If Invited to Start a Set in a Strange Session…

If Invited to Start a Set in a Strange Session…

I’ll be going to Ireland in a week and may or may not end up in a session somewhere. My question is, gennerally, what do you do in a new session if you’re invited to start a set? If you decide to take them up on the offer, would you just start in on something you know, or would you tell them what you plan to play ("’Humors of Ballyconnell’, then ‘Ravelled Hank of Yarn’…" or whatever it is? Also, if you just start a tune and someone joins in, do you then wait for the other sessioneers to switch to something (i.e., you start the set and then they decide how to finish it), or do you switch and hope they’ll switch with you (i.e., you lead the entire set)? And what happens if you start a tune they don’t play much? I’m just curious. I don’t go to sessions much and I don’t want to make too many faux pas.

Thanks!

Re: If Invited to Start a Set in a Strange Session…

If you’re asked, and you oblige, keep it simple. I would play a fairly common set.
Personally, I wouldn’t mention the names. That’s why I would pick fairly common tunes..
You should play both tunes and they will follow.
Have fun!

Re: If Invited to Start a Set in a Strange Session…

Its quite likely they will know the tunes your starting but you could easily confirm before you do, you dont want to start a set and be left playing alone! :-) the person starting leads the changes in general though there are those musicians who will just take over. I find it rude, i certainly wouldnt , but hey , there you go.

Re: If Invited to Start a Set in a Strange Session…

Being a tourist and foreigner myself, this is what I do:
I choose fairly common tunes I know really well,. Three tunes, each played three times. Whoever starts a set leads the set ( speed, tunes, how often each tune is played). If possible, I give the backer the keys in advance (first one G major, second one e minor, last one in D, etc) or shout’ em just before changing. If a tune isn’t joined by the others after the first time, I change to another in the same key if I know a suitable one, else I stick to the original plan. Looking the major players in the eye with a slight nod before a change helps. Saying thank you for the invitation is a good thing as well.

Re: If Invited to Start a Set in a Strange Session…

Did just this on Sunday — after puzzling for a bit, I started off with "I Buried My Wife…", and when only a couple of people knew that one, switched over to the much more common "Donnybrook Fair" and "Connaughtman’s Rambles" to finish off the set.

I always find it a bit tricky to balance. I mean, I’d love to pull out the weird corners of what I know in hopes of finding someone else who knows it — I probably have dozens of tunes I love that I’ve only ever gotten to play one or twice with someone else. At the same time, I’ve always thought the purpose of playing at session is to play with other people, not put on a performance for them.

So the strategy of starting more obscure and shifting towards the more common if it seems needed is a great idea. But I never feel like I quite know just how obscure to go to start with.

Re: If Invited to Start a Set in a Strange Session…

What seems to always happen to me is that I get asked to start something as soon as I sit down, especially if they’ve been playing for a bit already. In that case, I usually decline the first time and say "maybe after I get warmed up a bit". I do that partially so that I can get warmed up - I dislike playing cold, especially when I’m in an unfamiliar place, but also because that will give me some time to get the feel of how they play, what kind of tunes they know, etc.

I have also often found that if I name a tune, players may shrug their shoulders or just nod, because they may not be able to recall the tune from the name. So instead, I will often give them a bar or two of the beginning of each tune, which they will recognize if they play it, and also gives the backers a clue as to the key without it having to be specified. And I will often call out a couple tunes, and then tack a third one on to the end, since I don’t usually figure out what I’m going to play before I start (and to be honest, if I call out 3 tunes there’s a pretty good chance I’ll forget what I called out by the time I get to the third tune, since I’m not a big fan of playing tunes in the same sets all the time…)

It’s also real common to name a tune, and they’ll say "We don’t play it, but you go ahead". Or I will end up going into a tune that I didn’t call in advance, and nobody else plays. In either of those cases, I’ll play the tune, but usually only twice through before I switch to something more common so that I’m not hogging the session or excluding people. (Although, occasionally people will tell me to keep playing it if they’re in the process of learning it on the fly).

But it’s really rare for someone to hijack a set, even if you want them to. So you should expect that they will follow you for the whole set, unless you work it out ahead of time… "I’ll play these two, and then you start something, OK?"

Re: If Invited to Start a Set in a Strange Session…

Last time I was in Ireland it seemed that they were having me start sets so that we could all play together. In any case, I knew only a small fraction of their tunes but they knew all of mine. And after an hour of this I was making no effort to try to start common tunes, either. They knew every one, both places I went.

