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Harmonizing At Sessions


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My education is sadly lacking, I'd never heard of "session beers" before, despite the fact I was born in the brewing capital of Britain!

 

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I think, maybe, it's time for Samantha to give us an update on the score. :unsure:

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My education is sadly lacking, I'd never heard of "session beers" before, despite the fact I was born in the brewing capital of Britain!

 

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I think, maybe, it's time for Samantha to give us an update on the score. :unsure:

Score? We're playing from a score? I thought we were improvising! :o

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Also, my question about English sessions wasn't really answered. I was wondering if they called them "sessions" before the term "session" was coined by the Irish to describe their musical get-togethers.

Ummm, I guess that begs the question: Did the Irish coin the term "session", and when? ponder2.gif

 

When I started going to sessions around 1970, the term was already in general use for any kind of musical get-together...

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My education is sadly lacking, I'd never heard of "session beers" before, despite the fact I was born in the brewing capital of Britain!

 

  • IMGP0031.JPG

I think, maybe, it's time for Samantha to give us an update on the score. :unsure:

Ah, but that's not from Burton-on-Trent! ;)

 

In fact it's from Oregon, where strangely enough (along with Washington & Idaho) I'm going to be the week after next... I see it won the World's Best Premium Lager 2007, so I guess I'll have to try some, but I'd probably be more into the Full Sail IPA from the same brewery. :unsure:

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Excuse me if "traditional British tunes" means something mroe restrictive than I'm used to with Irish, Scots, and early AMerican music, but I think that all 6 diatonic chords are fair game.

Well, your mileage may vary, as I believe you say over there. I only ever pontificate about English (not "British") music because that's the only one I play a lot, but I don't think the hairier chords work with English music, which is a pretty four-square straight-down-the-line rumpty-tumpty tradition.

 

Chris

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When I started going to sessions around 1970, the term was already in general use for any kind of musical get-together...

So, just to be clear... it wasn't specific to Irish music?

That's right, as far as I can recall...

 

 

That's my recollection, too, going back to a similar date, although at that time I was more into song sessions.

 

Oh dear, that's another can of worms opened...

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Excuse me if "traditional British tunes" means something mroe restrictive than I'm used to with Irish, Scots, and early AMerican music, but I think that all 6 diatonic chords are fair game.

Well, your mileage may vary, as I believe you say over there. I only ever pontificate about English (not "British") music because that's the only one I play a lot, but I don't think the hairier chords work with English music, which is a pretty four-square straight-down-the-line rumpty-tumpty tradition.

 

Chris

 

What exactly is the point of the chords then, if they just tell the listener what they already know (i.e. what's utterly obvious)?

 

Similarly, what exactly is the point of emphasising the most obvious rhythms, if they just tell the listener what they already know?

 

Why play "dance music" in the way you would when playing for dancing when people are listening - seems as silly to me as playing "listening music" for dancing!

 

The argument seems to be that certain things in whatever music (melody, rhythm, whatever) are "sacred" and must not be disturbed by anything else - I think this is a silly approach to music. Music is about expression, and whatever the music style there are all sorts of tools to exercise it - why cut out most of those tools to fulfil some (probably misplaced) idea of tradition?

 

The bottom line is to use taste and tact and diplomacy and observation whenever you play, and know that there's a balance between what you play, what you hear, and what everybody else hears. You won't play the same in one session as another, or in one set of tunes as another, because all the time you're trying to reach that balance. In a good session there are no rules (except taste, tact, diplomacy and observation of course!), but there's no need for them so it's not an issue.

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Why play "dance music" in the way you would when playing for dancing when people are listening - seems as silly to me as playing "listening music" for dancing!

Most of what you say, Danny, I do agree with, and if you read what I say I was not suggesting that anything was sacred. Playing dance music is an empirical art, I play what I think works, which is not so far from what you are saying. However on one point, that quoted above, I think you have misunderstood. This is not a discussion about playing dance music for listening - that is what concert bands do, and good luck to them - or about playing dance music for dance but playing dance music in sessions for our own mutual pleasure, very different again. You need consideration for your fellow players and to leave space for them. Weird chords may sound wonderful in isolation on a concert platform (what works, what works) but will probably just get in the way in a session.

 

Chris

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I always "hear" the chords to a tune but I'm aware that not everybody does. Must be like being colour-blind.

 

As for Irish Traditional Music, to me there seems to be a lot of potential harmony built into O'Carolan tunes, which of course was written for the harp. Is it just the tune written for the fiddle that tend to lack it?

 

I have been told (not that I have pesonal experience) that the Ullien pipes, D/G melodian and bodhran all post-date the concertina as traditional instruments for Irish music sessions, as opposed to performances, the last two not really putting in a regular appearance until the 1950s.

 

Robin Madge

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As for Irish Traditional Music, to me there seems to be a lot of potential harmony built into O'Carolan tunes, which of course was written for the harp. Is it just the tune written for the fiddle that tend to lack it?

