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  • Selecting Band Tunes

    While this topic could be in other places (e.g., Music), I'll start it here, for it pertains to those, like P/Ms or others, who pick tunes for the band.

    By what criteria do you select tunes for the band? And is this done seasonally, periodically, etc.? One may have to split this topic into single tunes for the tune list (e.g., marches) vs. those for medleys, QMSs, MSRs, and other sets. But back to the question:

    Do you consider the grade, nature of the band? Are there other factors, such as the difficulty level, the sight reading capability of most of the members, etc.? Do you have a limited number of tunes per season? And if so, do you "rotate" (i.e., do you keep a limited number of tunes, and therefore replace some with a new tune? I ask that because I've seen far too many lower grade bands that have a ridiculously large list of tunes...consequently, never really able to practice and polish all appropriately).

    Do you keep a sort of balance of tunes (e.g., a variety of time signatures, or varied marches and dance tunes, etc.)? Do you work with the Drum Sergeant or the drum corps when you're looking at tunes? (I do, by the way, for our drum corps is important, and it is vital that pipers learn to listen to the drummers, especially when there is a good score for each tune). Are there other factors or practices in your selection?

  • #2
    Re: Selecting Band Tunes

    G3 band. We switch out one competition set (medley and MSR) each season, so we only have one new set to learn at a time.

    As for tune selection, there are a handful of us who find tunes and share with each other to decide what we like and what we donít like (with the PM getting the final say). If there are tunes with complicated embellishments, we either leave that tune out or augment the embellishments to something the whole pipe corps can play.

    One thing that I, personally, look for is tunes in a variety of keys. A few years ago, the back half of our medley was all in A and sounded kind of boring. With MSRs, I try to have the overall keys of each piece come to an authentic cadence (V-I) so something like M in D, S in E, R in A (overall progression of IV-V-I) which I feel helps the set flow from tune to tune during transitions.
    You don't have fun by winning. You win by having fun.

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    • #3
      Re: Selecting Band Tunes

      Originally posted by Jim Fogelman View Post
      One thing that I, personally, look for is tunes in a variety of keys.
      I do to. It amazes me how many pipers are key-deaf, and will put together a set of three 4/4s all in A Major.

      Or three sets of three 4/4s all in A Major.

      Originally posted by Jim Fogelman View Post
      I try to have the overall keys of each piece come to an authentic cadence (V-I) so something like M in D, S in E, R in A (overall progression of IV-V-I) which I feel helps the set flow from tune to tune during transitions.
      I understand the thinking, which makes sense, but I wonder how many tunes in the key of E there are. (Yes there are plenty of tunes in A that begin and/or end on the 5th, which is a different kettle of fish.)

      I'm not so ambitious, I'm just happy to break things up such as using the ABA format (in the sense of "thing one" into "thing two" then return to "thing one").

      It could literally be ABA as in A Major > B minor > A Major or it could be pretty much any two contrasting keys.

      One thing I find interesting is the way that in Irish Traditional Music they often put together three-tune sets (the standard number) in contrasting keys, while in Cape Breton fiddling they will often stay in the same key but have contrasting modes.

      For example "taking away sharps" by going

      A Major > A Mixoldyian > A dorian (or A minor).

      I've found that this can be very effective in Highland piping, by starting with a tune in A that lacks the 7th degree and which is perceived as being in A Major by the listener, then going into a tune in A with prominent G notes (the so-called A>G tunes), then going into a tune in A that lacks the 3rd degree which the listener perceives as minor.

      To be clear, tunes in these scales, all having A as the tonic:

      A B C# D E F# a

      G A B C# D E F# g a

      G A B D E g a

      In ITM a three-tune formula I've found that sounds good almost no matter which tunes you plug into it is the rising tonic, the medley going

      D Major > E minor > G Major

      The equivalent on the Highland pipes would be

      A Major > B minor > D Major.

      BTW for competition music I try to avoid tunes in D like the plague. Especially I don't want to end a medley on the note D. Even when Grade One bands do it, that last D is rarely perfectly in tune.
      proud Mountaineer from the Highlands of West Virginia; Son of the Revolution and Civil War; first European settlers on the Guyandotte

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      • #4
        Re: Selecting Band Tunes

        Originally posted by EquusRacer View Post
        By what criteria do you select tunes for the band?

