Help Session Etiquette And Rule Book
Myself banjo, Vinny fiddle, Lilly whistle a couple of competent guitar players and a badhran player have a regular session going in Scruffy Murphy
Myself banjo, Vinny fiddle, Lilly whistle a couple of competent guitar players and a badhran player have a regular session going in Scruffy Murphy
A sign which says:
with souvenir shop drums,
spoons, cheap guitars,
ashtray and coins etc"
We have this problem too in some of our local sessions. You forgot to mention singers, bongos, ocarinas etc. :>))
A "No smoking" policy would solve the ashtray problem but that’s another discussion. :>))
At one of my sessions a didge player turns up sometimes with his instrument (in a case, so he must be serious!) He asks if he can play a couple of tunes (in D) with us, so we say yes and he does, and then returns to his friends at a table for the rest of the evening. No problem.
BTW, the combination of a didge drone in a very low D with the D drone from the uillean pipes is pretty powerful!
Please, sir, What’a a bAdhran?
"badhran players" - that’s a new one!!
The question is - would you rather have the session taken over by Johnny Cash and his 10 guitars, 10 singers, or 10 assorted percussionisttra?
Some sessions have passengers - sounds like yours has hijackers.
Where could I get lessons on playing the ashtray?
Can anyone suggest the best make of ashtray ti buy?
We’ve had similar issues before, and I’ve always really talked up and enforced the "OPEN hoolie" policy.. come one come all, and there have been about 4 times I’ve had to pull some newcomers aside and let them know that they simply need to chord along until they’re more comfortable with the tunes, and if they aren’t able to do that then they need to just sit back and enjoy the show .. with my deepest apologies, but learning is learning and you’ve gotta get a few basic tunes down before you jump in. And I usually give them a tune list to go over and talk with them for a bit and try my best to make them feel like we’ve at least taken an interest in them rather than blown them off. I only had one instance where the person took actual offense and got ruffled about it, but he was also obviously looking for trouble about anything when it came down to it.
It kinda sucks no matter how you look at it, because no matter what you do, you’re running the risk of dissapointing somebody sooner or later that really wants to play but simply can’t get it, but that’s the way it goes and I simply find that being honest and friendly with them, it works out fine.
And we also have the one member who is always right on the edge of being too overpowering with his ‘drone’ instrument (homemade instrument). Sounds great, just trying to find that volume level is a constant ugh!
And there is sometimes someone with the terminal ‘Jerk’ syndrome… somebody somewhere is hiding with a shaker that can’t keep a beat to save their life!! LOL
I screw up plenty myself and so do many who sit in or even regularly come to the session, that’s all part of learning a new tune or even ‘blurping’ an old one, but sheesh! Know when to say when! 🙂
P.S. Then you have the other breed of person who comes and sits in to the session and tries to take over, ‘suggesting’ what everyone will play, or just starts playing whatever they want while someone is discussing how/what to play next. I have no tolerance for these people and simply stop them. If they take one stride towards going out of turn I stop them right there and tell them flat out "Sounds good, BUT It’s not your turn now is it?, so why don’t we just go ahead and see what DAVE (or whoever’s turn it is) is likin’ right about now?"
Ok, novel over. c-me-here-I-go-bye.
How about "if you don’t know the tune, please listen and learn before you join in"
this could also apply to well intentioned, and sometimes very competent musicians, who are not familiar with the music but think it’s ok to improvise, sometime loudly enough to detract from the melody.
If you seriously want to gain control of your session, advertise it as a band, maybe ‘plus friends’. It’s the only way. But then, maybe it’s no longer a session. I guess this is where democracy falls down.
As far as rules and regulations go, I once compiled the following (I might well have nicked large chunks of this from someone else on this site, I can’t remember) with the aim of shaming certain people into mending their ways. However, no-one you show it to ever believes that it is about them. Some of the worst offenders think it is absolutely brilliant, and will tell me they know exactly who various bits are referring to (never them of course)!
