Session etiquette: what to do when a guitar-player just won’t keep quiet?

Re: Session etiquette: what to do when a guitar-player just won’t keep quiet?

Chris Smith has some recommendation for session dynamics. I have no experience myself dealing with that kind of problem. Good luck, hope it won’t get too unpleasant. My advice is to talk to this guy sooner rather than later…

Re: Session etiquette: what to do when a guitar-player just won’t keep quiet?

My experience is that subtle hints rarely get through to the offender in these cases. But most of us would rather not risk hurting someone’s feelings by suggesting that they tone down their playing.

What to do? Try the direct route first (and sooner than later). Talk to him one-on-one in private. Tell him that you speak on behalf of several people at the session who agree that his contribution to the session would be more welcome if he controlled his volume and speed. A rule of thumb to suggest is that if he can’t hear everyone else in the circle, he’s playing too loud. (Bear in mind that some musicians really do have hearing problems–he may be playing loudly because he can’t hear himself very well. If that’s the case, he needs medical attention and possibly a hearing aid, which will extend both the quantity and quality of his playing years.)

If he continues to play too loudly or speeds up, stop playing at that point and tell him that what he’s doing is disrupting the session for everyone else.

If all else fails, agree as a group to cordially but firmly tell him he’s not welcome until he learns to play WITH people instead of against them. If a person can’t learn to blend in, and his or her playing disrupts the session, then the whole circle is better off without them.

In short, focus on the offending behavior, not the character of the person behind it. Some people have good intentions but don’t realize how disruptive their playing is. They can become terrific assets to the session. So start out by giving him the benefit of the doubt. If he fails to heed the advice, be clear that the behavior is the problem.

Banish the behavior, not the person.

Please let us know how this all pans out for you. Your experience will help others deal with similar issues.

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Re: Session etiquette: what to do when a guitar-player just won’t keep quiet?

Ger, who is the session leader? That’s the appropriate person to deal with this, really, and part of the job description. Will’s advice is very good, whoever has to talk to the guy. Better to lose him even if he is good if he can’t play WITH everyone rather than against them.

There’s a local session here where we have a similar problem (except that the person ISN’T very good, and therefore the loud factor makes it all the worse), and the session leader just won’t deal with it. As a result, all the good players are leaving that session. Sad.

Good luck – and DO let us know how it all turns out.


Re: Session etiquette: what to do when a guitar-player just won’t keep quiet?

All that failing, enlist the help of a piano accordion player.

Re: Session etiquette: what to do when a guitar-player just won’t keep quiet?

Man that is touchy! Dealt with that myself. I hated to do it but after myself and others trying to be nice I finaly said “Man you need to back off!” It was not pleasant, but for the sake of the session, (Hey, a new phrase? “The sake of the session”) it had to be done. The offending party got a little pissed and left, but now does show up for sessions, but he/she keeps their distance.

I think the thing to stress is that it’s not a matter of “We don’t like you.” , it’s a matter of “We’d like to continue playing music with you but can you tone it down a bit?” If that does not work, I guess the next step is being blunt. Not an easy thing to do.

Good luck!

Re: Session etiquette: what to do when a guitar-player just won’t keep quiet?

Funny, I had a similar experience.. ( I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before…) and I was the one to bear the bad tidings. The offending guitar player didn’t show his face for months, and then when he did come back, I got the iciest of sarcastic smiles…

It’s not a bad thing to ask a guitar player to tone it down. There should be an inherent understanding amongst guitar players that what they are doing is accompaniment, not the main attraction. If that understanding does not exist then someone has to point it out. Maybe a few people. He’ll get it eventually.

Try this: “Would you mind playing a bit quieter? I’m having trouble following the melody.” It’s like cold water. Just jump right in. Don’t think too hard about it, and don’t take it too seriously. If you’ve been brooding over the proper approach and discussing it with the other musicians for months before anyone gets up the courage to talk to him, it will show. He will feel not just knocked down a notch, but conspired against and ostracized. Better if the most courageous of your session players just blurts it out casually one day between tunes.

Re: Session etiquette: what to do when a guitar-player just won’t keep quiet?

Ah guitar players. Can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ’em.

maybe I should stress the point that the human tendency to seek “back-up” in times of conflict is counter-productive in terms of coming to an agreeable resolution. I’ve often noticed, in personal verbal conflict, “I think you’re being unreasonable” soon becomes “Everyone thinks you’re being unreasonable” when things heat up. Whether this is true or not, if I’ve been fairly confident of the logic and soundness of my view up to that point, my foundation is rocked ( “Oh no - who? what did they say? WHO thinks I’m unreasonable? Why?”)

It’s best to speak for yourself, and only for yourself. The idea of secret, exclusive social proceedings where a collective opinion has been decided upon before singling someone out is EXTREMELY psychologically damaging. We shouldn’t be afraid to speak, think, or act alone.

Re: Session etiquette: what to do when a guitar-player just won’t keep quiet?

Kerri, I agree. It’s healthy to be able to stand up for your own reasoned and reasonable standards and tell someone else that their behavior is distracting or disruptive. And it’s risky to assume that you speak for other people unless you’ve all agreed on exactly what to say.

In some cases, though, I think it helps to do a reality check with other (reasonable) players in the circle to make sure that the offending behavior really is bothersome. I’ve seen one person take it upon themselves to confront a person about behavior that didn’t bother anyone else, and they ran off a perfectly nice, well-behaved musician whom the rest of us would’ve welcomed to the session any time. But she won’t come back now.

On a slightly different tangent, I’d like to hear other people’s experiences in trying to limit the number of guitars/bouzoukis/bodhrans playing at one time. It doesn’t seem to matter how good they are, more than two of any of these tends to muddy the sound. Do any of you have this problem at your sessions? Do you even view it as a problem? What do you do about it?

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Re: Session etiquette: what to do when a guitar-player just won’t keep quiet?

Will, I’ve never tried to limit the number of guitars at a session, but I do find it irritating to have more than one. 90 per cent of the time they are playing completely different chords. Of course it’s going to muddy the sound! Fortunately, most of the bodhran and guitar players that come to the sessions I go to have a firm grasp on basic accompanist etiquette. Those that don’t - well, maybe some of them are reading this post!

