Organising (and running) slow sessions- any tips?

Organising (and running) slow sessions- any tips?

Hi there,
the Dundee Acoustic Music Club will start to host “Slow Sessions” after their (more or less) monthly folk concerts on Sunday PMs. This has grown out of my impatience around the prospect of having to wait years before being able to join the “real speed” ones ..and being pretty sure I am not the one in this situation 🙂 So far I have the support of the Music Club, a very capable and enthusiastic facilitator, a back-up facilitator, a venue and some ideas where and how to advertise the events.

My question to you: would you mind sharing your top tips about organising and running slow sessions from your experience as organiser, participant (or observer)? What makes people attending a “Slow Session” happy? And what kills a “Slow Session”? I know that teething problems are normal but I would like to keep them to a minimum 🙂 Many thanks in advance for your help!

PS: I will announce details about the events shortly on the events page.

Re: Organising (and running) slow sessions- any tips?

I have run slow sessions in the past. The best tips I can share from this are:

1. If anyone asks the group to slow down, then slow down.
2. A lot of new/inexperienced players are happier playing behind closed doors. Mistakes are inevitable, and no-one wants to make a mistake in public.
3. Don’t feel it has to be like a session all the time. Try taking some time to focus on learning a particular skill, or focussing on one particular aspect of ‘session craft’. We had some good sessions where we focussed on things like percussion, accompaniment, timing, or learning a particular tune for players who can’t read music. All very helpful to new players.

Have fun! People who run slow sessions are awesome people!


Re: Organising (and running) slow sessions- any tips?

And one more tip which helped a lot - there may be times when there aren’t too many players at the session. Don’t give up, it takes time to build up a core of regular players, but they are out there 🙂

Re: Organising (and running) slow sessions- any tips?

Encourage people to bring personal recorders, so they can practice the tunes at home between sessions.

One issue you will have to think about and make your own mind up on is what to do about sheet music. Some people will inevitably ask for it, and it is quite useful as an aide memoir once they have learned the tunes by ear. But once they have the sheet music some will insist on playing from it in the session, and never actually learn the tunes.

In the slow session I used to run I would periodically record a session and hand out CDs for people to practice with, and I did give out sheet music, but it wasn’t allowed in the session.

Re: Organising (and running) slow sessions- any tips?

I don’t know if Nigel Gatherer will come in here, being a member of this forum, but he has been running excellent Slow Sessions in Edinburgh and other places for a good few years, and he also runs Slow Session classes at Scots Music Group. It was a very useful starting point for me in the early days of playing my box, and I still go along occasionally as I find some of the full speed sessions just too fast. (And they actually play a wider variety of tunes!)
There is a definite skill to keeping the pace down, without being too authoritarian: dry wit helps!
The host does need to be a little assertive and make sure everyone gets a fair crack of the whip, and not let anyone dominate proceedings.
Nigel has produced a number of Slow Session books over the years, and the earlier ones were accompanied by recordings. He has since built up a huge collection of tunes on his website, (The Gathering) in various formats, ABC, midi or mp3, some in standard notation, guitar or mandolin tab, and he also does diagrammatic stuff for whistle players.
Without wishing to get embroiled in another debate re ear playing vs. sheet music (which has been discussed at length on other threads), everyone their own way of learning, and I found the books very helpful in those early days (and still do if looking for new tunes to play). Then my sight reading was way better than my ear playing: now the latter is a lot better, and I can play many more tunes from memory, and pick up new ones by ear. But I wouldn’t forbid sheet music in Slow Sessions or you will immediately exclude some people: yes, some people will cling to their books for ever, others (like me) will learn the tunes from them THEN do without the books, and others will learn by ear only.
Another thing that Nigel does, is to ask each player in turn to nominate a tune they want the group to play, and, if they feel confident in doing it, to lead the tune at their own pace, though he will soon tell them if it’s too fast for the others! And the sessions are not exclusivly for tunes: there may be song or two throughout the evening, depending who is in. Out of term time the session usually keeps going, thanks to volunteer hosts from the group.

Re: Organising (and running) slow sessions- any tips?

Try and keep them small. As the number of players grows problems grow exponentially.

Make sure that everybody knows that someone is (benevolently) in charge. It could even be a different person each time. Also that some small goal will hopefully be met.

Don’t stress over sheet music. In the end it’s more about learning to play well together. Those who want/need it will keep it and others will leave it behind as part of their natural progression. It’s about them not about you.

Keep the sessions relatively short, a couple of hours, or say, the first hour of a full-on session. Make sure everyone is clear on that.

As said before, keep slow sessions private. Nobody wants to fumble in public and venues don’t appreciate a room full of fumbling players. No offense, that’s just the way it is.

