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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I've never thought of sessions as a learning environment. A place to be inspired to learn tunes that you hear and learning to overcome the terror (in my case) of playing in public.   I've always felt that learning tunes is a solitary thing. 

There are some fantastic ones, but it depends where you are, there are none here. There is a singing/folk session, but no trad at all. 

I personally love an awesome session- the ones where everything seems to click and all the musos are on the same page and the energy is brilliant. We don't get much opportunity for that here at all. In Ireland its a totally different story of course, and places like London, US etc. 

I also absolutely believe that a session is a really important place to learn, I don't mean going in there and playing your one tune at an eight of the pace and bringing the whole session to a grinding halt. But when I was learning - I went to the best sessions and sat there all night listening, recording (with permission of course) and getting totally inspired. I'd sit there and if a tune came up that I knew I would play (very quietly) along. I would never start a tune though. 

I see all too often, these beginner sessions, where everyone is at the same type level, they never get any better - they will be there years and years playing the same tunes at the same pace every single week. As far as I can tell- that doesn't really work. No one is really putting in the effort, its a strange thing really. Its like they become comfortable and therefore don't need to really try..

Going to brilliant session (and knowing your place) can be really uncomfortable - but if forces you to practise, learn and put effort in. It made me want to try harder. So I totally think that going to a great session when you are a beginner can be a good thing if nothing else but for inspiration.  

A fiddler friend and I started the session at our favorite pub with the express desire to have a very open attitude and a learning environment. The fiddler is an elementary school music teacher, a professional player/arranger/composer, and also gives fiddle lessons.

So we are very tolerant of just about anything in terms of playing ability and don't mind the occasional rock or country song for fun. We often stop after a set of tunes and go over the finer points with players. The novices range from teens who come with a parent, to much older folks. Many of them take lessons.

We figure there are plenty of sessions for advanced players, but we would like to encourage new players, so a slow session is what they need, Yeah, it can be slow/sloppy/screechy sometimes and boring for someone accustomed to fast playing, but I just tell myself that it's for a good cause, and we do break into fast numbers regularly to give the novices a taste of fast playing. Also, some of the advanced players from the other sessions are finally warming up to the idea and showing up more often.

Basically our attitude is: learning + having fun. With pints.

As for frustrated - I do get frustrated with someone who is playing a loud instrument (pipes for example), and can't stay on the beat and is drowning everything else out. Very annoying.

Eh?  So you've formed a session to encourage learners and novices, so long as they don't play a loud instrument like the pipes.  Pipes play at whatever volume they play at -- you can't control it like you can with a flute or fiddle or whatever -- and in my experience, most learners thereof have pretty wonky timing for a few years.  It seems to be a phase people who learn that instrument have to suffer through. 

Luckily, most pipers (including myself) are in a state of permanent frustration and surliness with regard to sessions, so you shouldn't run into too many for too long.  :-p

Hi Emily....

       Yes, I agree. I am in a permanent state of frustration. I took up the pipes about 8 months ago and because of my years with the flute, was able to pick up tunes fairly quickly. I have recently been taking them out to the local session, and despite sighs from my session mates when I open the case, they have been fairly tolerant of my effort. I find having the pipes in tune with others is the greatest challenge. When all is working, it seems to gel with the dozen or so tunes I can play. Nothing fancy, but nothing annoying either. As far as volume goes, my pipes are not as loud as some of the patrons at the bar!

Yeah, the pipes are moody b*ggers when it comes to being in tune with others.  What drives me nuts, in fact, and fits nicely within the theme of this thread, are people who don't understand the faff it takes to tune a chanter (nevermind drones and regs and that whole mess).  Unlike flutes and stringy things, you can't slowly change the pitch while playing a note, as you know.  You have to take the reed out, fiddle with it, put it back in, and then play. I have kind of fallen out with people want me to get in tune, but want me to do it in ten seconds and won't give me the necessary space to fool about with it.  Frustrating!  Either stop playing for five to ten minutes so I can properly fix it, or suck it and deal with a fairly loose definition of "in tune" (I do). 

The good news is that my other half gave me a Korg tuner for Christmas so when I'm being unfairly blamed for being out of tune, I can say, "No, I'm not."  People like blaming the pipes for session tuning weirdness, and while pipes being pipes are often the guilty party, they are not always. 

You are so right!

There's too many pipers in this session. Why do I always seem to finish up between two bodhrans or two pipers. That's my frustration - as a mandolin player!

I thought that the pipes were tuned to a key.  D for example.  All notes clean compared to d.  the most notable differance on the 3rd 6th and 7th notes of the scale.    each of those notes is 12-16 cents off from tempered tuned instruments.  Maybe this is the sounds that people are not agreeing with. 

sessions in london are a click they give you the cold shoulder to visitors it was feautered on an article in the the irish music magazine the british way of life is different  to the irish dublin sessions are wonderfull o donoughes pub ithe famous pub theyask you to playin merrion row most sessions in dublin  and ireland are friendly then ireland is the land of welcomes england is the land of unwelcomes especially london 

Bit of a sweeping generalisation about us English I would say.  There are some great sessions around,  wheather you find them friendly or not often depends a lot on the standard of playing at the session and your own competence as a musician.  Much as it does at many sessions in Ireland.  The vast majority of sessions that I have been to around the UK,  I've been made to feel very welcome.

I've experienced the thing about the "cold shoulder" too. It's a tricky one really - if a group of folk play well together, and have done regularly for while, I guess it would be annoying if others joined in who weren't up to scratch, but sometimes you're not even given a chance to show that you can play and blend in. If I come to a new but very good quality session where the sound is great, eg if there's flute, fiddle, banjo, mandola, for example, I'd rather just listen. I'd join in if invited.

Sometimes a session is welcoming too, to the point where anyone can join in, and often the result is poor, if people are struggling with the tunes. It's a fine balance between maintaining a good sound and being accommodating to new players, regarless of playing ability. You can't expect it to work all the time, I guess.


As for learning the tunes, I notice quite a few people bring along audio recorders and play back the stuff later.



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