pennsicdance: Dance music handout

Vanessa Layne dagoura at MIT.EDU
Thu Mar 30 19:14:32 PST 2000

Katriana writes:

> Well, I have the beginnings of a handout on playing dance music.  Everyone
> may now begin to rip it apart :-) 

Looks pretty good.  The only serious thing I disagree with is the
instruments section:

> getting a variety of instrumentation is more important 

Er, until recently, having multiple kinds of instruments in one dance
band was a serious heresy (according to the mundane scholars of EM).

My understanding is that "broken consorts" (mixed instrumentation) are
characteristic of English bands, but the continent prefered "whole
consorts" (all viola da gambas, all hauts, all vihuelas, all
recorders, etc.)  Indeed, matched sets of instruments were made
specifically to be played together, e.g. a family of recorders all
built carefully in tune with one another.

> Brass instruments are possibly the most similar to their
> period counterparts

This is *very* incorrect.  The *only* brass instrument with anything
close to a period counterpart is the slide trombone.

Modern brass (tuba, french horn, trumpet, etc.) are *valved*.  Valves
are very post-period, and don't sound anything like period

> The biggest difference between modern instruments and period
> instruments (to be very simplistic) is that modern instruments sound
> better, they can be played with more accuracy, range and volume than
> their period counterparts.

This is also very missleading.  There are instruments which have very
close period predecessors (violins, e.g.), and there are many
orchestral instruments today with none -- the aforementioned entire
brass section (except trombones) and the single reeds (clarinet and
sax) and the piano.

> The point of this whole section is to encourage you to try to work
> with any instrumentalist who comes up and wants to play.
> I would rather have a new member (or someone who never thought about
> playing in the SCA) play a modern flute than just sit in the crowd and
> think, "boy, I should learn to play the recorder."

(1) These are politics.  Perhaps, since they are politics, and pertain
to directors/organizers not players, they do not belong in what is
supposed to be a guide to playing.

You spend a lot of time talking about what instruments are "OK" -- in
your opinion.  That's not advice or explanation, that's a value
judgement: it's not a tool to be used to play better.  It doesn't
really help the musician play dance music; it just tells them what to
think.  That judgement is up to the individual playing solo or the
director of a group.

It's one thing to tell musicians "this instrument existed in period,
that one did not"; it's up to the musicians to decide whether or not
they feel comfortable bringing such an instrument into the Society.
They get to make that judgement themselves.  So give them good, honest
information about the history of instruments, and let them make it.

Maybe you want to write an accompanying document, on how you feel
groups should be run?  That would be an excellent place for your
feelings about the appropriateness of various instruments.  It would
be a fine thing, distinct from this guide.

Your percussion section is great, but...

> A common fallacy is that any idiot can hit a drum. This is untrue;
> it takes special idiots to hit drums, those with a sense of rhythm.

This is hysterical.  I loved it.  But it's a little harsh and maybe it
won't encourage percussionists.

And it's not even sufficiently true.  A sense of rhythm isn't enough
to get you through the balli with time changes.  You really do have to
learn the piece and know what's coming up.  Helps immensely to be able
to follow along a piece of music on the page or have a categorical
memory ("Oh, Rostibolli, yeah it's got that salterello section...").

Perhaps you want to add a section about the reverse problem to the
follower-drag?  Drummers being bored and not paying any attention to
the music tend to run away with it.

In the Making Music Playable chunk:

> 1. Rhythm is more important than melody 
> 2. You don't have to play all the notes 

I've always said it...

There is a priority:

1. Tempo & Time Sig -- they can dance to anything that fits
2. Rhythm -- notes in the right places in time
3. Notes -- the right notes...
4. Tuning -- ...played in the right place in pitch

1 is most important.  2 is pretty damn important.  3 is important.  4
is really good.  Everything else is 5, and gravy.

The Bernard Thomas quote is great, but sort of misses the point.  He's
talking about ornamentation -- which is always *adding* notes not
taking them away -- which should be the furthest thing from a
beginner's mind.

More to the point: You don't have to play all the little notes.  The
most important notes are the ones on the strong beats -- that means
play the first note of each measure.  If you're playing alone, always
stretch whatever note you're on to cover any notes you leave out; but
if you're playing with other people, be sure to just leave rests where
you don't play notes.  (If you hold a note from one chord into
another, someone else playing might be disrailed by the resultant
dissonance, thinking they had played in error.  Very common.)

> When you are playing solo, without even a drum accompaniment,
> sometimes it is necessary to add notes so that the dancers don't lose
> the beat.

True, but I wouldn't suggest it to a beginner.   That's ambitious.

Rhythm section:

I would add: "COUNT! COUNT! COUNT!"

I know a friend learning a piece (Il Biano Fiore) far away from other
musicians who very carefully memorized it -- with one measure 7/8th long.
Don't let this happen to you.  :)

-- Tibicen
   tibicen at

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