Tuesday, November 3, 2009

100 Days of Practice, Round 2 Day 21: On Irish Tune Books

By the rules of nature, Soul Mama should not have been up early practicing today. In fact, it was a rather unspeakable time that she got home from Boston last night, after attending a NARAS (The Grammy people) panel on music publishing at the Hard Rock Cafe and then stopping in to visit my old friends Mr. Dooley and Arthur Guinness on Broad Street.

Yet: Wide awake at 6 am. Ready to practice! Excited to start the day with an Irish flute! Or maybe it was the tummy ache that woke me.

At any rate, a nice morning of tunes in the basement. Today, a new tune, an old James Morrison favorite, The Skylark--a tune I've been hearing for years and years and never got around to learning. And also dusted off the Flogging Reel, for fun.

Irish music folks, I tell you this: The best tune book I've found, for nice versions and also for a very good collection of classic tunes is:

100 Essential Irish Session Tunes, Edited by Dave Mallinson, and published by Dave Mallinson Publications 1995. That's the first in a four-book series: 100 Evergreen Session Tunes and also 100 Enduring Session Tunes, as well as 100 Irish Polkas. You can buy them all on Amazon here. If you can only buy one, buy 100 Essential Irish Session Tunes, but if you can spring for more, it's worth it to own them all.

These books are well-notated, clear, and super easy to read with plenty of white space—and the artwork is lovely too. The covers aren't as pretty as they used to be, but we'll let them get by this time. The book also includes chords that are good pointers for guitarists or pianists, though I personally don't always like the harmony that Mallinson suggests. But that's adjustable.

You'da thunk that the Comhaltas books Foinn Seisuin 1, 2, and 3 would be fabulous, but the jury's out on that one for me. The versions don't work well for flute, though they say that the tunes are arranged for all instruments, and some of the settings to me sound just downright quirky. Every time I look at that book to get a read on a tune, I feel like I have to adjust and fix some of the notes and the phrasing.

Having said all of this, a reminder: For the Irish musician, books should only be a helper, but are not the be-all, end-all. They are NOT the way to learn a new tune.

The very best way to learn Irish tunes us by ear, from another player, whether live or recorded.

Once you have the tune in your head more or less, books are like little flashlights that can illuminate the darker corners of notey melodies. They also can jog your memory on tunes you haven't played in years...

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