Are there two types of BACKERS?

Are there two types of BACKERS?

Cheeky Elf’s thread below made me reflect on this.

OBSERVATION: There seems to be two types of backers.

One sort knows an appropriate accompaniment to tunes because they have learnt that tune (not the melody necessarily) but ‘the chords’. They also probably know the name of the tune and probably play it the same each time.

The other sort simply extemporises an appropriate accompaniment by listening to the tune , knowing and being aware of where the tune could go and a drenching in the genre and style. They also probably don’t know the name of the tune and hardly ever play anything the same twice.

I’ve seen loads of both types. They are all good.



(I would normally be playing tunes at the Ramble Inn SW17 with Foxy, Kate, Angela, Jeanette and JB tonight, Sunday about now! Oh well!)

Re: Are there two types of BACKERS?

I’ve seen both types of backers, yes, and the 2nd type of improvised backing *can* work reasonably well if the player is steeped in the music. Until, that is, they run into a tune like Kid on the Mountain or Knocknagow if they’ve never heard it before. That’s where a good improv backer will immediately stop playing, rather than try to power through an unfamiliar and constant change of tonal center.

Unfortunately, I’ve experienced too many improv backers who don’t do that, and proceed to wreck the tune. The biggest skill in backing is to recognize when it isn’t working, so you should just sit out and enjoy the melody.

Re: Are there two types of BACKERS?

No the two types are merely stages on the journey. There are so many tunes that to back successfully at a session requires level 2 but to get to level 2 requires going through level 1 . Trying to get to level 2 without going through level one is like trying to join a session without knowing any tunes…. gonna be lots of flailing about without a clue of whats going on and then the key changes 🙂
Playing the chords to a tune you dont know requires the same skill set as playing a tune you dont know. The ability to allow the music to flow through the ears directly to the hands .
Some tunes are harder than others, some types are harder than others ie fast complex reels compared to straight forward polkas.

Re: Are there two types of BACKERS?

Only two kinds as far as I’m concerned, those who know what they are doing, and those that don’t.

There is no try.

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Great comment Michael! That deserves a like button !

Re: Are there two types of BACKERS?

This has come up in real life at my session a fair bit over the years. Some random guitar player would show up and want to sit in. Our policy on backup players is "how about we try a set and see how it goes?". The difference between those who know what they are doing and those that don’t becomes clear within 10 seconds. Doesn’t help that we might start on a tune like Providence or Ah, Surely that starts on the V of the root key just to see if they are listening and actually know what they are doing. 🙂 If they crash and burn, we’d usually just buy them a drink and explain that it unfortunately won’t work to have them join us. Yeah, we can be big meanies.

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This is really weird. I saw Michael’s comment above this at the top of the list of comments, and somehow or other the thought came in to my head "Those who know what they are doing and those who don’t". The strange thing is that I had not seen his comment posted some 8 minutes beforehand.
I would sub divide the second category actually. "There are those who don’t know what they are doing :
2a - and never will, because they won’t put the work in like the rest of us".
2b - who know they are learning, and are willing to learn and take advice".
I have a lot of time for, and will help "2b".
"2a" I just put up with, until it becomes intolerable, and I am the one who leaves.

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Re: Are there two types of BACKERS?

I’m probably mainly a type 1 backer in that I tend to stick fairly closely to a "script" when accompanying tunes that I know. That script is a set of routes through the tune where the chords and progressions are suggested by the sequences of notes.

I’m not particularly keen on accompanying tunes I don’t know but sometimes there’s an expectation for you to do so (like someone shouts what they think the key is at you). In those situations I’ll keep it fairly simple, listening for the changes, if any. The more familiar I get with the tune then the more interesting the script might get and more variations will become apparent.

I’m not knocking type 2 backers, but two of them will never be able to back at the same time because of their sometimes whimsical chord choices. Not every tune can be accompanied by a bravado vi-IV-I-V. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve heard some great type 2s, but I’ve also heard some where I’ve thought "Why would you ever think to play that?"