Rules of the Session
1. Play as loudly and as fast as you can all the time.
2. If someone new to the session ventures to start a common tune that everyone knows perfectly well (Kesh Jig, Planxty Irwin, Harvest Home, etc. etc. etc.) just stare ate them blankly and don
Cath, your latter point is one of my pet hates. Last night, a chap on the mandolin was leading a tune I knew but the fiddler next to him either didn’t know the tune or chose to add his own variations and drowned out the mandolin player. I tried playing the tune too but couldn’t hear the main melody because of the fiddler. That makes things more dificult for everyone.
I think it depends upon what session you’re trying to have. If it’s just to be an open, fun "session" - what IMHO would be more appropriately title a "jam" - then you just have to keep the noise to a level that you can tolerate and just have fun with.
But, if you have something you’re trying to aspire to, a certain sound and feeling, maybe a quality of music (maybe you’re trying to have a straight-up, good Irish trad session - which would pleeeese my twisted, black heart), then you might have to be a little tougher.
If the place you’re playing pays you to be there or asks you to be there and you’re leading it then you get to set the tone. No one has a "right" to play - because it’s your G’Darn session. If they want to play music that’s not what you’re going for then they have every right to f3ck off and start their own "jam".
You may have to go through a period where you’re considered a b$stard and your session gets a reputation - but that’s the point. You’ll avoid trouble that way.
Now, I know the standard line… "but they don’t know that what they’re doing is wrong." Well, before you’re rude, first explain it to them. After that, if you have a sound you’re trying to go for and they butt in then there’s no excuse. The people I’ve been most impressed with have been the people who show up with a messed up instrument or who obviously don’t know what they’re doing and try to join in a set but quickly realise they’re mucking it up and quit. And just listen. I really like those people. It shows that they have some class and are willing to let something be what it is, and maybe learn. I’ll bend over backwards to help those people out.
REMEMBER - always be welcoming and helpful to beginners who are really interested in the music you’re trying to play. The people you may have to be a b$astard with are the rude individuals who show absolutely no interest in what you’re trying to do but are taking advantage of your good will in hosting a session.
Now, if you’re a newbie and they’re newbies, then you might need to woodshed for a while or get some kind soul who’s more experienced to lead the session.
I’m really a nice guy and for a long time I hated it when someone (someone who was detracting from the music) got miffed about a session not being "friendly". Then I figured out a couple things.
1) If the session isn’t friendly to beginners, guests, or good players, then, yes, something is wrong. But people are human and have personalities. Some people are just naturally quiet. Some people who lead sessions are naturally quiet. That’s ok.
2) If people show no respect for what you’re trying to do and don’t even listen then THEY are the one’s who are rude. You have every right to tell them so. You wouldn’t walk onto a soccer pitch during a game and start throwing a frisbee. Neither would you walk into a classical concert and start yodelling. It’s just rude.
3) If there’s something you’re going for, a certain sound, then you have to maintain standards. It’ll pay off. People coming through town will sit in on your session and enjoy it. You’ll improve. The people who want to play the type of music you’re into will really enjoy your session, not just tolerate it.
4) If you let the session be crappy, just to be nice, no one wins. You won’t have fun. You’ll be in a bad mood and the offenders will be able to tell. Bad vibes makes bad music and the punters won’t like the music. The establishment might even begin to suffer on that night. Eventually, either you’ll get fed up or you’ll get asked to leave and no one will be able to play there.
Well, that’s what I think. It’s all b0llix.
P.S. I don’t know that a list of rules is a good idea. Maybe have a copy of that session etiquette book (can’t remember who wrote it) and pass it around if you want. It’s funny and entertaining; your list won’t be. But I think the best rule book is acting out a good example. Play good tunes, act like a good human, and you’ll encourage right behavior.
I’m in the same boat there… whenever the newbies show up, I’m the first on to try and help out if they’re at least respectful of the group, and will take the hint… or even more so if they just up and sit out on their own like you said.
#4. That’s pretty much the whole point of everything. Gotta be tough sometimes or you can’t have fun. Drag huh? 🙂
Take care all.
