Learning music is hard, man! So when I have a beginner student, my biggest challenge to incentivising them to practice. My experience is that for 99% of the humans I teach, ensemble music-making is the most effective incentive for getting them to practice. In Irish traditional music, this translates into: how can I get them into a trad session ASAP?
For me, the biggest challenge within that is getting a student to be able to play a tune at conventional tempo. So what is conventional tempo for the various Irish traditional tune types?
Traditional music sessions vary according to region, venue, day, time and musicians, but the baseline is that Irish traditional music is dance music. So if we take samples of musicians dancing for dancers, we’ll have a pretty good indication of
a) the foundation upon which the instrumental tradition is based, and therefore the likely tempi for a group of Irish traditional musicians
b) what tempo instrumentalists should aspire to … coz let’s be honest, this is dance music. It’d be pretty ridiculous if a dancer walked into a pub and the musicians couldn’t play for them.
With all that in mind, I recorded the tempo, beat-by-beat, of performances of musicians performing various dance types for live dancers. I got the average BPM of a tune type. I then looked at the sheet music of the tune type and chose the shortest common note duration – e.g. a hornpipe is notated in 2/2, but it’s actually played with a heavy swing, so has a high frequency of semiquavers. So for a student to play a hornpipe in a session, they have to be able to execute semiquavers at session tempo. I then translated this shortest common note duration into milliseconds, to facilitate comparison of all the tune types in Irish traditional music. Here are my findings.
|Tune type||Meter||BPM||Shortest Common Note Duration||Duration Of Shortest Common Note / Ms|
|March||4/4||Crotchet = 118 BPM||Quaver||254 ms|
|Set Dance - Jig||6/8||Dotted crotchet = 94 BPM||Quaver||213 ms|
|Mazurka||3/4||Crotchet = 174 BPM||Quaver||173 ms|
|Waltz||3/4||Crotchet = 176 BPM||Semiquaver||170 ms|
|Single Jig||6/8||Dotted crotchet =126 BPM||Quaver||159 ms|
|Double Polka||2/4||Crotchet = 101 BPM||Semiquaver||149 ms|
|Schottische||2/2||Minim = 103 BPM||Quaver||146 ms|
|Heavy Jig||6/8||Dotted crotchet = 73 BPM||Semiquaver||137 ms|
|Single Reel||2/4||Minim = 116 BPM||Quaver||129 ms|
|Slide||12/8||Dotted crotchet =168 BPM||Quaver||119 ms|
|Hop Jig||9/8||Dotted crotchet =192 BPM||Quaver||104 ms|
|German||2/2||Minim = 100 BPM||Triplet||100 ms|
|Set Dance – Hornpipe||2/2||Minim = 76 BPM||Semiquaver||99 ms|
|Single Polka||2/4||Crotchet = 162 BPM||Semiquaver||93 ms|
|Barndance||2/2||Minim = 90 bpm||Semiquaver||83 ms|
|Highland||2/2||Minim = 90 bpm||Semiquaver||83 ms|
|Strathspey||2/2||Minim = 90 bpm||Semiquaver||83 ms|
|Slip Jig||9/8||Dotted crotchet =125 BPM||Semiquaver||80 ms|
|Double Jig||6/8||Dotted crotchet = 129 BPM||Semiquaver||78 ms|
|Fling||2/2||Minim = 106 BPM||Semiquaver||71 ms|
|Hornpipe||2/2||Minim = 105 BPM||Semiquaver||71 ms|
|Reel||2/2||Minim = 126 BPM||Semiquaver||60 ms|
So, if you’re learning Irish traditional music, don’t shoot yourself in the foot by starting off with reels. I suspect that if you learn tunes in this order your life will be easier, and more enjoyable!
- Instrumental versions of songs.
- Set dances – jig
- Mazurkas and waltzes
- Double polkas, Schottisches
- Single reels
- Hop jigs, Germans, Set Dances – hornpipes
- Single polkas
- Barndances, Highlands, Strathspeys, Slip jigs, Double jigs
- Flings, Hornpipes
Go n-éirí leat!