Contra Resources
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Playing contra music how-to's:

  • A Guide For Mud Players. A guide for would-be and existing membes of the band to keep things flowing smoothly.
  • How To Start: Even for people who play well, jumping into Mud music and playing at speed during a performance can feel overwhelming. This is a note from Steve Hudak on how he approached fitting himself into the band.
  • How to Play Mud Music Before You Can Play Mud Music: A really nice, detailed guide to how to play along with the band as you're coming up to speed. The recording below of the Grasshopper set provides an example of how this type of simplified melody line sounds. Written by Gary Lee Nelson.
  • Contra Dance Music: A Working Musician's Guide
    • Includes do's and don'ts for musicians, notes from Last Gaspe's workshop for contra dance bands, and playing piano, fiddle, and backup
  • More music if Mud's Notebook is not enough for you:
    • The Portland Collection: Contra Dance Music in the Pacific Northwest
      • This site has information on the music, but also excellent links to contra music camps and festivals and dance sites.

Online contra music:

  • Last Gaspe - Irish and French Canadian contra reels, waltzes, and fiddle tunes (includes Pays du Haut). Plays on-line or pay per download.
  • The Portland Mega Band is another open band (now closed because of too many members (60)! The website for their CD includes audio clips of live performances.
  • A wonderful collection of tunes from SPUDS, an open band in Philadelpha.
  • The Portland Collection CD1 and CD2. Wonderful audio samples of several songs (God, I wish I could play like this!)
  • The Flying Garbanzos is a New England group that plays a lot of the tunes we do with a really nice lift to them. Ignore the djembe. I have two of their albums, if anyone would like to borrow them.
  • The Great Bear Trio - Twin fiddles and a piano. The two boys - Andrew and Noah - are amazing adolescent players.
  • A Mud live performance, this time of a set of Grasshopper Sitting On A Sweet Potato Vine, Old Grey Cat, and Sadie at the Back Door. Because of the way the mic was set up, you can hear a nice example of the difference between what the recorder is playing (a very simple version of the tunes, as described above in How To Play Mud Music Before You Can Play Mud Music and the How To Start suggestions) and the much more complex melody line played by the fiddles.
  • This site, from Latin Squares, has MIDI files of many of the newer tunes we play. The arrangements are simple (synthesized piano), but it is a great resource if you want to learn the new songs by ear. After finding the tune you want, click on the MIDI link.

CDs of contra music:

Resources for practicing:

  • The Violin Site has a number of sections that could be useful, including
    • Memorizing Music: a site of useful tricks
    • The On-line Metronome: play with drum, cymbol, woodblock, whistle or whatever. We typically play at 115-130 per quarter note, although our waltzes are somewhat faster and tunes with runs of eighth notes somewhat slower. In addition to just checking your speed, other things to do with a metronome include:
      • Learning the tunes! Set the metronome SLOW and force youself to play every note of those tough tunes (such as Pays du Haut - my nemesis). Play it once very slow, then repeat a bit faster, the next repeat faster still. This is much more effective than trying to play it fast from the start. I personally finally learned Turkey in the Straw (which only sounds easy) when we played it a zillion times for a Virginia Reel beginning very slowly and progressively speeding up until even the piano dropped out.
      • Forcing yourself to listen: Playing with the metronome requires you to modulate your internal clock to an external one. That's what we need to do in the band.
      • Enforcing rhythm: Mud tunes tend to be quite simple rhymically, but there are a few places where it's easy to speed up at the easy spots and slow down with the hard.