Session Question

Session Question

If you are at a session and you ask a fellow musician whom you have never met before or don’t really know how long they have been playing, what circumstances prompt you to ask that question? Is it just an ice-breaker, for instance; is it something you are more likely to ask a young musician; is it something you are more likely to ask if you hear them struggling with something in their playing. Or is it none of the above and asked for different reasons (and obviously differing reasons for everyone).

Re: Session Question

Everyone in our session knows each other so I usually introduce myself to any new players to make them feel included. You never know what you might find out.

An example… we had a piano accordian player turn up at our session about a year ago who we had never seen before. He sat at the back of the session and quietly played in the background (I could barely hear him)

I introduced myself and it turned out he was from o/s and was in the area for about a week. I offered to take him to a (smaller)session later that week. Anyways… it turned out he was fantastic!

It was a great night of tunes that i would have missed out on if i had completely ignored the stranger at our session.

Re: Session Question

I’ve asked that question of adults who play well but obviously aren’t masters. I try to make it a comment that conveys admiration. The implication is that they didn’t slide out of the womb with an instrument in their hands (that’s why I ask). It’s mostly just an ice breaker —- a phatic(?) . do people take it as criticism? I guess an arch inflection could skewer someone.

Re: Session Question

I would, and do, ask such a question simply because I’m endlessly curious and would be no more likely to ask a young person than an old person… I might be ~less~ likely to ask someone who’s obviously new as I could see where they might take it personally.

Often asking this question is a good intro to hearing a person’s story into the music, which is actually what I want to know.

I would not ask it as a qualifier though, and would mostly likely ask them AFTER I heard them play and not before… as time playing may have little to do with the quality of their playing.

~Kiva

Re: Session Question

Whether it’s taken as a compliment or not depends on the look on your face and what you say after the person answers.

Re: Session Question

I ask that question all the time. Never in a mean way - I’m just interested.

Posted by .

Re: Session Question

I don’t think I’ve ever thought of asking that question. I’m just not interested.

Re: Session Question

I’d never ask, it’s utterly irrelevant. If someone asks me I’d usually say something like, half an hour, depending on how long I’d been in the pub. It’s all such a question deserves.

Posted .

Re: Session Question

I have often asked this and similar questions as a way of being friendly to a new person , to help them fit in to the session to show interest in them , a session is more than just playing tunes in isolation otherwise we could all stay at home with our beers from ASDA ( thats Walmart for american readers ).
I think if a person feels welcome they are likley to play better as well and enjoy themselves. They may even come back next week.
I have been to sessions run by members of the grumpy club and sometimes wonder why they bother…………………

Re: Session Question

I seldom ask anybody anything beyond ‘d’you have a name
for that one?’ or ‘anybody wanna drink?’ I am curious about
people but I’m really just there to play tunes and escape from
the real world for a couple hours. I think I’d be happy just to
do all playing and no talking.

Re: Session Question

I was grumpy to a newcomer a couple of weeks ago, and spent an hour staring at him with unalloyed hatred, arms crossed and fiddle cast aside. He may have been a nice chap, but I didn’t ask him how long he’d been playing his chosen instrument (a pair of dinner spoons). Then he went away.

Re: Session Question

I’d take it as a friendly question, unless I was feeling particularly paranoid that night. Or I was playing particularly badly.

Re: Session Question

We do plenty of nattering and laughing and chatting to new people. But we’d almost never talk about music. Maybe very short phrases like, "here’s one I just got" or "I think you’ve got that last bit wrong, it goes like this …" "Oh yeah, ta."

I’m always getting a row for chatting to people about my low whistle: "Feck off with your feckin whistle workshop will you … were trying to have a feckin conversation here." And quite right too.

This was a good thread from a while ago:
https://thesession.org/discussions/7959/

Posted .

Re: Session Question

I would only ever ask a kid this question, or perhaps an obvious adult learner from outside Ireland. I think most established musicians would treat this with disinterest, or maybe disdain.

