Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Playing for Irish Dancers

(by Marci Phelan)

The Tunes

Ceili, or social dancing, uses mostly double jigs and reels, though polkas can be substituted for reels in some cases. A few dances use special tunes, and waltzes are often requested at a ceili.

Step dancing requires reels, hornpipes (slow and fast), single jigs, double jigs (slow and fast), slip jigs, and set dances.

For all tune categories except set dances, you should have multiple tunes arranged and practiced ahead of time so you can transition smoothly from one to the next, providing music for a long period­ as long as 10 minutes for some ceili dances or a "step about" with lots of dancers ­without stopping. Set dances are individual so there's no need to transition from one to another.

Number of Steps and Introduction

Most step-dance steps are 16 bars long (8 bars on each foot), so a typical two-part, 32-bar tune (A-B format) is enough for two steps. If a dancer plans to do six steps, that means you'll play a two-part tune three times (or play three two-part tunes once each, or some combination).

For both ceili dancers and step dancers, you should almost always play an 8-bar introduction (except on slip jigs) so the dancers can gauge the tempo and know when to start dancing. Usually you play an extra A part as the introduction. This way, the dancer can let 8 bars go by and the dance steps will still "sync" with the typical 16-bar phrases of the music. Slip jigs are an exception, since the length of the A part varies (often being 4 instead of 8 measures). Play slip jigs normally (without an extra A part), and the dancer will simply wait 8 bars and then start dancing.


Tempos for step dancing are precise; the range of acceptable tempos is very narrow for each dance, so it's important to start playing at the right tempo and maintain the tempo throughout. See the attached list of tempos.

Tempos for ceili dances typically range from 110 to 125 and don't need to be nearly as precise as tempos for step dancing. Experienced dancers usually like faster tempos, though the best tempo has to do more with the complexity of the steps in the dance and other factors, such as the dance floor, the temperature, and humidity (play slower when the dance surface is slippery, uneven, or hard­like concrete­or when the weather is hot and muggy).

Special Note About Hornpipes
Hornpipes are often written evenly with eighth notes, but they aren't played that way. Each combination of two eighth notes is swung so it's played as a dotted eighth note followed by a sixteenth note. Sometimes you will find hornpipes written out as played.

Step Dancing

In general, younger and less-experienced dancers need faster tempos than older, more advanced dancers. The main reason is that more advanced dancers do more complex the steps and require more time to execute them. Although no expert has ever confirmed this for me, I suspect it also has to do with the fact that younger dancers, being smaller, take smaller steps. I have seen older and younger dancers both do the same steps, and the younger ones still need faster music than the older ones.

Adjust tempos, as needed. This chart will provide some ballpark figures to start with.

Music Type
Soft Shoe
(One step is usually 16 bars.)
Novice & Prizewinner
& Open
(Option = polkas for beginners only)
Light or Soft JigDouble Jigs120-122116-120112-116 (1)
Slip JigSlip Jigs120-122116-120112-116*
Single JigSingle Jigs120-122116-120112-116 (1)
Hard Shoe
Double, Treble, or Hard JigDouble Jigs (regu-lar or advanced)(Traditional) 92(Trad. or Adv.)
92 or 72-76
HornpipeHornpipes (regular or advanced)(Traditional)
76-82 (at two clicks/measure)
(Trad. or Adv.)
76-82 or 112-116
112-116* (at four clicks per measure)
Set Dances
(Hard Shoe)
Use music for the specified dance.Dancers set their own tempos on most set dances.
St. Patrick's DaySt. Patrick's Day9292 (1)92 (1)
BlackbirdBlackbird(1)70 minimum*70 minimum *
Job of JourneyworkJob of Journeywork(1)76 minimum*76 minimum*
Hurry the JugHurry the Jug(1)69 minimum*69 minimum*
Planxty DavisPlanxty Davis(1)40 minimum*40 minimum*
Planxty DruryPlanxty Drury(1)69 minimum*69 minimum*
* Tempo established by the Irish Dancing Commission and enforced during competition
(1) Not commonly danced in competition.

Tunes and Tempos commonly suggested for usage at a Feis:

Tune And Tempo Suggestions for a Feis

Don’t worry very much about learning these if they are new to you; it’s better to choose tunes you know and are comfortable with playing at a steady beat. (Tempo is the most important part of playing at a feis.) Simpler, catchy tunes are best, at least for lower levels. That said, we do have a few favorites that seem to keep popping up. Also look at other feis musicians’ CDs and MP3s for suggestions, such as those by Pat King, Mike Shaffer, Sean O’Brien, and Dean Crouch.

Reels: 112–116

  • Jenny’s Chickens
  • Chicago Reel
  • Congress Reel
  • Rakes of Mallow
  • Walls of Limerick

Light/Double Jigs
Jigs: 112–116

  • Swallowtail Jig
  • Rakes of Kildare
  • My Darling Asleep
  • Apples in Winter
  • Siege of Ennis

Slip Jigs
Jigs: 112–116

  • The Butterfly
  • Kid on the Mountain
  • Foxhunter’s Jig
  • Boys of Balisadare

Single Jigs
Jigs: 112–116
Advanced Beginner Treble Jig: 92
Oireachtas Treble Jig: 72–76

  • Haste to the Wedding
  • Kesh Jig
  • Merrily Kiss the Quaker

Traditional Hornpipe: 138–144
Oireachtas Hornpipe: 112–116

  • The Rights of Man
  • Pigeon on the Gate
  • Rolling Down the Hill
  • The Boys of Blue Hill

Feis na nGleann

Feis na nGleann was established in 1904 in the picturesque Glens of Antrim by a group of cultural enthusiasts who wished to preserve the Irish language, traditions, songs, music, games and past-times for future generations.

The native Irish had struggled to preserve their ancient laws and customs for years and during the last quarter of the 19th century, Ireland was experiencing a massive cultural revolution. The north Antrim coast was no different.

An Cumann Luthcleas Gael (Gaelic Athletic Association) was founded in 1884, in Thurles, County Tipperary to preserve Gaelic games and was closely followed by the Gaelic League in the summer of 1893 in Dublin. The League's main aim was to preserve Irish as a spoken language and like the GAA, branches were being formed all over Ireland dedicated to keeping the language alive.

It was the establishment of a branch in Belfast that stirred interest in the North. Its president was Glenarm historian and leading Gaelic scholar Eoin MacNeill. He could recall Irish being spoken in the Glens during his childhood and wished to see the language spoken with pride once again. League branches were soon formed in the Glens with ceilidthe (dances) arranged, visits to historical places, language classes and concerts.

The Irish language was spoken universally in the glens and Rathlin Island up until the 1850s, making it one of the last Gaeltacht areas in Ulster. Spoken Irish suffered as a result of the Antrim Coast Road being established in the 1850s, bringing with it trade and the English language. English was no stranger to the area, with the 17th century plantation introducing the language as well as Scots Gaelic and the dialect Lallans.

Although the native language was adopted by many newcomers, significant factors including the potato blight of 1840s Ireland which resulted in An Gorta Mor (The Great Famine) and the introduction of assisted immigration saw the number of Irish speakers significantly reduced.

