Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

So from some of the discussions I’ve seen, I’m a little afraid to post this, but hoped that a relative newbie to ITM could get some suggestions or ideas (or at the very least, hear from someone who may have experienced a similar thing).

So I have a long background in classical piano and flute (thirty*cough**cough*some, not wonderful or anything, but not too bad either) and so I really really know how to practice. I’m very good friends with my metronome, and how to work with small sections, learn from the end of tunes rather than from the beginning. I practice tunes and build them up and work on trying to get in varying ornaments/articulations and can play them at home usually pretty well.

And then, I go to session. Hence the title. Every once in awhile, when the stars align and the fates are right (annoyingly also not really lining up in any logical way with the time/ amount that I have practiced) I’ll go and at least the tunes will go fairly well. Most of the time though, with everyone around I find myself getting lost in the repetitions (which doesn’t happen at home) and feeling like the tunes are changing out from underneath me when I’m not looking and I don’t mean changing tunes in a set (Ha, you thought you were just setting out to see the Mist on the Mountain? Oh, no lass, we’re Coining the Moon!).

Is there a certain way that I should be practicing that I’m not to prepare for a group setting that does constantly change (in a good way) and isn’t rehearsed in the same way as a band or orchestra? Has anyone from a classical background experienced this?

It’s super embarrassing too because there are so many really good players at my session and then there’s me…

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

Here’s a thought. I have no reason to believe it’s valid, but I think it explains a lot for myself and I think I’ve seen it in others. Often when we shine at home and collapse in sessions it seems that when we’re playing with others we listen intently to what everybody else is doing and forget about what we’re doing ourselves. Don’t get me wrong, listening and adapting to the other players is very, say it with me, very important. I only suggest we not be so intent that we lose ourselves. Hard to do when we’re with stellar players. For me it helps to record the tune at my best, put it aside, then come back and play along. Though it still happens, what I call "flail mode" happens less with time. In other words, fall down, laugh, dust yourself off, and jump back in. It gets better.

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

My humble thought is this: Do you play along with a recording of the tune you are practicing/learning? Grey Larsen’s cd’s or June McCormack’s tutor recordings. The pace is steady, and controllable if you use slow-downer speed changer software. Loop it and ‘grind the tune’ into you ears as you play along. You can try out small variations/excursions from the main path through the melody when it starts to feel repetitive. Better yet, download some choons from Shannon Heaton. You want those tunes ‘in your bones.’

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

35yrs classical violin here….

- it’s not a competition (as long as the other players are friendly, if not maybe it’s not the session you want)
- as long as you don’t out-fortissimo everyone else no one‘s gonna notice the odd mistake or coming back in on the start of the next phrase if you’ve been thrown off
- try skipping the ornaments - first objective is to keep up
- if it’s still too fast see if you can skip a couple beats e.g instead of EEA in a jig pla E2A…. (slap me if that’s a mortal sin, if so go to #2)

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

Well my first thought, and it might be totally off is that the situation could be a result of adrenaline .
To deal with that I recommend going for a run straight before you practice. :-) that way you get the adrenaline , and time to learn how to deal with it in your practice session.
Secondly, it’s not so much as ‘leave out’ the ornaments. It’s practice the tunes without them untill you can have a conversation and not skip a note or stumble.
That is a good time to introduce ornaments.
Practice the ornaments as technical exercises , so cranny rolls etc cuts . Within the firmst of scales. Etc etc..s
This is how we ‘play with’ the tunes.
Your mileage may vary 8-)

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

It happens to all beginners in sessions. My advice: throw the metronome out the window. Then learn to recognize the rhythms, and to generate them for yourself. Reels, Jigs, Polkas, Slides and else, has a particular rhythm and accent, even experienced musicians have problems with them sometimes.

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

"Most of the time though, with everyone around I find myself getting lost in the repetitions (which doesn’t happen at home) and feeling like the tunes are changing out from underneath me when I’m not looking and I don’t mean changing tunes in a set"

Don’t quite understand what’s going on - do you mean that if a tune is played more (or less) than 3 times through you get lost and can’t get into the next tune that’s played in the set? If that’s the case do you learn tunes in sets or just as individual tunes?

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

> Is there a certain way that I should be practicing

Not exactly. What you’re doing at home is practising to be a great solo player of traditional music, but that’s giving you none of the skills of the session.

I’m not quite sure from the way you phrase it, but yours is quite a common problem in people that turn up to a session, then come back three months later, then three months again after that. If that’s the problem, the answer is to find a way to sit in on a session week in, week out, for a year or two. That generally does it. The three-month thing also works, it just takes much, much longer…

It’s quite common for classical musicians to not be confident of their aural skills - if this is you, working on that can do a lot for your awareness of what’s going on in sessions - not just in terms of learning tunes but instinctively recognising wrong notes as opposed to "alternate" notes, say…

Posted by .

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

Would it not be logical, if you are going to play along at a particular session, to record the tunes played at the session, and practice playing along with that recording ? For sure, the music won’t be the same every night, but that would surely give you some more practical guidance as to what’s happening "in the real world" and would be of more use than playing along with a metronome. My two bawbees worth.

Posted by .

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

Keep listening, keep playing, be enthusiastic, don’t dwell on cock-ups. Being present in the here and now helps.

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

"and can play them at home usually pretty well"

In my experience, "pretty well" is not enough. You need to be able to skip a couple of notes and pick right up at the right section. Not just knowing a tune from the beginning of a phrase but also from the middle of the phrase. So if (when) you fumble, and I always do, you can immediately pick up again.

Also, tempos tend to drift sometimes in sessions, keeping a steady pace with a metronome is not really representative. It should be, in an utopia, but you really need to be able to play it at several tempo’s and be prepared to play it both much slower and much faster than you’re used to.

Posted by .

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

Is it a concert flute you’re playing? Maybe try one with fewer keys (wooden), or a keyless? Or even whistle?
Good luck anyway!

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

I agree with Boyen,
To enjoy a session and keep it lit, one needs to know the tunes and be up to speed. For me that means learning ‘em bar by bar, note by note, at home so you can get right into the corners of ‘em, and won’t get lost at full speed in the session.

Busking along in sessions, I never found satisfying. Try this:
Don’t play along to CD’s, they might be masking what needs learning. ( I find CD’s flatter me )
Listen to the CD’s etc for the inspiration, but practice the tunes solo.
Also practice slow, with a metronome. The metronome is your truest friend.

Then try them in a 2nd or 3rd key.
THEN you’ll know them, inside out and won’t get lost.

Its a journey, enjoy it. Good luck
Pat

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

I can absolutely relate to what you experience at sessions. I come from a classical and sheet music background and tend to get lost in tunes I remember perfectly well at home. Variations from the other players often confuse me. I blame it on my lack of session practice (too busy schedule to go more often than once a months, and then it’s a learners’ session and not an established one) and still hope I will get better with time.

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

I really enjoyed your comments. From what you say it is clear that you are really committed to the music. From the thoughtfullness of your post I would be very surprised if you do not play really well. But I do have some bad news: as a player of this music for more than forty years I can tell you: some times you play like a young god on the foothills of mount olympus; sometimes your playing sounds like two cats fighting in a bag. There is nothing you can do about it. You have to take the rough with the smooth. but when it works it is the most exquisite pleasure which exists (once every two years for about two minutes in my experience)

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

A thought
You are playing by ear at the session ?
Or are you reading notation while playing ?
For Irish dance music, the dots are only useful to capture the tune, and should be discarded ASAP so the tune can be committed to memory.

If you are reading, you may not be listening.

Good luck
Pat

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

My experience reminds me of what you’re describing. For me it was about a few contributing factors. I did not really know the local session versions - you should record them and practice them. I was not good at hearing what seemed like chaos before my ear adapted. People in the session will play different versions at the same time and ornamentation can be confusing. Sometimes you hear ad-libbed lines that can really be confusing. I think that the Comhaltas recordings really helped me. They are the most session-like recordings I know (they are not tight or very cleanly played) and they are some of the best ‘standard’ versions I’ve heard on recording. I recommend you do not look at the books because they do not match the recordings very well.
The other thing is to play as often as you can and really try to sit and listen more. Be patient. I was an accomplished player and it still took me a long time. It’s different and more difficult than I thought it should be. I still struggle with all the different versions that people play. For this I’ve gathered a large collection of music so that when I’m working on a tune I can listen to several versions. My hope is that this will develop my instinct and the quickness of my ear to finger memory.
I think that everyone should have slow down software for their development. I use "Anytune" for my IPad (which I prefer) and "Transcribe!" when I’m working on my laptop PC (It’s good but I find it cumbersome). Don’t underestimate the value of listen to good recordings at excruciatingly slow tempos to get the between the cracks part of this music. There is a lot of magic. Also don’t underestimate the brain’s ability to make you hear a different note than that which is really there. The slow down software helps me with this.

