Old players on new instruments

Old players on new instruments

Anyone have experience of accomplished players turning up at sessions with a different instrument, one they have only just taken up… and insisting on playing the thing, even though they barely can?

Should this be tolerated? Can they be excused on the grounds of "seniority", or because they know what the music they are trying to make should sound like (even if it actually sounds like shight)?

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And it’s not necessarily the case that the accomplished player may have in fact only just taken up a different instrument … sometimes it sounds that way πŸ™‚

Trevor

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Heh, I do this all the time. πŸ™‚ Banjo, flute, whistle, with my fiddle sitting idle on the table.

No, to be honest, I rarely bring my banjo because I’m not good enough on it yet. It’s not worth lugging for the handful of tunes I feel comfortable on. But I do play flute, though I’m no where near an honest-to-god flute player yet. But I can get through a few jigs and reels, in duet with our other fluter, and he’s been encouraging. I like the sound of two flutes together (we’re sticklers for intonation), and it really helps my phrasing and breathing to piggy back on someone else (comapred to huffing away at home alone).

Besides, it’s a relief from the constant squawking of my fiddle….

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You mean like the Bluegrass mandolin player that showed up at our session a couple of years ago and said, "Hey guys, I just bought this here fiddle last week, and I’m going to play some Irish music with you!"

Or do you mean when I showed up with my accordion and tried to play along with stuff I already knew on flute?

The former was right out, but the latter was marginally acceptable. (Thanking my tolerant session mates…)

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Oh, this is timely. I just spent Saturday fondling concertinas, thinking I just might want to take the plunge. Oh, wait. You said ‘accomplished players’…oh, well, I’ll just pretend this is relevant.

Unfortunately, I don’t think you can lurk in the dark recesses of the practice cocoon, then suddenly emerge fully competent one day to amaze your friends with your brilliance. There are going to be some awkward moments with your musical partners when you discover that you don’t quite have that down as well as you thought. Part of the learning process. Just as long as you acknowledge that you sound like crap the first few times out… Anyway, isn’t this a variation on the session as performance debate?

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There was/is a very reputable musician around where I live who has been doing something like this. He started out by playing his new instrument at the slow session held each week, and this was very much tolerated. I think people were thrilled to see one of the top musicians experiencing some of the same frustrations that they were going through. It was also nice to have a person who understands the music to pass down session wisdom and just general rules of thumb for Irish music. It was also nice to have him put together sets beyond those on the same page in the books that some people play out of.

This individual started to play this new instrument at the session he leads, but my understanding is that the bar owner politely asked him afer a few weeks to stick to his main instrument for the more advanced session, even though at the time, the advanced session was leaning more towards the intermediate end of things.

Whatever the case may be, he’s doing fine with the new instrument, so all seems well.

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i dont ht ink they should play. they should watch and play and wait til its a tune they know competently on the new instrument, then they can jump in on these tunes.

if you play on one instrument well, i think you can go from practice room to session pretty well, but maybe not as soon as you might think you would, because you’re gonna have to relearn all the tunes on the new instrument. once you get a hang at picking up your old tunes, you’ll be able to do it almost on the fly.

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bribanjo - LMAO ! (just hope your man doesn’t have Sue, Grabbitt and Runne the lawyers) πŸ™‚

I know what you mean. I’ve been to a few sessions where that that sort of thing happens so often it has become the norm. It does yer head in!

Jim

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Does depend on the session, and how discrete the old dog is being with his or her new tricks. And which instrument it is makes a difference, too. I can get along fairly quietly on flute if I start fumbling the tune, and other people are there to keep it going. To some extent, I feel like I’ve earned the same consideration I’ve shown to many other players. Of course, I also hold myself to a higher standard than is healthy, so I’m not so likely to bang around on a tune I don’t know.

One of the first times I brought the banjo to a session, one of the other fiddlers barked out, "Go on—stick to something you know," before I could even get the first note out. I launched right into a set of jigs and he blurted out, "Hey, that actually sounds really good!" and away we went.

