Playing the Music

Southern Oregon Contra Dance ... SOCD

Some notes, information, and resources regarding playing muaic for a Contra Dance event.

What can Bands do to improve the quality of the Dance?

Our Contra Dance events get a lot of newcomers. One thing that is essential because of this is a very clear beat and phrasing in the tune.

Tempo is the single most important issue. (Too fast is the usual problem.) If the dancers cannot keep up, they will get frustrated, and not come back.

The band's ability to communicate with the Caller is essential as well.

As we continue to grow our events by attracting new dancers, and encouraging them to return, we (the Board of Directors mainly) want to be sure that being able to follow the dance is easy for them. Below are some suggestions for bands to follow, to help in this effort.

If we can increase our return rate on newcomers to our events, it will be easier to expand our schedule. Everyone wins if we are able to accomplish this.

The following information is intended for bands and musicians that are both new and experienced. We are very motivated to encourage new Contra Dance Music talent in our region, so hopefully these resources will be of special use to them.

Basic Musical Needs

  • Phrasing

    • Good Phrasing in the tune is essential so that the dancers know when to start (or finish) a figure on time.

  • Beat

    • A well defined Beat, with emphasis at the correct time, will help keep everyone on the dance floor in sync.

  • Tempo

    • Too Fast and folks cannot keep up, resulting in them getting very frustrated and worn out.

    • Too Slow and the dance feels like it is dragging, which can also be frustrating to the dancers.

Communicating With the Caller

Most Callers will usually plan well in advance the dances they will use for an event. They may also change their lineup up a bit during the dance, depending on how the crowd is balanced with new folks and experienced dancers.

Bands may want to contact the Caller in advance, to see if they have any special requests, or to ask for suggestions for tunes that may fit particularly well with a dance they plan to call.

Web Resources for Bands

Here are some links that contain suggestions and details for the above items.

Music Resources

There are quite a few resources for getting music. Many tunes are traditional, and you can get sheet music for "free", especially through systems that use the ABC Notation format. There are also many Books & CD's available.

The Portland Collection

  • From our home State, this is probably the most comprehensive collection of tunes that are commonly played at Contra Dances. The primary sources are durable, spiral-bound books, which you will find at nearly every Jam Session related to this genre. CD's are also available.

  • This is an astounding resource!

The Session .org - Tunes

  • Know the name of a Contra Dance Tune? Odds are that if you do, you will likely find it here.

  • You will find ABC Notation, comments, and discussions on tunes.

    • This repository is more that Contra Dance Tunes, but a significant number of them apply.

  • This is an amazing resource.

Old-Time Jam

  • The focus of this site is primarily Old-Time Music, which is a specific genre.

  • Many of these tunes are frequently played at Contra Dances.

  • You can easily associate the Name with the Tune, and there are both cord notation and music files that you can play along with to practice.

  • This is an excellent resource.

Great Meadow Music

  • This is one of the biggest dedicated sources for recorded Contra Dance Music.

  • Most of these are modern recordings, by contemporary bands... many of which play in a traditional style. Some bands follow a more modern style.

  • If you are looking for a CD by a Contra Dance Band, this is a good place to start.