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dots in sessions


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RAc posted while I was composing my last post.  Yes, session skills do have to be learned in sessions, but you won't learn those skills if you're dependent on the dots.  Tearing yourself away from them is difficult, and if it helps to have them nearby as a prop if necessary to help your confidence then so be it.  However the aim should be to remove that dependence, so you can focus your attention entirely on what you and the other musicians are playing. Once you can achieve that, if only in one or two tunes, it is  immensely liberating and satisfying, and that will give you the confidence to continue and to improve those skills.

 

I've never been to a session where written music has been handed out to introduce a new tune.  Someone introduces a new tune by playing it, and others join in as best they can (joining in with an unfamiliar tune is another session skill you can only learn by doing it).  If they like the tune well enough, the dots may then help them to learn it outside the session, so they are better prepared the next time it is played.  

 

I'm afraid that there are key skills which you really have to learn in order to participate fully in a session, and doing without written music is one of them.  It also works the other way - I am excluded from some types of event because I cannot read music, and I accept that if I wish to participate in these then I will have to make the effort to learn new skills.  Why should session-playing be any different?

 

 

 

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2 hours ago, hjcjones said:

RAc posted while I was composing my last post.  Yes, session skills do have to be learned in sessions, but you won't learn those skills if you're dependent on the dots.  Tearing yourself away from them is difficult, and if it helps to have them nearby as a prop if necessary to help your confidence then so be it.  However the aim should be to remove that dependence, so you can focus your attention entirely on what you and the other musicians are playing. Once you can achieve that, if only in one or two tunes, it is  immensely liberating and satisfying, and that will give you the confidence to continue and to improve those skills.

 

I won't argue here as there is total agreement about the end. Again, though, it's not black-and-white. In a session context, I look at written music as training wheels. Of course your ultimate goal is to do without them, but as long as they keep you from falling, noone should ridicule or snort at you for using them. The more frequently you play the tunes in a session context, the better you can do without them.

 

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I've never been to a session where written music has been handed out to introduce a new tune.  Someone introduces a new tune by playing it, and others join in as best they can (joining in with an unfamiliar tune is another session skill you can only learn by doing it).  If they like the tune well enough, the dots may then help them to learn it outside the session, so they are better prepared the next time it is played.  

 

Again, we're in unison here.

 

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I'm afraid that there are key skills which you really have to learn in order to participate fully in a session, and doing without written music is one of them.  It also works the other way - I am excluded from some types of event because I cannot read music, and I accept that if I wish to participate in these then I will have to make the effort to learn new skills.  Why should session-playing be any different?

 

 

Should it? Shouldn't it? I think it's a moot question. Every session is different and made up of the people attending it, so these questions get re-decided with every session context.

 

In my experience, the session is the playground. Other musical contexts such as studio recordings, dances, concerts etc. are the "real thing," and different rules apply by definition. Whenever I have a chance to play in such functions, I play along only where I feel confident enough and know the tunes, period. In most sessions, the focus is on the joy of making music together. Of course it's much more satisfying when I can play on eye level with the experienced musicians (which happens more and more frequently the more sessions I attend), but whenever the circumstances allow it (mostly meaning that the chances of my imperfect playing destroying a piece approximate 0), I go on an exploration tour that may or may not involve written music.

 

That said, I'm with you here again: When in Rome... meaning the first and only rule is respect the rules. If the session collective scorns the usage of written music, I'll respect that.

 

Edited by RAc
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A session may be a playground, but it is just as much the "real thing" as the examples you mention. I've done all of those and they can be pretty intense, and yet some of my most intense musical experiences have been in sessions.  I still have memories of a near-perfect session in the Tiger Inn at a Beverley Folk Festival which took place well over 30 years ago, when everyone hit just the right groove,  and everyone listened and responded creatively to what the others were doing. It was very special.

 

The great thing is that, unlike the other experiences, sessions are open to anyone who is past the beginner stage and has at least some command of their instrument.  They don't need to be a great player or even to know all the tunes, just enough to play along where they can and sufficient self-awareness not to intrude where something is beyond their level of competence.  It does require the ability to listen not only to yourself but to the others, and to play to them rather than to what is written on a page.  By all means take your music if it gives you confidence, and if the custom of the session permits, but the sooner you can do without it then the more you will get out of the session.

