Session Fatigue

Session Fatigue

I started playing ITM with a local session a couple of times a month a few years ago. I liked the session a lot when I was beginning, but have grown fatigued from it recently. It seems that we play the same standard sets pretty much at each session without much variation. This session also has a tune book/ebook, that is great for new members, but it seems like it has become like a bible of sorts. If I try to play something new or dust something off I sometime get shot some dirty looks if not everyone knows it (or can’t find it in time). The session is very welcoming, but it seems like it sort of caters to “the lowest common denominator” at times. I am one of the younger regulars and probably have more time to learn tunes, but it is frustrating not getting a chance to play them. I sometimes go to other sessions to get a different variety but it is hard to do that regularly because it requires a good amount of travel. I am not a session “leader” so I am not sure what I can do to change the session itself. Has anyone encountered some similar fatigue and have any suggestions to keep it fun for me?

Re: Session Fatigue

In my opinion, trying to change an established session is probably an uphill battle that’s not worth fighting in the first place. And a session where people are reading from sheet music is not a session where you want to be once you’re past the absolute beginner stage.

My suggestion would be to gather a few of the musicians who are on the same page as yourself and start your own session if there are enough of you. You could hold it in a house if you want to keep it private. Of course, forming a breakaway faction might leave some of your current session mates feeling snubbed if they’re not invited - it’s a tough line to tread.

Either that or pack things in and go live in Ireland (or somewhere with a large and established Irish community like Boston, NYC, Chicago or London) for a while and enjoy some high calibre sessions.

Re: Session Fatigue

A successful trick I use (and my session mates are well aware of it) is to put together my own sets. The first tune is one few if any at the session know and the second (and third, if there is one) is a session favorite. I pride myself on building sets that segue well. Everyone always wants to know what the first tune was. Some will make the effort to learn it and some won’t, but no one objects to the practice as long as they all get to come in at some point. Give it a try. I find it has also freed up others to play the odd tune that few if any know other than themselves. It’s fun and breaks things up without anyone feeling excluded.

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Re: Session Fatigue

I asked some of the session members to form a band. And that’s what we did. Works out nicely. And I don’t have to put up with the session (tune-) police any more. 😉

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Good plan Ailin. That goes a long to fend off boredom from in-bred sets and gives the group some exposure to new tunes (that includes me when somebody else does the same thing). I just have to be careful to start with the new tune or many in the group will just follow the rut that often follows a well known one.

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You’re right, Ross. That’s why I always start with the “new” tune. Besides, the momentum of the set goes in the wrong direction if everyone plays the first tune and only one or a few play the second. The bottom kind of goes thud. Oops.

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Re: Session Fatigue

That’s a good plan, Ailin. I think generally that’s a good idea when sitting in on a new session too, start with something cool and fun, then wrap with something others are more likely to know. In the past too I’ve tried at times to mess about with the sets, but when 15 people are expecting to play a set, it’s hard to get them to change their minds on the fly, and there are usually a few who don’t listen or are plugging away on autopilot anyways. So good idea to start with the less familiar!

Otto, how about talking to the session leader about it? Even suggesting adding every so often to the book into a category of “extras” that some can learn if so desired? I may be wrong, but I doubt you’re the only one who wants to add tunes…

I can see the need, especially for less experienced players, to have a list of tunes that can be played together, not many people want to go and just watch everyone take turns playing solo tunes that no one else knows all night. But for me there has to be some variety and spontaneity and novelty! Playing together as a big group is fun, but I like when only a few players are playing at a time, and I *love it* when a good player picks a less familiar tune and plays it and no one joins in! Not every tune need to have everyone banging away at the same time, two guitars playing conflicting chords and 3-4 bodhrans pebbling along…

It’s awesome that it is fun and welcoming, but I get the frustration for sure.

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Re: Session Fatigue

What Colman said. If the regulars are so wedded to their bible they won’t thank you for trying to tempt them astray.

I recall a session where I thought I was doing everyone a favour by mixing the standard repertoire with tunes rarely or never played, but I believe some others thought I was ‘spoilng ’ their sets by including a tune that belonged to a sacred, and immutable, trinity. To me, a session without surprises is no kind of session at all, but some feel quite the opposite.