 

I don't think fiddle tunes lack 'potential' harmony. It's just that the Irish musical tradition, for whatever reason, just doesn't seem to give it much importance. They seem to prefer melodic embellishment and decoration instead. After all, they took the Anglo Concertina, which is ideal for playing chords and harmonies, and play it in a way which uses neither.

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Often when I'm describing what a session is to people who aren't familiar with ITM they will say, "You mean jam session?" and I have to explain that no one's really "jamming" and we all know the tunes we're playing. We've also dealt with improvising fluters and such who after having us ask them to please stop they say, "But I thought this was supposed to be a "jam session!"

 

Hi, Phantom Button,

 

Now you've gone and opened the linguistic can of worms, as if the musical worms weren't enough! :P

 

Speaking from a location outside the English-speaking world, from which I come but in which I have not lived for many moons, it seems to me that some Americans (specifically, the Americans I got to know on an autoharp list) talk about a "jam" when Brits or Irish would talk about a "session". The first such term I encountered was the jazzmen's "jam session", so I assumed that "jam" and "session" were the US and UK abbreviations, respectively, for use in non-jazz contexts.

 

What worries me is your mention of "knowing the tunes we're playing".

Surely there's no point in trying to play a tune you don't know with other people (whether the other people know it or not). Doesn't the definition of a "session" or a "jam" or even a "jam session" imply that the people involved have a lot of songs and tunes in common, but do not play together regularly? So they don't have fixed arrangements, like a group has, so they jam - i.e. improvise the interplay of the instruments and voices.

 

But then again, it depends on what you mean by "knowing" the tunes. I may be very familiar with the tune of a reel but never have played guitar chords to it - so I have to jam. Or I may know the tune and all the chords to a song but never played it solo on my concertina - so I have to jam. Or I may know a piece inside out from playing it with my group, and still have to jam it when playing with a different group. So session playing, for me, inevitably involves jamming at some level. Of course, if your session is populated by fiddlers, fluters, whistlers and melodic concertinists playing jigs and reels, the jamming element is minimal. If they know the tune they play it - that's it!

 

Having said that: one of the few sessions I've attended was in England, while I was visiting an Anglo-American couple near Oxford - he a melodion player, she an autoharper (who called the event a "jam"). I decided to play my 5-string banjo that evening, and was soon plunking along merrily. The tunes were mostly English. My melodionist friend turned to me after a while and remarked that I knew quite a lot of the tunes. I had to admit that I didn't know a single one of them ;)

 

So probably the question of improvising is closely tied to the question of whether harmonies are permissible. For me, playing a melody cleanly at speed requires prior knowledge and practice. I can work up a second line to a song tune reasonably quickly, but I can play chords more or less ad hoc, provided I'm in a genre that I'm familiar with.

I detest those sessions that are one dance tune after another. I have no chance of following the melodies, and the chord sequences are usually pretty dull. That's when I wish I had a bodhran ...

 

Songs are much more interesting, and give a lot more scope for improvisation.

 

Cheers,

John

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As regarding the beer reference, around the Pacific Northwest, when we call a brewing session, we have three or more amateur or professional brewers combine their skills to make a brew, usually unique to that one event.

The example that Phantom Button provided is just one of many spectacular beers that the guys at Full Sail put out.

I don't know what they listen to whilst brewing, but whatever it is let's not stop 'em now!

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The example that Phantom Button provided is just one of many spectacular beers that the guys at Full Sail put out.

Robert,

 

I'll be going to a couple of performances at the Moisture Festival in Seattle, and hope to see some of the Oregon coast too (I'm told it's worth a look!), in early April, so I'll have to try a Full Sail "tasting session" - I hope it'll be harmonious!

 

It'll be my first experience of the Pacific Northwest.

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As some people said, I guess it's all about respecting the overall "feel" of the session you are joining. I personally love melody, and don't enjoy listening or playing music where melody is 'weakened' by non melody elements. I love to have a guitar, but when it gets beyond that, I lose interest. I also sit down and practice tunes. Sometimes I will practice tunes for a few months before I play them at a session. When I don't know a tune, I leave my instrument on the table and listen.

 

So yeah I'm one of those who will find noodling and harmonies distasteful (with expections of course) and I will take it as a lack of sensitivity. It's not because I read some piece of paper with rules on it. It's just the way I see it, and I'm trying to play with likewise people.

 

The thing I can't stand is someone who comes in with a "jam" state of mind in a session without even checking if it's appropriate first. But then, there's always people who will smoke in your face without trying to spare you from the smoke, or people who will interrupt your conversation with someone without apologizing first, etc. There's people who will travel to a new country without reading about the local customs there so that you don't end being perceived as 'rude' or else. It's a matter of personality I guess. I'm just puzzled at why some people simply don't get there's some session 'etiquette' and thinks it's simply a 'snubby' thing.

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