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

The way IMO to avoid the variations issue, is to approach the tunes as simply as humanly possible. Remove everything that isn’t essential to the tune, then there is much more space to hear what others are doing.
If your busy busy busy putting in things , or just repeating rote learned ornamented settings , then it’s very hard to also listen listen listen.
If you understand tunes as ideas rather than as set pieces, then there are many ways to phrase an idea.
If you get to grips with a chordal instrument, this can be a real help to view tunes as spread out chords , so for example a phrase of a tune based on An Am chord can be phrased in Countless different ways, ‘the tune ‘itself is one way, unless you have a different setting…… when it’s still the same tune, same chord, just another way…. and maybe in a session many people or just some are playing different settings, maybe with different ornaments …..
it’s an art form, takes time and understanding . Be patient, be persistent and be happy :-)

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

If variations are getting you tripped up, as Gudrun K. says it does for him/her, then possibly you’re just not listening to enough ITM. Listening alot is so important to your sense of every aspect of the music, really really really. both active and passive listening too. For me anyway.

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

It sounds like you need to listen to the other players. This probably sounds like basic advice, but it’s hard to do if you are unfamiliar with the idiom or don’t know the tunes very well. One of the things that makes session playing difficult is that every player can bring a totally different style to each tune, so you have to pay careful attention to what the other players are doing. It’s a skill, just like playing in a large ensemble is different from playing with an accompanist, which is different from playing solo.

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

’ Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the session’!
Apologies to Mr Yeats.
What an interesting and relevant discussion! I have nothing to add to the very helpful comments here except to wish you, @SarahC, all the best & to suggest that you ramble in to a variety of sessions if at all possible. Come to Ireland in July /August for a better chance of that possibility!

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

Wow, there are so many great responses here and so much to address, I hope I don’t miss anything!

So to start off with I do play on a wooden flute already. I try to play softly so as to blend in but it is hard to because I have a Casey Burns and that thing really goes (which will be awesome when I get the hang of this, it is a beautiful instrument!) and I’m kind of afraid sometimes that even when I’m trying to play ppp that people three blocks over wonder what that noise is! The session I go to is very friendly and welcoming. I don’t myself bring dots to the session but sometimes people kindly offer them for tunes I don’t know, and so long as the tune doesn’t involve F naturals or Bb’s and I can actually see the music (blind as a bat but that’s a story for a different day!), I can read well and usually get some music into it. Also, I do go regularly.

For me, and maybe because of my background, if I wait too long to start adding stuff in it will get locked down in cement (the first tunes I learned, I learned exactly like I would learn a piano piece I was memorizing for performance), so I will first make sure that I can do sections of the tune without as I am learning it, but then quickly (sometimes using dots for this because seeing the basic chord structure can help) start adding in playing the section with some just so that I don’t get locked down into one, and that I really teach my brain that this is living and breathing in a different way. I think definitely varying practicing playing the tunes with other recordings, cd’s and recording the sessions is good. As far as what I’m using to learn I’ve gone in stages, started out entirely dots, then on suggestion went entirely aural (but my tune learning slowed down so much while trying to do this that people kept commenting on how few tunes it seemed like I knew). So then I went a combination of aural/dots/listening that does improve the speed of tune learning. Interestingly enough, the flail mode has happened regardless of which way I’m learning.

So trying them in different keys sounds like a very good idea as well! I know I need more ITM listening, and try to use YouTube and other things and add music to my collection as I can afford.

So for Ross and several people who suggested either listening a little less or listening more, I will definitely try varying how I’m listening (I do try to listen a lot, but sometimes can forget when in full on flail mode, which is such a perfect term for it, btw) and see what happens.

Boylen, part of my practice at home is making sure that I can do that and pick up right away if I miss a note, which is why I find myself really flummoxed when I get to a session and find that it takes me way longer to jump back in than it should.

Breifne, thank you. Hoping to get to the point where I can access that young god(des) on the foothills of mount Olympus thing more often! Also, my cat (I am sure) thinks that 2 cats in a bag fighting would sound just fine. On the other hand, being a spoiled kitty, he’s never been exposed to another kitty in a bag and never will be, so what does he know? :-)

Christmas Eve, oddly enough I think if I had anything in the back of my head when I was writing this post, it was the Chinua Achebe (which if I’d been fully conscious of, given the gravity of the subject I probably wouldn’t have called back to in my title), but of course Achebe was likely referencing Yeats there. Oh, if only I could get to Ireland! Though I’d probably listen more than anything so as not to be that annoying American bumbling along…

Okay, so its really good to hear that other people making this transition have experienced similar things. So a question I have for you experienced players of ITM, so at this point, when you’re learning a new tune do you add in anything articulation/ornament-wise, or do you learn the basic tune and are you so down with the technique and possibilities that you can take that tune and adapt it/improvise around what everyone at a given session is doing? Or do you have some favorite go-tos in a given tune that you can play if they fit, and discard if they don’t?

Maybe, actually I didn’t ask the right question at the outset. Maybe what I really should ask is this…

How do you learn tunes (I mean, break it down for me step by step in terms of how much listening before starting, do you learn to sing it first, how much with a metronome, when do you start playing with adding stuff in, playing with others or recordings et cetera…)?

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

Playing in a session is a totally different thing to playing in an orchestra.
We are all different in how we best learn, but what I do is get the stave music and play it endlessly. Then I remove the music and see if I can play it without the music. When |I can do that really well, then I add the ornamentation, because it’s normally done by how you feel it best sounds, and often I play the same tune diferently with different ornamentation on different occasions.
What might be good for you is to try to see if somebody will play with you. Just you and one other person. The try to add another so there are 3 of you. Keep doing that for a while and it will give you the confidence to then move on to play really well with a bigger group.
Remember, there’s never a problem with sitting out a few tunes, and giving other players a chance to shine. Then you get your turn.
Most players will agree that there’s nothing worse than the show-off who hoggs the limelight and is totally selfish.

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

I have this problem as well in fact, but on the accordion.
Fine at home, sometimes fine at the session, but sometimes falls apart to an extent, if the tune wasn’t being carried by everyone else…. I’ve been playing Irish music for only a couple of years on the accordion, but learned various instruments classically as a child some years ago.

I’m with Ross - the second post - on this. I do find now and again that I can’t hear myself playing that clearly amongst everyone else, and lose it as a result. It’s not that you don’t know the tune - I have the same thing of being able to play it just fine at home - it just gets tangled up every now and again when playing in public.
Quite often, it’s at the interface between leading one tune into another where it goes wrong.

I agree with various other people here - for me, leave out the ornamentation until it’s just right, and a solid tune with good rhythm. I read somewhere a while back, that if you ornament a phrase, and it throws the rhythm as a result, leave it out. You can always revisit it later when the tune is more solid.

Perhaps it’s the subconscious pressure of playing with others who are generally better?
I also find personally that I play better with only a few people, rather than a large group.
Interesting to hear that people have similar experiences with this….

Posted by .

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

Expect the unexpected.

Even if you’d know every tune played during a session, things like speed, swing, style, setting, amount of variation etc. would vary. Sometimes you’re lucky to play with people who seem to have the same ideas as you, often not. If you mess up, make sure you can get back on track. If the others change to a tune you didn’t (yet) expect, make sure you can switch to that one. If someone plays something different from what you play (and you have the aural skills to notice that), make a mental note of it in case it happens again. Maybe it sounds good, and you want to use it as well. What Will says about chord thinking is also wise. Sometimes everybody is "right" although nobody plays the tune like anybody else present. Think about that.

If you’re learning primarily from written sources, focus more on (the idea of) the tune than which note that takes you to the next one. Listen to at least one recording of the tune, if there is one. Notice how the same idea is expressed in different ways (by changing the notes, or something else). Are there more melody instruments? Does every instrument play exactly the same notes? If not, why?

