First Session

First Session

Hi, I’m not much of a poster here; lurk all the time though.


I’m 16 years old and have only been playing (trying to play) the banjo for a year; I’ve been to a few sessions but never had the confidence to actually take the banjo out of the boot.

Being at the All Britain at the weekend made me realise what a great feeling sessions give me; but as I’m so new to the music, I still don’t know many tunes, so I wouldn’t feel comfortable trying to play in a session yet.


Anyway, enough rambling - my questions are:

How long had you been playing when you played in your first session?

How long would you want a player to have been playing before they joined in your session?

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Re: First Session

Hi Tom.
It depends on the session really. I was really lucky because my local session was a place where beginners are encouraged from the very start.
My advice would be to go to a session and get to know the people there. 99% of the time they will be sound. Listen to the tunes they play and how they play them and usually, if they know your learning, youll be encouraged to play something pretty soon. At some of the sessions around here if you mention you play someone will even offer you their instrument if you havent brought one in.

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Speaking for myself, I went to sessions for about a year and listened to and just enjoyed the music before I felt competent enough to play my first tune.

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I was married to a fiddler, so I got dragged into sessions way before I felt ready, but it was "safe" because I knew everybody.

I would suggest getting to know the players in your area. Maybe take some lessons from them, or at least get them to teach you some tunes. That will potentially give you the "in" for getting invited to play at the sessions.

It’s good that you’re conscious of the potential harm that a new player can do at a session, so as long as you keep that in mind as you’re getting started, you’ll do fine!

It can be really amazing how much your playing will improve when you start playing with other people, especially ones that are better than you and encouraging.

I do have relative beginners in my sessions fairly often. We like to encourage them, but we also don’t let them drag the session down. We’ll play a few sets of tunes that they know at a pace that they can handle, but we’ll also play beyond their skill level too. So if that happens to you, don’t take it personally. (And if you’re like me, you’ll take it as personal impetus to get better). 😉

Re: First Session

What matters is not how long you’ve played, but how well you play the tunes that you play. In the early going, you may only play on a half dozen tunes, but if you play in time, in tune, and with a decent feel for the rhythm and timing, you will fit well into many sessions—*on those tunes.* And you can learn a lot by actively paying attention and listening to everything that you don’t play on.

Also, find out if there’s a learning circle or "slow session" in your locale and get yourself to it every chance. Use this as a stepping stone to full-on sessions. You’ll learn more than just tunes. A good learning circle helps you grow accustomed to playing with others (in tune, in time), playing through distractions, and minding your manners.

And enjoy the ride.

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I went to my first session after playing Irish Trad on the whistle for just 3 months (I’d played/sung other instruments and genres for many years, though, so my learning curve wasn’t that of a truly new musician). I was fully prepared to just sit and listen the whole night, but the circle asked me what I knew, and I played a tune or two slowly with the whole session. It’s only about six months later now, but I know one out of every three or four tunes played at that session to at least play along quietly now, and a learner’s session has started up here in the meanwhile, which I find invaluable.

Re: First Session

Hi, thanks for the replies.

A few things I neglected to mention: I play every Tuesday night at my local CCÉ branch - have been having lessons there for maybe 8/9 months; but haven’t had any over the past month because I’ve been in a Grupai Ceoil with some of the other kids there. Though they’re kids, they’re all fantastic and experienced musicians - most of them regularly qualify for the All Ireland.


I’ve never once heard any of the teachers there mention a session before though - I wouldn’t know where to find a beginners’ one?

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Re: First Session

Hi Tom - you sound like an informed and intelligent person to me. Informed and intelligent enough (for example) to know that there is more than one "Birmingham" in the world, and make this clear in your profile!

You age or length of time playing needn’t be a barrier - if you can play a handful of tunes reasonably well, there’s no reason at all why you shouldn’t join in at a session.

Your first step (after just listening, which you’ve already done)should be to join in with tunesets that others have started. Ask yourself just this one question: are you physically cabable of doing this without spoiling the set for the others who are playing? If the answer is "yes" - go for it!

It doesn’t matter if you don’t know every tune in the set - if the tune changes to one that you don’t know, you can just stop playing for a while. When playing along, it doesn’t even matter if you don’t play every note - you can miss out the tricky bits! The main thing is to make sure the notes that you DO play are right, and in synch with the other musicians.

So, good luck and I wish you well. And if you’re ever in Bristol(UK!) and want to come to one of the sessions, just send me an email via this board. I would be more happy to recommend a suitable session to you, and would also make sure that you would be made welcome there.

- Mix

Re: First Session

Not every place has a beginner’s session, and even when they do, such a session can be harder to find. You’ll have to ask around, and ask anyone and everyone who might know.