The English language was associated with trade and prosperity by many native Irish speakers. The English-speaking landed gentry who arrived during the Plantation lived comfortably in what was referred to as the 'big houses', confounding the belief of many poor Catholics living in poverty under the landlord regime that English would bring them wealth.

Dr Douglas Hyde, Professor of Irish at the National University, recognised the need for Irishmen and women to show that they were a distinct nationality from their English suppressors and the Glensfolk turned out for the first Feis, showing strong support for his theory. In an 1892 speech to the Irish National Literary Society he pointed out that 'in order to de-Anglicise ourselves we must arrest the decay of the language'.

Fellow Gaelic League member Francis Joseph Bigger, a lawyer-historian from Belfast, came up with the idea of the Feis with friends, including Sam Waddel, Fred Hughes, Dennis McCullough, Joseph Campbell and his sister, whilst holidaying in Cushendun. Joseph was a Protestant Nationalist and an Irish language and history enthusiast. He pledged money to the preservation of high crosses, patriot graves and castles throughout Ireland. He was one of many professional and wealthy Protestants which supported the revival of Irish language and past-times.

They were enthusiastic in their approach and met with prominent Glensfolk on the February 28, 1904 to lay the foundations of the great cultural festival, and preparations began from that day forth.

English born Ada Mc Neill, who lived in Cushendun was a member of the founding committee. A staunch Nationalist and a member of the Gaelic League, she embraced the revival and rejected the views of her Unionist family. Miss Ada, as she was affectionately known in the Glens, represented the Glenswomen on the first Feis committee alongside Rose Young, of the Unionist Young family from Galgorm Manor, Ballymena and Margaret Dobbs, a language enthusiast and scholar from Portnagolan House, Cushendall, to name but a few. The festival's first president was Barbara McDonnell of Monavart, Cushendall.

Great companion of young Roger Casement, a fellow Feis committee member, Mc Neill and Dobbs were greatly influenced by the young man who often resided at Magheraintemple, Glenshesk at the 'big house' of his Uncle John, a well respected member of the Unionist community.

The Feis was established at a time when there was growing support for the Home Rule movement which sought to give Ireland more say in how the country was governed and abolish direct rule from London.

On Thursday June 30, 1904 the inaugural Feis na nGleann was held in Glenarriff, the Queen of the Glens. A procession from Cushendall was led by pipers from Armagh with banners representing the nine glens and also the clans of North Antrim. Native speakers of Irish still existed in Glendun, Glenariff and Rathlin.

Rathlin Island was magnificently represented with two hundred of the three hundred and twenty five Irish speakers on the island travelling over on a boat paid for by Casement, accompanied by their own piper.

Hurling, then called shinny, was a major attraction and the Carey Faughs played the Cushendun Emmets in the final played on the beach, with Casement as one of the umpires. A specially made copper trophy for the winners called The Shield of Heroes was presented to the winning team, the Carey Faughs, who still care for the shield today.

A wooden hall in Glenariff held the industrial and arts exhibitions, which were an integral part of the Feis, displaying the craftwork of the Glens people. Called the Local Industries section, it consisted of of 46 sections, covering spinning, quilting, furniture making and shoemaking. It was hoped that by displaying the handcrafts of the Glensfolk that much needed employment would be gained. It survives today as the Arts and Crafts section.

Among the thriving small businesses at the time was a toy making workshop in Cushendall established in the village in 1900, which helped raise the standard of skills in areas such as sewing, knitting and embroidery. A home industry workshop was also opened in Ballycastle, aimed at improving traditional skills.

Irish dancing took place during the first Feis, on a platform in a field and drew great crowds. It is now held indoors over a two day period and the most popular venue in recent years has been Carey Parochial Hall.

Much planning went on behind the scenes for the day long festival and two of the behind-the-scenes helpers were the talented brothers, artist John Campbell and poet Joseph Campbell.

'The Nine Glens', a poem written by Joseph, appeared on the first ever Feis programme and both men were fine singers, often appearing around the piano at Francis Joseph Bigger's house, Ard Righ. It was Joseph who penned the lyrics to 'My Lagan Love', one of many songs on the verge of distinction. His most well-known song in the Glens is 'The Blue Hills of Antrim' which is sung at many a traditional session in the area and further afield to this day.

Music plays an important part of the annual Feis to this day, with choir, solo and group competitions held over two days.

Scholarships to the Gaeltacht allowed children, whose parents could not afford to send them to be schooled through Irish, to spend their summers learning the language and bringing their improved tongue back to the glens.

At the centenary celebrations of the Feis in 2004, over two thousand visitors came to view the Arts and Crafts section alone, which was held in a marquee in Glenariff over two days and stretched to 68 sections, making the Feis even more successful 100 years on.

Monday, December 30, 2013

How to Apply As A Musician for Riverdance

Musicians should include a CV/resume, photograph, video and audio recording.

Please submit all applications to:
Music Department Supervisor, Abhann Productions, 133 Capel Street, Dublin 1, Ireland

Email queries to info@riverdance.com

Irish Dancers At The Crossroads No More

What images do you conjure in your mind when you think of 'Irish Dancing' ? Do you think of dancers at the crossroads in times gone by or the over dependence on false tan and hair pieces that grace the stage today?

Whatever your individual image of 'Irish Dancing', it remains a global phenomenon , from its humble formal beginnings in the latter part of the 19th Century to the jaw dropping shows that continue today around the World.

Indeed, Irish Dancing wasn't always as auspicious as it is today. The Irish people fought against the repression of the penal laws in the 17th Century ensuring that Irish education, Culture and dancing survived for future generations. It is to their credit that the sense of national pride was nurtured during these very difficult times often practicing in secret and following the tragedy of the Irish famine in mid 1840’s, a stoic sense of national pride needed to be fostered. Despite this draconian past, Ireland's culture, traditions coupled with the strong sense of nationalism ensured that language and dance survived.

The 'Dance Master' was a predominant feature from the mid to late 18th century where usually a colorful individual would earn his living by teaching the children of the local gentry deportment as well as traditional Irish steps and was usually accompanied by a musician. The Dance Master also taught peasant children during the era of the hedge schools in Ireland when there was prohibition on the practice of Irish Culture and tradition and dance. The Dance Masters varied in their levels of accomplishment with some teaching only the basic rudiments of the craft in the form of the rising step, while the level of intricacy employed by others involved team dances and difficult footwork.

With similar etiquette to that which exists today among Irish Dance Teachers, Dance Masters seldom encroached on another Dance Masters territory and overall they were widely esteemed by the Community.

Outlets for this new founded skill began to emerge with small sessions engaging in communal dance instruction and open air displays when the weather permitted. Thus in this way, dancing at the Crossroads was born and following the Catholic Emancipation Act in 1829 Irish tradition had had its reprieve.

This practice continued well on into the late nineteenth Century with Dance Masters surviving in more isolated areas into the early twentieth Century. However, the devastating famine of the 1840’s which resulted in mass emigration and the deaths of almost a million people had far reaching effects on the emphasis towards the Irish Language and Culture.

