Playing Chords on fiddle at sessions

Playing Chords on fiddle at sessions

So, a few days ago I was at session with my fiddle, playing the tunes I knew, and sitting out the ones that I didn’t, and then a tune got played, that I didn’t know and it was in D major. Having tried mandolin for a few weeks, I knew a little bit about chords and what sorts of rhythm to play, but the only chord patterns that I know on mandolin only really work with tunes in D. So I thought that seen as it was a reel in D, I could play some chords to it on my fiddle.

I sat out the tune for the first time, so that I could get a feel for the rhythm and what have you, but then I joined in (strumming) some chords on my fiddle. But about 20 seconds in, the session leader started glaring at me and only stopped when I was quiet.

I’m wondering what the session leader could have against me strumming out a couple of chords (quite quietly as well) on my fiddle, and if it would be OK in other sessions?

Thanks

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Re: Playing Chords on fiddle at sessions

Where was the session? I’ve found musicians in some locations cant’t stand it if you do anything they’re unfamiliar with.

Re: Playing Chords on fiddle at sessions

The Session Furher seems to have an exalted sense of his own musical taste. He is problem a pain in the posterior when it comes to other subjects too.

Re: Playing Chords on fiddle at sessions

Ask the session leader - only they can answer the question ;-)

If they were the right chords, in the right place in the right rhythm and didn’t cut across any other rhythm player then completely acceptable in my book FWIW.

Re: Playing Chords on fiddle at sessions

Possibly:
(a) He’s a pain in the arse
(b) He was jealous because he couldn’t do that
or (c) You weren’t playing the right chords.

Playing chords or double stopping is a delight on the fiddle and anyone who doesn’t like it is either (a) or (b) ab0ve.

Re: Playing Chords on fiddle at sessions

The OP mentions "strumming" chords on the fiddle. This does seem unusual when you have a bow.

Nothing wrong with a few chords on the fiddle if they are correct and performed tastefully but I would still use the bow.

Re: Playing Chords on fiddle at sessions

Of course, I’ve often quietly picked out a tune on the strings before bowing just to make sure I know it but that’s a little different.

Re: Playing Chords on fiddle at sessions

Standard disclaimer that not all sessions are the same.

Anyway, maybe it was the strumming rather than bowing? Might not have matched the…mood of the tune? Not sure ‘mood’ is what I’m looking for. ‘Character,’ maybe? Strummed violin has its own sound, and it’s not really the preferred one in most situations where the bow is an option.

In your situation, I’d probably bow the chords softly before strumming them. Hard to say without hearing it, though, and without knowing your session. Probably best to ask the people with whom you play.

Re: Playing Chords on fiddle at sessions

I play often with a young fiddle player who chops/bows chords on tunes he where he doesn’t know the melody. It sounds brilliant - but then again he is a highly skilled musician deeply in tune with what other people are playing and how his contributions sit in the overall mix of sound. Suffice to say no matter what it is, if you’re doing something that enhances the music, it’s unlikely you’ll get any resistance. However, if what you’re doing is distracting, you’re likely to get the hairy-eye-ball stare.

Re: Playing Chords on fiddle at sessions

It’s possible the session leader is an oddball. But it’s also possible that your strumming simply did not match the swing or style of the tune. You as much as admit you were experimenting. Just a suggestion: if you really want to strum on the violin, take your own practice time to refine it and see when it works best (say… in a small ensemble of cohorts) before bringing it to a session. You want to bring your best licks to a session. Most session leaders will be patient with players who are struggling to keep up, but they might be put off by someone (mea culpa) who noodles when they don’t know the tune.

Re: Playing Chords on fiddle at sessions

Very good and true as well.. I’ll even forgive them for calling it a JAM session. :-)

Re: Playing Chords on fiddle at sessions

Wow, "session furher", "pain in the arse", "jealous", "oddball"!

Just some of the suggestions aimed at an unknown session leader in reply to one side of a story!
The far more likely situation is that the "chords" were overly distracting. Maybe the session had problems with an overly enthusiastic chopper in the the past and they were nipping it in the bud.
Sessions are very delicate, some are a free-for-all but more trad sessions rely of a bit of protection. If the session leaders don’t deal with awkward situations then the better players drift away and you can end up with a situation where there are not enough decent players to sustain it.

