Fake It!

Fake It!

Member Bog has started an interesting discussion about fake books. I’ve always wondered about this term. What is "fake"?

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When I was playing trumpet in band in High School (many years ago) I remember owning a copy of "The Real Fake Book". It was a collection of tunes and provided the bare minimum that you would need to learn and play the song and then you were expected to improvise.

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fake books allowed a band (typically a wedding band) to "fake" its way through a gig. Mine (from the 70’s) is mostly leadsheets, sometimes with chords, sometimes with piano arrangements. None were official, published, arrangements. These were great when you would play pop, swing, ethnic dance music (italian, german, polish, etc), rock, country, etc - typical fare for a wedding band. Horn players would have to transpose to their clefs on the fly and come up with their own melodies but at least the melodies were written down in a popular key. The modern "fake" book series are above board and can usually be had for your particular instrument.

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The original Fake Book was an unauthorised book containing leadsheets of many popular jazz standards. It was enormously successful, the O’Neills 1001 of its day and was (and is) the standard for working jazz musicians.

As a brand, it had very high name recognition and thus led to all sorts of imitations.

Whether the original sense meant fake as in unauthorised (in terms of copyright) or suitable for musicians who wanted to "fake it" is lost to the mists of time, but it works both ways.

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Good explanation here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fake_book.

Long story short — a fake book is a collection of related tunes, and each tune has just enough info to let a player or ensemble "fake it" — play a decent version of the tune on the spot without having the tune memorized.

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Most typically, a tune in a fake book will have melody line and chords.

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A "fake book" had the minimal info necessary to put the tune across—the melody and basic chord changes. It was a collection of "lead sheets."

The "Real Book" was a collection of lead sheets that included the melody and chord changes jazz guys were likely to play on commonly called standard tunes, typically with more complicated and ambiguous harmonies. I still regularly do gigs called out of the "Real Book," which was illegal because no copyrights had been paid. There are now legit, legal versions of "the Real Book" for sale, so you don’t have to buy them out of the trunk of some dude’s car, or in an alley.

I see no shame in using a fake book, but sooner or later you need to be able to work without it.

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Over on the other Fake Book thread, some excellent points were made about why fake books at Irish trad session really don’t work.

It boils down to a feeling that, if you actually propose to sit down, live and in real time, with a group of other players who all love and specialize in a pretty well defined body of traditional music, then you should know the fecking tunes.

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I have a copy of the Real Fake Book or whatever it was called for jazz standards, even though I’m not a musician in that genre. It’s very cool as it has so many of the classic jazz songs/tunes from the 40s & 50s that I know and love; especially the ones with lyrics (Take the A Train). It’s kind of a folk (jazz) treasure, so I guess the comparison with the Irish repertoire is apt. At a jazz jam or session they might expect you to play any tune from that book.

To be honest most if not all of those jazz standards are copyrighted, but if you are a learning musician or wanting to jam, you kind of need that whole collection.

In folk music Americana, there is the Rise Up Singing book, originally assembled by the AFSC (American Friends Service Committee - the Quakers, peace church tradition) with lyrics and chords to so many classic folk and popular songs. The original version (which I have) had some copyright issues, but the later ones resolved that by getting permission or dropping certain tunes.

Copyrighted sheet music; it all seems so quaint and innocent in these days of internet search engines.

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> The "Real Book" was a collection of lead sheets

Thank you for gently ignoring my error above :D

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"It boils down to a feeling that, if you actually propose to sit down, live and in real time, with a group of other players who all love and specialize in a pretty well defined body of traditional music, then you should know the fecking tunes."

For crying out loud, this attitude is just so "fecked" up. People have to learn somehow. At some point you are going to have to sit down with people when you don’t know the tunes, right? I mean how else are you supposed to learn them? At some point you have to try and not be great.