        Do you consider the grade, nature of the band?
        I think any PM that doesn't consider the band's playing level is setting himself up for trouble.

        Years ago I attended a practice of a Grade 3 band and they handed out a tune of a very high level of complexity, a tune that only a circle composed of Grade One players could handle.

        I said something about the suitability of the setting. The Pipe Major looked at me like I had horns growing out of my head and said "this is the actual sheet music from _______ " (a Worlds-winning Grade One band).

        Oh dear me.

        My idea about suitability of settings may sound crazy, but I think it's entirely practical. I don't think a band should play a setting that the band's worst plper on his worst day on a hot afternoon in the sun in his eyes and a beer in his belly can't play well.

        But no, bands will choose settings that only the top couple pipers in the band can play well, on their best day, in ideal circumstances.

        Notice I say "settings" rather than "tunes". As I've been told "there are no difficult tunes, only difficult settings."

        Originally posted by EquusRacer View Post
        do you keep a limited number of tunes? I've seen far too many lower grade bands that have a ridiculously large list of tunes...
        That's true for sure. I know many lower-level pipers who forget how to play tunes that they don't practice regularly, and many higher-level pipers who can dredge up tunes that they've not played in 30 years and make a decent go of them. I know it's not always like that, but in general my experience has been that it behooves lower-level bands to have smaller repertoires.

        Most of the competition bands I've been in keep small tune-lists, often only their competition sets and Massed Bands tunes.

        Or they might also maintain a parade set or two, or a show set or two.

        (Sorry for using masculine pronouns, but as English lacks gender-neutral ones I did it to save space and make the sentences flow better.)
        proud Mountaineer from the Highlands of West Virginia; Son of the Revolution and Civil War; first European settlers on the Guyandotte

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        • #5
          Re: Selecting Band Tunes

          Originally posted by pancelticpiper


          I don't think a band should play a setting that the band's worst plper on his worst day on a hot afternoon in the sun in his eyes and a beer in his belly can't play well.





          Greetings to All,


          Well... And there... you have it !!

          Once and again... this particular "nail"... actually a great
          metal spike!!... has been stunningly struck!!... and upon its
          quite... and all too obvious... leering head!!

          And... this "consideration"... 'cause it most certainly ain't...
          a rule!!... should be embraced... by many solo players... as
          well. (The "consideration" part of this is for we poor sods...
          who are on the listening end... of this particular stick.

          Would any... mount a horse... that they may not... be able to
          ride??

          Would any... enter a cockpit... of a plane... that they may not...
          be able to fly??

          But one of our... ever present... and on-going... circumstances...
          that so beset us all... Poor Mortal Sods... is our seemingly and
          ever infinite... facility... for self-delusion... ('Twas ever thus.

          Now... I am ever for... Aiming Up!! ... and... Getting Better!!...
          but that is why... practice sessions... away from The Public... are
          enjoined upon us... so that "the others"... are saved from having
          to be subjected to... all of the musical discombobulations... that
          in our playing we must endure... and through which we must all
          slog... until that elusive harmony... is properly birthed... and then...
          brought forth...

          All such... was always... a tough go... but please... let us all have
          that... and such... "consideration"... so that The Music... is the
          better heard... and so... the more greatly... appreciated...

          Warmest Regards... and Wishing Good Practices... to All,

          Pip01








          Last edited by Pip01; 01-25-2021, 08:04 AM.
          My friends all know,
          With what a brave carouse...

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          • #6
            Re: Selecting Band Tunes

            Our band is a very democratic bunch. Each year, in preparation for our annual meeting, we encourage all members to submit material they think would be suitable. We listen to them at the meeting, then vote on two or three we want to work on for the year, deciding when we want to have them ready (St. Pat's Day, St. Andrew's banquet). Our pipe major is pretty game and very seldom decrees a tune totally unsuitable. We have chosen some tunes that are great tunes but turn out to be challenging, causing some members to lose interest. Others turn out to be some that a few continue to work on and will perform as a small group. This may seem rather haphazard but it works for us.