I did lean over to a good friend who was monopolizing the guitar accompaniment position while another guitar player was sitting patiently with his instrument on his lap and say “maybe if you took a break, ______ could play for a while.” She was a bit shocked, but it was clear she didn’t mean to be rude. She just didn’t know he was waiting for a chance to play.

I think the best course of action is to mention it in passing. Maybe over at the bar in casual conversation… “It sounds kind of muddy with two accompanists playing at the same time, doesn’t it?” or the blunter approach “You guys are both good, but you’d be better if you took turns instead of fighting each other.”

This subject is a touchy one for me - a single dadgad guitar deftly played with a gentle touch takes the music to a whole other level for me. It can be such a beautiful thing, but it’s so often maligned and abused I’d rather not have a guitarat all than have two guitars, or loud guitars, or a-rhythmic, faltering, searching guitars. Definitely, one at a time! Might not seem fair to the guitar players of the world that one guitar is sufficient to accompany three pipers, six fiddles and a concertina, but that is the cruel fate that awaits those who choose to stray from the solid unifying force of the melody and into the uncertain realm of rhythm.

Re: Session etiquette: what to do when a guitar-player just won’t keep quiet?

well if he’s really getting in the way tell him to keep it down, if he can’t accept that than he’ll learn when 10 other people tell him the same thing down the road. He’ll learn. Try to save face & not come across nasty - but let him know he’s screwing up the craic. Some sessions tend to be way too passive agressive - I personally think a little forward advice is better than side stepping & ending up talking about someone behind their back ’til they figure it out.

Re: Session etiquette: what to do when a guitar-player just won’t keep quiet?

Ah, well, that’s where it comes in handy running a slow, learner’s session. It doesn’t matter how many of what we have playing (even bodhrans), but I DO try to make sure I mention at least once a month that this is not normal session behavior. Accompaniment wise, the trouble is usually when you have an accompanist who likes the big chords trying to play along with an accompanist who likes the fancy chords. I think it’s easier for the fancy chord person to watch their chord choices rather than make a big chord player try to gussie something up – sometimes it’s that they’re not capable of that.

I generally make sure that all accompanists know that they should try not to clash on chord choices, and being sensitive to what the other is doing is the best way to do that. It’s part of playing with a group.

Same thing for bodhran players. I pretty much don’t have to worry about it too much, but basically I’ve told players that it’s best to stick to simplish, basic stuff rather than anything too fancy when there’s more than one. I also mention that it’s usually one guitar and one bodhran to about every 7-10 of every other kind of player.

We haven’t had to worry too much about folks stepping away from this bunch of philosophy. I guess Dirk and I are pretty firm about what’s allowed and not allowed in this sort of session. We send lots of people to our webpage, and we have our particular session etiquette posted up there, so they generally come in knowing what to expect.


Re: Session etiquette: what to do when a guitar-player just won’t keep quiet?

Yup, Zina, that’s one direction we’re heading is to keep this new slow session running so everyone can play and learn, and not feel excluded. But that begs the question of what we’ll do with seven more experienced and eager guitarists a year from now when they all descend on the regular session expecting to play…. 🙂

And Brad, I didn’t have to guess that passive agressive would be low on your list of options. I agree, the direct, courteous but firm route is best. (P.S., I honestly hope I didn’t twist your bow hairs with my response to the H’s of Brooklyn. Please let me know one way or the other.)

Kerri, with your permission, I’d like to circulate your last paragraph to our local accompanists–an honest and to-the-point perspective about accompaniment from someone outside our sequestered little circle. Sometimes it helps people to hear a message if it’s not always from the same person (me).

Thanks all for the input. I wonder if we’ve helped Ger at all……

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Re: Session etiquette: what to do when a guitar-player just won’t keep quiet?

Hi boys,

I can see all of you have your points, and I agree with almost everyone of you, but I think you forget a very important thing: EVERY musician attending a session (no matter how good or bad she/he is) wants to play ALL THE TIME, Don’t they?. People playing melody simply CAN’T play all the time if they don’t know all the tunes. Accompanist CAN.
Probably most of you know how fustrating is being in a session and not to play ‘cause you don’t know the tune. So I can understand they want to play all the time. I know it’s hard to cope with, as many guitar / bodhran (etc.) players are not good enough to do many variations or, let’s put it this way, more interesting things.
We have in our a local session a !HURDY GURDY

Re: Session etiquette: what to do when a guitar-player just won’t keep quiet?

Toni, afraid I have to completely disagree with you on a couple points. A) Not every musician wants to play all the time. I went to a session this very night and sat with my fiddle on my lap for twenty minutes before I decided to go to the bar and just listen. I couldn’t keep up, so I gracefully bowed out, and still had a fantastic time. At this session, when you don’t know a tune at least well enough to fake it, you stop playing. End of story. Every musician there stops when they know they don’t fit. (Or, if they are fiddlers, they play inaudibly). That’s what makes it a “session” as opposed to a “jam”.

B) An accompanist can NOT play “all the time” any more than a melody player can. It is still necessary to know where the tune is going and not get completely lost when it takes an unexpected twist. If a guitar player who doesn’t know the tune can still bash away at it, playing questionable chords, why can’t a melody player bash away at it, playing questionable notes? Would that be pleasing to the ear? three pipers just kind of guessing at the tune?

RE: “spoiling the fun” - it isn’t really supposed to be “fun” for everyone. In this context, it’s supposed to be fun for people who play traditional Irish music. Not sitar players and electronica programmers and tap dancers. Why does it also have to be fun for guitar players who don’t know how to play with ITM? If everyone’s just bashing away taking educated guesses it’s not really traditional Irish music any more and the people who came for that reason are no longer having fun. Some sessions do have more of an atmosphere of free-for-all than others and possibly in a perfect world it can sound like crap and everyone still goes home happy, but there is always a core group of dedicated players who keep the session alive, and they should be allowed … nay, encouraged! to shape the session as they please. What’s wrong with the beauty of the music trumping the enjoyment of a couple bad guitar players if that’s the kind of session the host wants to have?