I’m working on "the rolling wave" right now on a low whistle, and there are at least four versions of the tune circulating on the internet and two versions on the online academy of irish music, and that’s just the basic tune, not the ornaments, so the idea that somebody will have "learned the tune" before he dares to sit down with Paunchy O’Bald and his high priests of authenticity is somewhat problematic to begin with. Does he have to know all the version on the internet? Or does he have to learn it from a 90 year old sheep farmer in the Gealtacht? Or will Paunchy only allow him/her to sit down if he knows the "correct" version, which lives in Paunchy’s head? Oh but she brought a book with her! Get a rope!

Mocking the beginner is fun, I guess, if you’re a jerk.

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> For crying out loud, this attitude is just so "fecked" up.

Do be aware that sessions are plagued by people who haven’t learned properly (or at all) and have no intention of doing so. You are clearly far away from being this sort of caricature but you need to know it’s a common experience to many people here.

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"…the idea that somebody will have "learned the tune" before he dares to sit down with Paunchy O’Bald and his high priests of authenticity is somewhat problematic to begin with."

What seems problematic to me is NOT learning the tunes that Paunchy is likely to call and the versions of them likely to get played before taking a seat in his circle.

It’s Paunchy’s fecking session!

Do Paunchy and his crew owe their entire evening to conducting a beginner’s class, walking anyone with a whistle and a copy of 101 Favorite Irish Session Tunes through their set list and explaining the versions and naming conventions they use before starting to play each tune?

Or should a beginner get a basic grip on the material, maybe take some actual lessons, maybe attend a dedicated beginner’s session or three, maybe listen to a few dozen of Paunchy’s sessions and get familiar with how things go before claiming a chair?

Is the beginner right to say to Paunchy, "You owe me a lesson here in your session" or is Paunchy right to say "You owe me and the rest of the players here some basic competence before claiming a seat."

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"People have to learn somehow. At some point you are going to have to sit down with people when you don’t know the tunes, right? I mean how else are you supposed to learn them?"

"so the idea that somebody will have "learned the tune" before he dares to sit down [and play] is somewhat problematic to begin with. Does he have to know all the versions on the internet?"

In a sense, you’re contradicting yourself here. The point is to learn the version played at the particular session, so you can join in, and in the end the easiest way to do this is to learn by ear. Take your recording device. Listen. If you then want to compare with written sources, fine. No one is suggesting otherwise. I’ve learned, at times the hard way, that you’ll be involved in a never ending chase if you rely solely on written sources.

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I’m with Mike O’Malley (above) on this one, and I may be one of those referred to by Calum who ‘plague’ sessions. However, I’d like his view on how many tunes one might have to learn in order to qualify for session membership. Personally, after about fifty years or so of poddling about in the folk music world, I probably have a couple of hundred in my head - many that I can call up at will and many more that I can confidently join in with when someone reminds me of them. Of these, perhaps a few dozen are the ones that are obviously common to the various players who make up the sessioneers in my area. I’m not all that keen on repeating a limited repertoire, and if I hear Drowsy Maggie played at increasing speed one more time I might do something rash. Consequently I like to pick up tunes that are new to me from various traditions, note them down and carry them around on a tablet - which now contains well over two thousand. This includes over 400 that I’ve gathered at local sessions that I didn’t previously know, but I also get them from recordings, the radio, friends, the Sessions site … . I maybe actually learn & memorise about one new tune every couple of weeks, but that’s enough for an ageing brain. The tablet therefore allows me to introduce new tunes and so help the ‘churn’ that makes sessions interesting, and it allows me to join in with other players on tunes I have in the collection but which I’ve not memorised. It also helps me to share tunes ‘on the fly’ with other players who read dots. I don’t use it all the time - just when it’s helpful to refer to it (as others refer to written dots at times)

I’ve not been told by other session players that they see me as a plague, and I’ve not heard that sort of sneering animosity directed at others who use such devices - which includes proficient players who also have a good stock of learnt tunes as well those less experienced who find an aide-memoire reassuring.

