More than 1 backer at a session

More than 1 backer at a session

The session I go to has multiple backers, a couple of bouzoukis and many guitar players. A lot of the guitar players are there mainly to sing, but some are also very good at backing up tunes as well. An issue we are having at the session is 1 player will often back the majority of the sets, and the other guitar player who does not sing will have to sit out a lot of the night. It has become quite an issue as they no longer like coming when the bouzouki player is there. Would it be reasonable to get the guys backing the sets to have a chat and try and alternate between sets? I don’t know if this is a normal thing to ask them to do so asking here to see how other people approach this issue. Thanks

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I was one of the co-hosts of an intermediate-level Irish session in my area a few years ago, and we had a gently but firmly enforced rule of one guitar backer at a time. Take turns, if more show up, but just one guitar at a time. Anything else is inevitably chaos in my experience.

This is a difficult thing to deal with, if you’re in a situation where multiple guitar players are already showing up and being welcomed. Even more so, if it’s a mixed session where guitar players are encouraged to sing songs, while the melody players have nothing to do but sit on their hands and wait until the next instrumental sets. If this is the established norm for the session you’re talking about and you can’t change it, all I can suggest is to find or start a different session and keep it to one guitar backer at a time.

BTW, I came to this music first as a guitar backer, then moved into melody with mandolin and flute. I’ve seen it from both sides, and don’t have a bias against guitar backers. It just doesn’t work in multitudes.

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The ideal solution would be to persuade some the backers to learn melody instruments (and/or learn to play the tunes on guitar – but a multitude of melody-playing guitarists might not be so great) then start up another session or two. That way, there are i. more opportunities to play tunes, ii. more tune players to play them and iii. more opportunities for backers to practise their art. It wouldn’t happen overnight, but seems quite achievable in the longer term (subject to availability of venues, ability and willingness of guitarists to co-operate etc.).

If you did start up another session, it would make sense, as Conical bore suggests, to have a stricter 1-backer rule (with special exceptions – too much rigidity can kill the music), and make it more tune-focused (again, with special exceptions); if the singer-guitarists felt affronted, they could start their own tuneless session in another venue on the same night…

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A decent guitarist would know that one is enough, so any that don’t understand that should not be backing - simple… if none understand then find one that does and stick with him. For the love of the session 😉

Ditto for drums…

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In my experience it’s difficult getting the balance right in mixed sessions, enough tunes to satisfy the melody players and enough songs to satisfy the singers. It tends to work better when the melody players have the ability to accompany songs and the singer/guitarists can back or play melody. Unfortunately that situation happens rarely.
I’m still haunted by the experience of a fiddler struggling to play a tune in G minor being backed by nine guitarists, one of whom told me that when the fiddle tunes start up he just plays a D chord.

One of the mandolin players at my local session has had wrist problems recently and has taken to playing keyboard accomp instead so I’ve moved over to play more mandolin than guitar accomp.

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Johnny Jay, what in heavens name do you mean by " diddley intruments"

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Oops. That was me being lazy by "copying and pasting" but I’m also prone to mistyping myself on occasion.

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Yeah I agree it’s best if there is just one person backing, and it is also better if people can swap between. Sadly starting another session in my city would be difficult as there are few trad players. My main concern is how to approach the issue in an established session diplomatically, so that we can keep it welcoming to everyone, including people who only know how to back. Any thoughts ?

Thanks again everyone for your help!

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IMHO if a "backer" can’t play the correct chords they should stop, listen, learn.

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There are many excellent and thoughtful guitarists and backers in general.
However, the "It’s near enough for folk" attitude still prevails in some quarters.

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“ tuneless session” … I know what you mean, but it sounds a little harsh, no?

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I don’t mind a few songs in a session, they’re lovely. My issue is what to do with people who only back, when they know how to back well and know not to play over each other .

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I think your other-instrument players should all be seen as potential melody instrumentalists, and especially if they’re friendly types or potentially friendly types, then you don’t want to lose them.

One hour slow session to get those guitarists onto mandolin?
It would help to show people that harmony to melody is a learning progression and an alternative to leaving the group.

Do you have spare instruments and teaching time?

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SamanthaP: “ tuneless session” … I know what you mean, but it sounds a little harsh, no?