Further down the scale of inanity is the related ‘Are you guys playing together for long?’ - ‘No, just since half nine’.

Why not try ‘Who taught you?’ (or even better ‘Who’s your teacher?’) That’s bound to get you a reaction!

Re: Session Question

Personally, I wouldn’t do it. The problem is, merely by asking you are impying something…whatever that may be. It’s really about as rude as asking someone "how much do you make" or "what do you do for a living?"….somehow it simply seems out of context [in a session].

Now, if you were *teaching* an instrument and you asked everyone who showed up "So, ok, how long has everyone been playing?" and then went around the circle that would be totally fair, because it’s in context.
Non?

Re: Session Question

sorry, "implying"

Re: Session Question

The sort of icebreaker I use is something like " When did you discover that you couldn’t play the fiddle?" or flute etc etc. It usually gets a reaction………………Ouch!

Re: Session Question

hehe, maybe I’ll stop asking then, before I get bit, or beer thrown at me. ;)

Re: Session Question

I wonder how often a bow or flute end has landed up in, well, bosoms.

It might express the player’s ardour more economically and effectively than attempts at speech, especially if everyone’s giving the music what fettle.

Re: Session Question

Jaysus, sessions are apparently just minefields of barely repressed seething emotion. Asking how long someone has been playing is an innocent icebreaker. Get off your elevated equines!

Re: Session Question

But it’s not an innocent ice breaker. It’s a nosey, judgemental irrelevance. Along the lines of, "How old are you", and "Are you Irish?", or "You must have Irish blood in you", etc.

What’s the question for anyway? As an icebreaker it’s pathetic. And if you really want to know, why? If the person is a good player and they say, "since I was kid" is it so you can say to your self, "oh, I could tell."? What if they are a rubbish player and they say "since I was kid"?

I can’t think of one possible scenario where the answer would be useful or even interesting. At best it’s an irrelevance, at worst it’s insulting and down right bloody rude.

Why can’t you just on with people as they play? Once you get to know people better, their histories will get filled in, it’s no big deal.

Posted .

Re: Session Question

Michael, I can only answer for myself…like bb, I am just curious and interested to learn about people and get to know them. For someone to take offense at such a question suggests to me a lack of charity and possibly some deep psychological problems. But hey that’s just my take on things. I am not trying to target you personally here. You can be a bit blunt but ultimately it seems your observations tend to be spot on 🙂

My own experience is that for a fair number of people, the question works well as an icebreaker. For you obviously it wouldn’t. But it had not occurred to me that the act of putting this question to someone could be taken as the sort of atrocity that you are indicating it is. Now I know and I think I will steer clear of this approach in the future.

So if you don’t mind, can you suggest some alternative means for icebreaking?

Re: Session Question

if the subject came up in conversation maybe i would ask, but id probably put it differently. still, i wouldn’t ask someone just straight out like john carty, or harry bradley, or anyone for that matter, it just seems a bit rude and nosey no matter how innocently you may ask!

Re: Session Question

sometimes you can get musicians to talk about how they got their start. Like "what drew you to the (insert instrument name here) in the beginning?"

Re: Session Question

It is irrelevant. I never ask the question. It never enters my mind to ask.

I may ask how far they came for the session, or are they having fun. I may tell them about our website if I think it would be helpful to them. I may ask them how they heard about our session.

Re: Session Question

Compliments always work nice for ice-breakers. "That’s a lovely tune!" "That was well played!"

Really, it’s just a courtesy thing, it’s plain common sense. "How long have you been playing?" generally doesn’t sound that polite, for one stranger to ask another at a session.

Sure, it’s old-fashioned, but it still serves humans well. Use courtesy and kindness. Would you like a total stranger walking up to you and saying: "How long have you been playing for?" It’s not exactly Miss Manners, for whatever that’s worth.