I grant you that having a shared familiarity with well-learned tunes (such as might be the repertoire of an enduring and fairly tight community) is likely to mean that they will be played with confidence and in a common style, thus presumably making them more authentic. But these days, we don’t all absorb the tradition at our grandparent’s knee - in fact I wonder if some of the most ardent espousers of the pure drop are converts, with all the associated zeal that often involves. We get our material where we can and, hopefully, learn about and respect the tradition(s) from which it derives, but there are just too many good tunes and there’s only so much you can hold in your head. I do my best in that regard, but I also need some time to do the shopping.

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See my comment above, regarding fake books—eventually you need to lose them, I totally agree. My ipad has @5000 lead sheets on it, and most of the time I don’t need it, because I know all the standard tunes that get called in jazz most of the time, around here. That’s from many decades of playing

But making fun of a novice for trying to learn is just lame. Recording a session, ok, fine, good idea. Then if you go to a different session they will be playing different versions of the head, and you’ll have to adjust. The only way to do that is "be good," and the only way to be good is "do it a lot." And the only way to do it a lot is if people are accepting of beginners, rather than sniggering about them using a fake book after they leave.

I have seen cases where people keep using fake books after they really don’t need them, and in that sense they are bad. But why hate on someone who chose to get off their butt and start to learn an oddball musical tradition which is out of step with modernity and doesn’t pay? Cherish that person, they are your fellow traveler.

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What does "a session" mean? It’s a serious question. Is it a closed community, a guild of the skillful, performing for themselves and whoever else is in the bar? Or an expression of shared community and recreation? I really do not know. I had no idea that someone (Paunchy O’Bald) could "own" a session.

If I get offered a gig, I accept that the person who offered the gig is the leader on the date: it’s his date. Is that how a "session" works? But the whole idea of a "session"—thinks me—is more casual, people who love the thing joining in. In that sense it’s more like a "jam session" in jazz? People don’t get paid at a session, do they? If they ARE getting paid, that changes everything to my mind.

I’ve done a fair amount of "jam sessions" in jazz, and sometimes guys get up who really just can’t play. but they won’t ever be able to do it unless they do it, in real time, with real people. A lot. Sometimes I won’t do a session if there are people coming who I know can’t play. I don’t hate them, it’s just the fun to work ratio skews too much towards work. But sometimes I do go, because I love the tradition and it dies if it doesn’t allow new people in.

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Excellent questions, Mike.

Searches on this forum for "what is a session" and "session etiquette" yield lots of past discussions.

There is also the difference between a trad session and a jazz or blues jam session — not to mention the fundamental differences between traditional Irish music and jazz and blues to begin with. But that’s another topic.

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"For crying out loud, this attitude is just so "fecked" up."

It’s fecked up that you’re supposed to know the tunes? Maybe you haven’t attended enough Irish trad sessions to realize the damage that can be done by people who insist on learning everything "on the fly," or by using sheet music.

Yes, there has to be an entry point. Cheap recorders and smartphones have made it easy to record the tunes being played, and then you can practice them at home. In an actual session (other than a beginner Slow Session), sheet music/fake books are a guaranteed way to slow down the flow. Tunes are often started spontaneously, and even switched spontaneously mid-set. You won’t always know what’s coming, which is part of the fun! If you’ve attended one session for a while, you’ll know most of the local repertoire and can follow the flow. A person relying on sheet music or tablet will still be scrambling to locate the right page, while the rest of the group has moved on to the next tune.

There is another aspect of Irish sessions that took me a while to get comfortable with, and that’s the idea that it’s perfectly fine to sit out a tune you don’t know. You don’t have to play on everything. And in fact you may not even play on the majority of the tunes if you’re fairly new to a local session. I’ve attended sessions where I sit out half the tunes.