His first comment was at least partially tongue in cheek, and his second said more about the welcome addition of the banjo’s low end growling away beneath a caterwaul of fiddles than it did about my prowess on the instrument. But it persuaded me that the banjo, even played without a lot of flair or pyrotechnics, could be an asset to the session. At the very least, it’s a refreshing change of voice—on most nights, we have plenty of fiddles.

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I say that "old" players on new instruments should be treated like new players on new instruments. If they are playing along with sets, then that is OK. The trouble is when they start too many sets, and want to maintain their lead role.

The question the "old" player has to ask themself is: how am I affecting, or contributing to the session? If it is a slow session to start with, then cool. If it is a regular session that needs experienced players to carry it, then that is a big negative.

I started messing with a concertina, but I would never bring it to the sessions that I attend. I would go from a positive contributor to a drag on the session.

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Depends too on how far along you’ve gotten on the ‘new’ instrument. I could easily play an hour’s worth of tunes on banjo, and could lead sets on it if need be. I didn’t bring it to a session till I got to that level, and then I played on only a handful of sets.

I agree with Jode—I don’t think it’s the ‘new’ instrument so much as whether the player demonstrates reasonable respect for the music, his or her session mates, and the overall sound.

I would talk immediately (and in private) to anyone who was disrupting an otherwise cranking session, even if they were godly on some other instrument.

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Interesting to see how seriously most of you have taken this topic. I guess it touches a nerve.

A few years back a good friend of mine, a beautiful fiddle player, totally steeped in the tradition and very knowledgeable, took up the pipes. The legendary house sessions he had run for years suddenly took a total nosedive, as we had to endure tune after tune started at a snail’s pace and then getting slower, with bloodcurdling squawks and yelps from the chanter, hiccups in the rhythm, plus the most mind-boggling array of facial twitches from the player, in defiance of all that is known about human physiognomy. Drove us to distraction but we couldn’t do much about it, the sessions were in his house, he was impervious to subtle hints, and we loved him anyway.

Ah well guess I won’t bring my accordion to any of your sessions for a wee while, bribanjo….

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I have a good friend who is one of the best mandolin players I’ve ever heard, and I’m not alone in that opinion. She is also well loved by everyone who gets to know her. Recently she has taken up the box, and the tunes come out slowly and awkwardly complete with uncharacteristic facial contortions. Sometimes I’ll suggest a tune or two and she’ll say, "Oooo… can we play that one slow so I can play the box?" And even though I would prefer to play along with her magnificent mandolin — I don’t hesitate to accommodate her desire and play the tunes slowly and even haltingly at moments. I’ve never stopped to consider why I have no problem with this until I started reviewing this thread.

I think, in my case, it’s my friendship and affection for the person that compels me to accept it. Also, I feel that I’m investing in someone who will become a really good box player someday. It begs the question though; how would I respond if I weren’t such good friend with the person? The answer is unknown to me, but I think this experience with my friend could affect my attitude a bit. And if someone is brilliant on one instrument – they tend to be forgiven for their efforts on the new one by most people. Then again, if I didn’t know the person well – I might suddenly become very thirsty and you’ll find me at the bar or out side getting fresh air, seeing a man about a horse etc.

Having said that, I’d like to thank all my friends and strangers for continuing to tolerate my perpetual and chronic neophyte abilities on both my instruments. And for all of those musicians that chose to go to the bar instead – I’ll have a Guinness please.

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It’s okay, at least you can play the monkey-box well, even if it is a monkey-box.

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(They can’t be *that* difficult hahaha)

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Oh dear I shouldn’t have said that. Some straight-laced type is gonna shout at me any minute "don’t you know that Jack is a great concertina player? How dare you insult him!!!!"

*eye roll*

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Cheers Dow… I’ll have a Guinness please. πŸ˜‰

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Ahem, I’m going to restate the obvious: it’s an issue of how you treat people. You know, like being polite. That goes both ways, doesn’t it? The struggling trans-instrumentalist needs to realise that folks might cut a little slack on a tune or two, but after that everyone will get a little tense. The fellow sessionites grinding their teeth in pain at the awful sounds coming from said trans-instrumentalist should remember what their mothers said: Treat people the way…..well, you know the rest.