The session is not a performance. Imagine playing under less than optimal circumstances (see Will’s reference above about going for a run). Maybe they’re playing the tune in another key? Maybe you’re travelling without an instrument, but are allowed to borrow someone else’s? Maybe something on your instrument isn’t working the way it should (all of a sudden)? What can you do in order to still play the tune? Maybe they’re playing a which isn’t identical to yours, but close enough? Are you able to pick up the differences? (=You should!)

Expect the unxpected.

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

« How do you learn tunes (I mean, break it down for me step by step in terms of how much listening before starting, do you learn to sing it first, how much with a metronome, when do you start playing with adding stuff in, playing with others or recordings et cetera…)? »

I’ve been at this music for quite a few years now, well a few decades actually, and these days I don’t generally attempt to learn a tune until I’m already very familiar with it. I suppose I’ve got enough tunes under my belt that there is no desperate rush to add more. I don’t usually sing the tunes before transferring them onto an instrument, but I know them well enough that I could. It’s easy that way. Learning them any other way is generally a bit too much of an effort. I mean I will learn a tune that I’ve never heard before from sheet music if I have to, for a performance of some kind, but only if I have to. I don’t use a metronome either.

As for adding stuff in, well that sort of takes care of itself. There isn’t a separate step of adding anything. I put the tune onto an instrument and in doing so I use devices that I am comfortable with and that will make it work on that instrument. And since I know the tune already, and have usually heard people playing it on different instruments over the years, variations are in my head before I start. If you’re not at that stage yet, keep it simple, and "stuff" will just add itself when you’re ready.

My guess is that you might be missing an essential step, that of listening to loads and loads of Irish music, constantly, for pleasure and for your general aural education, and not just with a view to learning a particular tune that you know is played at a particular session. Am I right? In any case, I think you just need to be more comfortable with the language, and time and serious immersion (obsession) is what will help there.

http://www.rogermillington.com/siamsa/brosteve/meditation.html#truebeliever

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

Ok , something I might mention, is your playing a blaster right, well people who do that often are the leaders in a session. I know plenty of players who only lead sessions for whatever reasons…. it’s quite normal.
It’s much harder to fit in when your the loudest instrument ….. what I’d suggest and it’s out of the box, is to find a backing guitarist or bazouki and practice a bunch of tunes , get a set together , and then lead sets of tunes every now and then , rather than follow.
Alternatively get a quieter flute for sessions.
It sucks having to try to be quiet on a loud instrument, you need to be able to let go to really play well and how to do that and follow ….
No wonder your having difficulties .

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

To answer your second question, how do you learn tunes, for me, I have to be able to hear it entirely in my head without seeing notes or having an instrument in my hands. This usually requires hearing it a ton of times or playing it using notes a lot until I have the melody memorized. From there, it’s repetition of the tune on the instrument until my fingers match what my ears expect. Or at least mostly match. I would certainly say I know more tunes than I’ve mastered.

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

(I’ll come back and reply to everyone as soon as I can, there is so much here and I have to get ready for an appointment right now but I did want to take a minute to express appreciation for all the responses so far, and for taking the time to really read and respond to my posts)!

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

It seems to be a universal consensus among my local tune-playing compatriots that playing by oneself at home and playing with other people are two almost completely different things — adding other people into the mix always makes it more challenging at first, and then gradually it gets funner and less difficult.

As for learning tunes … I don’t really read music (It’s more akin to a four-year-old sounding out words), so most of my learning is by ear, and my fiddle teacher will tab things out and suggest bowings, etc. If I’m familiar with a tune (i.e. I can sing it in my head), it’s much easier, and in general I will start with the tab but very quickly I try to learn it enough that I don’t need it. While I’m learning I will take "chunks", maybe a measure or two that is challenging, and loop those bits until I don’t have to think about what my fingers are doing. Then I often work outwards from that chunk until the whole tune is in my brain and fingers both.

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

Wow! First thread in over 13 years on this site where I find wisdom in every post. Find what resonates for you here and you won’t go wrong. All I will add is to not be afraid to come to a complete stop during a set. No one notices or cares. Get your bearings when you must. I do that now after more than 30 years on flute. Oh, and in all that time, I’ve never heard a flute that was too loud, so lose the ppp . Stifling yourself is dead wrong.

Posted by .

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

« How do you learn tunes (I mean, break it down for me step by step……………….»
Start with a tune you love, a tune you are drawn to, because it enthralls you. ( no point in playing tunes you don’t love. )
listen to it repeatedly ( Four or five repeats, listening for trick bits, bits you must have, bits you love. )
If you can find the dots, do, that’s a great head start. ( It’s a lot easier now than 20 years ago )
Find a version played solo ( its difficult to figure out what the flute player in a band recording is playing at 100+ BPM ). On the other hand thats great listening practice.

Use slow down software, ( I wore out several tape cassette players rewinding back through band recordings )
learn it bar by bar, and write/mark up your version. If you had a coach face to face he/she would likely play bars slowly when teaching.

Learn it by ear, using the dots as an aide, but play back what you hear, not what you read. ( The audio is much richer than the bald dots on the page. )

Once you have the melody, and can play it ( not perform ) on your instrument, including the turnaround notes so you can get back to the A part seamlessly ( ie the corners ), then look at the ornaments. ( You might, as a flute player need to replace a long roll with a short one, or a breath space, or a couple of articulated notes, and you need a plan for all these ). If crans are too challenging for now, you might need to use the FED triplet , maybe the melody drops below D , you need a plan for that phrase.

Perhaps , most important is to plan where you will breathe, ( including which notes to cut so you can breathe ) ( not the strong beats ), then breathe there every time at first, keeps the flow going.

So thats the hard and most exciting part done. Its captured, you have gotten your hands around the glittering prize. Now you’re bored by it ( maybe a little ).

But, now theres also a reward. Now you can start to play the whole thing slowly, with the metronome, ( to keep you honest in the easy and difficult parts ). After a day perhaps, you might have it in the fingers, shouldn’t need the dots, and can work at getting it up to speed.

Great suggestion up the screen to find a player to teach/play with you. Two players and a tea pot can make for the best sessions.

You gotta slow everything down, initially, so you can fly, and then a lot of this becomes instinctive, but there are no shortcuts. That’s why this is a journey, but its also great company for life.
Congratulations, you won’t be bored.
Hope thats helpful.
Pat

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

It sounds like you’re putting a lot of pressure on yourself. I agree with Ailin, don’t be afraid to completely drop out of a tune if you get lost and then jump back in again when your brain and fingers find the melody again. Honestly no one will judge you. More than anything, what you’re describing is a very common part of the journey into playing in sessions. It’s remedy is simply time spent playing and listening to the music. I bet after 30 years of playing other music, there are hundreds of melodies you can easily conjure up in your mind. If you continue to play Irish music, those melodies will begin to do the same thing and all those musical road maps will be equally imprinted in your brain. I’d be willing to wager that at this time next year, you’ll know exactly where you are on all the tunes you play with your friends in a session and will probably be comfortably kicking off your own sets of tunes. Just keep on playing and everything will sort itself out.

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

Your issues are fairly common, especially when someone is first starting out in sessions. There are a couple of pointers that I can add to the great advice already posted above.

1. When you play well at home and then not as well in a public environment, it’s often a case of the nerves getting to you. There are a few ways to handle that - first off, you can try making yourself uncomfortable at home, and work on playing through it. Another thing that can help is to try to ‘care’ as much about things like missed notes when you’re playing alone, or learn to care less about them when you’re in public (or some combination thereof… You know the old adage: "practice like you play". But you can also "play like you practice"). Another tip I was given by a great player was to get in ‘diva’ mode when you’re in public - put on a persona that believes in its own playing, and it can be ‘separate’ from your ‘self’ (or your ego). And finally, what tends to work for me when my nerves are getting in the way, is to close my eyes, and focus on the music (NOT on my playing, but on the melody itself). Take out your ornaments if they’re tripping you up, at least until you’re feeling the flow.