This is very different from the jam culture in Blues, Bluegrass, and Jazz, where everyone expects to play on every tune, and the structure encourages it with a switch to accompaniment between solos. Naturally, you don’t want to take up a valuable seat in the center of a crowded trad session if you only know one or two tunes, so you just move to the periphery of the group while you’re building up repertoire. This sitting out requires some ego adjustment, if you’re used to a different jam scene.

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"At some point you are going to have to sit down with people when you don’t know the tunes, right?"
Yes and that can still happen no matter how long you have played sessions or how many tunes you know.
It’s all part of learning, using your ears effectively and getting familiar with the various tune types, styles of variation on the repeats, playing "with" other musicians in a session. Practice and learning from recordings is essential (for those of us who are mere mortals). But the session experience is not knowing how to dog paddle. You have to be willing to dive into the deep end of the pool and not land on another swimmer.
A cannonball may be impressive but it just makes a loud sound and a few big waves.

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One of the problems that I see with a "Fake Book" is that by it’s very nature, it means that the person is using it to be able to fake their way along without having to do the work - like using crib notes to cheat in school. And that is just going to diminish the quality of the music instead of add to it.

One might be able to argue that this is a path into actually learning the tunes. "Fake it until you make it". But I think that’s the wrong path. If someone is trying to use sheet music to get to a point where they know all the settings that might possibly be played of a particular tune, they’re going to spend their entire life trying to track down the sheet music. Instead, they should learn a "core setting" of a tune. (I talked about this in more depth in the "standard melodies" thread). Once they have that setting in their repertoire, then they use their ears to help figure out the differences between what they know and what other people are playing, and ultimately make changes to what they’re playing if necessary.

So how does one get to that point? Slowly, at first. One tune at a time. Preferably learning the tune directly from someone experienced, but if the person doesn’t have that luxury, then from a recording (keeping in mind that commercial recordings are often stylized versions of tunes that are not necessarily appropriate in a session setting). The last resort should be sheet music - especially when someone is new to the genre, because what makes it sound Irish is not the melody itself, but how it’s played. And you can’t get that from the sheet music (at least until you’re experienced enough to give it the right feel on your own). This process can take years. It might be a year or more before a new player will be ready to sit in a session, and even then they’ll probably sit out the vast majority of tunes…

There is no good shortcut. OK, I lied… I will give you some shortcuts:

1. Listen to as much Irish traditional music as you can. And don’t just listen passively. Hum along, or even better, lilt along with the melody. Lilt the ornaments too. That’s active practice for your brain even if you don’t have an instrument in your hands.

2. Find a learner’s session, slow session, or other people with similar goals and thirst for knowledge, and play with them and learn from them.

3. Surround yourself with players that are better than you. Make friendships, and use that to your advantage. Have them teach you tunes… Or take formal lessons from them. Or host house sessions, which can be more appropriate for trying to play along or asking questions (and being a gracious host is a great way to make friendships).

4. Go to your local session often. Record it (after getting permission, of course). Start to learn the tunes that they like to play and how they like to play them.

5. Relax and enjoy the journey instead of looking for shortcuts into the fray.

"…at least four versions of the tune circulating on the internet and two versions on the online academy of irish music, and that’s just the basic tune, not the ornaments…"

Mike, one other point I will make - in Irish traditional music, the ornaments are really used as "articulation" of the melody. Giving it flow and style. The ornaments are at the player’s discretion. And they are actually one of the ways that players will play the same melody differently each time through - by varying their articulation. So you should *not* look to sheet music to figure out how to ornament an Irish tune. Instead, that’s where listening to as much trad as you can comes into play. It’s OK to copy another player’s ornaments - but keep in mind that a recording is just one fixed moment in time, and the same player will likely ornament the tune differently if asked to play it again.

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"Oddball musical tradition which is out of step with modernity and doesn’t pay."

This is exactly why you don’t get it. You are approaching Irish traditional music from an outsiders perspective and refusing to examine it from a different angle. This isn’t jazz. It never will be and the majority of us like it that way.