The point is, know what kind of session you’re at and respect the craic that was established long before you sauntered in with your calliope looking for a good time.

by the way, yes, will, you can use any of my rantings any time you like. Also, I should point out that I was once very bad, but even then I didn’t want to play all the time. I often listened and learned more.

Re: Session etiquette: what to do when a guitar-player just won’t keep quiet?

Right Kerry, I should have said accompanist THINK they CAN play all the time. I agree with you on that.

As for not playing when you can’t keep the pace or don’t know the tune, I don’t play either. I’d rather sit, have a few drinks and listen than spoiling the craic. But, on a regular session like the one I go to, where there’s no musicians much better than others, and the repertoire is basically common ground, everyone tend to play as much as they can. That’s what I meant.

Ger, I agree with Sharron’s suggestion because I’ve experienced something similar. Whenever the guitar or bodhran player (or piper) speeds up someone else speed up as well, so eventually all of us are rushing and struggling because we can’t really play at that speed. So the solution might be NOT speeding up just because someone does so, and let him realise he’s ruining the tune.

Re: Session etiquette: what to do when a guitar-player just won’t keep quiet?

Can somebody please tell me where this strange idea that one has to play all the time comes from? What is it? Kind of a status symbol? Do you need it for your ego? “I know 99.9 % of all the tunes played in my session and you know only 75. I am the better player…!”

If we listen closely to recordings of the music of any group playing ITM (well, except ceilidh bands!), we find that most of the sets are arranged one way or the other. In the simplest cases the arrangements are based on the decision of which instrument does play or not play the first time around on any new tune in a set. What do you think why they do that? Because the others have forgotten the tune and need a reminder?

My personal opinion: if a person thinks he/ she has to play all the time only because he or she knows the tune, then there is still a lot of homework left to do. If somebody plays a tune you know, why not leave him alone for a whole time through and then really add some punch to the music when you join in the second time around. After all, you know the tune, so you really know what you are doing. It

Re: Session etiquette: what to do when a guitar-player just won’t keep quiet?

Kerri hit the mark up there in her response to Toni. Yes, a session is supposed to be fun for as many people as possible, but “fun” here means playing a fairly specific set of tunes (in the grand scheme of Afro-pop to Jazz), in a fairly specific style, and–with a little luck–at some level of competency so it sounds good.

People who join in despite not knowing the tunes or style of playing, and not having control of their instrument, and not understanding the crack and the expectations of the rest of the group–these people *make it less fun* for the people who do know what they’re doing. So, yes newbies and learners are usually welcome, but only if they play quietly and don’t disrupt the overall flow.

Bottom line: if you haven’t learned your chops yet, keep practicing. Join or start a slow session. But please don’t crash the regular session expecting to bask in the spotlight and warm reception.

So, Sharron, I’d suggest that a session is not required to be democratic, all-inclusive, or “fair.” That would be a free-for-all, what one of our players calls a “brawl.” You go home feeling musically beat up and abused, not happy. In fact, the only ones who apparently enjoy such catastrophes are the players who weren’t aware of how much havoc they were wreaking. I’ll respectfully ask you, is it “fair” to good players to expect them to welcome someone into the circle just because s/he has seen Riverdance and now owns an “expensive” $50 bodhran?

Part of the problem we’re talking about here is that a FEW people apparently have no shame. They will insert themselves, like bed bugs, wherever they can. It takes only one to ruin an otherwise promising evening of tunes.

I’d also caution against using studio recordings as a frame of reference for playing at a session. Yes, I sit out tunes at our local session, but it’s not to swoop in later for some arranged sense of effect. When I sit out, it’s to take a break, to visit with a friend or new face at the bar, to listen to another player, to give my fingers a rest, to thank the bartender for another fine pint and slip a fiver into her tip jar, etc. Sometimes I’ll let a tune go by and join in on the next one, but again, it’s not because I’m trying to “arrange” the music. To me, that completely goes against the grain of what a session is all about. It seems wrong to try to force or plan spontaneity. It seems wrong to me to even begin to think that way when playing at a session. Save it for that stage concert next month.


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Actually, the thing about Sharron’s response (Sharron, PLEASE don’t take this personally–I just have to disagree with you on this) that got under my skin was the comment about not all of us being born with the right instincts or gifts on our instruments.

Frankly, I don’t know ANYONE who is born with those. *That’s the point.* We worked our fingers off, playing for years and years and slaving over rolls and triplets and cuts and timing and memorizing hundreds of tunes and bleeding till the callouses built up–and LISTENING even more hours than we played–so we could play this music with some level of confidence. And then some rookie walks in and bangs out boom-chukka bluegrass chords and jazzy little bass runs all over our tunes, and we’re supposed to be humble and gracious and welcoming and careful not to offend THEIR sensibilities.

Yes, a session can be a warm, friendly place. (Despite my outburst here, people tell me I run one of the most friendly, open sessions they’ve ever been to–maybe they don’t get out much 🙂. But to survive, a session also has to have some boundaries. It’s GOOD to set those boundaries. Let’s not insult those better players (who keep the tradition and the tunes alive by sheer dint of their ability to play engaging music) by insisting that they dust off a seat for every Johnny-on-the-spot.

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Re: Session etiquette: what to do when a guitar-player just won’t keep quiet?

Well, so long as everyone else is ranting…. hehehe

See, this is why I have issues with people who think there’s no such thing as session etiquette. There is an etiquette, just like there’s an etiquette for inviting some friends over for pizza, it’s just not a very formal etiquette.

As Will says, there’s no such thing as a democratic session, nor is there supposed to be. My own discovery on this was that if you let a bunch of experienced musicians get into a session, they’ll automatically default to letting one or two of themselves play session leader. If you let a bunch of inexperienced musicians who don’t know any better get into a session and they try to keep it democratic, eventually things turn into chaos, and someone either falls into the role of session leader anyway and starts imposing some standard of some sort or other, or things get chaotic, and someone’s feelings get hurt, or whatever.

