Running a slow session is good for you…

Running a slow session is good for you…

If you live in Ireland it is likely you do not need a slow session. For a start you can probably get a teacher, something I have had for only brief periods in time when an Irish concertina player has been in town. In the more far-flung parts of the world where, if you are lucky, there is a session, you are on your own until you can join in. Many sessions in Australia consist of one or two good players, several intermediates and a bunch pf people who really shouldn’t be there yet. But it is the only place they can go. Not only hard on them but hard on the good players. There are a lot of tensions.

Our slow session started when I realised my two pupils (pupil: a person who is not as good as you.The difference in ability between teacher and pupil is smaller the further from other players you live) had nowhere to go to get some time in.

At that time our city was reduced to three sessions. Two were run by excellent players who wanted a good fast session and were going to slow down for no-one, take no prisoners. One had about 5 players, the other had dwindled to 2 or 3. The third I found difficult for a bunch of reasons; it was also often very fast.

I was very ill-suited to the role of running a session. But I tried anyway, I think I was hoping if I could create the infrastructure some better person would see the genius of it and take over, hopefully before I looked too stupid. Didn’t happen.

But there was this great side effect. I was forced to regulate my own playing, forced to examine a small number of tunes in great detail, play them over and over.

As a result my own playing has improved from the experience. A lot. And the players have started to move out into the wider scene. And more important, some are now good friends. A session is a social scene first.

So this is to encourage those who live in places where there is less music, start something yourself, my experience has been it will help you and make the music scene bigger in your town.

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Re: Running a slow session is good for you…

Hope the session goes well & be sure to list it under the sessions tab, if you want to.

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Re: Running a slow session is good for you…

Well done cag - there’s another benefit as well. Growing the number of musicians who can play this music only helps your community’s future and continued sessions.

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Good luck with your slow session!

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"If you live in Ireland it is likely you do not need a slow session."

Well, maybe not need, but a lot of young players and plenty of adults enjoy the slow session in Kilkishen in Clare (Sundays 7.30 in Gallagher’s). And, as with your own session, people move out and gain the confidence to join other sessions.
Teachers and classes don’t give you the chance to play with others on other instruments. Often the teachers only prepare children for competition - where they end up with one cracking reel, one great jig, and a fine hornpipe, but little to back that up.

And - believe it or not - I, a humble bodhran player, have been welcome at this session because I help the younger players especially to keep time!

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Don’t believe it! πŸ˜‰

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A steady beat at one of the mixed sessions Cag describes is
precious. If your 1 or 2 keystone players are on fiddle, they
physically cannot overcome the craziness. A banjo or box - yes;
a flute - if they play like O’Grada or Bradley, but Sligo types
can’t do it. So it’s good to have a steady bodhran basher or
guitar thrasher — but they can’t be speeding up all the time like
the rest of us.

Running a slow session is good for you and your community

Yes, and I’m currently trying to find a new venue for our now defunct one ~ ‘Slow Session and Community Ceili Band’ ~ which also gave them opportunities to play for dancers, as well as learning tunes mostly gleaned from the local session scene, as well as some things to add a little different spice to those. We never neglected discussing session etiquette, and we had a few rules, which did see some people arrive and leave. Any percussionist had to also put some time in on a melody instrument, but that went both ways and we also had the rare times where all the melody instruments would put down their tools and give a try at gaining a deeper understanding of rhythm and phrase through a bit of basic BODHRAN BASHING. We used a bunch of lengths of doweling and old plastic bottles, those of us who didn’t have an actual bodhran. We had a good laugh doing it, but we also benefited, as did those bodhran bashers that started learning something about melody, even if it was just lilting or humming the tunes.

A positive side effect was that we only kept those with a real interest in the music, beyond and deeper than just beating skin. πŸ˜‰

Re: Running a slow session is good for you…

bollards

* Belisha Beacons *

* Belisha Beacons *

Re: Running a slow session is good for you…

Instead of just taking all the time, many of us do really enjoy putting a little something back into the pot, from which we have been drinking so fruifully from, for so many years.

