Session FAQ

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Information for musicians

What is an Irish Traditional Music Session?

‘Irish traditional music’ is a term describing the folk music of Ireland.  A session is a group of Irish players coming together to play tunes in a pub. There are often 3 players leading the session.  They’re in charge, and get paid to be there by the pub. Everyone else is there to play music, or listen.

Can anyone join in?

Most sessions are open to other players joining in, as long as they are playing traditional Irish music. These means that they will have learnt to play specific tunes from the Irish repertoire. Although it can look like an open jam session to an outsider, the music is highly structured, and ‘jamming along’ or ‘noodling’ is unacceptable.

Irish music is very intricate and subtle, and one player who doesn’t understand the music can ruin it for everyone else. These rules apply equally to professional musicians, improvisors and classical musicians.

How can I learn Irish music?

It’s an aural tradition, so it’s about coming to the session to listen, and then practising at home. There’s thousands of different tunes, but every group will have their favourites, which will crop up every week. So find a session you like, and record some of the tunes on your phone. See if you can work out how to play them at home, perhaps with the help of an app that slows the audio down, or maybe with a teacher. If you like the sound of a particular tune, you could also ask one of the players what it’s called, and look it up on youtube later.

It’s a good idea to introduce yourself at a session and explain your situation – the players will become your guides.

What are the session rules?

All sessions are different, and have their own ability level and feel. Some are serious affairs for advanced players, some are fun, with a mix of abilities, and some are ‘slow sessions’ for beginners. Each session also has its own unwritten rules. For example, some don’t like more than one guitar playing at the same time, and other sessions will discourage beginner Bodhran (irish drum) players etc.

Where do I start?

To assess what sort of session it is, take a seat outside of the circle and just listen and observe. Then talk to some of the players who seem to know what they’re doing. Established groups may be a bit cautious of new faces, because unfortunately some people do turn up and unwittingly ruin sessions. Show that you are considerate and respectful, and you will be welcomed. If you play a tune and no-one joins in, you’re probably doing something wrong.

What instrument are suitable for Irish music?

Common session instruments are the fiddle (violin), wooden flute, concertina, accordion, whistle, uilleann (pronounced ‘illin’) pipes, guitar, bouzouki, harp and piano.


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