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stevejay

Harmonizing At Sessions

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I guess the real question is why would there be noodles if one is having pasta and which pudding would go with it?

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A 5-string banjo started [snip]... I thought it was great, but had any of the "Irish purists" been there I think they would have been horrified.

I'm all for horrifying Irish purists with my 5-string banjo. Shocking the English purists with it is fun too. Because the instrument is so strongly associated with American bluegrass and old-time, some people assume it must be inappropriate for anything else. But back to the thread, the 5-string is actually quite good for playing with tunes you don't know (provided they are harmonically simple, as most folk tunes are). You can harmonise with sympathetic finger-picking around the chords where you can't pick out the tune, then drop melody phrases in where you can. I find it much harder to join in unknown tunes on the concertina.

 

One note of warning, though. Some accomplished players of guitar, bazouki, etc, give Irish sessions (and occasionally English ones) a really interesting flavour by using alternative chords. If there's one of these playing, everyone else should stick to the melody only - bashing out the usual 'obvious' chords or adding predictable harmony notes will clash horribly. If you don't know the tune, listen carefully to what is being done harmonically before you even pick up your instrument.

 

Ray

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I guess the real question is why would there be noodles if one is having pasta and which pudding would go with it?

Spotted Dick

Al

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I suppose it's not proper amazing unless you can play authentic ITM as played by Americans the world over. :P

I was just asking... but us yanks aren't the only ones playing Irish trad you know. I believe there's a few people in Ireland who are still into it. smiley16.gif

 

Interesting exchange!

 

Reminds me of an Internet acquaintance, an autoharper from the depths of Appalachia, who always got "ticked off" when people from the East Coast protested that what he and his friends were playing was not "correct" mountain music. "We're Appalachians, dammit, and what we play is Appalachian music!"

 

Point is, when you're in your own tradition, you are defining and redefining it all the time. The songs your mother sang to you were from that tradition, and the first traditional music you heard on radio was from your tradition. You picked it up, willy nilly, like your regional accent. When you later start singing or playing an instrument, you partly imitate what your elders are doing, but partly project your "accent" onto new tunes and songs, giving them a traditional colouring.

 

If you are not in your own tradition, the only way to go is to closely imitate those whose tradition it is. If you try to be creative, your native accent will show, and the music will take on a non-traditional colouring. So you've got to have rules to stick to.

 

Let me put it this way: YOUR traditional music is not traditional music - for YOU it's just music. Your tradition conditions you to play certain music in a certain way. That's all!

This is true of all "ethnic" music, I believe, not just Irish or Appalachian music. Some people form outside the tradition can reproduce this music extremely well. For me, the most jarring thing is to hear an Irish song sung with an English or American accent. Or in a sort of "stage Irish". But even in Germany, I've heard a local "ITM" singer whom I'd have taken for a Dublner, if I hadn't spoken to him afterwards. His German accent really showed when he spoke English, but not when he was singing. He had obviously learned his lyrics parrot-fashion from some Dublin singer, but he had done it incredibly well. I was impressed. I enjoyed his singing.

 

There are IMO two yardsticks in ethnic music: one for the "natives" and one for the "outsiders". I don't think that this is a problem, if you realise the difference.

 

Cheers,

John

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I guess the real question is why would there be noodles if one is having pasta and which pudding would go with it?

C'mon, Paul. Don't go gettin' all starchy on us.
:D

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A 5-string banjo started [snip]... I thought it was great, but had any of the "Irish purists" been there I think they would have been horrified.

I'm all for horrifying Irish purists with my 5-string banjo. Shocking the English purists with it is fun too. Because the instrument is so strongly associated with American bluegrass and old-time, some people assume it must be inappropriate for anything else. But back to the thread, the 5-string is actually quite good for playing with tunes you don't know (provided they are harmonically simple, as most folk tunes are). You can harmonise with sympathetic finger-picking around the chords where you can't pick out the tune, then drop melody phrases in where you can. I find it much harder to join in unknown tunes on the concertina.

 

One note of warning, though. Some accomplished players of guitar, bazouki, etc, give Irish sessions (and occasionally English ones) a really interesting flavour by using alternative chords. If there's one of these playing, everyone else should stick to the melody only - bashing out the usual 'obvious' chords or adding predictable harmony notes will clash horribly. If you don't know the tune, listen carefully to what is being done harmonically before you even pick up your instrument.

 

Ray

These alternative chords are OK added to single note playing, but in an English Session with most players playing chords the alternative chords will clash

and drive everyone crazy.

Al

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[Have you ever interviewed your session mates and received an honest assessment of you skills at picking tunes up on the fly in sessions?