2. Learning has a physical component - you are forming neural pathways in your brain for everything from how to play a specific note on your instrument, how to do ornaments, how the rhythms have swing, and even neural pathways for how to play a specific tune. People often talk about "muscle memory", and that’s really just neural pathways that have formed that you can call upon to do that particular task. When you’re first starting out, it’s really easy to rely on "muscle memory" to help play a tune - your fingers "remember" the patterns. But really, your goal should be to have the contour of the melody well ingrained in your neural pathways, which allows you to play the melody without simply regurgitating notes. In this way, the melody can be a pathway laid out in front of you, and just as if you’re jogging on that path, you’re looking ahead, and not down at your feet. If you stumble, you regain your balance, but that’s the extent of the disruption of the tune, because you’re still focused ahead of you, instead of on the current note you’re playing or, in a worse case, focused on the mistake you just made instead of what comes next.

3. Practice makes perfect. And in this case, I mean "practice playing with other people in sessions". You won’t get good at it until you do it a ton.

As far as learning tunes goes, I don’t listen to any music besides Irish trad, and so I have familiarity with a lot of tunes before I learn them, which helps. Many tunes are picked up in sessions by listening until I feel like I have the basis of the melody and then I flesh it out by playing along. How quickly I can start playing along depends on how familiar I am with the tune. If I’ve heard it a lot, I may not know whether I’ve ever played the tune before or not. When I sit down to more formally learn tunes, it’s always by ear. Ideally, it’s an interactive session with another player, but I will also use recordings. I tend to like to learn a tune a whole part at a time, so it’s in context. I will listen, hum along, and then noodle around it until I have it. Occasionally, I will use slow down software to help me figure out a part that I’m struggling with, but in general, I like to learn tunes at close to session speed. And finally (the most important part), once I’ve learned a tune, I put it down for a while. Maybe just to play a couple other tunes, and then try playing it again. The act of recalling a tune from your brain is what builds those neural pathways. So learning a tune and playing it for 2 hours straight isn’t necessarily invoking your long term memory. But recalling it from memory is what makes it stick. So I might learn a tune. Play other tunes for 20 minutes, and then return to the new tune. Sometimes, I might not be able to remember it even 20 minutes later - in which case, I give myself a reminder of how it starts, but then try to use my memory to recall the rest of the tune. And then I’ll revisit the tune in a few hours, or the next morning. And after a couple of times having to recall it from memory, it’s well stuck in the brain!

As far as ornamentation goes, for me, it depends on the tune. I generally just let the ornamentation start happening naturally as I’m finding the tune flowing. But there are times when I will learn an ornament as part of the tune, especially when it’s happening in place of the same note played repeatedly…

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

(at this point, I am totally sitting back and listening to the wisdom flow, and also trying to figure out which among the many numerous suggestions I’ll incorporate in my practice today!)

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

Most beginners are sort of ‘fixed’ in how they play the tunes, lacking flexibility at locking onto other players’ speed, phrasing, swing, etc. I think everyone who has learned this music has gone through this phase.

To fix it? Keep playing. Go to as many sessions as you can.

If you are training a horse, and you want its speed, tempo, stride length, and outline completely adjustable, you practice asking it to change tempo and shorten or lengthen the stride, small changes at first as you don’t want it out of balance. Gradually it will get stronger, more flexible, and better at it, and the differences between extension and collection will be massive. I found this worked for myself playing Irish music: when practicing, deliberately change the tempo, alter the swing, play with more bounce, less bounce. Your control over what you’re doing and your feeling for what the tunes can do improves, and it gets easier to adapt your playing and lock on to other players.

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

So some interesting insights from my first practice of the day (breaking in my flute after repair so practice is in stages), though please keep the insights coming as long as everyone feels interested and inspired. I’m bookmarking this page to go back to, because I’m guessing there’s a lot here that I’ll be able to get even more out of over the coming months.

I think, though, one of the big problems was breath/breathing and the need to be even more precise maybe than with classical flute (please don’t chase me with pitchforks other classical flutists). So even though I was playing with metronome and fitting the breaths in, without that carefully intentional sense of using breath as a specific rhythmic almost articulation device, and not really hearing/getting that in most cases between sections there would be no breath, but rather seamless continuity my practice really was counter to what likely happens at the session with the unconscious classical ensemble expectations of breaths, even if quick, between important sections/phrases (can’t wait for next week to listen and really focus in on that aspect when I’m not playing). But the strange thing is, I mean right now I don’t feel like I quite have the musical idiom, so I still sound maybe slightly Irish-like? Irish-ish? But it came closer by quite a bit when I was focusing on breathing away from main beats or joins between sections and using breath more as a rhythmic device.

So I got MotM up to about 96, with the careful breathing. Will be interested to try in groups and see if that helps curtail flail mode…

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

Coming from the other end is the spectrum, self taught in middle age, my one piece of advice would be to not attempt to learn any tune unless you can hear the tune in your head all the way through. If you can’t sing/lilt/whistle/hum the tune you’ll struggle to play it well in a session.

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

SarahC
Try this.
If a bar ( in this case a reel ) has these notes | A & B & C & D & E & F & G & H |
In your practice, intentionally decide which one to cut and swap it with a breath.
Not A or E ever ( strong beats ), B & F and D & H are good candidates, depending on the tune.

This keeps the flow going and the breathing is supported. That might help with the unending stream of notes…..

Watch Matt Molloy. If you slow it down , you can see how he drops a single note and grabs a breath.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R2v1t6jS8zc


The dots are on this site ( Sirius Reel, and Humours of Max )
A metronome on a 4-beat click, will help count three G’s and a breath, and speed it up.

Hope that’s useful.
Pat

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

Great thread, lots of excellent advice. I read to the end, have something in mind to say, and minijackpot has just said it " If you can’t sing/lilt/whistle/hum the tune you’ll struggle to play it well in a session."

I think it’s a bit like driving somewhere new if you don’t have a sat-nav. You can go online and print out route directions, but as soon as you make one mistake, you’re lost. If you have an outline of the journey "head for X on the A1234, then head for Y (it’s towards Z,) keep an eye open for signs to K etc." then you have something much more robust.

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

If you practise on your own then you are practising to play on your own. Playing along with a recording is just another way of practising on your own. You need to be heard. You need to enjoy being heard or to be indifferent to it.

You will probably never be one of those likeable, extroverted blighters who sometimes follow a clever bit of playing (or even an abysmal one) by bowing to a round of applause and then doing a lap of honour to laughter - but perhaps for some of your practice you could take a goal of becoming - or at least understanding - a person like that. I will never be that person either but I try to imagine how they feel when they do it and how I could move towards feeling a little more like that. I play out of doors sometimes. Have you tried busking for charity? I have done it a few times and no-one threw anything. You could try that. Alone is hard but a group of three is good. You might not make any money but you have nothing to lose but your chains.

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

I’m thinking of asking a couple of people in my area if they’d be willing to take the time to practice with me a little so I can get used to playing together with people (and maybe having a smaller group to get started on will help).

Also, so this comment and question is for those who made the suggestion that you need to be able to sing through it in your head (who haven’t already answered this question) to play well at a session, because Classical techniques of practice when done right (and believe me, there’s a LOT of bad Classical practice out there, and I’ve done plenty of it myself, especially before I learned to trust in good practice techniques) will give you that ability to sing through it, hear it and feel the physical sensations of playing it without the instrument in your hand.

But, it also occurs to me that for those of you that gave that answer, that there might be something, a different route to that ability that you’re taking, that is giving something else or more. So when practicing, how do you get to that point? What do you do with a tune? Take me through it step by step. So many different answers with so many great perspectives and things to incorporate.

And maybe too, because I’ve heard from some of you that at this point (probably people who grew up with it or have years of experience) you don’t necessarily learn/practice a tune quite the way I do, that you hear it a bunch so that you can sing it/internalize it and then begin to play it for the first time with others, in session. So for those of you who can do that, how do you build up your aural skills?

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

As a basic reader of the dots I found that learning by ear makes the tune "stick" better in my mind/fingers. But I have to be able to hear the tune to know where it is going next. Then I will know straightaway if what I play (from ear, not from the dots) is ok.

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

« So for those of you who can do that, how do you build up your aural skills? »

Listening. Total immersion. IMO you should spend * at least * as much time listening as you do practising. Listening to good players (people at your local session may or may not fall into this category). Idle listening, letting the music soak into your subconscious. And active, concentrated listening.