‘Twas meant to be taken with a generous sprinking of salt.

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Well, more of a *sprinkling*, actually.

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Ah, but goose, what ARE the "correct chords" - there are many times when a relative minor, instead of a major might work well, e.g. Em instead of Gmaj, Am instead of C: but then there are those who feel compelled to use jazz chord progressions, and only they know what they are doing, though probably couldn’t tell you afterwards what they’d actually done.
But back to the OP: yes. maybe best to stick with one backer unless ALL in the room are following the same written set of chords (oh no, did I really say that?? 🙂 )

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Trish, I wad referring to Irish music not jazz, correct chords are the ones that enhance the tune. Do you play guitar.

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‘…best to stick with one backer unless ALL in the room are following the same … set of chords’. I agree 100%, Trish. It doesn’t just apply to strummers, though. Some melodeons/other boxes offer more-than-basic left hand options, allowing a player to introduce non-standard chords (and rhythms) - which is fine if they’re in a band which has arranged the piece thus, but a complete mess in a session where there’s a guitarist playing a simple I-IV-V backing, or another melodeon with only the usual L/H buttons.

A bit difficult to govern, though, in sessions where the norm is that playing along with a tune is open to all that will. It would take an exceptionally ‘managed’ session to impose the principle as suggested.

I regard a chord sequence as a sort of scaffolding that gives a structural context for a tune, and I think goose is spot on with ‘correct chords are the ones that enhance the tune’. That still leaves a chordist free to make the sort of choices Trish refers to, but it’s all wasted if backers are spraying conflicting harmonies around the room.

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Of course Trish is right. There are always options for harmony, options for rhythm, even options for enhancing the tune by doing something less obvious. There are also bass runs, suspensions, quasi-drones and so forth. You don’t have to play guitar to know that. Mix ‘em up, you get mud. There is never one set of correct chords. Obvs.

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If backers could play "correct" chords it would be a start, though.

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Problem is what is ‘correct’ ? If I’m backing for instance, ‘The Butterfly’ I like to play G major chords for the last part, others insist on sticking to E minor - ‘Musical Priest’ I play D major chords for the 2nd part, others prefer staying with B minor, and so it goes on. But yes if there is more than one accompanist there needs to be a consensus.

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G and Em together will create an Em7 feel that’ll still work a lot better than if you’re playing G, someone else thinks maybe D and a third decides that C would be cool.

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Usually, an experienced guitarist instinctively knows where and when a relative minor chord can be substitute for a major and so on. However, if he/she plays one or the other or even something else, it may not matter too much and will not necessarily be noticed by the other musicians or even the average listener.

However, as has been stated, the issue occurs when there is more than one person playing different things. Not only the actual chords themselves but also different "voicings" of the same chord plus the right hand styles can also clash. So, yes. One backer is enough unless it’s one of these really huge sessions where they can’t really be heard anyway.

I agree too that other instruments such as the accordion, clarsach, piano, etc would fall into the same category. Also, part chords, drones etc on the likes of fiddle, mandolin etc might even be distracting on occasion too if there are several players there doing something different.

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I think of some poor beginner guitarist. They’ve just learned the B7 chord the day before and they’re hovering there at the session that night. They’ve been told not to use a B7 at any time during a session but the temptation… B7, B7, it’s hard to resist -and why would you learn a B7 chord if you’re not going to use it? And it sounds so different.
Then towards the end of the session when things have warmed up quite nicely and there’s a certain confusion among the other accompanists, our man hesitates one last time and pounces. B7 not once but many, many times.
Two or three sets later they look up. Some of the other guitarists are smiling. Yes, these sessions are a lot of fun.
F diminished next week.

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I presume you’re joking Johnny Jay. You might slip a B7 into an Em or Emaj tune but I’d struggle to fit one into Andy Broon’s.

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I wasn’t joking but ….sorry… I wasn’t thinking.

Of course, C7 is chord I was looking for there…… 🙂
And B flat too.

Yes, E maj tunes for B7 !

How about this one? https://thesession.org/tunes/15 although a B might be better.

Please ignore my last post, folks. Too late to change it now.

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B7 works ok in McArthur Rd or Calliope House [if played in E major] and I seem to recall once fitting it into one of the more chromatic hornpipes but can’t remember which - Golden Eagle maybe? But generally speaking B7 doesnt get a look in at most sessions.

