Using sheet music or tablets at trad Irish sessions

Using sheet music or tablets at trad Irish sessions

Today’s technology (tablets, Tunepal, etc.) allows a player who doesn’t know a particular tune to determine the name of the tune and bring up the sheet music very quickly. We are seeing a few players bringing these tools to our trad session. We don’t want to discourage participation by being heavy handed, but would prefer musicians know the tunes. I’m wondering if anyone is seeing a change in the traditional etiquette that frowns on such things. Comments?

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well, the kids today don’t know anything except how to look stuff up on the interwebs, so you need to be firm and not allow that sort of thing. It is for their own good. Their poor brains are nothing but mush from the effects of those cellphones and a public education, so if you cave in now you are simply enabling the mushy headedness of this new generation

and remember: we need these young people to learn how to use their heads for something other than hat racks. They have to be competent enough to run the old folks homes they are going to throw us all in someday

now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go and turn the hose on some pesky kids. The school bus is due to come by shortly and I need to help the children learn to stay off of other people’s grass. I’m doing my part, so please do yours. We’re all in this thing together, and like they say these days…it takes a village.

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Set out your “house rules” clearly (and politely) and stick to them. Maybe point the tablet people to a slow session - if there is one.

Otherwise you risk morphing your session into something different.

Don’t procrastinate - tackle the issue quickly. Other wise they will say “no-one moaned before…”

My two-pennorth. Others may disagree.

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My local session allows it, and it’s not the youngsters with the tablets! It is a very relaxed session though. They’re cool with tablets and sheet music.

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a youngster is anybody under age 40. 🙂

actually, sheet music is a crutch and the sooner your learn to throw down your crutches and walk, the better

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No way could anyone keep up at our session with a tablet or sheet music. We run really fast.

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At my session I’m the youngest by at least 10 years, the only people who use Tunepal is one who is in his 30s, and one well past 50.

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Some of these folks are very experienced, and older, musicians who are relatively new to trad sessions, and can read dots at fast session tempos. Impressive, actually. It affects our sensibilities more than the music.

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I’ve never seen this in Ireland and hope I never will. Is it a North American phenomenon?

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Re: Using sheet music or tablets at trad Irish sessions

If these musicians are feeling unwell, I guess that it’s OK for them to carry on taking the tablets.

Otherwise … no!

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@Nate In the sessions I go to it is the older generation that is using tablets and sheet music. You can’t really do anything about without being rude I fear.

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I agree with Scutcher. I do not live in Ireland,but I do not want to see it when I visit a session.

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boyen, are you really trying to prove to me that people over 40 use tablets?

I mean really…you need to go down to Walmart and pick yourself up a sense of humor

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Anybody who brings such a device should be banished to the smoking area with a shaky egg and instructions to ‘find a tune for that!’

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Re: Using sheet music or tablets at trad Irish sessions

Scutcher posted - “I’ve never seen this in Ireland……”. Neither have I. Now if you’re playing Irish music, ponder on that statement.

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Re: Using sheet music or tablets at trad Irish sessions

The OP has listed a session in Sligo.

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Re: Using sheet music or tablets at trad Irish sessions

If I was the session leader, I’d ban it as diplomatically as possible, but it would be a banned in respect for those players who had bothered to learn the tunes, so they don’t have to wait around for someone to dial up the sheet music. Also, people generally keep better time when they’re listening to each other, and not trying to read at the same time. It helps maintain a better standard of playing for everyone.

If you’re not in a position to ban it outright (and would like to), then the passive-aggressive way to deal with it is just to avoid playing too many fixed sets, and start playing as soon as a tune or set is called. That doesn’t allow the readers time to scroll through a tablet or pile of sheet music. If you allow a pause for the readers to find their material, you’ll never be able to break them out of that mode.