The more tunes you learn, the easier it gets. The vocabulary of the language is pretty limited. Maybe it would amaze you if I played a common-or-garden traditional reel back to you correctly after hearing it only a couple of times (which has happened). But it’s pattern recognition. Ask me to do the same with a jazz standard and the result would be a lot less impressive. :-D

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

As Stiamh says listening lots is the key.

Back when I was learning this stuff I asked a well know local (London) ITM flute player about his teaching techniques. He said that with beginners he started on simple nursery ryhmes that they new by heart getting them to work out and play them from memory without any music or ABC, when they got the hang of that he moved on to Irish tunes.

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

Stiamh brings up a good point. Most of our experience in listening to music is pretty passive. We just let the music wash over us without giving it much thought. Part of that is because there’s music everywhere, and it’s often in the background of what we’re paying attention to. To work on your aural skills, it helps to be an active listener. Or even better, an interactive listener. You can practice listening - where you put a concentrated effort into retaining the melody.

One of the easiest ways to be an interactive listener is to sing along with the melody. Your voice is an instrument that you’ve already got instinctive control over, so singing the melody is actually helping build the neural pathways for the tune… It is practicing the tune, just on a different "instrument", which still helps you be able to recall the tune from memory.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a good singer or not, what matters is that you can identify the pitches and intervals. Instead of humming or mindless singing ("la lala la la la…"), it helps if you "lilt" the tunes - put syllables to the notes. It can be gibberish, but it helps if you have some sort of system, like "Dum" for low notes and "Dah" for middle notes and "Dee" for high notes - or whatever makes sense to you. And then it is helpful to articulate the ornaments in your lilting, like "diddley" for a roll (there’s a reason people call this "diddley music", usually in a derisive tone, of course.) So instead of singing "la lala la la laaaa", you sing "dumpa diddly dum dee dah", and you’ve given yourself more context for remembering the melody.

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

"I think, though, one of the big problems was breath/breathing and the need to be even more precise maybe than with classical flute". Does what you are doing ‘precisely’ in solo practice always work at the session? And if it doesn’t is that something that might throw you off?

Often with a new tune I have to work out, and struggle with, a breathing strategy. Studying what the ‘masters’ do each time through a tune is a good way of learning. But when it comes to a session I often find that the way a tune is being played generates the need or opportunity to do something different. So flexibility can be more valuable than precision. One piece of advice I read early on was - *as an exercise* - to find somewhere to breath in every measure of a few tunes and take note of the rhythmic effects of the various options. If playing with another flute player, or a recording of a flute player, it can be instructive to switch between breathing in the same places or in different places.

Reverend’s suggestion of singing out loud is a good way of practicing this.

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

I don’t have anything helpful to add, I can only offer my sympathy as I’m in the exact same position. I started going to sessions regularly three months ago (after learning Irish music for less than a year, and not picking up my instrument in much longer a time than that), and slowly but surely, I am improving. I am trying to work through my embarrassment and just keep showing up in the hope it will stick one day! Also, the more you show up, the more you absorb the tunes and the less effort you have to put into memorising them.

Posted by .

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

Would it be wrong to say, "Preach it, Reverend?" lol!

As for whether the new breathing ideas work in a group, I won’t know until the next session or first chance to play with some others. I suspect, if the tendency for tunes is to prefer a smooth continuation into repeats/sections and tune switches without breaths/pauses that reworking where I breathe away from these places may at the very least, help. I do appreciate the idea of varying breathing between measures. I was surprised in terms of how much breathing changes combined with slower tempos opened up possibilities in terms of variation/articulation/ornamentation. But again, all of those are not helpful if I can’t play well with others.

Kat, I’ve been going regularly for about a year (granted, a year as a student so limits on time). I know that nerves can and do play a huge part for me Small changes also like lighting and stuff can really throw me off until I get used to them, so that probably is in there as well. So I think trying to find a smaller group to play with too (by and large, I’d say that with a few exceptions either way, I do play better at smaller sessions in general) to get used to all of the unexpected things that can happen. I feel like its a paradigm shift too, because Classical music almost seems to do everything in its practice and execution to reduce the unexpected, where ITM lives, breathes and thrives in it!

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

If nerves are the problem, I’ll pass this on. I imagine that I’m looking out at an audience and, you guessed it, they’re all sitting there laughing at me because I don’t have any clothes on. Heck, they didn’t even notice that I just played a few wrong notes! My eternal thanks to all those who have watched me make a fool of myself and chose to remain my friend anyway. Many a good time has passed between us.

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

There’s a mental picture that I can’t "un-see", thanks Ross! :-P

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

So I might go with a spot of session-y mustard on my nose instead, lol, but you do you! :-)

Okay so right now for a more global session playing improving action plan from the posts I have:
1) Lots more listening:not just passive but also active
2) Seeing if a small group of players will be willing to play with me to work on group playing
3) experimenting with how closely I listen to other players

Working/learning/practicing tunes when I’m on my own
1) actually be able to sing through the melody first (not just hear it my head)
2) learn a tune completely by ear (oh tune learning for sessions going back to a slower crawl, but worth it so long as they keep letting me come back) until its solid, but not completely locked into stone
3) then go look at dots to plan breaths, see and hear artic/orn possibilities and put together tune with metronome
4)with tunes I know and have reworked breathing issues, try with videos/cd’s to see if I can stay with them
5) play with recordings I’ll do of tunes that I do know from my session

There’s so many great suggestions that I fear I probably left out a bunch (which is why I’ll be reviewing this thread a lot). So if anyone has any tweaks/suggestions/ or anything to add I’m open to hearing it. The folks at my session have given some great advice and suggestions too, sometimes hearing things in a different way or at a time that you really have time to go over stuff can help too! And I do really appreciate everyone’s contributions and thoughts…

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

I’ll be interested to see if that works…a lot of times before when practicing and learning by ear, I’d start with my instrument in hand and teach it to myself (by ear) with practice techniques that I know to work. it will be interesting to see if that works with a not too difficult tune (being able to play it easily without having to work out intervals with instruments in hand.

Also, wincing a little because I’ve been reading and searching old threads to learn more as well today and got the general sense of mustard being bad, or not good anyway, and didn’t realize until after I posted that it was a specific reference to a specific thing/board/group I’m not a part of and frankly not sure whether I should be or not? lol

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

I have no idea if others plan where to breathe, but I have never done this.

Re: The Errant elbow

If you want to learn how to perform under stress, then you have to practice under stress. Not all the time! But it has to be done. Hence my go for a run suggestion.
Stress causes the release of a cocktail of drugs, adrenaline ,endomorphine pain killers etc, the blood circulation in extremities (in case your being eaten by a lion )is reduced hence feeling weak hands and arms , butterflies in the stomach etc. This actually empowers you to run or fight for your life. So relax go with it, allow your nature to take over and trust your abilities. That’s why people put on such amazing performances after they feel like this.
But yes it takes getting used to.

Ahh, this IS the mustard board ,but take heart. Things have changed a lot since the bad old days :-)
I think the greatest loss to flutters is Harry Bradlys site the errant elbow being closed!!

Harry! I’m sure we would pay for it ad I’m not even a fluter!!!
I guess you are familiar with Conal O grada , and his album the top of com? if your not…… it’s essential listening for everyone. :-)
Also the life and times of John McKenna is a very old recording worth getting to get to the roots of it all.

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

Are you saying the mustard isn’t as spicy as it used to be, Will? Maybe we should change the nickname to the "Mayonnaise Board" due to the design changes and creamier discussions these days. ;-)

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

I’ll second the Conal O’Grada recommendation. I’ll also add another " go to" resource, Shannon Heaton’s 50 tunes and podcasts. ‘Nuff said.

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

@Everyone, I really appreciate so many of your responses. Whatever your feelings on newbies, mustard, and donkeys (is that moniker for those tunes due to the general feeling about those who start them?) I do truly appreciate that you all were willing to share your experience and thoughts. To think about it and take the time to read, consider, and reply. I have so many questions on so many ITM related subjects its not even funny!

@minijackpot: It sounds like flexibility there is best with breathing and I’ll work to develop it. For now, I’ll take planned breaths (usually working out a couple different places that I can switch between) because it sure beats flail mode and I seem to be able to recover more quickly. And maybe its just because I’m a beginner but really keeping breaths away from section ends and main beats seems to really help in terms rhythmic integrity and something that in a few years might approximate something resembling lift..