As Kerri has said about her own session of way experienced and expert Clare players, if you don’t know the tune, you either stop playing or you play inaudibly. That’s pretty much supposed to be a given in the world of ITM, and let no one tell you different, although of course if you’re in an area with no real ITM players, how would you know? But let’s face it, if you suddenly found out that no real ITM player would ever consider doing a certain thing, wouldn’t you stop doing it if you wanted to be considered a real ITM player? Geting dogmatic about it, it makes me crazy when people say stuff like “well, this is MY version of Irish traditional music, and I’m doing it this way even though I now know that no one would ever do it this way out in the real world.” Well, that’s fine, but it’s not really Irish traditional music then, and so long as we all know that, then great, have at it. (We’ve had long drawn out discussions about how fast you can change a traditional music form musically. I’m not sure we ever discussed if you can change the culture around ITM and still have it be ITM.) ITM is inextricably bound up in the culture it comes from. I myself do not run a true ITM session, I run a learning session in which people learn about real ITM sessions. That’s stated clear and loud, and whenever we move away from the Irish way of doing it, I tell our sessioneers that so they don’t go embarassing themselves elsewhere. (Like knowing how many guitars or bodhrans to how many melody players, for instance.)

Many bodhran and guitar players who are considered expert will not play on a tune out in public if they don’t know the tune – it’s part of what makes them expert. (Fooling about is another deal – especially if it’s prefaced with a “well, I don’t know this tune, but I’ll give it a try – let me hear it once through first…”)

Is it an unforgiveable sin to transgress on these non-written rules of etiquette? Of course not. How were you to know if you’ve never done it before? Somebody has to tell you. Your parents told you (probably with mixed success, at least in my case) how life is supposed to go when you were a kid. You didn’t go into life cold, knowing how to handle every situation. Why should anyone know how to handle the Irish TM session? Not even the Irish know that. No one should ever make a player feel badly about not knowing the etiquette of a situation.

A player who DOES know the etiquette of that particular session and then transgresses, though… that’s another story!

Have I gotten over my quota of cents worth yet? Probably. *grin*


Re: Session etiquette: what to do when a guitar-player just won’t keep quiet?

Just in case it’s not clear from my previous “rant,” I agree completely with Zina–your first transgression is instantly forgiven and as a session leader I will gladly and politely offer to explain our session etiquette. But make the same mistake again, or repeatedly, and you will see me squirm to remain polite until it (and possibly your instrument case 🙂 goes out the window.

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Re: Session etiquette: what to do when a guitar-player just won’t keep quiet?

Just one more, I promise! I want to weigh in with Will about the enormous investment of time and effort we all must put in so we can one day be really, really good. Most of that is *supposed* to happen at home. The melody players have spend countless hours learning tunes in their living rooms. I realize that’s tough for an accompanist with no-one to accompany. Here’s a suggestion: if you play guitar and don’t know the tunes, ask the players if you can record a session or two. Then when you go home, you have something to play to and you don’t have to do all you experimentation in public.

The idea that everything should be “fair” and “fun” and that everyone contributes just as much as the next person to a session ignores the thousands of hours some people have invested and bring with them every time they play. How can the contribution of someone who’s maybe had two lessons and a few hours to practice equal the contribution of someone who’s been playing twenty years, teaching, slogging out every week rain or shine to make sure the session stays alive - comes with a sheaf of tune scores for anyone who asks - has spend a lifetime accumulating a particular skill and is an absolute joy to hear totally unaccompanied… These people ARE the tradition. They’ve earned a bit of deference and respect.

No more ranting for me… I’m finally spent!

Re: Session etiquette: what to do when a guitar-player just won’t keep quiet?

Okay, so let’s look at it this way: if a person gave a party of mainly really good friends with lots of back history, and a friend invited you, a stranger to most of these people, along because they wanted you to get to know them, how would you behave?

Would you chime in on each and every conversation, extolling loud and long on every subject? Make your way into every grouping of people at the party and say your piece, insisting on full participation at every moment? Consider that that person’s home was your home and look in all their drawers in the bathroom closet?

Of course not. But that’s what many of the more ignorant of newbie players tend to do at a session when they want to play on each and every tune and set. So be wary of how you go bulling into someone else’s session.


Re: Session etiquette: what to do when a guitar-player just won’t keep quiet?

Point taken, Will. And I (hopefully not surprisingly) agree with you. If at our session somebody started ordering people when to join in and where to leave out, I

Re: Session etiquette: what to do when a guitar-player just won’t keep quiet?

On the positive side:

The best accompaniment I’ve ever played with came from someone who made it clear that the point of their existence at the session was to listen and respond to what the melody players were doing. (The worst was someone who insisted, musically, that we all listen and respond to his loudness, speed, and experimental chord choices–an exact reversal of the usual roles of lead and back-up.)

A good guitar or bouzouki player can bring real cohesiveness to an ensemble, helping all the melody players hear the same chord colorings and so giving some common sense of what notes to emphasize. Same with rhythms. A good accompanist helps bond the group into a common sense of lift or swing or drive, depending on the tune.

Of course, good melody players don’t usually *need* this kind of help, but sometimes they do, and at many sessions, where player abilities range widely, good accompaniment is precisely the kind of glue that can bring lesser players up to a new level.

More than once I’ve appreciated the lush “cover” a guitar or bouzouki affords, when the fiddle’s a little rusty, or you’re just getting warmed up. And it’s easier to relax when someone else giving you a great beat to lean into.

Maybe these potential benefits are what make bad accompaniment so frustrating–you can imagine how good it might be. And the truly talented and appreciated accompanist does all this quietly, unobstrusively, without drawing attention to it–that’s the point. I’m glad to know a few such souls….and I suspect that many of the contributors to these discussions here fall into such a class of player.

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Re: Session etiquette: what to do when a guitar-player just won’t keep quiet?

Ooh, Will, you came close to another good point without actually getting to it, so one more quick rant and I’m through!

