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I'm feeling really discouraged. I can't play tunes at a consistent level and am always crashing and burning at sessions, even when I can play the tunes at home. I know the answer to this problem is more practice, but I could use some encouragement. Anyone?

 

 

 

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The best advice really is to keep going. Keep practising. Keep going to sessions. There's a big difference between playing to yourself and playing in a session where other people can hear you. I think the only way to get through that is to thing about the tunes you thought you could play well at home but crashed in a session - practice those some more, remembering where it fell apart in public. 

But, the main thing is to keep going - it will come. I do firmly believe that all playing is helpful (some moreso than others), but it all adds up to being comfortable with your instrument and developing as a musician. Playing in sessions can be hard, so don't be too downcast that it's taking time to adjust at them and enjoy them. Keep going!

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I would encourage you to enjoy yourself at the sessions . You are lucky to have one. I am sure you will eventually conquer the blowouts. Consider how far ahead of me you are. I can’t play anything to session speed. But we will get there

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Is your aspiration to play at sessions?  What about dances ? what about busking, pubs and coffee houses?  How 'bout composing, playing for seniors, school programs,  belly dance workshops, church music, sitting with the ocean or the forest or the cows and playing for them?  Samba,  Tango, Classical, Pop!  Express yourself......😃

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Yes, less practice and more playing! And try to plow (plough?) through your mistakes instead of practicing and emphasizing them.

 

Take your concertina out of the box and put it where it will constantly be in your way and then pick it up lots of times throughout the day, if only to play one tune for fun.

 

Make rhythm and continuity the most important things to maintain and eventually your fingers will most likely fall into place. It just takes an incredibly long time to get that muscle memory solidified and then you'll wonder what the fuss was all about when it finally clicks. 


For sessions, you could even figure out some basic chords and revert to them if the melody proves vexing. If you learn G, C, D, A, Em, Am and Bm you'll be able to accompany almost any tune.

 

And make sure you enjoy the process and the progress!

 

Gary

 

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I have experienced - still happens- something similar as you tell Christine. Thinking about it, in my case, some causes are:

- I worry to much because other people are hearing me...so I lost concentration in playing.

- I worry to much of having an eventual fail in the tune. ..so I lost concentration in playing.

- I have learned the tune...but including learning some mistakes as well...so these  mistakes are prone to appear if I don't feel confident.

 

It happens to me that I can learn nearly any tune really fast.... but It is needed to learn really well also!!.

 

A coup of things that are very usefull for me at this respect are:

- As always says the master Itzhak Pearman: "Practice slooowly ".

-...And let the muscles do their job. A silly rule that works for me ( after the piper David Daye) is to play continuosly three times, correctly played, the problematic passages  (better if more than three, but it is enough for me )...and stop to let the muscles fix the fingering.

- And the "paradox".... If I dont worry so much of having a mistake.... I gain relax and confidence, so the mistakes do not appear. ...thus I gain more confidence...thus...

 

Regards

Isra

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I believe that most answers, helpful as they seem, miss the point. The point is that playing with distractions and interactively requires a completely different set of skills than playing for yourself, and playing for yourself more does not help you with getting better at that skill set.

 

Ideally you would play more in sessions and band contexts to get you forward with ensemble playing, but you can approximate the different setting, for example by playing against a metronome or a youtube recording. Also recording yourself helps. Just do not fall into the trap of playing the same set of tunes six instead of three times a day, that will at most help you memorize the tunes better but not help you with ensemble playing.

 

Something else that helps is to learn how to play harmonies so you can play chords against the tunes at sessions if the tune is not present. Your ear will benefit tremendously.

 

Making music encompasses a number of different skills, and all of those must be worked on separately.

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So, to sum up:

  • Practice---let the balm of time help to improve muscle memory. And yes, Isra, to paraphrase the master: In order to learn something fast, practice it slow.
  • Play in more sessions---I'm lucky to live in a place where I have both opportunity and choice. Some of the musicians I play with are so talented, I'm just happy to have a place at the table.
  • Learn some chords and learn to play some harmonies. but don't both necessitate knowing what key the tune being played is? How --- without perfect pitch ---does one figure out the key of the tune that other folks are playing? Granted, I play ITM, so there's an 80% chance it's in G or C, but still? Other than quietly guessing and discreetly noodling, how does one train the ear to hear a key?

Many thanks to Wunks, Gcoover, Isra, and RAc

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On that last point of finding the key of a tune  - I also find it difficult to pick up what key a tune is played in during a session.  Nearly impossible when away from my instrument, but when actually there with my instrument there are some tricks that help.

 

First of all, you mention ITM and the Keys of G or C, but I've found that D is even more common than C, and A is also possible.  I'm sensitive to that fact because one of my concertinas is a 20 button Anglo in Cg, so it doesn't have that critical C# note for tunes in D.

 

If you are lucky, people will mention the key before they start, but in reality that doesn't seem to happen much, or if they do you can't hear them - often not even possible to hear the name of the tune if mentioned.