"Session Furher" indeed! Jeez oh.

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Re: Playing Chords on fiddle at sessions

Did your strumming of chords actually add anything to the set of tunes ?

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Re: Playing Chords on fiddle at sessions

"Did your strumming of chords actually add anything to the set of tunes ?"

I’m making an assumption but is the follow up to this, "if you’re not adding anything to the set of tunes then you shouldn’t play"? I’m not saying this is the right or wrong way of thinking but curious if this is a general rule of thumb. Is it for backers only or melody players as well? If I go to a session and there are 5 people playing a set of reels I know and one of the five is already a (probably more skilled) box player than myself, will I add anything to it? Should I just sit out?

Re: Playing Chords on fiddle at sessions

Well, I think about that too when someone asks if your playing "adds anything" or not.

However, extra instruments can and often do add to the overall "wall of sound"(I don’t know if that’s the best term here or not but you should get my drift). So, two, three fiddles and(perhaps) even more may sound good together much of the time although a great fiddler is sometimes best heard playing solo. Of course, he/she may prefer to play with others most of the time and for most of the tunes and won’t be overly concerned about being better or "more skilled" than anyone else.

I think it’s different though when a player is doing something which isn’t really necessary and which may even be detracting from the overall performance(In the session context). This will depend a lot on the particular session, of course.

Re: Playing Chords on fiddle at sessions

I too would usually bow chords instead of strumming, but I thought that seen as there was only 1 person playing chords (a mandolin player) and 10 or 11 of us playing the melody, that he could do with some assistance, and I thought that while I don’t know the tune, I could do chords to it, and that might help the mandolin player a little bit (he was sitting beside me so it was really easy to see what he was doing). So I started playing the chords, just following the mandolin player, doing the exact same chords and rhythm as he was while being careful not to play over him. It was a one off session in a bar, and only 2 or 3 other people (not in the session) were in the bar (it was in the afternoon so I think it was expected to be quiet) so it was more a session for fun than a concerty type thing, and playing a few chords is, even if it wasn’t adding anything, is more fun than just sitting out and listening (although it is quite nice sometimes), and TomB-R, I can’t chop with my bow, although I should probably try to learn to.

Thanks

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Re: Playing Chords on fiddle at sessions

To be fair, strumming chords an instrument without frets may not be appreciated in many sessions.

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Re: Playing Chords on fiddle at sessions

Look, us backers get enough wotteffah about what we play on strummyfings and otherfings anyway and…

Re: Playing Chords on fiddle at sessions

You’re far more likely to get along at sessions if you accept that sitting out tunes you don’t know is just a thing you have to live with, rather than trying to play something, anything, especially if it’s doing something that’s quite frankly weird, like strumming a fiddle. A lot of players will look at you askance for that. No one will think any less of you for knowing when to sit out a tune, even if it isn’t as fun. They will probably think more of you. Most good players are a bit dubious of people who have the attitude, "I don’t know the tune so I’ll play some chords." The best accompanists know the tunes.

The music doesn’t need any accompanists, not even one. A thing to keep in mind when you feel the mandolin player needs "help." (and that’s a much better instrument for melody rather than accompaniment, but nevermind). Good ones add a different sound and can be fun to play with, while bad ones drive you crazy. But it doesn’t need it.

And sure, I’ve played with people succesfully playing or chopping chords on a fiddle, but they were incredibly good, experienced players. I’ve also seen fiddlers who weren’t as good and didn’t have much of an in depth understanding of the tunes try it, and it’s grim.

Re: Playing Chords on fiddle at sessions

Good, skilful and discreet chopping as a solely rhythmic device can work well, as witnessed by Jusa Nutter Eejit and DrSilverSpear, however it could be argued that picking/strumming chords on a fiddle is doing something that the instrument was never designed for.

Maybe part of the problem is that (in the tune) the accompaniment only requires octaves, 4ths and 5ths, and there’s un unwanted 3rd, ruining the whole "mode". Also, possibly the fact the strummed chords will leave some strings ringing open all the time.

If they were 4-part chords "chopped" like a bluegrass mandolin player would do, and plucked well away from the bridge, then maybe that wouldn’t attract so much unwelcome attention, and perhaps help to drive the rhythm along (as the bluegrassers do).

