Saturday, 31 October 2015

Helpful tips for learners: Some tentative notes on session etiquette...

...tentative because several encyclopedias could probably be filled with the thoughts musicians have expressed on this topic over the years, throughout the country and the world at large. However, in the spirit of helpfulness and encouragement towards those just starting to join in sessions, here are a few broad principles most people are agreed on. This is only intended as a light-hearted general guide to inserting yourself into sessions for the first time without feeling like an elephant in the room. It is most definitely NOT a “rule book” for sessions and the best way to get to know the figaries of a particular session is always going to be to visit it frequently.

Note: this helpful narrative is aimed at those who already have a good store of tunes and feel ready to join in a session. Beginners or those who can play well but lack enough tunes to play in a session can check out the “resources for learners” section of our website

Comments are welcome!

The best place to learn about playing in sessions is in the Seisiún Foghlaimeora!

Always ask first – it's just polite! Even if the atmosphere is very friendly and welcoming, it is polite to ask before joining a session. It gives the musicians a chance to say hello and give you any information you might need, such as whether tonight they are exclusively playing 16th Century dance tunes or whether they are partial to playing in E♭ .

Follow the leader – even in the most chaotic of sessions the discerning observer will notice there are one or two musicians directing the music and these are the ones to watch for cues for when the tune is changing or ending. Often they will ask someone to start a tune and then that person is leading the set and should be watched for subtle eye movements or the sudden shouting out of keys or names of tunes.

Listen carefully – you might think you know a tune, but it might be a different tune or a different version than the one you learned. Also there are many regional variations to the way tunes are played; tunes can be played “single” or “double” (each part played once or twice) and some tunes have different parts or are played in different keys. Tunes will be played at different tempos and with different emphasis, sometimes twice, sometimes three times or even more if the tune is going well! Listening is always important, but never more so than when you are first becoming aquainted with a particular session and the local style of playing.

If you don't know the tune, don't play it – at least at first. All sessions are different in the level of tolerance to people tootling and scraping along with tunes they half know or don't know at all. Obviously a learner session is the ideal place for this, as long as you are not knowing the same tune everyone else is learning. It's true that the session is the best place to pick up new tunes, but you need to be fairly confident of your abilty to pick up the tune fast! Keep an eye on the other musicians for cues about this, as well as all other matters, but don't assume that if there's one person sitting in the corner who doesn't appear to know the tunes but is merrily playing along anyway, that means it's OK for you to do the same.

Spiddal Sessions hosts a learner session all year 'round at 8pm Fridays in the cafe through An Nead, Main Street, Spiddal. The session is open to all levels and is an informal weekly gathering of learners, facilitated by professional musicians. The “Seisiún Foghlaimeora An Spidéil” is an open group and the tunes and pace of learning are dictated by the learners themselves and this is an excellent place to get used to playing with others.

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