How does your session work?

How does your session work?

Just curious about this. Although we’ve been talking a lot abot session etiquette all of ye know that every session works in a different way.

At our local session we use to ‘announce’ next set to be played by calling the names of the tunes out loud.
In other sessions I’ve been at no one says a word, they just start playing and you join in if you can. And then there’s not even a sign to tell you "Hey, next tune now!" so, either you stop playing at the end of each round or you might find yourself playing a different tune.

This summer I’ve been at another session where three of the players decided secretely what to play next, and then, looking at the backers, if any, announced proudly G-D-Em. Great, isn’t it?

So. What’s the standard procedure at your local session?? And most important, are you happy with it?

Re: How does your session work?

A bit of both, really. Sometimes the names are kind of asked, like "d’you know the Tarbolton set?" or "Have ye got thon Jacky Daly tunes?" or something equally vague. Half the time people can’t remember titles anyway. In which case someone starts up a set and the rest tear into it as they recognise it.

Danny.

Kinda un-laid-back.

It would maybe be too ostentacious for someone to stand up and officially announce what tunes the intend to proceed with, on the agenda. Kinda un-laid-back.

…but that’s just my take on it.

Re: How does your session work?

Ostentacious ?? Well I suppose it depends a bit on the number of players. We’re usually no more than 6-7 players, so there’s no need of standing up and shout. 🙂

Re: How does your session work?

at our local session, the practice is for one or more musicians to play a snatch of a tune as a suggestion for the next "set" with a sort of quizzical look at the other players to see if they want to play it. if there is a sort of muted consensus, the set proceeds, usually gathering pace from the first tentative bars. tunes are generally played three times each but there are exceptions to this ("short" reels are often played 4 times through, "long" ones only twice) so there is a sort of shout of "hup!" to indicate an approaching change. there is never any discussion of the keys that the tunes are in - but any guitarist who either doesn’t know the tune or isn;t sharp enough the pick an appropriate key will get glared into silence pretty quickly. surely the accompanying guitarists need to learn the music just as much as the melody players? every now and again, a player will turn up with a new set of tunes and it seems to be the courtesy at our session for there to be some reference points available for this - a reference to the set on a CD, a set of dots or maybe just the titles so you can find the dots on ABC. if you;re motivated, you can then have these tunes for the next session instead of waiting for them to soak in over the next few weeks (we all seem to be of an age where rapid & accurate learning at a session is a thing of the past - something to do with the gargle and the brain, mayhap?)

Re: How does your session work?

Yeah, yeah….sorry Toni, I was exaggerating for effect.
Andy, that seems to be your method when you come up to the Woodman, ie play a snippet first. And it works fine.

Re: How do your session fascists work?

In our sessions, nothing is announced but most of the musos can only string two or max. three tunes together. We have less frequent visitors call by who are given full reign as they are the interesting sorts who can be guaranteed to bring along some different tunes or something from a different tradition.
Regular singers are not tolerated. Good visiting singers are tolerated if they have stage prescence and the room goes quiet and people listen.
The dots are not encouraged and singers reading the words are booed.
I am a bit of a tunesmith and can string a dozen tunes together (I can announce them in mid-tune if there are people playing who know tune names, if not, I can’t be bothered). If anyone joins in the tune, I play it at least twice, if no-one (except the backing) joins in, I play it once and move on to the next.
There is method in my madness and I can remember what tunes I played the previous session so I always try to introduce two or three new tunes a week, just to see who knows them/wants to learn them. I play some old favorites, but am building up their repertoire by keeping including some of the ones they are hazy with.
The ones who are interested and liked a particular tune will ask the name, go away and find it, and a few weeks later, it is in the repertoire.
One thing I do not want is a session where the same tunes are played in the same order week in week out (no names mentioned, but there are three of them and they are nailed to horses feet) so I sometimes play sets in reverse order, just to keep them on their toes.
Out of interest, to keep live music going strong in the pub and to spread ITM a bit more, the pub has Jazz one week and a session the other week. On the Jazz night, we arrange to go to a different pub (we have 3 or 4 who are happy to have us on an irregular, informal basis). Familiarity can breed contempt (as shown in the reported recent London session moving) and a moveable session halves this familiarity.