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Theres a certain rock backer style that just flattens everything out, takes all the bounce and lift out of the music, it becomes like walking through heavy mud , tiring and frustrating. I cant be dealing with it.
Thing is its like an expert player in one genre, will know all the standards and their part in that standard, where the chorus, bridge , solo ,verse etc is so they think that sitting into a ‘ folk ‘ session will be easy, and maybe it will be , because they are playing it all wrong!!
A genre is full of standards players are expected yo know, you simply cant play the piece unless you know it, have a cheat sheet or are so immersed in the genre you know hundreds of standards already that you can busk it( if your lucky)
With trad music the chords might be easy, 2 or three at most 4 but the pattern can be incredibly fast changing intricate and complex . it might well be possible to stick to one chord through a bunch of changes and make it work but actually there could be a lot of changes …… the chord can change as rapidly as the notes……
its not hopeless however, just learn the standards. Just as the tune players do, we don’t just jam in without knowing the tune unless were really good and have played by ear for decades . Some instruments are more amenable to fitting in, some just have to lead. Pipes, whistle in particular, if you dont know the tune….. you either shut up or get strung up 🙂 others are more amenable yo blending in without upsetting anyone.
Again I recommend the fiddlers fake book for chords, because ive never found another book that has it right…. its packed full of great tunes in a few genres with spot on chords. They really are reliable. Its a good start .

Re: Are there two types of BACKERS?

This has been going round and round for eternity.
For what its worth in response to some prior comments :
1. Believe it or not some guitarist, maybe even many - can actually handle two - yes two! - approachs to playing their instrument - some even more! Hard to believe I know.

2. Judgements about people "not knowing what they are doing" are one of the reasons people quit. In my experience this music allows mamy, many pathways to whatever people deem to be the success they are looking for. One of the things you’ll commonly meet on that road are people with "right or wrong" way signs. Listening to them is optional.

Re: Are there two types of BACKERS?

I’m on the side of there being two types.

I’ve known backers who had great ears, could understand where the tune was going and provide fitting backing even for tunes they’d never heard.

I’ve known backers who could play lovely sophisticated backing for tunes they were familiar with, but were lost with tunes new to them.

If you heard both people backing a tune familiar to both you would come away saying that the second person was the more advanced player.

But if you heard both backing a tune new to both you would say that the first person is the better of the two.

Re: Are there two types of BACKERS?

"2. Judgements about people "not knowing what they are doing" are one of the reasons people quit."

Better to have them quit early on if they aren’t willing to do the work to reap the rewards. Anyone who decides they want to back an Irish session should know exactly what they are getting into and if they aren’t up for the work, find something else less demanding.

I’ve had way too many sessions over the years destroyed by guitar players who didn’t know what they didn’t know, and kept playing anyway. When they don’t stop, are they supposed to get some special treatment and be given a pass because we don’t want to discourage them?

Sorry, but no.

They made the choice to come to an event that they were completely unqualified and unprepared to participate in and are wrecking whether they are aware of it or not. That’s on them. There’s no obligation to tolerate such behavior. We can certainly be kind in our feedback, but that sometimes means offering them resources to study and sending them packing and inviting them to come back when they have done the work.

Is that harsh. Hell yes. The bar is high for backing a session, much higher than for melody players. Do the freaking work. Know your limits.

Re: Are there two types of BACKERS?

Mr Eskin, please define who ‘we’ are in your above comments! You appear to be speaking on behalf of mysterious like minded others.

Re: Are there two types of BACKERS?

“We” being the rest of the players adversely impacted by the backer, or if the session is hosted, the hosts.

Usually they are the ones packing up and leaving early because all the fun just got sucked out of the session and don’t see the point of staying with such nonsense going on and being tolerated. Seen that happen more than a few times over the years.

Re: Are there two types of BACKERS?

Yhaal House, how do you or your session mates (or hosts, if hosted) deal with this sort of situation if it happens? I’m assuming that you play in sessions, of course…

Re: Are there two types of BACKERS?

I also hope that along with the advice that backers should learn the chords for a bunch of standards by rote that one would strongly encourage them to actively listen and work towards a true listening based backup skill. Rote-only backers, in my experience, tend to get stuck as eternal beginners only able to back the few tunes they know. Without the listening skills, if they try to impose their rote patterns beyond the tunes they know, things often don’t go well. If they can learn to actively listen for the melodic and modal clues that provide the “why” for the “what” then they can start to break out of the very limited box of rote playing and achieve greater competence and confidence as backup players.

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Here’s a specific example why I have strong opinions about not giving clueless backers a pass…

About six months ago I was cohosting a session with a very fine younger fiddler friend of mine. This was a paid hosting event at a large pub where two players are paid to host each week and other players from the area come to play. The hosts change every week. It’s about a 300 mile round trip from my house to the pub and back, so it’s an all-day trip between the travel and the session, which goes for 3 hours.

This particular time I was playing the pipes, and as I often do, I had my eyes closed during one set.