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So what? Isn’t it all about the music? Used discreetly a device doesn’t have to get in the way. If somebody wants to look at his device and then plays beautifully, where’s the harm? I’ve been in sessions with some heavy hitters who, when they’re bored or don’t know the tune, check their email … but maybe they’re looking up the dots for the next tune they’ll be starting. It doesn’t seem to affect their playing. It does seem somewhat schizophrenic to me but it doesn’t have to stifle spontaneity.

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Well, it does tend to stifle spontaneity when the rest of the session has to pause, and wait for the readers to find their notes. If the readers are happy with letting the tune start and then catching up when they can, that’s great. If it becomes the norm that everyone will always wait for the readers before starting, then I think that would be death to the natural flow of a session.

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I disagree with David Levine on just about everything, but I do agree with him on this one 🙂

Re: Using sheet music or tablets at trad Irish sessions

Has anyone heard anybody playing beautifully from one of these devices?
Do any of the top players use one of these devices?

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I caved and began handing out sheet music at our tune-learning session. A lot of the folks who show up for that are transitioning from reading sheet music to learning by ear. I still teach tunes phrase-by-phrase, but it seems that giving them the music sped up their ability to pick up the tunes. And we don’t have as many just sitting there, overwhelmed. Anecdotal evidence suggests that sending a page of dots home with them focuses their practice on that tune, and hey, presto, a lot of them can play it without sheet music the next week. Whatever works. The point is to be able to include more musicians in the regular sessions, and if some ugly things happen behind the scenes, well, we just won’t talk about it. Making session sausage out here…

Still don’t see how you can use sheet music at a regular session. I’ve seen people show up and attempt it, but nope. I have been know to consult Tunepal to sort something out. Infernal devices, turning our brains to mush, along with age, substance abuse, cosmic rays, rock music, and binge-watching Game of Thrones.

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“If I was the session leader, I’d ban it as diplomatically as possible”

Be careful what you wish for. I started a beginners session last year and figured that after nearly year of playing tunes that the session should start “graduating” from sheet music. They refused, regrouped as a mediocre band and I voted with my feet and left. In the five months since I left, they’ve learned exactly one tune. They even went so far as to re-define what a session was to make it “okay” to use amplifiers, special effects, music stands, counting off each tune and only playing from sheet music including predefined immutable sets. The only thing missing would be disco lights and a mirror ball. It’s as totally unlike a session as anyone that’s been to a real one could imagine.

Re: Using sheet music or tablets at trad Irish sessions

@Michele, session sausage is a great term. I’m assuming the OP was asking about a “regular” trad session and to what degree the expectations might be evolving.

I used to help run a session where I maintained sheet music PDFs on a web site as a reference to help beginners and newcomers. We would occasionally bring sheet music to hand out if someone asked for it, as home study material away from the session. It’s also getting to be more common for a person to sit out a tune and hunt up the starting notes for a tune they “know” and want to call, but they need a quick reminder for the starting notes. Then they play it from memory. All of that is different from actually reading from the dots in the normal course of a session.

Re: Using sheet music or tablets at trad Irish sessions

Whoa, Jim… where did I go wrong? You have me worried now.

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I’m tellin ya, David, that sheet music is nothing but the Devil’s letterhead right there

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I have been to sessions where it was suggested that TunePal could tell me the names of the tunes so I could go home and learn them. I don’t think they would have accepted that the “dots” be played from whatever device was supporting TunePal though.

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Given that opportunities to play are scarce around here I realize that anything too restrictive will probably kill the whole idea. So, I’d rather play with with people who read, assuming they have some talent along that line, than play alone night after night.

I choose to do what I can to serve as an example and never (really, never) play with dots. I may learn a tune from the score and/or use dots as a memory aid, but only when I’m alone. I’ll suggest with kindness that if a player is talented enough to play with a score, they’re talented enough to play without one. It has more to do with commitment than talent to learn a tune, with how they see their place in the world at this moment. A couple of players have been receptive. Others, more, are just not in a place in their lives where playing without a score is important. No judgement intended, we all have separate lives and individual priorities. I have no right and no desire to play “My Way Is Better Than Yours”. Personally I agree with David. What comes out of your choice of manually operated pitch approximator is maybe more important than how it got in there.