With this in mind, I ran a slow session in town here, for about 8 years, as a very natural extension to a number of classes, for both youngsters & adults that I had been running for a number of years.

It was great fun & very satisfying to see complete beginners come through the whole process.

Rightly or wrongly I never did push any of them down the competition road, as I felt it much more important to stress that they should always simply be trying to be a little better than they used to be, rather than trying to be better than other folk.

I encouraged them to think of the music not as a sport, with winners & losers, but rather that the essence of Traditional Music was simply the actual sharing of the music & of course you can share slowly as well as quickly! πŸ˜‰

Cheers
Dick

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Nice one Ptarm…

We did have one other hiccup, bodhranistas aside, someone who thought they were too good for us, and who hated the suggestion that part of the etiquette side of things they might consider was using less reeds and easing up on the BOOM-CHUCK bass and chord work. They preferred their take on things, all sets of reeds blaring on their piano accordion, and lots of badly chosen BOOM-CHUCK, not forgetting an irritating practice of theirs to take EVERY advantage given for a pause, a chat, or to just rest, for them to start up a set of tunes, even though they weren’t good enough to carry it off and keep it going. I guess some folks never see beyond themselves. I did try to warn him, and to do it diplomatically, but little seemed to make any difference. That kind of attitude and stance generally means they’re unlikely to ever learn anything more, they already know-it-all. ( heh, heh, heh! πŸ˜€ )

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Och well ceolachan if it was easy, sure everybody would be doing it! πŸ˜‰

Cheers
Dick

Re: Running a slow session is good for you…

Slow is good, gives you a chance to appreciate the nuances of some tunes I reckon. I also like the fact that I can relax a bit ,rather hanging on like grim death when someone plays slightly faster than I am comfortable with, the concentration needed then ,leaves me so battered that I forget to chug the beer down!

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Well, not too slow, but relaxed is good:


WELCOME TO
THE FAMILY CAR SESSION
(Comfortable and reliable at moderate speeds,
with time to enjoy the scenery)
We enjoy playing Irish, English and Scottish tunes, with some songs.
Call it celtic if you like.
Tendency to stay on established traditional roads.
Sundays from 7-10pm
The Billy Bishop Legion
1407 Laburnum Street,
off Cornwall Ave, 5 blocks
West of Burrard St. Bridge,
Vancouver, B.C.

Re: Running a slow session is good for you…

I host a weekly learning session where most of the participants also play at our regular local session. They learn tunes, get insights about the twiddly bits and phrasing, and we sometimes talk about issues that come up at the regular session. Even experienced players can learn a lot from slowing down and really poring over a tune in the company of other players.

As the guy who runs the learning session, I’ve learned a ton, too. I’m better now at playing through tunes at a crawl, phrase by phrase, which comes in handy when teaching at camps and workshops. And I’m better at explaining and demonstrating techniques and concepts than I used to be.

The one downside is that I’ve become the de facto anchor at the regular session. On one hand, it’s good to have an anchor—more people are joining in and an anchor can help prevent (or at least smooth) ruffled feathers. On the other hand, I feel like people are less inclined to start sets—too often, they wait for me. (So I try to wait them out until someone else finally starts a set.) Gotta fix that, encourage everyone else to launch their tunes. I suppose that’ll be more and more a part of the learning session—asking people to start tunes and string a set together, so they’ll feel ready for it at the regular sesh, too.

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Great topic! I’ve actually been trying to gauge the interest for this in my area and see if it’s needed. Unfortunately, there’s only one person right now that’s interested, so I may be limited to just giving her some beginner’s lessons.
When I started learning, my only option was to sit in, listen, and try to keep up as I learned the tunes. And I still have problems keeping up sometimes, especially once the beer has been flowing and the more obscure and flashy tunes pop up. Our session would be considered one that starts out as intermediate and degenerates into an advanced session as the more experienced players get drunker (to put it bluntly). Not that there’s anything wrong with a session doing this, but it does alienate those the rest of us that aren’t as experienced.
So, yeah. I’d be all about creating a separate beginner’s session that doesn’t start excluding others as the night goes on.