RE: the quiet truly talented, unobtrusive, appreciated accompanists mentioned above. THESE are the people who know two guitars is one too many and they will likely bow out if they have to choose between asking a novice to put away his axe or just drifting over to the pinball machine. Instead of worrying about scaring the beginners away, we should worry about scaring the masters away. One day they might just stop coming if they never get a chance to play.

Re: Session etiquette: what to do when a guitar-player just won’t keep quiet?

Actually, Kerri, I thought I was making that point, as part of the overall line of the thread. But that’d be me, flat on my face about 10 yards short of the finish line…🙂

Sharron, I know it’s a disadvantage to start from scratch. But I still think you’re not giving credit to the fact that EVERYONE starts from scratch at some point. I learned an instrument as a kid. I put thousands of hours and sweat and blood and tears into it back then. I should hope it pays off now when I try to learn a new instrument.

All I’m saying is that MOST of those “naturals” out there, who appear to be “born with a gift,” actually just worked really, really, really hard at it for a long time. The Yo-Yo Ma’s of the world are rare indeed. The rest of us have to work for every little advance. Don’t kid yourself that you’re somehow less talented–it may just not have blossomed yet, or you may not have uncovered the direction your musical talent will take you. It will come.

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Re: Session etiquette: what to do when a guitar-player just won’t keep quiet?

Right, Will, I guess you were. I just wanted to stress the added point that the truly competent players won’t be joining the free-for-all or competing for the role, thus depriving all the novices of an excellent opportunity to learn by example.

Re: Session etiquette: what to do when a guitar-player just won’t keep quiet?

Taken as rude not to play on a tune just because you know it!? In Ireland and in places with the ITM traditions firmly in place, it’s not uncommon to hear a great player stop everyone else in their musical tracks, because they want to hear what that person is doing with it. I’ve even heard people say that it’d be a crime to interrupt with their own poor playing. (Not that they play poorly.) And fetching another pint is a good reason not to be playing a tune that you know. And so is having a conversation with a good friend. Or looking out the window. Or contemplating the universe from the sofa at the back of the session. Or being unable to play because you sprained a wrist. Or just not feeling like playing is also a good reason not to play even if you know the tune..

A session is really an excuse to get together with your friends doing something you enjoy together – the music isn’t more important than that. Kevin Glackin told me last November that some of the best sessions with the best crack that he’s attended have been evenings when no one opened an instrument case. I don’t think that’s rude. I think that’s enjoying your friends’ company. Sessions filled with Iroids who want to do nothing but the music music music all night long aren’t actually sessions, not sessions in the ITM tradition, anyway. You’ve got to leave room for the crack!

Though I’d still have to say that someone who consistently transgresses upon the behavior acceptable at a given session should be spoken to. Hinting round isn’t kind, and neither is letting that person make an ass of themselves all unaware. Neither are all of the inevitable jokes and insults about that person behind their backs while all this is going on. Much better to “help them learn” correct behavior for that particular session by just letting them know off-hand and/or privately that another behavior might net them more friends and better results.

Yo-Yo Ma is indeed gifted. However, he also puts in and has put in many many hours of blood, sweat, and tears on his art and craft. It only looks effortless.

Sharron, I teach Irish stepdancing to both adults (our oldest dancer was, I believe, in his late sixties) and children. Over and over again, my students have demonstrated something to me that you must understand before you can become a champion dancer (or even just a decent one)….and that is that 70-80% of dancing takes place in your head. What you believe about your dancing is what will come true.

I find this has many parallels with learning music.

I really encourage you to stop thinking that you are handicapped because you’re older and because you never took music lessons as a kid or young adult.

First off, you never formed some of the habits that some of us others might have (ever tried to get rid of auto-vibrato in a classical violinist trying to become a fiddler? it took me FOREVER), and you’re starting from a much cleaner slate, one that you can fill with ITM background now.

Second and most importantly, what you tell yourself is what you tend to believe. The more you tell yourself that you are not as nimble-fingered or quick of ear or mind as a kid or someone who has already put in the work you’re putting in now, the more it will be true.

That’s why we do not allow the word “CAN’T” in class. You may have problems with something, or difficulties, but you may not say that you can’t do anything. (Except saying you can’t say can’t! – did I mention that I teach kids as well?!)

Try it for six months, and I promise you, you’ll soon get addicted to the process of never thinking negatives about what you might be able to do. You wouldn’t allow anyone else to put yourself down like that. Why should you allow yourself to do it either?


An Incident During a Session

Place: The Sidmouth Folk Festival
Year: 1982
Venue: The Anchor (the only pub in town where Irish music is tolerated, the festival

Re: Session etiquette: what to do when a guitar-player just won’t keep quiet?

Wow ! How many things I missed in just a weekend. This is exactly why I LOVE this site. This experiences and knowledge sharing that makes you learn an awful lot of things.
Jorg, I cannot agree the most with you. Every session is different from another and communication between players is VERY important.
A couple of weeks ago a new musician came to our modest session and after 10 minutes of it he said: ‘You guys don’t talk much’. And he’s absolutely right. I really think our session lacks this part of the craic (talking, joking, laughing, etc.). And sometimes (fortunately not very often) I walk back home after the session with the feeling of not having had enough fun.
And, as Zina said, after reading all the postings on the subject, I eventually understand that THERE IS (or at least there MUST BE) a session etiquette for the sake of the session.

Re: Session etiquette: what to do when a guitar-player just won’t keep quiet?

Sharron, I understand that this is pretty nit-picky, but…

I assure you that it *isn’t* harder for an adult to learn music, nor is it more work than for someone younger or more experienced, and it doesn’t take more time, either. It takes the same amount of time and effort, overall. Yes, some people have great coordination between their ears and their fingers and their technique, but overall, it works out to just about the same amount of practicing and working at it. Unfortunately, there’s no way to explain this to you. It’s something that you’ll realize (oh, how I hate this sentence) as you get more experienced at the music. It sort of proves your “ah-ha” theory of realization, though. 🙂

Welcome back, Toni – I wondered where you were!


Re: Session etiquette: what to do when a guitar-player just won’t keep quiet?