@Justa: That terribe/terribly funny moment when your brain automatically reads a name like yours as something foreign without really focusing on it. And like days and eons sounds its out. Thanks for the laugh, whatever else you are or may be, someone with that kind of sense of humor and play certainly can’t be justanother anything. And I think that’s part of what makes want to kick myself sometimes. Like, I know that feeling. When you’re just at the right nervous spot that it adds a spark to your performance. When you’ve just warmed up and run through a couple microspots and you trust your practice and go on stage and rock the heck out of Chopin or Bach or whatever you play. Finding that spot is just not happening yet in ITM…(have I been around long enough to use that abbreviation yet?)

@Will: Conal O’grada is not a name that I’m yet familiar with other than going to website as soon as I saw this. As soon as my bank account has had a chance to recover from a few things (recent minor surgery, Grey Larson’s book, all 3 Wooden obsession flute compilations, and Shannon Heaton’s first 50 and another 30 beyond that though I don’t recall the title) I will look into his system. I really got excited about the critical listening section, I mean I can do that with classical (oh lovely deceptive cadence there, what a nice descant, great musical joke there, wait why are only ten super nerdy people currently taking an advanced form class chuckling?)

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

The album top of Coom sets the standard as far as Im concerned . And relistening to john McKenna , I have the album but not spent enough time with it. Shame about the backing piano was my thought!
I prefer solo playing for listening to.
One thing I’d say, is that don’t just listen to fluters, ( flautists) :-) listen to pipers and fiddlers as well.
With fiddlers , especially the older generation, they had equipement that was perhaps not up to modern standards . I particularily like Bobby Casey and Paddy Canny as old school players.
David Power and Robbie Hannon would be my piping favourites and of course Seamus Ennis. There are many more worthies but these are a good start. You can find you tube clips and some free out of print(?) recordings of the fiddlers.
@reverand, the mustard might not be as spicey but that’s ok, I prefer real whole grain honey mustard to the yellow paste masquerading as mustard . ;-)

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

Ps if you have a cassette player then you can get that album for 5.99 , cd on his site is 15 €.a bargain

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

Like I said, as soon as I can get my hands on the CD (and let my wallet recover from a self-pay medical deal) I totally will (my music is on ITunes).

Okay, so I’m noticing something, because with the new tune I’m working with, I’m noticing that as I use group and session videos (trying to find ones that feel like they have more of the nebulous lift concept I’m trying to get) on youtube to play with for the new tune I’m learning, that repetition with groups and keeping in varied, just playing with people on the same tune, even if they’re not in person is helping me keep together, not fall apart, and jump back in so much more quickly when I do. I know there are lots of downsides to YouTube videos, but in the immediate if gives me something that I can access.

So I guess another question I have, because I know people did recommend asking people to play in small groups, is if you’re public ITM persona is the person who tends to fall apart, and a bit experimental, like how do you even ask people to play with you? I can already see the improvement with videos and suspect IRL would be even better (with tunes I have a reasonable handle on, on my own) Especially when a lot of reading, soul-searching and realizing that you’ve probably been "that person" at your session…

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

Here’s a resource which hasn’t been mentioned yet, it’s Michael Clarkson’s site:
http://irishflute.podbean.com/

There are many standard tunes there, and also many tunes from the northern repertoire, I think. He goes through each tune at least twice - slow and fast.

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

I notice conal has a book as well. :-) Seems to me the best place to go to learn is from someone who can demonstrate a high level of ability…..

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

"…how do you even ask people to play with you?"
Since it’s probably going to be a matter of meeting at someone’s house, obviously it’s a matter of being comfortable personally. Musically I guess, someone who’s somewhat better than you, steady, but not TOO advanced. Someone who’ll be pleased to be asked!
Ideally…..!

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

I’ll second the recommendation of Michael Clarkson’s site, particularly how he varies the breathing once he gets going with the faster versions. Even if it’s a style you may not want to adopt yourself.

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

Can’t offer any advice on flute-playing technique, but plenty of it above, but one general thing for any instrument in going from playing on your own to being part of a session, is learning how to keep going/pick up if you should make a mistake. The other players can’t and won’t wait while you correct yourself, but keep playing on: if, as you hope, there are other melody players there, they will keep the tune going (even if you were supposedly leading or introducing it). You can then come back in when you’re ready, even if it means missing out part of a phrase while you recover yourself (take a deep breath?) I know it can be unnerving when this sort of thing happens, but it’s an essential skill for session playing. It can happen even with a tune you DO know inside-out and upside-down or could play in your sleep.
If you should be the only melody instrument and the rhythm kings are still strumming away, you could even sing the missing bit, then come back on flute at the start of the next phrase: and try to smile or laugh about it rather than getting all flummoxed.

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

"…how do you even ask people to play with you?"

The Irish music community is generally open and welcoming. (There are exceptions, of course) The thing to do is go to the sessions and get to know the people. It’s likely that they care as much about whether you’re fun to hang out with as they care about how well you play. Once you get to know the people on a more personal, friendly level, its just as easy to have this entire discussion with them in person! Ask them for suggestions just like you asked all of us.

If you’re finding that you’re not getting to that friendly level with the players, another way to break the ice is to see if someone from the session would be willing to give lessons. That costs money, of course, but even a lesson or two could be useful both for helping your issues and with becoming more friendly and welcomed into the circle. (If you’re wanting to work on flute breathing and such, you would want to take lessons from a flute player. But if you’re wanting to work on things like learning by ear, tune retention, and keeping the flow going when you make a mistake, you can take lessons from any good melody player… And learning from other instruments than your own can actually be very helpful at times!)

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

Will definitely try the site out! Also, books and cd’s are definitely on my wishlist.

So in terms of getting friendly with people, I’m not the most outgoing sort and that takes awhile for me (like, glacial , but I’m working on that.

Also, I had a talk with another session member who is incredibly talented and kind of the de facto session leader in terms of tunes and group cohesion and things and she let me know that I didn’t need to be worried, that learning is a process, and our session really really is open and its okay if I’m in the place where I am right now, that I’m not ruining anything, and sometimes sessions are big and small and great and not so great, and it sounds like I’m not "that person" even though I know I do have a TON more learning and improvement to do!

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

And just adding in, that the support, encouragement, ideas, suggestions, and contributions from everyone here are so good. I really well be referring back to this post in the weeks and months to come and rereading it as I learn new things and get more comfortable with playing with people in this new-to-me genre!

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

I have a similar background and came to properly playing Irish music relatively recently. I have been listening to Irish music for most of my life and I know that it makes a difference. How well do you know the tunes before you learn them? Have you picked up tunes from the session from just hearing them or from recordings and sat down and played them? You have the technical facility to play the tunes…do you know where the ornaments go? Can you hear it, feel it, trust yourself to put them in? Own the volume of your flute. You don’t need for that to be something else to worry about.
I learn tunes in 3 ways. I’ve heard a tune so many times that I don’t need to do much more than cement what I hear under my fingers; I hear a tune that’s interesting/catches my ear/odd, listen, read the dots and transition to fixing problems from listening; someone brings me the sheet and I woodshed it to life. I add in ornaments when I hear them and not before; that’s true no matter where a tune comes from.

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

Oboemeg, I emphatically agree with you about owning the volume of your instrument. While it is possible to play wind instruments at both soft and loud volumes they are extensions of the voice and it can constrain
your playing, especially in sessions, to not put yourself out there with whatever one needs to express.
In other words sessions are not quiet places (not typically) and it’s O.K. to play at full volume. Sure,
you may embarass yourself, you may not be the best sounding player. But you can work on that better, later
by putting it out there first, suffering any embarassment and learning from the embarassment of having your voice heard more than you will ever learn from playing so softly that only you can hear yourself and
you may never challenge yourself much beyond playing soft; being safe.

Flute can be played with a full range of dynamics but you can only own it by exploring as much of it as you can. Not by holding yourself back.

Posted by .