In the middle of the set I hear a guitar player join in and it sounded at the time like he knew what he was doing.

After that said he asked “Is it OK if I join you?” And to be honest it sounded fine to me at the time, so I said “Sure, sounds like you know what you are doing.”

Turns out the guy in reality had no clue beyond that one set, I just happened to play a tune he knew how to back.

Then he sang a pub song, quite loudly. Pretty impressive, actually.

The pub manager and his whole family who were there for their baby’s birthday party, really enjoyed the singing. He was admittingly a good singer, but it ended up being a horrible session.

Everything he played after that first set was wrong, wrong chords, wrong rhythms, like not even in the ballpark wrong. And, he played on every single set.

But, since the manager and his family really seemed to enjoy the singing and were impressed with him, we couldn’t do anything about it, we had to just tolerate this horror show for 3 hours. We didn’t want there to be a scene in front of the manager and his family if we had asked the guy not to play. It was a terrible situation, all because this one guy didn’t know what he didn’t know, couldn’t tell he was actively causing damage and upset, and yet continued playing.

When the session was over and the awful guitar guy left, and the rest of us, about 6 players as I recall, had to sit for about an hour and calm down over some strong drinks, my cohost friend was absolute seething. We were all so pissed that this one idiot wrecked our session, one that we had driven 300 miles round trip to host, and there was nothing we could do.

Re: Are there two types of BACKERS?

I would agree with your second last comment, Michael.
You can’t back tunes at a session if you’ve just learnt some standards by rote. There has to be an understanding of what’s going on.
If you’re reading off charts then you’re not using your ears. Same as the melody player who says they know a tune and then pulls out a score.

Re: Are there two types of BACKERS?

As a beginner at playing Irish music and backer (guitar) I’d never go to a session for playing. The fear of meeting those elitist (often locals) players is not worth it. The risk of an unpleasant evening instead of a couple of hours of fun. It is the same feeling you have as a beginner, walking into some music stores and are seen and treated like an idiot.

I have met and taken lessons for world-class teachers/players (not that it made ME world-class in any way) and all of them have been humble and supportive. It seems to be this way in all fields - the ”semi-top” have invested so much in getting to the top of some hierarchy that they become afraid of being ”exposed” or something. And they always create some rules about how things should be. The best just do their thing.

It’s the same way here in Sweden, so I’m not bashing Irish musicians especially.

End of rant…

Re: Are there two types of BACKERS?

I’m curious about your experience in Sweden if you don’t mind expanding on your comments…

What in your mind makes them “elitist”?

Are they good players with a bad attitude towards newer players, or just jerks who have a high but unwarranted regard for their own playing, or something else entirely based on a specific experience you had? Was it something specific to their interactions with you as a backup player?

What are the rules they created you object to? Are they the session hosts, or just some players who show up and decide they can make rules?

Re: Are there two types of BACKERS?

I’d be very surprised to find a music store that treated beginners like idiots. They would only be in existence for a short while because beginners are their main custom base.

Re: Are there two types of BACKERS?

I’ll never know enough.
I’ll never stop learning.
I’m getting better at not-backing when I shouldn’t.
If I can play the melody, I ain’t gonna back.
There are times to just sit it out and enjoy the flow.

Re: Are there two types of BACKERS?

My point about learning the tunes( chords) is just that it will help a player get to grips with the genre, its an introduction. 40-50 pieces is a good start that should cover keys, rhythms and structure. That number could easily be 200 . Learn the (A) right set of chords for 200 standards and that will give you a solid base to play by ear in sessions. You still might not actually play any of those 200 in a session ! Depending on where it is , but its a start.

I dont get this reluctance to learn standards, ‘ by rote’ thats how we learn tunes ! Outside of a live session environment where they come in by osmosis. But for those of us not born into the tradition or playing an instrument that is a ‘lead’ (loud) we all pick up tunes ftom recordings or notes or friends and Teachers in a non live non session environment. We memorise tunes with or without variations. With or without ornaments . Some with a very tight defined way of playing and some with a very loose undefined way .

So once you have. 2-500 tunes then picking new ones up by ear is a totally different experience than when you know 2 -5 tunes .

