Writing New Tunes

By Aidan McGee, multi-instrumentalist

One of the positive features of GreenTrad is that one can try out new self-penned tunes and then fine-tune and alter them accordingly following productive feedback from other session members. This was certainly the case recently when I wrote ‘Ipswich’, intended to be played as part of a three-piece set with the classic English folk standards Newcastle and Portsmouth (hopping around the watersides of this fair isle, so to speak).

I kept the A and the B parts of Ipswich in its original format very simple – and as it happens, very similar. The problem with this was that session members were finding it difficult to distinguish between one part and the other – and indeed to make out either melody. Almost as a reflex reaction I managed to come up with a new tune in the same vein as Newcastle, Portsmouth and Ipswich, entitled Hull (aquatic/nautical/maritime themes continuing). This was an attempt to rewrite Ipswich that basically resulted in a completely different tune!

However, the octave jumps (or jump-downs?) in the second part of this tune gave me the inspiration to write something similar as a new B part for Ipswich. This was (I trust) far more distinct from part A than the original part B.

Suddenly we had the prospect of a four-tune mega-set – leaping from Newcastle to Hull to Ipswich to Portsmouth in one perfect linear swoop. I did try this for a few weeks but in all honesty it felt like too much English place-name cake. As such I think it is more prudent to play Hull and Ipswich as a separate set.

My accordion has the disadvantage of being disproportionately loud on the bass notes (that or I play the bass buttons disproportionately loudly). As such it made sense to write out the sheet music for both Hull and Ipswich for those who still couldn’t make out the treble/melody part.

Two things I found extremely useful from the point of view of introducing new tunes to the session were as follows:

  • Provide sheet music!

  • Be patient and persistent. It will take time for a tune to become an accepted part of a session repertoire and this normally involves playing it at an acceptable pace, playing it regularly without being too obtrusive, and taking feedback from others (see above). Don’t assume that playing a previously unheard tune once at breakneck speed is going to cut the mustard for developing an acceptable canon of tunes for an assembled group of musicians.

Aidan's new tunes Newcastle and Hull will feature on this website very soon. So watch this space!


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