Re: How does your session work?

Well Geoff. Fortunately we don’t have regular singers and, as you said, visiting singers are welcomed. What we sometimes do (when in full sail) is starting up a 3-4 tunes set and the calling for another tune during last round of last tune, and then another, and another …. It doesn’t happen too often, but I find it good fun. Once we played a 30 minutes long set just sticking reel after reel this way.

Re: How does your session work?

When playing a set of tunes do you play each tune twice or 3 times or more.
Also do you restrict a set of tunes to 2 or 3 or prefer a long string

Re: How does your session work?

Frequently it goes like this. Someone thinks of a set they’d like to play, but won’t say what all the tunes are because (a), they can’t think what the second one is called, and (b) they aren’t hundred percent sure they won’t accidentally slip into that other similar one in Am, and (c) unless they start now, Eddie will start a set and they won’t get it in at all.
After we’ve played the set, someone will ask what the name of the strangely familiar tune he’s just been playing is, and on being told will say, "I ask that every week, don’t I?" Those who are so inclined will then write the name of the tune in their little notebooks.

Re: How does your session work?

Sometimes when there is a lull, I’ve noticed a particularly kind person may say to me or someone else, "Andee (or whoever else), surely there must be something you’d like to play. Start one up." And then, if I am not sure if others know the tunes or not, I’ll say "Ok, does anyone know such-and- such tunes?"
But I wouldn’t depend on this very genteel way of deciding on tunes for the entire night. It does seem to cause too many blank lulls that can kind of bring the energy down a bit.
I think the idea of just playing a snatch of the tune is a great idea.

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Re: How does your session work?

We play each tune usually 3 times, unless it’s a short reel so it can be 4 or 5, or it’s a new tune for someone and that someone says ‘again’ in order to memorize the tune.

Re: How does your session work?

Because our original Wednesday session some 3 years ago started with people from such diverse origins (Mexico, Spain, France, England not to mention Dublin and Clare) it was nearly all sets of one tune! We therefore agreed to introduce a new set of 3 each week to get a bit of continuity. This approach proved popular and eventually led to the Foinn Seisiun books already discussed elsewhere. We now have the situation that when the first tune is played, everyone knows what’s next - visiting musicians are normally identified and most times consulted to ensure they are familiar with the tunes and if not another set may be selected. As for singers we do have 2 or 3 regulars, and on those very rare nights when none are present I feel the session is much diminished (I’m not a singer but feel that good traditional songs well performed add greatly to any session - how many songs is another question but my own view would be after every 3 or 4 sets of dance tunes). Similarly we always try and give a solo spot to visiting musicians particularly those from overseas or any other individual who may have something special to offer. I think sessions are a very subjective thing as probably none of us will agree on the ideal set-up (if such exists) - it’s whatever works for you and at the end of the day people will always vote with their feet!

Re: How does your session work?

Yeah Toni, 3 X’s for each tune at least, unless know one else knows the tune. I hate when I finally recognize what the tune is, usually by the second time around, and then they’re off on the next one!

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Typical scenario

Me - Shall we give "INSERT NAME OF TUNE HERE - one that we haven’t played before in the session" a lash?

Other player - I don’t know that one. But give ‘er a burl anyhow and we’ll join in.

Me - Right!

Confident start, but feel beady eyes and ears of other players on me. After 4th bar hit a bum note. The shaky edifice crumbles to an undignified halt.

Me - Sorry, there! I thought I had it, but it slipped through my fingers.

Other player - No, g’wan! Fire ‘er up again, for God’s sake!