Still I do think it’s annoying to wait for players to fumble through books or devices to find and earmark tunes in a set. Just as I don’t play from a score in a session, I don’t wait when I start sets. I do wait when somebody else starts one. That just seems fair to me.

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I suspect we know each other in meatspace, azmando. Would this be the session with the lady with the wooden sopranino recorder who actually licks the mouthpiece before launching off into a PDF-fueled, tablet based sightreading safari, whilst tonguing every note? Why even bother?

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"a youngster is anybody under age 40. 🙂

actually, sheet music is a crutch and the sooner your learn to throw down your crutches and walk, the better"

And like I said, it’s not the youngsters using the tablets at my session…they’re definitely in the 40+ age group so yes, people over 40 use tablets. Those that use them at our session are pretty respectful about it though. They don’t hold up the rest of the group, just find the right tune and join in when they’re ready; they also don’t use them on every tune, seems to be more on tunes that don’t get played much or are new to the group. Those who bring actual sheet music with them are a mixture of the younger and older crowd, though it seems all are accomplished classical violinists that are new to Irish trad. I’m not condemning or condoning it, just saying it works for our session (which, I should mention, is run as a slow/beginner session for the first hour) and I was told from the first time I went that it was acceptable.

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Somehow this sounds as if there is a large number of tablet users/sheet music readers at the session. If I were the host, I’d never ever encourage anyone using sheet music/tablets/etc. at the very session. They may learn tunes in any way they want, but not at the session. This doesn’t mean that my friends and I only play Donegal reels at full speed/crooked Ed Reavy&Paddy Fahy tunes/James Hill hornpipes in odd keys (the flatter, the better…;))/the newest from the Mike McGoldrick/Brian Finnegan catalogue and so on. The only times I’ve seen anyone use a tablet has been at very informal get-togethers at a friends house, and we’ve played a tune which not everyone knew. And there are people with sight-reading skills that can make the tunes sound pretty OK.

But I’ve never seen anyone use a tablet (or sheet music) in Ireland. However, I have seen beginners (elsewhere) struggle like there was no tomorrow, failing to keep up with tunes at just normal session pace.

I recently heard a fiddler complain like h*ll about an ITM workshop of a friend of mine. Something like “It was the WORST course I’ve ever taken. She wanted everyone to play BY EAR right from the beginning! Bring us the sheet music for God’s sake!”

Oh, the humanity.

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I agree with the “throw down your crutches and walk” sentiment. I was once dependent on the dots but trained my ear through hard graft and dedication. It made an enormous difference in my musical life, and I recommend it. The dots can be useful, but have no place in the rough and tumble of the session.

You will not find access to the nuances or the great moments that can happen in session playing if you’re concerned only with playing the correct notes in the correct order. There’s more to it than that!

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I wonder how dot dependent musicians think they can keep up with the spontaniety, sudden tune changes, other versions than what’s written. Just listen to any recording of any musician. Imagine having only one setting of a certain tune. Then, suddenly, the musician plays something that’s not written down! (OK, those who never use anything else than sheet music might not even hear that the musician does something else, but you see my point.) If a sheet music user wants to play along to tunes that aren’t written down, that have added beats (crooked Donegal settings), tunes in other (but common) keys than written - good luck.

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Jeff, in my experience they cannot keep up with the spontaneity, and are not afraid to make their dissatisfaction known. The idea that I might not know the name of the tune I’d like to start, or worse, I might accidentally start something other than what I’d intended to start, is very foreign to them. And most of them show no sign of ever actually learning the tunes by heart; they will stick to the iPad display of dots on tunes they’ve been playing for years.

