How frustrated are you with sessions these days and is there any better options? When they work and have a strong core of musicians driving them they can be great. There is also no doubt that there are some fantastic ones around the country, but these are by semi professional and professional musicians. In speaking to some friends recently they stated their disappointment with the general sessions. Too many musicians, too much singing, too much drinking between sets, to loose. You name it they could describe it and I think I got them on a good day.

I have also long held the belief that sessions are not necessarily the best way to learn and musicians should be getting together in smaller groups, learning some sets, and then starting their own session in the knowledge that they were in control of how it progressed.

Are there any better options?

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Speaking from my own experiences, playing music with more experienced musicians can be good for you if you are willing to listen to them and learn from them. This is true of other types of music jam sessions besides Irish sessions. When some other musicians started an Irish session here in 1995, I had already been sitting in and playing at other local jam sessions for a few years.


Hi Tony. I am glad you started this thread. I would like to comment on what has been working for me.

My primary instrument is the Irish flute, but I also play concertina and whistle and Bodhran so I have some choices in sessions. I play Trad music at an intermediate level. I live in Dallas Texas and have a large collection of people who enjoy playing and listening to Traditional Irish music. When I moved to Dallas 5 years ago, I sat in on some Open Sessions and went away frustrated that I could only play one or two tunes and struggled to keep up with the speed of the sessions. I asked the leader of the sessions if there was an intermediate or beginner level session that I could attend and was told that there was not. At that point I requested a list of names of people who might be interested in starting a beginner session. He gave me names and e-mail addresses. I started a beginner group shortly after which is still going today. All of those beginners are now playing in our intermediate level sessions (played at a local pub) and loving it. Our beginner group of about 5 members (which seems to constantly have about 5 players) plays in the game room of my apartment complex and we play very slowly and I do a lot of teaching. The intermediate level group of about 20 members plays in public to help them overcome the fear of such and plays more challenging tunes at a faster pace. For most, their goal is to play with the "big boys" (that being the semi-professional and professional players in the area).

   I have put together a website to instruct people on how to create a successful Slow Session. You can find it at:

   My hope is that more people will take the opportunity to form beginner and intermediate level sessions thus allowing all of those who are frustrated with full speed sessions the opportunity to join in on the fun.  The website for our Slow Sessions is: if you would like to see a sample of what we have created. Please feel free to use me as a resource if anyone is now considering starting a slow session.

Jim Wells

Hi Jim,

I've been holding back on responding to this discussion (in general). I wasn't sure where I would go with a response for my frustration with sessions. I do like the idea of home sessions and have actually been to a few. In fact, your posted comment is very timely. I spoke to my wife about a month ago about possibly starting a session in our home. She was fine with it, but I haven't made any move to make it happen. Somewhere in the back of my head was the question, "Alright, what do I do???" Your link  was a joy to read through. It covers alot I thought about and quite a few things I did not. I may still be at a point of, "What do I do now???", but I will return to your website for reference and maybe contact for more advice/info. Well done, Mr. Wells!!! Thanks for your posted comment. Cheers,


P.S.: I also checked out your but it froze up on me a  few times. What I was able to see, I enjoyed. Seems like a great group of folks.

Thank you Mr. Lopez. I am glad to be of service. Please be in touch with me and I will share from my experience what worked and what did not. I always like to know when sessions work or don't. There is a greatdeal of information to be gained either way. Our sessions have continued to become more and more successful. We did a public performance last Friday night at a local theater as part of  a talent show and the pub we play at asked us to gather a few of the best players and play a gig for St. Patrick's Day. This group has gone beyond my wildest dreams and I wish to make this available for everyone who wants it world wide. 

   Thank you for your kind comment.  

P.S. The website is fixed now so it should work correctly.  


Hey Jim,

Thanks for responding so quickly. I have to repeat myself and say that I was very impressed with the content of (and thoughts behind) your website. You will be hearing from me again. Right now, I gotta get back upstairs. My mother-in-law is with us for Memorial Day weekend (AAAAAARRRRRGGGGGH!). I just broke away to check my emails and TradConnect. Talk to you soon, mate!!!


Hey Tom,

Go to the discussion group "the Session & Whisky (or Whiskey) in the Jar" and share a story or two. Would love to hear what you'd have to say. Cheers,


Sometimes that is the case.  But they will fluctuate up or down in overall pitch due to factors like temperature and relative humidity.  Their intonation can be adversely affected by extremely damp or dry conditions as well.