Me - Nah! I’ll get it up to speed for next week. Shall we give "The Kesh" a blast?

Danny - Is that the time? I really must be going!

Re: How does your session work?

…more like "I really must be going up to the bar for another pint"

I knew that a rattle of The Kesh would get you on your feet, so since you’ve got your hand in your pocket, I don’t mind if I do! A pint of Guinness out of the blue pump.

And that’s how it REALLY works!

Re: How does your session work?

Aidan, shame on on you for giving up so easily. I hit a bum note last week, and managed to play the wretched tune through two more times without ever quite getting back on track, it was like being stuck in a parallel groove, or having one wheel jump of the rails or something. I was determined to get it right, but the more I played it wrong, the more that wrong version imbedded itself in my fingers (the mind itself being curiously blank). Needless to say no one managed to join in - but I got the full panoply of frowns, puzzled looks, raised eyebrows, whispered asides etc, which made the whole thing quite rewarding really. Needless to say, none of the four audience members realised anything was amiss.

Re: How does your session work?

I’ve often seen individuals raise or lower their fingers to signal the keys in a set e.g 1 raised finger= 1 sharp or G, 2 fingers =2 sharps or D etc. C is a level waving of the hand and flat keys(very rare involves pointing towards the floor.

So, don’t be offended if a fellow musician gives you the two fingers, it might just be a tune in "D".

John

Re: How does your session work?

Mick O’Connor has his own little system to denote key changes - because in loud session the spoken letter "D" might sound like "G" or "E", so he uses people’s names - like George for "G", Albert for "A", and so on. He also uses it in normal conversation, like "Let’s play The Shaskeen in George" This is mildly amusing the first three hundred times you hear it, but thereafter you kinda silently groan….

But nice guy is Mick.

Danny.

Re: How does your session work?

I remember once sitting at a middling-to-large-sized session with a guitar player who was clueless…it didn’t matter what tune you started playing or what anyone yelled or anything, she would 1) insist on playing whether she knew the tune or not and as loudly as possible, and 2) apparently only knew chords that went with the key of D. It was either hilarious or enough to make you weep at the same time. Someone would shout out the name of a tune and everyone would tear into it. She’d start playing in D, and everyone would wince. They’d shout out "G!" at her several times. She’d give them a blank look and keep playing in D. "G!" they’d shout, "G!", the first few times assuming that she’d mistaken G for D. She’d keep on playing. After a few of these, the melody players who also backed would start yelling out the chords for each chord change, and she’d look at them as if they were mad for singing to a tune and keep on playing the chords she knew…God knows what the punters thought was going on. It didn’t matter how many black looks she got or how loud the muttering got, she seemed oblivious that perhaps she was spoiling things for everyone else.

I think Ottery’s session runs it just about the way most people do, although everyone’s got it pretty much right. At any given session, someone who is new to a session will suggest an entire set to make sure that all three tunes are ones that everyone knows, every session has sets that are practically automatic, and everyone likes to hear (and hopefully learn) a new tune or two; a beginner everyone likes will start a tune and be unable to put it into a set and out of politeness everyone will stop playing when they do and so you’ll end up with one poor lone tune, or tries to go into another tune and fluffs it and some kind soul who is more experienced will start the tune up for them, etc.

Here’s another one, though — how does *your* session feel about playing sets that have been recorded by the famous ones? Is there a diff between playing MIchael Coleman sets (historical!) and somebody like Lunasa sets? In most circles I know, playing sets exactly as someone has recorded them is considered slavish and unoriginal and it’s looked down on, something only beginners do. Comments as to why that is?

Zina

Re: How does your session work?

There used to be a person round here who would play obscure Donegal tunes, one after another. Often they were sets straight off the latest Altan album. This person was good, right enough, but once started there was no stopping, going on for hours. Other session members generally got bored with this solo performance, and went up to the bar for a chat, or whatever.

Re: How does your session work?