Re: If Invited to Start a Set in a Strange Session…

It might be worthwhile remembering that when a regular at the session you’re visiting "invites" you to start a set, as you said - it is that. S/he is inviting you. Generally speaking, it can be regarded as extending a courtesy to a visiting player. Those people have been playing their own sets all night long, so now they are cordially requesting that you start up some tunes within sets you are familiar with.
In my experience, most of the time the regulars at the session are just curious as to what tunes you have and it may remind some of them of tunes they haven’t played in a while - so either, a blast from the past or a breath of fresh air. Of course you will get some chip on their shoulder egits who will judge you, but let that become their problem. You may want to assess the quality level of the session before you breenge into The Kesh, but as has been said above, it is probably safest to play a set comprising of standard tunes. Then move on up from there, if that goes OK.

Re: If Invited to Start a Set in a Strange Session…

I’m very methodical about this. I hate when someone joins our session and, when invited to start a set, wastes many minutes trying to find out what people know. My method is to simply call a set. I know my tunes are not obscure, but I make sure the third tune is a dependable chestnut. On the first two tunes, I make a judgment on the fly as to how many times to do each before moving on. If they know one, no problem. If they try to pick it up, I may do a tune four or five times if they’re getting it and obviously don’t want me to change tunes when they’re on the verge. If they don’t know it, I will gage if I should change after one time through or if they might like to get familiar with it. Nothing wrong with introducing a new tune if it is a rouser. But don’t show off.

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Re: If Invited to Start a Set in a Strange Session…

Thanks guys! This has been very helpful. I think I have a few ideas as to what I would do if I am asked to start. I don’t realistically think I would want to "waste many minutes" figuring out what people know either. After all, we’re just trying to have fun playing music here. I will definitely take all this into consideration.

Re: If Invited to Start a Set in a Strange Session…

If you are planning to go to a "Strange Session", it’s good to have one or two sets in your head before hand. No need to practice or prepare them as such if you are already "au fait" with them as long as you don’t need to think too long about what you are going to do.

If it’s a really top notch session, I wouldn’t worry too much if the other players know the tunes or not. The chances are that they, or some of them at least, will. If not, they will still be able to "help you".. I’ve often been advised to just play whatever I want and they would "join in".
I know that just "joining in" if you don’t know a tune is usually a "No, no" but I suggest that this applies more so to beginners and others who don’t really know what they are doing. It’s also polite to listen to a new tune as a rule but I think such a scenario is or could be an exception to the rule.

If it’s not quite a "top notch" session, then it’s maybe best to pick more common tunes. Or you might have to play on your own or have people "helping you" when they are not quite up to it.

You’ll just have to judge the situation when you are there. :-)

Re: If Invited to Start a Set in a Strange Session…

I have a set of jigs at hand for a situation just like this:

Garrett Barry’s
Hag With the Money or Rose in the Heather
Mouse in the Mug or Out on the Ocean

Having listened to some of the session, I’ll make a choice on the fly as to which of the following tunes I pick. If it seems like people don’t know the tunes, Out on the Ocean is an absolute standard that essentially everyone who plays trad will know, so the set ends on a high note.

I don’t normally like to have set sets, but I’ve found that when in a strange session it can be hard to distinguish the "obscure tunes no one’s heard" from the "come on, you have to know this one!" Stuff that’s de rigeur among friends of mine might be completely unheard of to them, and vice versa. Those tunes seem to be pretty common, and so far I’ve had good success in strange sessions.

Re: If Invited to Start a Set in a Strange Session…

I am amazed at the sheer knowledge of tunes by those who play at sessions. They often can’t tell you the names of the tunes but can play them anyway. How?? I know 15-20 tunes and have to play them often to remember them well but still sometimes have to refer to sheet music or a video file to remember how it starts. I’ve been at it for about 4 years but I’m not getting any younger! I would love to play at a session one day but my repertoire is just not there! How do you do it? Am I too late?

Re: If Invited to Start a Set in a Strange Session…

If you hear a tune enough times, you’ll learn it even if you don’t have a name for it. Some tunes are very common session tunes, and may even be part of sets from older recordings. If you hear such a set or two several times a week you’ll learn it.

If you want to increase your repertoire, you simply have to learn more tunes. There’s a chance that you might also have to change the way you learn tunes and/or practice them.

This fairly recent thread comes to mind:
https://thesession.org/discussions/42209

(Playing along to recordings has been my main method to increase repertoire. Each tune helps me learn the next one. Recurring patterns.)

Re: If Invited to Start a Set in a Strange Session…

Well you can either pick something you think will be really well-known, although that’s not necessarily guaranteed, or just start something really simple and hope the ear players will get it and carry it on. If you don’t have a definite second tune to follow it with, no doubt someone will continue the set.

Re: If Invited to Start a Set in a Strange Session…

Put your best foot forward, and play them your "party pieces," the tunes you know and play best. Even if they don’t know them and join in, they will enjoy hearing someone playing the tunes they love.