The Waltz, The Polka and all kinds of Dance Music – Arrangements…

Music arrangements for the quadrilles

Basic tune structure

A traditional set tune such as a jig (6/8) Cock O’ the North (Aunty Mary) or a single reel (2/4) Rakes of Mallow,  has a first and second section of 8 bars each.  These 8 bar units of the tune can be referred to as part A and part B.  Thus, for once through a 32 bar figure, a set tune would normally be played repeating the first strain and likewise the second strain.  In simple terms this can be expressed as A-A-B-B which equals 32 bars.  A 40 bar figure could be matched by either playing A-A-A-B-B or A-A-B-B-B and the choice can usually be determined by where it suits the change in the figurework.  It is not as hard as it sounds as often the 40 bar figures are a result of an extra swing at the end each time and therefore the A-A-B-B-B phrasing might be better suited.


Quite often musicians will come up with a better 40 bar arrangement by adding an 8 bar ‘tag’ from some other simple tune at the end and this can be expressed as A-A-B-B-C.

In the case of 24 bar figures which occur occasionally, an arrangement such as A-A-B or A-B-C may be used – sometimes songs such as Oh Susanna, Swanee River or Camptown Races (following the words) will already be in the A-A-B formation.

Figures of 48 bars have often expanded from the older Colonial 32 bar figures as the figurework developed by the folk process during the 20th Century.  Music to match these can be arranged perhaps with two tunes combined – i.e. A-A-B-B of one and A¹-B¹ of the other.  An example could be Barren Rocks of Aden played A–A–B–B followed by MacGregor’s March played A-B.  Sixteen bars of Heyken’s Serenade makes a good tag.  Again, which comes first or last can be best determined by major changes within the figure.  As many dance figures conclude with a promenade of 8 bars and a swing of 8 bars the A¹–B¹ as a 16 bar tag is generally best. The arrangement can then be expressed as A–A–B–B–A¹–B¹ or A-A-B-B-C-D.  There are other figures such as with visiting and starring in the opening of the 4th figure of the Lancers where the 16 bar tag is better at the beginning. In some cases popular tunes such as Along the Road to Gundagai and It’s a Long Long Way to Tipperary have a 16 bar verse so if played verse/chorus will equal 48 bars and suit the figurework phrasing particularly well. Otherwise reverse the above pattern to A¹-B¹-A-A-B-B

In shorter figures such as the 3rd figure of the Lancers, the circling of the basket section to only 16 bars and the subsequent starring (promenade) to 16 bars is best highlighted with two appropriate jigs in sequence and A-B format rather than the traditional 32 bar multiple.  A good example for the Lancers is Garry Owen played A-B for the basket and St. Patrick’s Day A-B for the star, and then play these through once more.  The 3rd figure of a quadrille is typically in 6/8.

Waltz figures can be tricky as the tunes are more commonly in a 16 bar A section and B section respectively. This, of course, is absolutely fine for regular 32 bar figures, but much harder for 24, 40 or 48 bar figures.  The best way for an odd figure of different length is to find two or three simpler tunes of 16 bars rather than 32 and add a suitable 8 bar tag. Billy of Tea can easily be arranged as an 8 bar tag. Again, the positioning of the tag is important. Quite often waltz figures end with an 8 or 16 bar waltz to places; so this is the best place to put the tag.  Thus, with a 40 bar figure which concludes each time with an 8 bar waltz the set, a regular 32 bar waltz can be played followed by an 8 bar tag.  Sometimes waltzes have verses and these can be incorporated to align with changes within figurework.  Hi Lily Ho Lo is a natural 40 bar waltz and the Nariel version of Ehren On The Rhine is a 24 bar waltz.

Emphasising repeats of figures or main changes within

There are several ways in which emphasising repeats of figures or main changes within can be done:

1.  A tune change is used so that the figure is danced to one tune by 1st or 1st and 2nd couples and then followed by a second tune for 2nd or 3rd and 4th couples and repeated if the figure is repeated.

2. A key change is used instead of a different tune but in a similar fashion to above.

3. A change of time such as from 6/8 to 2/4 or vice-versa.

4.  An extra beat is played between main sections. This takes a lot of practice, and although not common now, was once widely used by traditional musicians in the bush.  The Nariel band used to do this effectively in the middle of Redwing.