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You’re right, Christy.
It was too early in the morning for me.

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haha! just seen JJ has crossed my post with Calliope and McArthur…………..

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F#7 starts the second part of The Galway Hornpipe nicely.

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In answer to goose: yes, and B/C accordion, and piano - though not all at once! And I do understand chords and relative minors, inversions, etc,…..and I’m not a jazzer.
And I like B7s.

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I am talking about an Irish sessiún, I believe one backer is enough, as opposed to four or more clashing chords and right hand style. In fact I have played in numerous sessiúns without any backing, which is why I think its not really necessary in our music.

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"A bit difficult to govern, though, in sessions where the norm is that playing along with a tune is open to all that will. It would take an exceptionally ‘managed’ session to impose the principle as suggested."

It’s not that difficult to achieve, you just need a session leader or "Alpha" player willing to occasionally cause some discomfort with a newbie who shows up and doesn’t understand the local session culture. I’ve done it, it’s not fun. But it keeps a session from dissolving into something other than what everyone else originally showed up for.

Of the three sessions closest to me, two firmly impose the 1 guitar player at a time rule. The other session is a little more relaxed about it, and will allow a second guitar player as a newcomer on the fringe of the group, playing quietly enough not to be disruptive. The backing is essentially done by the primary guitar player who has been there for years. So that’s one way to handle it, although not the best way, especially if you’re dealing with guitar players with strong personalities and a sense of entitlement.

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Any inexperienced musician (whether eager beginner or simply a weak player) can be a source of friction - regardless of the instrument. But it is especially so of backers.

You’re less likely that two pretty good backers will slog it out in a death match - simply because, having gotten to that standard, they will just KNOW and adapt (alternate or complement).

I love the mixed trad/ballad sessions and most of the ones I go to have some mix music/singing from 90/10 to 30/70 - and varying from night to night. If the standards of performance are reasonably in line with the overall - audiences appreciate the variety and it works well.

And then you’ve the IDIOMATIC PURITY dimension - the old "they can play, but can they play trad?" question.

Harpist, uilleann piper or tin whistler are almost universally in the clear. Likewise the button accordionists, banjos, concertinas - rare to find a player that isn’t somewhere in the zone at least. Perhaps a bit bluegrass or other folk tradition - but generally ‘safe’. It is in the cross-over instruments where the danger lies - fiddles (aka violins), flutes (aka Concert Flutes), piano accordions, keyboard/piano. The issue, where it arises, is never a deficiency of the instrument per-se, its the player not complementing the repertoire.

There is also the matter of OVERLOADING - when there are too many of a particular instrument for a venue or group to handle regardless of how amazing the players are. Or too many musicians/singers than are comfortable to accommodate within the venue.

Probably the only instrument that is almost always better with more is the fiddle. And it’d be uncommon for there to be a problem with multiple button accordion, concertina or mandolin. Some instruments are best played with one-of at a time (Uilleann Pipes, piano/keyboard, bodhran, harmonica???). There is a limit of a few for whistles, flutes, banjos before they ‘diverge’ such that more is less. There are two instruments (loosely defined) where my favourite number is zero or as close to that as can be achieved.

Of course the exception to all of the above is when the group are actually practiced together e.g. Céilí Band style - where the blend and repertoire are nailed down and the performance is a perfect unison of melody with a bit of backing to boost.

Thankfully - as was helpfully reminded above (thanks, @JohnnyJay!) - this was all worked out and codified 16 years ago and we know the formula for handling such challenges. The most important advice is probably to chill, not take it overly seriously and make space for as many as possible under the happy tent. Love thy neighbour! Angst saps the vibe and drains the emotional energy from the shared experience. If it’s not critical to fix.. learn to ignore it.

Scaoil amach an bobailín!

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I was actually agreeing with you and the OP, goose! I “never” suggested that using jazz chords was a good thing in Irish sessions : I merely mentioned that that is what some people seem compelled to do.

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Speaking of overloading, I once had five uilleann pipers all playing at the same time at my house session. I thought things were going pretty well but first the dogs all left the room, then the paint peeled off the walls, and finally we stopped when the windows all cracked. Oh, and then a few car alarms went off around the neighborhood. Won’t try that again.