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Thomaston, build it and they will come.

It helps if one of the most experienced players (someone well immersed in the music and tradition) leads the learning session. Having a good player as leader can draw participants out of the woodwork.

But a conscientious "intermediate" player can host a learning session, too. The best way to attract participants is to have the thing actually up and running. Since your local session is on Tuesdays, consider holding the learning session on a Thursday night. Aim for just 2 or 3 hours, and don’t teach more than one tune a week (and some weeks just review previous tunes).

Little things can make a difference. Don’t call it a "slow" session—call it a learning session instead. Do it someplace where people can buy or bring their own drinks, and keep it relaxed and social, not like a "class." (We usually have dessert or pizza at our learning session, and everyone brings wine or beer.)

The most important thing is to keep it regular. If you plan to meet once a week, then meet *every* week. If it’s every other week, then hold to that schedule. I send out a weekly email invite/reminder and I keep a list of all the tunes we’ve learned over the course of a year. That way, new people can join in and know which tunes to work on. And everyone looks forward to it every week.

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@Will Harmon
I have resisted being a set starter at our regular session to which many of the slow session people go now. Eventually I twigged that people need to practise starting sets too, so in the slow session everybody gets to have a go at being in the spotlight. They learn things like, put the tune you are strongest in second or third, how to strip the lead in notes off the later tunes, how to make the change strong, how to signal a change…

I have a feeling an intermediate player will be better at leading a learning session than a champ. They are closer to what it was like for them. Individuals will vary, thank dog.

@Thomaston
I’m with Will here, get started, advertise a little, keep it to what you can personally handle until your experience increases.

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Re: Running a slow session is good for you…

Teaching tunes…

When we started I would only teach half a tune a week, the people were not so good and I was worse, especially at teaching the tune. After a while I started to twig to what worked and what didn’t.

Here is what I do.

Firstly I play the tune for them. Good if you can play it nicely, you are selling it. Everything is about getting them enthusiastic to learn. They have made a big step in coming, but they still need a sense that the future (when they can play) will be exciting. If they do not play during the week til the next session they will never learn.

Next I play the first measure. When people are absolutely new I sometimes play only the first half measure. I find they soon start to think measures. Incidentally I sometimes break the chunk in other places, depends on the phrasing.

I invite them to have a go at that measure. After they have had one go I play it again. Then they play it, or what ever they have of it, then I do. etc. I ask them when they feel they have the measure down they stop playing and only finger it as the others work on it. Eventually only those with problems are responding and I can work on those individually. The people who pick it up early still need to play it out loud occasionally while the slower ones work it out.

I find I need clear air to play the phrase, people need to stop trying and listen. This little piece of discipline is the only thing I need from people, I think it is because my hearing is catching up with my age.

When everyone has that first phrase we play it together, very slow. We pause between each replay because the first note does not follow the last note.

We then do the same with the next measure, and when we have played it over a few times I say, from the top, and we play the two measures together.

We continue on like this until the first half is done. By this time they have played the earlier parts of the half many many times. We then play the whole half about 6 times and go on to the second half.

It takes us 30 minutes to get a shorter tune or one with much repetition, but sometimes 45 minutes for a longer reel. The wider the jumps between notes the longer it will take.

After we have learned the whole thing we play other stuff but return to the new tune several times during the night.

I often say to people, play this tune when you get home tonight, and then in the morning, and you will have it for life.

People don’t like to appear slow, me too, so they usually don’t want the individual treatment while in a group. I find it is best if the other people in the group encourage them to take the time and attention and tell them of when they were the ones needing it. I try to get people to play on their own as little as possible, it is counterproductive.