Re: Session Fatigue

I agree with some of the comments above, that if you’re in a session where the weaker players are relying on sheet music (“finding it in time” is a red flag), then there isn’t much hope in changing things. If you’re getting frustrated by that approach, you’re ready to find a different session or start one of your own.

Are there at least one or two other players who might enjoy a private kitchen session? Hosting something like that can be a start towards forming a new session in your area. It’s a good way to build repertoire, and then you can start looking for a good public venue when you’re ready.

BTW, I have used the “start one new tune, then follow with ones they know” method to introduce tunes to a local session that can get a bit samey, without the occasional outside kick in the repertoire. It helps that I always attend with my fiddler S.O., so it’s more than one person on the new tune. Getting a few partners in crime to help introduce tunes is easier than doing it solo, if you can manage it. You have to be flexible about reading the crowd though, and seeing if a tune actually sticks or not. Give it up if it isn’t working.

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I like Conical Bore’s last point, and it is worth emphasizing. Don’t go into a new tune willy-nilly. Pick the time based on how loose the room feels, how much momentum is there and whether going into new direction might kill it, and whether there are certain personalities present that night that may offer resistance. Also, if your session either goes in a circle or if you are sometimes called on to start a set, it’s easier to take a leadership role on what will happen for that set. Both happen at the session I attend, so a bit of individuality is encouraged.

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Re: Session Fatigue

Hosting some house sessions, inviting some of your friends from the session who are less wedded to the book, could be the perfect outlet to bring back some joy to your playing, and could also develop into an additional public session in town. No one in the group should be sad at having a second place to play, as long as you pick a different day and time so there’s no conflict. Just get it started, keep it loose, and folks will come to play.

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You’re in Utica, NY, which means you’re within an hour or so in several directions of great musicians. Maybe branch out and find other sessions.

We’re also just past the Catskills Irish Arts Week in East Durham - hopefully you made it down to that, but if not, you might try for one of the many weekends that happens in that area, such as the Northeast Tionol in Oct.

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Re: Session Fatigue

We agreed a 10pm watershed after which anyone wanting to suggest or play something new is encouraged to do so. Before that we play to the book (Tuneworks). We begin at 8 so there’s a good 2 hours of familiar / slower stuff.

This has opened up a whole new direction for me as we all agreed to work on some French and Breton tunes which are lovely. Facebook is great as we will often suggest a tune to work on before the next session or will agree at the end of the session which new tune we will go for next time.
I am lucky to go to a session with very friendly, open minded people and though there is a clear leader he is very open to suggestions.

Maybe you could just talk to the leader ? We realised our sessions were becoming stale and were concerned about how to keep up the interest level and thus a sustainable membership/attendance level.

Most reasonable people would at least be willing to have the conversation but if not…perhaps it’s time to find a more challenging session somewhere else?

Re: Session Fatigue

Otto - don’t get discouraged. Your session is simply in the process of growing out of its shell. Your experience is not uncommon to many learner sessions as they start out with a few tunes, flipping pages in music books and trying to remember the names of tunes. If I may humbly suggest, have a chat with some of the other regulars who have been there a while and agree upon new tunes to learn together. Begin to introduce new material into the session and then pair the tune up with something more familiar so others can join in. If you and few others gently begin to push the envelope a little each week, in a few months, you’ll see more spontaneity and more energy with the whole group. I bet there are others at your session who feel the same way you do. It takes time to affect change, but your experience is not uncommon with growing pains in other sessions frequented by adult learners. Good luck!

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Lots of good advice above. A trick I learned from a good player some time ago is to always try to play one tune that nobody else knows. Invariably, players will ask you what the tune was. If you do that too much, you’ll be labeled as a showoff, and they won’t like you. But used in moderation, it’s a great way to get other people interested in the tunes that you like. If people ask you what it is, and say it’s a great tune, then play it again at the next session. Often times, they’ll ask you again, and then say “oh, right… I asked that last time”. Eventually they’ll ask you to send them a recording or teach it to them, or they’ll go learn it themselves.