I’d prefer a few pleasantries first, at the very least. "Nice weather we’re having." "Did you watch any of the Olympics?" "Do you attend this session often?" "Now explain to me your musical education history…" What? 😉

Re: Session Question

If someone at a session was to ask whether or not I have any Irish or Scottish blood in me, I would jokingly suggest that maybe they should ask my girlfriend the vampire.

Re: Session Question

"For someone to take offense at such a question suggests to me a lack of charity and possibly some deep psychological problems."

I’m with Michael on this. For me, for someone to *ask* the question suggests to me that *they* are being less than charitable, and may well have an inferiority complex. It seems to me to be only useful to people who need to try to establish a ‘pecking order’. It’s insulting, as Michael says.

Re: Session Question

An icebreaker?

Someone mentioned a couple good ones above, or how about something like, "wasn’t that great tune we just played…I love that reel/fill in the blank"….then — after a suitable pause…3- to 40 seconds, I’d say "So, how long have you been playing and how much money do you make?"

Re: Session Question

I have prepared a "session calling card" that I give to all new sessioneers that contains the following information.

1. I am McCracken
2. If you play "Wizard’s Walk" that is fine, just be sure to provide me with a bucket to puke in.
3. I am half Irish, 1/2 Scottish and 3/4 SOB, that’s why it doesn’t matter what strings I use.
4. No, I would not be interested in joining your pathetic shamrock sucking band.
5. The only sheet music we use here is in the bathroom.
6. I don’t give a flying freak that Lunasa is your favorite band.
7. Please take all looks and cold shoulders as an invitation to the door because your playing is horrid.
8. Welcome!, and have a wonderful time.

Re: Session Question

I always start off with "How much do you weigh?" That usually gets the discussion going.

Posted by .

Re: Session Question

Comment from an outsider/punter. I once heard the question asked whilst sitting just outside the edge of a session that a couple of mates were playing in as visitors. Asked in a friendly tone by a young lady who was one of the anchors, and getting a straightforward answer (7 years I think). Up till then I had been just been sitting back enjoying my pint and the tunes but something about it set me watching. I could not work out how it was intended. But It has stuck in my mind and if anyone ever asks me I will be off - slowly but as soon as possible.

Re: Session Question

Another good one (especially if you’ve just been reading the "Jazzy-Irish" thread) is, "How come you people never play any whole-tone scales?" That’s always good for a few laughs. Plus I’ve heard it asked in a session, so it must be part of the tradition.

Posted by .

Re: Session Question

david_h — Why would this question drive you away?

Re: Session Question

Because I can’t see how it would be relevant if it was not something to do with my playing. If someone has something friendly but nuetral to impart (in an ‘its OK for you to be here’ sort of way) why ask ?

At best I would take it to mean "I can tell that you are an adult learner".

Re: Session Question

It’s interesting, this question is really a microscope into the psyche of the person being asked, a sort of litmus test for insecurity, irritability, etc. I think I will keep asking it.

Re: Session Question

CF…
no it’s not…it’s incredibly insensitive and intrusive…and has nothing to do with being "insecure’…it’s stupid. that’s all.

Re: Session Question

I will stop contributing to this discussion now because I feel like I am trying to dig my way out of a hole.

Re: Session Question

I see it the other way round. It says something about the questioner - nosy and judgemental maybe. Not friendly.

If someone who clearly plays better than me hints that I am, say, out of tune that’s fine. It is information and a technical judgement, not a personal one.

Re: Session Question

Yer all insensitive! And before you go to accusing me… about my #7. It isn’t aimed to make sure bad musicians don’t feel welcome. Before you consider me to be rude take this for example:

At our session, a one armed fiddler showed up. His playing was terrible but he was such fun to watch that I made him feel very welcome for my entertainment.

