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Thread: Playing Melody in Irish Sessions

  1. #26

    Default Re: Playing Melody in Irish Sessions

    It sounds like you are not freezing but instead you' re getting "lost" when you are playing with others.

    You say you can play tunes to decent speed on your own but when you play with others things fall apart.

    It seems to me that you do have the tunes under your fingers but you are used to practising them in such an exact way that when you play with others you are thrown off.

    It's about getting used to playing melody with others and not rehearsing the tunes. I've played in many, many sessions here in Ireland and while everyone adheres to playing the tune together in the same spirit everyone also plays subtle variations. Hearing these variations unexpectedly as you are playing can be off putting.

    Stick at it and work through it. As Betram said earlier use the other players as your metronome but concentrate on your own melody playing.

    When I started I took classes from a comhaltas group. There was a recital one evening. when I turned up, I was early so I took a seat. when the other players came in, to my surprise, they were girls and boys aged between 6 and 10. I had no way out that stage. I started a tune and once the kids joined in I crashed and burned. At the end the kids parents clapped and told me well done like I was six myself (I was in my early 30's)....If that embarrassing experience didn't stop me nothing will

    Seriously keep at it. It's worth it.

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  3. #27

    Default Re: Playing Melody in Irish Sessions

    I once met a gentleman who was very knowledgeable on pedal steel, an instrument that pretty well defeated my ability to play it.bthis guy knew many chord forms, music theory and had a high level of technical ability. He just couldn't translate all that to making music. It was puzzling he couldn't follow a I IV V progression. It was confounding. But I refuse to believe with instruction he couldn't turn it around. I'd find a teacher with your specific goal in mind.

    Myself, I've been more comfortable in a band setting or alone. Never liked jam situations. I like working things out to be tight an precise. Of course there are those who can do that on the fly. I hate them.LOL
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  5. #28
    Registered User Jon Hall's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing Melody in Irish Sessions

    I'm also old-er (69 this summer). I refuse to set limitations on my potential to improve unless there are physical limitations. Slowing down the tunes I'm learning is always a good plan for me. Practicing with a metronome (tunes, tremolo, scales, etc) is also part of my daily practice. Something that is very helpful for me is that in addition to practicing by myself and participating in jams, I get together with small groups of friends to practice. Sometimes it might be one other person or three or four but we are always willing to slow things down for each other and work on tricky parts of the tunes. These group practices are very beneficial and build great friendships. If you enjoy the mandolin don't give up on it. However old you are, you're not too old to pursue your musical aspirations.

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  7. #29

    Default Re: Playing Melody in Irish Sessions

    I dont agree with anyone. ha ha. I bet you can play with a metronome just fine if you try. I would suggest that you need to work with a friend, aka a "teacher". There are all kinds of things going on in a session, and you have clearly described the point where you get hung up--where you try to play along with multiple people who are all doing their own thing their own way. So back up and try playing a tune in unison with -one- person. Just figure out who you know who is both talented and patient, buy some beer, and invite them over. Try going through some of your standard session tunes and see what happens. If you can learn to get comfortable playing a few tunes at a moderate tempo with that one person, then go to your session, sit next to the same player--hopefully others there will know what you are shooting for and have mercy on the tempos-- and see what happens. If it still doesnt come, try some more one-on-ones and if its starting to happen, maybe have two friends over the next time. Just one rule: you're not playing the guitar this time...OK two rules...have fun.

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  9. #30
    Registered User Mike Scott's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing Melody in Irish Sessions

    Once again, thank you all very much. I really appreciate it. I believe, using a lot of your suggestions and also using some logic I have found my problem which has led to a not so quick solution. I downloaded the link provided by Jill (thanks very much for that), pulled out the tab to John Ryan's and discovered I was playing not at tempo but at 75% of tempo. So, losing it at full tempo. Ditto for a few other tunes I tried. Having the tab available helped the first few times through then wasn't needed. I played it maybe ten times. Now to work my way up to full tempo slowly then on to the next one and so on. Not all our session tunes are on that link so I'll revert to the hated metronome for that to gradually get up to tempo. So l guess it's back to the woodshed for Mikey! In the meantime I started playing around wth DADGAD on the guitar and will just do accompanyment till I am ready to do at least a few tunes at tempo. Slow session tonight for working on the DADGAD.......

    I never would have figured it out without all of your help. Thanks again.
    Thanks, Mike

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  10. #31
    Registered User Mark Wilson's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing Melody in Irish Sessions

    The deal where all are playing melody at same time throws me off. Occasionally someone will say "all together" on a bluegrass tune and tbh it is not as easy for me to play along with several variations going at jam speed. If it's a tune I just learned it makes me wish I had a bare bones version for the occasion.
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  12. #32
    but that's just me Bertram Henze's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing Melody in Irish Sessions

    Embrace the metronome. It is the one player who will never accuse you of derailing him with your playing, nor will he tell you to go home and practise. A more steadfast friend you'll never meet.
    the world is better off without bad ideas, good ideas are better off without the world

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  16. #34
    Lurkist dhergert's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing Melody in Irish Sessions

    Sounds like the freeze-up is a symptom of stage fright. Don't ask me how I know.

