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Old 06-22-2020, 12:13 PM   #1
pancelticpiper
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Default Irish session tunes on SSP

Several times over the years Highland pipers have asked about the feasibility of participating in ordinary Irish trad sessions using some form of Scottish pipes.

As someone who had played Irish flute, whistle, and uilleann pipes in Irish sessions most of my life, as well as playing Highland pipes and Scottish Smallpipes, I have said several times over the years that to be able to handle a respectable percentage of the tunes you're likely to encounter at a typical ITM session, in the same keys that session people play them in, would require a number of SSP chanters in various keys.

This is due as much to range as to key, because of the one-octave range of standard SSP chanters. (Yes I know keyed SSP chanters exist with chromatic notes and extended range etc but I'm talking the standard sort of SSP chanter the typical Highland piper is going to play.)

So there are tunes in G Major having a G-g range that would fit best on a G SSP chanter, made with F# top and bottom, tunes that on a D chanter or A chanter can't be played all that well. That would be a big chanter!

And there are tunes in E minor having mostly an E-e range that would fit best on an E minor chanter. That would be a tiny chanter!

The impracticality of switching between four different chanters at a session (G, A, D, Em) and the awkward sizes of the G and Em chanters made me, this morning, actually go though a selection of Irish session tunes and see where they would fit.

I looked at 50 tunes, the 50 most commonly downloaded ones on an Irish session site.

The results surprised me.

27 of the 50 tunes would be able to be played fairly well on a typical D SSP chanter. By "fairly well" I mean that all the notes can be played, though often sizable portions of the tunes will be an octave higher or lower, due to the big range of many ITM tunes and the small range of the SSP chanter.

However in a decent-sized session with a dozen instruments playing the tune, some of them in octaves already, the SSP will blend in fine. It's more important to hit all the correct notes regardless of which octave they're in.

25 of the tunes fit best on an A SSP chanter, however 6 of the tunes really need the lower-hand thumb-hole for C natural.

Some of these tunes would also sound alright on the D chanter, but better on the A.

There are only 9 tunes that would benefit from the small E minor chanter, and all of them could be played on the D chanter.

The biggest surprise for me was how few tunes would fit best on a G Major chanter- only 5. These are all playable, though the range isn't as good, on the A or D chanters.

There was only one tune that I though wasn't acceptably playable on any of those four chanters: Tam Lin.
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Old 06-22-2020, 12:35 PM   #2
Kevin
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Default Re: Irish session tunes on SSP

Hi Richard,

Very interesting results, thank you for sharing them. Any chance you could also share the names of the tunes you reviewed in each of the chanter categories?

Best regards,
Kevin

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Old 06-22-2020, 12:59 PM   #3
Mac an t-Sealgair
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Default Re: Irish session tunes on SSP

Excuse my ignorance, but can't you play a C natural on SSP?
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Old 06-22-2020, 01:03 PM   #4
CalumII
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Default Re: Irish session tunes on SSP

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mac an t-Sealgair View Post
Excuse my ignorance, but can't you play a C natural on SSP?

Not normally no - it behaves the same way as your practice chanter does, meaning cross-fingering isn't really possible. Makers can drill an extra hole for C natural, played by the thumb, though it's a bit of an awkward solution.
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Old 06-22-2020, 01:04 PM   #5
Kevin
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Default Re: Irish session tunes on SSP

You can't cross finger a C-nat on SSP but several makers include a right hand thumb hole for C-nat on A chanters (D# on C chanters, F on D chanter etc.).

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Old 06-23-2020, 12:44 PM   #6
pancelticpiper
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Default Re: Irish session tunes on SSP

Some of the tunes that would work best with the A chanter with the bottom-hand thumb-hole for C natural could be played fairly well by half-holing or bending.

That happens quite a bit in ITM with the note F on D chanters. There are many tunes where fiddlers, boxplayers, fretted string players etc play definite F naturals and the uilleann pipers and whistle players and keyless flute players find ways to get around F natural. Sometimes they do a bendy note sort of halfway between F and F#, sometimes they do a GF#E triplet where the F# goes by so fast you don't notice it much, and so forth.

So a couple of the A dorian tunes could be handled in that way, while a couple really would benefit from having that C natural note.