If a classical violinist showed up to your local jazz jam and demanded you show him where to find written out solos for all of the charts you play so he could bring them next week, you’d probably react negatively. Its the same thing here.

If you want to learn Irish music, maybe listen to all the people giving you honest advice. Reverend gave a great list of suggestions.

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"At some point you are going to have to sit down with people when you don’t know the tunes, right?" That’s the point when you don’t play, but listen, and appreciate. You find out what the tunes are, and go and learn them at home. You go back and play them when you’ve learned them well enough to fit in. In the words of a great philosopher, Rich Hall, "it ain’t rocket surgery".

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"This is exactly why you don’t get it. You are approaching Irish traditional music from an outsiders perspective and refusing to examine it from a different angle. This isn’t jazz. It never will be and the majority of us like it that way."


So for pete’s sake, this is exactly why I ask questions, and here you are telling that the asking of questions indicate the need for asking questions. I’m not "refusing" to do anything!!! What the hell are you talking about?

How many times have I already indicated i know it’s n0t jazz? And did you notice where I thanked reverend?

WTF??

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"Why don’t people use fakebooks?"

"Because fakebooks slow down sessions and lead to homogenization of the repetoire/prevent you from listening and learning the tunes, i.e. making it less fun for established players."

"You are putting down beginners and telling them not to participate. Your music is outdated and weird, in comparison to mine."

That seems to be the thread of the conversation. Asking for help does you no benefit if you don’t synthesize the advice. And you say it isn’t jazzn and then immediately use jazz as a comparison. In anthropology this is called ethnocentrism, and it’s something anyone needs to avoid when studying a new culture.

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Looking back on this thread and on the other Fake Book thread, I have to admit a deep envy for you guys who actually have sessions of any kind going on where you can get to them. I spend most of my time on the road in Latin America, and when I’m Stateside it’s usually in Omaha, Nebraska — not a hotbed of Irish traditional music activities. So personally, I’m cutting everybody some huge slack and saying — no matter where you are, if you have any kind of live Irish traditional music going on near you and you’re interested enough in the tradition to attend, take advantage and don’t worry too much about anything but soaking it up if it’s available. And if you’re ever tempted to leave before last shout, just think of the poor thirsty bastards in China.

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Wesley Mann kiss my irish american ass.

I’ve only ever watched a couple sessions. I’ve never tried to play, and will not until I’m more proficient. I practice diligently using the resources available here in Wash DC. I know a lot about some vernacular music traditions and have asked for comparison. I’ve read a number os serious histories of ITM. I ask questions to get information, because I think its an interesting and beautiful musical tradition. But it is not a mainstream from of music even in Ireland.

Fortunately for both of us we live on opposite sides of a large country

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@ Mike O’Malley:
"I’ve read a number os serious histories of ITM. I ask questions to get information, because I think its an interesting and beautiful musical tradition. But it is not a mainstream from of music even in Ireland."

What point are you trying to make with that last comment? Is Jazz a mainstream form of music in the USA? No, it’s a niche style of music, no relation to modern "mainstream" Pop music, with it’s own history and certain conventions for those who gather to play on an amateur basis. Irish sessions are the same, in relation to "mainstream music," and the conventions are just different.

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"…serious histories of ITM." Such as? I’m curious.

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Maybe such as "The Oddball Tradition" by U.R. Adafty and "Living in the Past" by I.A.M Skint.

For your information Mike O’Malley, where it comes from, this Oddball music completely dwarfs Jazz music, and certainly in my country, the top jazz players have the utmost respect for their traditional counterparts.

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I have to admit I’m a bit puzzled. Any competent jazz player has to hear, and respond to, complex chromatic chord substitutions coming two to the bar at tempos that often exceed that of the fastest reel. So why freak out about hearing and responding to slight changes in mostly simple diatonic melodies?