    The solution that works for me for stage fright is knowing the fingerboard and picking hand work well enough that I can play with my eyes closed. Then I literally do that -- close my eyes, listen carefully to what's going on around me, and picture in my mind what my left hand is doing.

    There are other real benefits to being able to play without looking, so it's worth while even if it doesn't work for your current situation.

    That takes care of stage fright for me most of the time. But if the venue or environment is too intimidating, sometimes it will still break through.

    If you're getting vibes of intimidation at a jam -- which does happen sometimes -- you might just want to find a more casual, comfortable jam. Jams are supposed to be fun. Life is too short.

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  18. #35
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    Default Re: Playing Melody in Irish Sessions

    Can you find just one other person to play with, practise tunes together, and then go out to the session together?

    That was an easy way in for me. What's more, the two of you can then start a set at your own preferred pace.
    Bren

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  20. #36
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    Default Re: Playing Melody in Irish Sessions

    I have a book I refer back to a lot that has a chapter on how to measure your 'true' level of mastery over a song.
    For a 4th year player - it was an ego buster, but good to know. Not knowing the tune deeply enough is 95% the cause for my clams at jams. But tbh there's good in that for me. Gives me a little push to play again
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  22. #37
    Mediocre but OK with that Paul Busman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing Melody in Irish Sessions

    Come to think of it, I sometimes experience just the opposite. When it's my turn to start a tune at a session I always pick something I know really well, but when I start it (either mandolin or penny whistle) I often flub it a bit at the beginning. Once the other musicians pick up the tune, I'm fine. Since we moved to a new area not long ago I've been to several new sessions where I've picked a tune they don't generally play. I ask about the tune and if they don't know it they invariably ask me to play it so they can hear it, which leaves me right out in the open. Once I get the tune going, I do a lot better, even playing solo.
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  24. #38
    Registered User Randi Gormley's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing Melody in Irish Sessions

    So this probably has nothing to do with the OP, but it is something I've noticed in people new to our session. We've had two people come to our beginner/slow session within the past three or four months who have learned a smattering of tunes, mostly from a teacher or on their own, but have not had much experience playing with a bunch of other people on diverse instruments. One is a box player and the other, who came last night, was a fiddler. We're hardly an intimidating bunch and we're not only extremely welcoming to newbies but we go out of our way to make sure they get to play their tunes at the speeds they're comfortable at.
    That doesn't stop them from completely freaking out when we ask them to start something, of course, but we do try to be friendly and encouraging.

    I've noticed two things. The first is that the ability to listen to the tune while playing it seems to be missing from their skillset. It's not so much the speed-up-on-the-easy-parts/slow-down-on-the-difficult-ones that everybody who plays by themselves is guilty of (since few people like playing with a metronome). It's sort of being deafened by their own instrument to what's going on even beside them. Nerves play a part of it, of course, but it does seem to be more than that. It's not something most beginners notice about their playing since they're concentrating so much on playing the notes correctly, but it definitely can mess up playing with a group.

    The second thing is slightly different: not being able to hear the other players at all, especially if there's not some wildly dominant player who overplays everybody anyway. The beginner is sawing away or whatever oblivious to the pacing of people around the circle; they often end up either on a different part of the tune or half a beat ahead or behind. Again, this is a learned skill that takes time to recognize is needed. It's the part of group playing that you really can't do by yourself or playing with a backing tape or along with a CD or something. Playing live with other people means accommodating rhythmic pulses, changes in tempo and the occasional screw up where somebody forgets to repeat a part or moves to another tune without alerting the other players.
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  26. #39
    Unfamous String Buster Beanzy's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing Melody in Irish Sessions

    Randi that sounds a bit like it's that tunnel vision (hearing) that comes with anxiety. Everything zooms in on the immediate task and everything else gets excluded.

    I definitely like Brens suggestion of finding one other to play with.
    I've been at that for three years and we head off to sessions now and kick off a few sets no problem.
    I'm lucky my friend is a very talented trad and folk player with about 60 years playing in public under his belt.
    What I've found is that even if he's not there I can kick them off as if he is; Kind of like a trad "Harvey"
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  28. #40
    Registered User Mike Scott's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing Melody in Irish Sessions

    Well, OK. Last night was our slow/tune learning session. 13 attendees. I took a guitar. I always thought (and still do) that melody instruments should be dominant and diverse in number, but the count was 7 guitarists, 5 fiddlers and 1 tin whistler. Hmmm! I also learned my nickname there is "Mandolin Mike" so I guess I'm stuck-lol. We also talked a bit about my issue and my plan to correct it. Appears all will be good going forward plus it looks as though I am the lone mando player vs a ton of guitar slingers. I would have thought there would be more mandolin players given their number at the local bluegrass jam, but I guess not. Also odd that in the three sessions I've attended, no tenor banjos. Although at the regular session there was a pipe player and a couple of bodhrans.
    Thanks, Mike

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  30. #41

    Default Re: Playing Melody in Irish Sessions

    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Scott View Post
    ...the count was 7 guitarists...
    Yikes. That's quite another layer to this problem. Seven guitarists - each playing their own version of 'rhythm' - is like the antithesis of a metronome! This is not an easy situation, and not the best way for a beginner to acquire skills (which is why I recommend working with a metronome, rather than collective 'jams,' to develop rhythmic acumen) - but I'm particularly sensitive to good rhythm, so my opinion here may not be true for all.

