No more excuses and boring nights in!

6 Easy Steps, 3 Helpful Hints and a Note to Accompanists!

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 – and you’re in business!  Easy!


Here’s how to do it….

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 the myriads of dance music – 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 all's good! 

To help with getting a good grounding in appropriate tunes, 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 ‘first 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 – inviting people to connect with you that would like to gather for your ‘tester event’ of 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:  You have had people respond to your invite – and they gather – get acquainted – eat food – and then you bring out the instruments, sit in a circle where you can all see each other, and chat about the tunes you are ‘bringing to the Session’.   If everyone says the names of the tunes they are suggesting, then you, as ‘Session host’ can invite one of your guests to ‘lead off’ a tune that appeals to you!  If no-one joins in to play along, go to Step 5!


Step 5:  If someone plays a tune that is like by the group but who don’t know it, then ask the musician to break the tune down into its component ‘phrases’ (or ‘lines’), play the first phrase over 2 – 3 times (or half of it if it’s long) - then invite people to repeat it a few times in a rhythmic way (as on a ‘loop’ on old recorders!).   After about 8 repetitions (always work in lots of 4s – this keeps people energised as otherwise, the process can be exhausting!) move on to the next bit – then the next bit until you have the whole 4 phrases.  Don’t forget that there will almost certainly be repetition in the phrases – 1st and 3rd phrases are usually the same, the 2nd is most possibly going to be like the 1st and 3rd but from another note of the scale, and the 4th is the ‘finisher’ – rounding up the tune to a comfortable conclusion.


Step 6: If everyone is now playing the basic tune – play the whole thing through – with it’s repetitions (first part twice, second part twice) – three times over – or more if you’re just getting used to the tune – but no more than 6 times tho’ – as then it definitely gets boring!  Then, immediately move onto another tune.  No going back.  You do that at home afterwards! 


Helpful hints

Helpful hint no.1:  Everyone has something that records sound: a phone / recorder / Skype on their pc; and I always encourage people to record their sessions – so they can listen back at another 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 ‘put them into your fingers on your instrument’! 


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 invite everyone to be quiet while you service your tuning!  Remove yourself to a quiet spot if you need to tune!  Also, invest in an ‘electronic tuner’ for yourself that will speed the process.


Helpful hint no.3:  If you have a large and cumbersome instrument (some harps are crazy big – and some electric keyboards require stands and plenty of space and electric sockets.   Either come to the event really early and get set up with as little fuss about yourself as possible (ensuring that the instrument cover is discreetly tidied away) – or sell it and get a more intelligent and manageable one!)


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’. 


Getting it good is always the destination of dreams!  Have a good one.


Have a  look through Janet's Books and Sheet Music for lots more music ideas, each piece of Download music comes 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.