Not "interviewed" them, no, but I think I'd soon realise if they didn't like what I was doing. I've had no complaints, and my contributions usually seem to be appreciated. Without wishing to appear boastful, I think I'm good enough, and experienced enough, to get away with it.

Sessions differ.

Session mates differ, and so do their preferences and tolerances.

 

I rather suspect that hjcjones' harmonizing wouldn't be as welcome in the session(s) Phantom Button attends as in his own local. ... But maybe also less unwelcome than Phantom Button expects?

 

Only one way to find out for sure. ... How soon can you guys arrange a visit? ;)

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Hi

perhaps 'sessions' should post 'rules of engagement' and include an 'acceptable' instruments list. Tho' considering how many bouzoukis appear in sessions it does make one wonder what is 'traditional' and when it becomes 'traditional'. Bouzoukis (greek)-less than 40 years, (Donal Luny and Andy Irvine have a lot to answer for). Given all the previous posts I'm surprised that sessions survive :huh: There is always the option of starting your own session if you don't like the current choices. But so much 'politics' :ph34r:

chris

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Nearly all the sessions I have attended in the UK most players are welcomed and the annoying players tolerated. A few will have a word with the offending musician, but generally not. New visiting musicians and beginners are encouraged. Only one session I attended was run by someone who dictated what should be played and gave rules, which I completely ignored and I have never been there again.

Al

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Nearly all the sessions I have attended in the UK most players are welcomed and the annoying players tolerated. A few will have a word with the offending musician, but generally not. New visiting musicians and beginners are encouraged. Only one session I attended was run by someone who dictated what should be played and gave rules, which I completely ignored and I have never been there again.

Al

 

I think I would be more likely to vamp the chords and put in occassional fills if I really couldn't play/keep with the exact melody than a full countermelody. I sort of put an appalachian kind of fiddle vamp even in Irish music, and I wonder if that's a problem for some as well. My rhythm is fine, I can play with my recordings at home and neither lag or push the melody, although pushing the melody (sooo.. slightly ahead as a soloist ahead of a rhythm section is not always bad it adds tension) This is something Bluegrass players might do to add drive, I'm not really sure. Pushing the beat may describe it.

 

I like playing along with my Toucan Pirates Cds, they are not too fast but lively enough, and the steel drum gives the whole thing a Irish/tropical feel.

Edited by stevejay

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perhaps 'sessions' should post 'rules of engagement' and include an 'acceptable' instruments list.

I tend to think that someone who needs posted rules because they are not sensitive enough to listen for a while and get the vibe of a session is probably not going to be controlled by said rules. As to a list of accceptable instruments, I think I'd rather have a list of unacceptable instruments, although off the top of my head the only instruments I would put on it are certain, shall we say, percussion instruments (you know who you are!).

 

I think it's worth repeating some wise words from Roger Digby (which I have copied from his excellent Faking It article at www.concertina.com). Although about chords rather than harmony I think they are relevant:-

 

The 'right' chords

I can't leave this topic without some thoughts on 'right' chords. I have already said that your ear is your guide, but it is easy to be mislead. There has, in my opinion, been a deliberate attempt by some music-publishers to impose unnecessarily complex chord patterns onto traditional tunes. Here's Jim Small's 'Shepton Mallet Hornpipe' as it appears in an EFDSS Country Dance Manual.

 

fig-12-W500H197.jpg

 

As far as I know Jim Small was the source for this cracking tune. Jim played harmonica in a superbly rhythmic style. A harmonica player's mouth covers about three holes of the instrument and the tongue is used to block out the two holes (invariably the two holes lower down) in order to play the tune. By moving the tongue on and off these holes the accompanying rhythm is created. Choosing a chord is impossible. There are the two holes available and that's it! Jim could not have played the chords printed. Have these have been added to make the tune 'more interesting' (!!) or as a sop to the omnipresent piano accordions with their 180 button basses?

 

I think these chords should be rejected as simply too contrived.

 

There are two statements that are held to be true by very highly respected experts on Traditional British Music.

 

  1. There are no sevenths in trad. music.
  2. There are only 2 chords in traditional tunes. (I and V in major keys; I and the V of its relative major in minor keys.)

I am not going to discuss this here, but it is a warning against piling on the chords just for their own sake. With traditional tunes - keep it simple.

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I've once heard you shouldn't really harmonize with tunes you don't really know because it's not session decorum..true to your knowledge? I can harmonize well, that's not the problem, I think some traditional players feel it's against some scripture they have hidden in an attic.. what do you think?

