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Thread: What Irish tunes should I learn?

  1. #26
    Join Date
    Mar 2009
    Glover, Vermont

    Default Re: What Irish tunes should I learn?

    Chuck ...

    I hear you. (I think much the same could be said about Bluegrass though ... "If you can't play at 220bpm you might as well fughettaboutit.") I'm wondering if it's primarily a problem in the Untied Snakes. Having spent a few years vacations in Ireland ... the exposure both Lynne and i have had with well established musicians that were at the very least semi-professional was very welcoming. We'll see this year since Lynne will be bringing her fiddle and i'll be bringing a guitar for the first time.

    The music is just too rich to ignore.

    mandolin ~ guitar ~ banjo

    "I'm convinced that playing well is not so much a technique as it is a decision. It's a commitment to do the work, strive for concentration, get strategic about advancing by steps, and push patiently forward toward the goal." Dan Crary

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  3. #27
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Mar 2003
    Westchester, NY

    Default Re: What Irish tunes should I learn?

    I don’t think that ITM session players are particularly prickly. In my neck of the woods we have some serious sessions and we also have some slow sessions. Even at the serious sessions people are welcoming. You just have to know what the protocol is and understand that things work differently than say bluegrass, Old time, Cajun or Croatian or whatever.

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  5. #28
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    Sep 2007

    Default Re: What Irish tunes should I learn?


    But, agree the music is awesome...

  6. #29

    Default Re: What Irish tunes should I learn?

    Quote Originally Posted by Ryk Loske View Post
    (I think much the same could be said about Bluegrass though ... "If you can't play at 220bpm you might as well fughettaboutit.")

    The music is just too rich to ignore.
    That's what makes me approach a session gingerly, and know I need to practice my tookus off before I attempt to actually play the tunes and try to keep up. Certainly, with a few exceptions, I find the tunes played REALLY FAST, especially on YouTube vids, so I know I have plenty of practice ahead of me.

    And the music is indeed rich. And I'd say it has an earthy strength to it. (How's that for waxing poetic?)

  7. #30
    Registered User CelticDude's Avatar
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    Mar 2008
    West Hartford, CT

    Default Re: What Irish tunes should I learn?

    Apologies; I didn't mean to turn this into a seisun complaint session. As it turns out, I've had some very good experiences at seisuns when I've traveled. I think that it's just my local scene that has jaded me some. Hopefully, your experiences will be different.

    In any case, I think that the OP got his original question answered? Certainly a good bit of advice in this thread, from people more experienced that I am.

  8. #31

    Default Re: What Irish tunes should I learn?

    Find a session you can make every week. Listen and record the tunes with your phone. Work on the tunes and return with a few tunes or sets ready. It helps to remember who started the tunes or sets and when you see those folks at the session suggest playing the set you learned from them. Repeat. Arrive at the start time and stay the duration and you will discover who the regulars are and what is in their repertoire. This will take a commitment to be successful.

  9. #32
    Registered User foldedpath's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2007
    Pacific Northwest, USA

    Default Re: What Irish tunes should I learn?

    One more thing a beginner should know, is that in an Irish session it's perfectly okay to sit out a tune if you don't know it. Or don't know it well enough to keep up. You may want to stay at the periphery of the seating arrangement if you can't follow most of the tunes, but nobody will think less of you for sitting out tunes you don't know, and just enjoy listening to the music.

    This is different from typical Americana jams like Bluegrass, OldTime, Folk, etc., where it may look like you're not having fun, or being too shy, if you don't bang away on every tune. There can be strong social pressure to join in on everything, and the music is structured in a way that allows it. In a Bluegrass jam, you're in chord backup mode for most of a song anyway, and that's not hard to pick up. In an OldTime jam, you may learn the tune on the fly, because everyone is in trance mode for 20 repeats of a fiddle tune.

    That doesn't work in an Irish session, where the whole point is playing unison melody. You may only get 3 repeats of a tune before the next one. Unless you're really good at picking things up by ear (some people can), that's not enough to learn on the fly. So it's perfectly fine to sit out and just listen, and that will be appreciated by the session regulars. Over time, you'll learn more of the local repertoire and join in. This won't happen overnight.

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  11. #33
    Eternal Beginner Seamus B's Avatar
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    Oct 2009
    Leicester, UK

    Default Re: What Irish tunes should I learn?

    Going back to the excellent recommendation for the Foinn Seisiún CDs - all three double-CD albums are on Spotify, if you subscribe to it. 328 songs in total and an excellent resource for Irish jigs, reels, waltzes and many standards.

  12. #34
    Registered User Tim N's Avatar
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    Apr 2016

    Default Re: What Irish tunes should I learn?

