Session variations and adjusting at a live session.

Session variations and adjusting at a live session.

I see this has been discussed before but perhaps not quite the same angle I’m inquiring about.

What do you do when you play a tune you’ve learned well with someone else for the first time that clearly knows a different version of the tune well? I feel like there are two choices: You can simply play it confidently the way you know it and not worry about them – they can either adjust to you or let the contrasting parts be as they are or, you can ghost out the parts you know are different and try to learn them for the next time around. I tend to go for the later but it is very difficult for me to pick up variations that quickly. It seems like the polite thing but I fear it makes me seem like I’m ‘faking it’ too much. The other thing I struggle with is playing through the phrase when other players are playing different dissonant notes. My instinct is to play softer but sometimes the other players may need me to play strong to help them through the tune. My goal is to be a strong enough player to adapt on the spot in the best way and make the whole ensemble sound tighter.

I suppose I shouldn’t worry so much but I know everyone goes through this to some extent and I’m curious what you might have to say on the matter. Thank you

Re: Session variations and adjusting at a live session.

"You can simply play it confidently the way you know it and not worry about them – they can either adjust to you……."

It depends who starts the tune, surely? It’s not a good move to try and bend people towards your will.

"My goal is to be a strong enough player to adapt on the spot in the best way and make the whole ensemble sound tighter."

That’s your answer. You might not always pick up all the different notes or style of playing straight away but you can learn to "fit in". Sometimes, your own version may blend in but not always and it’s often just a case of missing out or lengthening the odd not here and there.
Is it "faking"? Not if you know what you are doing. More of an intelligent compromise, I’d suggest.

Re: Session variations and adjusting at a live session.

Further,
Sometimes, of course, you can just learn the other version(s) of the tune. I wouldn’t normally bother with this unless they were obviously distinct from each other. Generally, I would just adapt although if I was of the opinion that an alternative setting was better or more definitive I might well be tempted to change myself.

Re: Session variations and adjusting at a live session.

My approach: If the notes are consonant (no obvious clash, forming dyad implied chords), and the differences are just here and there in the tune and not completely different A or B parts, then it doesn’t matter. Play away.

If there is a clash, then someone has to give up their version and adapt by either sitting out, ghosting notes, or learning the other setting of the tune. At that point it comes down to pecking order in the session (the session leader or Alpha Fiddler’s version wins), or weight of numbers if you’re the only one with a different version. Or whatever consensual agreement can be worked out. If the version is different enough from the one I know and enjoy playing, I’ll probably just sit out the tune. If I like the other version enough, I might learn it and drop the one I know. I’ve done that a few times.

This can also happen with tunes in different keys than you’re used to, depending on how good you are at transposing on the fly.

Re: Session variations and adjusting at a live session.

One of the fun aspects of this music is how much interesting variety there can be between different settings of the same tunes, and it can really serve as a catalyst for improving your playing for a number of reasons. First off, it can help a player become more aware of what other players around them are doing, instead of being stuck only focusing on what they’re playing. Secondly, it can help players develop the ability to consciously change what they’re playing on the fly, which is an important step to starting to be able to put some expression into their playing in general… And finally, it can be really interesting to learn what other people are doing as potential for being a variation that can be added to your own repertoire or just for understanding a different interpretation of the same underlying musical idea. All of those are things that help us become better players.

The hard part is figuring out how to deal with it on the fly. I like the answers from Johnny Jay and Conical bore. It’s really a situational thing. In general, you defer to the person who started the tune, or maybe the session anchor if there is one. If you can’t pick up what the difference is immediately, you can play the phrase quietly so that you can try to pick up what they’re doing differently, and adjust your playing to that. If you find that can’t pick it up on the fly like that, you need to decide if it’s really dissonant. If so, then you need to either find something that works, which can sometimes just be picking up that they’re playing a single note flatted or sharp, and making sure you do that. But if the settings differ so much that you feel like you’re faking your way through whole phrases, maybe just stop and listen.