All reminds me of the time in our session where Big Dave told the lady near the door that clapping along was so much better if it was in time with the music.
I watched someone running the session in Perth go through this and I went through it in Dallas… you’re going to be hated. No matter how nice you are, no matter which option you choose (I didn’t see anyone suggest that he take the players he likes and move to another night/pub)… you will be hated. If you are ok with that, then do what you need to and enjoy the session you create. You might do well to pull a few ‘real’ musicians aside and explain the whys, whats and hows, so that at least some people will understand when the changes come down.
This is such a common problem. I’m thinking of starting a session locally and would like it to be a good quality, friendly session but my area is overflowing with ashtray, bottle, table, tambourine bangers, hijackers of tunes, 5 stringed banjos, loud guitars and sometimes on a Saturday night they all appear together. On occasion half of the session has been playing different tunes to the other half. Maybe the best policy is to be honest and tell these people they are not welcome. I do have a fiddle player friend who has no problem with telling people exactly what she thinks. Mind you it has not made her very popular but sometimes I wish I was more fortright as it certainly makes them go away. One night there was a person playing the coins on the table at our session, eventually my friend leaned across and said "excuse me, but I really don’t like what you’re doing" "you’re just making noise". He was very miffed and said he had been doing it at fleadhs all over Ireland no one had ever complained before. Was my friend the first honest person he had ever met?
Barry Foy — Field Guide to the Traditional Irish Music Session, is the one I think Jeremy is trying to remember.
We’ve had a lot of discussions about session destroyers in the past. Seems like there’s no easy and clear-cut way to handle gobshites like the ones mentioned above by Darnac. There’s always going to be "villains" who show up and threaten the Music but what can you really do without being hated or considered a snob? There’s no real simple and easy solution. Everyone’s sessions are different and the villains come in all types. If I was in Darnac’s situation, I might try and find a new venue with a different type of crowd. What about a coffee house?
Or is it the Irish Traditional Music Session? Can’t remember. Anyway, definitely Barry Foy, definitely Field guide. 🙂
And if you REALLY want to be pointed about it, buy the worst offenders their own copy. Heh.
If you’re in America it’s sad but true that it helps to have an an Irish person doing the telling off. People will often put more stock in what they say at a sesh, whether or not they’re the best muso. And for some reason they’ll take it better. Maybe they think the accent’s funny. Get somebody from Kerry to mumble off a few "f3ck offs". They won’t really understand but they’ll get the drift. That’s assuming you can find a Kerry person who can speak in more than grunts. haha… just kidding!… don’t throw anything!
Actually, our Coffee House works well in terms of the customers. Other than a rude tambourine player (who left after my evil death stare) a while back, the "punters" are pretty respectful and don’t bang stuff around : ) ……but we do get some musicians showing up from time to time that provide some eyebrow raising moments…….sigh…….
Hi D - I found your email address! I’ll send you a note. So glad you visit this website! I didn’t see you at Frankie Kennedy Week.
I’m getting to the point where I really don’t care what the rude, the clueless, and the hopeless think. My friends and I work too hard to produce a cohesive, rhythmic and forceful sound to have a pack of t0ssers screw it up, week in week out.
Let’s just say I have a real history with "anything goes" sessions and I’m not going to have anything to do with them from here on out. I don’t care if people think I’m an a$$hole, I’ve spent too many hours in "circle-of-death" sessions where any bollix with a musical instrument and a desperate need for attention can participate.
I’d rather have a few people PO’d at me, thinking me a "purist" or a "snob" then endure another second of bad singers, Bluegrassers who don’t "get" irish trad accompaniment, and lousy bodhran players. If my favorite sessions get a reputation, so be it, let the w3nkers be someone else’s problem.
Barry Foy’s book is dead on the mark IMO.
Well said, cthuilleannpiper.
I had problems with my Soton session a while back, what with all your aforementioned messer-uppers turning up and spoiling the whole night for players and listeners alike. It was happpening so often, and we were all getting so pissed off. I thought a lot about the best tack for sorting it out, and came up with a solution in the end.
