View Full Version : Melody players - worst accompanist experience?

Apr-23-2004, 5:20am
A few of my posts here have been based on my experience as an accompanist of Irish music on bouzouki or guitar. I also try my hand at melody playing, sometimes on mando, and am posting this in that guise.

Just for balance to the recent discussions about accompaniment and its role in traditional music, I'd really like to hear melody players' worst experience of backers at sessions. No names or nastiness towards anyone (especially beginners) - just some good funny horror stories about some of the outright brass-necked chancers that we all occasionally meet. (Hopefully, I won't recognise myself as the chancer in any of them!)

One that springs to mind for me is a guy who sat beside me at a session with a guitar and ordered me to shout the chords to him as we were playing (something that just doesn't work in Irish trad). Just to show that he knew something about what he was doing, he added "No need to do it for jigs - they're all in E minor".

Bruce Evans
Apr-23-2004, 5:42am
I'll never be able to forget the guitar player - no, wait - the guy with the guitar at a jam session that used a march style strum on EVERY song, including Tennessee Waltz.

Apr-26-2004, 7:12pm
We had a guy sit down and try to play blues harmonica accompaniment at a local session a few weeks ago. It didn't fit in very well.

Apr-29-2004, 9:38am
A friend of mine (good buddy but horrible, HORRIBLE listener) sits down with me at a fairly big party, he to play guitar behind me. We settle on "Will The Circle" in D to warm up. The D bit goes one nicely thank you, but when moving to G, he stops cold, refingers and starts strumming again. Back to D, another unsuspected measure of 5/4. The V chord shows up in something like 5.5/4 time.
We grind to halt after the second pass, and he says
"Man, I thought you knew that one better.'

Apr-29-2004, 10:17am
http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif I remsemble that guitar player Mandobob !!!


Apr-30-2004, 2:28am
Then there was the young guy who asked the bouzouki player at a session I was at if he could borrow the bouzouki and join in with us for a tune. The bouzouki player duly handed over his instrument and let the guy sit in. We started playing a reel and our new friend started strumming along. Only problem was he was fingering the chords as if the bouzouki was tuned DGBE, like the top four strings on a guitar. Of course, the bouzouki was tuned GDAD. And yet he ploughed on for the entire tune. At the end he handed back the bouzouki to its rightful (and rightfully traumatised) owner and said "Man, that thing sounds weird! What do you call it?"

John Flynn
Apr-30-2004, 7:53am
This story is not about Irish music, but it fits otherwise, it is absolutely true and hey, I like to tell it. I was part of a music ensemble for an important church service held jointly by three congregations. The ensemble was a combination of music groups from all three churches. We had two rehearsals and then the big event. We were all playing acoustic, with shared mikes. The "headliner" was to be some regional "star" who only went by one name. We'll call her "Melinda." I had never heard of her, but she was spoken of in reverent, hushed tones by other church musicians who knew her. Well, she skipped both the rehearsals, much to everyone's chagrin. Then, the day of the event, we are about to start and Melinda is not there.

With 30 seconds to go, in rushes this Janis Jopin-looking gal, dressed like she stepped out of a time machine from Woodstock #1. She whips out this nylon string guitar, with peace stickers all over it and feathers hanging from the headstock. She jams a patch cord in the tailpiece, plugs the other end of the cord in an open jack in the board and shoves the slider all the way to the stop. With 5 seconds to go, she steps up to the music stand, where the sheet music for the first tune is ready to go. The service starts and everyone, including Melinda, hit the first chord in unison.

Unfortunately, what Melinda missed in rehearsal and didn't observe in her grand entrance, was that we were all capo'ed up a fret. She was not. Cranked at full volume, she was a half step off from the rest of the group. Was she embarrassed? Sadly, no. She kept on going and the whole rest of the group had to scramble, the singers shifted key, and I whipped off my capo. The piano just had to stop. She finished the tune very satisfied with herself, while the rest of us were in shock in front of our combined congregations.