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Here is my take on this, Being new to ITM and new to playing at sessions, my goal is learn the tunes that are being played and to play them by ear. But I also don’t want to hinder the session in any way. So I’ll sit a little in the back , play a little soft, listen, record and jot down the names of the tunes with the correct key. I want to be part of the session in a positive way. If a tune or set is being played out of my comfort zone, not playing is the best contribution I can make . I will then take all the information I have gathered and use that for at home practice, if I was to bring learning aides to a session my first concern is how it will impact the session first and foremost and I would never ask the other players to wait for me , I tell them to play ahead , any player that would hold up a session so he /she can find the music is just being rude in my book . If it’s a beginners or a slow session, that’s a different story, but I can’t see how you can learn to play by ear at a session unless you play by ear at a session . Even doing homework is contradictory, but even the same tune is played slightly different from session to session which is the beauty of it all , at least to me, but that’s just my two cents.

Re: Using sheet music or tablets at trad Irish sessions

Play the tunes twice through, at a decent pace. Anyone who wants to join in will learn the tunes, eventually. Unless it’s a beginner/learning session, there’s no reason to wait for them.

Plenty of players don’t know the names of all the tunes they play, so there’s no chance of looking up the tune anyway. (Climbs off hobby horse.)

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The problem I face (most often) is I don’t like noodling … I want to know the tune and play it at tempo with other musicians. If the tune is new, I’ll watch and listen and try to figure it out. Having “dots” (as you call it) in front of me is not a hindrance, as I can sight read as fast as you can play it, the only delay would be finding the tune(s) and getting them up and running …
I guess, in a nutshell, I’d rather know the tunes walking in the door, but since few sessions actually post a list of “often played tunes” I’m left with learning on the fly …

Re: Using sheet music or tablets at trad Irish sessions

You want to play baseball. You and all your friends play baseball. You put in a lot of time learning how to throw breaking balls, how to hit breaking balls, hit and run, steal, do pick-offs.

So some folks want to play, but they only want to play slow pitch softball? No problem letting them grab a mitt and stand in the outfield or take a turn at bat. But you don’t have to stop playing baseball to accommodate them. They have to learn to play baseball or do their own thing.

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Everyone learns tunes in different ways… Chill! Isn’t the idea of a session that you drop in and out when you can or feel like it? It’s all about the playing of music and enjoyment. Nothing wrong with dots or letters on pages to help people play great music!

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Nice analogy jason

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Pinkapaver, in traditional music, the traditions are actually important. There is a reason you don’t use sheet music. If you are reading the sheet, then you don’t know the tune, and if you don’t know the tune, then you can’t react to the spontaneity that is Irish session music. Nobody is trying to oppress anyone.

As I have already said, sheet music is a crutch and the sooner you throw down your crutches and walk the better off you will be. It might not be what a beginner wants to hear, but in the end they will be a better musician for it.

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If the gang is getting together to go trail riding, and you want to be one of the trail riders, don’t keep showing up with training wheels on your bike! 🙂

I mean, you can try it. But that is not trail riding.

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Good on you, dolly50, you’d be welcome to our sessions any time.

One session I drop in on has a fellah that’s been coming for years. He plays from his laptop, and he’s a decent sight reader so he can keep up fine once he is on the page. He doesn’t exactly kill the vibe, but it’s a negative experience. He is always asking for the name of the tunes and there’s sometimes a bit of a wait while he tries to find it. I’m amazed how when we don’t announce a tune, just launch into it, he will sit it out and at the end he will ask what it was… and the answer is The Wind That Shakes the Freaking Barley. I think to myself, how many times do you need to hear a chestnut? Aren’t you listening?

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Ah, sorry doley5o!

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I think what people object to isn’t the use of sheet music as a crutch. It is perfectly possible to play the music well with expression and appropriate to the session using sheet music. I think people object to the rigid adherence to the notes as written because that entirely misses the point, not to mention I’ve found notation of Irish music is often very poorly rendered necessarily as that is the best way to notate the freedom of variation players have.

I know I would be annoyed by a flutter of page turning if I started a tune and everyone had to go find it in their books. More than anything, sheet music doesn’t ruin the music, it ruins the flow and feel of a session. I’m only a beginner but that much is painfully obvious.