But to be able to push a session into change can take a strong player. At the very least, you need to be able to play a tune all by yourself without losing it, and you have to be strong enough at playing it that it sounds good enough to people for them to want to learn it. If you’re not at that point yet, then keep at it with that as a goal.

I was the least experienced player in a session I attended for years, but I was feeling some similar fatigue from them often playing the same sets. So I started pushing, pulling, and prodding, even when I had no business doing that because I wasn’t as experienced. I would play things faster than they normally did, or would cherry pick a tune out of the middle of an established set, and play it with something else. 13 years later I am the session leader, and it’s a very enjoyable and successful session. All those players still come to the session, the shared repertoire is probably 5 times what it was, everybody is encouraged to play new things and try different sets, and it raised everybody’s game! 🙂

Re: Session Fatigue

This is an issue I’ve heard from quite a few folks, unsurprisingly.

Especially among beginner or intermediate players with limited repertoires, there is naturally a desire to continue what is known and avoid the unknown and voila: dependency on well-worn but rigid sets. As a memory tool, when learning sets, cementing tunes together is helpful, but freely and spontaneously pulling tunes together is useful too.
The strategies mentioned above are ones i’ve seen work, especially having a slow/ teaching or sheet music hour, followed by a faster new tune friendly period.(don’t get me started on reading sheet music at a session…)
Catering to the ‘lowest common denominator’ bores strong players while encouraging beginners, and separating the two groups is, i think, more successful.
so have a wild card hour after or before the regular session, focusing on new tunes? another idea, from one local session: a ‘tune of the month’ published online before the session at which it will be played.
at the sessions i host, invite people often to bring new tunes, and ask for them at later sessions.

Re: Session Fatigue

Maybe it’s time to move on, to a session that might better suit your needs.

Re: Session Fatigue

“so have a wild card hour after or before the regular session”

If I were in the position, I’d do it the other way around. Play whatever we wanted (new tunes or old, planned sets or random) in the “regular” session, and let the lowest common denominator get together the hour before. If that isn’t doable, start your regular session elsewhere.

Re: Session Fatigue

I partake regularly in two sessions in brewpubs. In each case there seems to be the expectation that we will be providing some entertainment for the regular patrons (rewarded with free beer) so there is a tendency to have core sets that we can rattle off without too much thought - and it’s the same basic group of musicians in either case.

That said, the atmosphere is relaxed enough that we can muck about with new tunes on a regular basis. There are probably 4 or 5 new tunes thrown into the mix per month. We have a mailing list so the dots and mp3s are sent around (the dots primarily so that everyone knows what setting of a tune was introduced) and the new tunes become part of the regular mix within a few weeks. We have made a conscious and concerted effort to do this and it seems to work quite well. We do have new people show up on a fairly regular basis and the hope is that they bring new tunes with them.

Good luck Otto.

Re: Session Fatigue

A lot of great suggestions here. Your ability to recognize this as a problem and looking to do something about it sounds like leadership to me. Don’t sell yourself short Otto.

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Getting together at a small house session with a subset of the group can be a great way to introduce and learn new tunes. Then when you go to the pub sessions you won’t be on your own when starting off a new tune. My experience prior to moving here was that musicians didn’t expect to know and play every tune at a session. People came to the sessions as individuals rather than as members of a group and if they heard a tune they wanted to learn they turned on their little recording device and used some slow-downer software to learn it - there was no published tune book. But then in Utica the sessions are sponsored by a Comhaltas branch that does a lot of performing as a group, so that changes the dynamic a great deal.

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A pub session isn’t necessarily at the top of the food chain. Remember that in some areas, a house session is the only (or best) option. If you’re not happy with the session format/the other musicians/(the venue?) - start a (house) session yourself.

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We have a session where we’ve been playing the same half dozen tunes for about 4 years now. Well it feels like that!
It started out dynamic, like a mutual support project, but somehow stopped developing.
I got a bit pissed off but now I’m resigned to it - it’s good practice occasionally sight reading new tunes and playing the old ones from memory.
But it is developing now, for some of us - with just a faction doing “house” sessions as described above, and efforts to put on a performance for the village.
The main thing is the very act of playing in public or a group - it sharpens your act. And you can have a few beers whilst you are at it.