 

 

Ok I'm passing on 2 shillings handed to me at a celtic festival a couple years ago:

 

the Band was Lunasa, a women playing Bodhran with them (don't recall her name, but she wasn't with them last time I saw them play) said:

 

"harmony is what happens when somebody doesn't know how to play the tune..."

Edited by Hooves

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"harmony is what happens when somebody doesn't know how to play the tune..."

And here I thought that was why people played
chords
!
B)

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i hate it, but fans of "arranging" by irish "supergroups" think it is a sign of higher creativity and feel they too must do it to achieve true grooviness......

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What's interesting to me is that this thread is titled: "Harmonizing At Sessions, is it inappropriate?" He didn't say, "is it tolerated?" or "is it ok in English sessions?" or "are people who don't allow it elitists?" etc. But that seems to be the way it was responded to nonetheless.

 

  • [edited in] I didn't realize until now that there was such a thing as "English sessions." Is this the tradition to call them "sessions," or are they called that after Irish sessions?

 

I'm not Irish and I didn't grow up in Ireland but my understanding is based on my observations I made while visiting and playing in sessions there. When I answered the question I based it on that and not on any personal invented criteria. My conduct both at home and on visits to Ireland are influenced by what I've observed -- and I agree with it. I happen to think that it muddies up the music if people are "harmonizing" on tunes they don't know. According to my observations this is consistent with the opinions of most of the Irish players at sessions I've been to.

 

When I reread the premise at the start of the thread ("I think some traditional players feel it's against some scripture they have hidden in an attic.") I noticed the language seems to imply that any resistance to harmonizing on tunes you don't know is based on some sort of elitist dogma. I realize that sometimes the truth can be disappointing, but I was just trying to respond as honestly as I could to the query.

 

If you guys want to noodle at English sessions -- I won't mind. And if you want to have an Irish noodling session where harmonizing is the accepted and preferred MO -- I won't stop you or even tell you it's not a proper session. But when you visit someone else's session please be sure everyone's into the the whole harmonizing thing before you start going crazy. That's all I'm saying.

Edited by Phantom Button

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There are two statements that are held to be true by very highly respected experts on Traditional British Music.

 

  1. There are no sevenths in trad. music.
  2. There are only 2 chords in traditional tunes. (I and V in major keys; I and the V of its relative major in minor keys.)

I am not going to discuss this here, but it is a warning against piling on the chords just for their own sake. With traditional tunes - keep it simple.

As somebody that plays guitar chordal accompaniment along to various English traditional tunes I find that moving much beyond I, IV and V + relative minors rarely adds anything to the tune & I've been to some sessions where guitarists add lots of jazz chords to the mix which IMHO is not normally supportive of the music but rather detracts from & overpowers it. When I'm working out what chords to play I find myself asking "am I putting in this chord because it works for the tune - or am I just trying to be clever or show off?". Generally I find less is most definitely more.

 

As for the 7ths issue - I've heard this mentioned a few times but have never heard the argument why they should never be included & my instincts are generally to be very distrustful of any absolute rules. What's the reasoning behind this one?

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I didn't realize until now that there was such a thing as "English sessions." Is this the tradition to call them "sessions," or are they called that after Irish sessions?

I'm not sure what you think you mean :unsure: Apologies if what follows is overkill.

 

The phrase English session is not meant to mean Irish music played in England in sessions, but English music played anywhere in sessions. The English as a race are remarkably reticent about their traditional dance music - I cannot think of another European nation as bad in this respect except possibly for the Netherlands (the Germans and Austrians have sadly abandoned their own because of the Nazi associations forced upon it). However we do have a very rich musical tradition (or traditions) of disrtinctive music that has very different characteristic from Irish or French or Scandinavian or ...

 

English sessions, as you would expect, by and large have different characteristics from Irish sessions, among which appears to be a very different attitude to harmonising. In most English sessions it is positively welcomed. Earlier replies in this thread suggest that it is rather more contentious in Irish music.

 

It is worth pointing out that harmony is pretty fundamental to Scandinavian music, many tunes being published already arranged into 2 parts. About French music I cannot comment except to say I haven't heard much harmony in the French music sessions I have been to (mainly in Englsnd, but also a couple in a French speaking canton in Switzerland).

 

I've been to some sessions where guitarists add lots of jazz chords to the mix which IMHO is not normally supportive of the music but rather detracts from & overpowers it

Woody, I couldn't agree more. That's one of the reasons I chose that quote. harmony may be encouraged, but the harmoniser needs to be sensitive to thew music they are harmonising.

 

Chris

 

Chris

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