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Thread: "Noodling" at Sessions

  1. #26
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    Default Re: "Noodling" at Sessions

    Quote Originally Posted by DougC View Post
    boring diddly tunes? I think someone is in the wrong forum...However the issue may be 'having to learn' the tunes before one attends a sessiun vs learning at the sessiun.

    Noodling during the time in order to 'work out the mechanics of playing along' is a way of learning. No doubt. But how one does this, and how it is dealt with, involves some respect for the people and the genre.
    My wife, a non musician, refuses to go along with me to most sessions because, she says, that she can’t stand people playing the same tune again and again - which is what the “anti-noodlers” seem to be suggesting. Perhaps you might like to convince a jazz musician that they should rigorously stick to the tune and see what rection you get.

    Rather than playing exactly the same as everybody else, the art is in playing what fits in with what everyone else might be playing.

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    Default Re: "Noodling" at Sessions

    Quote Originally Posted by Ray(T) View Post
    My wife, a non musician, refuses to go along with me to most sessions because, she says, that she can’t stand people playing the same tune again and again - which is what the “anti-noodlers” seem to be suggesting. Perhaps you might like to convince a jazz musician that they should rigorously stick to the tune and see what rection you get.

    Rather than playing exactly the same as everybody else, the art is in playing what fits in with what everyone else might be playing.
    It depends on the jam. For Old Time jams repeating the tune over and over and becoming hypnotized and obsessed with it is part of the fun. With Bluegrass the point is more to get the tune down so you can do a killer break when it comes around. With jazz etc., the idea is to transcend the tune with your playing.


    But I get what your wife is saying. Thing is a jam is not a concert. A concert is for the audience, a jam is for the participants. There may be an audience too, but IMO the best jams ignore the audience and maximize the players' fun.

    Folks do disagree with me, but there it is.
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    Default Re: "Noodling" at Sessions

    Great thing about a repetitive, foot-tapping OldTime jam is that you can dance, let your body do the thinking.

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    Default Re: "Noodling" at Sessions

    Quote Originally Posted by Ray(T) View Post
    My wife, a non musician, refuses to go along with me to most sessions because, she says, that she can’t stand people playing the same tune again and again - which is what the “anti-noodlers” seem to be suggesting. Perhaps you might like to convince a jazz musician that they should rigorously stick to the tune and see what rection you get.

    Rather than playing exactly the same as everybody else, the art is in playing what fits in with what everyone else might be playing.
    Yeah, fair point about jazz musicians, but the OP was asking about trad sessions, so kind of apples and oranges.
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    Default Re: "Noodling" at Sessions

    There is certainly a difference among different styles of music when it comes to social behavior. Ignorance and a superior attitude can quickly cause trouble.
    Take classical music for example, there is no "jam session". Students in lessons, or in groups are expected to be quiet and do only what the instructor dictates. Noodling is strictly forbidden. (This has changed a bit over the last 20 years but the point remains.)

    Part of the problem, as I see it, is in bringing one social behavior to another. If the person does not adapt to the new social situation then there will be trouble.
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    Default Re: "Noodling" at Sessions

    I have heard the question: What do I play if I don't know the tune? The answer is, you listen, and learn the tune.

    The most important skill, at any jam or session, is to listen.

    I have known a few amazing musicians who could, upon one hearing, play the tune effectively. One friend of mine would sit, fiddle across his lap, for the first time through a tune, and then take up the fiddle and get after it. Not flawlessly, but a lot better that I could have after several hearings!

    But for us mere mortals, the best would be to record the playing on our cell phones and just listen, and learn the tune at home. The worst would be to try and join in with random playing the first time you have heard the tune, (noodling so called) and thereby disrupting the session, and also not learning the tune. Somewhere in the middle is probably best, where you have learned the tune from your recording, (done your homework) but have not "got it down" so you play along to smooth out the contours and fill in the blank places.

    Being able to hear the chord changes can often give one a leg up. Me, I have to cheat the chords off the guitar player.
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  9. #32

    Default Re: "Noodling" at Sessions

    Sounds like my question led to other discussions about other things, which is fine. I don't mind my question leading to other people getting clarification on similar concerns.

    For myself, I am facilitating a Irish/Scottish Learning/Slow session whose goal is to explicitly bridge participants to be positive participants in IRISH/SCOTTISH sessions. As a fellow learner who has participated in some sessions, and who formed the group to help improve my own skills, as much as support the growth of others, I try to be informed and recognize what I don't know as fellow learner in my role as facilitator, so that I can be as accurate as possible.

