Bad bouzouki player

Bad bouzouki player

Yet another rant about crappy so-called "musicians", who think they can join in and wreck any session just because they have been playing TMI for many years.
There is a bouzouki player at my hometown session, an old fella who has been playing TMI for like 30 years now. He is a horrible backer. Not only does he bash his bouzouki like a guitar, not understanding the delicacies of this instrument, but he is always very loud and moreover - way slower than the tune. Any tune. He is so slow that he can even slow you down when you play a slow air! LOL
This person has the tendency to join in and simply ruin any good set, with no understanding that backing should be shared in a session with more than one backer.
Usually when he joins in, the music and rhythm get to blurred, that I just put down my guitar, as there is no point in trying to overplay him. When that happens I can’t hide my facial expression of discontent as I put my guitar away.
After he wondered the other day why is it that I express discontentment from the session, I tried talking to him about that, in a very delicate manner. That didn’t go very well and let’s just say the sh*t has hit the fan. No responsibility taking on his behalf what so ever, let alone any willingness to listen or try to be more sensitive.
Have you ever had such a phenomenon? How do you deal with these people?

Re: Bad bouzouki player

I have played at a lot of sessions and organized my own for many years. But I am a teacher first, so I have a lot more patience for people who are trying to participate the best they can. I’m not saying that you are not, I’m just saying that sometimes people just need a little space where they can do the best job they can.

That said, it is disruptive for somebody who doesn’t understand the genre. This is a very common complaint I hear it from players with much more experience. The solution, of course, is to start a session that is invitation only.

Re: Bad bouzouki player

That’s the beauty of open sessions, ‘everyone welcome’ as mentioned above if you start an invitation only session your problem will be solved.

Re: Bad bouzouki player

You have four options, as I see it.

1) Say something privately
2) Say something publicly
3) Live with it
4) Don’t go

Criticism, no matter how kind, can be very wounding to anyone’s ego, and if no-one has said anything to a long-term attender then much more so. Feedback needs to be clear and specific and actionable so he can go away and reflect on it and work on it. And if he doesn’t, well, pick another option.

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Re: Bad bouzouki player

How can you run an invitation only session in a pub? (I’m presuming you’re staying in the bar and not going for a back room) If your bouzouki player is sufficiently thick skinned - and it sounds as though he might be - he can buy his pint, sit at a nearby table and disrupt to his heart’s content. Or are you looking to the publican to muscle in on the matter?

Re: Bad bouzouki player

"How can you run an invitation only session in a pub? "

I assume Sweet Music meant to start an invitation-only session in a venue other than a pub - e.g. a private house or a specially hired room.

Re: Bad bouzouki player

Even an "open" session can require a certain standard.

I myself have "run" a local session for the past six years (insofar as it needed running, which was very little) that is open to anyone, as long as they can keep up. Over those six years, I can remember only three occasions where I’ve had to take someone to the bar for a quiet word, to politely and sympathetically explain to them that their musical competence was not yet at the level where they could play along with others to their mutual enjoyment. My "policy" for deciding when to have a chat with someone was to only do so when other musicians came to me to complain about them - that’s when I know that someone is really interfering with the enjoyment of my musicians.

As for the "how", I don’t think there’s a single universal formula. For many people, their sense of self-worth is strongly linked to their perceived musical ability, which means that you can say "you’re not a very good musician", and they’ll hear "you’re not a very good person". Those are, of course, not at all the same thing, but when someone fails to make that distinction, there really is no way to tell them off without hurting them.

I don’t know if your particular session has a clear "leader". If so, I’d just take it to them - as a wise man once said, with great power comes great responsiblity, so it’s their job to deal with this kind of trouble. If not, then I’m afraid I don’t have any advice for you - my own solution in such cases has been to just avoid the sessions these people frequent.

Re: Bad bouzouki player

I agree, if there is a session host or leader, I’d talk to them first, and bring any others who are having similar issues with the player. My guess is the host (if there is one) already knows there is a problem.

If not, and you and perhaps a couple of others can talk to him and offer to work with him to improve, or if you’re already at your wits’ end and just want him gone, I’d just start a set, let him do his thing. Stop the set abruptly midstream. Say to him in front of the group, quite sternly. "Would you please just stop, you’re destroying the music for everyone. Just stop." and then prepare for several very uncomfortable minutes where he’ll probably go nuts, yell at you, pack up in a hurry and leave yelling the whole time.