I got a few trusted regular listeners to keep an eye out for people coming through the door carrying an instrument. They then casually spoke to the would-be players at the bar, dropping hints that they had to be pretty good if they wanted to play in the session.
Of course they didn’t *have* to be pretty good, but it did help make them aware that this session was not a free-for-all-dive-in-feet-first-and have-a-laugh, no matter what the sentiments of the rest of the session were.
The reaction was mixed : some people simply said, "Well f**** that and left, others rose to the challenge of showing that they were decent players, and those who weren’t so good were still made welcome.
It probably sounds a bit over the top, but we had to something if the session was to survive. And it’s a damn good session now.
Thanks Jim, and fair play to you.
I’ll have to see if I can recruit one or two trustworthy "minders".
Yep. Looks as though we near enough all speak with the one voice here. OK, we may be stuck between a rock and a hard place - yer damned if ye do and yer damned if ye don’t. Like Jim and cthuillean… I say soddem. Fack em all. *Especially* if you’re hired - the last thing you want is every goddamm thumper around coming along and drowning out your music. We used to have a bad infestation of thumpers and strummers, but The Evil Tyrant Dr Dan, he of the Death Stare put paid to them. O, ye of the single neuron, ye who be bereft of rhythm and who would pour out poison fumes upon we non smokers, beware! Judgement day awaits. For it is written.
I’ll have what he’s having. 🙂
Ye of the single neuron…… oh Danny, Danny, Danny…. ROFL
hi there, see you in Louisburgh maybe, regards to S,
Your coffee house idea sounds good. A few of us here are thinking of going back to house sessions. I’ve had a few and you can pick and choose who you play with. But, sigh, its nice to go out to sessions too. I’ve found the stare doesn’t work at my local session. They usually just smile back at me!! I’m off to a local fleadh tonight in honour of Tom McHale, a whistle player from Tulsk in County Roscommon so I’ll report on the state of play from there.
How about a practical application of the Etiquette and Rules? I own a former 5-str Banjo, now reworked into ‘zouki tuning. Assuming that I pass the politeness test and that I can play the thing, would I get my wrist slapped for playing it? Granted, the truely-trad sound of the session would be… altered somewhat. My question should boil down thusly. Do you stop a musician for wierdness despite competance?
ACtually Cthuilleanpiper you must must have visited some of the same sessions - bluegrassers who dont get Irish trad accompaniement. We have a regular clique of 3/4 bluegrassers playing 5 stringed banjos and guitars who turn up and insist on accompanying EVERY tune. On the other hand they have a session on Friday nights and us tradheads are not invited or welcome. I’m finding it very hard now when I find myself beside one of these pluckers to restrain myself from comment so I guess its off to another far flung venue. cheers
Jon — a fairly well known banjo player who plays Irish music really really well (as well as his own music, which is more bluegrass tinged) based here in Colorado once talked about taking his five string to a fine established session populated mainly by The Old Men. He was well mannered, and displayed his usual fine competence, and they still hounded at him for bringing a five string to their session.
He went back the next night out and, before going, took the extra string off the banjo. The Old Men looked at his banjo when it came out, smiled, somebody made a passing comment about it, and no more was said on the subject and he was swallowed whole into the session.
His moral to the story: "People like to know that you’re trying."
Thanks Zina, can I ask another?
I assume y’all are familiar with the tradition of declining the first two invitations to sing/play/recite/whatever. When I came back home from school I was frequently encouraged to play at the sesh. I play(ed) 9/1 scottish/irish at the time. I played my Scottish stuff then went back to my lurking corner. The local 401 played ‘sclusevly Irish with a Clare leaning. This is the Tin Whistle session I write about. (on the sesh page)
Eventually I was (not quite) absorbed into the group, but never really played their tunes much or very well. I ought to clarify that in this case my family members made up about 1/4 to 1/3 of the group. With further encouragement I was playing along quite a bit, but everything I started came from my own SolidTunes(R) list. This was ok with 4/5 of them. Enough history for now. The big Q is: When visiting another sesh, how much freedom should be taken when asked to play? My ST list is still distictly Scottish. Should I go to the movies instead? I don’t want to go kicking shins unless I have to. Stepping on toes is another matter… jk.
