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 Playing Advice: Clawhammer and Old-Time Styles
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Those In Between Notes


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.banjohangout.org/archive/304537

carlb - Posted - 06/02/2015:  04:35:35


Rather then respond to Don Borcholt's comments in the topic on TOTW "Fine Times at Our House"

banjohangout.org/topic/304393

I thought this should be a separate topic. Part of one of Don's posts:

"One interesting thing, Bayard shows the 2nd note of the A part, the F#, as slightly flatted.  He describes this as a "change of pitch of less than a half tone..."   He only briefly mentions the use of non-chromatic notes, writing that the fiddlers did it deliberately, so that "faulty ear and fingering cannot be blamed for the intervals they play."  In his introduction to "Dance to the Fiddle, March to the Fife,"  he adds little to his explanation, saying only that such notes are "less than semi-tones.  These are the 'neutral' tones: somewhere between natural and flat, or natural and sharp."  When I made up the MIDI files, I couldn't figure out how to produce a note outside of the chromatic scale, so I decided to use the F natural, rather than the F#.  This is because in "Dance to the Fiddle, March to the Fife,"  Bayard says that "the 'shading-off,' as it were, from one mode to another, that characterizes these versions is a genuine, and once common, feature of our fiddling tradition."  So I wanted the A part to sound more Dorian, in contrast to the Mixolydian B part.  But I suspect the actual note was probably closer to the F#, as I believe you have played it, so that the whole is really modally ambiguous."



I do remember a friend once comment that "You know there are only 12 tones in the scale" (an approximation of what they said). My response was "You know that isn't true". Other cultures have different scales then those we know from European music. In my own experience arriving at those type of in between notes came from playing the Burl Hammons' version of "Greasy Coat" on the banjo (long before Edden's music as available), I always felt that C natural was not the right note; neither was a C sharp. When I got my fretless banjo put together, I played the tune and then stopped when I got to that note. I then checked the pitch (which was my preferred pitch) and found it about 1/3 up from C natural (i.e. about 2/3 below C sharp). For me, that was the note that was correct to my ear. Many other tunes that I've learned on banjo and fiddle, since that experience, also have that in between note(s).



On a fretted banjo, I often bend that string, as best I can, to get that note I want to hear. On the fiddle or fretless banjo, there's no problem.



I hope some of you find this topic interesting enough to contribute comments.



Carl


rudy - Posted - 06/02/2015:  06:06:57


Great write-up, Carl!



I don't think it's all that rare in older trad tunes to interpret the note intervals in that way if you play fretless or fiddle.  I believe a lot of those types of intervals are a direct result of the tune's originators imitating the scales of other cultures, an example of which would be grace notes common to bagpipes.  It would be interesting to see what a fretted banjo player would do with an Indian composition with 30+ notes laid out within the octave.



Scale interval structure, as you know, is a learned perception and as such these intervals become less and less used as these tunes become further integrated into western scale and culture.  That's why it's so noticeable when a tune comes up that has a strong example of a non-12TET note used within the tune.  If you've only experienced 12TET your entire life, then it's going to sound like the performance is being played incorrectly.



The entire equal temperament thing is hard enough to deal with on a fretted instrument, so for some folks that might prefer the option of hearing the scale differently or being able to use slides or micro-tonality the fretless banjo is a blessing.



Even within our own group of sub-cultures there are a few who struggle with 12TET, and the Cajun culture is a good example, using accordions tuned with just tuning with major thirds flattened by 14 cents.  The scales are based on pure harmonic intervals that sound naturally truer to the human ear.  It's not a learned perception, as note combinations don't yield inharmonic multiples when combined together.  This means that chords played within the selected key are harmonious and are naturally pleasing to the ear.  Of course, there's a price to pay for this in limiting the instrument to only a couple of keys.



I don't mean to go off-topic with this example; it's used to illustrate the idea that certain older examples of original tunes may have been composed on an instrument that might have been more suited to solo performance, or at the very least, played in a style that may have been influenced by another cultural system.



Edited by - rudy on 06/02/2015 06:12:59

Marc Nerenberg - Posted - 06/02/2015:  06:56:59


I once remarked to my aunt, who played both viola and piano, that D sharp and E flat were the same note, and was surprised when she snapped back, with some uncharacteristic ferocity, "No they're not! At least not on the viola. On the piano you're forced to compromise and play something in between, but on the viola they're very different notes." I was reminded of this at a concert by Dan Gellert this weekend, when he remarked that a fretted banjo is never in tune - he can only really play in tune on the fretless.



Of course both my aunt and Dan were talking about was the difference between true scales and the "well-tempered" scales that we get on keyboard and fretted instruments, which is not really quite the topic of this thread - but it does demonstrate that even in Western music, there's really more than 12 notes out there.