It sounds to me like you’re treating the situation well, with concern for those around you. So I wouldn’t worry too much about it. If you can get to the point where you can spot differences and adjust easily, that’s great, but then you get the new problem of two strong players who don’t normally play together both adjusting to each other and ‘flip flopping’ the second time through. When that happens, it’s often funny enough that you stop, laugh, and then mutually decide how you’re going to play it before you start up again. ;-)

Re: Session variations and adjusting at a live session.

I can think of several tunes where it’s "know who you’re with and how they play it" - and just go with the majority if you’re not leading the tune yourself. Some of these variations are only a short phrase or even one note, but tunes I can think of where this happens are: Margaret’s Waltz, Midnight on the Water, Inisheer, Stronsay Waltz and Planxty Irwin.

Re: Session variations and adjusting at a live session.

In London in the 1980s, Danny Meehan, the mighty fiddler from Donegal: if anyone started a tune that he knew but had not heard them play before, he would listen until they had played once through the complete tune before deciding whether to join in - if his version was compatible, or if he thought he could adapt to the way the tune was being played, he would join in. Otherwise he would not join in, but continue to listen - attentively. I wish more people would show the same respect!

Re: Session variations and adjusting at a live session.

Me too.

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Re: Session variations and adjusting at a live session.

Me too, too.

Re: Session variations and adjusting at a live session.

No great wisdom from me on this one. How to handle these events is something that comes up all the time, everywhere. Somehow it goes to the very nature of the session, learning to play together even with strangers. It requires 2 skills, an intimate connection with your instrument so the you can play without hesitation what you hear and, equally, the awareness to know that something different is happening, that as a player you need to adapt. It’s another kind of intimate connection, one between players. Thats what a session is (to me at least), a coming together to create a community. Maybe it’s not how you find a way to fit in but that you make the effort to find a way. Nobody is born to it. No-one gets it right all the time, but it is a skill and can be learned. All it takes is patience, practice, and, most of all, awareness.

Re: Session variations and adjusting at a live session.

If the other person started the set - and sometimes even if not - I’ll quiet my playing (fiddle) where I heard a clash and try to find something that fits. I’ve seen times when both of us did that and ended up sort of agreeing - and smiling about it - on something that was compatible.

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Re: Session variations and adjusting at a live session.

Priority should go to the musician who started the set. If I sense it’s a different version, I’ll listen through the first time to see how different it is or play along quietly to check for clashes before joining in fully.
I also think that players joining in should honour the tempo of the musician starting the set. Several times I’ve seen a set started only for others to leap in and force the speed the set up.

Re: Session variations and adjusting at a live session.

To me the only correct answer is Stiamhs. How can you adapt to the tune when playing immediately? When you hear it clash, well, it clashed. Better sit out the first round.

Re: Session variations and adjusting at a live session.

I agree with most of what has been said in the last few posts. It is better to "sit out" the tune on the first time round if it is obviously in a different setting or pace. Then join in on the second time round if you know what you are doing.

Sometimes, however, you may think it’s the version you know first time around and then there is a different note or phrase which crops up. Still, you know better the next time. :-)

Re: Session variations and adjusting at a live session.

…really good comments. For the most part almost all of the posts are reaffirming, even the ones that contradict one another. I do think I will eventually completely sit out completely when my ear is more perfected but for now I need to ghost a note here or there to make sure my ear is in the part of the scale that I think it is but I would like to get away from that and have started to more and more. I will try to play less though. It is difficult water to navigate for me sometimes.

There are times that I play when I sense that someone needs my support. There are other times when half the people in the session break all of this simple etiquette so I will just add my voice in a way that might help the chaos - usually I fail. Chaos is chaos. I am still fairly new to the music but I have good mentors and I have seen the good respectful sessions - I feel I know them when I see them.

Anyway, I’m really glad I posted. This is all very helpful. Thanks