Permission to be inflamatory please. Thankyou. It seems to me that the Old Men in the above post are bigots. I met a few people like that in the Gaelic song circles in the Hebridies. They [expressed displeasure] at anyone who didn’t walk in their footsteps or make a good show of trying. I have a LivingTradition(R) viewpoint. Living things grow and change. Dead things should be buried. I agree without reservation with the censure of the musicaly/socially inept. But being different is no excuse. If a body can play a good reel on his ukelele/harmonica/armpit then more power to him. Ukes and ‘monicas, if played tactfully are welcome. The armpit guy can go play next door though. Have I just blown the lid off Pandora’s Box? Will I be ever reviled on these mssg boards? Your thoughts?
whoops, that should read ‘sclusively. Thanks Mr. Kippling!
Thanks guys I have taken on board all of your advice. The solution to our particular problem is easy, I’ve never been particularly popular anyway, but now at least there will be some gobshites out there with a genuine reason to dislike me.
I’ll just renew my medical insurance.
I won’t begrudge anyone who can actually PLAY tunes in an authentic manner and observe all the etiquette.
I absolutely agree with you Mr Piper and I would only be delighted to welcome other players or people who expressed a wish to learn, they would get all the support they need. Unfortunately, that’s not what we’re getting at the mo.
I quite like Ottery’s point no.2 🙂
I have no problem being disliked for standing up for good tunes, tis really worth it in the end isnt it?
I hope your joking about the armpit playing woadface jon…heh, and the uke🙂
Yes the armpit was a joke. The only possible way I can imagine such a thing is lining up a bunch of kids like a bell choir. Ah….. no. It *might* work but would be just too silly. And perhaps crude. Seeing as anything else I want to say would be off-topic, I’ll cut this note and paste the rest on a new thread.
Oh, sorry, Jon, I only just saw your next question(s). Hmmm.
"When visiting another sesh, how much freedom should be taken when asked to play?"
Well, I’d think that would depend on the session. Some sessions won’t care at all, and others will greet you with hopefully a pleasant enough silence. Besides which, there are plenty of tunes that are shared between Irish and Scottish, so even if you play Irish tunes Scottish style or Scottish tunes Irish style, or Scottish tunes Scottish style or Irish tunes Irish style, there’s sure to be some in common that you *can* play to show willing that might be on both your own list of tunes you can play well and on their own list. The moral of the story above still applies: "People like to know you’re trying."
I do sort of wonder why you bother going to Irish sessions, though, if all you want to play is Scottish, to the extent that that’s all you’ll play and you seemingly don’t wish to learn Irish. Why not just go to a Scottish session?
And as for the last thing: "It seems to me that the Old Men in the above post are bigots."
If one happens to have certain standards, one usually thinks of them as standards. Usually, though, if someone else has certain standards and one doesn’t fit within that framework of reference, then they’re bigots. This is the way life is. *Calling* people bigots, though, is one sure way to show that you’re not trying. 🙂 And, as I believe I’ve mentioned before, people do like to know that someone is trying to fit in, even if they’re not being very successful at it.
A session is made up of people, and largely those people are what make up the standards of that session. If you visit a session and it’s not to your own frame of reference, go find another or start your own with standards more to your liking. Who’re you to tell anyone that they’re bigots on their own turf? In return for that understanding, it should therefore also be expected that no one can tell you that you’re a bigot on *your* own turf! 😀
Hope that helps.
Good point tho Zina…I personally wouldnt want to sit in on a session that didnt play the kind of music I play. Thats just me tho.