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            • #7
              Re: Selecting Band Tunes

              Originally posted by johnsog View Post
              we encourage all members to submit material they think would be suitable. We listen to them at the meeting, then vote on two or three...
              Seems to me that choosing a tune for a lower-level band because it sounds great when you hear somebody playing it can be a recipe for trouble.

              I've seen lower-level bands do that. They hear a great piper play the coolest tune in the world and get all fired up to have their band play it.

              The trouble is, the fact that a great piper is playing and it's the coolest tune in the world practically guarantees that a lower-level band won't be able to play it well.

              To know if a tune is suitable you have to play it. If a Pipe Major knows his Pipe Corps, knows that Piper A has trouble with low-hand work, knows that Piper B will have crossing noise problems with all those arpeggios, the Pipe Major can assess a tune's suitability.

              I've seen Pipe Majors who are good at judging tunes' suitability for their band, and Pipe Majors who aren't. They foolishly pick tunes that are over the heads of everybody in the Pipe Corps except themselves, with predictable results in competition.
              proud Mountaineer from the Highlands of West Virginia; Son of the Revolution and Civil War; first European settlers on the Guyandotte

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              • #8
                Re: Selecting Band Tunes

                Originally posted by pancelticpiper View Post
                Seems to me that choosing a tune for a lower-level band because it sounds great when you hear somebody playing it can be a recipe for trouble.

                I've seen lower-level bands do that. They hear a great piper play the coolest tune in the world and get all fired up to have their band play it.

                The trouble is, the fact that a great piper is playing and it's the coolest tune in the world practically guarantees that a lower-level band won't be able to play it well.

                To know if a tune is suitable you have to play it. If a Pipe Major knows his Pipe Corps, knows that Piper A has trouble with low-hand work, knows that Piper B will have crossing noise problems with all those arpeggios, the Pipe Major can assess a tune's suitability.

                I've seen Pipe Majors who are good at judging tunes' suitability for their band, and Pipe Majors who aren't. They foolishly pick tunes that are over the heads of everybody in the Pipe Corps except themselves, with predictable results in competition.
                I so totally agree! I, too, have witnessed this all too often.

                Regarding being "democratic"; when I was P/M, I, too, invited tune submissions. However, I would determine if a tune was appropriate for our grade level (along with other criteria). I do remember one time when I was wanting to add a 2/4 march, and had members vote. HOWEVER, I worked with our lead stroke and picked out half a dozen that I felt were appropriate and for what we could get a good drum score. The members would vote on those, rather than getting a flood of proposals, many of which were not appropriate for our band's level.

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                • #9
                  Another factor is the make up of the band. Our group does not compete (well, we did once and learned a LOT!!), mostly because most in our group are not interested. Thus we don't strive to achieve a higher grade. Some in our band truly are interested in improving their skills and work hard toward that end; a few are in the band because it's a fun group, they like the pipes and it gets them out of the house. With such a range of reasons for membership, we are not too particular. We do try to present the best performances we can and, to that end, urge anyone who does not feel up to playing a particular tune to refrain from joining in one they might boggle up. We do have a couple gigs a year that are BIG DEAL gigs; we ask people to excuse themselves from the entire gig since they are not ready for that. There are a few tunes that will be worked on by a small group of high achievers for performances as well. We feel that having small group/full band tunes add texture to static (non-parade) performances and so are acceptable while providing challenging material for those so inclined plus allowing the less skilled to have something to work toward.

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by johnsog View Post
                    Another factor is the makeup of the band. Our group does not compete...most are not interested...there are a few tunes that will be worked on by a small group of high achievers for performances...providing challenging material for those so inclined plus allowing the less skilled to have something to work toward.
                    I used to play in a band that did a variation of that format.

                    Rehearsals began with the full band, which had a wide range of playing levels. The full-band repertoire consisted of basic tunes which were performed in parades and other public events. This band did a ton of those so it was great to have the largest possible pool of members to cover all the performances.

                    Halfway through rehearsal we switched to the competition music.

                    I would say over half the members played in both groups. Several members played only in the non-competition group, and a couple people (including myself) only played in the competition group.

                    It was a flexible and accommodating system that offered something to everybody.



                    proud Mountaineer from the Highlands of West Virginia; Son of the Revolution and Civil War; first European settlers on the Guyandotte

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