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"I have to admit I’m a bit puzzled. Any competent jazz player has to hear, and respond to, complex chromatic chord substitutions coming two to the bar at tempos that often exceed that of the fastest reel. So why freak out about hearing and responding to slight changes in mostly simple diatonic melodies?"

?? I’m not freaking out about it, I’m asking about it. I don’t play any of the melody instruments in ITM, although I’m practicing the whistle, and so as a beginner I entered into a discussion about fake books, which are commonly used by beginners in other vernacular genres, like jazz. That’s hardly "freaking out."

My critical reaction was to the contempt heaped on people who might bring a fake book to a session. Everyone has to be a beginner at some point. Why crap on them for being interested in something you love? It makes zero sense.

Also by "oddball" I mean "not mainstream." Even IN IRELAND ITM is not the most popular form of music. I’m not interested in whose music is better, not at all, and would not be here if I wasn’t interested in ITM. Just to be clear, I do not think Jazz is "better’ or jazz musicians are "better:" I never said anything of the kind. From now on, I will not mention any other genres of music, ok? Sorry to have ruffled any feathers.

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"Any competent jazz player has to hear, and respond to, complex chromatic chord substitutions coming two to the bar at tempos that often exceed the fastest reel. So why freak out about hearing and responding to slight changes in mostly simple diatonic melodies?"

That is true, and any musician that has learned the skills to play jazz competently can surely acquire the skills to play traditional music to a similar level. But I think there are different skills involved. A jazz musician needs to be fluent at improvising around a chord progression and picking up on subtle variations in the harmony but, in doing so, has the freedom to depart considerably from the head (basic melody); traditional music is melody-led, not harmony-led, and matching a melody exactly* on the fly is perhaps not something that jazz musicians are often required to do (and the ‘head’ in most jazz numbers is considerably less ‘notey’ than trad tunes). There are, no doubt, some jazz musicians that can adapt with ease to the trad mindset, but it is not necessarly a given - for many musicians, old habits die hard.

*Matching the melody ‘exactly’ is not always a requirement for playing traditional music, of course, but the rules by which players can diverge from one another in traditional music are not the same as those by which one can deviate from the head in jazz. Understanding the difference between a ‘variant’ and a ‘variation’ in trad also takes some fine re-tuning of the ear.

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Mike, why should I be glad we are on opposite sides of the US? Asking for a friend.

If you want to bring sheet music to a session that’s fine, just don’t expect other players to like it or for it to make you any better at playing the music. That’s the message of the thread.

If you want to improve at Irish traditional music a huge part of it is listening closely and emulating what other players are doing, and the primary venue for that is sessions. As has been discussed elsewhere recorded music isn’t quite the same as session music, so it doesn’t completely suffice for the purpose of learning.

The main reason emulating other players is important is that every instrument in trad is an island. You dont have the benefit of the bass and drums laying down a groove for you to fit into, each player has to make that groove him or herself. And one player in a small group not matching up with the rhythm of either the overall group or the music in general throws the whole session off, which in turn makes it less enjoyable for everyone involved.

As you so crudely pointed out, sessions aren’t paying gigs for most of the musicians present. They come to enjoy themselves and play music, so someone coming to a session with sheet music and not listening/jiving/whatever you want to call it with the group screws up their enjoyment of the session. And those people are not obliged to welcome or make space for beginners. If it is a pub session there is generally a consensus with the pub owner that the session provides entertainment in exchange for a venue and/or compensation, and the session wants the music to be the best it can so that they hold up theor end of the bargain. Likewise house sessions, where people are getting together to enjoy themselves. The person opening his or her home has no obligation to invite musicians who are not going to increase the enjoyment of the participants.

There are many resources for beginners, but fakebooks aren’t among them, for a reason. Every type of music has an associated apprenticeship, and lostening and emulating are the big ones for ITM.