    My usual advice in this context: find the best rhythm player/playing and glom onto that. The muddle and cacophony of 7 'accompanists' is a lot to overcome.


    ...and a couple of bodhrans.
    Even worse..
    .

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  32. #42
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    Default Re: Playing Melody in Irish Sessions

    Quote Originally Posted by Jill McAuley View Post
    Being able to play up to speed on your own and playing up to speed in a session are two different things I find. Once you add the new variable of other players (and the distraction of other players!) I find that the pendulum swings back a wee bit and I need to play at a slower speed than I would when playing at home (meaning seek out a slower session!). The more regularly you play in session/ensemble settings then that gap begins to close and the speed comes back. Just my experience. Here's a resource I've been enjoying as it allows you to slow down tunes to play along with and then you can incrementally increase the speed: http://wellington.session.nz/current_tunes/
    This is a great learning tool. Anything like this for Old Time and or bluegrass?
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  33. #43
    Registered User foldedpath's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing Melody in Irish Sessions

    Egad! Seven guitar players? That's either the dreaded "acoustic jam" or a poorly run Irish trad session in my opinion.

    This can happen when there isn't a designated leader of a session, usually the local Alpha fiddler, who can keep things on track. You end up with a "tragedy of the commons" where too many guitars and bodhrans are thrashing away, and killing any sense of cohesive melody and rhythm pulse.

    Here's the thing, and it's just my opinion but I think it's right:

    The rhythm pulse in a good Irish session is established by the melody players, not the backers on guitar and bodhran. Backers should be listening and following along with the pulse of the melody players, not establishing a bedrock rhythm on their own, like you do in American genres like Bluegrass. Most guitar players don't get that. Add more guitar players and it just gets worse.

    The other side of the coin is that the melody is fixed in Irish trad while the harmony is improvised. It's the opposite of Bluegrass, and most guitar players don't get that either. So when you have two or more guitar players trying to improvise chords at the same time, it's a train wreck.

    I'm fortunate in that the several Irish and mixed Scottish/Irish sessions in my area have an informal (but gently enforced) rule that there should be only one guitar player at a time, and one bodhran player at a time. When more than one show up, they're encouraged to trade off instead of play simultaneously. Otherwise you get the chaos of clashing chords and clashing rhythm feel from different backers.

    If this is the only beginner-friendly session in your area, you may be stuck with it. But if there are others, I'd suggest scoping them out. Find the ones that are beginner-friendly, but know how to keep a lid on the guitar army.

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  35. #44
    Registered User mandomurph's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing Melody in Irish Sessions

    I struggle with tunes when I can hear my own instrument in a group dominated by fiddles and banjos. I learn tunes mostly by ear but I have to hear myself above others or I'm lost.
    mandomurph

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  36. #45
    Registered User Mike Scott's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing Melody in Irish Sessions

    This is it for ITM in Bend. And this was an unusual mix. It is billed as the tune learning session. We have 2 of these monthly and one "regular " session monthly. And yes there is an alpha fiddler. She is the leader of the whole shebang. She gives the "instructions " primarily to the fiddlers and other melody players. 7 guitarists are way more than usual, but there is always at least 3. As I was one of those, I played really quietly. Won't be bringing it again. Next time I'll bring a dobro (not really). Let's just say it was not an optimal situation for anyone.....

    Mando Murph-that's been a big part of my issue to. That's why the metronome may be part of the solution to that.
    Thanks, Mike

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  37. #46
    Registered User Billy Packard's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing Melody in Irish Sessions

    Mike, this is all such good counsel!

    Years ago l found this about myself--Once I learn a complex choro or polka and then take it to the next level, i.e. playing it with my musical partners, it is almost like starting over. Hearing the tune 'in context' changes everything and presents a whole new paradigm.

    I've not seen anyone here at the cafe mention "Band In A Box" but I have been using this program for years with great success. Once I can play the tune along with BIAB I can play it anywhere. And I don't suffer my bandmates the stumbling and bumbling of me learning the tune in ensemble. From the time of introducing a new tune to performing it takes way less time AND I don't feel bad about looking and sounding bad!!LOL

    I think of BIAB as a glorified metronome that also plays chords!

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  39. #47

    Default Re: Playing Melody in Irish Sessions

    Yep, the radio/cd works too; most everything recorded has been QCd for meter.

    (I'm with f-path - I think you're better off conspiring with one of the [better] guitar players and working on the music. Wading into a sea of rhythm players is not for the feint of heart, and may not be the best route to developing - sounds more like an acoustic 'jam' than an Irish session)

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