Tsk, Dow. Insulting a great concertina player like Jack. What would your mother say?

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Bribanjo - well said. Players switching instruments may not take the time to switch their ego as well. I suppose it depends on the player and the situation. We have these problems around here, but that is why I suggested that we try to treat them as beginners are treated. You can respect and encourage a beginner, but to let them rule the session is a session killer.

And for every rule is an exception. A friend of mine and a great banjo player, took up the box quite a few years ago. He did so very quickly, but would come out to the session while he was still learning. Instead of being a problem, it was an asset. He played tunes slowly, but most of them were ones most people did not know. So, a bunch of us learned his tunes as he progressed.

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hahahahahahaha

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Hee. Serves that cheeky little fellow right, getting his britches warmed.

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hahahaha

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Chest expander

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BTW Mrs Dow would have to have incredibly long arms to give me a spanking from where she is, over 10,000 miles away πŸ™‚

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Jack here’s your Guinness, oh…a…t..k…oops sorry! Oh no, now the bellows are wet. Oh and it’ll have leaked inside as well. Here use this cloth just to wipe the worst of it off for now. Here put it in the blazing hot midday sun to dry, I’m sure it’ll be fine. Play your flute for a while instead. Here I’ll get you another Guinness… ah sorry, it looks like I’m out of cash. Maybe next time eh?

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Not to worry, my concertina can hold it’s liquor, unlike those sloppy Brit-boxes.

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*Is* it liquor? Mine can "hold" too you know!

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Could you please explain what you’re on about, Dow?

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You just said your concertina was "liquor" and that it can "hold". I think it’s you who need to explain what you’re on about Monkeyboxman.

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You’re right, Brit-boxes *aren’t* liquor.

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*ahem* uh… Dow… it’s an expression. If one can "hold his liquor" it means they can drink a lot without getting too drunk. (I can’t believe I have to explain this… oh yea… Dow’s in the land of the backwards wirlpools.)

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"Needs" - duh, I asked for that one πŸ˜€

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Jack, I know it’s an expression. Keep up, man!

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You’re chasing your tail now you nutbucket. geeesh! hahaha

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I think Dow was confused by the erroneous apostrophe (It’s liquor), which would tend to suggest the the box is in fact, liquor. (Do they have apostrophes in Australia?)

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Yes, but we use them correctly πŸ˜‰

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Well, when I run out of insults for his Monkeybox I have to slag *something*!

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All that over an errant apostrophe?! It must come from trying to get ITM out of those silly Brit-Boxes — makes you really anal I guess. πŸ˜€

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I don’t know about "anal", but yes, attention to detail is important when you play a complex and sophisticated instrument like a Britbox.

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Well, according to what we found out on an earlier thread about that dark place you store your Brit-Box in — anal is very literal actually. πŸ˜€

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Hey I was wondering why whenever I squeeze it a load of shite comes out!!

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lol, Mark. Good’un.

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Except, I really wanted to pontificate about the subject at hand. Is that still allowed or is it all just liquor and poop jokes now?

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Liquor and poop… you got it. Welcome back Kerri. πŸ™‚

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Dow, you seemed to slag your self in the comment about what comes out of your Brit-Box… you ok?

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Liquor and poop? That’s how you know you’re dealing with a realllllllly old musician….

I’d like to think us old timers have earned some karma to be given the benefit of the doubt, for all the times we did the same for some young whippersnapper lashing away at tunes like it was a bareback horse race. Personally, I appreciate the encouragement I’ve gotten from my session mates for picking up new instruments. It’s too easy for some people to deride you for trying, especially when you’re already "accomplished" on one instrument (some people confuse who you are with what instrument you play).

