too many of the same kind ?

too many of the same kind ?

In many sessions that I visited there was a really big group of flute and whistle players. I, as a flute by myself, get sometimes a bit worried, that my instrument is too common ? From classical flute playing in school orchestras I know this problem, that there often too many flute players, compared too strings and brass.
How is your experience with this topic ? Do you think there are somewhat disproportional many flute and whistle player ?
Do you think it is really possible, that an imbalance in the instrument distribution can be a serious problem for sessions ?

One of the reasons, I started playing around with the mandolin was definitively, to have a backup, if this “problem” gets too serious.

Re: too many of the same kind ?

There’s nothing as nice as a bunch of flutes (or fiddles) together, assuming they are all played reasonably well in tune and in time with each other. Very flutey sessions are often my favourite kind. Try not to over-think it too much, and if you love playing the flute don’t play it any less just because lots of other people you know play it too. By all means learn to play the mandolin too if it appeals to you (it is nice to have those notes below bottom D, and to be able to do double stops), but don’t play it just because nobody else at your session plays it!

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A true session (not a performance) is just about having tunes. I’ve been in a session with 10 pipers (90%), or 3 boxes (100-75%), or 10 fiddles (80%). If the tunes are good and the people are in good humor, it could be 30 mandolins and still be great. Personally I think nothing sounds better than a group of fiddles.

A lot of classical people are worried about instrument distribution and proportionality. As far as melody instruments go, as long as the players are on, who cares? The problem occurs when you end up with 2 melody players surrounded by a horde of guitarists and bodhranistas. As long as the melody is the focus, I imagine the music will be great.

Perhaps there are more fluters than fiddlers today than there were, but that shouldn’t stop you from pursuing what makes you happy. I relish the opportunity to play with other boxplayers.

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You want more melody instruments than chording instruments, for sure, and you maybe don’t want more than one chording instrument at all. Same goes for percussion. And five whistles might be overkill. (I am currently leading a student group of one fiddle, one flute, one mandolin, one guitar, and five whistles. I am speaking from experience.) Beyond that, it’s a wonderful thing about this music that it is equally viable with one instrument or ten, in any combination imaginable.

Re: too many of the same kind ?

For melody:
More than 2 whistles has a tendency to become overwhelming. The same counts for banjos and pipes IMO. Flutes, fiddles concertinas, harp, and mandolins are fine in multiples.

As for box, if it’s too loud it is usually an individual box that is too loud instead of the collective.

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Re: too many of the same kind ?

Too many of anything kind of spoils the mix. especially when it’s nearly impossible to get several of any group of folk players to agree on any of the variables…lift, tempo, ornamentation, drive, swing to name a few. Playing well together requires a certain level of intimacy. The difficulties increase exponentially as the number of players increase. Think of a group of fiddlers, each with their own approach, and how they ultimately create a wall of dense fiddle sound (something that can be reached with as few as 2 banjos). It’s not really any different than the damage done by multiple guitars. Don’t get me wrong, playing in large groups may be a lot of fun, a different kind of intimacy, but the better music comes from a smaller mix. I don’t think of switching instruments as stepping down, rather I call it stepping up to a different voice.

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The OP said he was worried his instrument is too common. I’m not sure I would be worried about that.
In other sessions there will be a different balance; too many banjos and guitars maybe.
S/he might be better concentrating on one instrument and shining bright in the crowd!

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Re: too many of the same kind ?

Ross– right you are: the better music comes from a smaller mix.

The purer the drop the better the sound….

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I’m not sure (actually I’m sure) that “shining bright in the crowd” is the best approach. Consider 4 or 5 flute players, all trying to be the stand out player all come together in a chaotic wall of flute sounds. Hearing that, each player tries all the harder, descending to chaos. Maybe a better solution is for each player to listen carefully and (on the fly) adapt to a sort of consensus. Maybe we don’t make better music by standing out, but by coming together. Solo performance, or in very small groups, 2-3, arranged even as it happens, leaves a lot of room, to shine.