Thanks Zina,

I just went out of town for the weekend. But in normal conditions, as I don’t have a permanent internet connection for my computer ( I must fix that) I don’t visit very often the site during weekends. While I’m at work I do have a permanent connection to the Internet, but my working hours match your (american people) sleeping hours, which is very inconvenient.
Another incovenient is that sometimes I don’t know how to express myself properly in English, so I’m sometimes misunderstood. I must say though that talking to you guys improve my english a lot.

By the way, how’s the Mighty Craic project going? I’m really looking forward to listen to everybody’s contribution.


Re: Session etiquette: what to do when a guitar-player just won’t keep quiet?

Okay. It’s a well-known theory that human beings have a window of time as youngsters when their brains are more “teachable,” especially for things like language and music. Parts of our brains are activated by early exposure to music and second languages. Some studies suggest that these same regions of the brain end up dedicated to other tasks if that exposure doesn’t happen before a certain age (usually 10 or younger).

So the theory says it that it can be more difficult for adults who weren’t exposed as kids to pick up a second language or learn music. I’ll buy off on that, to a degree.

But Sharron’s argument above goes beyond what the studies suggest to echo what I’ve heard from way too many classically oriented musicians–if you don’t start when you’re young, you’ll never be good enough to perform at the professional level. I think that’s rubbish. It makes me angry because it kills otherwise good musicians before they’ve even had a chance. And it goes to the heart of what Zina is saying–that you will become what you expect of yourself.

If you honestly believe that you’ll never get that good, then you won’t. But if you’re willing to be more open to human potential and possibilities, your playing may exceed everyone else’s sanctimonious notion of the limits.

I first tried fiddle when I was 14. I soon gave up because a teacher told me that I had started 8 years too late to ever have a fluid bow arm, and my playing would never sound good, even for folk music. Then I gave it another try when I was 22. The teacher had a classical background AND a deep love for Irish music. She was taking lessons from Kevin Burke at the time. She scolded me for being negative about my prospects and helped me build a new can-do mindset.

Now, don’t take this next statement as bragging, but rather as evidence that your attitude makes a huge difference and anyone at any age can reach professional competency. The feedback I most often hear from top players (classical as well as Irish) is: “You have the most fluid, relaxed, smooth bow arm I’ve ever seen. You’ve played since you were very young.” When I tell them I didn’t start until my 20s, they don’t believe it. I’m as surprised as anyone because I’ve struggled all my life with arthritis and a nerve condition that affects my hands (in effect, having “old” joints even as a kid).

The person who predicted a limited future as a pianist for your daughter’s boy friend is misinformed and misguided (and in my opinion should be barred from contact with budding musicians). Yes, music can be hard. But it can also be easy, and they only way to play it easily is to believe that it is easy and that you can play it as well as what you hear in your head.

The path to musical fluency and mastery?

1. Do it for the love of it–as a way to reveal how good you feel when you play.
2. Play and listen for thousands of hours.
3. Play physically relaxed and mentally focused.
4. Be effortless (don’t *try* to be effortless or *act* effortless–just BE effortless).

The key is to play this way all the time, not just when performing, or just when practicing. There shouldn’t be a distinction. It’s ALL playing.

Yes, there are muscles to build and synapses to shape, and skills to learn. But even counting all that, playing music is at least 90 percent attitude.

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Re: Session etiquette: what to do when a guitar-player just won’t keep quiet?

I agree totally with Will. I considered dropping the subject as one of those things that you simply cannot convince someone else of when they’re convinced otherwise, but didn’t want anyone reading it to be discouraged or believe that they couldn’t possibly do what they wanted to do badly enough. Life is hard enough. Why throw roadblocks into your own way?


Re: Session etiquette: what to do when a guitar-player just won’t keep quiet?

Will, Zina,,,,,, I can’t add no more to it. Ya said it all. And well said it was.

You can’t put all folks in the same box.

Natural talent

Hi all,

I’ve been following this with a lot of interest and just wanted to add my comments (as always, feel free to disagree)🙂

I do not class myself as a good musician, but I have surprised myself at the things I’ve learned and the style that I have developed. I don’t agree that natural talent and young age are conducive to being a good musician, but I do believe that being in harmony with your chosen music will allow you to become better. The limits that we set are defined by the world around us and the time that we can spare. I am a terrible jig player, I lose thread and notes and I panic like you wouldn’t believe, but I can, and do, play some sets of airs that I know other people love to hear.

All this means is that I have some talent, just not for all music. But it never ceases to amaze me that when I don’t practice for a couple of days, that talent falls off very quickly.

For anyone who really wants to explore this, I would recommend the book Zen Guitar. I read it, took it to heart and found an immediate improvement in my satisfaction with my music. Surely that is the true measure for all of us…when you are happier with your own playing, your confidence increases and you no longer feel compelled to prove it to everybody else.


Re: Session etiquette: what to do when a guitar-player just won’t keep quiet?

What the heck is a “professional musician” anyway? Is that someone who gets paid to play music? I get paid to play, and I didn’t start playing fiddle until I was 23. I was getting paid to play within a year. Attitude IS everything. What kind of idiot tells a teenager he’s wasting his time? Who knows where his interest in music will take him! Is his teacher some kind of fortune teller? You should tell him that was a load of malarkey and he should find a new teacher. Buy him a few punk rock albums while you’re at it to rebuild his sense of possibility.

Boy that snooty classical elitism makes me mad! It’s all those ridiculously small minded ultimatums that keeps me steering clear of classical teachers (although I’m sure some of them are quite nice and it’s probably a case of a few unfeeling twits ruining the reputation of the well-meaning majority). Don’t let them get their soul-killing death grip on my future children!

Re: Session etiquette: what to do when a guitar-player just won’t keep quiet?

A professional musician???? Should we start a new discussion on this????

I’ve heard a lot of pathetic professional (paid) musicians, and some mighty good ones who never got out of their back yards (By choice) who were as good as Mr. Fraiser or Ms. MacMasters (Forgive my spelling of these names) and quite happy just to be able to play.

Re: Session etiquette: what to do when a guitar-player just won’t keep quiet?

Rock on, Kerri!