Towards the end of the nineteenth Century as the Country struggled to rebuild it’s sense of nationalism the grip of the Catholic Church tightened with crossroads dancing and such informal gatherings as had become common being denounced from the pulpit as 'sinful'.

The Gaelic League was set up in 1893 to encourage the renewed interest in Irish Culture and the first ‘Ceili’ was organised in London in 1897 by the Irish Diaspora residing in London who wished to keep a stronghold on their own traditions. It was highly successful with many high profile members of the Gaelic League attending and it created a blueprint for encouraging the same in Ireland.

These ‘Ceili’ were encouraged in Ireland by the Catholic Church who wished that any socializing between men and women be supervised and with the introduction of the ‘Dance Halls Act’ in the 1930’s it seemed that dancing at the Crossroads had come to it's inevitable end.

Thus the first Irish ‘Feis’ was held in Macroom, Co. Cork on 20th March 1898 with Irish Dancers competing in Reel, Jig and Hornpipe and Irish Dance Schools were set up to fulfill the growing demand for tuition.

Irish Dancing continued to flourish throughout the 1930’s and 40’s with the introduction of ‘An Coimisiún le Rincí Gaelacha’ which was set up by Conradh na Gaeilge in 1929 to promote and preserve the skill of Irish Dancing and to aid in the running of Feiseanna. Feiseanna were organised competitions and proved hugely popular. Developing on the Tailteann Games, the nature of Irish Dance Costumes began to change with individual Schools creating their own costume embellished with Celtic Designs most of which were hand embroidered with Collar and Cuffs hand crocheted.

In the 1950's there was a marked decline in the numbers of Dancers particularly in rural areas with many people leaving school early and travelling to Dublin and other major cities with the promise of better prospects and a higher living standards. With the happening years of the 1960’s, 70's and 80's the main Dublin Venue, The Lord Major’s residence, The Mansion House continued to play host to many Dublin, Leinster and all Ireland Dance Championships although this was a controversial period with policy differences in 'An Coimisiún' leading to the setting up of 'Comhdháil na Muinteorí Rince Gaelacha' in 1969 and further differences in 'An Comhdháil' resulting in the setting up of ' Cumann Rince Naisiunta' in 1982. Since this period many other Irish Dance Organisations have been set up Worldwide exploiting areas where previously no Irish Dance Classes existed.

Then in April 1994, during the interval of the Eurovision Song contest in Mill Street, Co. Cork the history of Irish Dancing was re-written.

‘Riverdance’ as it was named, was a line up of uniformly clad Irish Dancers fronted by the American Duo, Jean Butler and Michael Flately in a piece created by the team of Moya Doherty, John Mc Colgan with Music by Bill Whelan.

They took to the stage with such force and energy that the dynamics of Irish Dance changed forever with Irish step dancing being transported into the 21st Century overnight.

Classes immediately saw huge influxes of eager students wishing to emulate the dancers they had seen with Butler and Flately becoming overnight sensations.

'Riverdance' the Show was launched in 1995 to Worldwide acclaim and has been instrumental over the last fifteen years in setting trends not only within Irish Dance footwork but with Irish Dance Costumes becoming lighter, shorter and more embellished with exotic fabrics being used in dazzling creations and spawning countless dancing shows.

The future of Irish Dancing is as strong as it has ever been, since the beginning of the 20th Century, Irish Dance has changed from a rural preoccupation of the working classes to the global phenomenon with exponential increases in Eastern Europe, South Africa and USA. In these challenging times where Tradition and Culture are often looked on as the staples in peoples lives, Irish Dancing has become synonymous with a deeply rooted sense of National pride.

The history of Irish Dance

by Arthur Flynn

The early history of Irish dance reveals a constant shifting of population through migration and invasions. Each of these peoples brought their preferred types of dance and music. There are only vague references to the early history of Irish dancing, but there is evidence that among its first practitioners were the Druids, who danced in religious rituals honoring the oak tree and the sun. Traces of their circular dances survive in the ring dances of today. When the Celts arrived in Ireland from central Europe over two thousand years ago, they brought with them their own folk dances. Around 400 AD, after the conversion to Christianity, the new priests used the pagan style of ornamentation in illuminating their manuscripts, while the peasants retained the same qualities in their music and dancing.

The Anglo-Norman conquest in the twelfth century brought Norman customs and culture to Ireland. The Carol was a popular Norman dance in which the leader sang and was surrounded by a circle of dancers who replied with the same song. This Norman dance was performed in conquered Irish towns.

Three principal Irish dances are mentioned often in sixteenth century writing: the Irish Hey, the Rinnce Fada (long dance) and the Trenchmore. One of the first references to dance is in a letter written by Sir Henry Sydney to Queen Elizabeth I in 1569. "They are very beautiful, magnificently dressed and first class dancers," Sydney wrote of the girls he saw dancing enthusiastic Irish jigs in Galway.

Sydney went on to describe the dance formation, observing the dancers in two straight lines which suggests they were performing an early version of the long dance.

During the mid sixteenth century, dances were performed in the great halls of the newly built castles. Some of the dances were adapted by the sixteenth century English invaders and brought to the court of Queen Elizabeth. One of these dances was the Trenchmore, which was an adaptation of an old Irish peasant dance. From this period onward another style of dance called the Hey was popular where female dancers wound in around their partners, in a fore-runner of the present day reel.

When royalty arrived in Ireland, they were greeted at the shore by young women performing native dances. When King James landed at Kinsale, County Cork, in 1780, he was welcomed by dancers. Three people stood abreast, each holding ends of a white handkerchief. They advanced to slow music and were followed by dancing couples, each couple holding a handkerchief between them. The tempo of the music increased and the dancers performed a variety of lively figures.

Irish dancing was accompanied by music played on the bagpipes and the harp. In the houses of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy, the master often joined with servants in some of the dances. Dancing was also performed during wakes. The mourners followed each other in a ring around the coffin to bagpipe music.

The Irish Dance Master

During the eighteenth century, the dancing master appeared in Ireland. He was a wandering dancing teacher who travelled from village to village in a district, teaching dance to peasants. Dancing masters were flamboyant characters who wore bright clothes and carried staffs. Their young pupils did not know the difference between their left and right feet. To overcome this problem, the dancing master would tie straw or hay to his pupils' left or right feet and instruct them to "lift hay foot" or "lift straw foot".
Group dances were developed by the masters to hold the interest of their less gifted pupils and to give them the chance to enjoy dancing. The standard of these dances was very high. Solo dancers were held in high esteem and often doors were taken off hinges and placed on the ground for the soloists to dance on.

Each dancing master had his own district and never encroached on another master's territory. It was not unknown for a dancing master to be kidnapped by the residents of a neighbouring parish. When dancing masters met at fairs, they challenged each other to a public dancing contest that only ended when one of them dropped with fatigue.

Several versions of the same dance were to be found in different parts of Ireland. In this way a rich heritage of Irish dances was assembled and modified over the centuries. Today, jigs, reels, hornpipes, sets, half sets, polkas and step dances are all performed. Solo dancing or step dancing first appeared at the end of the eighteenth century.