Re: Session Question

I ask this question all the time too - though usually qualified with "Irish music". I’d never have guessed it could be taken as offensive. Having finally discovered how much time and effort is required, I’m just curious about other people’s experiences. If we were all homesteading in the Yukon or slogging the Pacific Crest Trail or working on a chain gang I’d ask you how long you’d been at it too. Seems perfectly natural to me.

Re: Session Question

airport — How long have you been such an insensitive monster?

🙂 🙂 🙂

Re: Session Question

see? I’m not defensive - I wouldn’t say I’m a monster yet, but I’m working on it…

Re: Session Question

Do you think it could be a male/female thing? In my experience it’s quite normal for women to ask all sorts of questions without intending to be judgemental or offensive. It is just part of social/friendly chat and usually nothing offensive is intended by it and no offence is taken. Perhaps men tend to go in for less of the general chit chat so a man asking the same question would probably appear to be far more judgemental?

Re: Session Question

Perhaps bowburner!

Without any context it’s pretty tough to understand the exact situation, but the inference here is you’re getting at something by asking that question, especially around musicians with frail yet needy egos to begin with. [ahem]

You know what I mean? It might be totally harmless, but it’s the sort of question one would ask if one was getting at something indirectly without coming out and saying it.

"How long have you been playing?" means "Cripes you suck, why haven’t you given up yet?" to the overly suspicious.

Context? Are you already having a conversation with the person? Have you been yakking away with them for a while now? Is the question part of a conversation?

Or, did you walk in, sit down, and after hi the next thing out of your mouth was “So, how long have you been playing?”

So yeah, context is pretty important!

Re: Session Question

i think it an irrelevant question. I wouldn’ take it personally ,but i do find it an absurd line of discussion. My usual response is " these aren’t my pipes, my friend there just let me put ‘em on to see if i could play ‘em." or in a saltier mood"
How long did the doctor say you have to wear that shirt?"

Re: Session Question

You deal with eedgits all the time in pub sessions. You brush ‘em off, it’s no problem. You put up with it because occasionally you meet people worth nattering/playing with (same thing).

So … you brush off the question as either being a bit rude or totally harmless but well-intended pointlessness, a pathetic ice breaker. It’s of no matter. Merely eedgits at pub sessions.

And what else is of no matter is that the bleedin’ eedgit thinks their question is a litmus test for insecurity and irritability, Eedgits eh?

Posted .

Re: Session Question

Hey, crazy fingers, how long did that doctor say you had to wear that shirt?

Posted .

Re: Session Question

If the question is from someone who clearly is a new
player that we know from their playing, is asked to
someone who is clearly a superior player then
it’s a benchmark or compliment as "How long did
it take to get to your level?" New players need to
check on this stuff, and ask the question.

In other cases, we could have the insult.

Re: Session Question

The reason I started this thread is that I am the recipient of that question more often than I would like. When someone who has either never heard me play or heard me play like one set asks, I find it very uncomfortable. As I am rather cynical about human nature, I can see the insidious implications of the question. I’m inclined to cringe as I feel it is some sort of reflection of my playing. I also understand that to some people it is a perfectly innocent icebreaker but I nonetheless find it harrowing. I myself never ask it. In my other life, horse riding, other horsepeople don’t usually ask how long you have been doing it unless they are questioning your competence. People who have never seen a horse except on the tele ask me how long I have been riding but experienced riders never do.

Bowburner suggested it could be gendered. Interesting point, as I am most frequently asked this by middle aged men. Go figure.

Re: Session Question

Michael, let me rephrase. The question that is the litmus test is:

"If I was to ask you how long you have been playing, how would you react?"

I’ll let you know how that works out.

Re: Session Question

If it’s not a benchmark question from an inexperienced
player then it’s probably an idiotic ice breaker; this
must be if frequently asked by middle aged men.

Re: Session Question

Nobody has explained yet why it’s so idiotic as an icebreaker.

Re: Session Question

it’s a little idiotic as a first question - you should start out a bit more subtly - like "where did you come from" or "how do you get your hair so shiny?"

