When is a tune ready for an outing at a session?

When is a tune ready for an outing at a session?

I wonder if any experienced session-goers have strategies for deciding when a tune which they think they have learnt is ready to be played at a session. It’s great to learn and introduce new tunes, but I find sometimes a tune I thought was ready isn’t quite there, and if no-one else knows it well, it can end in disaster. I’ve had this happen a few times. I’m not that experienced myself and after playing in sessions for about 2 years still find the scene nerve-wracking, which of course doesn’t help!
I have tried playing new tunes through several times and recording them, but the fact is that practising at home and playing (or almost performing) in a session environment are very different experiences.

Re: When is a tune ready for an outing at a session?

You can always wait until someone else starts it although that can often take long enough.
It’s always a challenge to introduce a lesser known tune to a session and you can often just end up playing it alone.
Perhaps a solution would be to ask if some of the other players know it too?

Re: When is a tune ready for an outing at a session?

Thanks Johnny, that’s probably a good idea, though I find when I ask many senior players if they know a tune the response is usually along the lines of "I probably do but play it and if I know it I’ll join in".

Re: When is a tune ready for an outing at a session?

Many moons ago I was in a rather famous session pub in Ireland and the guys there invited me to start a set of tunes. I chose a set of three really well-known ones, fully expecting everyone to join in. I ended up playing all three on my own unaccompanied. At each change I was living in hope that they’d join in. No chance! As I’d told them there’d be three, I couldn’t really stop, though I did hold them to twice each. What you might call a very formative experience! It went down well but my nerves were shredded. If taking out a new tune makes you feel nervous the very best thing is to have a henchman with you, even if it’s just someone who can do a reliable strum for you.

Re: When is a tune ready for an outing at a session?

Thanks Steve, I find it interesting that what I think must be very well known session tunes on the basis of the frequency they appear in books or on this site, are sometimes not known in my local sessions at all.
Good suggestion regarding having a henchman. I do have a couple but they can’t always make the same session.

Re: When is a tune ready for an outing at a session?

The thing is, if you’re a capable player and people can hear you, I see no problem in playing alone if you’re starting a tune/set, as good tunes are good tunes.

Re: When is a tune ready for an outing at a session?

New tunes are like concrete - they need time to cure. Apply pressure too soon and it will crack. How soon is too soon is the question, I reckon a couple of weeks of coming back to something is needed unless it is very easy.
Recording helps a bit but playing to someone else, preferably a musician, is better.
Can you play it while thinking about something else, maybe while watching telly etc.

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Re: When is a tune ready for an outing at a session?

As Steve has alluded to above, it depends on the session. Like him, I’ve gone into other peoples’ sessions and started tunes no-one knows.
But say you’re with a bunch of your session mates at your local regular session, you start playing a tune new to that sesh, but screw up half-way through. Big deal, you can laugh at it and maybe so should they. Maybe next time you’ll get it right, then the time after that someone else picks it up, then someone else. So within a few weeks it has become part of the session repertoire.
That’s what happens at our Ivy House sesh. I do that and so do the other players. But maybe we’re just blessed with forgiving sessioneers. Not all sessions and sessioneers are so patient though.
What I get frustrated with is a LACK of new tunes coming into a session!

Re: When is a tune ready for an outing at a session?

Thanks Tom, playing to another person first is a good idea. I do play to the dog but he’s not very interested. It does takes me ages to be able to play some tunes without any conscious input at all and I suppose I am too impatient to wait sometimes.
Periodactylised, sounds like a nice session you have there. One of mine attracts good players from around the region and I don’t want to screw up in front of them as this leaves me with quite negative feelings for a few days. I’m probably over-sensitive.

Re: When is a tune ready for an outing at a session?

If you feel like you’re ready, then try it. If you mess up, have a laugh about it, go home and practice it some more and try again the next week/fortnight/month. Music is all about being human.

Re: When is a tune ready for an outing at a session?

The OP’s question, I think, needs to be split into two quite different questions:

1) when is a tune ready for you play along with the rest of the session?

2) when is a tune ready for you to be the one starting it at a session?

For #1, as was pointed out above, is a matter of joining in with an ongoing thing, the sound of the session helping memory.

For #2, as was pointed out above, you have to be ready to play the entire tune solo. Players who know the tune perfectly well might just sit and listen, as you discovered. Been there done that!

Re: When is a tune ready for an outing at a session?

"Players who know the tune perfectly well might just sit and listen, as you discovered. Been there done that!"