Slow sessions, hours spent slow playing, are part of the process that every goes through, everybody. It’s best to go through it in good company. This isn’t a contest with winners and losers and no good can come from trying to make it one. A slow session can, and my opinion, should be just as enjoyable as any.

Re: Organising (and running) slow sessions- any tips?

This bit makes me think that you are somewhat a beginner yourself: “This has grown out of my impatience around the prospect of having to wait years before being able to join the ”real speed“ ones ..and being pretty sure I am not the one in this situation 🙂”

If that’s the case, you really need some expert or at least pretty good, solid, experienced musicians to lead the session. The point of a slow session is to improve (one would hope), but to improve you need to play with, or be helped by, people who are better than you.

That’s just my personal thought, take it for whatever it’s worth :D

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Re: Organising (and running) slow sessions- any tips?

Being the organiser, and being the session leader, could be two different things.

There is a real contribution in making sure that the room has indeed been booked, that you know who is the keyholder/ booking clerk and you know what to do / who to ring if you find the door locked / some other party in your room [these are real-world experiences - I am not making these up].

Maybe get some people in from Dundee Acoustic Music club to run one or more of the evenings? Alternate guest leaders with home-grown?

Re: Organising (and running) slow sessions- any tips?

I run the Lower Valley Irish Slow Session in Holyoke, MA ( ) We have been ongoing for a bout 3 years, or thereabouts.

I started the session for similar reasons--I needed one myself. Because of that I turned to a local musician friend to help me find players who would teach us tunes and keep us all playing together. Inevitably they also like to impart their infinite session wisdom and experience unto us. 🙂 We started with 4 anchors, all taking turns. The session runs every 2 weeks, so no one had to break their back. We’re down to 2 fairly regular anchors--trying to find a couple more.

We ask for a $5.00 donation per session--it helps pay for the space and gives a little something to the anchor as well.

One major rule for the LVISS is that there are no accompaniment instruments allowed, and no instruments that are not generally accepted at sessions. This is a hard and fast rule that I will stand by no matter what.

In the absence of an anchor I am the M.C. I encourage people to pick tunes, in fact, I INSIST they do. It keeps things going and we have a good deal of fun ribbing each other about our poor memories when we can’t think of any. I encourage people to play even if they don’t know the tune, because where else are you going to be allowed to make mistakes while playing with other people? Having the session in a private space is what makes this possible.

Have a look at our website ( and there’s plenty more. Feel free to borrow ideas. I’m pretty proud of what we’ve accomplished--good luck with your own! I hope this helps.


Re: Organising (and running) slow sessions- any tips?

As an attendee of a slow session it’s good to be asked to nominate a tune as it’s an opportunity to play something I enjoy - this also encourages me to learn more tunes as I don’t want to be nominating the same tunes each time.

I don’t read music nor do I learn well by ear so having core tunes that come up regularly is good for ‘absorbing’ over time.

Probably stating the obvious but I think it’s really beneficial to the session to have at least one or two players with good experience, to drive it along and keep the energy levels up (I don’t mean speed).

Re: Organising (and running) slow sessions- any tips?

1) Get started
2) Keep going
3) Adjust as necessary!

I’ve been running a slow session in London for about a year now - I started off behind closed doors but actually taking it to a pub worked much better. We do a fair bit of tune teaching but actually after six months we have a fair old pile of music we can already play. We gt through the odd one without me remembering to teach one at all.

My only general advice is - get rid of toxic people. This hasn’t happened to my session yet but sooner or later someone will turn up whose presence is bad for the session. Regardless of why that is or their capabilities as a musician or who they are friends with, there’s no point. Get shot of them. Other than that, get it going, worry about the rest later.

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Re: Organising (and running) slow sessions- any tips?

As a P.S. to my earlier post, here’s a link to Nigel Gatherer’s website page re Slow sessions, with further links therein. Lots of sensible advice there, and here too.

Re: Organising (and running) slow sessions- any tips?

Have some structure….a core repertoire list that is played from the first x minutes. Use the last x minutes for learning a new tune or playing tunes not on the list. Modify the list as you go. Or make up your own guidelines to partition the time.

Slow players like myself don’t mind structure, and actually benefit from it, as long as it isn’t overbearing.

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Re: Organising (and running) slow sessions- any tips?

Oh yeah forgot to mention--we discourage sheet music at the LVISS. Our anchors don’t provide it (so far) but if one want’s to bring it that’s fine. So far no one has.

Re: Organising (and running) slow sessions- any tips?

Hi everyone, thank you so much for being so generous and sharing your experiences which is greatly appreciated!!!

I wrote Nigel G. just before starting this discussion but have not heard from him yet- may-be he will still find the time to contribute. His Slow Sessions actually gave me the idea of starting them here in Dundee 🙂

And yes, organising and facilitating/leading the session are two different things as already pointed out by one of you …I monotask.

Many greetings from Scotland.