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CMO- Indeed. And I in no way meant to say that if you can play jazz you can automatically play in an Irish session. On the contrary, I suspect that part of the OP’s problem is that he may have started from that premise and is now realizing it ain’t so. Many of us who came to ITM from other genres or disciplines have learned this the hard way. I simply wanted to point out that rather than worrying about learning dozens of settings of any given tune, or worse yet relying on fakebooks he give his presumably well-trained ear a workout.

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X-post with Wesley Mann

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Mike - do any of those "serious histories" mention fake books? Asking for a friend….. (sitting on my dublin arse in California, drinking a cup of tea, on the opposite coast from you so I’m probably safe…)

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A recently compiled little booklet containing a selection of tunes from the Dutch session scene (maybe a step or two down from musical heaven, but what can you do) and a brief introduction to the etiquette of said scene has the following to say on sessions and sheet music:

"Although I’ve often heard it said that there are no rules to a session, I disagree. As with any social event, there are certain codes of conduct, breaking which will call down the displeasure of your fellow musicians upon you. These unwritten rules are not the same in every place, but there are a few which are pretty much universal. Although most of it seems obvious, it might not be so when you’ve not attended a session before, and so I will set them out here.


Irish music is played by heart. Musicians at a session constantly interact with each other while playing: nods for changing key, smiles for cunning variations, looks of confusion for unknown tunes, etc. If your eye is locked onto a piece of paper with notes on it, you miss this key element of the music. Besides, sheet music is a poor
representation of a tune in any case –ornamentation is never written down and the subtle rhythmic accents that make the difference between machine and musician couldn’t be even if you tried."

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@Tijn Berends: That’s nice and concisely put. I’d be interested to read the rest of the ‘rules’. (Is the booklet in English? I could probably plough my way through a Dutch text and catch some of the meaning, but something like this needs nuanced language that is way beyond my linguistic prowess.)

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Thanks. I like it. Had I had access to something like that 20-odd years ago, it might have saved me a few scowls or cold shoulders. Nowadays I’m too old to care ;-)

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That’s a keeper, AB, thank you.

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Michael -

An excellent resource is Barry Foy’s "Field Guide to the Irish Music Session". It’s a classic. Short, concise, funny,
wise and accurate. Pretty sure it’s available via Amazon.

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One of the "rules"

"NO RUSH

When a set is finished, take a moment to catch your breath, maybe ask for the name
of the second tune, take a sip from your drink.
You can wait a minute or two before starting a set of your own especially if you already started the last set. Give other people a chance to pick a tune or a song too."

This is one of my pet hates when musicians don’t give each other a chance to breathe. I’m not suggesting long gaps for blethers necessarily. After all, this gives the bar staff a chance to turn up the music(see other thread) :-) but a reasonable pause allows some of the less pushy players an opportunity
Of course, I also love these top notch sessions where the tunes just seem to flow constantly but these are not your average sessions.

I have noticed that "breaks" are less common in scheduled sessions, e.g. where the music starts at 9pm on the dot and finishes bang on midnight or whatever and especially if there’s money involved..
There seems to be a sense of urgency during the period in which the musicians are getting paid or booked and a sense of finality at the end of the night.. "We’ve done our bit" sort of attitude.

Personally, I prefer these sessions which just happen and seem to go on forever, sometimes with a rotating cast of players but, as I’ve often bemoaned, there is far less informality these days.

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In my experience, when a session has to stop it is because the bar staff have "done their bit" - ie, the hours they’ve been paid for - and want to get home, not necessarily the musicians. And I for one don’t blame them.

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In many cases, this is true, Kenny.

However, in many venues, the bar will remain open for another hour or so after the alloted time and I’ve seen afternoon sessions finish "bang on" too.

Of course, there may be other considerations such as meals or using the premises for other things but that’s often not the case.