On point to this thread is the blues scale, which simply can't be played without bending notes.



Edited by - Marc Nerenberg on 06/02/2015 06:57:29

minstrelmike - Posted - 06/02/2015:  11:33:10


uh... terminology typo since from other threads I know Marc knows what he's talking about.



You can play the well-tempered scales on fretless instruments such as violin.



It is the single equal-tempered scale that you find on keyboards and fretted instruments.


rudy - Posted - 06/02/2015:  12:44:09


quote:

Originally posted by minstrelmike

uh... terminology typo since from other threads I know Marc knows what he's talking about.




You can play the well-tempered scales on fretless instruments such as violin.




It is the single equal-tempered scale that you find on keyboards and fretted instruments.







Terminology is often the big trip-up when we delve into these discussions.



As an example, Equal temperament is a system of tuning, and has nothing to do with scale.  There are many scales that can be played on an instrument tuned to equal temperament.



It's all very confusing... wink



It is true that you can play well-tempered scales on fretless instruments such as the violin, but it's just as easy to play equal tempered scales on the same instrument.  Conversely, you can slightly re-tune a fretted instrument to play a single scale in a given key in a close approximation to well temperament, (or any of the other miriad systems of tuning) but that adversely effects the ability to play in any other key.  That, or course, wouldn't be very practical and negates the entire concept of tuning in equal temperament.



Sorry to go off-topic and be a bit of a PITA, but the tuning / temperament thing as it relates to fretted instruments is a bit of a thing with me.



Edited by - rudy on 06/02/2015 13:00:32

Pieter K - Posted - 06/02/2015:  14:15:23


Great discussion!

So much of what I'm enjoying about fretless banjo is noted above. And I'm a fan of music in alternate tunings, and music that deliberately employs quarter tones, or bent variations between. It's probably one reason I'm so enthralled with slide guitar. I've spent much of my adult life also listening to classical and folk Indian music, as well as some Chinese music, played on fretless instruments (guqin mainly), and I also spend quite a lot of time with medieval and early renaissance western music, which employs Pythagorean tuning (perfect 5ths).

When I first heard solo fretless banjo music a mere few months ago, I almost fell over from the beautiful shock of recognition. It just makes perfect sense to me. I find it terribly moving to listen to--which, to date, doesn't include a whole lot of players, but of them, Gellert, Lunceford, and Thornburg--and I can't get enough of it.

Semi-related: there's this wonderful version of the song "I want Jesus to Walk with Me" by Fred McDowell on bottleneck guitar and an anonymous singer on his seminal Lomax sessions, and I swear the whole thing is, to western ears, a little out of tune, but to me, it sounds almost as if he's playing sarod or sitar. It's just magical. Quarter tones all over the place.

minstrelmike - Posted - 06/02/2015:  18:44:23


I disagree Rudy. There is a SINGLE Equal-Tempered scale called the Chromatic scale.



It is not a tuning, it is a definition of distances between notes.

Distance _is_ the definition of scale.



You can play a C pentatonic "scale" in either well-tempered tuning or in the equal-tempered tuning also known as The Chromatic Scale. I see your point, that scale means several different things just like "play music" means way too many different things.



But as far as I'm concerned, the basic definition of "scale" is NOT a set of notes which most folks think it is.

A scale is a set of distances between notes.



The major scale is the set of distances in frets (not steps): 2 2 1 2 2 2 1  (Seven distances between notes).

The distance in cents will be different between any well-tempered major scale vs that same scale played out of the chromatic scale, and the difference will be different for each of the 12 named scales.


oldwoodchuckb - Posted - 06/03/2015:  00:40:24


Actually, you can (and in fact Must) have chromatic scales in any tempering.  The Music of Dowland, Sanz, and thousands of other composers (to say nothing of any folk music that was not in strict modes) was written before the advent of equal tempering - and yes indeed, some keys didn't sound so hot.



There were attempts to correct this with extra keys on harpsichords but these were fairly obvious kludges - I don't think anyone ever built a pipe organ with extra keys. Equal Tempering is the merely the most successful of many attempts to solve the problem and I doubt there will be any changes in our lifetimes.



But one never knows, do one? 


janolov - Posted - 06/03/2015:  00:43:13


I think this is a very interesting discussion. The in-between tones, micro-tones and quarter-tones (or whatever you prefer to call them) have fascinated me for some years now.



I have some own thoughts and theories about the in-between tones:




  1. I had a little discussion in the theory forum some years ago: banjohangout.org/archive/238594 where there were some good comments.