    Thank you so much for everyone who chimed in! I realize and have experienced that sessions are very different. I will say that even though many sessions allow participation and "fooling around" or "noodling," I have never gone wrong with following the instructions that the fiddler teacher provided me: DON'T PARTICIPATE UNLESS YOU CAN LEAD THE TUNE. I get that this is comparatively extreme.

    I didn't go about it this way at first. I am not shy. When I was first getting into Irish/Scottish music, I'd show up with my mandolin and try to jump in to every session with a tune I could play, and behaved with my own kind of -Dunning-Kruger- approach as an enthusiastic beginner. I had good intentions. My heart was in the right place. I was still obnoxious (oops)!

    Now, I follow that fiddler's advice. I also buy a player an occasional drink. I introduce myself first. I ask if players welcome people to participate who can play along. I ask permission to record tunes when I show up the first time, and explain it is so that I can be prepared to participate if I am allowed the next time I attend. I have heard "no." When I do, I don't argue or feel put off. I feel informed and am glad I found out ahead of time, so that I avoided embarrassing myself. Some people have their own little group doing their own thing. Who the hell am I to just decide I should be allowed to join in? Kind of presumptuous.

    However, with that approach, as extreme as I see now that it is in comparison to what I hear is the norm, I have, on occasion, been invited to lead a tune, at the pace I can. I have been invited to come back to a session where I literally SUCK compared to others in the group. I have also been invited to sessions that weren't public in people's homes. An initial "no" has become, "bring your mandolin next time, and join in with some of the tunes you think you can keep up with."

    I realize from reading various replies that my policy may seem extreme compared to general expectations at sessions, however, I rarely get the "side eye" anymore, and I often make connections that leads to sessions where I CAN participate, or at least connections and encouragement. When I was a beginner that had a good heart, but a reckless spirit, I wondered why I would go through a whole session where people ignored me. I thought I was doing fine. Sometimes I was doing fine, musically, speaking. But I was just not taking any time to read the room and gauge if I SHOULD participate before gauging if I COULD participate.

    Now, I hear stories from some beginning players who come to my learning session and talk about their experiences at Irish/Scottish sessions and how they behave and I cringe. I cringe because I did that stuff too, and I know that this is why I had problems making connections with fellow players. People basically froze me out, just like they are freezing out the other beginners, who are, like I was, filled with the reckless eagerness to participate. So, running a learning session, I am also contemplating how to teach this important skill set as well as the musical support, because it really is an important bridge. As I make connections with other groups in my area, now that sessions are starting up again, to learn their tunes and tell them what I'm doing. I know that there are certain participants I WON'T bring with me to these groups. Sad, but true. I'd like to help them bridge this gap and come along, but, quite frankly, they will embarrass themselves. So, how do I communicate the importance of a sensitive and respectful approach that tries to take in what is happening first, and waits upon the groups tacit or overt permission before jumping in?

  10. #33
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    Default Re: "Noodling" at Sessions

    So, how do I communicate the importance of a sensitive and respectful approach that tries to take in what is happening first, and waits upon the groups tacit or overt permission before jumping in?

    I actually wrote a piece that we used as a protocol and reference for proper behavior. This issue was a big deal back then (1990's ) as it is now apparently. We were mostly note readers and the book was developing so the Sessiun Etiqutte became part of the introduction.

    This was a bold move on my part. I certainly became the focus of angst and disagreement as a 'self appointed Sessiun police man'. However it gained a lot of support as it actually worked. We had a set of rules and could use them.

    This is from the book.

    Be quiet at a regular Sessiún. Talk after the music has ended. It’s considered rude to talk
    while the music plays.
    Let the musicians sit together. Never sit among people who are playing.
    Never touch anyone’s instrument.
    Play at a regular Sessiún only if you can play quite well and are invited to play.
    Try to notice if more experienced players want to play without you.
    Don’t ask a Fast Sessiún to play a tune. They are working on their own stuff.
    Always ask and be discrete in using a tape recorder.
    Buy them a drink for a job well done! This is a tradition.
    In Slow Sessiúns be friendly and polite.
    Try to play evenly. Never speed up or slow down.
    Don’t mix tunes. Play jigs together, reels together, hornpipes together, etc.
    Don’t start a tune if someone else is starting a tune.
    Try to learn the tunes others like to play.
    Only one guitar and one drum should play at a time.
    Never try to force others to play at a certain tempo.
    Don’t tune your instrument while people are playing.
    Talk quietly while others are playing; or talk only between tunes.
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    Default Re: "Noodling" at Sessions