In broad terms, I can see at least two good reasons to pick up another instrument(s) after years of servitude to one. First, it makes you a better musician, better able to appreciate what other musicians are doing, and with a bigger perspective on the music. Second, assuming you do eventually learn to play the next instrument, you can add a lot to your local session. Ours tends to be fiddle heavy. Me learning flute and banjo adds fresh voices to the overall sound. It even steers me toward tunes I might not have learned on fiddle, so our repertoire of tunes is expanded.

Is there a bumpy learning period? Yes, but this can be lessened by waiting until you really can play some tunes on the new instrument. In short, the problem isn’t the new instrument, it’s players who force themselves on a session before doing the necessary woodshedding.

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I always bring my woodshed to the session.

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Our session is *in* an old woodshed. That’s Montana for you….

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How very "Frontier House".

Jack, I think it’s important to be able to slag oneself. If someone has no sense of humour for other people’s slagging is forgivable, but if you can’t laugh at yourself there’s no hope for you. At least you should have no problems laughing at yourself, Jack. You only have to look in the mirror. One look at that silly hat and…

Sorry folks, I know you’re desperately trying to get this thread back on topic πŸ™‚

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Ok Dow… that’s cool… I was just worried. Glad you’re ok.

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I can laugh at myself, but if anyone else tries it I’ll rip your throat out.

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THAT"S the attitude! hahaha

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Now for my two bits:

I like it when the experts pick up a new instrument for the following reasons:

The folks I know play their tunes steady and slow on the new instrument, allowing me time to catch all the notes and variations that fly past too quick when they are playing their old one.

The slower pace can be a nice change from an "expert" session, where the players often forget to vary the tempo.

Coincidentally, the ‘new’ instrument, in my experience, is always an Anglo concertina, and never a set of pipes. I don’t want to hear anybody learning the pipes, no matter how much I like them. (‘them’ goes for the player *and* the pipes.)

I lied, sometimes it’s a piano accordion. About half the time, in fact. And I hate the accordion no matter how well it’s played. However, seeing the transformation when a player switches from playing a cool, sexy instrument like a fiddle or a flute well to playing a dorky instrument like a sparkly, shiny piano accordion badly is always good for a laugh.

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Um, Jack, are you laughing *with* Kerri, there, or *at* her? Careful now πŸ™‚

Seriously, I wonder if the ‘old dog with new toy’ syndrome lends itself to miscommunications down at the local pub. Most experienced musicians are well versed in the blood, sweat, and tears required to learn an instrument, so even if they’re serious about learning, they’re likely to keep a sense of humor about it. The old dog may not be taking his or her attempts with a new instrument as seriously as other people in the circle (who find themselves suddenly compelled to listen to those attempts). It *is* possible to be at once encouraging to the player _and_ protective of the session. But it helps to have a sense of humor about the session itself—no matter how sacrosanct the music is for you, this isn’t church.

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I have a guitar player friend (read: boyfriend) who was going to the bathroom one day and I offered to hold (read: play) his guitar while he was gone, and he looked around at all the "experts" we were playing with, winced, and said "I don’t know, it’s pretty tricky to follow." I wanted to kick him in the nuts. Especially since I’ve been playing guitar longer than he has. I just never practice accompaniment cuz I’m so dang smokin’ with the melody…

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Oh yeah, the moral of the story is; I am a welcome addition to most sessions because of my accomplishments as a human being, I hope, not just because of my (marginal) musical skill. I’d stop going to a session if experimenting and broadening my horizons were frowned upon.

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Kerri, I’d rather tough it out and broaden *everyone’s* horizons. Quitting the session lets the doubters and skeptics off too easy….
πŸ™‚

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Ah sure. I don’t know what I’m talking about. I never stop going. I find the snobs burn themselves out faster than I do. I outlast them all.

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I think what I meant was, hypothetically speaking, if I ever stumbled on a session where the atmoshpere remained stiff and snobby despite my illuminating presence, I would eventually entertain the idea of maybe missing one or two, if I had free tickets to a good concert or something on the same night, or if I happened to be out of town.