Turas Mor
Apr-30-2004, 8:02am
God works in mysterious ways. http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif

Apr-30-2004, 10:01am
Sounds like Melinda was sent to test your faith, Johnny. http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif

I saw something like that happen in concert to a pretty well known Irish traditional band (who shall remain nameless!). The bouzouki player (who is actually really good) had a momentary lapse of insanity and put his capo on the wrong fret. He played the intro to the tune for a couple of bars and the rest of the band joined in a semi-tone higher. Ouch!

Apr-30-2004, 11:43am
POB, the bouzouki-player who sat in obviously understood the instrument as synonymous with the Greek bouzouki, i.e. one tuned to CFAD, one whole-step below the uppermost 4 strings of the guitar. A flaw in the communication... http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/sad.gif

I once performed at a public school, accompanied by the staff janitoró a sweet, lovely man in his 60's. I asked him in advance whether he could play the G, C, and D chords. "Sure I can", he said with perfect confidence. In boundless stupidity, I rested assured. Little did I know that conveying a simple, musical form (e.g. verse-refrain) to this man would be as impossible as explaining astrophysics to an infant. Yes, he DID in fact play the three chords; now, how he managed to actually miss each and every specific location of those chords, as aligned with the melody I was playing...?

I smiled and played on. He and I have been most cordial to each other since then; I just don't, ehm... engage his services (at least as an accompanist) any more. http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/wink.gif

Mark Robertson-Tessi
Apr-30-2004, 11:53am
How about the guitarist who doesn't know a tune, and starts playing it in a wrong key. Like we'll play something in e-minor and they'll somehow mistake it for a minor. They'll even put in the typical decending Am - G - F - G type chord modifications on the B part. Talk about clash. Worst, they never realize it!

Apr-30-2004, 12:20pm
POB, the bouzouki-player who sat in obviously understood the instrument as synonymous with the Greek bouzouki
No, I'm afraid that on talking with him afterwards I found out he played a bit of guitar and had never even heard of the bouzouki. He just figured he'd impress his friends by jamming with us. Didn't impress my friends much, though!

Apr-30-2004, 12:28pm
http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif Oh, how sad! Well, POB, I was just trying to give the man the proverbial benefit of the doubt; evidently, said benefit was undeserved. Poor audience... http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/laugh.gif

May-01-2004, 10:39am
I have had many experiences of being accompanied by non-Irish-trad-initiated guitarists - fortunately not usually in situations where it matters. If I and they are in a particularly patient mood, I will write down a simple chord sequence to go with a particular tune, and make sure they've got it before I start playing the tune. But more often than not, they will either expect me to shout the chords to them as I play or simply ask me for the chords and proceed to play them in whatever order takes their fancy. Just telling them the key doesn't usually work, because they think I am telling them the chord, and strum away on the one chord, in anticipation of the next command. It is often a shock to them when they realise that you can't learn to back Irish music in an afternoon.

May-01-2004, 2:09pm
Once while playing with a group of friends we came to a song where the tune was simply unknown to me. i was unable to find the key so i turned to my good friend the guitarist to ask him. He said "E", however, the tune was in fact in A.
He sounded great, one of the best peices i have ever heard him play. I however sounded like i was playing a totally different key, and in fact i was.
Rather than drag myself through the pain of continuace i simply stopped, and took on the gaize of everyone in the audience.
fun times, when i found out the key we played it again and it was beautiful, but it was still a shameful first run.

May-03-2004, 8:15am
Exactly, whistler. And as for explaining something like dorian or mixylodian, just don't go there.

May-03-2004, 1:44pm
My worst accompanist is also my good friend whom I play most often with. That means I can kick him or swear at him. We were friends long before we started playing music together, I do get through to him now and then. No point falling out over a few bum notes. When he's good he's very good, and he can sing Burns songs beautifully. When he's bad he's crap and he doesn't care. (Unless I keep kicking him) Unfortunately wrong accompaniment always seems to make the melody player sound like the one who's doing it wrong.