 

If you are starting off on harmonies, there is a method to the "discretely guessing and quietly noodling."  Try lightly/briefly playing your best guess at the root notes of the chords, rather than the full chords.  That won't cause as much interruption as a full chord if your guess is off, but it allows you to hear your instrument against what others are playing, so you can calibrate where you should be.   Once you have found the key, you may still miss where the chords change, but this also offers some forgiveness within the I, IV, and V chords, since your intended root note may still fit in as the 5th of the real chord.  Once you have found the key, and starting to find the chord changes, and start filling in the chords a bit; the layout of the Anglo helps with this, in the home keys.  It usually isn't necessary or even desirable to play the full chord,  two notes of a chord are often plenty, and that is less likely to step on what anyone else is doing.  Paying attention to the rhythm, playing two or three note arpeggios, instead of two notes simultaneously can work well, and you will likely happen upon bits of the melody that way. Changing between playing root and 5th then sometimes root and 3rd also provides some variation, particularly in passages where the chord doesn't change quickly.  The aim is to play your harmony notes briefly and quietly, while somehow not playing them tentatively, which is mostly a matter of timing.

 

One trick often mentioned is to watch the guitar player, to see what chord shapes they are using.  Of course that means you have to know at least some basic chord shapes for guitar, and you also need to know if they are in standard EADGBE tuning, or something else like DADGAD, and also note whether they are using a capo.  If there is more than one guitar player, they may tune and capo differently in order to avoid duplicating the same part.  Personally I don't play guitar, and I've had little success finding the key by watching for guitar chords, but I do find it useful to watch when the guitar player changes chord shape as a hint for the timing of chord changes, even if I can't really see which the new chord might be.  If there is a whistle player playing a D whistle, I can sometimes tell whether a tune is in D or G by watching for a the distinctive fully open C# vs several mid holes closed on the C natural.    I also can often get the key by watching which notes dominate, particularly at the end of the phrase. Even the melody notes are fairly easy to see on the whistle, since the fingering of the notes is mostly linear with the scale.  But whistle players are prone to ornamentations, so that can obscure things a bit, and some will bring a quiver of whistles in different keys.

 

Note that in ITM sessions often the melody instruments are playing largely in unison, although playing different ornamentations, and perhaps playing different variations across each other, rather than anyone playing full harmony lines.  Quite different in that way from Old-time sessions, where tunes are played through many times, with musicians trading harmonies.  It is generally still OK to start by picking out chords and harmonies in an ITM session, but be sensitive to the particular session you are in.

 

All that said, picking up a tune in a session is still a struggle, and I haven't even been to a session lately, so you are quite possibly already doing better than I am!

Edited by Tradewinds Ted

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Two other ways of finding the key of a tune;  

-ask ( a ghastly affront to decorum and of course your cover is blown but they'll soon be asking you "what is that fantastic tune and could you please slow the heck down!?").

-sit next to a pal who will discreetly whisper or signal to you.

 

As for starting a tune, try a low soft drone with an appropriate bellows induced throb.

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Another possibility would be to find some other players who are at your level and have your own occasional sessions where you can play the tunes a bit more slowly and support each other's efforts.

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OMG, Daniel. You've hit the nail on the head. I'm a beginner, sometimes sitting at the table with folks who've recorded cds.

Yes, Wunks, regarding the drone. My new squeeze has a low D drone and I'm sometimes a teeny bit put off when it doesn't suit the tune! :) That said, I try not to overuse it.

And Ted, yes that's all very good information regarding figuring out keys. Thanks for a very thoughtful and informative response. Often the fiddlers tell the guitar player the key, so if I pay more attention, I can get about half of the keys in a night. I noticed that lots of your very good advice is geared towards paying attention to others in the session. Presently, if I know the tune, I'm too busy concentrating on notes and tempo to notice which whistle the whistle guy is changing out! But now I'll think to notice.

Many thanks!

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.... If you can get half of the keys...yo have the half full botle Christine :D

As Rüdiger said...the skills of playing in an ensemble....

A side comment.... There  is a wonderfull TED's talk, by Itay Talgam, describing different styles of conducting an orchestra.... if you can watch it...pay attention on  the passage about Von Karajan...;)

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This is such a helpful discussion. I am a real beginner, exactly two years with my first instrument ever. I also live in a very remote area with no teacher or sessions. I do try and play with recordings and it is more challenging even when I slow them down I am easily distracted.

What do you think I might do if I wanted to start a “SLOW Session “

i have been thinking unless I take action , I will never know if there are others around me who want to play .

 

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Susan, I checked the session (www.thesession.org) and there are sessions in Brunswick and Bath that are closest to you. I wonder if you'd have luck starting one in Augusta? Maybe we should start a new thread about how to start a new session?

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6 hours ago, Halifax said:

Susan, I checked the session (www.thesession.org) and there are sessions in Brunswick and Bath that are closest to you. I wonder if you'd have luck starting one in Augusta? Maybe we should start a new thread about how to start a new session?

 Actually all of those places are quite far from me , about four hours of driving . But I might try to start one in Presque Isle or maybe right here in Fort Fairfield. 

Like your idea of a new thread. Not sure if I can find anyone near here that plays ITM

 

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One more idea for finding the key of a tune: In 90% of the tunes, the first turnaround of the A part ends on the dominant and the second turnaround of the root note. When it gets close to the transition to B, hold the concertina close to your ear so you can hear yourself, and with the ending of A2, hit either of the 2 choice notes depending on the session context (as mentioned before, ln predominantly English sessions this would be G or D). If the G in this example is in unison with the final A2, you can be almost 100% sure that the piece is in G major. A second test would be to try the note A on the A1 ending.

 

The more you do this, the better your guesses. 😉 I hope this makes sense, I have limited internet right now so can not elaborate.

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