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Re: Session etiquette: what to do when a guitar-player just won’t keep quiet?

You mean, diffferent from that snooty traditional Irish elitism, Kerri? Heh. Idiots abound in all groups of humans. Sometimes they’re even us.


Re: Session etiquette: what to do when a guitar-player just won’t keep quiet?

Mark Twain once said, “A gentelman is one who know’s how to play a banjo, but chooses not to”.

Could be a lot of wisdom in that for any instrument given the certain circumstance.

Re: Session etiquette: what to do when a guitar-player just won’t keep quiet?

Apparently, it’s possible to find reason to be discouraged in just about anything we say. That’s an odd sort of scavenger hunt to go on, isn’t it?

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Re: Session etiquette: what to do when a guitar-player just won’t keep quiet?

Sorry, wasn’t meaning to be discouraging with the Mark Twain thing. (If that’s what you are talking about Will)


The form i know is: “Gentleman is someone who knows how to play the flute… and doesn’t.” There is probably a variation for every musical instrument.

Re: Session etiquette: what to do when a guitar-player just won’t keep quiet?

Heh Heh,

Most of the banjo jokes on my website are from lawyer jokes or acordian jokes.

Re: Session etiquette: what to do when a guitar-player just won’t keep quiet?

So, y’all, how about them Broncos? *grin*


Re: Session etiquette: what to do when a guitar-player just won’t keep quiet?

Tiny, I was referring to comments previous to yours. Sometimes we post over each other, not realizing someone else is online at the same time. You can quote Twain anytime.

One of my favorite banjo jokes is a Far Side cartoon of a conductor in front of an orchestra, and he’s tearing his hair out in frustration, yelling, “What’s that noise? What’s that noise?” Back in the horn section there’s a banjo player….

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Re: Session etiquette: what to do when a guitar-player just won’t keep quiet?

Thanks will!
I get a bit paranoid at times, bein’ the new guy here and all.

Re: Session etiquette: what to do when a guitar-player just won’t keep quiet?

You know, when I said I was getting paid to play, I specifically did NOT say I was “good”. There’s no reason anyone should be discouraged. Besides, I practiced 3 - 5 hours a day for that first year. Being a professional musician (for me, anyway) is only about 50 per cent skill or talent. Then 30 percent comfort on stage and willingness and enjoyment of being there that is contageous to the audience, and 20 percent will. (Not you, Harmon ;^D)

I wasn’t good at all. Believe it or not, there are hundreds of professional musicians in the world who aren’t any good. In fact, many musicians capitalize quite nicely on their badness. There are many ways to baste a tofu cat (the vegetarian alternative to skinning). Nobody should ever be discouraged just because one avenue seems sealed off. The world abounds with opportunity.

I like the Farside joke where the caption is something like “maestro hell” and the picture is of satan showing a guy in a tux into a room full of hicks with banjos.

I should add I find it quite rude to call musicians “pathetic” when they are not up to your standards but still have the courage and generosity to get up and try to entertain you. What did you do for them?

Re: Session etiquette: what to do when a guitar-player just won’t keep quiet?

Ouch! Fiddler on Vermouth that hurt!

It was a case of you had to be there. A sarcasam, or such.

When you have a bunch of guys on a flat bed trailer, all out of tune, and refusing any help of any kind, and as they play the audiance scatters because their ears are hurting due to a sound system that has been turned way too loud with a poor mix (sound man was provided by the offending band who also refused any help from anyone)

Yeah buddy, that was pathetic…..

I was the one who caught the sound mans wrath when suggesting he might turn down the reverb.

Re: Session etiquette: what to do when a guitar-player just won’t keep quiet?

Oh yeah, they were paid quite well which qualified them as Paid Professionals I suspect.

A lot can be said for acting professionaly as well as performing professionaly.

That’s what seperates the real professionals.

Re: Session etiquette: what to do when a guitar-player just won’t keep quiet?

Another “Oh Yeah”,

I would have to admitt, once I was just like those pathetic individuals on that flat bed. (Read my discussion in “What’s a Professional musician).

I feel that when a person’s focus is put only upon themself and there is no concern for their band mates, or session mates, or those poor un-sung heros behind the sound board, or anyone trying to help them do better, that’s pretty pathetic.

A good thing for any band member or session member to remember is there is no letter “i” in the word team.

Which all goes back to, what to do when a guitar-player won’t keep quite? Remind him/her that we’re a team.

I’ll shut up now and get off my soap box. I’m ready for scalding responses.

(whimper whimper)

Re: Session etiquette: what to do when a guitar-player just won’t keep quiet?

oops, sorry flyin’… I had a case of forgetting who said what. didn’t mean to snap at you… just got heated up about the imaginary gulf many people see between the haves and the have-nots. I’m trying to scrub it out so we can all see the innumerable ways we can be any kind of musician we want, no matter who we are, or how monetarily successful. bla bla bla.

Re: Session etiquette: what to do when a guitar-player just won’t keep quiet?

Well said Fiddler on Vermouth! The bottom line is what you said. We are in control of what kind of musician we are. Hey, you should add that to the new discussion on “What’s a musician”.


Re: Session etiquette: what to do when a guitar-player just won’t keep quiet?

Hi All,

Hummm…I not sure I’m feelin’ a lot of “love” here…

I’m an third generation Irish American, and I am a Guitar player. (Guitar Players Anonymous?).

Been playing the instrument for about 40 years – TRAD a little over a year.

I know about Session Etiquette and follow it.

Yet still, I am reading that I better know my place as a “guitar” man.

It’s OK for half a dozen fiddles, four tin whistles, 3 flutes, and a piper to be playing – but the thing to do is to “limit” guitars, mandolins, bouzoukis and bodhrans …huh? So we won’t just “muddle up” your sound huh?

Sorry, I just don’t buy into it.

A session is NOT a professional performance.

It’s FUN.

I’ve been playing a lomg time too, and I’ve worked hard too. So I guess I have my perks coming also.

I don’t feel like a second class citizen and I don’t play like one.

Some of us need to be careful that we don’t take ourselves too seriously at session. We all have a right to play and/or to play well.