LiamOg said something to the effect of, “I only have four rules for backing at a session: no more than one guitar, no more than one bouzouki, no more than one bodhran, and absolutely never more than one spoon.”

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I like it - ‘never more than one spoon.’ Then you’d be able to hear the sound of one spoon clacking.
But of course, cutleryists are generally the type to always want to make some kind of noise. Undeterred, he (usually a he) would probably start bashing the table with the one spoon.

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There are nights when the most popular contributor in the session is Uri Geller.

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Have just come back from a walk on the hill, mourning the loss of a musical friend, but also thinking on this issue (I don’t mind flogging a dead horse) and I’m kind of in agreement with goose’s "I believe one backer is enough".

There was a very good semipro bouzouki player came along to our session for a while. Sometimes we locked in and it rocked but at other times I felt we were both having to compromise. In the end the bouzouki player decided not to continue coming along because they felt it was "my gig" and wasn’t fair to me. For that same reason if I was attended a new-to-me session I would probably take my mandolin along and play melody. And sometimes it’s nice just to sit and listen.

With two (or more - perish the thought) backers there is always going to be a compromise and as a backer in that situation I probably wouldn’t play my best. I need to be able to hear the tune and concentrate on trying to accompany it as best I can without the distraction of having to be aware of what another backer is doing.
Also, a backer doesn’t need to be technically that gifted. I’ve heard plenty of (experienced) backers doing a grand job without resorting to technical flourishes and I’ve heard plenty of technically gifted backers being a distraction and not, in my opinion, enhancing the tunes (or the music). It’s all about listening. Sometimes it’s nice just to sit and listen.

What gooseinthenettles said—

"I have played in numerous sessiúns without any backing, which is why I think its not really necessary in our music." Totally agree. Thanks, Goose….

I play in three sessions a week. I play mostly flute and Anglo concertina. One session with two fiddlers and me. One session with just me and a piper. And one with - it varies - pipers, fluters, fiddlers, concertinas, mandolin. Never any backers. Pure melody works perfectly. Most guitar players use the instrument percussively rather than melodically, which works against sensitivity to phrasing. It is a rare guitar player who knows the tune well enough to provide simple chording and supportive backing. We sent our bodhran player away after he "accompanied" a waltz. Our guitar player when he insisted on using "interesting" diminished chords.

Sure, I’d love to play with Dennis Cahill, the master of laid back accompaniment, or with Eoin O’Neil. But such players are few and far between.

For instance, from the net: How long does the average violinist practice?
"It can be hard to practice more than four hours a day, but studies show that the more you practice the more you will … want to play. Professional violinists sometimes practice more than eight hours a day."

How may hours a day would a trad fiddler invest? How many would a guitar player? How about a bodhran player? Or am I becoming elitist as I age?

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David you’ve nailed it, percussively rather than melodically.

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At two different accompaniment workshops I attended this question was asked of each instructor (both of whom are internationally recognized for their musical skills). Both thought more than one was next to impossible. One said he had, a few times, played with another guitar/bouzouki player with whom he was acquainted but they sat nose to nose so one could hear where the "other was going". Otherwise their rule was "take a turn then take a break".

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We just started a mixed session (tunes and songs, any folk music welcomed) which is organized as a circle with the "pass, pick, or play" rules. When it is your turn, you can decide to pass (do nothing), pick (make a wish to the people, could be a specific song, a general theme, or ‘can you play something on that harp?’) or play (you start a tune / a song).

If you play, you also can announce how and with whom you would like to play it; e.g., announce the key or ask for backing or for no backing.

These rules work quite well. No one can dominate the session, since it goes in circles and everyone gets their turn. It is very inclusive for just-listeners or people who occationally like to sing along: they can make a wish and see whether the circle can help out. It balances the programme with the people who attend. If there are more tune lovers, there will be more tunes.

For the situation mentioned in the the original post: If it would be my turn, I could announce: "I’d like to play a reel set with one guitar as backing - Chrystal, would you like to do that? Bob already played a couple of sets."

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Personally I’d rather have a couple of backers than the "circle of death" but each to their own.

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Fermate what you are describing is akin to a concert not a session.