 

As RAc correctly said, every session is different and the most important thing is to fit in with the customs and norms of behaviour of that particular session.  I said earlier that I regard sessions which depend on music as something rather different from those which don't.  I don't wish to imply that they are inferior, they provide a great opportunity for people to play together and to develop confidence in their playing, and most importantly to have fun.  They provide their own rewards, and require a different set of skills, which I lack.  I am certainly not putting them down.  What I am saying is that anyone who wishes to move from those into less structured sessions (and not everyone may want to) will need to learn additional skills which include giving up, or at least substantially reducing, their dependence on written music.

 

 

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All well and good for those brought up playing by ear, by the time I was competent enough on my concertina to consider sessions, my hearing was too damaged in the steelworks to be able to pick up tunes easily by ear, or recognise keys. I was also previously trained at a dot spotter. I can play concertina band, ensemble and other structured stuff with no great problem, from dots, or with dots as an aide de memoir. I can learn tunes, but it is a big leap to throw away the dots and try to keep up with the ear players who are in their element. You are lost in the first bar or so, especially if you have tried to learn the tune in the privacy of your own home. Yes I do know how to play skeletally, pulse notes etc.  

 

like working in a foreign language, some people learn read and write the language, but struggle with pronunciation  and tonality,  others can speak it fluently, but don't know the spellings and formal grammar, both need encouragement and to be able to take things at their own pace. In a session, the ear player is king and few  of them  are prepared to make any allowance for those who a struggling, or so it often seems. I suppose the argument is 'why should they'? 

 

This argument/ discussion can never resolve itself. A session is one of the loneliest places on earth sometimes, so go with a friend and try together.

 

Dave 

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That's fair comment, Dave, but the converse is equally true for ear-players in music-led situations.   I can't participate in concertina band or ensemble arrangements because I can't read music.  If I were to try, I expect I would find that few of the sight-readers would be prepared to make any allowance while I attempted to pick up the part by ear, and why should they?  Different situations require different skill sets, and in order to participate fully in a session then being able to play by ear is an essential skill, just as being able to sight-read is an essential skill for playing ensemble arrangements.  Neither seeks to deliberately exclude the other, it's simply due to the nature of these events.  

 

Being slightly mutton myself I sympathise with your hearing problems, but I doubt that most who bring dots to a session have that justification.

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Chicago has yet to go to dots on phones for tunes in most ITM sessions I've been to, but I see more singers using them for lyrics.  I guess it seems less intrusive than pulling a folded piece of paper out of a pocket. So people who wouldn't have considered it a few years ago are doing it now.  We are sort of carrying our brains in our pockets these days.

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On 3/3/2020 at 1:06 PM, Gail_Smith said:

Interesting that dots are seen as evidence of not belonging to the local tradition [bad thing]. But its obvious if you are a visitor that you are not from the local tradition.

  

 

I'd just like to add that I believe John's statement was misread. At first I felt sort of repulsed by its seemingly exclusive implication, but knowing John, I'm fairly certain that that's not what he meant. His argument, I believe, is simply a logical one: If a tradition is defined by its oral and acoustic distribution, then it is a logical corollary that any other path of distribution is necessarily not part of the tradition. @Anglo-Irishman: please correct me if this is a wrong interpretation!

 

This is different from insisting that those who have not grown up in the tradition will never be part of it. There are occassional instances of regional cultures in which you won't even be looked at unless your great-great grandparents have already known each other in that very place. The musical continuation of this attitude is that you're only accepted and/or respected if you play only the tunes that your ancestors have already played note by note. If you've done that for 50 or 60 years than you are allowed to make your own tunes and/or change a few notes here and there as long as it still sounds like in the olden days (in Germany, this is not unusual in particular in southern regions, and I'm aware of certain areas in Ireland and Scotland that work in similar ways).

 

Most folk traditions I'm in contact with are actually very open minded and will welcome you into their tradition - as long as you're willing to listen in (;)) and play by their rules; conversely, they'll be willing to let you present a few of your own tunes as well. If the musicians are good, they'll make something out of it in their own realm.

 

But that's sort of a different discussion. I just meant to help clearing up something that's been bothering me in the back of my head...

 

Edited by RAc
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