be original!

You've got to play a new tune to a good number of people without anyone saying "hmmm, reminds me of...." before you can be sure it's yours. (And some net searches too.)

(Resisting thread creep temptations here!)

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Rees

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Re: Making up new tunes
« Reply #4 on: July 29, 2009, 06:30:59 PM »

Tunes come from all kinds of random places and at the strangest moments.

Dark secret about to be revealed.
How to compose Zuppa Inglese.
Let me take you back to 1984-ish. Being utterly fed up with playing The Blarney Pilgrim every time the caller needed a 48 bar jig I decided to compose my own (this was pre-internet and I was living in West Wales so had little access to other tunes).
The tune was originally called Pilgrim's Progress, the A part being pretty much Blarney Pilgrim played on the next button up. Hmmm, B part. String together a load of straight arpeggios based on a descending scale which sounds flash but is actually a piece of gateau. Go to pub. Return from pub, well 'ammered, and compose(?) the utterly barking C part. Job done, off to bed.
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Rees Wesson (accordion builder and mechanic)
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Stiamh

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Re: Making up new tunes
« Reply #5 on: July 29, 2009, 06:31:51 PM »

I've made up a few over the years and find the best ones come when I'm not particularly trying. I also find that there is a big difference between tunes you compose on an instrument (i.e. fumble about) and ones that you "hear in your head" and get them out by singing or humming. The former are often technically more interesting, with nice twists and turns to them, while the latter are much easier for people to latch onto and, I think, the better for it.

My greatest success (minor hit around these parts) came to me when I was walking to the metro station one sunny August morning. The first phrase popped into my head as I stepped out of the door and by the time I got to the station 10 minutes later the whole thing was complete. As soon as I got to my office I pulled out a whistle and wrote it down. Another one (which has actually been recorded by someone other than myself) just happened in the shower one morning.

What Tom says about checking that your newly composed tune doesn't already exist is very important. It hasn't happened to me, but it has to a couple of people I know, one of whom was completely flabbergasted to learn that a tune he had contributed to a CD of tunes composed locally had already been recorded by someone famous.

On the other hand I realized after the event that one tune I came up with was more or less an inversion of a reel that I had been learning at the time. The existing tune started with an unusual gapped descending run and my new tune began with the same phrase - in reverse! And I was very surprised and a little chastened to realize that the first phrase of a 3-part waltz that I laboured over for weeks was basically the first phrase of a mazurka I had been teaching my fiddle students a week or two earlier...

And literally the second that I decided that the waltz that had taken me weeks to finalize was actually complete, another waltz tune - a better one, I think, and entirely unrelated to it melodically - flooded into my head and all I had to do was write it down!

A good friend of mine has composed hundreds of tunes, many of them really good, some quite widely recorded. One (which won a competition) actually came to him in a dream. He dreamed he was trying to memorize a tune being played at a concert. He woke in the middle of the night, got up and wrote it down before falling asleep again.
« Last Edit: July 29, 2009, 06:34:22 PM by Steve Jones »
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Rees

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Re: Making up new tunes
« Reply #6 on: July 29, 2009, 06:38:06 PM »

As soon as I got to my office I pulled out a whistle and wrote it down. 

My Castagnari doubles as a word processor, so there.  ;)
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Rees Wesson (accordion builder and mechanic)
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Stiamh

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Re: Making up new tunes
« Reply #7 on: July 29, 2009, 06:45:51 PM »

And a friend of mine refers to button boxes as "Newfie typewriters"...
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Theo

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Re: Making up new tunes
« Reply #8 on: July 31, 2009, 12:27:43 AM »

My best tunes usually emerge from some sort of memorable or emotional event, sudden death of a pupil, my brothers 40th birthday, and most recently my parents diamond wedding, have all been the catalyst of new tunes.
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Theo Gibb - Gateshead UK

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HallelujahAl

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Re: Making up new tunes
« Reply #9 on: July 31, 2009, 09:48:24 AM »

Quote
The tune was originally called Pilgrim's Progress, the A part being pretty much Blarney Pilgrim played on the next button up. Hmmm, B part. String together a load of straight arpeggios based on a descending scale which sounds flash but is actually a piece of gateau. Go to pub. Return from pub, well 'ammered, and compose(?) the utterly barking C part. Job done, off to bed.

Well I niver! I wrote a  tune called Pilgrim's Progress - well I say wrote - really I mean 'wrote' a new jiggified version of the hymn 'He Who Would Valiant Be' - the tune was based on 'Monks Gate'. Only I discovered later that it was a 'Traditional' tune and had been adapted and arranged for more Sacred purposes by Ralph Vaughan Williams. So in fact I'd only done the reverse - taken a hymn and turned it back into its original. More fool me - still, it was fun and sounded great! I sometimes play it out in order to shock the more staid congregations I sometimes have the pleasure of standing in front of ;D
AL
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mikesamwild

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Re: Making up new tunes
« Reply #10 on: July 31, 2009, 12:31:40 PM »

I've just been listening to a double CD by Charlie Lennon,'Turning the Tunes' he's the Leitrim fiddler.  The second CD was all his tunes and mostly VG.

He says you have to empty your mind of other tunes, find the A music then work at it till the B music or 'turn' comes to you.


Most of my new tunes came in a band situation when a 48 bar or something was called for or in a moment of panic.. Consequently a lot got lost until a similar situation.  The other lads always laughed and knew it was 'one of Wildy's'


I have slipped quite a few into sessions and have just said they were old tunes.  I find you can get resistance if you claim composition .

I notice Paddy Fahy , the old fiddler never gives his tunes names
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Mike in Sheffield

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TomB-R

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Re: Making up new tunes
« Reply #11 on: July 31, 2009, 12:59:12 PM »

I will admit to very limited enthusiasm for  "new tunes," so many seem to be either, "Patchwork tunes" which take a load of phrases from other tunes and cobble them together, or those twisted, spiky "modernist" things!

I have no problem with anyone who wants to "make up" new tunes, I just reserve my right not to feign enthusiasm or learn or play them!

There are so many great old tunes, and like pebbles, they benefit from years of having the corners rubbed off and being polished!

I particularly disliked a comment by a member of some Keltic Kiddies band who said "why bother to learn old tunes when it's so much easier to make up new ones!" We know why!

All that said, there are some superb new tunes appearing.  Some of you may know Mark Fry who has a particular genius for writing tunes that are genuinely original but don't sound it.

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mikesamwild

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Re: Making up new tunes
« Reply #12 on: August 01, 2009, 11:18:04 AM »

Quote: There are so many great old tunes, and like pebbles, they benefit from years of having the corners rubbed off and being polished!



That's the main point about traditional music it is mainly composed by talented individuals who cast the tunes into the river of sound and the tunes get taken up, and may change and evolve for all sorts of reasons, like natural selection.  I agree , the polishing process makes them 'folk' and many must get rejected or fall on stoney ground.
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Mike in Sheffield

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HallelujahAl

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Re: Making up new tunes
« Reply #13 on: August 01, 2009, 11:35:33 AM »

Thing is we don't get any old tunes without the new tunes - the two go together, like sausage'n'mash (ah! it's nearly lunchtime - that's why I'm thinking about food!) - anyway - long live tunes both old & new. I've just been mucking around with a tune this morning composed by Orlando Gibbons from the 16th Century - brilliant stuff - but I bet somebody back then criticised his stuff for being 'new'!
AL
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