The chords are the same!! The right chords contain the notes of the tunes, the backer IS playing the tune (should be) its just like picking up a tune by ear on fiddle etc . Same exact process. Listen to hear what’s happening and finding it on the instrument via the mind. Ideally this process is so fast and fluent that you change in real time, like a flock of birds or a shoal of fish. A common reality.
Ive caught that on occasions , a couple of times with Seamus Bugler, i remember him looking at me with astonishment as i changed tune and key in synce with him ,I remember the feeling of quiet satisfaction , a memory that will stay with me . You know what its like sometimes as a backer, theres this doubt “ omg its a guitarist whats he gonna do!!!?” 🙂 its nice to be able to stand your own and really add to a session so much that top players are super happy at the end. Professional pride .
Playing trad at that level is a fine art and a carefully constructed craft. Weve spent decades immersed in the music , eating breathing from dawn to dusk and from dusk to dawn 🙂 its our pride and joy , dont fuck it up for us please .

A tune has a structure, basically the same everywhere, there are very occasionally variations that would change that structure but its really that structure that defines the tune. There are many different settings and minor variations that might require a slight change in voicings , but as a general rule its the underlying structure that is the immutable part.
Once the structure starts to change it becomes another tune.
There are exceptions, like i play the Scholar with some variations that are distinctly relative minor where normally its major .so technically I suppose a melodic substitution!

Re: Are there two types of BACKERS?

Hello!
I would agree that there are two sorts of backers, who can be bracketted much as Yhaal House sugests. I don’t think one approach is necessesarily better or worse than the other, but to be a good (even adequate) type 2, you have to have a quite phenominally good ear. To be a good type 1, you need lots of bits of paper, or an iPad.
I also think an experienced type 1 player should eventually be able to add to the basic chords he’s reading - assuming he’s not completely tone-deaf - so at least starting out with cheat-sheets, with a view to jettisoning them later, is perhaps the best of both worlds.
I sometimes think DADGAD players seem to think they can back anything, even if it was written that afternoon!
Quick story, following on from Michael Eskin’s tale of woe:
I don’t go to sessions very often - there aren’t any around this part of Germany, but this thread reminded me of one I visited a few years ago. It was honestly the most joylous event since the band on the Titanic was asked to play an encore. But it was musically very good, so we stayed to listen. A guitarist turned up after about half an hour and it was clear no-one knew him. He got out a battered, cheap, nylon-strung guitar, tuned it in a half-arsed manner and just started to play along. With a plectrum. Loudly. Guessing the keys, the time signatures and changes. The session-players were so shocked, they couldn’t speak. The poor bastards tried to ignore him, but he was too loud. He realised after what seemed like about a week that it wasn’t working - it was probably only 20 minutes - and stopped. But it was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen!

Re: Are there two types of BACKERS?

Will, I am shocked! You using substitutions?

I don’t think a type 1 backer has to be reading off sheets or iPad. Otherwise I must be a type 2. The only time I ever use cheat sheets is if I’m depping in a live setting, where the other musicians expect to hear a certain harmony, or in the recording studio.

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Ah, yes! I completely ignored those who memorised the chords, as opposed to having them written down, sorry!

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It’s not really a case of memorising them, although some might be, but knowing what chords will fit the tune because you know the tune and you can hear the changes. The more I get to know a tune the more ways I know I can push the accompaniment away from the obvious.

Re: Are there two types of BACKERS?

What you describe would be accompanying by ear, I guess. I make the distinction between players like you and those who play the chords by rote (from page or memory). My wife accompanies me on guitar and, although she’s a proficient player, she can’t ‘hear’ the changes or, rather, she can, but doesn’t necessarily know what chord to change TO. It’s always interesting when I write out chords for her (she memorises them after a while), because there are often different choices which ‘fit’.

Re: Are there two types of BACKERS?

I substitute some minor arpeggios i picked up from a fiddler, but not as a backer! As a tune player. Ive been playing tunes even befor i started backing them.
I memorized the chords for the first few hundred tunes i learnt, those include songs and i still do often enough . I dont believe its possible to do it any other way and really be fluent enough to play all night in any sesion anywhere. But i could be mistaken.
Just as ive memorized every tune ive learnt in 40 yrs , though ive forgotton a few sadly through disuse.
Because ive always played by ear i can pick up tunes in sessions fairly fluently both backing or on a stringed instrument.
It could be as a bass player my ear is looking for the root, so my chordal aporoach reflects those root notes and my tune playing also.
Although i spent a few years playing punk and reggae as a teenager I was 19 when i learnt my first 2 tunes on Bass , the tune itself. Boys of blue hill and the harvest home! But i quickly switched to mandolin and guitar with a whistle in my pocket.
So my experience covers both tune playing and backing.
As such i speak from both sides of the equation .