    Quote Originally Posted by PhillipeTaylor View Post
    So, how do I communicate the importance of a sensitive and respectful approach that tries to take in what is happening first, and waits upon the groups tacit or overt permission before jumping in?
    Tell them that while a session often takes place in a public venue, and is theoretically "open" to newcomers as most are, it's still a bit like a private conversation among friends hanging out at a pub or restaurant. You wouldn't barge into a private conversation as a stranger, you'd listen first. Then slowly and respectfully integrate into the group.

    It's also important to suss out the level of each session, and be realistic about your own abilities. A group that has been playing together for years and enjoys playing at full dance tempos -- which can seem very fast to a beginner -- may be welcoming and friendly to newcomers. But that won't last long if you can't keep up and are dragging the group down.

    Finally, I think the most important thing of all is to help newbies understand that unlike casual/amateur gatherings playing Americana genres like Folk, OldTime, and Bluegrass, it's considered perfectly fine to sit out a tune you don't know. Nobody will think less of you. I've been to sessions where I sat out half the tunes at first, before getting to know the repertoire. Nobody minds as long as you're contributing here and there, and show an interest in learning the group's repertoire.

    Unfortunately this grinds on certain people. They see a session as more of a social than a musical event and they want to play on every tune whether they know it or not. That might work in other genres, but it doesn't work in a unison melody genre like Irish/Scottish trad. Well, it might work to an extent for backers, but I assume we're talking about melody instrument players here.

    I don't know if there's a good way to help this kind of person shift their values and care more about the music than the social aspect. There are, in fact, sessions that are more social than musical, so steering them to a "social session" may be the answer. Sessions where players care more about the music can actually be kind of anti-social, not just to strangers but among the players themselves! But when it's the music that's the focus, those are some of the best sessions I've ever heard.

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    Default Re: "Noodling" at Sessions

    Well, noodling, to get back to the original question.

    I've only heard the term as the third version posited by other cafe members: playing your instrument while an instructor at a workshop is explaining something, playing when leaders are talking between sets at a session, just not being able to keep your hands off your instrument when polite people would sit and be mindful of the ebb and flow of the session. I hadn't heard it used in the first two versions described by the OP. fwiw
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    Default Re: "Noodling" at Sessions

    What I am honestly surpised by, but maybe shouldn't be at the stage of the game, is the rules apply to even "learners" or "beginner" sessions. Once again, if you don't know things completely and at full performance speed, just don't play.

    It's why I concentrate on other music forms instead. Might not like what is going on, but will respect it and keep my distance.

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    Default Re: "Noodling" at Sessions

    I think we forget how much we have achieved.
    If you can play ten tunes, one after the other without reading and more importantly, without noodling then… well, that’s an incredible achievement. Really.

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    Default Re: "Noodling" at Sessions

    Quote Originally Posted by Eric Platt View Post
    What I am honestly surpised by, but maybe shouldn't be at the stage of the game, is the rules apply to even "learners" or "beginner" sessions. Once again, if you don't know things completely and at full performance speed, just don't play.

    It's why I concentrate on other music forms instead. Might not like what is going on, but will respect it and keep my distance.
    A learners session usually just means that the tunes are played at a much slower pace, and that they're of a more straightforward nature vs. a "tune learning session", where folks are actually learning the tune together. I've seen "slow sessions" that also will advertise that on a particular evening they're having a tune learning session - this would usually be held somewhere away from the public, such as in a community hall, or the upstairs function room of a pub, to allow for the stopping/starting and repetitive nature of learning a tune. Slow session folks will hold those kinds of evenings sometimes and then be able to introduce the now learned tunes into their slow session repertoire.
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    Default Re: "Noodling" at Sessions

    Just think, you could learn a few tunes, go along to a local session, sit there and find that nobody plays the tunes you’ve learned. Failing that you may learn a tune at home perfectly, only to find that the version being played isn’t quite the one you’ve aciduously learned. (I’ve always understood that “the tradition” meant that tunes evolved and weren’t written down?)

    The sessions I tend to frequent positively encourage total beginners to participate; indeed lead a tune, and the more experienced musicians are more than capable of helping them carry it off musically.