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I have been in great sessions with 35 people but they were all good players and the tunes kept coming, like a waterfall. Different than pure drop but lots of fun. And of course, it depends on who the two or three people are as to whether or not the music will be good.

Re: too many of the same kind ?

I think it was probably sounding a bit too extreme, I am not learning mandolin, because I fear that there are too many flute players out there. Its just an additional motivation to be able, to be a bit more flexible for changing to sound of a session bit.
But yeah thanks, seems like there is no reason to worry, as long I don’t try to be the loudest and most prominent flute at a (flute heavy) session !

Re: too many of the same kind ?

That’s what I mean when I say musicians (world class all) who listen to each other and get in the same groove. It is not three players, each trying to be the star of the show. A great example and sadly not that often found.

Re: too many of the same kind ?

This strikes me as a locality-based phenomenon. Some sessions have a lot of whistlers, some a lot of fiddlers. Flute-heavy sessions strike me as relatively rare. On second thought, my local *used* to have anywhere from 4 to 7 flutes on a given week. Now it’s primarily fiddles, then pipes.

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I once was at a session of about 12 players–all fiddlers, as it happened. Not intentional. The session leader looked a bit exasperated, as I recall. But it seems to me that we played tunes and had fun anyway.

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Went to a session once with four banjo players. One on each side of the seating area. Good players though, escape not necessary.

Re: too many of the same kind ?

Sometimes certain instruments will dominate.

I’ve been visiting The Harp festival this week and it’s been great. Other instruments are welcome too, of course, plus the occasional song.
We also have the fiddle festival in Edinburgh where other instruments are also welcome although accordion players have often felt intimidated. That makes a change 🙂
There’s also the weekly Shetland fiddlers session and Monday(I don’t know these days) was predominantly flutes etc in Bells.

One thing which puzzles me though is why players of the same instrument often feel the need to sit together. This can make things seem more overpowering although I understand that some players may wish to support each other.
However, I think it can be better seated next to another instrument as long as it’s not a bodhran, left hand side of an accordion, heavy strummer etc. 🙂
Certainly this is the case with the mandolin and, perhaps, the fiddle too. In fact, if there are good and better players than yourself, you can actually gain more by watching and listening to them from a reasonable distance.
Generally though, I think it’s better to listen to the overall sound of the session as opposed to just a few of the same instruments. It makes it easier to hear your own playing and to judge more precisely what your contribution should be.

Re: too many of the same kind ?

I don’t think it matters especially as was pointed out above with flutes and fiddles.

I agree that banjos and high whistles are another thing- I’ve never been at a session dominated by banjos or whistles and it’s probably a good thing. (But somebody will probably now post a video of ten banjos sounding great!)

Our local piper’s club will have several pipes, with no other instruments, well in tune, and if you’re a piper it’s massive.

Re: too many of the same kind ?

Johnny Jay wrote:
“One thing which puzzles me though is why players of the same instrument often feel the need to sit together.”

I like to sit together with people who have a similar approach and repertoire, and if they play the same instrument as I play, chances are higher that we “speak the same language”. I once played (fiddle) with a piper and another fiddler - they had nearly no tune in common, except maybe ten chestnuts.

If you’re a weaker player, you can get some support from your neighbour musician. Otherwise it’s like a session in stereo.

Re: too many of the same kind ?

Rods said “I’m not sure (actually I’m sure) that “shining bright in the crowd” is the best approach. Consider 4 or 5 flute players, all trying to be the stand out player all come together in a chaotic wall of flute sounds.”

Great players inspire. You can’t have too many. A feature of greatness is listening. Big sessions are mighty. You cant beat a big step-up as a new tune starts up. Take a risk.

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The only problem is with the bodhrain. A whole beginner class of bodhrain players showed up at a session once; over a dozen, all flailing away. That was hard to take.

Re: too many of the same kind ?