Hard to say, without hearing it in actual session.

It’s all a big "maybe".

Re: Playing Chords on fiddle at sessions

Lets take a look at the situation:

1/ You have no experience backing Irish music (sorry, correct that, you have 3 weeks experience)
2/ You don’t know the tune you’re trying to back (you just know the key, which is probably as useful as having a key to a house but not knowing where the house is)
3/ You’re trying to back the tune by strumming it on a fiddle.

Did you by any chance lose a great opportunity to do nothing (with the exception of listening) ?
What was the tune ?

Judging by the % of people that fail backing Irish music, it must be quite difficult to get it right, it’s probably more difficult than playing the melody on an instrument, when someone gets it right it can bring a whole new colour to the session, however it’s quite destructive when it’s wrong.

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Hmmm…. Seems to me there are only two options here. Either you mucked up real bad, or, the leader was overly possessive of his set. If you were doing OK, I can’t for the life of me, wonder how someone could not want you in so badly. Where’s the spirit of encouragement here? If you mucked up, did he chat to you after the set? (‘cause that’s what I would do - lend a helping hand).
BTW, how loud can you pluck a fiddle anyway? Would it be so distracting?

Re: Playing Chords on fiddle at sessions

Read the post above from Theirlandais for your answer.

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Re: Playing Chords on fiddle at sessions

That’s not a session where someone is strumming because they don’t know the tune Gonzo. There’s a big difference.

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Re: Playing Chords on fiddle at sessions

I was answering the last part of Peter’s posting.

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Re: Playing Chords on fiddle at sessions

It is unusual for pizzicato to get very loud, which is why Classical composers tend to give the strings very little competition when they play in this style. Strumming does not give the same attack as pizzicato and is even quieter. So even if you were playing wrong chords, they would not have disturbed the other players very much, or so I would have thought. Have a word with Herr Gruppenfuerer and ask about it - tactfully. And ask his valuable advice on how to play in similar circumstances. At the worst, you will know what not to do next time!

Re: Playing Chords on fiddle at sessions

If the leader glared at you, it probably didn’t sound good or fit in.

Re: Playing Chords on fiddle at sessions

So? Ask him what was wrong with it. One man’s glare while playing should not spoil an evening’s playing - get him to translate his glare into words. Make a friend of him!

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“playing a few chords is, even if it wasn’t adding anything, is more fun than just sitting out and listening”

This ultimately is for me the heart of the matter.

So, apparently the OP thinks that it’s more important that he/she has fun than actually contributing to the session.

It’s right up there with playing off sheet music on your phone for tunes one doesn’t know after finding them with TunePal. Demonstrates selfishness and impatience.

Sessions I host are about what collectively the players can contribute to the music, not about doing whatever one thinks would be “more fun”. I would have asked him/her to stop strumming.

What the OP should do is sit quietly and listen and learn the tunes and stop thinking that it’s all about him/her’s “fun”.

Re: Playing Chords on fiddle at sessions

Forgive me Michael, but that seems rather a snobbish attitude. Primarily a music session is a gathering of friends to play music in a manner that brings them all enjoyment. It is not a performance, seeking perfection and approbation. If we don’t get together to play for fun, there seems little point in gathering in the first place.

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Thats simply not an accurate Statement,ebor it is a generalization. Many sessions are not primarily a gathering of friends. Some are… some are more focused on playing good music and we dont care who you are or who you know, or dont….
Its up to the people and hosts of the session.
If your fun ruins it for others…. thats not ok.
Some sessions are indeed performances. Any paid session for example has a requirement that the music is enjoyable to listen to, the music has a function.
Any session catering for dancers needs to play dance music!!

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I’m with Michael on this. What’s fun for one person might not be fun for the others. That person should have the good sense to stop doing what they’re doing and then try to find out why it might not have been fun for others. Good on # for doing that - for stopping and then asking why.

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Re: Playing Chords on fiddle at sessions

Oh there is absolutely great fun to be had when the group is all giving their best and contributing to the music. I think the characterization of my comment as “snobbish” is so far from the truth I don’t even know where to start. My comment had to do with one’s mindset when attending a session. Are you there to give or to take? Giving is outwardly focused on what greatness we can create together, taking is self-focused without regards to the collective norms and larger group context. That is why i characterize those who take as selfish and impatient. Sure it’s fun to read off your phone or play an instrument in an unskilled manner, but at what overall cost to the music and communal experience?

