We have many folks who started late in life, a surprising number of classically trained musicians from local orchestras, and a mix of trad and non-trad instruments. I don't care what instruments show up at the session, or if folks bring music. I just explain that if they get used to this, they have to understand they can't just show up at any session and be welcomed. I do provide a printed collection of common tunes, which I encourage people to learn on their own.
So what happens here is that we get the beginners, who for the most part eventually learn to lose the sheet music and listen better. We now occasionally sound completely awesome, hammered dulcimers and double bass included. Eventually some of the better players 'graduate' to the other session, which is fine. Makes me feel like the idea is working. Different members have spawned at least 3 other performing groups.
The above pretty much describes the sessions that began in my local pub two years ago as "beginners" nights. (Firstly, though, let me state up front that I hugely admire the members of this community who play by ear and only by ear. As somebody who didn't pick up a free reed instrument until I'd turned 50, clearing a route along the ear/brain/finger pathway has been hard graft, and having printed music in front of me has been a huge help in getting started). Anyhow, back to our "beginners" nights. We started with a small repertoire of tunes, mainly traditional English, printed out and mounted in ring binders designed to stand upright. The main point of the evenings was to have FUN making music which we certainly did. And do. The number of people turning up to these sessions has grown and grown. A year or so back there were too many of us to fit into the snug (especially when a couple of cellos arrived) so we started holding our sessions in the back bar (which is twice the size of the snug). That's absolutely bursting now, giving a great atmosphere. We now have a tune book containing 100 tunes. These are also avilable in the abc format so people can print them out at home and practise. Yes, we have printed music on the tables. What tends to happen, though, is that most of the "beginners" don't stay beginners, though they continue to come to the sessions. They simply make less and less use of the books.
Like Blathskite's session, ours has taken on a life outside the pub. Most significantly, we now have a dance band playing (mainly) English traditional music. Usually we muster 20+ musicians for an evening's dancing. This Saturday we're playing at a fundraiser for a women's project in India. Next month we're playing at a dance to raise money for a local green (i.e. environmental) festival. In March we're playing at a fundraiser for a children's hospice. When you think about it, this has all happened from scratch in two years and, arguably, it wouldn't have happened at all without the availability of printed music.
The pub, incidentally, is The Beech Inn in Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester (UK). We have sessions on Wednesdays, alternating tune evenings and song evenings. Oh yes -- there are Irish sessions at The Beech on Mondays -- no printed music anywhere to be seen!
Edited by Tatter Jacket, 17 January 2012 - 06:03 PM.