But it sounds like you’re well on your way, with or without a beginner’s session. Focus on playing with good tone, good timing, and a real feel for the music and soon people will be inviting you to sessions right and left.

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I went to my first session with, in retrospect, quite the wrong attitude. I was clueless. I’d been playing mandolin about 2 years and specifically Irish music for a little under a year. I went in with a couple of friends I’d been playing with, which probably gave me a fair bit more confidence than was justified. If any of the regulars met me again, they’d probably run and hide. I started attending sessions regularly (in a different part of the country) a few months later and began to develop a better sense of the dynamics of a session; not having my (almost as clueless) friends with me also meant I was more inclined to sit back and observe than jump in and try to impress.


"How long would you want a player to have been playing before they joined in your session?"

How long is a piece of string? - to use the old cliche. Some people have been playing for 10 years and still can’t keep a steady tempo. Some can play a few tunes quite competently after 6 months.

The most important thing is to enter with humility; know your own level; if you know you’re not up to the standard of the other players, then wait to be invited to start a tune. With this attitude, you are unlikely to be met with anything other than encouragement (I still break out in a cold sweat when I think of the times I have fallen short of this ideal 🙂 )

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Tom, Start by talking to the folks in the session, tell them about yourself and your music. If they are the kind of session that will be welcoming, they will invite you to play, and will probably be willing to slow down for a few sets to allow you to play tunes that you know, at a speed you can handle. Don’t expect them to spend the whole night doing that, though. Remember you also learn just by listening. And if they don’t ask you to play, well, they probably aren’t a good session for a beginner to be in.
Most of all, don’t worry, a session is a pretty welcoming place to play music.
And don’t be afraid to get together with friends who are at the same skill level as you. You can start your own session in your kitchen, don’t need a pub for that!
Enjoy!

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Ha ha when i look back on my first session. I think my goodness i am lucky I didn’t get booted out of there. I had been playing all of 6 months I hadn’t even been to watch a session let alone played in one. So anyway I waltzed on in to this massive session. With my flute in hand and barged my way through all these people . So that I could sit in the front row. Stragetically sitting opposite another flute player so that i could copy there fingers and try to pick up the tunes that they were playing. At that point i didn’t know there was such a thing as session etiquette. Oops!! i was mortified a few years later to find out there was such a thing. Good thing that i wasn”t playing very loudly i did go home with a few tunes though and i was hooked. Whatever you do don’t do what i did!! Sit back and listen do your research first and don’t expect to play for the entire night like i did. Most of all have fun

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Its not a question of long someones been playing

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I like AlBrown’s suggestion - invite some of your friends over and play tunes in your kitchen. Great way to learn how to play with others and have some fun. When I was first learning, I also went to a CCC learning "session" every week. Like me, many people there wanted to play more often than once a week so we started meeting in small (and sometimes large) groups in people’s houses between the organized meeting. We had a great time and many of us became lifelong friends (well, almost 40 years now). I have great memories of learning tunes from people, playing them together, then getting home and not being able to remember them. I could pick up the phone and call them and say "how does that tune go?" and they would diddle-dee it, I’d have it again, then play it some more. Good luck to you and and I hope you have a lot of fun.

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A CCE learning "session", of course.

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The ideas here are all good ones - stop in at a session and listen and meet the players. If there’s room, try to sit close enough that you can hear the individual players. When they play one you know, listen and see if you can hear how it differs (which it probably will, to some degree) from the way you play it - then when you get home, try to figure out how they’re doing it.

Another trick that I like - though I’m not very good at it - is to listen to players on instruments other than yours, and to try to get at the way they phrase the tunes. That teaches you a lot about the tunes, independant of the instrument.

Mainly, though, you should make sure you’re having fun, since if it starts to feel like work, there’s no point at all.

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In case you don’t know about it, there is a virtual session you can have a practise at. Imagine it is the real thing and see how you get on.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio2/r2music/folk/sessions/
If and when you do turn up, don’t be afraid to tell them you are a complete novice. The worst thing you can do is pretend you know what you are doing. (Well, one of the worst things :] )

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It’s important to believe that there’s nothing wrong with not being able to play*. Don’t be embarrassed about it. Even though it seems that some people - an some people believe that they - were born being able to play, this is, of course nonsense. Everybody had to and has to learn.

*unless you’ve been trying to play for years and you still can’t.

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Re: First Session

It’s been mentioned already but it really depends on the situation and the type of session. Even the very experienced players will think twice before taking part in some scenarios. This could be for several reasons and not necessarily related to one’s playing ability. For instance, the repertoire and style of music might be alien to them and they just might not see the point.