Re: Session Question

airport — How about "did you take your meds today?"

Re: Session Question

good one - by the way I saw that same shirt for sale at my pharmacy

Re: Session Question

aw krap, I just remembered I need you for that gig Saturday - let’s just use that tune list you sent? Peace…

Re: Session Question

Eh…I don’t know most of them…

Re: Session Question

and how long have you been playing
and are your meds balanced or do
they need adjustment …

Re: Session Question

if you ask someone how long they’ve been married to their spouse, they’re not likely to take offense…. it seems like a similar question to me.

maybe i should ask people how long they’ve been with their instrument rather than how long they’ve been with the music? LOL or perhaps I should just play and not talk, which is likely a big part of the point here.

i grew up in a family of musicians surrounded by other musicians and I can’t say I recall this kind of reaction to this question. Is it specific to ITM?

My primary vocation being an herbalist, I often (read: always) get asked how long I’ve been practicing by my students and clients. On one hand, it definitely gets annoying and certainly I get disapproving looks from a number of older people for being so young and having such a large and varied practice. On the other hand, I like being able to reassure many beginner’s that it’s the intensity and frequency of experience combined with intuition and insight rather than any set number of years that makes the herbalist. You could be at it forever and still be inept, insensitive and ineffective. I tend to think the same way about music…

whatever the case may be, it’s an interesting conversation. and so different from many classical type forums where people can’t stop spouting that they’ve playing since they were 2 1/2 and if you started after the age of 10 you’re bound to be a failure and so how long have you been playing???

hmmm

Re: Session Question

I have to say that I have been asked this question (as well as all the other classic ones - "who did you learn off?" "WHY did you ever take up Irish music") many times over the years, and have probably even asked it myself once or twice.

As with so many things, the intent of the questioner is usually fairly obvious to the questionee - Of course that question can be offensive but so can "where did you learn that tune?" if said with the right amount of disdain…

What i WILL say is that when i was starting out and very insecure about my playing i used to read A LOT of negativity into the comments and questions made by others to me in sessions.

Now I realise that, after many years of getting to know these people as friends, they never intended any of the insult i may have taken from there off-hand remarks.

Re: Session Question

"How long have you been awake today?" Innocent question? Yes. Lame question? VERY

Re: Session Question

So I will eventually be less bothered by what people say in sessions and then ascend the ranks of session hierarchy and ask poor, unsuspecting players that question myself and they won’t know what I mean by it. Light at the end of the tunnel. Excellent.

Re: Session Question

or maybe it just won’t matter as much

Re: Session Question

It’s less about ascending anything and more about becoming less insecure in what other people think about your playing. Someones always gonna hate what you do.

Re: Session Question

It is clearly difficult to read what is meant by a question if you were not there. It is quite possible that it was innocent. It is also possible that it was a value judgement about the playing ie presumption of beginner/learner/improver status.

I can see how the question can bother folk if they get it a lot. Personally speaking I have reached a stage in my session playing where I am a lot less insecure than I used to be and I know I have friends in the sessions I go too. I am also perfectly aware that there are folk who may have an issue with me, either because of a personality clash or because of how I play or used to play. Ultimately that is their problem.

I do remember what it was like to be intimidated in a very intimidating session when I first started going along (for a few years after going along) and it is not pleasant. It was quite clear that for at least one or two folk I was not welcome but I put my session-wrecker blinkers down and ploughed on regardless - oops! But I did get better.

Anyway, back to the question. I can think of better questions that that to ask (at least initially) particularly if you are in a session in Edinburgh playing with an Uilleann piping 20-something year old girl from America. But that is just me!

Re: Session Question

Yes, I believed you asked me, "Do you post on thesession.org?"

All things considered, that was a much better icebreaker! 🙂

Re: Session Question

Any question can have a judgement behind it, even seemingly innocuous ones such as:

Have you travelled far? - Do you live on the wrong side of town?