Also, having social breaks is important (not while learning a tune), once people have talked to everybody they realise there are no judges in the room.

Hope this helps someone somewhere start a slow session…

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Re: Running a slow session is good for you…

cag, that’s basically my approach too.

A few fine points:

As much as possible, I like to record a tune we plan on leanring and email it out the to whole group so they can listen to it for a week or two before trying to learn it. That way, it’s already in their heads when they come to the learning session. A lot of folks do better with a plain recording of just one instrument playing the tune at an easy pace. No distractions. But I encourage them to just listen and lilt along, not to try learning the tune on their instrument until the actual learning session.

When teaching a tune, I look for phrases that can be looped without stopping, so people can play the loop over and over (and over and over), before moving on to the next section. Such loops are common in this music.

I teach music for a living, so I have lots of tricks for reaching and inspiring beginners, even though I’ve been playing myself for decades. That said, one of the big advantages of a learning session (over private, one-on-one lessons) is that everyone has opportunities to offer their own insights. Each person gets a chance to play teacher. The whole thing builds camaraderie and a sense of collective purpose and fun. (In our case, we’re lucky to live in a small town, and we’re all friends and neighbors.)

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P.S. Hup, I disagree with your notion that a fiddler can’t impose a steady beat on a stampeding session. I’d say that you’re not really playing Irish fiddle if you can’t set the pulse for a rowdy circle of 12 or less. It’s all about the pulse, no matter what instrument you play.

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A slow session is good for everyone involved & the community of music as a whole

Thomaston ~ just to ditto what cag & Will have already said, jump in and swim…

I’m guessing that what cag means by ‘measure’ is phrase (2, 4, 8 bars)? ~ rather than ‘half a measure’, measure = bar, half would be one beat of a jig…

I agree with Will about the importance of the ears and providing a recording, and best if it is a single instrument. I also provide dots, but they are basically frowned on as far as use in the actual session, other than accepting that sometimes checking the start of something with ABC notation can be a help. I also introduce people to ABC notation, notation in general, in the whole process.

I’ve enjoyed the reads on these couple of threads, and they will help motivate me to pull myself out of a blue slump, loss and life can sometimes hammer one down, but it do need to get off my arse and find that needed venue to start ours up again… Thanks for this positive distraction…

May the ‘pulse’ be with you… πŸ˜‰

One point on ‘learning’ ~ we had some definition, that while we were learning tunes the main pulse of our drive was to play, not to teach absolute beginners, though they were welcome, or to haveto do a lot of basic work. Yes, we taught a tune, yes, we did cover basics, but we wanted the bulk of our time to be taken with playing tunes, if slowly and with control and a steady pulse, and ‘in tune’… There was time for any of us to give a little one-to-one, but absolute beginners were directed to other sources, but still welcomed.

In a previous time, one of my earliest attempts at starting something like this, different from actually ‘teaching’ per say, we attracted a lot of beginners and the attention called for and given lead to the loss of many who wanted a ‘slow session’. I felt that loss. It’s not something I’d want to repeat. Now we ask that people at least can play a few tunes and have a basic understanding of their instrument. But that too can be uncomfortable, if necessary. It’s hard dealing with the passions of others, whatever their level of ability, but probably more so with ‘beginners’, and folks with sticks and skins… 😏

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What I meant by a measure is a bar…

Venue is important. We lucked into a "hut" in an old army camp taken over as a community centre. It is a place without pretension, and on Sunday evenings there are few people about. It is a place to make an appalling din and not worry about the neighbours or the patrons in a pub.

One of the things I often say is, don’t creep around, make your mistakes here,and make them loud, you will hear them better and learn quicker. Everyone here is only a heartbeat ahead of you in ability, go for it.

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Re: Running a slow session is good for you…

cag, we may be half a planet apart, but our learning sessions are like twins. πŸ™‚

We do ours in a music shop, closed after hours. And I have a poster in my teaching room that says "A bold mistake is more interesting than timid perfection."

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