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There are some very distinct differences between session types. I can identify at least three distinct types.
1. Mixed sessions with tunes and songs. Ranging from mostly tunes & a handful of songs to more songs with less tunes.
2. Song sessions. Almost exclusively singing with some tunes. Sometimes no tunes but including instrumental melody.
3. Tune sessions. Ranging from only instrumental with all melody players to mostly melody players with minimal accompaniment. Possibly a solo or a song though predominantly tunes (rarely solos).

That’s just top of my head perspective. My local session can be category 1) or 3) depending on the venue (we move around) & who shows up on a given night. We don’t really have strictly song sessions. Though when I have noticed song sessions happening there seems to be ‘plenty’ of guitar players, accordions also come to them. And much less Irish tunes. 🙁

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To me a session is a group traditional Irish musicians and good interested listeners, who are mainly getting together to play the music we love, and learn new tunes together. No rules just common sense. and respect for the music.

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Sounds like a session, gooseinthenettles.

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Yeah?…… Doesn’t quite sound like Goose to me Ben. More like, .. common sense = kick out all the backing instruments (and I am personally unanimous in that) …….. Comments Goose?

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More than zero backers is too many?

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Yeah, that’s the Goose I was thinking of Ben.

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I think gooseinthenettles is ok with one backer if they know their stuff.

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I apologize for my slur Donald. I know that some of you know what you are doing.

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Ha ha! Not sure if I know what I’m doing all the time.
Funnily enough, another guitar player pitched up last night so I stuck to mando. I struggle, though, playing tunes (especially reels) I know but have never actually played before. So I’ve got some practising to do.

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Gobby, what a lovely name, what is your take on a sessiún.

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Goose… It may horrify you that despite my often over-opinionated comments that I’ve never actually been to a session, and nor (being a recluse) do I want to. But I look at them on’t tinternet and I enjoy watching. But my biggest my love of *playing* Irish music rests in the pure melody . It’s in my head all day and I can hardly restrain myself. Okay, as a primary fiddle lover I can stand a bit of backing piano when I listen, even in the Micheal Coleman recordings, and yes, there are lots of great guitar and bouzouki backers. I enjoy it all really, but that’s just not my personal thing. I went to one impromptu ‘session’ (in the street) once with a very good whistle player and a piano accordionist. It was very enjoyable and the passers by loved it, but honestly, I just crave the unadulterated melodies. All of it is good, but that’s what I prefer, and what I do every day by myself. I guess it like masturbation (if I remember rightly).

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Keep it up whatever you’re doing, you’ll master it one day. Good luck.

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I think it depends on what folks are trying to achieve in a particular session. Pre-covid, we had a wide-open session where all were welcome (until they do something wacky, like the dude with the washboard). It doesn’t result in the best music, but it gives folks a chance to play and to learn. One had to keep one’s expectations under wrap. When we wanted a tight session, somebody would invite a handpicked group to their home. Currently, we have a smaller session that is kind of by invitation only. I think there’s a place for both.

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Forget strummyfing backers for a moment.
How many piano players are appropriate at a session?

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How many pubs do you know with 2 pianos ?

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Two pianos together make a pianissimo – you wouldn’t hear it above the other instruments.

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I would say about ten piano players, (with nine of them hands cuffed behind their backs) would be the appropriate number for a sessiún.

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OK!
What about more than one box player playing basses?
Or more than one piper using regulators?
Or a combination accompaniment of multiple regulators and box basses?
Is that always OK or as bad as two or more strummyfings?

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This is why we have thesession.org. To have fun online.

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What about more than one box player playing basses? - NO
Or more than one piper using regulators? - NO
Or a combination accompaniment of multiple regulators and box basses? - NO
Is that always OK or as bad as two or more strummyfings? - WORSE

How many D-tuned Digeridoos are too many for a session?

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I’m expecting a

"This discussion is bereft of life and rests in peace. No more comments are being accepted.

Why not play a tune instead?"

sometime soon. 😉

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At least with a D-tuned Digeridoo, they are all playing the same thing.

When I first started playing sessions here in San Diego, we had a D-tuned Digeridoo player as a regular.

I do think it’s absolutely crucial to decide what to do if a second one shows up. Do we ask them to take turns? Have them synchronize their breath pulses?