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    Default Re: "Noodling" at Sessions

    Quote Originally Posted by Ray(T) View Post
    Just think, you could learn a few tunes, go along to a local session, sit there and find that nobody plays the tunes you’ve learned. Failing that you may learn a tune at home perfectly, only to find that the version being played isn’t quite the one you’ve aciduously learned. (I’ve always understood that “the tradition” meant that tunes evolved and weren’t written down?)

    The sessions I tend to frequent positively encourage total beginners to participate; indeed lead a tune, and the more experienced musicians are more than capable of helping them carry it off musically.
    Yeah, which is why it's good form to go to your local session as a listener first to see what tunes they play. Slow sessions for learners tend to play well known straightforward session tunes that folks commonly start out learning, very different kettle of fish from going to a session with experienced players where the sets played may be unique to that locality or particular group of people.
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    Default Re: "Noodling" at Sessions

    After learning a certain number of tunes, especially if learned by ear, people may find that they can go out to a session and ‘know’ every tune that they listen to once through.
    Then when they pick up their mandolin for the second, or third time through, then in some places they’ll probably play the main parts and where they can’t find it on the fretboard, just stop playing for a measure or two, or play arpeggios in the background harmony.

    The problem arrives just as the tune ends in that wonderful, meditative, transcendental silence that descends on the group.
    -everyone’s looking around smiling but then what’s plonking?
    Heads turn round, it’s someone noodling over the parts that they didn’t quite get.

    It’s a bit like a tennis player who repeats the movement of the last stroke in slow motion to get a feel for the ‘oneness’ of the movement.
    -they are becoming one with themselves.
    Last edited by Simon DS; May-10-2022 at 8:09am.

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    Default Re: "Noodling" at Sessions

    Quote Originally Posted by Ray(T) View Post
    Just think, you could learn a few tunes, go along to a local session, sit there and find that nobody plays the tunes you’ve learned. Failing that you may learn a tune at home perfectly, only to find that the version being played isn’t quite the one you’ve aciduously learned. (I’ve always understood that “the tradition” meant that tunes evolved and weren’t written down?)

    The sessions I tend to frequent positively encourage total beginners to participate; indeed lead a tune, and the more experienced musicians are more than capable of helping them carry it off musically.
    Slightly OT, but it sounds like you got good local sessions Ray. My take on this is that if an individual requires that the audience and all fellow performers treat them like a professional, they should go and get a gig and get paid to play (and good luck with getting treated like a professional...). For me, bar sessions should be about fun, not ego, and about a wide range of abilities coming together to play music and (mostly) learn from each other in a fluid and tolerant atmosphere. There's nothing holy about a pub session, and individuals of lesser abillity should be welcomed by the better level players, whether or not they ever improve.

    One thing that bugs me to a small degree though is that if you ask regular sessioneers or a session organiser (here in UK) for a list of tunes and/or tunes sets often played at that session, the answer is 95% 'Sorry, we don't have that'. They're not being unhelpful, it just never occured to them that that's perhaps why new attendees often don't return to sessions. Around the area of Cornwall UK I mostly go to sessions, one plays mostly trad Irish, another lots of English Morris etc, a third lots of modern-ish Scottish/Cape Breton with a slightly trancey feel. Walking into any of them cold, you'd never know what to expect or if you know any of the tunes, and having a starter list might help.

    Worse, occasionally you'll go along to a session and find a small group of 3-4 friends who practise together have arrived who deliberately play tunes rarely heard at sessions that nobody else knows. They then proceed to effectively play a gig with their note perfect and very fast tunes while everyone else at the 'session' sits around like lemons. I've mostly seen this done by non Irish nationals playing Irish music in London, and I once had another fiddler turn his back on me when I happened to know the tune and joined in competently. Maybe others have suffered this in different styles of music? My experience is mostly UK, are US sessions much different?

    Frank Zappa appeared to use the word 'noodling' disparagingly, to mean the kind of soloing that sounds like the player learned alll the scales but missed the lesson where you make them into music - different context though.
    Last edited by maxr; May-10-2022 at 8:00am.

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  26. #43

    Default Re: "Noodling" at Sessions

    Quote Originally Posted by maxr View Post
    Frank Zappa appeared to use the word 'noodling' disparagingly, to mean the kind of soloing that sounds like the player learned all the scales but missed the lesson where you make them into music - different context though.
    He must have been listening to me. Once I've used both my licks, I don't have much to say.