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"the bar staff have "done their bit" ". Kenny, I’ll never forget the afternoon I was in a pub and the owner of the pub was singing. It was wonderful and everyone was absolutely quiet. Everyone except for the woman working behind the bar. It wasn’t for lack of trying. She was not loud or in any way disrepectful of the singer.
Yet a few customers were scowling at her. The problem wasn’t that she was intentionally making noise.
The pub served drinks and food. And the patrons did not stop ordering food; the same patrons attentively listening to the singer. The worker had work to do. She didn’t deserve the dirty stares, especially since they probably wanted their food, drink served to them and their glasses clean. She did not spoil the singing for me at all and I was sitting at the bar about three feet from her and the owner was at the other end of the room, singing.

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Of course, customers including musicians should always respect the bar staff and, while it’s good to be welcomed, it works both ways.
Returning glasses etc to the bar in between tunes rather than having staff waiting or having to hover around or feeling intrusive is always a great help too.

Also, just because the landlord or manager is pro music, it doesn’t mean that the staff will always enjoy the experience. For them, being there is just a necessary means of earning a crust.

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Johhny Jay, I agree about the "No Rush" rule. There are people in my local session that seem to go into a panic if there is ANY space. They will start looking around like, "quick somebody start a tune", or they will assume a space means no one has anything to say, as if no one can think of a tune. And we have one player in particular who will just launch into any obscure tune that no one knows, just to fill the space. I find that really annoying. (I have no problem listening to tunes I don’t know, and I LOVE hearing tunes I’ve never heard before, but the assumption that no one else can think of a tune… that drives me crazy.) I used to start more sets, but I don’t much anymore. I’m fine with just playing along. It seems somewhat disrespectful to the tunes played, when people are piggybacking all over sets, and not allowing breathing space… There’s one exception though, in those times when the session really kicks into high gear, and the craic is mighty, then it’s fun to just have back to back tunes. It’s not something that can be forced though. And the worst thing after a big nice run of tunes like that, is for someone to immediately jump in with another tune. IMHO

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Different genres have their own approaches, attitudes, etiquette, etc and the fact is that ITM sessions have traditionally been done without sheet music, the players having memorized their music.

Which is not to say that a good sightreader can’t play reels and jigs up to speed and with perfectly acceptable style by sightreading them from sheet music- I would wager that Wesley can.

People can and do play music perfectly well that they do not "know" (have memorized). All the film soundtracks you hear are played by people who have just seen the music for the first time, have had perhaps a couple run-throughs, and then record it. None of the players "know" the music, and there is no reason on earth for them to "know" it. They don’t have to memorise music to play it well.

Somebody could walk into a session and play reels and jigs for hours, perfectly well with the session, that they didn’t "know". Plenty of people can read that well. I’ve seen it done.

I’m not quite that good a sightreader, but for sure if I had the music in front of me I could play any reel or jig up to speed with the session by the second time through the tune, or if not that by the third. (But then again I could get the tune by ear, mostly, by the third playing too.)

I find Highland pipe music easier to sightread cold up to speed that ITM reels and jigs, possibly because I have more experience doing it.

But I wouldn’t show up at an Irish session with a pile of sheet music, because that’s not what an Irish session is about, seems to me.

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"if I had the music in front of me I could play any reel or jig up to speed with the session by the second time through the tune, or if not that by the third"

Hi Richard,

I agree with most of what you’ve said here but I’d like to make a quick comment(not a criticism) re that sentence. I’m a fairly good sight reader myself for the melody line(slower with bass clef), at least. However, as you may(?) agree the sheet music will tell you what the note is but not the best way to play it on your instrument.. i.e. in terms of fingering, positions etc.

Of course, most of the music is very straightforward but there are some tunes with the occasional tricky note or passage where it might be appropriate to change your fingering.. e.g. from your third finger to your pinkie or to a closed position rather than an open string or vice versa. For me, this is sometimes trial and error although, if the tune is in my head, I can usually sort things out much quicker.
So, arguably, playing be ear is better for this although a good player should still manage after two or three times through as you say.