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

Okay, so I started tapping that rich vein in my area (of Irish music, that is)! Was it Reverend or Alex Henry who said/suggested that(?), great suggestion and image because some of that music really really really lived with a beating and lilting pulse1 Anyway, I did go to a higher caliber session a little farther away, and was probably amusing in my awkwardness and feeling the need to really make it clear to those that knew me that I was truly just there to listen and not angling to play in the future (I mean, if ever i was really good enough and had the lift and the musical taste and could play the tunes well and was actually invited to play by someone maybe like eons from now), but all of that aside…

So I noticed a general shape, and I wondered if this is a usual shape to sessions…that the tunes start out maybe drier (not that they don’t have lift or aren’t musical) but especially in the fiddles and flutes it sounded like at the beginning there was a lot less in the way of ornamentation, but that there was a general direction of more of that sort of thing as the evening went on?

Also, I wonder like how to experienced musicians go about deciding what tunes to play (not so much in a set, but rather) what tunes would sound good after a particular set, or what direction to go and how you start considering the shape of the session as a whole from tune to tune and set to set?

And last but not least, how do you strike that balance between learning tunes that people at your section actually want to play, between the ones that are easy and that you can learn quickly, and the ones that take longer, but that you really really want to learn?

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

On the subject of owning the volume — my big bore Pratten-style flute is so loud it scares me sometimes when I’m practicing at home, and I make the inevitable mistakes. There are times when I’ve thought I should have bought something a little less "forward" as my first learning flute.

In a session though, it only takes a couple of fiddles to help blend and integrate the flute into the overall sound, because note attack on a flute is softer than the bow attack on a fiddle. In the overall session mix, I’m glad I’m playing this particular flute. It’s just a question of remembering how to practice at home as if I’m playing in a full session. Not timidly, but really going for it.

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

So I missed the window to also edit that I’d comment more tomorrow when it isn’t so late on some of the previous posts and thoughts on volume and playing out…

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

"some times you play like a young god on the foothills of mount olympus; sometimes your playing sounds like two cats fighting in a bag"

Thank you Briefne, I now feel I have a kindred spirit, maybe many of them! What an excellent description of the highs and lows of playing my fiddle. All I can say is hang on to the ‘mount olympus’ moments, the rest will pass! This morning it was ‘mount olympus’ for me, but who knows whether the cats will be out again this evening.

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

Playing at home then not able to hold your own in a session means to me you are not ready. Sorry for the hard knock. There is truth in the adage that it takes, especially those playing melody, 10,000 hours or 7 seven years of dedicated practice (about 5 hours/day), and then another 7 years to accomplish the instrument. The instrument has to become an unconscious part of your musical brain. When the muscle memory in your fingers just plays a tune from your head and fingers tingly with the sound vibration lightly covering the holes you a getting close. Just relax and enjoy your music – you cannot push it.

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

"Playing at home then not able to hold your own in a session means to me you are not ready"
That would depend very much on the session.
"There is truth in the adage that it takes, especially those playing melody, 10,000 hours or 7 seven years of dedicated practice (about 5 hours/day), and then another 7 years to accomplish the instrument".
That I flat out do not believe. There are young musicians in Ireland 14 years old who are capable of sitting down and playing in any Irish session on the planet.

Posted by .

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

Maybe the teenagers’ been playin’ since they’s babies, Kenny. ;-)

Posted by .

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

Five hours a day for seven years, then another seven years. No hope for those of us with jobs, caring responsibilities or any other hobbies then…………….

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

Just quoting a saying of many musicians: i.e. "It takes 7 years to play the pipes and 7 more to become a piper." As a piper and Celtic flute this is too true. Just listening at first to the Irish language accents, their cuts strikes, rolls etc., is the first step in learning, to me, Irish Celtic music and then emulating the same in the music. Yes if you are not of the tongue it can be tough. Possible why some find Airs are too hard or just play super fast.

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

Check your math, Kit.

Posted by .

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

It seems that SarahC already knows her instrument and about practice. Wouldn’t the queries in the OP apply to any traditional musical idiom that was played in a ‘session-type’ environment?

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

Kit, the fact it took you that long says nothing about anyone else.

OK - there is *something* in the whole seven years learning, seven years practising, seven years playing, or it’s modern expression of 10,000 hours. But that something means something different to each of us.

Posted by .

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

"Also, I wonder like how to experienced musicians go about deciding what tunes to play (not so much in a set, but rather) what tunes would sound good after a particular set, or what direction to go and how you start considering the shape of the session as a whole from tune to tune and set to set?"

To be honest, I don’t think that much thought goes into it. It isn’t like making an album where people put a great deal of consideration into how sets work together (although in the days of iPod shuffle, I’m not sure it matters). It can be free association… One player’s set of tunes might trigger another’s memory for another tune. Or maybe someone has had a set in mind all night and finally gets a gap in the session to jump in with it. Or someone plays the same sets at every session he goes to, so you know they’re inevitable. Or two players have some side conversation… "Hey, do you play..?. How does it go…?" Or someone starts whatever comes into their mind for no reason whatsoever; maybe a butterfly flapping its wings in China. It’s chaos theory, more than any player "considering the shape of the session."

"So I noticed a general shape, and I wondered if this is a usual shape to sessions…that the tunes start out maybe drier (not that they don’t have lift or aren’t musical) but especially in the fiddles and flutes it sounded like at the beginning there was a lot less in the way of ornamentation, but that there was a general direction of more of that sort of thing as the evening went on? "

Tunes might become faster or more ornamented or whatever as people warm up/get to know one another (if they’re not a group that regularly plays together/drink more alcohol. Mostly drink more alcohol.

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

The above post doesn’t really offer advice…. What it’s really get at is that sessions become easier and make more sense as you more comfortable with the tunes and the music. And by easier, I mean, not really; the truth is some are far easier to deal with than others because there are always weird politics. But that will be down to the weird idiosyncrasies of the individuals regularly attending any given session and can’t be extrapolated to sessions in general.

Just keep playing, focusing on making the tunes sound good while developing the ability to play with people. Which you do by going to sessions, most of which should be Type I fun so you gain confidence but I think it helps you develop as a player to suffer through the odd one that’s Type II or III fun.

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

"And last but not least, how do you strike that balance between learning tunes that people at your section actually want to play, between the ones that are easy and that you can learn quickly, and the ones that take longer, but that you really really want to learn?"

SarahC, I love your approach to sessioning. Your questions are more insightful than any answers I might attempt to share. I like to think I have a bit of experience here but instead it’s you who are teaching me.
Is it your being a good listener, an inquisitive nature, your congeniality? No matters SC; you’re on a good path.

But in my feeble attempt to respond to your question I think balance is an ongoing process. Tunes people in my session want to play come from them, not me. So, when I pickup on say how one of my friend’s just light up with certain reels I listen to her and learn from her enthusiasm. For seemingly easy (or simple) tunes they may seem like they can be learnt quickly. But their simplicity sometimes means those tunes are open to subtle variations; not all of which I can grasp in one session which keeps me looking for something more.
Finally, the tunes which take longer to learn I’m honestly not there yet for playing them in session.
What I mean is I can prepare myself to play more difficult music for practiced performance.
Yet rarely can I hold my own on every tune played in session when the best players are playing those same tunes at their best. But I’m very happy to listen. That’s how I strive to balance my own abilities, my learning and the quality of the session’s music.

Posted by .

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

AB: A more cryptic answer surely than it might appear on the face of it, :-) that probably I’ll understand a lot more when I have way more experience than I do now, but a general sense of openness and curiosity to the music from whichever source seems to underlie it.

Dr. Silverspear: Slightly confused, I’m used to type I and type II as they apply to slow and fast cognition? Can you elaborate on Type(s) of fun?

Kat: I’m not sure its an issue of not being ready or having done enough individual prepwork on my own. One thing that has helped a lot on multiple tunes, even in the last few days, is finding videos of people playing the tunes, and playing along with. What It seems like I need work on, is playing with others in a very different context than Classically oriented groups.

Everyone who commented on not worrying about playing too loud: You guys are right on the money, I recorded the entire session. Expected to hear a big blast during the parts that I came in, and, well…That was a big nope, which means I can probably play out with too much problem.

Also, I’m totally having to shake my head. Coming back to learning by ear, I thought it would still take as long as did. I know this is probably long for all of you with great ears, but to get the bare bones of a relatively simple tune it only took an hour, which is still way shorter than it used to! Perhaps also because after spending forty minutes listening to a fiddly bit in a tune, remembered to try singing it and cleared it up in about five minutes. So it could be the singing, though lilting and putting together with syllables is something I’m not as clear on, but I’ll give it go!