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I don’t think it’s the rigid adherence to the notes that most people object to. Or rather, that’s just part of a larger problem. When reading sheet music your brain is doing two things at once. It’s using visual processing to interpret the notes, and at the same time it’s paying attention to what your instrument sounds like, as part of a feedback loop. Eyes to hands to ears, and then back to the eyes for the next note. Alone at home, that’s fine.

But in a session, a third element is added, which is the sound of other players around you, listening to each other and playing in unison (with some allowance for individual ornamentation and subtle variations that don’t disrupt the melody). The feedback loop is different because you now have two inputs to your ears -- what you’re doing, and what the other players are doing. The part of your attention span that was used to decipher sheet music is now available for listening to what everyone else sounds like, as well as the sound of your own instrument and how that fits in.

The listening part is critical. It allows great music to be played by players at many different skill levels, with the stronger players supporting the weaker ones, and everyone having a good time. By contrast, sheet music places you -- at least partially -- in your own little world that has nothing to do with the session happening around you. That, I think, is the main problem with it. Annoyance at having to wait for people to find their sheet music is just a side issue.

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If there’s sheet music at your session, you’re not at a session. If you have to ask why, there’s probably no point explaining…

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I think it appears to some as lazy and like a needless imposition of a psychological barrier.

If relied upon beyond basic stages.

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I think conical bore has the right of it.
Reasons for using dots at a session: To make a noise that sounds more or less right and might sound quite classy to the uncritical, etc.
Reasons for playing without dots: To make music and enjoy the experience of creating something more than the sum of its parts,etc.
Actually, I have nothing against using dots to speed up the process of getting the basics of a tune down, but I don’t think it becomes music until you’re ready to dump them and start listening to what you’re playing and what others are playing and start to mesh them together.
Where’s Llig these days? Given up in disgust? 🙂

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Can we be done with this now? Some players like to use score and do a fine job. Some read and still can’t make it work….and the same is is true for players who avoid written music. Get used to it. Really? Personally I’d be grateful if that were the biggest problem I had to face. If we MUST argue about it I suggest we appoint a Supreme Leader to decide once and for all which way is universally best with the authority to enforce his/her decisions. I’ve got nothing else to do so I’d be available. Thanks for your vote.

Re: Irish sessions viewed through tablets or sheet music.

I’ve read the arguments enough times to know that sheet music, Tunepal, miniature devices, even distractions aren’t the problem. As a matter of fact each of these can be dealt with. But while you’re sorting out how to work through the various issues just ‘take a break’.

Try this; you & your instrument(s) (if you’re feeling up to it) sit down at a session, chin up, look around to see who is in the circle, listen to everyone’s playing. What do you hear? Stimulate the necessary parts of your brain, consider what is being contributed & when you’re ready join in. If it is *way too much* step back. But if it’s just a bit beyond where you think you can go, persevere & you might surprise yourself. 🙂 That or you’ll derail, fall off your chair & break your instrument. Either way it beats constantly recharging all those *devices*.

Sessions are grand!

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It’s like sitting down to have a conversation and a pint, and the person across the table from you is reading from a script.

Re: Karaoke Irish sessions

With tablets it could be a karaoke session. Especially if they’re using Sibelius’ software & sending it to the big TV.

😏

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Re: Using sheet music or tablets at trad Irish sessions

Exactly. While there are people whose lines sound better than other people’s un-rehearsed comments, it’s still not “real” conversation.

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EnDaC - sums it up for me perfectly
It’s not an age thing - I am 62
I have never used any sheet music or tablet
I don’t see how you could think of such thing at a proper fierce session
I would hang up my banjo before I considered such a thing
That said - each to his own I suppose, but I don’t see me sitting next anyone on dots unless it’s in a workshop !

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Do they write sheet music for banjo? I didn’t think it was possible.

Where’s my coat?