Do you play any other instruments? - Are you as bad on them as you are on that?

Where do you have your hair done? - Please tell me so I can avoid the place!

You can generally get a good feeling of where the questioner is coming from with a question. How the question is asked is as important as what the question is. If no one ever asked any questions then there wouldn’t be much conversation, which for some posters would probably be an ideal situation.

Re: Session Question

Now I hate to correct you TheSilverSpear but my icebreaker was definately "Hello".

There was then a longer conversation about where you were from and what you were doing in Edinburgh. (Boulder/Doing a PhD - in case any readers are interested).

I then asked if you posted on thesession.org because I thought your description sounded familiar. Anyway, as a conversation in a session it seemed to work out ok!!!!!!! 🙂

Re: Session Question

Haha. Imagine if you had asked me how long I have been playing! And coming from a guitarist as well. That would have hurt. :p

Re: Session Question

I don’t ask other musicians how long they have been playing.
If they ask me how long I have been playing music, I have some standard, all-purpose, generic answers which I give them.
The answers are that I have been playing piano for approximately forty years and I have been playing Irish music at the local session since 1995.

Re: Session Question

Still going on about it? Now I understand why you folks have problems socializing!

Re: Session Question

Of course it would TSS - because as everyone knows us guitarists can not tell good music from bad!

Re: Session Question

Coming from a trad noob, if I’ve ever asked someone the question it’s because I admire how good they are and I’m probably trying to figure how long it would take me to get to the same level if I dedicated myself to it. Maybe you should take it as a compliment?

It’s also just a way of starting a conversation with someone. If you’re interested in the music and you see someone who’s very good at it, is it not a reasonable enough question to ask?

I can see why it would annoy people though if it happened all the time like.

Posted by .

Re: Session Question

This is more from a punter perspective by the way, not really from other ppl playing in a session.

Posted by .

Re: Session Question

as long as a piece of string

Re: Session Question

I was at a fiddle camp and playing solo
at my campsite, along came one of the
silverbacks, a leader in the club, strolling
up the path, he said "how long have you
been playing?’

I answered; he walked on up the path
without a word.

Though I do not know I think my answer
more established his sense of security
since I had been playing 12 years and he
25. But in retrospect I don’t think my playing
helped his security.

Re: Session Question

How about:

Have you ever tried using rosin?

Posted by .

Re: Session Question

Isn’t it all about intent? I was talking to a friend the other day who read the Ozzie Chums thread and got very offended at the use of the word Pommies. Eventually though we both agreed that it was more the *way* in which the word was being used than the word itself. So if someone asks how long you’ve been playing in a way that makes you feel put down..then that is lame. But if someone is genuinely interested with no malice or ulterior motives behind it….then what is the harm? Why on earth get offended. It sounds to me that the people who would get offended by this question may be insecure about their own playing in the first place. Although I have never been annoyed at someone asking that question of me and I am really insecure about my own playing…hmmm interesting.

Posted by .

Re: Session Question

You’re beginning to make me think it may be a cultural thing, bb. I’m just wondering if, maybe, Brits are pre-disposed to be suspicious of … well, anything really, but especially strangers. So, no-one you know would ask it, because they already know. And, if someone you *don’t* know asks it, well then, they *must* have an ulterior motive.

You’re right about the ‘Poms’ thing btw. Spot on. I remember being insensed by someone calling me a "Commie" once. I thought about it afterwards, and it was because what *he* meant was that I was a traitor, not to be trusted, etc etc etc I reacted, even though, of course, I have nothing against commies at all. Some of my best friends are commies. 😉

Re: Session Question

Maybe it *is* a cultral thing - that would make alot of sense. Aussies are the type who would be all ‘What brand of undies do you wear" 🙂 So asking or being asked about length of time playing really wouldnt offend.

Posted by .

Re: Session Question

I would only ask how long if the player gained my respect, and just as likely not at all if it would cheapen the mood.

Posted by .