Dare I ask about lift?

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

Try playing along with recordings of the sessions you go to and others. Unpredictability, imperfections and not being able to hear what is going on as well as you would like are things to be got used to.

Obviously it’s not worth spending much time on something played badly, but once through, especially if you have not already listened to the recording, can help prepare you for the unexpected.

Someone (Shannon Heaton I think) recommends playing a newly learned tune in different places in the house (including, IIRC under the table). I interpret that as being so as not to get too accustomed to a particular practice envronment and acoustic.

Oh, also, though I disagreed with over-emphasis on the 7+7+7 years business, it is probably a project of many years to get the number of tunes you need. I am still not there.

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

‘Types of fun’ comes from outdoor sports, but the idea is transferable to other activities that are supposed to be fun (and sometimes aren’t).

Type I fun: Fun at the time you’re doing it and fun in retrspect…i.e. An easy climb within your grade; a pleasant hillwalk in great weather; beer; powder skiing; a session where everything is flowing, and you feel happy and included.

Type II fun: Not fun at the time but fun in retrospect, and you’re happy you did it…. i.e. A climb where you pushed your grade and freaked out in the middle, but you feel amazing when you top out; most winter mountaineering; a scary scramble on a knife edge ridge; the early stages of learning any musical instrument; a session where you sh ! t yourself because you end up sitting next to Mike McGoldrick or similarly high level professional musos, but it turns out they are pretty nice and you didn’t die.

The corrollary of Type II fun, sort of II.5, is not fun at the time nor immediately after. It entails making mistakes or f ** ups you hopefully won’t make it again, but it is an awesome story to tell your friends in the pub. Some people call this Type III fun (but I think Type III is what I’ve described below). It covers pretty much any mountaineering epic.

Type III fun: Not fun at the time and not fun in retrospect. It’s just not fun…. i.e. Getting halfway up a hill in lousy weather and backing off due to avalanche risk or you injured yourself; that road trip where your car broke down; most winter mountaineering; the session where you were so over your head that no one even acknowledged you were there; the session where you were the token melody player with fifteen bodhran players and guitarists who all wanted to sing Wagon Wheel and Wild Rover.

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

Wow, this has been a trip reading all these good suggestions. I can think of one thing to add. While playing in a session you feel fairly comfortable with, at a speed you are comfortable with, think just a bit ahead (i.e. hear in your head) where the music is going. The next bits coming up, the next multiple part in a many part tune. I find if I’m distracted (easy) and my brain goes on safari, I mess up. I’m sure that many great players do this instinctively and may not even need to worry about it.

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

I accidentally bumped into this thread, and found a good post by Kenny:
Our take on the music - https://thesession.org/discussions/40674#comment818848

Among many things, Kenny’s post suggests that it’s indeed possible to learn music (and play it) by ear, and that young musicians (with less than 10,000 hours of experience) were keeping up with the session hosts.

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

Jeff: Interesting take on it! As regards one of that thread’s topics listening versus reading I think part of the problem that us classical musicians run into in trying to use dots at the beginning, is that classical music is so full of notation of so many nuances (leaving aside baroque and to a lesser degree classical until it moves further into the romantic era) the phrasing, emphases, dynamics, accents that you can with a lot of ear-training and practice look at a score, and probably come to at least close to a similar neighborhood in your head to the sound of a performance (though with a lot of room for individuality and experimentation) but the dots don’t come with that. It is in most cases just the dots and I think even if we try to imagine how we’d phrase it, or put good phrasing into it, we’re not necessarily hearing what ITM would do with the phrase (at least not until lots of practice, experience, and listening have happened (speaking solely of adults switching over here not of super lucky kids who are picking it up from the beginning).

And also, because playing is so much fun in sessions, and listening is cool and important, but definitely more fun to play with everyone in a group. If we don’t take the opportunity to start picking up tunes by ear, we lose the chance to develop that skill of hearing a tune a few times through and being able to join in (and maybe we never get there, maybe we never get that good an ear, but why waste the chance to get there?) And I guess too, how much faster I learn the music by memory from ear, even when my ear isn’t so good.

I don’t think that switching over the technique itself will take 10000 hours, because even the differences can be mapped/generalized onto things that I do know from classical, and honed practicing skills help too. Not that I don’t intent to practice as much as possible and continue to improve. You know, since I got my flute back from being repaired, broken in and have really restarted practice, I don’t think I’ve watched television because playing is so much more fun!

For everyone who posted help/suggestions/yes even the hard knocks!/comments, I just cannot express my appreciation enough for how much already my playing has benefited from your help (I’m guessing my session friends will be happy too, as even adding in on a new tune the switched technique, I still got an A section nearly up to tempo with basic ITM techniques in a hour or so. Meaning that I can probably add and review a few new tunes a week that sound well, and will be tested by video group playing before trying at session, so more tunes and less unintentional classical noodling between the actual tune-y bits).

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

"Also, I wonder like how to experienced musicians go about deciding what tunes to play (not so much in a set, but rather) what tunes would sound good after a particular set, or what direction to go and how you start considering the shape of the session as a whole from tune to tune and set to set?"

For me, it’s all about variety, from the micro to the macro.

When you’re playing a single tune, you ultimately want to be able to vary it as you’re playing it through multiple times. Start out with simple variation - changing where you breathe, changing where you put ornaments, changing where you put emphasis, etc. Over time, you will develop a sense of how even just those simple things can change your expression of the tune. Then, in time, you can start to do more melodic variation - changing your pickup notes is a good way to start without getting ‘lost’. And ultimately, you will find ways to put subtle changes in the melody, which tell the same story, and work just fine with what everybody else is playing, but also convey different feelings. These are skills that develop over time. Don’t stress out about any of it, but it’s good to have it as a goal.

When you’re putting tunes together in a set, you don’t want to tire the listeners (or backers) with too much of the same followed by the same… That’s why people tend to switch keys when they’re deciding the next tune. Not a hard and fast rule, but the variety tends to increase listening engagement and enjoyment. A lot of people like to have formulas for their key changes (like upward movement from D to G to A, or switching from Major to Minor and back to Major). A lot of people (including myself) like to group tunes together because of similarities in their names, or putting names together to tell a story (like Launching The Boat into Ships Are Sailing into Sailor on the Rock, etc). For me, the variety is key, but it’s also good to group tunes together with a similar feel. I wouldn’t necessarily want to play a beautiful, flowing melodic tune followed by a simple rhythmic tune. Not that you can’t do that and have it be part of the variety, but I tend to like to keep the energy level of a set fairly constant, or at least increasing - never decreasing. In general, I like to let the next tune occur to me naturally while I’m playing the previous tune. But that takes a lot of practice.

And finally, keeping variety in the sets is good too. I think it’s good to vary both the tempos and the tune types. I was sitting in a pretty high-powered session in Ireland about 11 years ago (I was the only player who’s name wouldn’t be recognizable to most of the people on this site). And yes, the music was fantastic. But, it was hard driving and fast all night long, and it grew really tiresome without the variety. You don’t necessarily have to switch the tune type between every set, but if you’ve been playing reels for a while, change it up and play something else. I would say my sessions usually include (in order of popularity) reels, jigs, slip jigs, hornpipes, songs, slides, polkas, and waltzes, with an occasional barn dance, hop jig, strathspey, mazurka, or rant thrown in. Reels and jigs probably make up 75% of the night, with the other tune types scattered in for variety. (But different sessions will have different orders of popularity… If you’re playing in Kerry, for instance, expect the polkas and slides to be featured more than reels, for instance).

But I think all of this variety is really something that happens in the moment. I don’t think people generally think too much about the shape of their session as a whole, other than making sure it’s varied, and maybe finishing with sweet waltzes or a power set of reels…

Re: Things fall apart (i.e. my flute playing) at sessions

> you can with a lot of ear-training and practice look at a score, and probably come to at least close to a similar neighborhood in your head to the sound of a performance

It’s interesting you say that. I’m learning piano at the moment, and for the first time really learning something meaningful about performance practice in classical music and what I’m finding interesting is how much is *not* written down; there are pauses, stresses, dynamics, rubato everywhere that are automatic to any good performer - but not to me!

Posted by .