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I think it’s part of a larger problem; the idea that an Irish session is a free for all open to anybody and anything. Buy a drum today, whack it in the circle tomorrow night. Know three chords on the geetar? Sit down and make them fit! Don’t know any tunes? Pull up a music stand! Of course it’s going to offensive to people that spend large chunks of their lifetimes learning the music. By all means knock yourself out, just go do it somewhere else, please.

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I think tunepal is a wonderful resource, but not for trying to play along. Maybe 3 or 4 times I have seen people try to do what the OP describes, which is to use tunepal to find the tune, and then play along from the sheet in the middle of a session. If it’s my set, I just switch tunes right away, and then they have to start over again. After a couple times of that, they’ll just give up, especially since we’re most likely playing a clip that would be very difficult to sight read at anyway.

If it was a regular thing in my session, I would kill it politely. But in general, people who are reliant on that kind of thing know better than to come to my sessions. 😉

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I think there’s a difference between playing every tune off of sheet music (yuck), and just occasionally pulling out the phone because “oh, that’s a neat tune, let’s see what tunepal comes up with.” The latter seems much more reasonable. I use my phone a lot for (1.) recording a tune so I can figure it out later, and (2.) adding a tune’s name to my “to-do list,” which is electronic. Recording mp3s and taking a note or two seem pretty common practice. However, I’ve tried TunePal once or twice; I don’t like it. Half the time it doesn’t work, and when it does work and if I try to follow along from the dots, I feel disengaged and distant from what’s happening in the room. And, yeah, it’s a crummy way to learn tunes compared to doing it by ear. Too much sheet music leads to a lot less learning.

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Re: Using sheet music or tablets at trad Irish sessions

To quote Timothy Leary : set and setting. Tune in drop out. I wishicould do more by ear. Beautiful music needs to be played and listened to and it can also be read.

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“Do they write sheet music for banjo? I didn’t think it was possible.”

Why, sure! If it’s a tenor banjo tuned GDAE. Most everything on the session should work for it!

Still need a coat? I think I left mine at a session in Flagstaff this year. You’re welcome to it if you come across it. ;^)

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I scrolled through the Flickr images linked to here at the home page of the session and I thought I saw some sheet music at a session. Or perhaps it wasn’t a session but it had sheet music. https://www.flickr.com/photos/kmlivemusic/16043853604/in/pool-session/ or it may be that sheet music is frowned upon but giant birds aren’t. https://www.flickr.com/photos/94563458@N02/17206166438/in/pool-session/ .

I do love those images though and I wish I could attend any one of the sessions in them.

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That first one looks very much like ‘not a session’. Not sure about the big bird in the other one…

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The double bass. That well known traditional instrument. The way I see this music is there are no hard and fast rules but enjoyment. I have been to sessions where have and haven’t felt welcome. My New Years resolution is to attend more sessions and play more tunes. By hook or by crook I will. I have no one to go thru the tunes with me so I will have to stick to using the crutch of balls and sticks

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The iPad/Phone app called ‘The Craic’ has been a great resource for me. It’s a catalog of thousands of tunes with search, sheet music and audio you can slow down or speed up:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/the-craic/id586009292?mt=8

Re: Using sheet music or tablets at trad Irish sessions

I was just tipped off to this discussion - this is my regular session. I helped start it over 20 years ago, and might be considered one of the leaders… but not everyone sees it that way.

I appreciate the question being raised here, and all the thoughts and comments- it is definitely a challenging situation due to the location (US, not close to any real centers of Irish music), the range of experience with Irish trad (really big spread), varying degrees of appreciation of session etiquette, and personalities. One of the core players/session leaders is married to one of the tableteers (I just made that word up) and I think it doesn’t bother him as much as some of the other players.

Some private conversations have been helpful in raising awareness of the issue, discussion and reflection and that is probably the most effective approach for now, given the dynamics.