Re: Are there two types of BACKERS?

Michael Eskin: Of course, my experiences are few and therefore only anecdotal ”proof”. I have to say they were pretty good players, but with a bad attitude. In one session nobody even said ”Hello”. It was a very strange experience on the whole. Sorry for the derailing rant.

Re: Are there two types of BACKERS?

Håkan,

I’ve been at a few of those as well, not an enjoyable experience.

Michael

Re: Are there two types of BACKERS?

I fully agree the bar is high for backers and no doubt there is a truck load of work to be done to be able to accompany skilled melody players. . Just don’t assume that everyone who offers you advice or feedback on your guitar playing is actually an "expert". That’s all. 🙂

And again, I think a large number of skilled backers combine Type 1 & 2 skills. Of course they will break down a complex tune, just as a melody player would , to work out a great arrangement. These will be written down and/or memorised for gigs or recordings. But hours of session playing allows them to develop an ear for movement in tunes and tune cliches which literally allows them to respond to unknown tunes and many even have hacks that get them through tricky new passages. Each of these skills sets feeds the other. The more you analyse tunes and chord sets on your own the better you’ll respond on the fly. The more you follow your ears at sessions, the better your ability to create beautiful arrangements for tunes.

And for what its worth, Ive been to a good few sessions that have been destroyed by one musician and yes - sometimes - they have been guitarists.

Re: Are there two types of BACKERS?

There are THREE types of backers.

Those that can count

And those that just can’t

Re: Are there two types of BACKERS?

+1 for Copperplate’s post. +100!

Re: Are there two types of BACKERS?

In my completely anecdotal experience as a melody player my two types of backers would be

1) The guy who drops out after one strum of a wrong chord, leaving you thinking "No, no, come back, come back, you’ll get it!"
2) the guy who hammers on playing obvious wrong chords, leaving you thinking "No, no, stop it, you’re killing me!"

Re: Are there two types of BACKERS?

Backing to a degree that pleases everyone is incredibly hard. So much so that I decided to give up about 15 yrs ago and take up the fiddle instead 😉 More welcome at sessions and lighter instrument to carry around!

Re: Are there two types of BACKERS?

Donough: your second reason for changing instrument was one of the major reasons I went from six string devil to baritone ukulele! Smaller lump of wood to haul around!

Re: Are there two types of BACKERS?

Summing up the above:
There are good ones and bad ones.
There are invited ones and uninvited ones. (Include in this those who feel compelled to accompany a singer, who has started a song unaccompanied, leaving her own instruments unused.)
There are welcome ones and unwelcome ones. (Ditto).
There are those who can only strum (even thrash) and those who can fingerpick a lighter backing.

Re: Are there two types of BACKERS?

"he sang a pub song…Pretty impressive, actually. The pub manager and his whole family really enjoyed the singing.

…it ended up being a horrible session…wrong chords, wrong rhythms…he played on every single set.

But, since the manager and his family really seemed to enjoy the singing and were impressed with him, we couldn’t do anything about it, we had to just tolerate this horror show for 3 hours…"

It’s a difficult and touchy situation for sure. The person is good, and entertaining, and fits in with the pub manager’s agenda (having a good atmosphere in his establishment) but does not fit in with the agenda of the people who have shown up to have a session enjoyable to themselves.

Off the top of my head the session people had four choices:

1) continue playing jigs and reels with his clueless backup

2) tell the guy to stop playing with you (ends the horror show, but socially awkward)

3) pack up and leave (ends the horror show, but socially awkward)

4) encourage the admittedly good singer to continue entertaining the pub manager and his family, and provide some backing up.

I’ve been in that situation and we chose #4. Did we show up to provide backup to a singer we had never heard? Certainly not. Did we help create a fun atmosphere in the pub? Yes. Did we create a harmonious social situation? Yes. Did we have fun ourselves? Yes.

Re: Are there two types of BACKERS?

That’s the mark of a professional musician, ability to adapt and thrive, support others and provide a good time with good music. Maybe not what they wanted but a good opportunity to make the best of.
I do think there were other possibilities though, ask him not to play with the jigs and reels and supporthim with a few songs.
In Ireland a singer is the often called upon and its a part and parcel of the evenings entertainment. Time to go to the Jacks , get a pint in, chat up some talent 🙂

Re: Are there two types of BACKERS?

WRT Richard’s "4) encourage the admittedly good singer to continue entertaining the pub manager and his family, and provide some backing up."