May-07-2004, 6:32pm
It is a common problem that many a fine melody players do not know what key they are playing in. I've heard some quite renowned musicians call out 'A" when they are in 'D' and so on. Mis-hearing is also a problem, particularly when there is a wide range of accents in a session - 'E' can sound like 'A' and vice-versa; 'D', 'G' and 'B' can all sound alike. Tenor Banjo player, Mick O'connor has a solution in the form of mnemonics - Albert, David, George, Charlie, Ernie, Arthur Mullard, Eric Morecambe, Bernard Matthews, Denis Murphy etc.

May-08-2004, 4:24pm
It is a common problem that many a fine melody players do not know what key they are playing in.
So true! I know a really fine fiddler who thinks the key of a tune is determined by the first note of the tune.

Mind you, Irish music being what it is, sometimes the tunes themselves don't know what key they're in.

May-09-2004, 8:14am
Exactly, Padraig. Sometimes I'm asked what key a tune is in and I have to say something like, "Well, it's in D, but it starts with an Am, and each part ends on a G, and it doesn't have any A-major in it," and they usually look at me funny. Sometimes I can't answer at all. The problem is, I can't back to save my life. I know exactly what chords I would play when I hear the tune, but when I have the bouzouki or guitar in my hands, I can't find them quick enough - I spend too much time piddling around with melody to practise chord shapes as well.

May-12-2004, 7:02am
Unfortunately i've had quite a few of these experiences...

The main 2 which spring to mind are this guitar player who is a pretty attrocious player at the best of times, but he is also a chronic alcoholic and is completely awful when under the influence. He has been known to play with a plastic comb rather than a plectrum, and he bashes his guitar with this comb to produce a deafening noise. To make matters worse when his left hand is tired he just doesn't even try to finger any chords......

The other was a drummer who had this drum which was about 10 times louder than a bohran, and completely obliterated the sound of any other instruments......


May-12-2004, 7:27am
That's the worst yet!

I said at the outset I was looking for a laugh, not a disturbing insight into the squalor of the human condition! http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/laugh.gif I'm going to be having nightmares for weeks by the time this thread has petered out.

Mike Crocker
May-13-2004, 6:27am
Last summer I attended a festival where a young group of girls were performing as a celtic band. In a general sense they weren't bad considering their age and experience, and I hate not to encourage young folk from playing, but in two sets on two days the guitarist was a long way from in tune with the others or with herself. The sound guys were struggling to find a decent mix because of it.

Since I'm kinda involved with that festival I tried to gently rectify the situation for the second set, but couldn't get past the star-maker machinery or the egos.

Funny, when I was a young player I ate up all the help and advice I could find and improved because of it.

Peace, Mooh.

May-27-2004, 3:34pm
I've been playing whistle longer than I have mando, but I've had a few cringe-making experiences at jams with my mom... one that comes to mind happens quite often at the weekly jam at the coffee shop. Most of the regulars are used to blues, and they love the key of E. We occasionally try to teach them a little bit about Irish trad.

The conversations usually go something like this.

My mother: *pulls out Swallowtail Jig* This one's in D.

Guitar Player: *blinks* E?

My mother: No, D.

Guitar Player: *plays an E chord.*

This has happened about four times to date. And then we had to try to teach them jig rhythm. Arrgh.


May-28-2004, 8:34am
Let's hope that denizens of said coffee shop do not frequent this site. And we do swallowtail in Em, but your point is well taken.

May-29-2004, 11:46am
My Session Monday night.

Me on fiddle/Mando and 5 (count em FIVE) guitar players. #It turned into a who can show off the most and play louder than the other guy thing. (1 Irish guy had the decency not to even start). I'd start a tune and the 4 would frantically search for the key (I wasn't about to call keys for fear of encouraging them) when one thought he found it he would smile and start to Hammmmmer away; the others would just watch his hand and hammer away and jam with solos in whatever key they wished. #Didn't really care about the guy playing fiddle in the corner. They'd just jam. #Wierd....ghhhrrrrrrr.

That's what I get for not showing up for a month...

on a good note, I was in the States, in Annapolis MD on vacation. #There is a GREAT session downtown at Castlebay Irish Pub. #Really great guys and excellent musicians! #If anyone is in the area....stop in and say hello to Dennis and Patrick on Tuesday nights about 20:30!