Tag Archives: introduction

Intermediate Session Class 2012 #1: Rhythm and Pulse in Polkas

Hey everyone, thanks for a great first class!

First off, I apologize for not mentioning the fact that I will be gone next week. But I would like to do a two hour session class on the 18th from 7 to 9. Please let me know if this does not work for you by emailing me at brock.napierkowski@gmail.com.

This week we started with rhythm and used the dance form of the polka to do this. I gave an exercise of tapping the foot on the downbeat while pushing the beat if you are a melody player, strumming on the offbeat if you are an accompanist. Then I asked you to apply that   technique to the Ballydesmond polkas at a slow tempo. When I return, we will work on that and be prepared to play them in small groups with rhythm and lift. To get your creative ideas flowing on this set, here are a few examples including the one that I played in class.

Dennis Murphy/Julia Clifford on ‘The Star Above the Garter’  (they play Ballydesmond #1/#2/#3 – I can back this up: #1/#2/#3 and yes, it’s wrong on thesession.org). Listen for the amazing lift and rhythm. If you have time and have not done so already, learn #1 which I have not heard at the C-ville coffee session yet.

Here is a whistle version played very ‘straight’ but great harmony. Guy, I forgot to mention in class that it is a balancing act and takes great breath control for whistles to ‘push’ the beat without overblowing and jumping the octave . A near impossibility for a loud session. You’ll notice that the players in this recording don’t do it at all, but focus on harmony and ornamentation, and the result is great. You can use cuts in the place of a push.

A funky version on harmonica with some jazzy guitar backup – this is for you John (notice the placement of accented chords on offbeats vs. downbeats). 

For more fun ideas on approaches to the Ballydesmond polkas, check out thesession.org discography, but be wary of which Ballydesmond is which.

Now on to the new stuff – we are going to learn the polka known as O’Callighan’s. It is also known as Callaghan’s or O’Callahan’s, etc. etc. Here is the discography from irishtune.info

And here are three versions in full:

O’Sullivan’s/O’Callihan’s by Padraig O’Keefe, solo. Note the slow tempo and wonderful use of ornamentation. The same two polkas by Eoghan O’Sullivan, Gerry Harrington & Paul De Grae on ‘The Smoky Chimney’. And another version from two ladies from Galway, Julie Langan and Verena Commins. The full set here is ‘Mimi and the New Generation Polkas/O’Callighan’s/Gan Anim from the album Fonnchoi (pronounced ‘funky’ in Gaelic)

So happy listening. Don’t try to work on this tune yet – we will do it together in class.

So say you would like to increase your ability to learn by ear – what to do? I make use of the free software Audacity. You can slow down anything without changing the pitch, you can move tracks that are in another pitch up or down to where you are, and many other neat things. I usually just slow the whole track down about 30-50%, learn it in chunks by playing highlighted segments in a loop (by hitting shift + play), and then hit ‘undo’ to move it back to normal speed after I can play it on my own. It’s a great tool and I’ll give a demo during the next class.

I am also going to post our first jig set for listening as well. We will be working on both the jig and the polka in the next double class on the 18th. As always, feel free to email me with questions, comments or suggestions.