The costumes worn by Irish dancers today commemorate the clothing of the past. Each school of dancing has its own distinct dancing costume. Dresses are based on the Irish peasant dress worn two hundred years ago. Most of the dresses are adorned with hand-embroidered Celtic designs, copies of the Tara brooch are often worn on the shoulder. The brooch hold a cape which falls over the back. The clothes worn by men are less embellished but steeped in history- they wear a plain kilt and jacket, with a folded cloak draped from the shoulder. Male and female dancers today wear hornpipe shoes, and for reels and jigs, soft shoes similar to ballet pumps are worn.

Today there are many organisations promoting Irish dance. The Feis has been an important part of rural cultural life. Children, teenagers and adults compete in separate competitions for Feis titles and prizes. There are group and solo competitions where dancers are graded by age from six to seventeen and then into the senior categories.

There are dancing championships in all four provinces, and winners of these provincial competitions qualify for the All Ireland Championships. The World Championships are held in Dublin at Easter where dancers from England, Ireland, USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand compete for the World title.

The Irish word céili originally referred to a gathering of neighbors in a house to have an enjoyable time, dancing, playing music and storytelling. Today it refers to an informal evening of dancing. Céilis are held in large towns and country districts where young and old enjoy together group dances. The céili can be traced back to pre-famine times, when dancing at the cross-roads was a popular rural pastime. These dances were usually held on Sunday evenings in summer when young people would gather at the cross-roads. The music was often performed by a fiddler seated on a three legged stool with his upturned hat beside him for a collection. The fiddler began with a reel such as the lively "Silver Tip", but he had to play it several times before the dancers joined in. The young men were reluctant to begin the dance but after some encouragement from the fiddler, the sets of eight filled up the dancing area.

The world-wide success of Riverdance and more recently Lord of the Dance has placed Irish dance on the international stage. Dancing schools in Ireland today are filled with young pupils keen to imitate and learn the dancing styles which brought Jean Butler and Michael Flatley international acclaim.

Today there are many opportunities to watch and enjoy Irish dancing. It is still a regular part of social functions. Dancing sessions at céilis are usually preceded by a teaching period where novices are shown the initial steps. During the summer months, céilis are held in many Irish towns. Visitors are always welcome to join in and with on the spot, informal instruction, anyone can quickly master the first steps and soon share the Irish enthusiasm for Irish dance.

Irish Dancing - Ceilidh and Set Dancing

Irish dancing or Irish dance is a group of traditional dance forms originating in Ireland which can broadly be divided into social dance and performance dances. Irish social dances can be divided further into céilí and set dancing. Irish set dances are quadrilles, danced by four couples arranged in a square, while céilí dances are danced by varied formations (céilí) of two to sixteen people. In addition to their formation, there are significant stylistic differences between these two forms of social dance. Irish social dance is a living tradition, and variations in particular dances are found across the Irish dancing community; in some places, dances are deliberately modified and new dances are choreographed.

Irish dancing, popularized in 1994 by the world-famous show Riverdance, is notable for its rapid leg and foot movements, body and arms being kept largely stationary.

Most competitive dances are solo dances, though many stepdancers also perform and compete using céilí dances. The solo stepdance is generally characterized by a controlled but not rigid upper body, straight arms, and quick, precise movements of the feet. The solo dances can either be in "soft shoe" or "hard shoe".
The dancing traditions of Ireland probably grew in close association with traditional Irish music. Although its origins are unclear, Irish dancing was later influenced by dance forms from the Continent, especially the Quadrille. Travelling dancing masters taught all over Ireland, as late as the 18th and early 19th centuries. During this time, places for competitions and fairs were always small, so there was little room for the Dance Masters to perform. They would dance on tabletops, sometimes even the top of a barrel. Because of this, the dancing styles were very contained, with hands rigid at the sides, and a lack of arm movement and travelling across the stage. As time went on, larger places for dance competitions and performances were found, so styles grew to include more movement, more dancing across the stage as seen, for example, in Riverdance.

Irish social, or céilí /ˈkeɪli/ dances vary widely throughout Ireland and the rest of the world. A céilí dance may be performed with as few as two people and as many as sixteen. Céilí dances may also be danced with an unlimited number of couples in a long line or proceeding around in a circle (such as in "The Walls of Limerick", "The Waves of Tory", "Haymakers Jig", "An Rince Mor" or "Bonfire Dance"). Céilí dances are often fast and some are quite complex ("Antrim Reel", "Morris Reel"). In a social setting, a céilí dance may be "called" – that is, the upcoming steps are announced during the dance for the benefit of newcomers. The céilí dances are typically danced to Irish instruments such as the Irish Bodhran hand drum or fiddle in addition to the concertina (and similar instruments), guitar, whistle or flute.

The term céilí dance was invented in the late 19th century by the Gaelic League. Céilí as a noun differs from the adjective céilí. A céilí is a social gathering featuring Irish music and dance. Céilí dancing is a specific type of Irish dance. Some céilithe (plural of céilí) will only have céilí dancing, some only have set dancing, and some will have a mixture.


Sunday, December 29, 2013

Playing In A Small Group

Chamber groups are small ensembles such as string quartets and piano trios, who play music intended for performance in close chambers such as parlors and living rooms, churches, or virtually any venue smaller than a large concert hall. While their small sizes and are ideal for intimate settings, chamber groups can, of course, also perform in great concert halls. Chamber orchestras with fifteen or more players blur the definition of a chamber group somewhat; however, while chamber orchestras are relatively large, they remain small and "chamber-like" in comparison to the immense size and volume of full modern orchestras.

It's the best way to meet people. It's much easier than a party. You go to a party, you wonder if someone is going to be approachable or not, but when you play music together, somehow you're communicating immediately, and you go to that level socially as well. Once you start playing music, you can communicate in a way that you could never do just with words.

You form bonds with people you might not otherwise have a conversation with. But because you've shared something so personal, it becomes easier.

It's the ultimate egalitarian experience, because everyone is necessary all the time. Everyone's complete focus is necessary all the time. Everyone coming into the experience understands and respects that. We all realize that we're bringing our best, and we're each bringing unique contributions to the group.

That's one of the best things about it, too. Each person brings something unique, so you have access to the brains of the other people to make a product that you couldn't make on your own. Sometimes there are heated debates, but it's all in good fun.

Playing chamber music helps enhance your musicianship. It’s easy to ‘hide’ in a large orchestra or
band, but in a small group your skills are much more exposed. You work harder to play accurately
and in tune, to listen and blend, to create musical phrases – and as a result, these musical skills

Playing in a small group allows you to be more autonomous and independent. You can make your
own rehearsal and performance decisions, and you can choose your own repertoire. You’re not
beholden to a conductor. You can tailor your performances to your own interests and/or the jobs
you’re hired to play.

Playing in a chamber group helps develop your communication skills. All members of the group
have an opinion on how the music should be played. Listening to all ideas and implementing the
ones that work best help to hone collaborative skills that you can use later on in college, your
career, and in everyday life.

There is a wide variety of music available for almost any instrumental combination. Some include
piano and/or voice(s). Pops, holiday, classical, jazz, etc…. You can find just about anything by going
online or checking with your music teacher.