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No one has mentioned this, but at our session, half the players use their tablets or phones for tuning.
Some tuning apps can sound an A for everyone. Of course anyone who is in tune can play an A for everyone to tune to. I use g-strings to tune. In a loud session forget about it though.
We do use Tune pal for helping us remember tune names, or finding out a mystery tune.
We are at session to play, so the tablet thing is done tactfully.

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The range of playing levels, location and approach to ITM(as azfiddle suggested) is incredibly wide these days. Those coming from a notated musical discipline into ITM seem to quite commonly feel that it’s just a case of reading some new dots on a new page.
The transition from sight playing to ear playing means eating a lot of humble pie-as far as I’m concerned- and being a “good sight-reader” is of no relevance in this music. Nor does it develop memorisation- instead it will hold back ear, memory development, and the stylistic qualities that make Irish music Irish music!

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There’s always been a person or two who carry around a stack of tune books or sheet music. Today if it’s on a tablet I don’t see a difference. I tend to play at a blistering speed. I play with a guy who can pull up any tune I throw at him and keep up with me whilst sight reading it for the first time. I’m not telling him anything.

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“There’s always been a person or two who carry around a stack of tune books or sheet music”. Hardly ever, in any Irish music sessions I’ve been to in Scotland or Ireland in 50 years.
“ …. and keep up with me whilst sight reading it for the first time… ” But does it sound like Irish traditional music ?
“I’m not telling him anything”.
A positive suggestion. You don’t have to tell him, but you could perhaps suggest to him that he learn the tunes.

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Re: Using sheet music or tablets at trad Irish sessions

“There’s always been a person or two who carry around a stack of tune books or sheet music.”

I’ve seen this occasionally. The usual outcome is that by the time they’ve found the tune, the set has moved on. I do remember one person who carried a rucksack full of scores - so many tunes and none of them memorised.

Re: Using sheet music or tablets at trad Irish sessions

“But does it sound like Irish traditional music ? ”
I have heard it done. Depends on the player. If sight-reading is limited to only those who can play exactly as written on the page, then of course not. But a good sight reader can walk & chew gum.

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Re: Using sheet music or tablets at trad Irish sessions

Hasn’t it all been said before? - on this thread and others. The only certain thing is that you’ll never get everyone agreeing! I would second Ross Faison’s view.
My experience is that there are some sessions - usually the more advanced ones - where virtually nobody uses any visual aids, and others where nearly everyone does. Not so many big folders these days as more people fill up their Dropboxes and Google Drives with multiple scores and the storage capacity of tablets and iPads gets ever bigger. I have even been known call up a tune on The Session when I couldn’t quite remember how it started - shame on me!
My own custom is “sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t”: I am a very fast sight reader, if not such a fast player, but then I don’t like breakneck speed just for the sake of it.

Re: Using sheet music or tablets at trad Irish sessions

In your typical “trad Irish session” and most good going sessions of any genre, reading off “the dots” by whatever means is not the norm.
It is also impracticable, as you usually won’t have enough warning and time to locate the music…. e.g. https://thesession.org/tunes/4108 will wait for no man(nor woman).
Also, the sets and settings of individual tunes may differ from what you have “prepared earlier”.

However, you can sometimes find yourself in different types of session. I’ve actually been to an “all dot” session which worked very well. I mentioned it here on the “Bored out of my mind” thread https://thesession.org/discussions/47583#comment952491
Generally, they are more for beginners though or people wishing to learn a few tunes in common.

Another exception when I might refer to a piece of music is during a “lull” in a generally very easy going session where I might wish to try out a relative new(to me) tune which I haven’t quite mastered yet. Or maybe I might pass a copy a new favourite to another musician.
However, these occasions are rare and the general rule is not to play tunes until you are ready and “sit out” those which you don’t know.

Re: Using sheet music or tablets at trad Irish sessions

The guy I’m talking about who sight read has been playing Irish music for decades and sounds great but If I throw an oddball tune at him, which I often do, he just looks it up and has no problem. The people with the tune books are usually either beginners or great sight readers. They all have most of their tunes memorized. It’s not a big deal to me. It’s just part of the process for some people.