Can there be too much ornamentation?

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Can there be too much ornamentation?

Postby songchaser » Sat Feb 03, 2018 2:44 pm

As a new player, still a new player as an accident put me on the sidelines, I hear the more experienced Hammered dulcimer players using a lot of ornamentation. They are very good, but often it drowns out the melody. Sometimes its just too much for me. Are they just showing off or is it necessary to put three notes where there needs to be just one?
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Re: Can there be too much ornamentation?

Postby dholeton » Sat Feb 03, 2018 4:36 pm

I think there are some who like the ornamentation and then there are some that don't.

I had a vocal instructor tell me that if I used an ornament in one measure, I shouldn't use another ornament in a given period. I can't remember the period but it may have been two measures.

I think some ornamentation is okay but I think it is easy for me to overdo it and yes the melody might not be discernible if there is too much. I try to make sure the melody can still be heard clearly over the ornaments.

Dave
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Re: Can there be too much ornamentation?

Postby asterhunter » Sun Feb 04, 2018 9:19 am

You've opened up a can of worms here. I've seen this discussion on other chat boards. The short answer is that is depends on the player's preferences. On one hand you have the "purists" that play with little or no ornamentation. On the other hand you have bluegrass. :) Certainly when you are playing in a jam situation, you need to use little or no ornamentation to prevent confusion in the ranks.

Let's first define ornamentation: simply put, anytime you add additional notes. Most people think only of the rapid grace notes, cuts, crans and bounces etc., but it can also be adding notes in rhythm, such as changing 2 eight notes into 3 triplet eight notes, a common ornamentation in horn pipes; or making a rapid run of a scale or arpeggio on a cadence. Also, if you have dampers on your HD, using them can be considered an ornamentation, as well as plucking with fingers or picks, etc.

Next, let's define the rules. What "rules?" well, eventually you'll define your own personal set of rules as you gain experience with ornamentation. Here are my "rules," and of course I'm not at all saying they are the definitive set, but just to use as an example.

First, (and you've touched on this in your OP) does the ornament enhance the tune or cover it up? If the latter, consider cutting back or eliminating it.

Next, I'll start adding ornaments any place I think one would fit. Then I start to "weed out" by playing fewer and fewer ornaments until I think I've reached a good point, the point where the ornaments enhance rather than cover up the melody.

Third, if I'm playing a traditional tune with a short format that uses multiple passes (jigs, reels, etc.) I'll change the amount of ornamentation with each pass. Usually what I do is to play the first pass with little or no ornamentation, then gradually add more and more with each pass. The more ornaments you practice, the more you can change things around to keep the multiple passes from becoming to monotonous to the audience (or yourself!).

Fourth, when I'm playing a set of tunes with an accompanist or with a group, I'll usually have one ornament or group of ornaments that I use only as a final pass to let the other players know when I'm getting ready to end the tune and switch to the next tune in the set (assuming of course that I'm playing lead and not backup). (If I'm not using an ornament in this way, I'll alter the notes of the final cadence of the tune in some way to use as a warning flag.)

Fifth, and this is perhaps the only hard fast "rule" that I rarely break, always play the last pass in a tune, or most of it, with no ornaments, just the way it is written. I don't quite know why, but it seems to make a nice pleasant way to end your tune.

And lastly, am I using this ornament only to show off my technical prowess? Well, there's really nothing wrong with showing off to your audience, but if that is the ONLY reason you add the ornamentation then consider dropping it or scaling it back to a simpler ornament.

I hope this helps. I guess the bottom line is, play as many ornaments as you can wherever you can until you figure out what's right for you.

David Elosser
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Re: Can there be too much ornamentation?

Postby halfpint » Sun Feb 04, 2018 10:58 pm

This is probably personal preference. I prefer to keep it simple, and be able to hear the melody. I have listened to songs where there was so much ornamentation that I didn't recognize the song until the 2nd or 3rd time through, and I think that is way too much ornamentation.

But like others have said, if in a jam situation it's best to keep it simple, which I usually do and I often get complimented on it.

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Re: Can there be too much ornamentation?

Postby GrantOlson » Mon Feb 05, 2018 8:55 pm

asterhunter wrote:On one hand you have the "purists" that play with little or no ornamentation. On the other hand you have bluegrass. :)


Some of bluegrass is even improv, which has nothing to do with this discussion because we still want to hear the melody. :D
I totally agree that it has to do with preference. I think I tend to add a fair amount of ornamentation, or even variation to the melody, especially if I mess up :) However, I don't like to think about my music much, at least as I'm playing. I think there can be too much ornamentation; but I just play what sounds good and maybe I'm doing some of the things Asterhunter mentioned, maybe not.
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Re: Can there be too much ornamentation?

Postby cut a rug » Tue Feb 13, 2018 8:04 am

I agree with halfpint about the ornamentation. If I can't hear the music because of the ornamentation/embellishments, then I don't even enjoy the song anymore.
It doesn't matter what genre it is, to much is a distraction from the original music. So to me, I'll just say it's a personal preference.
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1. Don't fret the small stuff.
2. Everything in life is small stuff.
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Re: Can there be too much ornamentation?

Postby asterhunter » Tue Feb 13, 2018 2:10 pm

GrantOlson wrote:
asterhunter wrote:On one hand you have the "purists" that play with little or no ornamentation. On the other hand you have bluegrass. :)


Some of bluegrass is even improv, which has nothing to do with this discussion because we still want to hear the melody. :D
Grant

Very true indeed! I am not very good at improvisation (except by "accident!") but I am good at ornaments so I often improvise with ornaments.

David E
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