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So, what is/was the ‘traditional style’ of learning?

The tradition of teaching ‘trad’ harp is relatively new as all of use older players (60 years and upward!) learned in the ‘traditional’ manner – which involved sitting in the sessions with all the other players, playing late into many evenings absorbing the ‘craic’ (the social interaction), the tunes, the style of playing, the different styles of playing, the excitement of hearing new ways of playing old tunes, excitement of hearing new ones, excitement of hearing the variations of exciting individual players that you want to sit closer to, the excitement and richness of the experience of so many people ‘playing the same tune’ together but each playing it differently from the other in fine detail, the excitement of exciting the audience – whose chatter adds to the ‘brú’ (lively happy noise), whose claps and ‘hoops’ (shouts of excitement) raise the energy again – and it all sounds really exciting all together!

It was certainly a dilemma for me when I was first asked to teach ‘traditional harp’! My first response was to ‘get and join in the session’ and you ‘just pick it up’. This is true, but it takes a lot more than just a few nights – and most people who seek a teacher, want fast success and most likely don’t have a ‘traditional music environment’ (or ‘local session’) that they can easily tap into – or want to ‘fast-track’ their way into session playing. Once again, I liken the situation to the learning of a language. If you are dropped into Japan and are left to ‘find your own way’, you will gradually acquire the language by listening – listening for similar sounds coming up from time to time and the more familiar they become, the detail between the familiar ‘bits’ becomes easier, and before long, you will be able to string basic sentences together – or string the notes of a tune together.