Chamber groups are portable! It’s a lot easier to take a trio, quartet or quintet ‘on the road’ than a
full band. Small groups fit better into more venues, creating more opportunities to gig.

Playing chamber music is both a social and musical activity. Start a group containing friends you
already have, or start a group with people you hope to become friends with. Either way, you will
have fun!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013


Like our Facebook Page to enter to win a FREE A-STYLE MANDOLIN with padded case, chord book and free introduction lesson to get you started!

All you have to do to be eligible for the FREE MANDOLIN is register for either the Mandolin Group, the South Hadley Mandolin Orchestra, or private Mandolin Lessons (in person or online). Click here to register.

There will be a drawing from all of the entries at 7pm on Monday, January 6, 2014.

(sorry, only new students are eligible for the drawing)

Sunday, December 15, 2013

NEFFA Thinks Paying Callers Is Not A Good Idea

Beth Parkes · Friends with Larry Unger and 1 other said this on my Facebook page earlier:

As a NEFFA board member, I would like to comment on Adam’s comments about the grant request that was not funded. In the lengthy letter explaining why the grant was not funded, it was explained that the committee felt that the financial design of the proposal was not economically feasible. His proposal included a hefty payment to callers and a relatively low admission. The design had a high break-even point. While the committee did question whether he could pull enough dancers from the well-served areas of Greenfield, “too many dances in the area” was not the primary reason for the grant not being funded.

And this is what I had said:  

"I tried to start up a contradance here in South Hadley at the town hall with a grant from NEFFA and the CDSC, but they all said there are too many dances already in western MA and they don't think there should be another one!  I was shocked actually, especially considering that I already have a couple dozen people that want to do it.  And callers such as David and Ralph who have committed to calling the dances!"

NEFFA is the New England Folk Festival Association

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

A classical violinist asks how to "get into" fiddle music. Here's my response.

Most music in the western world came from western Europe. It's primarily based on secular dance forms such as reels, hornpipes and polkas (jigs too, but they are limited in some regions)

Regardless of the dance form, most music follows certain rules:

  1. the melodies consist of 4 bar phrases and are either 16 bars long or 32 bars long
  2. the chords used follow the I, IV, V pattern (if you're in the key of G then the chords will be G, C, D), sometimes with the relative minor (Em).
  3. the first part of the song (usually called the A part) consists of either 2 4 bar phrases repeated (8 bars) or 4 4 bar phrases repeated (16 bars). the 2nd part will be a duplicate of the first.

Understanding this structure makes it easy for you to parse out the different sections. Vocals will generally consist of a verse and a chorus, the chorus usually repeated after each verse with breaks in between. The breaks in bluegrass and a lot of folk styles may be improvised, the player making up melodies (consisting of variations on the arpeggios) over each chord.

The best way to learn how to play this kind of music is to get a copy of the Fiddler's Fakebook, which has 500 classic fiddle tunes in it. Learn as many as you can. Memorize them. Learn the chords and the melodies. Once you have about 50 tunes memorized (someone who's classically trained should be able to do it easily), start going around to jam sessions and Irish sessions in your area. Listen, write down the names of tunes and go home to learn them on your own time. Observe how the tunes are being played in the group. Once you think you have a handle on how the tunes should be played, ask the group leader if you can join.

Another way to do it is to find out where the contradances are in your area and start dancing. Bring your fiddle and ask if you can join the band for a couple tunes.

Finally, join your local bluegrass fan club - there are a bunch on facebook, or you can google it and find out where the closest one is for you. Go to the jam sessions, have fun!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Jamie Macpherson

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

James MacPherson (1675–1700) was a Scottish outlaw, famed for his Lament or Rant, a version of which was rewritten by the Scottish poet, Robert Burns. The original version of the lament is alleged to have been written by MacPherson himself in prison on the eve of his execution.

MacPherson was the illegitimate son of a Highland laird, MacPherson of Invereshie, and a beautiful Tinker or gypsy[clarification needed] girl that he met at a wedding. The gentleman acknowledged the child, and had him reared in his house. After the death of his father, who was killed while attempting to recover a "spread" of cattle taken from Badenoch by reivers - the boy was reclaimed by his mother's people. The gypsy woman frequently returned with him, to wait upon his relations and clansmen, who never failed to clothe him well, besides giving money to his mother. He grew up “in beauty, strength and stature rarely equaled.” MacPherson is reported as being a man of uncommon personal strength. He became an expert swordsman, and a renowned fiddler, and eventually became the leader of the gypsy band. The tinker-Gypsies then lived by buying and selling horses and seem to have been quite popular with the ordinary country folk.

Outlaw career

Though his prowess was debased as the exploits of a freebooter (pirate), it is certain, says one writer, that no act of cruelty, or robbery of the widow, the fatherless, or the distressed was ever perpetrated under his command. Indeed, it is alleged that a dispute with an aspiring and savage man of his tribe, who wished to rob a gentleman's house while his wife and two children lay on the bier for interment, was the cause of his being betrayed to the vengeance of the law. Thus he was betrayed by a man of his own tribe, and was the last person executed at Banff previous to the abolition of heritable jurisdictions.

MacPherson had incurred the enmity of the rich lairds and farmers of the low country of Banff and Aberdeenshire, and especially of Duff of Braco, who organized a posse to catch him. "After holding the counties of Aberdeen, Banff, and Moray in fear for some years", says Chambers, "he was seized by Duff of Braco, ancestor of the Earl of Fife, and tried before the Sheriff of Banffshire (8 November 1700), along with certain Gypsies who had been taken in his company.

Before ultimately being brought to trial, MacPherson was captured several times but always escaped from his enemies. In Aberdeen, his cousin, Donald, and a gypsy named Peter Brown, aided by the populace, rescued him from prison. Shortly afterwards, he was again captured, but was once more rescued, this time by the Laird of Grant.

Capture and trial

MacPherson's career of robbery had culminated in a “reign of terror” in the markets of Banff, Elgin and Forres. Apparently under protection of the Laird of Grant, he and his band of followers would come marching in with a piper at their head. Perhaps he became too powerful for comfort for he was hanged at Banff in 1700, for bearing arms at Keith market. At the Saint Rufus Fair in Keith MacPherson was attacked by Braco's men, and was captured after a fierce fight in which one of Jamie's crew was killed. According to the traditional account penned by Jamie himself, a woman dropped a blanket over him from a window, and he was disarmed before he could get free of it. Duff and a very strong escort then took him to Banff prison.

It was still at that time a criminal offence merely to be an Egyptian (Gypsy) in Scotland, and it was under this statute that MacPherson was tried in November 1700. MacPherson and three others were brought to trial at Banff before Sheriff Nicholas Dunbar, Sheriff of Banffshire (who allegedly was a close friend of Duff's), on November 8, 1700, accused of: "Being ye mercats in yr ordinary manner of thieving and purse-cutting, or of the crimes of theft and masterful bangstree and oppression", and they were found "Fyllen, culpable, and convick" and sentenced "For sae muckle, as you, James MacPherson, are found guilty of being Egyptians and vagabonds and oppressors of his free lieges. Therefore, I adjudge and decern you to be taken to the cross of Banff to be hanged by the neck to the death".