We have a right to ask new players to follow the session rules.

Let’s not also forget we are usually in a smoky bar, with a bunch of noisy, rude patrons making themselves known to us, and half don’t care if we play or not. We aren’t ther for them. We are ther for us.

Also, another issue that seems to happen – the really top players are usually pros, and play in an ITM band. When those guys and gals hit the session – what is supposed to happen? Hummmmm?

Well, the session usually turns into a performance as far as I am concerned, and the rest of us are O. U. T. out for the night.

This is sometimes KOOL, sometimes frustrating.

I also see little ’clicks“ develop and tend to “decend” on a session. Those players who practice together then come to the session and play all of their stuff.

If you get two of these groups at session – might as well go belly up to the bar ’cause very few of the lonesome players will have any play time.

But we do have to have some tolerance, and a lot of friendly consideration along with our Guinness pints.

It’s Just Fun. That’s what it is.
If it’s not – go play for money.

Thank you,

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Re: Session etiquette: what to do when a guitar-player just won’t keep quiet?

Well, to be frank, Greg, there’s sessions for everybody, it’s just a matter of finding one that works for you. There’ll always be different standards of what the music should be like at any given session, and it morphs and changes over time. For a lot of us, it’s just not FUN to be playing music with a guitarist who is playing full blast with no sensitivity to the rest of the group, because one overly loud guitarist can indeed overbear ten other players, especially if they don’t know what they’re doing with the chords. That’s not to say that you personally do that, I’m just saying that it happens quite a bit.

I also know of sessions that have become a desert, musically speaking, because a poor fiddler or box player or guitarist or whatever insists on taking over, or an established group of players take over a session (although in that case, where the heck is the session leader?). The good players start bailing out to the bar, and eventually they find another session to go to. Democracy at its most passive aggressive. “I don’t know what happened to this session, it used to be so fun…”

Basically, we are indeed there for us, not an audience, and people among “us”, whether they play guitar or flute or pipes or whatever, need to hew to the group “us” standards, whatever they are for that particular session, or they aren’t welcome, and why should they be? “Feeling the love” and tolerance has nothing to do with anything in that case.


Re: Session etiquette: what to do when a guitar-player just won’t keep quiet?


Oh yes, your issues and the other similar comments about common consideration surely ring true. I agree session etiqette is a must.

But…are we talking about “AN OPEN SESSION” here?

What I don’t buy into is the issue of limiting decent players from playing – which is one place I was headed with my comment. Even if there are 50 players and 30 are fiddles 10 are whistles, 10 are guitars, as silly as my example may be.

Perhaps I could have been more clear on that issue. As we all know, of course, there are many instruments that can be in a session at any one time – many.

Even if the session has 20 players, all can play.

But it’s up to the GROUP to enforce the etiquette. And etiqette is also “consideration” for all members “among” all members – even lowly guitarists, mandolins, bouzoukis, banjos, tenor guitars, and bodhrans.

We can all be the “Wind beneath Your Wings” even if the session may be rather windy that night. (He!)

And “Inconsideration” takes more than one form. Our proverbial guitarist in question here really could be ANY intrusive, ego-centric player. A guitar is not a “bull-horn”. Frankly, I could not typically overcome 7 fiddles, 5 flutes, 4 tin whistles, an acordian, a button box, two pipers and mandolins, bouzoukis and bodhrans – even if I wanted to, and I have a very good guitar.

Anyway, I hear many very loud fiddles, truthfully.
What about that piper who just can’t tuneup?
I also get pretty tired of session members jibber-jabbering to each other when other members are trying to play, don’t you?

But my point is, it’s up to the session members to police their ranks of ALL inappropriate “noice makers”.

It’s about playing TRAD, making MUSIC and having fun doing it.

No one should be allowed to spoil our fun.

And lastly, really, if it’s an OPEN SESSION – then it’s an open session. As long as the players remain considerate – no “one type” of instrument be limited.

If certain of these players referenced have their own esoteric reasons and adgenda for being there – then it’s time they head off to someones family room and play…


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Re: Session etiquette: what to do when a guitar-player just won’t keep quiet?

Well, I think we may have to agree to disagree there, Greg – a session that has over 10 players in it is just simply too big, in my head and version of the world, anyway! And we’ve argued around these parts rather vociferously about limiting kinds of instruments, and I’ll let you have the fun of searching the archives on your own for that!

It’s just too hard to define “decent player” – a decent player as compared to whom, exactly? And that’s why God gave us so many different kinds of session. Thank goodness. 🙂

This thread, by the way, was started in response to a real live actual post that is no longer there, you’ll note, about a real live situation that was covered in some depth in the original post. So we weren’t speaking hypothetically throughout most of this discussion. So if you’re wondering why we were being so vociferous and adamant about this situation you have no reference to, that’s why! Heh.


Re: Session etiquette: what to do when a guitar-player just won’t keep quiet?

Tell him to get a baritone ukulele and grow up…

Re: Session etiquette: what to do when a guitar-player just won’t keep quiet?

I found this searching for an answer to this question. As a chord player I found it very disturbing when a guitar player who knew nothing about the music crashed our session and played the wrong chords loudly. I guess everyone else in our group is kinder than me because no one said anything. I finally asked him not to play so loud because in a pub environment where it’s already hard to hear his bad chords and rhythm were making it hard for anyone else to hear each other.

Re: Session etiquette: what to do when a guitar-player just won’t keep quiet?

What about melody players who pick loud instruments (fiddle, concertina etc) and insist on tackling every tune irrespective of their familiarity with it??

Re: Session etiquette: what to do when a guitar-player just won’t keep quiet?

excatly what happen here :

except it’s not one guitarist but a bunch of chords playing randomly and it’s a bit mess… listen at the end of the recording. what to do when it’s more than 5 people who just don’t keep quiet ?…

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Re: Session etiquette: what to do when a guitar-player just won’t keep quiet?


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Re: Session etiquette: what to do when a guitar-player just won’t keep quiet?

@Ralex - that’s a classic for tune accompaniment debauchery!