Zina, it’s not only beginners who can fluff up tune changes. I’ve been relieved and gratified over the years to see many highly regarded players do just that! Particularly if it’s a different tune to the one they’d usually play with the previous, it can be a pig to mentally see the tune you were about to go into. There’s a lovely anecdote, I think it’s in the Johnny Leary book, about Padraig O’Keefe with a man who had been through a tune about six times without managing to make the change into the next one. He eventually said, "Sure Pat, maybe if you’d take it out into the yard you might find space to turn it about!"
As far as sets from records, why not? If it weren’t for records we wouldn’t be playing in sets anyway. I was in a little pub in Cavan last year and a fiddler led into the Coleman Tarbolton set saying, "At least you’ll know this set right enough, we call it the triuvirate!" (Up to that point I’d not known a single tune he’d played - one time I really wished I had a tape recorder with me.) As far as new sets go, round here they tend to be played as the record to start with, and then people get fed up with them and start fiddling about with them. A good of example is the Lunasa set of Butlers of Glenn Avenue / Sliabh Russell / Cathall McConnells, which we might play Butlers of Glenn Avenue / Sliabh Russell / Jimmy Wards, thus ripping off 2 CDs at once (Matt Molloy played Sliabh Russell / Jimmy Wards on one of his albums.) The fastest lifting of a CD set I’ve ever heard was one night, about a week after Otherworld came out, Colm Murphy (the fiddler) came into the Elm Tree and whacked out a blazing set that began with Dr Gilberts and then went into unfamiliar territory at such a lick that we were left gasping. When asked what it was he said he couldn’t remember the names of the tunes but it was track 6 on the new Lunasa album.
Which it was.

Sorry!

sorry, that should have read triumvirate, not triuvirate.
Duh

Re: How does your session work?

Our session does a mix of pre-arranged sets (some of them our own and some copied off of recordings old and new) and seat-of- the-pants stringing tunes together as we happen to think of them. I prefer the latter and several of us are trying to encourage the other players to follow suit. But less experienced players like those pre-arranged sets because they can practice ‘em up just so at home and come prepared. I like including everyone as much as possible, so I’ll abide that approach. Most of the pre-arranged sets are leftovers from our "band," the core players at our session, so even some of the punters recognize them as sets and have come to expect and even ask for them.

I don’t know why the sets copied off of recordings bother me but they do. Even when they’re really nice sets. It feels like all I did was learn the tunes off the cd and regurgitate them. I’ll admit that sometimes that’s an acheivement in itself, pulling off a set at least somewhat close to what some pro player has done. But it never feels like "mine."

I guess I don’t like starting a tune off knowing what comes next and then after that and so on. My brain jumps ahead to the last tune and groans a bit. The next 7 minutes are mapped out, pre-ordained, and set in time, as though we’re playing to a stop watch.

In contrast, when you don’t know what tune will follow the one you’re on, or even who will start it, time becomes much more fluid, measured not by the clock but by the tunes themselves and the level of the stout in your glass (Ciaran Carson gets at this better than I can in Last Night’s Fun—the subtitle nails it: In and Out of Time with Irish Music). The zone is when you’re in time to the music and nothing else.

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Re: How does your session work?

Mix and match sets are more interesting, as you say, Will. They keep your eye on the ball and generally improve your game as you have to think about that moment when it comes to change over. Your vocabulary of tunes you have at the ready should always be big enough to cope with a sudden change of plan.

But it’s good to have a good platform of standard sets you can turn to, in an emergency. Like yourself, I do both.

Danny.

Re: How does your session work?

Zina - just a thought: if a beginner starts a tune and can’t manage to put it into a set, is it more polite to leave off when they do and leave the tune hanging there on its own? I would have thought they’d end up feeling a little self-concious. If everybody else took the first tune and ran with it, wouldn’t that be more gratifying for the newbie, to have really started something? And did anybody tackle the guitarist about her chord repertoire in between sets?