Or he’ll stay and things will get really unpleasant for a while. Might be the end of the night people will be so uncomfortable, but chances are, he’ll not return.

No matter how it goes you’ll feel like a complete jerk for probably a couple of weeks, or years.

It never is easy dealing with this sort of dysfunctional and selfish behavior. But, hopefully he’ll never return, and "Mission Accomplished".

In my experience he’ll tell his other like-mided musician friends, who you also probably don’t want to come to the session, that you’re an arrogant pr*ck and they also won’t come to your session, again "Mission Accomplished".

Fine by me, I gave up trying to "just get along" with these sorts of jerks a looong time ago.

I’ve had to deal with this exact situation about once a year over 20+ years hosting sessions. It never is any fun, and there are only two possible outcomes, either the person leaves and never comes back (aka "Mission Accomplished"), or, and far less often, the person really wants to improve and is willing to do the work to become the sort of player everyone is happy to have in the session.

In every case, I feel miserable for a long time having to have that sort of uncomfortable interaction with another person, but I have to remind myself they decided it was OK for them to come to an event they were wholly unqualified to participate in, that they thought it was OK to selfishly destroy the music for everyone else. If someone doesn’t say something, and this sort of BS continues for more than a couple of weeks, the whole session is at risk of losing good players.

Now I’ll go put on my flame-retardant jacket…

Re: Bad bouzouki player

after all these years I’m finally starting to learn that "open" sessions don’t actually mean "open". No matter how much we might think we know we are all still learners.

Re: Bad bouzouki player

"Open" to me means anyone who actually knows how to play or back the tunes is welcome.

When people come to our hosted open session and ask if they can join us, I ask them one question "Do you know the tunes?". If they say "Yes", they are welcome. If they show up with a guitar (zouk players seem to have a better track record for some reason), I’ll ask them if they have experience backing this music. If they hesitate, then I’ll say "How about we try a set and see how it goes, would that be OK?", and then we try a set and see how it goes.

"Open" to me doesn’t mean anyone who possesses an instrument has a god-given right to show up and do whatever they want even if it is disruptive and disrespectful to others.

Re: Bad bouzouki player

I agree with everything Michale Eskin said above, having co-hosted a session for a time, and also having had to politely tell someone "please stop, this isn’t working." It’s never fun.

One thing that hasn’t been mentioned so far, I think, is that the arrangement a session leader or group makes with the owner of a venue like a bar or restaurant usually includes an unspoken understanding that the music won’t suck, that it will be something the other customers at the venue will enjoy. So dealing proactively with a disruptive player isn’t just a question of preventing attrition by the better players, but possibly also jeopardizing the ability to play in that venue at all. It’s difficult enough as it is, finding a good place to hold a session.

Re: Bad bouzouki player

Some sessions have had backers who want to join in regularly "audition" ahead of time, or limit strangers to one or two sets (if they’re good, you can always invite them to stay! If they aren’t hacking it, you’ve limited the expectation to a set or two).

I’ve started sessions here where I put the "one backer at a time" rule in the posting, and just tried to make sure we had a competent backer each week.

It’s a lot easier to relax that rule as appropriate than it is to impose it where it didn’t pre-exist.

Once someone is in, it’s more delicate, and there’s no great answer. No perfect session would have any of us as members.

Re: Bad bouzouki player

why limit the "open" session auditions to backers? if you weed out all the people who can’t handle their whistles, fiddles, etc to your standards maybe you could achieve "open" session nirvana. 🙂

Re: Bad bouzouki player

I had the pleasure to participate in courses with two excellent (guitar and bouzouki) musicians and the subject was discussed regarding more than one accompaniment player at a session. The opinion of both was that it is a challenge (assuming they are playing by ear) for two skilled and attentive players to make it work and hopeless for most others. One said that he would sit so that he was next to and somewhat facing another skilled accompanieist so that one could lead and the other could pick up on the chord progression being used. If they couldn’t make that work one of them would take a break.

Re: Bad bouzouki player

Why not offer or suggest a ‘slow’ session for them, either to start or to try and get in on one? I’m not living in Boston (born but not raised so I visit ;) but I seem to recall Larry Reynolds had a Slow Session just for beginners? Don’t recall whether it was on a different evening or started it earlier than the FULL session but,.. just a thought.
At least breech the subject with them in that way to let them know their playing isn’t quite ready yet..