The problem I’ve seen with singers — and I mean the guitar-carrying folkies who sometimes walk into a session unawares, not sean nos (see below) — is that it changes a group effort into a showcase for one person.

Very few of the fiddle, flute, and whistle players I know have any experience at all in backing. The method of "backing" with a linear melody instrument using drones and counter-melody also doesn’t lend itself to being improvised by a half dozen players, all doing something different with a resulting train wreck.

So what happens when someone sings a folk song, is that you have most of the group sitting on their hands, unable to play their instrument at all. That’s not why those melody players came to the session. So it gets awkward at best, and discouraging at worst, when the singer continues or more singers join the group.

BTW, I’m not referring to sean nos singers. There is a very good one who occasionally shows up at a local session. She waits to get invited to "give us a song," and she’ll sing in Gaelic while everyone else in the group and the entire restaurant goes quiet to hear her. She might sing one more later in the evening. It’s wonderful to hear, but even though everyone enjoys it, I can still feel some players getting a little antsy towards the end, itching to play tunes again.

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"4) encourage the admittedly good singer to continue entertaining the pub manager and his family, and provide some backing up. "

I would never reward such clueless and rude behavior by encouraging even more of it. That option would not have been supported by the other players that day. There was much eye-rolling and gritting of teeth the whole afternoon.

I don’t think bullies should be allowed to win just because people aren’t willing to do what’s required to deal with them.

What we should have done with him, in retrospect, is even though it would have been awkward, go talk to the manager and explain to him what was up, and then asked the guy to stop playing on the tune sets. I regret that we allowed him to wreck our session that day because of fear of creating a scene in front of the manager.

Re: Are there two types of BACKERS?

"Very few of the fiddle, flute, and whistle players I know have any experience at all in backing."

That’s a very true statement.
Just as there is an art to accompanying tunes and not causing a train wreck, the same applies to songs. Most tune players are used to playing all the time (when they know the tune). The idea of maybe not playing for a minute and then playing for 10 seconds and then being quiet again is quite alien to a lot of tune players as is the ability to create nice fills for the gaps in the melody.

Re: Are there two types of BACKER

You could have just asked him not to play in the tune sets and offered him a few solo spots . None of you were happy so your ‘ solution’ do nothing , failed dismally!! Try for a win win.
And as regards accompanying the singer badly 🙂 why not ? Touché ! Maybe play loudly out of key all together making a right cacophony and he would have said something and you then make a deal….. 😎
Sometimes being assertive requires a thick skin…

Re: Are there two types of BACKERS?

What would you have done ?
"Accompanying a singer badly" makes you look like a bad person, not the singer. And don’t forget that the pub owner enjoyed the guy’s singing. Would you have done that ?

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Re: Are there two types of BACKERS?

Will, I normally would have no trouble having a side conversation about issues with a player who is disrupting a session I’m co-hosting.

For some reason, we were all sort of paralyzed into inaction in this case. That’s on us, not the guitar guy.

I’m not going to allow that to ever happen again on a session I’m hosting, even if it requires specifically including the pub management in the conversation if required.

Re: Are there two types of BACKERS?

Im just having a laugh Kenny ! But if his accompaniment was that bad he couldnt complain if people genuinely tried to play along. Its good training to play a simple tune by ear andctry to add to the music
Well done Michael , its just bad luck he got the first one right and the rest wrong! You werent to have known.
I find a quiet word with as much friendliness and compassion with a clear explanation of the situation and our requirements as possible tends to do the job. Once hes got his in though it can be hard to shut them up! I feel for you!!
If someone backs me in the wrong key or rhythm i just stop and look at them …. they then stop, I might then say the key rhythm or not , just the dirty look !! so i start again, if they join in, i stop again! 🙂 i cant feckin handle it, id rather not play.

There would be a few moments of a edgy situation but once the battle of wills is over, and the music flowing everyone goes back to their pints and relaxes .
Then specifically invite him to sing a song … establishing dominance i think is the description 🙂

When the music is flowing and the energy is high its a buzz the whole room is aware of,when theres a bad vibe and stress , its a buzz the whole room is aware of….

Re: Are there two types of BACKERS?

Actually Will, in my experience, not in certain parts of Scotland, I’m afraid to say. Apologies for taking you too literally - the internet, an’ a’ that 🙂.

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Re: Are there two types of BACKERS?