Danny,  Here's another link to a website that runs a slow/beginners session just north of Washington, DC. (Fairfax, VA). It is pretty productive and they have been a gateway session for alot of folks in the DC area. 

Northern Virginia Sesssion Org

The biggest think they do is publish a tune of the month.  Once each month one of the more experienced players teach a tune at the session.  The tune is alway published a couple of week before the tune-teach session so folks get a chance to become familiar with the bones.  Give folks a greater opportunity to succeed.

Enjoy Your Music,


Thanks, Lee. I'll be sure to check it out. I live just north of Baltimore so maybe I can make a run down to N. Va. and check them out personally. Do you have a contact name???

I probabley won't start a home seisun until September so I think I have some time, know, contacts, setup, etc. My wife keeps asking me about it so I guess she's on board with it. I appreciate your suggestion and support. Cheers,


Read most of the replies, and if you think it's frustrating to be in a group where "traditional" instruments come into play, then try being a diatonic, ten-hole, harmonica player who loves to play "Celtic" folk tunes. You don't think we see the rolling of the eyes or notice the patronizing comments? It's like being a small child with three missing front teeth, being patted on the head by an old grandfather who still has all of his ... yellow as they are.

I still wrangle an invite every once in awhile to come into play with "real" musicians, and after being ushered into the group through the backdoor after the lights have dimmed, most folk are surprised that we can "blend-in" with most of the tunes played. But sadly, we generally only have the opportunity to offer backup notes, and rarely get the opportunity to stand out in session play, and when we do, we have to bend or fake a few notes. This gets us a few snickers here and there ... oddly enough from fiddle players. ... Go figure.

This is why I started up a "virtual session" site, with tunes arranged specifically for easy play with the little, diatonic harmonicas. And by doing this, I get accused of not having "traditional" folk tunes. ... again .... go figure. Virtual, internet approaches for learning to play tunes are a great way to get folk into the "fun" of playing traditional "Celtic" folk tunes, ... no matter what instrument they play. ... It's all fun. - - KelticDead

Arbo, old buddy, keep at it mate, keep at it...

Sure, it's only one man's opinion—and a narrowback revivalist's at that. But, for what it's worth (which you can decide): (and trust me; this isn't said snarkily, but honestly and with respect:) If your primary concern is learning to play—go find yourself a teacher/master and take some lessons/apprentice yourself. If you want to hear really good music, and lots of it with no breaks between sets—go to a concert. If you're uncomfortable with the level and/or tone of your local session—start your own, preferably with a friend or two who feels the same way you do, and fair play to you.

It seems to me that the essence of a session isn't the tunes at all, at all—it's frankly what happens in between the tunes, in the relationships and interactions between the musicians; that's what makes one session night so different in feel from another—and the tunes so different!—even if you were to play just the same sets. 

I think we have a tendency to lose track of the fact, because we love it so much (particularly people like myself who come to trad from outside it's natural environment—that is, rural, oral culture) that the music isn't the thing itself: it's the product of the thing—the thing being Irish traditional culture in general—the whole way of being. If you will, the tree is tradtional culture; the sweet fruit of the tree is the tunes. When you begin to mistake the fruit for the tree, bad things happen. 

So, for me, the beauty of a good session (and I'm so very fortunate to have a couple of them close by) is, frankly, non-musical: it's social—and that social life carries the tunes on it. When it's right, it's magical: the knowledge of what's going on in each other's lives that—without a word being said—by the choice of a certain tune, or the playing of a particular set—speaks volumes; yes, the mutual rolled eyes now and again; but also the breadth of spirit to welcome a young learner just starting out (remembering that there was a time when we all knew just one tune, and it was probably THE BOYS OF BLUE HILL....). 

So, as you can tell: I'm not frustrated with "sessions" at all—they are what they are, just like a concert, or a lesson, or whatever is what it is—but you WILL be frustrated, I think, if you want it to be what it isn't. And, of course—if you accept my social definition—there will be PLENTY of sessions that YOU and/or I WILL be frustrated with—Heaven knows! 

My answer would be—find those like-thinking folks, and go start a session where you, and the folks who are desperately searching for a session JUST LIKE THAT won't be frustrated, but will be looking forward to the craic between the tunes as much as the tunes themselves. Then, I think, you've got the thing entire: tree AND fruit.

As I said: Only one man's opinion. Your mileage may vary. "FINIAN"

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