Dealing with session etiquette pressure

Dealing with session etiquette pressure


Just read the thread on session etiquette and consider it to be a rather daunting topic - I mean there is so much to worry about when participating in sessions because there are so many subtleties, codes and ‘do’s’ and ‘don’t’s’ one needs to adhere so one doesn’t get on the other musicians’ nerves.

For someone who does not play in sessions (I am only a beginner and far from session ready) it’s all quite overwhelming to just read about all the rules, so I’m wondering how do real musicians feel. Is there an element of pressure of having to conform to session etiquette both musically and on an interpersonal level. Do you worry what your peers might be thinking about you? Do you sometimes feel that pressure? And how about people starting out - beginners/intermediate players who are at the point where they are session ready - do you find all these guidelines intimidating? Do you worry you might not find acceptance? Do you fear you might accidentally step on the wiser people’s toes and put them off from enjoying both the music and it’s social aspects?

Re: Dealing with session etiquette pressure

Be polite, don’t be so sensitive that someone’s unthinking or rude comment pushes you away from something you love, and you will be fine. Keep your eyes open for sessions and people you feel comfortable with. Keep practicing and learning, and everything will fall into place.
Don’t get too fixated on rules, just enjoy!

Re: Dealing with session etiquette pressure

I’m sure this has been said before somewhere on this thread.

If you are someone who is sensitive to the fact there there is a certain session “etiquette” you are not going to be the kind of person who annoys everyone. It’s the people who don’t bother with paying attention to their surroundings that get on peoples nerves. (HEY! Everyone! Look at me! I can *almost* play the Kesh Jig on this tin whistle! Aren’t I the greatest?) It shouldn’t be a burden and you shouldn’t feel under pressure at a session - ever - that’s not what sessions are about.

Sit back and observe - every session is going to be different. Go in and have a pint a for a few weeks or months before you try to sit in, if you are a beginner. You’ll suss out who the leaders are and who the more friendly people might be (might be one in the same!)

Of course every new experience can be intimidating and I *think* that everyone fears rejection - can’t help you with that! Slowly move into the scene, hang on the edge and bring your tape recorder to pick up some of the tunes they commonly play.

Even experienced musicians coming into a new session can get nervous. Everyone has to figure out the balance of a new session and should try to fit in. I would never impose myself on a session I had never been to before. Every session is different. I hang back and wait to be asked to start some tunes. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes I’ll wait until later in the night and start some tunes without being asked. You just have to figure out your place in the session.


Re: Dealing with session etiquette pressure

Hi Vanessa,

Don’t be too worried about it. Just be polite - ask if they mind you sitting in. Ask if they mind you taking out your tape recorder. Use the session as a place to listen and learn, not to show off.

Also be aware that most sessions in Ireland today are in fact paid gigs for a number (usually 3) of the musicians. They are paid to (and expected to) keep the music going at a certain standard. It’s a part-time job for them - a nixer, if you will. So, if they play tunes you don’t know, or they play too fast for you, don’t take it personally - they’re not trying to exclude you, they’re just doing their job.

Learners are usually welcome to sit in and learn from the session. However, when beginners hog a session (playing simple tunes at a snail’s pace, or very loudly etc.), it interferes with the job being done by the gig players. A drop in the standard of a gig will be blamed squarely on the musicians who are paid by the pub.

Think of yourself as an apprentice. You’re welcome to help out and learn the “trade”, but in the end the customer still expects the job to be done to a high standard.

Understand this and as you improve, you will find yourself being asked to fill in (and be paid) when one of the gig players is absent.

Forget about rules. Politeness and humility - that’s all you need.


Re: Dealing with session etiquette pressure

I agree with JD. Nothing beats being friendly, courteous, and doing your best just to fit in. Most likely you won’t know all the songs. You don’t have to play them all.

Here’s my tip for getting ready to join your first session, besides the etiquette. . Practice your tunes without ornamentation. No one understands how fast the tunes move along until your first try. Playing the songs clean will give you a better chance to keep up with the pace. If the speed is not an issue, you can throw your ornamentation back in. But if you are anything like me, you’ll never be able to fit your ornamentation in at this speed, and it can be humbling. Bottomline, with a lot of folks playing, it won’t be missed. It’s more important to fit in musically.

That’s my $0.02 USD.


Re: Dealing with session etiquette pressure

Don’t expect perfect scenarios as some here would argue for all the time. However, don’t be lulled into thinking that an apparently casual and care free approach by some of the musicians(perhaps the regulars) means that there are no rules and it’s a free for all. It very seldom is.

Basically, just be nice, polite, and friendly. Play only the tunes you know or those you can “pick up” very quickly. Be very careful about the latter depending on where you are.
Just “go with the flow” but that doesn’t mean you have to fall about the pub like some of the musicians I met at Newcastleton over the weekend. 🙂 I had a good try, though.