Lots of whistles are often correlated with a low experience level, as most whistlers use it as a secondary instrument if they’ve been playing a while. In other words, most people who can play a different instrument *will* if there are lots of potential whistlers.

I won’t play whistle if someone else is, ever, in a normal sized session. (Unless it’s a monster E. Durham “play along with 50 people” “session.” I love it as an accent above the landscape of the tune, but not as the dominant voice.

Re: too many of the same kind ?

Kingbreaker, even a whistle does not need to be one too many. It’s how you play with others; not which instrument. Carefully listen to some of the whistlers playing together on a few of the clips I posted on a recent thread. They may not be your cup of tea but I doubt you can correlate their simultaneous playing with a low experience level. ~ https://thesession.org/discussions/40567#comment816430

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Re: too many of the same kind ?

Multiple flutes are fine provided everyone’s performing in tune and no one is noodling. I think this is the case with most instruments really. The exception is bodhrans and backup instruments. They are more likely to step on each other’s toes tonally since there are varying interpretations for the chords to use.

Re: too many of the same kind ?

P.B. you may have managed to mention performing, noodling, bodhrans and backing in the shortest span I have ever witnessed. Cheers! I do agree though that when session musicians play “together” it should be about the music and if there are several flutes it doesn’t need to be a problem. I think some of the ceili bands had/have a number of flutes so they could/can be heard. In a session it comes down to a balance of how the musicians play together; not which instruments they bring.

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Re: too many of the same kind ?

I do have a reputation to uphold after all. hahaha

Re: too many of the same kind ?

You have it Ben. Several flute players ( or any instrument for that matter) who take the time and have the skill, to play together and find the same notes, swing, lift,,,the same feel..to a tune, can be delightful. When those same players, or even a smaller group, play each with the intent of imposing their unique virtuosity on the others, the best descriptor I can think of starts with the word “cluster”. It’s not about how many but how well they find the groove together. Several of one instrument need not be a problem, it’s just that they often are.

The same thing happens when several different instruments can’t find the groove. Too many, even subtle, “expressive” moments, no matter how good they might be, taken together, can make a tune unlistenable (is that a word?) I think the best moments happen when players play off of each other and not against each other. Pick any 5 NBA superstars and I’ll bet on the “team” they play against.

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You could do worse ! 🙂 “Youtube” has its’ uses, and I love the Tansey / Eimar McGeown clip.

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Re: too many of the same kind ?

It’s grand. Anyone know the nephew’s name? His ears must be very happy. I know mine are.

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I started on piano accordion and it still does something favorable to my heart hearing an accordion of any kind playing the tunes I love. I have seen/heard multiple accordions and concertinas together so many times, and I love the spirit of the music and would never think of it negatively, but I have never heard anything remotely close to too many flutes. The flute makes a session.

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Went to a session yesterday, three fiddles, guitar, mandolin, bodhran, whistle, and 3 flutes. Tooter number one plays no more and no less than what’s written on the page (yes there was some scores present, that’s another issue, not the point here) with no ornamentation or lift. Player two plays with a lot of drive and a fair grasp of rhythm, and player three plays with a lot of swing. There was/is no way that’s gonna sound good. Three (or more) players and no chance of more than 2 to come together with the same thought and play in the same groove can’t, say it with me, can’t create anything but an unwieldy bunch of diddley, tooty sounds. So one more time, the number of players, of any kind, isn’t the issue. The ability and willingness of those players to come together is. The fiddle players managed to do it. When one of us switched to banjo and one of the other fluters played pipes, did the flute come into it’s own and start adding something to the session. Good music of any kind doesn’t happen when a bunch of players come together and play whatever. It happens when a bunch of players come together and, well, come together.

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Practice, rather than a session, this afternoon. Flute, whistle, 2 fiddles, and button box. Missing were mandolin, guitar, concertina, lowland pipes and piano accordion. Too many of the same kind? Wrong balance, very shrill with everyone on high melody: temporary solution, I play an octave down and/or any low harmonies + more left hand chords: instantly sounds better.