The actual procès-verbal of his trial is still extant; the following is the text of the death sentence:

"Forasmeikle as you James McPherson, pannal [accused] are found guilty by ane verdict of ane assyse, to be knoun, holden, and repute to be Egiptian and a wagabond, and oppressor of his Magesties free lieges in ane bangstrie manner, and going up and down the country armed, and keeping mercats in ane hostile manner, and that you are a thief, and that you are of pessimae famae. Therfor, the Sheriff-depute of Banff, and I in his name, adjudges and discernes you the said James McPherson to be taken to the Cross of Banff, from the tolbooth thereof, where you now lye, and there upon ane gibbet to be erected, to be hanged by the neck to the death by the hand of the common executioner, upon Friday next, being the 16th day of November instant, being a public weekly mercat day, betwixt the hours of two and three in the afternoon....”

MacPherson’s Lament

While under sentence of death in the jail, during the week between his trial and his execution, MacPherson is said to have composed the tune and the song now known as MacPherson’s Lament or MacPherson’s Rant. Sir Walter Scott says that MacPherson played it under the gallows, and, after playing the tune, he then offered his fiddle to anyone in his clan who would play it at his wake. When no one came forward to take the fiddle, he broke it - either across his knee or over the executioner's head – and then threw it into the crowd with the remark, "No one else shall play Jamie MacPherson's fiddle". The broken fiddle now lies in the MacPherson Clan museum near Newtonmore, Inverness-shire. He then was hanged or, according to some accounts, threw himself from the ladder, to hang by his own will. This was allegedly the last capital sentence executed in Scotland under Heritable Jurisdiction, taking place on 16 November 1700.

The traditional accounts of MacPherson's immense prowess seem justified by his sword, which is still preserved in Duff House, at Banff, and is an implement of great length and weight - as well as by his bones, which were found not very many years ago, and were allowed by all who saw them to be much stronger than the bones of ordinary men.[1] He was assuredly no ordinary man, that he could so disport himself on the morning of his execution.

It is universally believed in the North-East of Scotland that a reprieve was on its way to Banff at the time of the execution. The legend has it that Duff of Braco saw a lone rider coming from Turriff and correctly assumed that he carried a pardon for Jamie from the Lord of Grant. As the story goes, he then set about turning the village clock 15 minutes ahead and so hanging MacPherson before the pardon arrived. The magistrates allegedly were punished for this and the town clock was kept 15 minutes before the correct time for many years. Even to this day it is reported that the town of Macduff has its west-facing town clock covered so the people of Banff can't see the correct time!

A text (and there are many variations) of "MacPherson’s Lament or Rant" follows:

I've spent my life in rioting,
Debauch'd my health and strength,
I squander'd fast, as pillage came,
And fell to shame at length.

Sae rantingly, sae wantonly,
Sae dauntingly gaed he;
He play'd a tune, and danc'd it roon'
Below the gallows-tree.

My father was a gentleman,
Of fame and honor high,
Oh mother, would you ne'er had borne
The son so doom'd to die.

Ach, little did my mother think
When first she cradled me
That I would turn a roving boy
And die on the gallows tree

Farewell, yon dungeons dark and strong,
The wretch's destinie!
M'Pherson's time will not be long
On yonder gallows-tree.

O what is Death but parting breath?
On many a bloody plain
I've dar'd his face, and in this place
I'll scorn him yet again.

But vengeance I never did wreak,
When pow'r was in my hand,
And you, dear friends, no vengeance seek,
It is my last command.

Forgive the man whose rage betray'd
MacPherson's worthless life;
When I am gone, be it not said,
My legacy was strife.

It was by a woman's treacherous hand
That I was condemned tae dee
Aboon a ledge at a windae she stood
And a blanket she threw o'er me

Untie these bands frae aff o' my hands
And gie tae me my sword
There's no a man in a' Scotland
But I'll brave him at his word

There's some come here tae see me hang
And some tae buy my fiddle
But afore that I dae part wi' her
I'd brak' her through the middle

He took his fiddle into both of his hands
And he brak' it o'er a stone
Said, Nae ither hands shall play on thee
When I am deid and gane
Now farewell light, thou sunshine bright, "
And all beneath the sky!
May coward shame distain his name,
The wretch that dares not die!

A reprieve was coming o'er the brig o' Banff
Tae set MacPherson free,
But they pit the clock a quarter afore
And they hanged him from a tree.

Sae rantingly, sae wantonly,
Sae dauntingly gaed he;
He play'd a tune, and danc'd it roon'
And they hanged him from a tree.

Lúnasa and Karan Casey in a very special holiday concert

Sunday, December 1, 2013


2:00 p.m.

Ireland's widely acclaimed acoustic band brings a Celtic Christmas celebration to Mechanics Hall. Lúnasa has performed at the Hollywood Bowl, Dublin’s National Concert Hall, the Sydney Opera House and at the White House. Lúnasa's inventive arrangements and bass driven grooves have steered Irish acoustic music into surprising new territory. Its recordings are hailed internationally among the best and most important world music albums and its blend of intelligence, innovation, virtuosity, and passion has Lúnasa at the forefront of Celtic music.

They will be joined by the incredible Karan Casey who has long been one of the most innovative, provocative and imitated voices in Irish traditional and folk music.

General Admission $30
Members of Mechanics Hall or Hibernian Cultural Center $25 until November 15, 2013 (with special promo code)
Groups of 10 or more: Discount applies; contact the Box Office at 508-752-0888 

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Grascals Release "American Picker" Video

published by BMNN on Thu, 10/31/2013

Here it is, friends! It’s the companion video for The Grascals' song “American Pickers” which appears on When I Get My Pay (street date November, 19). Yep, those are our pals Mike Wolfe from the History Channel TV show American Pickers and superstar/all-around-good-guy Dierks Bentley making guest appearances. The Grascals commented, "We love those guys! Whatcha think???"


The Grascals recently announced the addition of fiddler Adam Haynes to the band. Adam has an impressive pedigree having played with some of the finest: Melvin Goins & Windy Mountain, The James King Band, David Parmley & Continental Divide, Dailey & Vincent, Larry Stephenson Band, and most recently Grasstowne. Adam is originally from Norwalk, OH but spent quite some time in Eastern Kentucky where his family has roots as deep as bluegrass. Adam currently makes his home in Portland, TN with his wife, Janette, and two daughters, Bella (8) and Ellie (3).

Great musicians will always find a way to make good music, but for great musicians to make great music, they must form a bond – one that, more often than not, goes beyond the purely musical to the personal. For The Grascals, that bond has been forged at the intersection of personal friendships, shared professional resumes and an appreciation for the innovative mingling of bluegrass and country music that has been a hallmark of the Nashville scene for more than forty years. As their releases prove, The Grascals’ rare musical empathy gives them an unerring ear for just the right touch to illuminate each offering’s deepest spirit - whether they’re digging into one of their original songs or reworking a bluegrass classic or pop standard.