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"…a combination accompaniment of multiple regulators and box basses?"

No problem…if you’re prepared.

https://youtu.be/Ycdh_2f4cQM

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Micheal St.Aimee’s your man. He’s cool!, whoever he is! Keep those ears protected! In London you only get these sort of adverts on TV at about 4 in the morning on the moderately funny or culturally bankrupt channel…
We’d should strive for Mr St.Aimee’s patience when dealing with session wrecking guitar idiots!

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Thanks for the fun and Philosophy lesson

Some things must be shared, so here goes.

A few years ago, no interest in playing trad at the time, a buddy on FB shared photo with me, and asked an opinion. Let me describe what assaulted my eyes. A room full of musicians, all lined up like a cheer girls gang at a NFL champions’ pre-game. It was in a very big room, high ceilings, fancy furniture scattered around, the band lined up on two adjacent walls. There were 7 bodhrans, 5 guitars, 1 strummed banjo, 1 accomplished fiddler, 1 fiddler who is learning - heard this one once, it was too many times, 1 who hadn’t a clue; there was 1 TW player who learned out of Grey Larsen’s books - also know this person - who sounds like one of those Midi players - all the dots are sounded but no body, and sans the corpse, no soul either, 1 piano accordion, and another button accordion. Because they are playing for the President of Ireland my first reaction was to laugh. When asked what tunes they played, the answer came back probably The Silver Spear’. As that came at me, near fell over, left the room heading for the bathroom, probably have choked on my own laughter had not the floor arrested me. Seriously. They must have been connected to some billionaire who bought the Presidents time.

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nikonimages: "They must have been connected to some billionaire who bought the Presidents time."

More likely they just all agreed to give their time for free.

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Thanks.

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“How many pubs do you know with 2 pianos ?” Not many but there are such things as piano duets: 4 hands, 1 piano! Er, but maybe not…! At least 3 too many hands by goose’s definition!
I never take my piano to sessions, only use it for playing for ceilidh dancing, where good strong backing is required. The exception being, these last 18 months where I can really enjoyed playing piano in Zoom sessions, but no-one will hear me unless I’m the one leading a tune! Perhaps that’s the best solution for pianos in sessions?

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I think the Zoom model should be the new norm for all sessions.

One person plays at at time, everyone else acts like they know the tune and pantomimes along in silence.

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CreadurMawnOrganig
"More likely they just all agreed to give their time for free."

Tourists on vacation they were paid by a businessman ( to fake it?), all to line his pockets.

So no, not a donation. Mention of which, any fool could have gone along with them holding a bodhran. Again brings to mind some of Tony McMahon’s RIP remarks about the ruin of his kind of music; his words " no ritual, no roots " are partially true. Did not hear the performance but would guess it had no balls to it either.

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"I think the Zoom model should be the new norm for all sessions."
Uh-uh!

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I want to be clear on my last reply. It’s not for us to decide what the norm is for all sessions. Never has been & to do so now could result in newbies coming here to find the one true way. It’s not here. "Even" trad sessions vary. [Always have] Hell, Zoom sessions are changing as I write this and probably will for awhile longer. I expect them to.

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In my opinion ‘Zoom sessions’ were worthless (due to the latency issue) and now COVID has petered out, a thing of the past! I suppose at least all the dreadful backers couldn’t be heard!

Re: More than 1 backer at a session

Honestly though AB, I think your first comment is right. Sure all sessions are a bit different, and of course there’s nothing wrong per se with a "zoom session", but it’s not quite the same as a live one. Looking at a screen, while it has uses, is not the same thing as being with people in person. And imo the in person community, actually being with real people in the same place, is a huge part of what makes a session.

Re: More than 1 backer at a session

I play tunes and back. An observation that intrigues me is how many who just play tunes frequently offer “advice” on how to play backing than the backers do on how to play the tunes with good timing. 😉

Re: More than 1 backer at a session

@Copperplate….. somehow I don’t find that surprising or hard to understand at all.

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Re: More than 1 backer at a session

Yhaal House, Zoom sessions are still alive and well… I host a really nice one every Thursday evening and it’s still going strong after nearly 20 months.

http://michaeleskin.com/session

We have a variety of things we do that make the Zoom format less off-putting and a lot of fun. Details on the website.