    Oh wait, no. I missed the "learned all the scales" part. Never mind.

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    Default Re: "Noodling" at Sessions

    Quote Originally Posted by DougC View Post
    ... Sessiún ...
    Thanks for exposing me to this word, which I'd never seen before. At first I thought it was a typo or misspell, but google straightened me out on that (and when you added the accent it was clear it was no simple mistake.)

    Clearly, I'm a newb at mandolin.

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    Default Re: "Noodling" at Sessions

    Quote Originally Posted by Simon DS View Post
    The problem arrives just as the tune ends in that wonderful, meditative, transcendental silence that descends on the group.
    -everyone’s looking around smiling...
    That's not meditative silence, Simon - it's fear. Everyone's keeping schtum because they don't know what tunes these guys play yet, and they might get picked on to lead the next set

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    Default Re: "Noodling" at Sessions

    Ignorance of a particular session's/jam's/whatever's finer points of conduct is no reason to label it intolerant – any situation that combines music-making with social get-togethering is going to have subtle unwritten rules. At open mic/blues jams, you shouldn't wear ear-plugs if you're the loudest player, you should get set up quickly, you should get off the stage quickly, your instrument's volume should match that of the house band's, on and on and on. At community orchestra rehearsals, when it's time to get to work, get to work, and, equally important, when it's time to be sociable, be sociable (and ya, when it's time to noodle, noodle). Adhere to the group's sense of punctuality. Contribute to the gathering's tradition of beverages and snacks. Remember that the good Lord made us all different, that talent is a thing (and that while it's easy to tell if someone has less than you, it's not always easy to tell if someone has more), and be charitable, considerate and humble. And above all, act like the groove of the group is why you're there.

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    Default Re: "Noodling" at Sessions

    Sessiuns historically have been a local social activity. Nowadays we'd be lucky to meet the same people again at the same sessiun. Moreover we are in a world where commercial music of all kinds supplies the knowledge of the players. There always have been small groups or individuals that 'show off' and are ignorant of the rules. The tunes have variations that come from different sources; often brought to the same sessiun. So there are certainly challenges.

    However I am amazed by the growth of ITM worldwide as well as the incredible improvement in sharing the music in places like theSession.org and others mentioned right here on this thread.
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    Default Re: "Noodling" at Sessions

    It seems to me that if there's a percentage of people who clearly feel like irish trad sessions are elitist/unwelcoming/set too high a bar regarding tune knowledge then the solution would be to start your own session for like minded people with an open approach where people can "noodle", learn the tune as they go along, improvise or what have you. Then the folks who feel erred against by the "rigidity" of trad sessions can have a space they find welcoming and the folks who prefer sessions where participants know the tunes can stick to attending those ones.
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    Default Re: "Noodling" at Sessions

    I've attended a few sessions where the more advanced players simply show up later, and the participants seem very okay with the way the evening develops.

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    Default Re: "Noodling" at Sessions

    Quote Originally Posted by Jill McAuley View Post
    It seems to me that if there's a percentage of people who clearly feel like irish trad sessions are elitist/unwelcoming/set too high a bar regarding tune knowledge then the solution would be to start your own session for like minded people with an open approach where people can "noodle", learn the tune as they go along, improvise or what have you. Then the folks who feel erred against by the "rigidity" of trad sessions can have a space they find welcoming and the folks who prefer sessions where participants know the tunes can stick to attending those ones.
    While there is truth here, I find that Irish Trad are not the only ones. My gosh I attended a old time jam a couple of years or so ago and it was an orthodox old time jam where you called out the tune you were going to play, and the style (in the style of Tommy Jarrell, or, as played by Jehile Kirkhuff, or whatever) and the key and designated cross tuning was written on the chalk board behind us. Yeeesh.

    I just remember that typically a jam or a session that is highly moderated is that way for some reason. Maybe years before they had trouble being too inclusive, until that sax player came in and enough was enough. Sometimes its the stipulations that keep the jam from falling into a drum circle.


    And in my opinion all of that is because people often don't listen. If you go into a sports bar and find a group talking about the Kentucky Derby, you don't elbow your way in and start talk about baseball. A jam or session is a conversation, and that means one should listen for a while to see if it is the kind of conversation one wants to have. No harm done if it isn't. The music is bigger than any given group of people playing it.
    Life is short, play hard. Life is really really short, play really really hard.

    The entire staff
    funny....

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