We are looking forward to the release of When I Get My Pay! he Grascals are among the most beloved and acclaimed bands on today’s bluegrass scene, having won SPBGMA’s Bluegrass Band of the Year award in 2010, the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Emerging Artist of the Year award in 2005 and earning its Entertainer of the Year honor in both 2006 and 2007.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Three Reasons Why I Don't Put Prices On My Website

by Adam R Sweet
October 30, 2013

Reason #1

Tire Kickers Love The Game

I sell a lot of stuff on Craigslist and through pages on Google+ and other social bookmarking sites.  I get dozens of inquiries from "tire kickers".  You can tell who they are instantly.  They always start out with "what's the model number" or "what are the other specs" or words to that effect.  They are not looking to purchase or to make a deal, they are often trolls or troglodytes interested more in the game of bargaining you down, or worse, making you feel bad about yourself, than actually doing anything worthwhile.

Reason #2

Tire Kickers Don't Buy Locally

Tire Kickers who are not trolls or troglodytes are not interested in buying locally.  They want you to do the research for them, then they'll bargain someone else down somewhere online "I saw it on Craigslist for $X and got the dude to go down to $x"

Reason #3

Tire Kickers Don't Have The Money In The End

If the tire kickers are not trolls and not interested in a bargain, they probably don't have money anyway.  I've had my share of long winded "negotiations" with people on the internet who always end up saying they don't have the money to afford it "now" but will "keep you in mind" for the future.  Right.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Promotion for the Independent Musician


In a market saturated with the music of aspiring musicians and already well established acts it can be difficult for new acts to gain exposure. This begs the question, how does an artist stand out and get heard over the masses of music uploaded to the web each day? This guide was written as a follow-up of sorts to our blog “treating your band as a business” and also ties in with our online marketing crash course. The article will be split into two sections: the first pertaining to more traditional “physical” promotion techniques and the second focused on marketing your music online to listeners around the globe.

The Demo CD

The demo CD (or tape if you remember the golden days of the cassette) has long been a staple of promotion for aspiring musicians. A demo of your music can be anything from rough DIY live recordings to a selection of two or three professional recordings of your best songs. Although sometimes a well-composed, well-performed song can shine through a muffled and noisy home recording, it is often more beneficial to select a “single” and a “b-side” at minimum to have professionally recorded. You might be surprised to learn that the cost of creating a professional recording using high quality equipment is often less than the cost of purchasing an entry-level home recording setup of your own. A great sounding demo can be invaluable in getting your act booked for shows and also makes a great freebie to get people interested in your music!

Tips for an effective Demo:

  • Put your best songs forward
  • Have high quality recordings (if you record yourself a small studio can often mix & master your project fairly inexpensively, a pro mix can really take your home recordings to the next level)
  • Keep it short (2-3 songs is generally a good number to shoot for)
  • A small CD insert with art can really help grab attention
  • Don’t forget to include your contact info! (A booking agent can’t book you if they can’t contact you, regardless of how great your demo is)   

“Freebies” As A Promotion Tool

While we’re on the topic of freebies we want to take a second to give you a few ideas that will help get the creative juices flowing on ways you can use inexpensive merch items as promotional tools! The idea behind freebie promotion is simple: people love free stuff and are more likely to tell a friend or co-worker about your awesome band within a 30 day window if they have a small reminder in the form of “low overhead” merchandise. As a general rule of thumb, you will probably want to use lower cost merch items for promotion and avoid giving out items with a high manufacturing cost such as clothing or vinyl. For example, stickers are one of the best low-cost, highly-effective promotional tools available. Most everyone likes stickers and wherever, whatever or to whoever they are applied instantly becomes a free promotional outlet for your band. A great eye catching design is definitely a must if you’re aiming for maximum effectiveness. Try giving out smaller stickers for free and place them next to other larger stickers for sale on the merch table (but be sure fans can separate free from for sale!)  Download cards are another simple yet effective tool directing fans to your online music and can be printed, at low cost, on formats from business cards to flyers. A good download card design will be eye-catching without being cluttered. You can decide to require “liking” your facebook page (via a “like gate”) before the download will begin.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Crossing The Pond - A Live Concert

Crossing The Pond is a trio consisting of Mark Vocca, Jamie Bunting and myself (Adam Sweet).  We get together in the spring to play a few St Patty's Day gigs together at pubs and libraries in CT and western MA.  It's a lot of fun and they are great guys to play music with.  I hope you enjoy this video.


Newfoundland Dancing And Music from Fogo Island in the 1990s

A very lively video of an old fashioned Newfoundland kitchen party featuring Fogo Islands most well known accordion players, Harry Eveleigh, Pat Freake, Harvey Budgell. Which took place somewhere within the early 90's on Fogo Island, Newfoundland.

Some of the tunes played (not in order)
- Off She Goes
- Cock Of The North
- Mussels In The Corner
- Boys Of The Bunkhouse
- I'se Da Bye

These clips were taken from "Fogo Island, my Island home" movie published and produced by Gerald Freake.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Making the most of your hours in the practice room:

by Christine Carter

One simple change that could drastically increase your productivity

When it comes to practicing, we often think in terms of time: How many hours are necessary to achieve optimal progress? While this is a valid concern, a more important question is how we can make each hour count. What is the most efficient way to work so that what is practiced today actually sticks tomorrow? There is nothing more frustrating than spending a day hard at work only to return the next day at the starting line. Unfortunately, our current practice model is setting us up for this daily disappointment.

Repetition, babies, and brain scans

Early on in our musical training, we are taught the importance of repetition. How often have we been told to “play each passage ten times perfectly before moving on”? The challenge with this well-intentioned advice is that it is not in line with the way our brains work. We are hardwired to pay attention to change, not repetition. This hardwiring can already be observed in preverbal infants. Show a baby the same object over and over again and they will gradually stop paying attention through a process called habituation. Change the object, and the attention returns full force. The same goes for adults. Functional magnetic resonance imaging has demonstrated that there is progressively less brain activation when stimuli are repeated. The fact is, repeated information does not receive the same amount of processing as new information. And on some level, we all know this. Constant repetition is boring and our boredom is telling us that our brains are not engaged. But instead of listening to this instinctive voice of reason, we blame ourselves for our lack of attention and yell at ourselves to “focus!” Luckily, there is an alternative.

Blocked practice schedules

In the field of sport psychology, the continuous repetition discussed above is called blocked practice. In a blocked practice schedule, all repetitions of one activity are completed before moving on to a second activity. For example, a baseball player who must hit fifteen fastballs, fifteen curve balls, and fifteen change-up pitches in practice would complete all of the fastballs before moving on to the curve balls and so on. This most resembles the way the majority of musicians practice, especially when it comes to challenging passages. We work on one excerpt for a given amount of time and then move on to the next excerpt until all tasks for the day are complete. A blocked approach seems logical.  Muscle memory requires repetition and why wouldn’t we do all of the repetitions in a row? After all, if we are working on a difficult passage, it feels a lot more comfortable 10 minutes into practice than at the beginning. It is precisely this feeling of comfort and improvement that reinforces our reliance on blocked practice. The problem with this kind of practicing, however, is that the positive results we feel in the practice room today do not lead to the best long-term learning tomorrow. Practicing in a way that optimizes performance in the practice room does not optimize learning.

