No more excuses and boring nights in!

Question: How can you get a Traditional Irish Music Session going in your locality? 

Answer: A bowl of stew, 2-3 tunes, 2-3 friends, any instruments, a front room or back garden –  Easy!


Start up a Session in 6 Easy Steps, 3 Helpful Hints and a Note to Accompanists!


Step 1: Have 2 – 3 tunes (preferably known or at least easy melodies (no symphonies). Suggestion: a march (such as Brian Boru’s, or ‘Oh When the Saints’), a song tune (such as ‘Molly Malone’ or ‘My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean’), then a few of the hundreds of dance tunes – easy ones to start with such as: barndances (such as Lucy Farr’s or The Keel Row), polkas or mazurkas (the ‘Titanic’ polka or ‘Shoe the Donkey).  Don’t choose tunes that are too tricky, and never play too fast (intimidating) or too slow (boring)…. And accompanists: Use basic chording (your 1 – 4 – 5 chords) and keep the rhythm straight (not too much syncopation!) and you're well set! 

To help with getting started, my Harbison’s 100 Easy Dance Tunes for Session Harpers is designed at a Low Intermediate level for getting sessions going with Vol 6 of ‘Harbison’s 100 containing all 100 tunes for any other instruments (with chording for guitars and pianos).  In Vols 1 – 5 for harp players, all the tunes are fingered with easy left hands to get started.  


Step 2: Decide on day and a place to hold your ‘taster session’! – This could be in your back garden, a local community hall, a sympathetic pub with side room, a barn...


Step 3: Put a notice up on local notice-boards, community websites, regional ‘Celtic Music’ interests.  Invite people that would like to gather for a ‘taster event’ - a social evening of ‘Irish stew (or whatever!), chat ‘n chunes’ (= tunes!) .  Everyone should be invited to bring their own drink, a salad or desert to add to the meal, their instrument and 2 – 3 tunes that they can all offer each other in the Session.


Step 4:  At your event, folkd will gather – get acquainted – eat food – and then you bring out the instruments.   Sit around where you can all see each other, and invite one of your guests to ‘lead off’ a tune.  If no-one joins in to play along with you, go to Step 5!


Step 5:  If someone plays a tune that no-one knows, then ask the musician to break the tune down into its component ‘phrases’ (or ‘lines’).  Ask them to play the first 'bit' of the tune 2 or 3 times so you can 'pick it up'; then procede to the next 'bit' until you have the complete phrase.  Then, move on to the second phrase etc eventually playing the full part (usually 16 bars or 'measures') and repeat this up to 4 times through.   (Always work in lots of 4s – this keeps people energised as otherwise, the process can be exhausting!)  Then move on to the next part until you have the whole 4 phrases.  There will almost certainly be repetition in the phrases – 1st and 3rd phrases are usually the same, the 2nd is often like the 1st and 3rd but on another note of the scale, and the 4th (the ‘finisher’) is almost always the same between the 'parts' (repeated segments) in one tune.  


Step 6: If everyone is now playing the basic tune – play the whole thing through – with its repetitions (first part twice, second part twice) – three times over.  Then, immediately follow this with another one or two tunes.  No going back - you can practise more at home afterwards! 


Helpful hints

Helpful hint no.1:  Have your phone that will record your new tunes at the session.  I always encourage people to record their sessions – so they can listen back at a later time over the washing-up or driving to get more familiar with the music – to ‘get it on your ear’.  Then, in the next sessions, you are playing from ‘the familiar’ – a very important point for progress – as, with ‘the familiar’, you are playing tunes you already know and the only challenge then is to ‘organise them into your fingers’! 


Helpful hint no.2:  If your instrument is one that needs to be tuned... Guitar, fiddle, harp – Tune it before you go to the session so there is no long delay before you are able to ‘join in’ - and certainly do not ask everyone to be quiet while you tune!  Remove yourself to a quiet spot if you need to - and have an ‘electronic tuner’ to speed the process.


Helpful hint no.3:  If you have a large and cumbersome instrument... Some harps are heavy and awkward to carry – and some electric keyboards require stands and plenty of space with access to electric sockets.   Either arrive early and get set up with as little fuss about yourself as possible - and find a corner to tidy away your instrument cover.  


Note to accompaniment instrumentalists

If you play harp, guitar, keyboard, be sure to keep your accompaniments simple at the start of your session adventure (stick to your ‘3-chord trick’) – and be discrete if you don’t already know (or have confidence in) what you are doing.  [I have a book coming soon on ‘The Art of Accompaniment’ which is a training from scratch for accompanists].  If accompaniment becomes overbearing – and different accompanists are ‘crashing’ with different chords at the same time, it will be very uncomfortable and a ‘turn-off’ for everyone in the session – so please don’t presume that ‘anything goes’. 


Go for it and good luck with your session start-up.


Have a  look through Janet's Books and Sheet Music for more music ideas.  Most pieces of Download music come with a FREE mp3 file to play along with.

Look out for the FREE sheet music downloads too!


Janet’s courses and harp weeks are the ideal way to gain confidence in your playing skills and playing in a group.