Yes that happens sometimes. It might be because they wish to take the opportunity to listen to your playing but it may may also be that the setting, style, or pace differs slightly to what they are used as you have learned the tune elsewhere. So, it can take time for a new tune to settle properly in a session

Re: When is a tune ready for an outing at a session?

Thanks Richard. its #2 I was concerned with. I guess the question is how do I really know I’m ready to play the tune solo beforehand!?

Re: When is a tune ready for an outing at a session?

Hi, Finbar here, back from about ten years’ hibernation (even though it’s the middle of winter).

Steve Shaw’s story above is veeeeery interesting. The other musos present obviously knew the tunes he’d started, at their request, but chose not to play along. I suspect they wanted to hear Steve’s (no doubt excellent) treatment of said choons on the moothie, which is a bit of a non-standard instrument, and therefore concentrate on listening to him. Either that or they were complete bastards.

Regarding the original question, Creadur completely nailed it. One would naturally be less inclined to try out a new chune in a new session where one was little known and wished to impress, but among ones mates, one can and should. But of course, if one can’t even play the b*gger at home yet, it may be a little soon, even to unleash it on the mates.

Re: When is a tune ready for an outing at a session?

To answer the opening question "When is a tune ready?" I would have to answer, from my own experience, "The second or third time you play it," if you’re brave enough.

Nothing substitutes for the high-wire-without-a-net act of hammering through a tune while everyone in the room stares at you, and your blood pounds in your ears and your hands start to sweat and seconds turn into hours. Something clicks in your brain and your muscle memory when you’ve accomplished that which would never happen in your practice room if you practice for ten years straight. And the next time (if you are brave enough) it’s completely different.

Your session mates know this because this is the same ladder they climbed, or are still climbing, themselves, and they’ll let you blunder and stall and repeat as many times as you need to—because this is how you get there. Imagine how many human beings in the world will never feel like this, or succeed like this.

Re: When is a tune ready for an outing at a session?

When you can consistently play it 3 times through with no errrors and make it interesting.

Re: When is a tune ready for an outing at a session?

Most sessions will laugh "with" you, if you’re playing a new tune and it falls out of the sky. And sometimes, I’ve found that having a solo tune crash and burn then takes some of the pressure away, and if I try it again, it might fly (assuming the session is amongst friends).

The goal for pulling a new tune out in a session should be to play it well enough that it draws people’s interest so that they might want to learn it. If you pull it out occasionally, and they repeatedly ask you what it is, then pretty soon, they’ll go learn it, and eventually the whole session will latch onto it as an accepted tune.

One way to really help harden the cement of a new tune is to teach it to someone else in person. And that can kill two birds with one stone - because then you’ve both helped cement it in your playing AND you’ve gotten it to someone else, who can help keep it going in the session…

Re: When is a tune ready for an outing at a session?

Thanks dinglealltheway, I can certainly relate to the high-wire-without-a-net analogy, and its good to hear that its not just me who feels like that!
And Reverend I think your probably right about people laughing "with" me, though the few times its happened I just felt as if my self-esteem had taken a bashing as a result. So my question has been aimed at devising strategies to minimize this possibility, and there have been several helpful suggestions including yours thanks.
But I can sense the truth in dinglealltheway’s comment that the practice room is no substitute for the session environment.

Re: When is a tune ready for an outing at a session?

If it’s your local session cajole one of your session mates to learn it with you, then the two of you can brave the cold air and bring it forth together.

Or just play out loud and strong at a tempo that you can handle well and just don’t give a frolic what happens.

Re: When is a tune ready for an outing at a session?

When it can take your drink. ;-)

Re: When is a tune ready for an outing at a session?

Practice till you think it’s ready.
Practice some more.

Try it out then
Practice some more (repeat)

Re: When is a tune ready for an outing at a session?

Some things I do to try to pound a tune into my head- and it takes a bit of pounding.
1-play the tune at a number of different tempos, from very slow to a little faster than my chosen session speed(which may vary from day to day anyway.) a little faster gives me headroom, and also means that if I start a bit faster than I intend I might not crash and burn. Very slow forces me to concentrate on the tune and not allow muscle memory alone to carry me through.
2- Play with swing and straight.
3-Play the tune in a different key. Sometimes I play it in a different mode too just to hear how it sounds.
4-Play the tune on a different instrument.
Mind you I don’t do all of the above with every tune- but I probably should.

Re: When is a tune ready for an outing at a session?

Thanks for the help guys I think Steve’s got a good point about a steady tempo, sometimes I start too fast from nerves.

5stringfool some great tips there. I’ve never tried playing a tune in different modes. Do you mean say a Gmajor tune in Gmix or Gdor or a Gmajor tune in Amix or Edor?