Random practice schedules

What if we took the blocks of practice on particular tasks and broke them down into smaller segments on each task? In the baseball example above, the players could hit the three different types of pitches in an alternating fashion, instead of doing all of one kind in a row. Two breakdown options are a repeating order (e.g., abc abc abc…) or an arbitrary order (e.g., acb cba bca…). In either, the net result will still be 15 practice hits of each of the three types of serve, exactly the same as the net result in the blocked practice schedule. The only variable that changes is the order in which the pitches are practiced. This type of interspersed schedule is called a random practice schedule (also known as an interleaved practice schedule).

In a random practice schedule, the performer must keep restarting different tasks. Because beginnings are always the hardest part, it will not feel as comfortable as practicing the same thing over and over again. But this challenge lies at the heart of why random practice schedules are more effective. When we come back to a task after an intervening task, our brain must reconstruct the action plan for what we are about to do. And it is at this moment of reconstruction that our brains are the most active. More mental activity leads to greater long-term learning. In the blocked schedule above, the baseball players must only construct the action plan for each type of pitch once, at the beginning of each block. In the random schedule, they must construct and later reconstruct an action plan fifteen times for each pitch. Although a blocked schedule may produce superior performance during practice, study after study has shown that a random practice schedule consistently produces superior retention following practice a day or more later (i.e., the amount actually learned). This phenomenon is called the contextual interference effect.

How much better is a random practice schedule?

It turns out that the hypothetical baseball example used above is not hypothetical.  In a 1994 study by Hall, Domingues, and Cavazos, elite baseball players were assigned to either the blocked or random practice schedules discussed above. After twelve practice sessions, the baseball players in the random practice schedule hit 57% more of the pitches than when they started. The blocked group only hit 25% more of the pitches, meaning that the random practice schedule was almost twice as effective, even though the two groups hit the same number of practice pitches. Similar results have been found across a wide variety of fields. Most pertinent to our interests as musicians, my preliminary research at the Brain and Mind Institute in Canada provides empirical support for the use of a random practice schedule in music. Not only does this research suggest that a random practice schedule is more effective than a blocked schedule for practicing musical passages, participant interviews also reveal that random practice has positive effects on factors such as goal setting and focus.

How to use a random schedule in the practice room

Rather than spending long uninterrupted periods of time woodshedding each excerpt or section of a piece, pick a few passages you would like to work on and alternate between them. If you want to spend a total of 30 minutes on a particular excerpt, practice in shorter segments, continually returning to this excerpt until you have achieved your 30-minute goal. Experiment with lengths of time. If you are practicing excerpts that are very short, you may be able to switch between them at a faster pace than would be required for longer sections. You can use a small alarm clock to time specific intervals or switch after each repetition. At its most basic level, random practice might look like this:


Material to Practice

3 minutes Excerpt A
3 minutes Excerpt B
3 minutes Excerpt C
3 minutes Excerpt A
3 minutes Excerpt B
3 minutes Excerpt C

Practicing passages in different rhythmic variations is a great way of introducing contextual interference on a smaller scale. But instead of doing all rhythmic variations on a single excerpt before moving onto the next, do one variation on excerpt A, one on excerpt B and then return to excerpt A for a second variation etc. Technique can also be interspersed into the random schedule, instead of doing all of it in one long block. An example of a more complicated random practice session might look something like the following:


Material to Practice

2 minutes Long tone, scale, long tone, scale…
3 minutes Excerpt A (using first rhythmic variation)
2 minutes Third progression, arpeggio, third progression, arpeggio…
3 minutes Excerpt B (using first rhythmic variation)
2 minutes Long tone, scale, long tone, scale…
3 minutes Excerpt A (using second rhythmic variation)
2 minutes Third progression, arpeggio, third progression, arpeggio…
3 minutes Excerpt B (using second rhythmic variation)

The permutations are endless and the exact division of time is not important. What is crucial is that you are keeping your brain engaged by varying the material. More engagement means you will be less bored, more goal-oriented (you have to be if you only have 3 minutes to accomplish something), and substantially more productive. Most importantly, when you return to the practice room the next day, you can start from where you left off. This type of practice sticks.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Practicing Scales On The Mandolin

I recommend the following patterns picked with Scale Sets (a scale set starts with C at the top of the circle of fifths and goes clockwise, a different set every day including the Major scale - 2 octaves with 4th finger, the Relative Minor - 2 octaves with 4th finger, the Major arpeggio - 1,3,5,8 2 octaves with 4th finger, the Relative Minor arpeggio - 1,3,5,8 2 octaves with 4th finger):
  1. whole notes (4 beats per note) down strokes only, top string
  2. whole notes (4 beats per note) up strokes only, bottom string
  3. whole notes (4 beats per note) down stroke, up stroke, down stroke, up stroke, top string, bottom string only (don't brush across strings
  4. quarter notes (4 strokes per note) down up down up, top and bottom string, don't brush
  5. 8th notes (8 strokes per note) down up single strings, no brushing
  6. 16th notes (16 strokes per note) down up etc
  7. triplets - 2 sets of triplets (6 notes) per note down up single string no brushing
set your metronome at the slowest notch the first day, and increase it by one notch each day with a different scale set It will take you 2 weeks to go around the circle of fifths (if you do a different set each day) You should be at 69 on the metronome by the end of the 2nd week
This sounds like a lot of work, but it isn't. Each set will take between 15 and 20 minutes a day. Some days I only do sets and nothing else. It's a great way to warm up and a great way to increase power in your left and right hands, increase control, increase speed and diction.

Pay To Play Policy - American Federation of Musicians - Local 171 (Springfield, MA)

Hello Adam,
Thanks for your email.
Playing engagements without any receiving any compensation is contrary to the principles of the AFM and the Locals. Absent a signed Agreement with any employer, venue, etc., we have no leverage, legal or otherwise, to require them to make certain guaranteed payments to musicians they may hire.
Without a signed Agreement with the Local musicians must negotiate with employers, club owners, etc., for the wages they receive for playing an engagement at various venues. Members should not play below scale on any engagement. The Local scales/rates have been established by the members and are used as a guide to the minimum compensation members should receive on engagements within this Local jurisdiction. The scales are considered as being reasonable and are used as a minimum only. Members can charge any wages higher than the Local scales/rates.
Attached is a copy of the AFM By Laws, Local 171 By Laws and Local Wage Scales. I don't expect you to read through all the pages, but you may want to look through them and use them as a reference.
Hope this helps.

Dick Melikian, President
Local 171
American Federation of Musicians
640 Page Boulevard
Springfield, MA 01104
"Adam Sweet" <adamrsweet@gmail.com>

I am a union member and want to know the Union's policy on pay to play venues.  Is there any repercussions for venues that don't pay or offer to pay Union members standard Union rates?

Also, is there a list somewhere of standard rates?

Thank you for your time,

Adam R Sweet

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About The Sweet Music Studio

The Sweet Music Studio provides private and group music lessons on mandolin-family instruments and violin family instruments.   Swee...