Re: How does your session work?

Yeah, I usually leave a pause when a newbie starts a tune, waiting to see if s/he’ll follow it up with another. But if there’s not another coming, I like to have something at the ready myself just to keep it going. I think that helps the newvbie get a sense of the flow.

Ottery, I wonder if some of us Yanks look less kindly on ourselves for copying sets off cds because that’s how we learn so many of our tunes. Playing the sets verbatim makes it painfully obvious that some of us have no direct, face-to-face link to the music. Of course that’ silly because if we learned the sets straight from the player himself, we wouldn’t be shy about repeating it.

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Re: How does your session work?

Hi Nasty (what’s your name again, actually, I know The Mackay mentioned it once, but am now too lazy to go look for it?) — I think the way Will does it is good — wait a pause to see if they’re going to go for it or not. Because it’s just as rude (if not ruder; is that a word?) to take over someone’s set as it is to just let the tune sit on it’s own, which is of course no tragedy and a good tune will stand up to it, whereas usurping someone’s set is a good way to have people muttering behind your back.

Hmmm. Will, Ottery, now that you guys have given a bit of thought, I think one of the reasons that I have been taught not to copy sets directly is that, quite often, the beginner tends to copy EVERYthing, including the ornaments, variations and settings, off that recording, and so the tunes aren’t your own, they’re someone else’s. ‘Fine as an exercise, but you don’t want to live there,’ sort of thing, I guess. And it doesn’t allow for players who play with a different feel, more or less swing, etc., than the original recording artists. (I’ve seen people actually glare at people who dared to attempt their own variations or something different to one of their fav and set in stone sets.)

Re: How does your session work?

Yep, there’s that. After you’ve played a few years, it’s nice to sound like yourself instead of trying to sound like someone else. It’s easier if you’re not holding onto those famous sets.

It’s also one thing to start a Coleman set or some other widely known juxtaposition of tunes when you’re among new friends and wanting to play something everyone can join in on. But doing the same sets (especially someone else’s sets) week after week with the usual suspects leaves me stale.

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Re: How does your session work?

I hear what you’re saying Zina, but most of us I guess just do what we can with these tunes. I’d love to be able to put on a Paddy Keenan CD, copy a set into my brain, and regurgitate it just as he played it, but if I was that good, I’d also be capable of maybe playing it his way and then doing it in my style the next time round - but to be quite honest, I’m not that good. Also if you lift a set from say a Lunasa Album, there’s quite a lot going on on those records. I’m only playing a flute, and it can’t sound like a double bass, no matter how clever I am, so I just take whatever it is that excites me about that set, and do what I can to recreate that excitement on the flute. Same as if I hear someone in a session playing a new tune, or juxtaposition of tunes, on whichever instrument they play. But having said that, I prefer playing sets of my own divising, I think that that’s the nearest a lot of us come to actual composition, and a fresh and unique set really makes people listen to the tunes anew.

Re: How does your session work?

Well, and then add to that, ottery, that Sir is completely fanatic about never playing the tune the same way twice — he always wants there to be something new and in the moment about the way he plays a tune, even if it’s just the emotion he’s trying to convey with it or a random twiddle here or there. So anyone taking what he played in a recording and thinking they’ve got it exactly as Paddy Keenan would play it is most likely going to be dead wrong.

i once got read the riot act because I dared to play a different setting of a tune that someone else had learned off an Altan CD — they actually told me that I was playing the tune *wrong*! *That* is too far, insofar as I’m concerned!

Re: How does your session work?

This is good. Real session talk. The ‘leaving a pause’ thing Will was talking about…and then not to make a big deal about it if they fluffed a changeover…to me that’s the *real* etiquette of a session, the subtle minute to minute stuff. Barry Foy didn’t really explore these minuteae.

