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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: BPM-Irish dance tunes

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pweller - Posted - 03/07/2007:  20:42:48

What's the average bpm for say, a jig as opposed to a reel or a hornpipe? I've heard jigs are between 70-80, which seems a bit slow for a musician, but is quite good for a dancer. Any ideas?

Banjowen - Posted - 03/08/2007:  04:06:35

pweller, my daughter was an Irish dancer for a number of years, I always enjoyed listening to tunes played at the correct speed,instead of the way session musicians played them, in my opinion they sound far better as the melody stands out more,and lets not forget they are dance tunes after all. Having said that, I don't think their is a strict BPM rule, as different dance schools tend to vary. Here is an example.


mikeyes - Posted - 03/08/2007:  11:44:18

According to my feis teacher, there are strict bpm for the dancers. The speeds mentioned are in the ball park, hornpipes are about 70 bpm, I think and the better dancers have slower times to show off their chops. My rule of thumb at a ceili or contradance is to play to the slowest dancer (or if a dancer dies of a heart attack, you are playing too fast.)

Personally I like the slower tempi and not just because it is easier to play. At a slower tempo you are able to add more to the tune.

Mike Keyes

BDCA - Posted - 03/08/2007:  19:00:17

I have played at a number of national feis' and the requested speed was a bit slower than a typical session tempo. Having the same tempo for each dancer was critical. On the other hand, I used to play for a Ceili dance group and we couldn't play the reels and especially, polkas fast enough!


Santa Cruz, CA

Edited by - BDCA on 03/08/2007 19:01:52

diarmaid - Posted - 03/08/2007:  21:08:59

they've reseached and played all the tunes at the reccommended irish dance bpms on this cd....really great musicians on it and i actually really liked it (for a dance cd)

molloy - Posted - 03/09/2007:  12:56:14

i can second diarmaid's recommendation of that cd, i recently bought it and its excellant. was lucky enough to be at the real thing when they played in belfast.

Tom Hanway - Posted - 03/14/2007:  00:38:41

This question is more complicated than "average" tempo. Context is important, the level of the dancers and the nature of the dance are factors. Whether it's a "dance tune" to be played at sessions, or for dancers, is another consideration. Still, if you want to work with a metronome, standard settings for Irish, Shetland and Scottish jigs and reels are as follows:

JIGS - one dotted quarter note, or dotted crotchet = 100 BPM
REELS - one quarter note = 112 BPM

This is just a metronome setting, and it is not necessarily used in practice, but it's a safe bet to get cosy in these tempos, whether for sessions or for dances. Likewise, it behooves players to get steady and practice with a metronome, or at these metronome settings, or just a regular heartbeat (steady). Tempos for dance tunes, historically speaking, have changed over time, have always varied from from region to region and from style to style -- they still do, so asking for *average tempos* is not as important as playing in context. If you want to play for disciplined dancers, do get used to these tempos, whether or not you eventually play dance tunes at these tempos, or some faster of slower tempo. You won't be that far off.

Does this make any sense? Being steady is paramount.


Feo - Posted - 03/14/2007:  08:51:20

I'll be playing my 5-string banjo for Irish stepdancers this upcoming weekend .... They want me to play much slower then session speeds ... the jigs are slowed down so much ( maybe too much) they have more of a waltz feel to them .... playing dance music for dancers is more fun then playing music faster then it was intended for though.... over the years , even though I've loved Irish music, I have bought relatively few cd's or tapes of Irish music due mainly to the fact of over-speeding by the artists .... I mean, playing at a typical Irish session is like a musical version of an aerobic workout, a nice technical exercise that gets the fingers good and limber ...but when it comes to laying out cash for listening music- nah ... give me the relaxed stuff.

mikeyes - Posted - 03/14/2007:  10:49:39

Step dancers don't usually dance to live music, especially when they practice. Mostly this is due to the competitive nature of the dance (in fact that is all it is) and the rigid parameters set both by the governing body and each individual school which has almost total control of the dancers and their routines.

As a result, they are expecting a specific bpm and the better dancers dance at slower tempos in order to show off more to the judges.

On the other hand, set dancing, ceili dancing and sean nos step dancing are danced at tempos that you are more familiar with and are more "danceable" to the usual person. In these cases (with the exception of competitions) the band plays at a pace suited to the group in front of them and most of these dances are to live music.

There are CDs out there just for the step dancers - in fact in certain dances there are specific tunes for the top competitions that are set by the governing body that a good feis musician has to know. But if you listen to them with a musicians ear, they are sterile and uninteresting for the most part, not at all what you expect from ITM.

Mike Keyes

Feo - Posted - 03/14/2007:  11:08:07

Oh yeah, I know... step dancers and I bet most square dancers these days are used to canned music instead of live music... 'tis sad .... I guess musicians really shot themselves in the foot the first day they started to let their music be recorded ....
The girls are used to the specific bpm of their tapes ... Listening to their practise tapes, I have painstakingly written out their tunes and try to approximate the bpm they are looking for.... we kind of have a signalling system where the girls will give us a hand signal to increase or decrease the tempo during the performance.... if we're real off from their practise tempo we get the dreaded Irish Evil-Eyeball glance don't want that , let me tell you...

BDCA - Posted - 03/14/2007:  15:25:15

I have played for some of the dancers from River Dance, as well as for some touring professional Irish dancers and speed with them is never an issue. Just a consistant tempo.

At the competitoins, the older the kids, the slightly faster they want it.

All good fun. Speaking of St Paddys, anyone have a suggestion on how to taser a full pipe band?


Santa Cruz, CA

Edited by - BDCA on 03/14/2007 15:25:54

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