Re: When is a tune ready for an outing at a session?

Sorry end of last comment should read "a Gmajor tune in Dmix or Ador"

Re: When is a tune ready for an outing at a session?

Either/or.

Re: When is a tune ready for an outing at a session?

With regard to variations on the tenor banjo, you could also play select bars or sometimes even an entire Part in a different octave; substituting a lower octave for the higher B Part is quite common.

Re: When is a tune ready for an outing at a session?

The Golden Rule of session playing is to maintain an undying ability to not care when you fall flat on your face. Everyone is pulling for you, so don’t give it a second thought. My main faux pas is going up on my transition from one tune to the next. A really common one is going into a tune other than the one you intended - either that or playing the B part of another tune. Raise your hand if you’ve done that more than once!

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Re: When is a tune ready for an outing at a session?

When your tune sounds like something you’d want to hear at a session. It doesn’t have to be superb, just enough to spark some interest.

(If there are rhythm issues, mess-ups, missing (or added beats), measures which are slowed down or sped up depending to difficulty - I think it’s best to practice it a bit more.)

Re: When is a tune ready for an outing at a session?

Took me twenty years to get to that point, Ailin, but spot on. Who gives a damn!

"Steve Shaw’s story above is veeeeery interesting. The other musos present obviously knew the tunes he’d started, at their request, but chose not to play along. I suspect they wanted to hear Steve’s (no doubt excellent) treatment of said choons on the moothie, which is a bit of a non-standard instrument, and therefore concentrate on listening to him. Either that or they were complete bastards. "

Haha! Well they were very nice chaps as it happens and I had a great night. The three tunes I picked, all playable on a G harmonica, were Blackberry Blossom, Lucky In Love and Bag Of Spuds, the first two learned from one of those later Planxty albums and the last one just chucked on there because I liked it and could add it on without switching harps. I think you could be right about them just wanting to listen to some strange bloke rattling them out on a moothie, but I really was hoping they’d join in. An amazing bloke who used to post here, I think, Flanum, who seemed to know everybody, introduced me to the fellers at the Cobblestone that night and he also got me playing in another session the following night in a different pub with a most amazing lady called Marion McEvoy and her family and friends. Happy days!

Re: When is a tune ready for an outing at a session?

"I guess the question is how do I really know I’m ready to play the tune solo beforehand!?"

For myself, I really want to know the tune backward and forward, inside and out, before I want to put myself in the situation of performing the tune solo in front of players who are a lot better than I am.

I don’t want to be the guy who starts a tune but then fumbles through it. (Though I have certainly been that guy! It’s not a good feeling, and it makes me promise myself never to do it again.)

Re: butterflies in the stomach at a session?

Trainwrecks happen. It’s how you recover that matters.

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Re: When is a tune ready for an outing at a session?

When the likelihood of not ballsing it up slightly surpasses the likelihood of ballsing it up.

Re: When is a tune ready…

What the Dr said!

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Re: When is a tune ready for an outing at a session?

When you know the tune (know it rather than just memorized it) and you can play it. That said I doubt there’s even one of who doesn’t lay out tunes before we get there. Maybe that’s part of the adventure.

Re: When is a tune ready for an outing at a session?

When the likelihood of not ballsing it up slightly surpasses the likelihood of ballsing it up.

# Posted by DrSilverSpear

Oh! So perfect!

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Re: When is a tune ready for an outing at a session?

Thanks for all the helpful remarks. It looks like plenty of practice and then a hard neck is needed.

I found Ross’s comment especially interesting - "When you know the tune (know it rather than just memorized it) and you can play it"

I think that gets to the heart of the issue for me - sometimes I think I know a tune or delude myself into thinking I do and then the session spotlight reveals otherwise.

I’m probably overthinking this issue anyhow!

Re: When is a tune ready for an outing at a session?

The main one is the practice. The neck hardens naturally when you’re confident you know the tune.

Re: When is a tune ready for an outing at a session?

That reminds of the saying attributed to Gary Player when he was accused of being a lucky golfer: "the more I practice the luckier I get".

Re: When is a tune ready for an outing at a session?

I have a neat trick where I focus on learning tunes that my friends already know. Works like a charm.

Re: When is a tune ready for an outing at a session?

Brilliant AlBrown, that solves so many problems!

Re: When is a tune ready for an outing at a session?

A mouthie is quiet. If you join in when you can’t hear the leading instrument you can make a complete hash of their tune - especially if you aren’t sure you’ll be playing the same version - so often I wouldn’t join in when someone is leading tunes on a mouthie or a mandolin.