TTA:Getting started/Theme Code Index

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Theme Code Index
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Origin: FARNE: The Folk Archive of North East.

Try using our indexing system to search for a familiar tune. Where possible tunes in the archive have been indexed using the Theme Code Index. This search will be especially useful to those who have heard a tune and wish to find the notation. The index is explained more fully below.

There are many ways of classifying and indexing tunes by means of codes, and all have their advantages and disadvantages. If the code is too detailed it may not provide a match for two versions of the same tune, while if it is too vague it will give matches with tunes which on examination are quite different.

The codes here use the system described in Charles Gore's 'The Scottish Fiddle Music Index' (The Amaising Publishing House Ltd, Musselburgh, 1994), which is in turn based on the work of the great Irish music scholar Breandán Breathnach. Theme Code Index has itself been useful in writing the commentaries to the tunes on the FARNE website, by providing titles for untitled tunes, identifying composers, and also in showing when a tune is NOT in one of the many publications listed by Gore.

Before going into detail about how to work out a theme code, hum the first bars of The Keel Row to yourself and see if the following makes any sense:
3142 3125L. If it does, you are more than halfway there. Now for the details.

The two main factors in establishing theme codes are PITCH and RHYTHM.

The system is based on a simple numerical code which does not depend on the key of the tune, so that versions of the same tune in different keys will have the same code. For doh, re, mi etc. substitute the numbers 1, 2, 3 up to to 7. The top doh becomes 1H (H for high), and higher notes still are 2H, 3H etc. For notes below the MAIN OCTAVE we use 7L, 6L etc (L for low). A higher octave than H is represented by T, and a lower octave than L by F - both are very rare in traditional tunes.

The main octave is probably easiest for fiddlers to understand - it is the highest octave in the relevant key which can be played in first position. For tunes in C major, C minor or C# minor for example, 1 is third finger on the G-string and 1H is second finger on the A-string. For tunes in Bb major or B minor, 1 is first finger on the A-string and 1H is fourth finger on the E-string. For non-fiddlers, the main octaves of each scale start on middle C (first leger line below treble-clef stave) for tunes in C, on D above middle C for tunes in D, and so on to Bb and B.

The numbers 1 to 7 refer to the notes in the Major scale, or Ionian mode (see the section on MODES for more information). If our tune is in A minor, for instance, the 3rd note is C natural rather than the C# of the major scale, so the pair of notes A C is represented by 13b, the b representing the flat sign. The G natural below our main octave is 7bL - G# would be 7L. F natural would be 6b, F# would be 6. If our A minor tune has an exotic D# in the main octave it would be 4#, and so on.

Zero is used when a rest falls on a main beat, and is more common in song tunes than instrumental tunes.

Occasionally when the same tune is found in different keys the theme code will be different because of the registers involved. When this is known to be the case then two versions of the code are given. Key signature is not a reliable way to find the keynote, or 1, of a tune, if the tune is in a mode other than Ionian and Aeolian ('standard' major and 'natural' minor). The keynote must be found through playing the tune or hearing it in ones head. Although often a tune starts and ends on its keynote, this also is not a safe guide, particularly with pipe tunes whose strains frequently end 'up in the air'. Although many tunes are described 'double tonic' this usually only means that they are built on two chords, one of which is definitely felt as the 'home' chord, but a few tunes are ambiguous, and with these two versions of the theme code are given.

The codes are based on the main beats of the first two or four bars of the tune and consist of two groups of either four or three numbers. The notes between the main beats are not counted. If a note takes up more than one beat (e.g. a minim or a dotted crotchet in a 4/4 bar) then it also provides the number for the next beat. Note that some rhythms (3/8, 6/4, 3/2, 9/4) are interpreted differently by Gore, so if using his Index this must be allowed for.

If the tune is in 4/4 or 2/2 then the bar is divided into four and the note which falls on each beat is given a number, as in our Keel Row example. Two bars are numbered. If it is in 2/4 then each bar has two beats, so four bars are numbered to give the two groups. 6/8 is treated like 2/4 with two beats per bar: the first note of each quaver triplet, dotted crotchet or other half-bar group is numbered and four bars are numbered to give the two groups. One bar of 12/8 counts as two 6/8 bars and gives four numbers. 6/4 is an older way of spelling 6/8 and is treated in the same way as 6/8, two beats ber bar, though beware of incorrect time signatures - sometimes 6/4 is mistakenly written for 3/2 which is treated differently, see below.

These are used for 3/2, 3/4, 3/8, 9/8 and 9/4 rhythms. In each case the bar is divided into three to find the numbers of the notes which begin each beat. The advantage in using the same division for all tunes in 3/2, 3/4 and 3/8 is that matches will be found whether a waltz is written in 3/8 or 3/4 and whether a triple-time hornpipe is written in 3/4 or 3/2.

If a reel or hornpipe is written in 2/4 (mainly semiquavers) rather than 2/2 or 4/4 (mainly quavers) then it will have a different theme code. When tunes are known to have more than one rhythmic spelling then both codes are given.