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Re: Bad bouzouki player

I think simply telling someone "you are not a good musician, this is not working!" is unreasonable harsh and euhm…radical? Especially if it comes out of the blue after X years. Why not tell someone what exactly is his/her problem? Some people might not be able to realise what the facial expressions of other musicians might imply, etc.
For me it was usually very helpful when people told what exactly my playing was lacking (typical flute problems…tuning and playing too fast!). And I am sure that helped me too improve 🙂
When someone has been playing miserably for a long time in a session, it’s not very cool to just tell him/her out of the blue after a couple years, that the playing is bad and it isn’t working out. Some people might not realise their mistakes if you don’t draw their attention to them. Therefore, just tell someone what exactly is the problem. I am sure most of the time, the person will be able to improve their playing.

Re: Bad bouzouki player

Depends on if the player has sufficient self-awareness to be willing to take the advice.

Based on the original post, sounds like the bouzouki player with issues with does not. He thinks he’s doing just fine and got combative when challenged.

Davidread, what would you suggest in this case?

Re: Bad bouzouki player

I don’t play at sessions, as there are none in this part of Germany. But, speaking from a more general point of view, a few thoughts do occur.
First, you have my sympathy, Troubadour!
You say he’s been playing for 30 years, but not how long he’s been inflicting his thrashing on your session. The longer he’s been there, the less easy this is. My guess is that he’s aware something’s wrong (despite his unwillingness to accept any responsibility) because if, as you say, the "shit hit the fan", it shows him to be pretty defensive. If he wasn’t aware, I guess he’d be more baffled than pissed off. I’m trying to put myself in the postion of playing music for that long and keeping going in spite of the limitations you describe and I can’t!
Ultimately I agree that it’s the host’s/leader’s job to sort this out, but might there be room to help the bouzouki-basher fit in without losing face by just asking him to play more quietly and not addressing his other faults? Playing too loudly is a flaw, but it’s one that’s more easily overcome than his other problems. If he manages that, you can perhaps forgive or ignore the rest of his crapness.

Re: Bad bouzouki player

Troubadour, please let us know how it goes!

Based on my experience with players with similar issues, my bet is that the more "humane" approaches being suggested will fail, but I hope you are able to work things out.

It’s always challenging to deal with someone with "30 years of experience" but who effectively stopped developing as a player after the first 3-6 months and never did the actualy work required to actually be even minimally proficient on an instrument.

Big Dunning-Kruger issues often complicate their willingness to take any feedback on their playing, because after all, they’ve been playing 30 years, so they must be good, who are you to tell them anything?

Re: Bad bouzouki player

Aye - an open session never means open to inconsiderate people who obliviously ruin the group experience- that’s a false idea of an open session that nobody subscribes to.

Learners are tolerated to a huge degree as we know it’s the lifeblood.

A blunt and honest approach is warranted if indeed the offender is truly ruining the experience for the group. There comes a limit to tolerance if maintaining a happy session is being threatened.

Michael’s approach will get a backfire as said - but if you are kind and fair and only doing it as a last option - no reasonable musicians will see it as a reason not to attend.

I find that an inverted snobbery can result in these situations. You’ll need to guess - is that disquiet preferable to the din?

Re: Bad bouzouki player

Here’s a true story of a journey through music that I hope sheds a little different light.

A long time ago as an enthusiastic but very inexperienced beginner to all forms of traditional music I attended a well reputed summer music camp far from my home that included traditional Irish instruction as well as Old Timey American styles. While standing in the dinner line I chanced to overhear one of the instructors—one whose Beginning Irish Music workshop I had attended earlier the same day—opine to one of the camp’s head organizers:

"There’s a lot of these people here who won’t ever learn to play anything very well."

While this is, of course, an entirely valid and accurate view (and while I had no idea if I might have been of the "lot" he was referring to…or not) his disparaging, condescending tone soured me for the remaining days I spent at that camp. I left early. I never came to feel I was actually ever welcome at the event. I have had zero desire to return to that particular camp—which is still held annually—and have told others about my experience there. And, sadly, I have always harbored a certain reluctance to ever go to any other such gatherings.

That experience also soured me on going to sessions of any kind worrying that I was always going to be judged…one way or another and by some person or persons or other and by some standards or other that I might not entirely understand in the moment…

…and did I want playing music to become just an endless—if undeclared—"competition"…just another pissing contest?

Am I thin-skinned? Paranoid? Some would say.