Oh, and BTW, darnoc, keep us updated with what happens. I’ll be curious to find out. 🙂
Why play in a session that’s not playing the kind of music I play? ‘Cos it’s the "only game in town"… often. (Irish sessions being a zillion times more common than Scottish sessions, and the traditions not being *that* different). I often wonder how acceptable it is to play Irish tunes in Scottish style when in an Irish session.
Oh, just tell ‘em that you are highly influenced by Donegal playing, Rog, which of course is highly influenced by Scottish playing. *grin* (Yes, yes, YES, before I get jumped on, I know that’s a massive oversimplification, I’m being mildly funny there!) Most will nod wisely to show that they know all about the Donegal style. Heh.
And if it’s the only game in town, change the game. Start a Scottish session! Or a session that plays both. What the hey. Always room for another session.
Tolerance is key m’luv; also bear in mind that as mentioned above, you have to have the right attitude/tone of voice etc. when having a quiet word with the black sheep of the group, or they may take it very badly. I’ve been present at a session where one woman was close to tears after someone had kindly suggested she give it a rest for a while; though in truth she shouldn’t even be at such a session, it was both awkward for her and the rest of us :s
Hm… I think if you played the Scottish version of Merrily Kissed the Quaker in an Irish session you’ll just get blank looks. There are a good number of tunes that are common enough to both, but you’ll die of boredom (er, I would, anyway) if you restrict yourself to just that intersection. There’s just so many times you can play Miss McLeod’s, Soldier’s Joy, etc., before you want to leap out the nearest window…
My approach is to try to play sets that start and/or end with a common tune; you can play something more esoteric as long as you keep the bulk of the content familiar, so that the majority of the session stays engaged. Again, that means listening first, to see where the session "lives" before jumping in.
As for starting a Scottish session - that can be tough if you don’t know enough Scottish players in the area, and you can’t raise the interest among the Irish players…
Oh, did I forget to admit that I have my preferences? I guess I am a bit of a bigot. Btw, I have an annoying tendancy to use extremes when commenting. I catch it once in a while but it usualy slips though my guard. I do wonder how the removal of the fifth string could *possibly* make any difference musicaly, except to the player.
The only bummer-point about starting a Scottish sesh is… I would be playing alone or with one other guy who is a key member of the Irish sesh. There are less than 20 known musicians in Rockford who like celtic music. When I boil out the space-heads and NewAgers (are they people too?) then I’m left with about 13, several of which consider us ‘open minded’ people as well beneath them. I have to say that this particular Old Man was a bit of a snot anyway. No names, but the TW/Carlyle regulars know who I mean. Anybody out there?
I play the whistle as my main instrument. Can anybody give me descriptions of Scottish style/Irish style on a whistle? I have not distilled the sounds well enough to tell much. I think that the Irish has a more legatto style, and the Scots a more pipey sound, with tighter ornamentation. I mean a burl as opposed to a roll.
Thanks for the advice on other situations folks, I’ll keep it in mind when next I wander.
If you can get hold of any recording by Dieseal, you’d be doing well. That whistle/flute player is amazing, probably only surpassed (in my opinion) by Niall Keegan, another musician well worth listening to.
"The only game in town", Zina, usually is when I’m visiting somewhere, or perhaps at a festival. York is unusual in that it has at least two good sessions, but neither is exclusively (or even predominantly) Irish.
And HighlandSun, I didn’t mean that I’d just play tunes known in the Scottish idiom, just that I know a reasonable number of definitely Irish tunes, but my style is irredeemably Scottish-influenced (‘cos that’s what I was brought up with). Read: "can’t do a roll to save me life" 🙂
Thanks, Never. I haven’t heard of them (?) before, and shall look it up.
If you’re playing the same tunes as everyone else, then I think it’s just a matter of listening - get a feel for how much they’re swinging the rhythm, and don’t worry if you choose different ornaments than everyone else. A different style can be a refreshing change, especially when everything else is still in sync.
I don’t know whether it down to holiday or the mix of derisory comments, cold shoulders and death stares, but we’ve had no gobshites for two clear weeks now. Sesh again tonite so hope I haven’t spoke too soon.