    I have recently started playing Irish bouzouki at an Irish session. We are very fortunate in Bonn (Germany) to have a monthly slow session, but it is certainly important to take it seriously and do the preparation. Not least because the players get free drinks! You've probably noticed, and it has been mentioned here, that chords seem to be far more flexible than notes! It's not much good for anyone if two accompanists are simultaneously playing different chords, so you have to find a way that works. My policy is to sit myself opposite the chap who is the regular, experienced accompanist. He is a guitarist, but so am I, so I can normally recognise what he's playing, and transfer that to bouzouki. I try to mirror what he's playing. It can get tricky when he plays modal chords way up the neck, but if you listen well, you can probably find a similar sound - although it's better to practice that quietly in between sets. I also spoke to him, in order to establish that I wasn't trying to compete with him, and he was fine with that.
    Certainly learning tunes is the best preparation because its so encouraging when you recognise something you feel you can play. I took up mandolin primarily to help fix tunes in my head, and it's been a great help, and a lot of fun! Since, as is often emphasised, the TUNE is king, it seems to me important to have more than just an approximation of the melody in my head. However it is also true that accompanying is a real skill, and the main element is keeping a good rhythm and emphasis, approprite to the tunes in question. It's better to play nothing and listen than it is to just noodle along. And sometimes you can just play one ( or two) chord(s) all the way through, really concentrating on rhythm.
    I hope you settle into session life and enjoy it. Like you, I am in my early days, and I know it takes a bit of courage - especially the very first time, It's so helpful if people are friendly, isn't it? BTW, I play in GDAE, which is also perfectly acceptable. I love the sound of GDAD, but just can't get along with the chord shapes....
    "What's that funny guitar thing..?"

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  14. #35
    Registered User Rob Ross's Avatar
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    Jan 2011
    Apple Valley, MN

    Default Re: What Irish tunes should I learn?

    I find this thread timely, as last night I finally got to sit in at the Irish session at The Burren in Somerville, Massachusetts and my experience is a good example of what might be expected at a true ITM session for an outsider.

    First, I need to explain that I doubt I'm ever going to be any better than intermediate in my skill level, though I keep plugging away. I'm lucky in that living in Minneapolis-St. Paul, there is an embarrassment of riches in the amount of bluegrass, old-time, Irish sessions (and more!) that occur in the Twin Cities. There used to be a long running beginner's slow session at O'Gara's in St. Paul I would regularly go to and now there's currently a somewhat faster but still not too fast session going on there. There's Keegan's, and Kieran's, and the Center for Irish Music, and lots more. So I've gotten to play a lot of Irish tunes, but my work schedule makes it difficult to show up enough regularly to get really good. However, that work schedule means I get to travel and check out sessions in other cities.

    Therefore, when I'm on the road, I look up sessions (and jams) going on where I'll be, and try to find out as much as I can from and websites for the venue's as to what level of skill is expected. If it doesn't look like I need to be an expert, I'll show up, introduce myself, explain my skill level, and ask if I might sit in. I am usually pleasantly invited to sit in. Some sessions are pretty open, and most levels of players will fit in. Some sessions are more advanced, and you'll need a higher level of skill and speed to hang in. Some sessions are quite advanced, and I know I won't fit in, and I don't even try. At one session, I once sat and listened across the room and in an hour of tunes played at a very fast pace, I only recognized 3 tunes, and those were Scottish.

    My experience at The Burren was pretty much as I expected. The online description of the session described it as advanced, but all players were welcomed. I introduced myself, verified I played Irish tunes, and I was welcomed into the group. The other players all had pick-ups and plugged in, which was required for the exceptionally high noise level in the bar. I was able to play for a while on tunes I knew, but as things progressed I knew less of the group's tunes, and certainly wasn't going to be able to learn them at the tempo they were playing, so I bowed out after about an hour. While I really don't think I contributed greatly to the ensemble, I certainly did not drag it down (and I doubt anyone 18 inches beyond me even heard my mandolin over the amped fiddles and the bagpipes.) I had a nice, if brief, time, and I can highly recommend The Burren as a place to hear absolutely stellar ITM played at warp speed by exceptionally talented musicians.

    I will reiterate what other's have said: each session has their own sets of tunes they play, and chances are good that most tunes will NOT be ones your session plays, nor will they generally overlap any other session you attend. Minneapolis, Philly, Boston, San Francisco, Denver, they all have different core tunes. Realize that "O'Neill's Music of Ireland" has about 1850 tunes, Breandán Breathnach collected over 7000, and over in Scotland "The Gow Collection Of Scottish Dance Music" has almost 600 tunes, plus many more recent additions to the genre. That's a whole lot of tunes you've never heard nor heard of, but someone else has, and can play them all quite well.

    Do what the folks above have said: listen carefully to what the folks are playing, learn some of the tunes, be very reluctant to play chords till you've learned the tunes and sat in a bit, but by all means introduce yourself and give it a shot. It's very enjoyable music.
    Rob Ross
    Apple Valley, Minne-SOH-tah

    1996 Flatiron A5-Performer
    1915 Gibson F-2 (loaned to me by a friend)
    2008 Kentucky Master KM-505 A-Model
    and of course,
    the 1970 Suzuki-Violin-Sha Bowl Back Taterbug

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