  1. The in-between tones are sometimes called blue notes because they are an essential part in blues music. However, in-between tones were used in traditional music from different parts of Europe (and Asia and Africa) long before the blues was born.




  1. The most common in-between tones seems to be a tone that is somewhere between the minor third and major third (often called “neutral third”) and a tone between the minor seventh and major seventh (often called “neutral seventh). These tones also belong to the harmonic series or overtone series of the tonic (“root”) of the scale so they have a musical relationship to the tonic. They shall not be seen as variants of the third or seventh, but more as individual tones outside the traditional scale.




  1. A lot of old music have been misinterpreted when the musicologists have transcribed old music and chose to present the in-between tones as one of the tones in the ordinary major or minor scales.




  1. I think a lot of the songs and tunes we call modal today are not modal from the beginning! I think they were “microtonal” from the beginning, but when transcribed to common scales the happened to be transcribed as Mixolydian or Dorian modes. I have noticed that some people don't separate the different concepts. In some discussions here at BHO about modes I have seen some people talking about micro-tones as a part of the mode. In my opinion a mode is always based on the diatonic major scale and cannot contain in-between tones, micro-tones and quarter-tones. It is another kind of scale and should have an own name.




  1. To play in-between tones on a fretted instrument, bending the string seems to be a very common technique. Most musicians today attack the string normal fretted (at the lower tone) and bend the string so the tone rises. In today’s music the in-between notes are often played as “rising pitch” tone rather than a clear accurate tone. Unfortunately I have heard some players of fretless banjo doing the same by sliding the string from the lower note and up instead of playing it as a clean tone.



 



Edited by - janolov on 06/03/2015 00:44:31

Rawhide Creek - Posted - 06/03/2015:  08:50:44


quote:

Originally posted by oldwoodchuckb

Actually, you can (and in fact Must) have chromatic scales in any tempering.  The Music of Dowland, Sanz, and thousands of other composers (to say nothing of any folk music that was not in strict modes) was written before the advent of equal tempering - and yes indeed, some keys didn't sound so hot.




There were attempts to correct this with extra keys on harpsichords but these were fairly obvious kludges - I don't think anyone ever built a pipe organ with extra keys. Equal Tempering is the merely the most successful of many attempts to solve the problem and I doubt there will be any changes in our lifetimes.




But one never knows, do one? 







Some pipe organs were built with extra keys.  See The History of the English Organ by Stephen Bicknell (1996) for details, pp. 160-162 or so.



Edited by - Rawhide Creek on 06/03/2015 08:53:20

mworden - Posted - 06/03/2015:  08:55:27


I like this discussion and agree with much of what Jan has to say, especially regarding "modal" tunes.  I'm a big fan of that neutral 3rd, especially in fiddle music.  I'm not sure I agree about your point of not wanting to hear the rising pitch on fretless instruments.  Indeed, I'd say that those sorts of slide are often integral to the music and done for specific effect.


Rawhide Creek - Posted - 06/03/2015:  09:01:24


quote:

Originally posted by Rawhide Creek

quote:


Originally posted by oldwoodchuckb

Actually, you can (and in fact Must) have chromatic scales in any tempering.  The Music of Dowland, Sanz, and thousands of other composers (to say nothing of any folk music that was not in strict modes) was written before the advent of equal tempering - and yes indeed, some keys didn't sound so hot.




There were attempts to correct this with extra keys on harpsichords but these were fairly obvious kludges - I don't think anyone ever built a pipe organ with extra keys. Equal Tempering is the merely the most successful of many attempts to solve the problem and I doubt there will be any changes in our lifetimes.




But one never knows, do one? 








Some pipe organs were built with extra keys.  See The History of the English Organ by Stephen Bicknell (1996) for details, pp. 160-162 or so.







One example of a pipe organ keyboard with "split" keys (the raised part of the black key is a different note from the lower part):




Organ Keyboard with "Split" Keys

   

oldwoodchuckb - Posted - 06/03/2015:  11:10:58


Rawhide Creek,



That extra key organ is pretty cool.



My friend D.W. Steel would have a lot of fun with it. He gave his recital at the age of 15 with an all Bach program - not the choral preludes, but the big fugues like the Great C Major Toccata, Adagio & Fugue, and the D minor Dorian Fugue.



He explained the modes to me when we were both in high school, and in fact he wrote a string quartet back then that did not have a single sharp or flat. It was all done in modes of the C Major scale.



His father was a high school music teacher and I really wished I had gone to that high school. He could explain music to even a dyslexic like me. I took 2 years of music theory at my high school - and learned nothing from it - except that the teacher hated guitar and banjo (and the sub humans who played them) and didn't consider them to be musical instruments. A few evenings  at the Steel Household (where both D.W. and his father played guitar) gave me most of the music knowledge I have today.