However, most of the advice above is very good including Llig’s although the last two statements appear to be a little contradictory.

Mind you, if your heart is still in it and you really want to play music of any kind, you should never give up.

Some things we do give up, of course, but that’s only because we find more interesting(In our own opinion) things to do elsewhere.

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I don’t understand how those statements can be read as contradictory:

"there’s nothing wrong with not being able to play, unless you’ve been trying to play for years and you still can’t"

They mean exactly the same thing.



Is it clearer if I put it this way:

"there’s nothing wrong with not being able to play, unless you’ve been trying to play for years and you’ve learned nothing."

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Re: First Session

A little clearer although there *might* be other reasons why a person’s playing hasn’t improved even after many years.

He/she might not have have the correct focus which may or may not be all their fault. Perhaps due to lack of time, guidance and/or support. So, circumstances may change if they are given an opportunity(or make one themselves) and, of course, are willing to renew their efforts.

However, although everyone has their own limitations, I believe that anyone is capable of making at least some progress if it’s something they really want to do.

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John J - have you considered the possibility that the failure to progress indicates that it’s not "something they really want to do"? As a teacher, I always had to weed out the people who wanted to learn to play the guitar, mandolin, or harmonica from the people who only wanted to be guitarists, mandolinists, or harmonica players. The former would get somewhere, the latter would never get beyond a few static memorized patterns because it wasn’t something they really wanted to do.
I would have to think long and hard before taking on a student who had years of playing and nothing to show for it, since an unmotivated student is absolute torture and life’s too short for that, even if I charge an absolutely stupid rate.

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Excuse me for getting caught up in an argument of pure logic, but there is, as far as I can see, no contradiction in Llig’s comment.

John J - What you say merely confirms and expands on Llig’s statement - that, if someone still can’t play after years of trying, then there *is* something wrong.

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Should be pointed out here that we’ve left the original question behind here - when we talk about someone who’s "played" for years but never learned much of anything, we’re talking about someone who seems quite the opposite of Tom, who has played for a very short time but apparently learned much.
(And, if you happen to find yourself travelling in the States, Tom, I would love to have you stop in at a session, even if you don’t feel you’ve got the tunes yet. Sounds like you’d be good craic in any case)

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What CCE branch you in?

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not that it matters what branch your in

but look your only playing a year, ya’ll get good on your instrument, learn tunes, sit in on sessions your own age at the fleadh, find out about session in your area

everyone has a first ‘session’ I don’t remember my one and Im only playing around 5 years, and if you plug away at it your playing and repetoire will have improved beyong recognition - hopefully.

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Hi Tom, I lurk mostly too. Down the road in that little place next to Birmingham UK is Coventry where we have lessons/ session every Tuesday too. If you check the session tab it’s listed there. The children who learn - mostly younger than you- start our session off with the easier tunes at about 9pm and then it gets in full swing afterwards, so you could hopefully play some first and then listen too. I was at the All Britain and if you were in 15-18 Grupai Cheoil I think congratulations are in order! I realize it clashes with your regular night, but perhaps when the schools finish it would be worth a trip for you. Some other South Birmingham members regularly come in so you may meet a few familiar faces, though often it’s later in the evening after their classes.

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Strange - I made a long reply but it seems to have deleted itself, so apologies if this reply seems half-hearted - that’s because it is.

Just to reply to those who directly addressed me:

Mix: Well I wouldn’t want to be mistaken for an American would I?! (I’m joking, if any of our friends from across the pond are reading). I was in Bristol a few months ago actually, a mate dragged me down. If I visit again, I’ll be sure to get in touch - thanks.

Jon - I was in Boston last year, and the year before - it was great to see Irish music thriving there; we might well be visiting again next years, who knows; I might see you!

Premierflute - I’m in the South Birmingham branch

FiddleFi - Funnily enough, Coventry’s the session I wanted to play in. I’ve visited a good few times before, it’s a fantastic session. I think a few of the lads from South Birmingham went on Tuesday night? That was one of the reasons I started this discussion/thread. You really do have some fantastic players there; and I must admit I’m a huge Dubliners fan, that’s another reason I like the Coventry session so much.
I might pop down there sometime in the next few weeks; who knows, maybe the banjo will make it out of the car this time!

And unfortunately, the congratulations aren’t for the Grupai Ceoil, it was the 15-18 Ceili Band that qualified, the grupai didn’t :(



But thanks to everyone who’s given advice, though, you’ve all been very helpful.

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Re: First Session

John J - have you considered the possibility that the failure to progress indicates that it’s not "something they really want to do"?

Of course, that was the main point of my post. 🙂

"if someone still can’t play after years of trying

CMO, we don’t know if they’ve really been trying though.