This has been a really interesting discussion, I have experienced just about everything that was discussed in the posts! I’m a fiddler and I also play backup on guitar. I was once in a professional band where the guitarist/singer/van owner/ booking organiser (does this ring a bell?) played guitar in the most bizzarre fashion, he just played the same riff to all tunes in guess what tuning? Yes! DADGAD! The riff was a descending job, somewhat similar to a peal of bells D C# B A G F# E D. It was excruciatingly embarrassing to me at first, but I realised that some non musicians thought he was a good guitarist! I attempted to give him some instruction on how to properly accompany tunes but he couldn’t be bothered, I took this to be an idle and arrogant attitude and I didn’t last much longer in the band. The guy had other behavioural traits which were insulting to the members of the band so the band split when I left. Idleness, or the refusal to learn the craft of musicianship is insulting to the people with whom the accompanist plays, they play with competent musicians because they crave the kudos that the competent musicians have, but can’t be bothered to put the mileage in. So, competent musicians, have a word with these usurpers and ask them to either learn to play properly or stop, if that doesn’t work, refuse to play with them! To answer the question, are there 2 kinds of backers? The answer is NO!

Re: Are there two types of BACKERS?

Oh dear! The original question was meant to veer this discussion away guitar bashing! The premise was: among backers WHO PLAY APPROPRIATELY are there two different ( or more) approaches? I wanted to rule out those that couldn’t straight away!!! Anyway…

Re: Are there two types of BACKERS?

Good point, Yhaal House. The black hole of poor accompaniment has been exerting an ever stronger gravitational pull on this discussion.

So just to try to pull it back from the abyss might I suggest that there is another way of looking at it.

There is, for each tune, a set of basic harmonic sequences that most would accept work (we’re assuming appropriate rhythm for the type of tune). But that set of basic harmonic sequences is a subset of a much larger set of harmonic sequences including ones that don’t strictly fit the notes being played (or are not suggested by the notes) but nevertheless, in the right hands, can work. I would suggest that your second sort of player is the one who is often testing the boundaries of that larger harmonic set. They are willing to take chances away from the tried and tested.
But it’s also true that your first sort of player can do the same. It’s just that they do it in the privacy of their own homes, where they have time to experiment, rather than doing it on the fly.

Re: Are there two types of BACKERS?

If you want a different view, how about the minority one (on this site anyway) that the tunes are better with no backing?

There is the odd (public) session and more often house sessions where there is no backing and the music flows so much better.

I believe the reason for this is that backing imposes a rhythmic and harmonic constraint that limits and confines the flow of the tune.

Re: Are there two types of BACKERS?

Yes, weeman, you are entitled to that view.
But that’s not what this discussion is about. It is about whether backers, given that they are competent, fall into two types.

Re: Are there two types of BACKERS?

//I believe the reason for this is that backing imposes a rhythmic and harmonic constraint that limits and confines the flow of the tune.//

weeman + DonaldK - maybe that’s because the backers are (inadvertently) overpowering the melody. Just a thought.

I know a violin player who is a good jazz player in his own right, but absolutely hates the Django-style backing of gypsy jazz. He reckons the guitar rhythm forces you into a corner.

So the "backer" problem is not just applicable to Irish trad music.

Just as an aside, there’s a joke going around right now. Stephane Grapelli says, "hey Django, what are all those amazing chords you play?"

Django says, "chuck, chuck, chuck, chuck, chuck, chuck, chuck, chuck, chuck, chuck, chuck, chuck " 🙂

Re: Are there two types of BACKERS?

Ok, no backing. What about box left hands, harps, pipe regulators and open strings/ drones on banjo/ fiddles?! Is that not a form of backing?!

Re: Are there two types of BACKERS?

‘… box left hands, harps, pipe regulators and open strings/ drones …’ How do these forms of accompaniment fit within your ‘two types of backers’ model, Yhaal, or does this question take the thread in rather a new direction?

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Re: Are there two types of BACKERS?

I’d think they would fall into the same two categories.

Re: Are there two types of BACKERS?

eg. A piper may play the melody as per the tune but how do they select which regulator to sound? They can choose any. It’s not part of the tune per se.

Re: Are there two types of BACKERS?

Oh dear - would it be churlish to mention at this point that there are some melody players whose "rhythmic constraints" make them not only difficult to back at all but for other melody players to even join in with. Maybe they a way to keep them out of those flowing tune player only sessions as well. I love unaccompanied tune playing and I love well accompanied playing.

What i’m not loving is all guitarists being put in - at BEST - two boxes - and often one box by others.