That being said, every session is different, some are a loose collective of individuals with their own agendas, some are more collective in their philosophy. I can only tell you what the norms are at the long term (19 and 14 years) successful sessions I’m actively involved with hosting in SoCal. Those who engage is “anything goes if it’s fun for me” behavior generally don’t last long before I or one of the other hosts have a conversation with the individual laying down the session ground rules and explaining unacceptable or distracting behavior. This sometimes leads to their leaving and never coming back, which if they don’t respect the music or the other players is fine by me. If that makes me a snob, I can proudly live with that.

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"Forgive me Michael, but that seems rather a snobbish attitude."

Chris, I don’t find your response offensive. If you said it about one of my posts I would give it serious consideration. I think both of you, Michael Eskin and Ebor_fiddler, are good contributors to the forum.
Having said that I doubt most of us (perhaps all) are capable of overt sarcasm or momentarily hyperbole
(i.e. ~ copping an attitude). I know I am. Maybe you’re above such temptations, Michael. If so,
good man! I know I’m not. When someone on the board makes a civil attempt to call out
their perception of my *attitude* I do my best to respond in kind.

Ben

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Re: Playing Chords on fiddle at sessions

Just a possible guess and rsort of related to the comments above about if the ‘style’ of chord you played is distracting (ie 3rd vs 4 etc.).

Do you tune your fiddle while bowing? Perhaps even bowing fairly loud? If so, when you switched to strumming you were possibly playing flat on A and E, and maybe sharp on G. A bowed string vibrates differently than a plucked string.

On top of that, the temperament of playing a chord (like with a guitar) is not the same as the temperament we fiddlers generally use in fingering our fretless wonders. So the mandolin chord is actually a comprise set of pitches using the frets.

So maybe the session leader has sensitive ears and between tuning and temperament you were playing sour chords.

Try tuning bowed versus plucked, and then also strumming chords with a multi-tuner and you could see the difference in how your violin changes tuning and get the feel for how to adjust if you want to try it again.

Re: Playing Chords on fiddle at sessions

"I would have asked him/her to stop strumming."

Me too….

Re: Playing Chords on fiddle at sessions

Bottom line:

1/ don’t use the back of your fiddle like a wooden bodhran
2/ don’t blow across the tops of half-empty beer bottles to try and get a flute sound, and then start tuning the sound with the amount of beer left in the bottle
3/ don’t try and play your fiddle like a guitar, likewise, don’t try and play a guitar with a bow
4/ don’t ask stupid questions to session leaders.
5/ Do record tunes and learn them so you can avoid the temptation of 4 don’ts above.

Re: Playing Chords on fiddle at sessions

I really wish I didn’t have to quote a certain someone, but it’s somewhat appropriate to this context: "when you’re a star, they let you do it."

If you’re a whiz on the fiddle, with an impeccable ear and years of experience, you may end up doing things that are unorthodox or usually frowned on but that are welcomed because you do them in a brilliant or interesting way.

For example, I sat in on a session recent with 2 fiddle players, both of whom primarily played Scottish music. I don’t know a ton of Scottish tunes and they didn’t know a ton of Irish tunes, but we managed to find a good few in common. Both of them were truly stellar musicians, and sometimes, when I would start into an Irish tune that they didn’t know, they would follow along chording/chopping/double-stopping. It sounded great! Funnily enough, RE: Michael Eskin’s post, one of them also would look tunes up on Tunepal if she wasn’t familiar, and could jump in after three or so times with nary a missed note. Again, both brilliant players, and it was quite a fun few hours.

However, they are the definite exception, and I’ve been to plenty of sessions where people tried to do similar things and it ended up distracting or worse. One of the keys, of course, was that it was THEIR session, so there was no conflict with the leader. Keep in mind that leaders don’t just have you to worry about; they could have a reason for being stricter about such things even if your playing wasn’t bad (the old "but he’s allowed to do it, why can’t I?" argument that parents love to hear). So perhaps it wasn’t your playing in and of itself, but a general line that they didn’t want crossed.

