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Just amazed at different versions of tabs for same tunes

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Nov 8, 2019 - 3:19:15 PM
93 posts since 1/28/2018

Find it is great that there are so many versions of the same tune - some due to skill level some due to different tunings & some just different.
Is this unique to banjo (ignoring key)?

Nov 8, 2019 - 4:31:46 PM
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8022 posts since 10/5/2006

No, it’s a ‘folk’ characteristic. And it applies to all folk instruments.

To test that reality you can put an Irish, Scottish or English tune title into The Session website and you’ll find typically half a dozen and sometimes up to twenty versions of that tune posted. It’s also very common that the same tune is known by different titles in different places. Musicians play tunes differently, often influenced by their regional style, but often just by personal style. And good musicians rarely if ever play a tune exactly the same way twice; phrasing, syncopation and melodic line may all vary significantly.

These are the flavours and idiosyncrasies that make vernacular music what it is and so dynamic and expressive of who we are.

Edited by - m06 on 11/08/2019 16:42:29

Nov 8, 2019 - 6:41:16 PM
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3702 posts since 10/13/2005

Ditto Mike. Took me a while to understand that there is no DEFINITIVE, '"correct" version of any tune or song, just versions. Of course all my mistakes within any version is just my embellishments.... banjered

Nov 8, 2019 - 7:54:34 PM
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Bill Rogers (Moderator)


22455 posts since 6/25/2005

Folk music has always been this way because it has no written definitive versions. Aural/oral tradition leads naturally to many versions and veariations. The same is true of all music, really. Glenn Gould’s 1955 debut recording of the Goldberg Variations, for example, is distinctly different from his 1981 version. And that’s written classical music.

Edited by - Bill Rogers on 11/08/2019 19:55:08

Nov 8, 2019 - 9:31:06 PM

91 posts since 8/30/2015

Originally posted by m06

To test that reality you can put an Irish, Scottish or English tune title into The Session website and you’ll find typically half a dozen and sometimes up to twenty versions of that tune posted.

I've used The Session website and similar sites for years, having had a long history of playing Irish music. It's indeed a wonderful resource. I wouldn't put much emphasis on the different versions though. In old-time music the actual versions of tunes can be strikingly different because of the isolation of source fiddlers they come from. There is a bit of that in Irish music, but for the most part tunes are pretty much the same at the core. What differs is playing style and that is often centered around ornamentation and regional styles. People who have played the music for a long time place cuts, taps, rolls, and crans in appropriate places even if the notation is ornament free. That, IMO, accounts for an excess of versions of tunes on The Session. I usually just want the basic structure of a tune when I go there. 

Nov 9, 2019 - 12:58:30 AM
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8022 posts since 10/5/2006

Stephen that was essentially the point I was making.

In 'Irish music' regionality tends to affect the way a tune is played (and to some extent which tunes are preferred) - that is the regional musicians characteristic approach and attack, rather than a structural variation. For example a locally-born Galway flute player will play a tune distinctly differently than a locally-born Roscommon flute player. The same beautiful form of stylistic variation can be found in 'English music' by region but that texture and patterning is cruelly destroyed when a vernacular culture itself is suppressed. As Bill said: variation is a feature of an aural tradition. The old musicians naturally learned and reinforced each other to play a tune as they heard it locally - part-remembered distortions and all. And 'local' could be defined in one cluster of villages, with that tune being played or sung noticeably differently 20 miles away. It's essentially about the intimate human qualities of proximity and influence. So we have to be acutely aware of the variable criteria we are using to define 'local' too. And the effect of publication and broadcast. When a contemporary author via a publisher issues a 'tune book' via a publisher it is an action, albeit maybe well-meaning, that carelessly tosses that music onto the wind with no connection to place; a commercial enterprise. So motive and purpose also play a part in casting the shadow of homogeneity too.

Our ease of access to recordings works in the opposite direction - toward homogeneity - and a pick-n'-mix approach. We tend to lose idiosyncrasy and real identity by that mix; replacing them with broadbrush general terms such as ITM, English folk, OT etc. That's not necessarily a criticism, because that is an equally natural by-product of our musical environment and music is a reflection of our environment. However, some of us are passionate about creating and maintaining contexts in which local musical culture and identity - the sounds of our communities - is researched, reintroduced where it has been lost, actively retained, and - vitally - played and passed on. To a large extent that involves a conscious 'shutting one's ears' to music that is not sourced locally to where we live. And if and when we also play a genre of music that is not our local to us, to go find, understand and respect locality and regional identity in what is someone else's vernacular music.

When we falsely believe all music is indiscriminately ours for the taking we kill the goose that layed the golden musical egg.

Edited by - m06 on 11/09/2019 01:22:25

Nov 10, 2019 - 2:06:49 AM



8022 posts since 10/5/2006

One powerfully revealing anecdote that serves as a useful reminder of what is our 'compass' is a local account of Cecil Sharp's tune collecting right around where I live in Somerset today.

Back then on a dark night in the very early 1900's he found himself and his notebook at an old inn high up between Priddy and West Harptree where locals had gathered as they regularly did to enjoy some music and dance; farmers, agricultural labourers, quarrymen, miners and itinerant folk. Stood on a table, back against the wall a fiddle player put tune after tune into that crowded room. Working men un-self-consciously step-danced and sang to the familiar rhythms. Yet Sharp's pencil remained in his pocket.

It was not until he requested someone sing any 'older' tunes that they knew that he began to record information in his notebook. That was a pre-gramophone, pre-radio, pre-television community - an aural context - engaged in their vernacular music. But Sharp's interest was selective. He did not record the moves of the step-dances, he did not record the 19th century tunes to which they danced. Despite their presence and uptake and no doubt variation via an aural tradition he deemed these tunes 'beneath him'; what he was interested in were tunes that were a 'fit' to his pre-existing taste and agenda. As a result he did transcribe the melody and words of a few wonderful rural ballads. What he did not do was faithfully capture the actual local vernacular culture that was noisily and jubilantly happening all around him for posterity. That inn is still there. We locals who drink and occasionally play music and step-dance there are left to ponder and research what of 'us' Sharp discarded as worthless, and seek to reclaim more detail to gain a truer picture of our vernacular musical heritage and culture.


Edited by - m06 on 11/10/2019 02:25:48

Nov 10, 2019 - 5:50:27 AM
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1328 posts since 11/18/2003

Think about other artistic mediums. If you ask ten artists to paint or sketch the same person's face, you'll undoubtedly have 10 very different works, each one no more "correct" than the other, each clearly a representation of the subject's face, and each a reflection of that artist's personal style and taste.

The same is true of different people's ways of playing the same tune, which will be reflected in a written arrangement. Developing your own style and taste is one of the great joys of the musician's journey (and true of any instrument and musical tradition). 

Edited by - Josh Turknett on 11/10/2019 05:50:52

Nov 10, 2019 - 10:16:11 PM

Bart Veerman


4458 posts since 1/5/2005

Job #1: render the melody

How you dress up the melody is up to whoever is doing the playing.

Tabs are the "secret solution" of a tabber's way to get job #1 done - re-read Josh Turknett's spot-on post.

A tab may, or may not, suit your personal liking, skill level, or the way your hands and fingers are designed hence the different approaches.

Always remember job #1 and #2

Job #2?

Oh, job #2 is to always have fun while doing #1 - it'll be easier if you keep things within your skill level, comfort zone, and enjoyment expectations smiley 

P.S., the wonderful side effect of observing job #2 is that it makes for very fertile soil to improve your skill level.

Edited by - Bart Veerman on 11/10/2019 22:24:22

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