What are the real and true differences between double jigs,
single jigs, slip jigs, reels, polkas, hornpipes? Mike McQuaid
questions the "authoritative" answers to this question which we
have heard. I am with you, Mike. Some of the answers we have
heard are wrong. But unfortunately the "right" answers aren't
very straightforward. Even within the sphere of Irish music,
these types of tunes have never, ever been fully standardized.
These categories wobble and vary in the early collections of
Irish music, and they continue to wobble and vary today.
That said, I think that most Irish musicians and dancers who
have traveled much have a consensus notion about what the names
for these types of tunes mean. First of all, the names sometimes
vary: double jigs are often simply called jigs; single jigs are
usually called slides; slip jigs are sometimes called hop jigs.
Hornpipes, reels, and polkas have notes grouped in fours; and
double jigs, slides, and slip jigs have notes grouped in threes.
Hornpipes are slower than reels, and reels are slower than
polkas. Hornpipes are stressed strongly on the beat, reels are
more evenly stressed, and polka stress varies from tune to tune.
The groups of three notes in both double jigs and slides pair up
to form groups of six; but in slip jigs they triple up to form
groups of nine. Double jigs are slower than slides, and slides
are slower than slip jigs. In both slides and slip jigs, many of
the groups of three notes (daa daa daa) collapse into two notes
Typical examples of rhythms for these types of tunes might
be clumsily described like this:
REEL: daa daa daa daa daa daa daa daa
HORNPIPE: daaa da daaa da daaaa daaa da
POLKA: daa daa dadadada
DOUBLE JIG: daa daa daa daa daa daa
SLIDE: daaaadaa daadaadaa daaaadaa daaaadaa
SLIP JIG: daaaadaa daadaadaa daadaadaa
So if I am so sure about the above descriptions, why do I
think that all of these types of tunes wobble and vary? Let's
take a look at two great early collections of Irish dance tunes,
O'Neill's Music of Ireland, and the Roche Collection of
Traditional Irish Music. How do O'Neill and Roche categorize the
above types of tunes? And how do they compare to a more modern
collection like the three volumes of Breathnach's Ceol Rince na
O'Neill has separate categories for "double jigs", "slip
jigs", "reels", and "hornpipes, etc." (as well as "airs-songs",
"O'Carolan's compositions", "long dances", and "marches and
miscellaneous"). He does NOT have categories for slides or
polkas. However, some of the tunes which we call slides and
polkas do sneak into the collection anyway. For instance, some
polkas can be found in the "marches and miscellaneous" section:
O'Neill includes the air to the popular song "Hielan Laddie" in
this section (under the name "The High Cauled Cap"); Breathnach
lists this same tune as a polka in his second volume (under the
name "An Gabhairin Bui"). And some slides can be found in
O'Neill's double jig section: for instance, #742 "Friendly Jack"
and #770 "Get Up Early" both seem very much like slides to me
with their pattern of quarter notes and eighth notes.
Roche has separate categories for "double jigs", "single
jigs", "hop jigs", "reels", and "hornpipes" (as well as "airs",
"set dances", "flings", "old set dances", "long dances",
"quadrilles", "old dances", and "marches etc."). He does NOT
have a separate category for polkas. However, some polkas (such
as the well-known "Oh the Breeches Full of Stitches") can be
found in the "single jig" section. This is particularly
confusing, since Roche notates some of his single jigs in 6/8 and
some in 2/4, and his polkas are in 2/4. Roche includes a few
more polkas, written in 2/4, in his section "old dances", but he
brands them "not Irish by origin".
In summary, O'Neill and Roche both seem to have a clear idea
of what reels, hornpipes, double jigs, and slip jigs are; and
they both seem a bit fuzzy on polkas and slides.
Mike McQuaid asks what books notate single jigs in 6/8.
Here is a comparison of the time signatures used by O'Neill,
Roche, and Breathnach:
tune type O'Neill Roche Breathnach
reel 4/4 or 2/4 4/4 or 2/4 4/4
hornpipe 4/4 or 2/4 4/4 or 2/4 4/4
polka none 2/4 2/4
double jig 6/8 or 12/8 6/8 or 12/8 6/8
slide none 6/8 or 2/4 6/8 or 12/8
slip jig 9/8 9/8 9/8
Breathnach has a handy table of speeds at which "traditional
players usually play these tunes":
reels quarter note = 224
hornpipes quarter note = 180
polkas in 2/4 quarter note = 137
double jigs dotted quarter = 127
single jigs dotted quarter = 137
slip jigs dotted quarter = 144
I get along pretty well with these speeds as a generalization,
but they really do vary a lot. Reels and hornpipes overlap, and
reels and polkas overlap. Many jigs fall into a never-never-land
between single and double. Categorization of tunes is handy, but
even within the world of Irish music, it varies from place to
place, and it varies from one form of Irish dancing to another.
One final note: some people have been asking for examples of
slides. The Bothy Band plays a lovely set of three Kerry slides
(The Priest/Mary Willie's/This Is My Love, Do You Like Her?) on
their album "Out of the Wind into the Sun" and also on their live
album "After Hours".
Ooof! Sorry about the length of this message.
--Rick Gagne ([log in to unmask])