Again, like ottery, and I forgot that bit, I like to make up sets, and it is the nearest we lesser mortals will get to composing. But it’s only when you have enough marbles rolling around that you can do that to good effect, which, I’m sure is the case with you. One set I "made up" and it works well because the colours just keep changing, is The Dublin Reel/Monaghan Twig/Convenience Reel …always gets a certain amount of appreciation, because it just keeps "lifting".

Yeah, Zina, I’ve had some funny looks from certain types of people when I did my own thing, also. But it’s difficult afterwards to laugh and play the whistle/flute at the same time.

Danny.

Nailed to horses feet?

I’m still trying to figure out the common as muck set Geoff was reffering to with the hint given above…maybe I’m a bit fuzzy this morning….The Horseshoe in the Morning? The Rambling Horseshoe? Speed the Horseshoe? Follow me up to Horseshoe?
…Sorry, Geoff, I’m lost…

Clippety Clop

The Horseshoe’s Farewell To Limerick? The Floating Horseshoe? The Little Stack Of Horseshoes?

Re: How does your session work?

I left my horsehoe in sam plank’s disco?

Re: How does your session work?

Mick O’Connor’s key mnemonics:

A - Arthur
A minor - Arthur Mullard
D - David
E minor - Eric Morecambe
G - George
C - Charles

I can’t remember what he uses for Dm (Denis Murphy?), Bm (Bernardette McCarthy?), F and E (the original key of Calliope House).

Re: 3 of them nailed to horses’ feet

Domhniall, Ottery et al.
Sorry for the confusion. It wasn’t a set of tunes, it was a local pub with a session (not listed), which is well known for you being able to set your watch by what tune is playing, and the watch is always slow.

Invitation to jump in

I am one of the worst for jumping in and adding another tune immediately after someone has finished (more or less without a break), but when I have had enough (after another 10 tunes), when we get to the middle of the last 8, I will stop playing and pick up my pint.
That is my invitation for someone else to take up the challenge.

Life is too short to play sets of 3 tunes.

Re: How does your session work?

Nice one Geoff. I’m not sure how our session works…it just does. It’s been going for at least 15 years in one pub or another around the town. Over the course of time, the "regulars" change but there’s a few from the early days still.

In terms of playing on the night, we don’t have any routine. We encourage each other to start a tune and it’ll work or won’t and if it’s cracking along there’s sometimes some eye-contact from someone who’s thought of the next tune and it just gets passed about.

Sometimes even I - a bodhr

Re: How does your session work?

Yeah, Geoff, I like the long sets also. But, It’s a bit harder on the flute to keep a set going beyond where, for example, a fiddle or banjo player intended it to finish as they often finish off with a long "victory" note in usually the signature key note, eg a long GGGGG….!
Trying to tag another tune on the end, after that, always seems such a lost cause, since that long finishing note means…there ye are..we’re finished. What d’ye think? Applaud now!

My way round that is to start off the set and then do a marathon set. But like a real marathon, that can be pretty tiring, esp. on the flute. So I nowadays, I do both… go with the flow *and* surf the tide till oportunities spring up… That, at least, is the beauty of a session..if it’s one packed solid with tunes, you have to play the game with strategy.

Danny.

Re: How does your session work?

"A - Arthur
A minor - Arthur Mullard" etc.

I’ll sometimes use "Duh!" (D) or "Guh!" (G)

or if I’m feeling existential/theological

"Dog!" or "God!"

chris smith

Re: How does your session work?

I like the long sets where people pass round the next tune with their chin or cocked eyebrow or whatever — "here, I can’t think of another, YOU start one…"

Re: How does your session work?

Thats me zina - I can never think of tunes to play so I always give my friends meaningful looks. One fella once said they didnt know if I was passing the set on or trying to crack on to him! Charming!

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Re: How does your session work?

Hahahahaha!

Re: How does your session work?

Try the NATO alphabet for letting everyone know which key you’re in. Our local ex pilot does that before he launches into a song. Alhpa minor, Delta etc. We can hear more easily than A……we think.