Re: Dealing with session etiquette pressure

Vanessa, just go along to a session and ask early on do they mind you joining in. They will normally be delighted to see more players coming along so you will be very welcome. Play along with the tunes you know, even if they are played a bit fast for you and listen to the ones you dont know. Dont get hung up on etiquette and rules.Just get in there and enjoy your session. Next time you come you’ll have one or two more tunes. I play in lots of sessions and visiting players are always invited to play and made feel very welcome. The more sessions you attend, the more tunes you’ll get to learn. So go along, vanessa and enjoy!

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Re: Dealing with session etiquette pressure

You’ve already got very nice advice. I’m not very sure if I’m a perfect session player, but I’d add, you don’t have to try to memorise everything you have read or heard. The basic principle, I believe, is this: *everyone* should share the joy of music making in a session. If someone feels unhappy, all the others are most likely unhappy too. This is why we should be polite to each other.

Needless to say, it’s very nice to know who the others are as peole as well as musicians. How boring just to play all the tunes you know without any good conversation! It’s sometimes hard to find a common topic, but be patient.

And I agree with John J: “don’t expect perfect scenarios.” You might break an invisible rule or two if you are really new. That’s fine if you notice something is wrong on the spot. You might also come across some musicians who are not very polite to you, but they actually don’t mean it. Just keep an appropriate distance from them.

Re: Dealing with session etiquette pressure

Does that mean that experienced session musicians don’t feel this kind of pressure and anxiety when they are amongst themselves?

Re: Dealing with session etiquette pressure

Vanessa, I think that depends on how well they know each other. If you aren’t very confident of your playing, you can feel at home when you know who they are and they know who you are.

Re: Dealing with session etiquette pressure

Don’t be a shrinking violet Vanessa when you feel that you would like to join in. Remember EVERYONE has gone through the humble beginnings stage and it’s only the ignorant prima donnas that have forgotten that. Who cares about “upsetting” such types ? Your sensitivity already indicates that you should find “ acceptance“ readily without a problem.And if you don’t– take heart, they don’t deserve you !

Re: Dealing with session etiquette pressure

vanessa, you said - “I am only a beginner and far from session ready” Hey, my advice would be - don’t wait too long!

If you have even a couple of tunes off, I’d say ‘get tore in’! I know I did & it was the best move I ever made. OK you spend most of the night sitting listening, but also watching & recording & chatting & getting to know the other musicians. Just remember that sessions aren’t just about playing tunes!

Don’t worry too much about this ‘session etiquette’ stuff we prattle on about here - it’s all common sense & good manners at the end of the day.

A word of warning - one local bloke has been ‘learning’ the guitar for three years & has still to bring it out to a session, cause he feels he’s ‘not ready yet’!
Believe me, there’s nothing brings you up to speed faster than simply getting stuck in there at the deep end. You go home each week with great drive & enthusiasm, determined to catch up.

I’d say, stop faffin’ about & get up & at ’em - good luck!

Re: Dealing with session etiquette pressure

It’s a bit like starting a new job, only it’s harder to get sacked.

Re: Dealing with session etiquette pressure

Hey I think I started a thread like this a few weeks ago. First timer I was… drummed up the courage to go to my first session, knowing that I wasn’t feeling quite ready, and had a great time. I don’t play a melody instrument so its maybe a little easier on me- less pressure. I liked it so much I went to a second session.

Second session was a more harrowing experience as it was on a Sunday afternoon, so this meant it wasn’t dark (there was no hiding) and there was much less drink to summon up my courage (and to distract others). I also found myself sitting at the table with the best musicians in Newfoundland, and even some of the dazzling from the Emerald Isle (Hammy Hamilton and Sean Potts were in town). Them and me. I seriously felt like sinking into the floor. But in all my insecurity there are couple of things that came from the situation. The first was the encouragement from some of the session players to keep coming back- you learn so much even if you only watch and listen. The second, was like Ptarmigan says- I walked out of there completely pumped and determined and I think got more “caught up” in a week of playing after that session than a year of only messing around. So all in all, two very different sessions experiences- two very different learning experiences. I will go back for more (once I’ve got the reels I’m working on).

So, my dear- don’t overthink. Just do.


Re: Dealing with session etiquette pressure

Like I said, get the beers in !

Re: Dealing with session etiquette pressure

What’d I tell yuh cuthail, already hale and hearty and out there pushing the good stuff and lending a hand and inspiration for others… Well said…

Ribthecalico ~ we’re already on our third pint over at the other thread. What have you been doing, vandalizing the loos with your Swiss Army Knife?

Re: Dealing with session etiquette pressure

Vanessa - dont worry about waiting months - just do it!

All you need is a wee bit of common sense - which you seem to have.

Just imagine you’re visiting a neighbour’s house and apply the same courtesy and consideration and you wont go far wrong.

Get in there and enjoy 🙂

Re: Dealing with session etiquette pressure

Oh - and buy us all a drink and ye’ll be well in 🙂

Re: Dealing with session etiquette pressure

Sessions are quite variable but the ones I attend are fairly laid back on etiquette stuff, just be friendly and you’d be fine at ours. We’re pretty eclectic in musical sources and glad to see a new face.
In my experience some events that are advertised as sessions aren’t really welcoming to new people at all but don’t be put off as hopefully you’ll find friendly ones out there.

Good luck