Walking Bass Lines

Over the last few weeks we’ve used the idea of walking bass lines, either as an actual bass line or as a harmony for the melody players. Here the lowest note walks between each chord, moving by step rather always being the root note of the chord. This is indicated in the chords with markings such as D/F#, meaning that you should play a chord of D with an F# as the lowest note in the chord. It’s not about adding extra F#s, but about using a particular inversion of the chord, and you might end up using only the higher end of your instrument in order to accommodate the full scale.

Here is a video to demonstrate the effect – you’ll notice that I’m keeping the rhythms quite sparse in the accompaniment for a more delicate arrangement.

We can use this idea through out mst of Sir John Fenwick (just not in the final phrase of each section) and throughout Star Above the Garter, as well as in the A section for Spring at Last. Here is a PDF with suggested chord sequences and bass lines for these tunes.

If you want to try this on some other tunes, then it’s useful to know your arpeggios/the notes of the chords. For instance, a chord of G = GBD and a chord of D = DF#A, so if you’re going from one to the other you could play G-F#, D-D or B-A in the bass.

Major Malley’s Reel

Major Malley’s Reel, aka Major Molle’s, is a Scottish tune by Andrew Gow first published in 1809 shortly after Gow’s death. Molle was an officer in the British army. The tune has since traveled to Canada and England, and we know it was still in use in the 1800s in England, as Thomas Hardy referenced the tune in his 1874 novel Far From the Madding Crowd.

Variations covered in class include adding turns to notes that are part of descending scales, and rhythmic variations in the B section.

Here is an example of how you might apply these ideas:

Lass of Dallowgill Variations

The ideas used here are the same or similar to those used in Rattle in Cash. This is mostly because the tunes were chosen for their similar melodic shapes, so that they would be good companions – note the removed notes in bar 13 to mirror the same rhythmic feature in Rattle the Cash.

A ‘fidget’ is a note added in between repeated notes, either a step above/below the repeated notes, or a third above/below (a ‘skip’). The scale is a connecting note added in between notes that are a skip (or a third) apart. I’ve written an example below to demonstrate how these might be applied to this tune, averaging one variation per two bar phrase, but try out these ideas in other places to find what works for you.

Variation ideas for Rattle the Cash

We looked at three main ideas for varying Rattle the Cash, which are all applicable to other jigs. Firstly, looking for ‘skips’, aka intervals of a third – you can add the note in the middle to make a scale, smoothing out the melody. Or, vice versa, take the middle note out of a scale to make the tune more bouncy. Secondly, look for ‘fidgets’, aka auxiliary notes – take out the middle note for make the tune bouncier or add a fidget note in between two repeated notes to make the tune smoother. Lastly, we tried adding a ‘cut’ ornament in between repeated notes. This works best when you keep the repeated notes in the same bow/breath/bellow direction.

Here is an annotated copy of the tune, to demonstrate how these can be applied. I’d recommend trying one idea per two bar phrase, so that the tune doesn’t become too busy.

Experiment and have fun!

The Crested Hens/Les Poules huppées

Here is our last tune of the term, Les Poules huppées which translates as the Crested Hens. It was written in 1983 by French hurdy gurdy player Gilles Chabenat but it has found its way into various traditions. I suggest that it follows Munster Cloak in a set – while Munster Cloak is a mazurka, Crested Hens is a bouree in 3 however I think they go well together, and especially in this order as the complexity of the rhythms builds through the whole set, giving it a sense of direction.

Here is a video of the tune played slowly and then a little faster:

Here are the basic dots, with PDF available to download. I’ve written out the tune in full rather than adding repeat marks, as this makes it easier to demonstrate different options in the development stage!

We discussed various ideas for varying the tune, including subdividing the longer notes, adding fidgets and using a pedal note. Here is an example of how some of these ideas might fit in this tune – please note this is not a definitive version or official alternative, but just something to give you some ideas!

You can download this version here:

Finally, here is a video of Munster Cloak/Crested Hens in a set.

Developing The Munster Cloak

We looked at several ideas for varying the tune, using specific musical landmarks:

Repeated notes – here we tried two different ways of varying the tune. The first option was to combine or tie repeated notes together to create a longer note. This is demonstrated in bar six of the example. The second idea was to insert a ‘fidget’ in between repeated notes, this being a note that it a step higher or lower than the repeated notes. The technical term for these is ‘auxiliary notes’ but I prefer the term fidget as it indicates a reluctance to sit still on one note for too long! These are demonstrated in bar one of the example.

Descending scales – these are often a good place to put a turn, or alternatively a triplet, as these emphasise the smoothness of the melody.

Scales in general – here we added some pedal notes, as demonstrated in bar 12. This is where a note is repeated or held, while the harmony in other parts changes. In this tune, you can try holding or repeating an A in the section from bar 10 to bar 13.

Skips, or thirds – wherever you have an interval of a third (e.g. D to F#), you might consider adding a passing note in between (e.g. to make D E F#). An example can be seen in bar 2.

The idea in general is to experiment with these ideas, and to find the combinations that you like and that work for you on your specific instrument. I’d suggest focusing on one idea at a time and getting comfortable with that before trying the next, and ultimately limiting yourself to a couple of variations per phrase – sometimes less is more! Exploring and experimenting with the tune in this way also helps to internalise and memorise it.

Here is a (slightly rough and rambling) video, demonstrating some of the ideas described: