Advice/Suggestions on Starting a New House Session and Qualities of a Good Session Leader

Advice/Suggestions on Starting a New House Session and Qualities of a Good Session Leader

The idea that has been on my mind for several years to start and lead a session, and our own Cape Cod Struggler offered some encouragement the other day via PM that got me thinking yet again: is this the time?

Recently, I’ve met a couple fiddlers within a 50 mile radius, one of which is at an advanced standard of playing and makes annual trips to Ireland for the music/craic. The other is an accomplished classical violin teacher and actively learning tunes. We have one guitar player who might attend, and knows about 50 tunes quite well, but sadly has little interest. And one flute player of an unknown standard who recently moved here. And the list wouldn’t be complete with a shaky-egg weilding bodhranista who we all dearly love outside the music. To add to this growing list, we have an aspiring piper at a beginning standard, and who knows what other interest this festival might churn up. So, there’s a chance (hell could freeze over with this global warming thing), that a handful of people would be interested in playing/learning choons here….

This would have to be at a house, likely mine, for now. A pub setting is possible in the future, but not to start for some obvious reasons. We would have to start very slow, have a small repertoire of tunes (say, 25), and provide some teaching. Another idea that appealed to me was using a standard sheet/cd for the repertoire from the outset for at-home learning purposes, like one of the Foinn Seisiún volumes provided through Comhaltas, in an effort to immediately tighten up the auditory chaos that could ensue, and to eliminate confusion for beginners.

My hope is that it would be fun, and have enough structure to keep it respectful and maintain ‘session etiquette.’ A few ground rules like "no sand blasting us with your egg during slow airs", "no more cowbell", and "the triangle is not a drum kit" would be a must to keep me and the nearby cattle from running off into the hills in a dangerous frenzy, as well as our mastiff from killing anyone (actually, he just cries as he dislikes the sound of tunes being learned, especially on bodhran.🙂)

What suggestions/advice would you offer? How do you make it "fun" when the music sounds terrible due to lack of capable hands? Also, what are some qualities you think are important in a good house session leader? I realize this kind of thread has been posted many times in the past, and have read a few of them. I’d like some fresh perspective. What has worked for you? How do you accommodate a handful of players coming from extreme poles of musicianship, tune repertoire and experience? Are baking skills helpful? Have you ever had to call the police due to an angry djembe-er? Any and all comments welcome!

Re: Advice/Suggestions on Starting a New House Session and Qualities of a Good Session Leader

If the mastiff skin was stretched out, what sort of diameter would it be — you know, roughly speaking?

Make sure your fridge is well stocked, keep all recording equipment well away, rustle up a few stools and comfy chairs, and don’t plan on going to bed before four a.m.

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Re: Advice/Suggestions on Starting a New House Session and Qualities of a Good Session Leader

Good luck with the Clointhlan Slow Session.

As I said to you before, start off slow with a set number of tunes building on that as the weeks grow into months. As time passed, we introduced a couple of new tunes during the second hour of the session spending time playing and rehashing both Parts A & B until the melody was set in our minds and base number of tunes slowly grew. Not to boast, we now have over 200 tunes on which to draw from in our round robin selection process. I will gladly share the Falmouth Slow Session downloadable tune book with you which has both standard and AND notation.

As far as the leader or facilitator is concerned "Patience my son, patience" and a good working knowledge of the base 25 tunes plus good computer skills to publish the added tunes to the CSS members. I will put you in touch with our man, Michael who can help with the publishing.

Good luck, and if you are ever down the Cape drop in some Monday night.

Oh yeah, with Massachusetts DWI laws we don’t have pints or shots available.

Re: Advice/Suggestions on Starting a New House Session and Qualities of a Good Session Leader

ABC notation. Not AND.

I hate the automatic word insertion feature on my Kindle Fire. It is so flipping annoying.
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Re: Advice/Suggestions on Starting a New House Session and Qualities of a Good Session Leader

I forgot, for your own sanity, establish a Yahoo.Group email address thus keeping your personal email address and account separate. Have someone keep track of the tunes played each week and publish those so the folks who unable to attend know what going and what new tunes were added to your growing list.

Our group has 63 members. Only 15 or so show up each week, so a Group Yahoo account is must to keep members informed.

Re: Advice/Suggestions on Starting a New House Session and Qualities of a Good Session Leader

You will find all sorts of conflicting advice about the subject I’m about to bring up, but here goes anyway:

Be sure and learn the tunes by heart as soon as you can - you and everyone with whom you play. In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with using ‘dots’ (printed music) as a learning tool but you want to always have at least a couple recordings of the tune you’re learning available. I’ve found youtube to be quite helpful this way. And then you want to make the dots go away. I will tell you that I learn one tune at a time, and it takes two to four days to really solidify it if I’m going all out. But having done it both ways, I can tell you - the music is SO much more rewarding when you really know it, which only happens when you don’t need the dots.

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I agree with tdrury that ear-learning is the way to go, especially if there are a number of beginners in the group. What’s worked well for us in the past is to choose some standard recordings (Michael Coleman, Bobby Casey, Kevin Henry, etc.) make copies available to everyone either as discs or MP3s, and learn them by heart, one tune a week, or whatever everyone’s comfortable with. That way they’re not just learning the tune, but also the settings, the lilt, the ornamentation.

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I found that when you’re learning tunes in a group like this it is definitely best to agree which version you are all learning. We usually share Youtube videos or mp3s.

We did find that some of our group were looking up the sheet music but were unaware that it contained slight variations in timing until we came to play tunes together.

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Re: Advice/Suggestions on Starting a New House Session and Qualities of a Good Session Leader

My two cents. Make sure it’s a craic

Fao gam. I’ve two Bullmastiffs and was thinking the same thing

Re: Advice/Suggestions on Starting a New House Session and Qualities of a Good Session Leader

No one mentioned whiskey and smokes

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Re: Advice/Suggestions on Starting a New House Session and Qualities of a Good Session Leader

Or a speck a tea

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Re: Advice/Suggestions on Starting a New House Session and Qualities of a Good Session Leader

Thanks for all the comments folks.

@gam (and Da Legend), we’ll pretend you weren’t alluding to stretching Big D’s (Dreyfus’) hide into a bodhran. The top portion of his head alone could easily be stretched into one of those cute, deep, little tunable jobs. He just turned 4, a pure bred English, and a lean 180lbs last trip to the vet~ fawn colored with a blacker than usual head. Loves WIllie Clancy and Celtic Women (who doesn’t?).

@CCS, thanks again. Got your email and will be in touch about yahoo accounts, etc. No pints?? If you live in Wisconsin and don’t have 6+ DWI’s, people might look at you funny. We’re the only state in the nation that doesn’t provide a stint in jail for first time offenders~ all over the news lately. There will be a few pints at our session.;)

@tdrury, I’m in full agreement with your post, and deeply understand your comments. I got lucky when I started playing trad in that I was only ever an ear learner/player before picking up a tin whistle. Never would have expected my youthful rebelliousness to pay off so big. In the last 15 yrs I’ve taught myself to read music just for the craic and increased speed in learning. I’ve read through most of the often painfully tedious and ridiculous dot/ear discussion threads on this site, mostly for entertainment while I was stuck at a slow job working nights. If you get it, you get it, and you’ll likely be found playing lovely tunes by ear/heart instead of beating the horse in such discussions when you do.

@dinglealltheway and Den Fisher, thanks and this is the kind of approach we would take. By heart, by ear, and same/similar tune versions, with examples to listen to. Excellent comments.

@Da Legend, maybe the most important element of it all.;)

@kook, I’m on it!

Re: Advice/Suggestions on Starting a New House Session and Qualities of a Good Session Leader

>the auditory chaos that could ensue, and to eliminate confusion for beginners

A bit of chaos and confusion is no bad thing, if there is a common goal.

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Mike Floorstand, I agree. Having some point of reference to support the common goal might be helpful. Having a common goal at all would be enough to satisfy me. I tried something similar years ago where the people that came never learned tunes in their free time outside of the ‘session’, and everyone was happy clobbering tunes and drinking excessively month after month. It was a labour of love that ended with me getting burnt out trying to spoon feed a few who had no hunger to begin with.

Re: Advice/Suggestions on Starting a New House Session and Qualities of a Good Session Leader

best of luck with your session! it sounds like a lot of fun. i would say the key thing is to go over tunes that you learned at previous sessions, 🙂.

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Re: Advice/Suggestions on Starting a New House Session and Qualities of a Good Session Leader

daiv, thanks for your input. I had read a bit of your last ramble before you edited it, and appreciated some of your sentiments there as well. It seems you’ve gone back and read the OP now.🙂 Yes, I will be using the knowledge I gleaned from previous sessions, those I attended here and in Ireland. And, I’m really hoping my fiddler mate will join me, as he has loads more time logged in Irish sessions than I do, and will provide me great relief at times with an occasional fast n’ lively set. He is a busy doctor though, so who knows. I’ll do what I can.

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Hey stock blocked, although I’m glad you enjoyed what I wrote previously, it was actually intended for another thread. I had two threads open at the same time! You can find the aforementioned comment here, which I had to cut out of this thread and put into the other: https://thesession.org/discussions/31898#comment683461

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Re: Advice/Suggestions on Starting a New House Session and Qualities of a Good Session Leader

Also be ready for the dreaded session wrecker. This is the hard part of running a session. Every session host takes a different approach. But you might find yourself with a player that is really bothering most if not all the other players. I find 99% of folks would rather attend a bad session than speak up. So it falls to you to somehow communicate some guidance to the person who is holding it back or even worse making people not come at all.
There are a lot of threads here on how different session hosts deal with it. Good luck.

Salt

Re: Advice/Suggestions on Starting a New House Session and Qualities of a Good Session Leader

The session leader should be a strong enough player to keep things going. You don’t have to be the strongest player, but you need to be able to keep the music going when others around you might not be able to.

And it’s probably good to state your goals, whatever they are, so that everybody is working in the same direction. If your goal is just to have some fun evenings with friends, then that’s OK. But other examples of goals might be to try to get everybody to be able to play at a certain level of playing - maybe find a session recording that you can refer to as the level of playing you would like to achieve (finding a session recording is a better idea than finding a professional recording). Or maybe your goal is to grow an Irish music scene from within over the course of 5 years… Or whatever. If you have specifically stated goals, you have a better chance of achieving them (and then the fun evenings with friends automatically happen).

I would also suggest that when you’re actually playing, don’t let sheet music be part of the equation. My personal preference would be to not let it be part of it at all, because people who are complete beginners with the music won’t find much help from sheet music when they’re trying to learn how to play Irish trad. (They can find the notes to tunes, but that’s just a string of notes that might or might not be played in a way that resembles Irish music). But regardless of how the players learn the tunes, actually playing from sheet music (while it may feel like a quicker path to having everyone play a tune together) is really a hinderance to playing this music in the long run. So I would encourage people not to try to follow along on sheet as a tune is being played, and not play along until they have learned the tune, and know it without the need for music.

I’m not accusing you of doing this, but I have been around slow sessions that rely on sheet music while they’re playing ("wait, what page is that tune on again? and the next tune…? I can’t turn the page that fast!") and those sessions are the type that typically don’t evolve into good sessions out in public…

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I don’t agree everything said here, as our slow session utilizes sheet music as a learning tool.

However, I will say this: there nothing more rewarding than to select a tune when it is my turn to start one from the tune book and be able to play it through Parts A & B without looking down, only looking at my fingers hitting the fretboard and hearing it coming my tenor guitar. And looking at many of the other players doing the same, playing from memory and not sheet music because we have the tune in our heads and can hear it.

Sheet music is a tool for us. Many of us did not have grandparents or a parent from Ireland who played the tunes, two or three pubs in the town or a radio station where TIM could be heard almost every day. Nothing will ever replace the art of listening. Sheet music for us is a tool to get to place where one can hear, listen and learn. Once learned, a tune can not easily be taken away.

Re: Advice/Suggestions on Starting a New House Session and Qualities of a Good Session Leader

But the sheet can, be easily taken away that is.
That’s my 1 suggestion. ;)

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Re: Advice/Suggestions on Starting a New House Session and Qualities of a Good Session Leader

"be ready for the dreaded session wrecker"

Good word saltcast~ I’ve unfortunately had some experience with this sort of character. And, I had to be the one to send him on his way~ I have no regrets whatever parting ways with him.

Reverend, excellent comments. I’ll take them to heart/mind. We’re already on the same page. I don’t know how successful I’ll be in eliminating the dots altogether for the very beginners, like when folks are home alone working on their tunes, but they won’t be used by the players during tunes~ no way. It’s how I learned, and how I believe, and at the session I host/lead listening will be paramount. At least the first hundred tunes I took in were exclusively by ear, and it’s still the way I learn best. So much listening is required to get these tunes down well, and to pay due respect to this music and the great people who play(ed) it. All this should be a part of our shared goals.

@CCS, I hear you too. Your house session allows dots and that’s fine. I don’t necessarily agree with the structure, but to each his/her own, and with respect. I can tell you understand the importance of hearing and connecting that pure hearing with the digits and whole being as the tunes are being played. Since I’m at the helm on this one, I’m going to lead it in this fashion without sheet. I believe the end results will be the most satisfying for all parties. Listening entails respect. Ears before eyes amigos, ears before eyes

@Na éisc, what exactly is your 1 suggestion? ;)

Re: Advice/Suggestions on Starting a New House Session and Qualities of a Good Session Leader

Simply sheetless sessions, StockBlocked.
What Pete said.

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Re: Advice/Suggestions on Starting a New House Session and Qualities of a Good Session Leader

If sheet music is necessary to keep the session going in the beginning stages, fine. But make sure everyone does their best to learn the first 100 tunes by heart, and by then don’t give sheet music for new material. Play a new tune once in a while, change the middle tune in a set, try an old tune in another key, mix the sets. The surprise element keeps the participants on their feet! If you play something that nobody else knows, chances are that someone will ask you the name of the tune, if there are any recordings of the tunes, and maybe the dots.

Good luck!

Re: Advice/Suggestions on Starting a New House Session and Qualities of a Good Session Leader

Reverend wrote:
"The session leader should be a strong enough player to keep things going. You don’t have to be the strongest player, but you need to be able to keep the music going when others around you might not be able to."

Good advice. The leader doesn’t have to be an All-Ireland champion, but strong enough to:
* play the tunes fairly well (i.e. not too fast, not too slow, not mixing up parts, not getting lost after two bars, not ignoring "repeat signs", not playing too many repeats of a certain part, not adding/deleting beats/half bars…)
* have a decent repertoire (i.e. not to run out of tunes after an hour)

In other words - quality AND quantity.

Re: Advice/Suggestions on Starting a New House Session and Qualities of a Good Session Leader

I have been playing whistle in a semi-monthly slow session for 6 months and have the following observations about our leader who:

Consistently provides email reminders of meeting times and tunes to be reviewed and learned at upcoming sessions,

Teaches from an established tune list which is available on the internet including dots and YouTube videos,

Encourages every beginner to start a review tune of their choice at the tempo of their choice,

Encourages experienced players to play a few tunes (which may or may not be on the tune list) up tempo for the beginners to listen or noodle along to, and

Very patiently teaches one new tune, measure by measure, with lots of repetition at each session.

Everyone gets something out of the session and it keeps me motivated to practice between sessions. The beginners generally attend regularly and the more advanced players (mostly from another session) drop by at the request of the leader to help provide a modicum of musicality. We also have a section leader for the dobros and guitars.

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McElmurry, great comments. Thanks for sharing what has worked for you.

Re: Advice/Suggestions on Starting a New House Session and Qualities of a Good Session Leader

The "…Qualities of a Good Session Leader" are remarkably similar to those of a lion tamer in the circus:

1) Bullwhip

2) Chair

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My mistake, those are the ‘accoutrements’ "of a Good Session Leader".

Re: Advice/Suggestions on Starting a New House Session and Qualities of a Good Session Leader

Ha! Nice SWFL Fiddler. ;) Lion and chair, check. Now for a suitable bullwhip…..