Re: Are there two types of BACKERS?

Copperplate, how many boxes would you suggest?!

Re: Are there two types of BACKERS?

Then there are those sessions where every piper is playing their regulators, every box player is playing chords, and every concertina player is doing fill chords, plus guitar and bouzouki backup… Sounds like forearms on a piano. 🙂

Right now, I’d gladly take that over being sequestered playing at home with no pub sessions for the next year.

Re: Are there two types of BACKERS?

"Copperplate, how many boxes would you suggest?!"

hmmm not sure exactly. How many do the fiddle players and pipers get?

Re: Are there two types of BACKERS?

For sure Michael never the twain shall meet, when you have regulators playing their limited chord selection and certain boxes that have an even more limited chord selection, so where the guitarists are playing an E minor chord the box is playing C Major and the regulators are playing G Major.

And that’s the backing. Did I ever mention when the two fluteplayers were visiting from Ireland for whom the note C natural didn’t exist? Didn’t matter much for many tunes, but it was bizarre to hear Rakish Paddy and The Bank Of Ireland and such with all C sharps. Those lads were great players and they sure knew a load of tunes- they played for hours, and nary a C natural between them.

Happily no backers were there that night. Who knows what they would have done.

Re: Are there two types of BACKERS?

Oh, about backing the singer, that went fine.

He was doing common songs.

So I could play melody on flute or whistle (not the whole time, when appropriate) and the other people were far better at backing things than me, a fiddler super at improvising harmony lines, a guitarist with a great ear to follow anything, that sort of player. So it didn’t make anybody look bad, just the opposite.

Re: Are there two types of BACKERS?

An odd time I’ve come across a backer on guitar, who always plays just behind the beat all the time, because he makes too wide an arc with his strumming hand.

It’s not bad enough to affect the other players, because the timing is otherwise OK (not speeding up), but it’s aurally punishing if you are sitting too close to him.

It’s one of these situations where it’s difficult to address to him personally, as he is clearly unaware that there is a problem.

Re: Are there two types of BACKERS?

Being an accompanist by nature and inclination, this has been an interesting discussion for me to read. As my years on stage were performance experience and not Session oriented, I haven’t had the dubious pleasure of being in a Session setting. All of our work, as a band, was song driven, therefore a portion our practice time would be spent learning a new tune, and then another practice (sometimes 2, 3 or 4) arranging the tune. This was where we decided what accompaniment best supported the song(s). It was a fairly democratic process, with every member putting in their opinion as to what worked and sounded best. Then we’d have at least one rehearsal working the tune in. Occasionally, the new tune would be pulled from the list, if we decided it needed more work before being presented to the paying public.
So, as a backer (accompanist), the scenarios and experiences you all have written about are some interesting observations. Good accompaniment, supports the melody (regardless of the lead instrument or voice), and a good accompanist recognized this and plays only what supports the lead best (or they should). Too busy, and it distracts, too plain and it becomes a dirge.
So a good backer recognizes what the tune needs and adjusts/adapts accordingly from where I’m perched on the bar stool. A poor one slogs away with no regard for the music.
That’s my take on it coming from a different background/perspective.

Re: Are there two types of BACKERS?

The important thing is you spent time learning the new song….. no one would expect you to just back it without ever hearing it before would they? You wouldn’t expect to be able to back it without ever Hearing it or having any familiarity with the genre?
Thats stage one , being familiar with the tune and chords. Then you can figure out or improvise a backing style.
The reason why so many tune players despair of guitar backers, is that the backer assumes they can just jam in without doing all the preparatory work. Each tune is a standard. Learn your part of the standard. Learn the chord patterns, tunes are played in sets. Which might well include key changes. So a set of three tunes could be in D then G then Em. But of course that set is Often spontaneous , no One knows what tune is next until it happens….

That means there is a lot of preparatory work involved in backing a session. Several years worth probably.
Ive been backing for nr 40 yrs, I dont get it right always!! Mostly yes, because ive been playing the tunes even longer than ive backed them. Its not easy. Stay sober. Practice and study hard. Work at it.,You can make a session Or destroy it!! Its a lot of power in one instrument. Respect the music respect the tunes and respect the players.

Re: Are there two types of BACKERS?

Backers? The Landlord, session organisers, barman/woman, that person who keeps walking past smiling, the wife or ex-wife, husband whatever who puts up with all that practising, the schools, the luthier, the lumberjack, the guy who owns the van, the cooks who makes that soup…