On the other hand, the older I’ve grown the more I’ve also come to appreciate the infinite ways people want to enjoy participating in music. So I’d rather err on the side of encouraging all of us "professional amateurs" to keep at it.

For many years and in order to keep myself motivated—without going to potentially intimidating jam sessions—I invited two long-time musician friends to come have dinner at my place once a week and play some music after. (The Invitation Only Session option?) Eventually we started playing a few small local gigs, wrote a collection of original tunes, made a studio recorded double album of our originals + some favorite covers and finally wrote and played our original score in an original two person + live band stage show that enjoyed sold out houses for its entire run.

By then I was convinced I had a few "real" chops.

When that group’s opportunities slowed I went looking for another outlet.

Through musician friends I’d made with my trio I stumbled into a regular and very eclectic music session that I found I very much enjoyed attending. When some issues arose there similar to those being unpacked here re: the Bad Bouzouki Player I decided to make a few suggestions to the organizer of the sessions. I personally didn’t want a lot of "rules" and "standards" to spoil what I saw was a lot of fun for a lot of players of a lot of skill levels. Our "leader" solicited and got considerable and rather detailed input from both the regulars and the bar/dining room’s management. I—like one of the other writers here—had some years of teaching experience that I thought might be helpful.

"Helpful" in the sense that we wanted to keep the session an "open one"…more or less…while at the same time addressing some specific issues that had begun to fester. Significant things were beginning to irritate some participants, some listeners and the establishment’s owner but no one knew quite what to do or say to address them.

The details of what we put together isn’t important. What is is that we made a short list of very specific things we wanted everyone participating to clearly understand. And then we repeated those—verbatim—prior to the beginning of each weekly session. While there are still occasional "strays" it is much less stressful now to be able to underscore a certain "guideline" if it has been crossed. This helps keep everyone—no matter their competence—within the boundaries of our mutually concocted (and agreed upon) expectations.

That said, if a certain level of competence is critical to you and your compadre’s enjoyment of the music then invitation only or auditioned sessions are the only reasonable (and diplomatic) alternatives.

It is either that or you must come to own that an unstated (and hopefully unintended) part of your session’s mission is really just to drive off and/or discourage some folks you have pre-judged unworthy.

And yes, I get it. If I were a great basketball player, footballer or golfer I’d be bored to tears if forced to play with a few rank beginners all the time. There are plenty of ways around that as this thread demonstrates.

Now…who will write us all a nice book on music session etiquette?

Re: Bad bouzouki player

It won’t be a solution for bad melody players, but you could always have session that is off limits to backers. Personally, I prefer those myself. Backing instruments are superfluous to the music anyway, and it can actually be better without it.

Re: Bad bouzouki player

All depends on the structure of the original poster’s session.

If it’s hosted, the hosts could have such a policy, but seems like it could backfire if there are already at least one excellent backup player who regularly attends the session. We try to find a happy medium with a "only backup player at a time" sort of agreed upon policy, but that assumes the backup players actually are skilled at it and willing to work things out among themselves to take turns.

If it’s historically a "y’all come play" session with no hosts, the only option might be to start a new session that is better structured to avoid such issues, either by specifically excluding backup players, or setting in place some agreed upon policies on number and competence of backup players.

Donning my flame retardant suit…

Re: Bad bouzouki player

I’ve had to deal with similar issues several times over the years here at our Stockholm sessions.
In the pub where I’ve run the session I’ve simply told the disruptive player what the problem is. Their reactions have varied 🙂 but I’ve been prepared with my flame retardant suit. But I always try to be specific about what aspects of their playing they can improve, hoping that they will actually learn something.
In the pub where I’ve not run the session I’ve made some comments sometimes, but often simply packed up and left (or sat down at some neighbouring table to chat instead).
We also have a guy who is a bit of the same kind as described here. A guitar player who was one of the first people in Sweden to play Irish music more than 50 years ago, is still a miserably bad player, but has a huge ego and tends to dominate whatever setting he is in, since Dunning-Kruger is strong in him. I’ve completely given up any attempt to cooperate with him in a session and just skip any session he is at. If he would turn up at my session I would ask him not to play.
So to run a session and handle disruptive players, you have to be prepared to deal with this type of behaviour, which first of all requires that you yourself are a respected player, and secondly that you can handle both telling the disruptive player the grim truth and also handle their reaction. Their reaction can be sadness, anger or simply ignoring you. All three are difficult to deal with in different ways.