5. Use a variation each time through the tune/figure.  This example can be found in Julienne’s original 1846 arrangement for the Royal Irish with only a tune per figure.

Music for Country Dances

Longways and circular sets and single figure quadrilles

Much of the information provided for the quadrilles is also relevant for the Country Dances.  However these are normally single figure and repeats may be according to the number of couples in the set, e.g. seven times through for a seven couple longways Virginia Reel.  Some dances that are ‘as many as will’ e.g. Cheshire Rounds or the Sicilian circle formation dances (Dashing White Sergeant or Waltz Country Dance) or columnar formation sets such as Siege of Ennis, Tempest or Polka Country Dance do not have a particular limit.  In Colonial times, it would be until back to original places or couples – however that could take an hour or so.  Generally 8 to 10 times is sufficient.  In some dances which are suitable, the caller will sing out waltz, galop or polka the hall as appropriate, or promenade to seats and the band will play the tune once or twice more to allow for this to complete before stopping.

With shorter four couple longways sets such as the Haymaker or Strip the Willow, the band will often provide enough music for twice through, i.e. 8 times.  To save the musicians remembering to note top couples as a guide the required number of times can be arranged with tunes.  For example, with the seven couple Galopede it could commence with the signature tune played twice followed by a support tune such as Bobby Shafto twice and then another such as Rakes of Mallow twice, then the Galopede tune repeated once indicating the seventh time.  Generally, Irish support tunes are used for the Irish dances and Scottish support tunes for the Scottish dances, but sometimes the orchestras (Jimmy Shand) will vary the mix with tunes from the ‘the otherside’.  Itis probably more important that the tunes are played in the required style.  There has been a trend in the Australian folk scene particularly as cast by Dave de Santi anhis Wongawilli band, to use collected Australian set tunes as support tunes and this is becoming increasingly popular.  The main thing is to ensure that certain tune groups suit a particular dance group.  Most 2/4 or 6/8 set tunes suit dances in the same time signature and the Irish polka style tunes in the Australian scene are particularly suitable for the general country dances and, of course, the Irish dances.  However, the Polka dance tunes in the 3-hop or ballroom style, with a slower tempo, are essential for the Polka dances – Polka Quadrille and Cotillon, the Polka Country Dance and the couple’s dances such as the Polka itself and also derivatives such as Princess Polka, Berlin Polka and the Heel and Toe Polka (also know as the Brown Jug Polka).

Dance musicians might sometimes substitute polka tunes into the Galopede in the required style, but it does seem a waste when there are some excellent galop style tunes such as Elma Ross’s Two Step and the many collected single reel type of set tunes.  Galop or two step tunes and Irish polka style tunes are not suitable for the Australian polka dances without considerable effort to convert to the 3-hop style and tempo. Why go to that trouble when there are so many excellent Australian 3-hop polka dance tunes.

Although Sir Roger de Coverley and the Strip the Willow, can be danced to either 6/8 or 9/8 tunes, 9/8s are normally preferred so that although the metronome reading is the same or relative to 58 bars a minute in 6/8, the time for 9/8 triple jigs is actually 39 bars a minute.  Sir Roger de Coverley has its own signature tune and suitable support tunes include The Rocky Road to Dublin and Haymaking.  Drops of Brandy is the original signature tune for the dance of the same name and this is also, the English original of the Strip the Willow. There are also many good Strip the Willow support tunes such as Barney Brannigan and the Foxhunter’s Jig.

Two good tunes have come to light through the 1817 manuscript of James Goulding of County Cork, brought to Australia in the 1840s by his son and now held by great great grand daughter, Judi Forrester of Apollo Bay. One tune,??
‘Blewitt’s Jigg’, is a nice and interesting version of Barney Brannigan, the other not named, I dubbed James Goulding’s Jigg.

The Cheshire Rounds is a dance also in triple time, normally printed as 3/2 and is elegant and best at a steady tempo of not more than 35 bars a minute.  Its signature tune is of the same name, and other 3/2 hornpipes can be suitable support tunes.

The Waltz, The Polka and all kinds of Dance Music