Overall, unless you’re leading the session or a member in very good standing, I would probably say to experiment at home and get very comfortable with whatever it is you’re going to try before bringing it out. People can be understandably put out if they feel like you’re taking liberties that negatively affect the sound and feel of the session. Some sessions are definitely more relaxed than others, and if you know of one that doesn’t mind you strumming along, that’d be the best venue. I’d be of the opinion that the session leader should have been a bit more vocal and discreet about their displeasure, maybe having a quick chat with you between tunes to give you a sense of the expectations at the session. I’ve seen it done very well many times, without starting a fuss or singling someone out. Of course, if it really was distracting in the middle of the set, a glare is probably the only way to get the point across mid-playing short of shouting!

Unfortunately, whether you’re right or wrong, if someone’s leading a session, they’ve got the control and the only recourse is usually to pack up and/or not go again. I’ve done that plenty of times when I’m just not having fun, or feel like a "session fuhrer" is holding court rather than actually running a session. But I’ve also packed it in early at plenty of sessions that were just a mess musically, with a wall of strummers and out-of-tune, out-of-time players, so I can see how some "law and order" can be useful. It can be a very fine line to walk!

Re: Playing Chords on fiddle at sessions

I’ve encountered some of the situations mentioned above. When I was playing the GHB some bandmates were piping in the circle, I stepped in and joined. I did not have this particular tune as ready as I thougth I had. Getting my eye, the PM motioned I should stop and I did so. He is the PM and can make such a call. I can also be considerate enough to my bandmates to not create a disruption. I was of course welcomed to join for tunes I had more solid. It is all a learning experience.

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I’m glad to see most of the last few comments coming down on the side of the session leader. The regulars are the ones who keep the session going - it’s their session. They most likely rely on one or two hosts to iron out problems, which is sometimes an unpleasant job, but without someone willing to do that a session can be a race to the bottom.

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As a tune player, it should be simple. If your a regular at a session pay attention to what’s acceptable at that particular session, If you’re a visitor, respect that it may be different to what you’re used to. Play the tunes you know and sit out the ones you don’t.

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I once visited a session where one of the flute players mostly played long notes ("I’m playing chords!"). Oh the humanity.

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Had a fiddler visit our session once who, after a few sets of tunes, revealed he know no tunes. Told us he was very good at harmonising. Quite a feat to pull off in a genre he was unfamiliar with and tunes he’d never heard. It wasn’t fun.

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Ouch! I’ve dealt with similar issues 9ver the years. Never fun or ends well.

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"Told us he was very good at harmonising"

I’m not totally against that if the musician is accomplished and familiar with the music. However, there’s got to be a purpose and good reason for it. Perhaps, because there’s enough fiddle players already…. Sometimes I might play the tune in the lower octave which can sound quite good but there are other possibilities too.
However, doing something else just because you don’t know the tune is not the way to go , in my opinion.

"Told us he was very good at IMPROVISING" is an even worse scenario. :-(
We’ve had that before..too often.

Re: Playing Chords on fiddle at sessions

"Told us he was very good at harmonising"

Yeah… that kind of thing led to one of the only two times I’ve ever seen anyone effectively booted from a session. An octave mandolin player, more versed in OldTime than Irish, liked to join a local Irish session but didn’t want to spend time learning and practicing tunes at home. He considered that boring, and enjoyed the more social aspects of acoustic jams and sessions. He had an "improvisational" style where he could pick up the implied chord changes well enough, but instead of using that for anything you’d call accompaniment, he basically arpeggiated all over the place. I’ve heard counterpoint accompaniment done well, and this wasn’t it. It was like a parallel melody line from a very different tune. He did know a few tunes and could play them fairly well, but he would never sit out a tune he didn’t know, using this improv style to play on every tune.

He thought this was a legitimate approach because it worked okay in local OldTime jams, probably because the relatively quiet OM was buried under multiple guitars strumming chords and banjos doing that plinky clawhammer thing. At this particular Irish session with just one guitar player it was more exposed, and highly distracting for any melody players sitting hear him.

Finally the session leader (or maybe it was someone else, I can’t remember) told this person "don’t play on a tune you don’t know." He was offended, left the session and never came back. It was basically a clash of musical cultures, and the offender just couldn’t see or hear the difference.