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  • Contra Dance Instrumentation

    March 30th, 2014
    contra, music
    While dance bands generally have some people who move between instruments, most of the time a band has a primary instrumentation. [1] So I was curious: how popular are different instrumentations?

    Using the same data as last time, six months of a weekly dance plus a year of dance weekend bookings, I looked up the instrumentations for each band. Here's the data as an ugly table:

    Fiddle, Flute, Guitar 33
    Fiddle, Guitar 18
    Fiddle, Guitar, Piano 16
    Fiddle, Mandolin, Piano 15
    Fiddle, Clarinet, Trumpet, Trombone, Guitar 8
    Fiddle, Mandolin, Piano, Drums 7
    Fiddle, Clarinet, Piano, Bass 6
    Fiddle, Banjo, Piano, Bass, Drums 5
    Fiddle, Flute, Guitar, Bass 6
    Fiddle, Guitar, Bass 6
    Fiddle, Accordion, Piano, Bass 5
    Fiddle, Cello, Guitar, Piano, Drums 4
    Fiddle, Mandolin, Guitar, Bass 4
    Fiddle, Fiddle, Piano, Bass 4
    Fiddle, Mandolin, Guitar, Drums 3
    Fiddle, Banjo, Guitar 3
    Fiddle, Accordion, Guitar 3
    Fiddle, Piano, Drums 3
    Fiddle, Accordion, Trombone, Trombone, Piano, Drums 3
    Fiddle, Flute, Accordion, Piano, Bass, Drums 2
    Fiddle, Flute, Accordion, Hammered Dulcimer, Piano 2
    Fiddle, Guitar, Drums 2
    Fiddle, Banjo, Guitar, Bass 2
    Fiddle, Guitar, Piano, Drums 2
    Fiddle, Whistle, Guitar, Piano 2
    Fiddle, Fiddle, Guitar 2
    Fiddle, Accordion, Guitar, Bass 1
    Fiddle, Fiddle, Piano 1
    Fiddle, Piano, Bass, Drums 1
    Fiddle, Fiddle, Mandolin, Guitar 1
    Fiddle, Flute, Piano, Bass 1
    Fiddle, Clarinet, Guitar 1

    You can tell there's a lot of overlap between entries, though, and a table doesn't represent this well. It's easy to see that all the bands have fiddles, but is it more common to have a piano or a guitar? Or both? I played around with ways of visualizing this, and while I'm not completely satisfied with it, I do have something:

     Fiddle 172
       Guitar 117                    Perpetual e-Motion, Uncle Farmer
         Flute 39                    The Mean Lids, Crowfoot, Maivish
           Bass 6                    Wild Asparagus
         Piano 24                    Great Bear Trio
           Drums 6                   Relative Harmony
             Cello 4                 Gallimaufry
           Whistle 2                 Wild Hair
         Bass 13                     The Stringrays, The Gaslight Tinkers
           Mandolin 4                The Contrarians, On the Fly
           Banjo 2                   Euphor
           Accordion 1               T-Acadie
         Clarinet 9                  The Figments
           Trumpet, Trombone 8       Elixir
         Drums 5                     Contraforce
           Mandolin 3                Notorius (quartet)
         Fiddle 3                    The Dead Sea Squirrels, The Cosmic Otters
           Mandolin 1                Atlantic Crossing
         Banjo 3                     Sassafras Stomp
         Accordion 3                 Anadama
       Piano 55
         Bass 24
           Drums 8                   Arigana Highway
             Banjo 5                 Hotpoint String Band
             Flute, Accordion        The Clayfoot Strutters
           Clarinet 6                The Latter Day Lizards
           Accordion 5               Tidal Wave
           Fiddle 4
           Flute 1                   Spare Parts
         Mandolin 22                 Nor'easter, The Free Raisins
           Drums 7                   Lift Ticket, The Syncopaths
         Drums 6                     Party of Three, The Coffee Zombies
           Trombones, Accordion 3    Giant Robot Dance
         Hammered Dulcimer,
           Flute, Accordion 2        Swallowtail
         Fiddle 1
    

    This shows that once you've got a fiddle 117 of 172 times you find a guitar and the remaining 55 times you find a piano. Then if you got a guitar, the most common additional instrument is flute, followed by piano, and the bass. I've put in examples of bands in each category, but there are of course many others.

    (One thing I don't like about this categorization is that it's not very stable. Imagine about a third of bands have guitar and piano, a third have just piano, and a third have just guitar. If guitar is slightly more common than piano this chart will put all the guitar+piano bands under guitar, exagerating its frequency, while if the piano is slightly more common we get the reverse.)

    Another way of looking at this is as an approximation for "given instruments A and B, what are the candidates for C, and how popular are they?" Or possibly "given A and B, how much do each of the candidates for C add?"

    Update 2014-04-02: At Mac's suggestion I've added a chart:


    [1] For example, while the Free Raisins play some as Fiddle/Trumpet/Piano or Fiddle/Accordion/Mandolin, we're primarily Fiddle/Mandolin/Piano.

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