BTW I've always held my lower-hand thumb rather low, in the middle of my hand, between the ring and middle fingers, just where they drill that C natural hole. Though I don't have a chanter with that hole whenever I try one my thumb automatically goes over that hole.
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Old 06-23-2020, 01:08 PM   #7
pancelticpiper
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Default Re: Irish session tunes on SSP

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kevin View Post
Very interesting results, thank you for sharing them. Any chance you could also share the names of the tunes you reviewed in each of the chanter categories?
You're welcome. I did the survey more as a statistical thing rather than a repertoire list.

There's a site thesession.org that's all about ITM session playing.

They have tens of thousands of reels, jigs, etc in their tune bank.

A cool thing is that it ranks the tunes in order of popularity. Now, the reason they're popular is that they're "beginner" or "first year" tunes. You might go to a session and not hear any of them! Yet I had to look at a decent sample size that wasn't picked by me, so I just looked at the 50 most-downloaded tunes.

Just be aware that these tunes are regarded in similar light to the way experienced Highland pipers regard Scots Wha Hae.

So here they are. In each category the tunes are in their popularity order.

Be aware that these keys are often NOT where a tune would sound best if played solo on the Scottish pipes! Nor are they the keys that you might find Scottish pipers playing them in. That's not the point here, the point is how best to play these tunes IN THE KEYS ORDINARILY ENCOUNTERED AT IRISH TRAD SESSIONS. How they are played in the Highland pipe band world is completely irrelevant, don't expect them to be the same as that.

And a reminder, the point is to play every single correct note of every tune REGARDLESS OF OCTAVE not "arrange" or compress or modify the tune to fit on a Highland chanter. To blend with a session you have to play all the right notes! Nobody will care what octave they sound in.

Tunes that fit best on an ordinary D SSP chanter:
Cooley's Reel
Butterfly
Morrison's Jig
Silver Spear
Maid Behind The Bar
Banshee
Out On The Ocean
Connaughtman's Rambles
Rights Of Man
King Of The Fairies
Harvest Home (better on the A chanter)
Blarney Pilgrim
Kid On The Mountain
Sally Gardens (the reel, not the song)
Mountain Road
Si Beag Si Mor
Boys Of Blue Hill (better on the A chanter)
Cup Of Tea
Morning Dew
Bucks Of Oranmore
Toss The Feathers (E minor)
Irish Washerwoman
Inisheer Waltz
Wise Maid
Pigeon On The Gate
Road To Listoonvarna
A Fig For A Kiss

Tunes that fit best on an ordinary A SSP chanter:
Wind That Shakes The Barley
Musical Priest
Harvest Home
Mason's Apron
Lark In The Morning
Si Beag Si Mor
Lilting Banshee
St Annes Reel
Boys Of Blue Hill
Calliope House
Cliffs Of Moher
Merry Blacksmith
Congress Reel
Tripping Upstairs
Irish Washerwoman
McLeod's Reel (in A)
John Ryan's Polka
My Darling Asleep
Blackthorn Stick

Tunes that fit best on an A SSP chanter with C natural thumbhole
Banish Misfortune
Gravel Walk
Swallowtail
Cliffs Of Moher
Star Of Munster
Congress Reel

Tunes that fit best on an E minor SSP chanter (a chanter having a minor 3rd built into the scale, not an ordinary SSP chanter in the key of E). These tunes are all also performable on an ordinary D SSP chanter, they just happen to fit a bit better on an E minor chanter due to having high E available.
Drowsy Maggie
Cooley's Reel
Butterfly
Morrison's Jig
King Of The Fairies
Kid On The Mountain
Morning Dew
Toss The Feathers (E minor)
Pigeon On The Gate

Tunes that fit best on a G Major SSP chanter (having a full Major scale with F# top and bottom, not an ordinary SSP chanter in G). These tunes are all also playable on the D or A chanters, it's just that their range fits better on a G chanter.
Kesh Jig
Sally Gardens (the reel, not the song)
Off To California
Inisheer Waltz
McLeod's Reel (key of G)
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Last edited by pancelticpiper; 06-23-2020 at 01:15 PM.
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Old 06-25-2020, 11:14 AM   #8
Kevin
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Default Re: Irish session tunes on SSP

Thanks Richard, that is quite a list and its great to know those tunes can be played on SSP. There are several familiar titles too.

Re. your note about comfortable thumb positions: I seem to have no trouble with my thumb position either. It always felt completely natural on my C and D chanters and didnt take long to feel comfortable on my A chanter either. I imagine there are some differences between makers but the position of my minor third thumb holes is almost right behind the major third hole.

Best regards,
Kevin
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