Rawhide Creek - Posted - 06/03/2015:  14:23:02


quote:

Originally posted by oldwoodchuckb

Rawhide Creek,




That extra key organ is pretty cool.




My friend D.W. Steel would have a lot of fun with it. He gave his recital at the age of 15 with an all Bach program - not the choral preludes, but the big fugues like the Great C Major Toccata, Adagio & Fugue, and the D minor Dorian Fugue.




He explained the modes to me when we were both in high school, and in fact he wrote a string quartet back then that did not have a single sharp or flat. It was all done in modes of the C Major scale.




His father was a high school music teacher and I really wished I had gone to that high school. He could explain music to even a dyslexic like me. I took 2 years of music theory at my high school - and learned nothing from it - except that the teacher hated guitar and banjo (and the sub humans who played them) and didn't consider them to be musical instruments. A few evenings  at the Steel Household (where both D.W. and his father played guitar) gave me most of the music knowledge I have today.







Your friend would likely enjoy the dual-temperament pipe organ installed in St. Cecilia Cathedral here in Omaha a few years ago.  It has both well-tempered and meantone divisions!  You can see more about it here:



pasiorgans.com/instruments/opus14.html



Edited by - Rawhide Creek on 06/03/2015 14:24:31

rudy - Posted - 06/03/2015:  16:09:59


quote:

Originally posted by Rawhide Creek

quote:


Originally posted by oldwoodchuckb

Actually, you can (and in fact Must) have chromatic scales in any tempering.  The Music of Dowland, Sanz, and thousands of other composers (to say nothing of any folk music that was not in strict modes) was written before the advent of equal tempering - and yes indeed, some keys didn't sound so hot.




There were attempts to correct this with extra keys on harpsichords but these were fairly obvious kludges - I don't think anyone ever built a pipe organ with extra keys. Equal Tempering is the merely the most successful of many attempts to solve the problem and I doubt there will be any changes in our lifetimes.




But one never knows, do one? 








Some pipe organs were built with extra keys.  See The History of the English Organ by Stephen Bicknell (1996) for details, pp. 160-162 or so.







Russ, It's always nice to see you jump in on these discussions.



I find them personally a bit frustrating, as it's difficult to discuss anything with any degree of technical detail when there are many who want to participate but just don't understand the basic concepts of music such as scale, interval, temperament, tuning, key of harmonic relationships.  I know enough to be dangerous because I have an active interest in the physics that permeate my world, but not the level of expertise of many of you that come from a more professional background.  I bow to your expertise!


rudy - Posted - 06/03/2015:  16:15:15


quote:

Originally posted by mworden

I like this discussion and agree with much of what Jan has to say, especially regarding "modal" tunes.  I'm a big fan of that neutral 3rd, especially in fiddle music.  I'm not sure I agree about your point of not wanting to hear the rising pitch on fretless instruments.  Indeed, I'd say that those sorts of slide are often integral to the music and done for specific effect.







I would seem to me that sliding either up or down into these "supporting" notes are a big part of the "Round Peak" style, so it's likely that the slides aren't going to go anywhere soon.



"Embrace the force, Luke Skywalker."


sugarinthegourd - Posted - 06/04/2015:  09:33:19


quote:

Originally posted by carlb

In my own experience arriving at those type of in between notes came from playing the Burl Hammons' version of "Greasy Coat" on the banjo (long before Edden's music as available), I always felt that C natural was not the right note; neither was a C sharp. When I got my fretless banjo put together, I played the tune and then stopped when I got to that note. I then checked the pitch (which was my preferred pitch) and found it about 1/3 up from C natural (i.e. about 2/3 below C sharp). For me, that was the note that was correct to my ear. 







 



A few days before Carl posted this, I was working on Tommy Jarrell's "Old Bunch of Keys" on fretless banjo, and trying to identify the exact spot between C and C# (minor 3rd vs major 3rd) where the note in the one really distinctive lick sounds the best. It seemed to me it was exactly between the two frets, distance-wise, which means somewhat closer to the C in pitch. It sounds odd at first, but once you get used to these in-between notes, I think your ear (my ear anyway) starts to hear them as totally legitimate and musical notes. 



Some of the RP banjo tunes (including OBOK) have a lick like this:




E ---5---5---
C# -----4-----
A -----------
E -----------
a ---------0-


,,,that does sound much more jarring to my ears, but that's not because of a "tweener note" -- it's just dissonant, with that flatted sixth. But I think it's a "true" F from the chromatic scale.



Interesting stuff. Does anyone know if these "in between" notes show up in fiddle tunes as played in the British Isles?



John



 


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