InishTrad is a community based music project in Inishowen Ireland that provides adult, beginner/intermediate Irish traditional musicians with an opportunity to play together and practice new tunes in a welcoming environment.
InishTrad hosts a regular Sunday evening session at the Excelsior Bar in Buncrana. Regular participants bear accordions, guitars, banjos, fiddles, whistles and occasionally mandolin. The repertoire has expanded to over thirty tunes played on a regular basis. A couple of new tunes are added each month, presented as sheet music and recordings on their site.
Upon reading Inish Trad’s Session Guidelines I realized that they were worth sharing. I particularly like the statements "we are never in a hurry", "a good listener makes a good player", "if the music sounds too fast it probably is, if it sounds too slow it is probably just right" and "listen carefully to the other musicians and be aware of how your playing is adhering to (or not adhering to) the set tempo".
While these guidelines apply only to the culture of the InishTrad session, there’s a lot of helpful info within and I might steal some of this language for myself!
InishTrad Session Guidelines
As the attendance has increased at InishTrad’s Sunday Slow Session we thought it would be useful to set some guidelines to help any musicians joining us on a Sunday. These guidelines have been put together for all of our benefit.
First, we all approach the music in a relaxed and comfortable manner. As the main focus is to learn to play tunes with appropriate and musical style we are never in a hurry. If you find that you are in a hurry to play, well…take a breath, lean back and enjoy all that is happening around you.
A calm, focused approach is best to learning traditional music, and a good listener makes a good player. If you are not sure of the tunes or your ability, try to listen more than play in the beginning. As you become more proficient and confident join in more.
We have a specific list of tunes that we are currently working on, and while we MAY entertain the recommendation of a new tune, the chances are that we will want to work on the InishTrad tune list carefully selected from those recommended by our workshop mentors, so don’t be disappointed. We make an effort to play each tune in a set at least 3 times or more before moving on to another tune.
It is really easy to ruin a session by insensitivity to what is going on around you. If you play too loud, fast or in the wrong key you will stick out like a sore thumb, be aware! Listen for key changes, tune changes and tempo changes.
If the music sounds too fast it probably is, if it sounds too slow it is probably just right. If you can’t hear all the other instruments you’re probably playing to loud, if you can’t hear your own instrument you’re probably playing too low.
A slow play session is a session that plays the tune at about half speed or less. As we learn the tune the pace will often progress to three/quarter speed. The overall goal of the session is to provide a supportive and friendly environment for the practice and playing of tunes in the traditional Irish style.
The tempo for a tune (or set of tunes) is set by the musician who leads the tune. Do not speed up a tune beyond the set tempo. This is easy to do, especially if there are a large number of players present and the group is spread out, so listen carefully to the other musicians and be aware of how your playing is adhering to (or not adhering to) the set tempo.
If you find the tempo set for a tune too fast for you to maintain, stop playing and listen. When the tune or set is finished, you are welcome to ask that the tune be played again more slowly, and the group will be glad to oblige you by starting again at about ¾ speed.
Remember that it’s better to play a tune slowly and well than quickly and badly.
We want to encourage each other in the playing of this music. We especially ask that all musicians be respectful and helpful to each other (this doesn’t count “slagging”) regardless of playing ability. If someone is singing or playing, please be quiet. Everyone is making a contribution to the session, for which we’re happy. Be generous with your help and encouragement. We believe that every musician can learn something from another musician.
Enjoy yourself but please be considerate of your session mates. This is the most important point of all. We’re here to enjoy our music, and to build musical friendships that will last for years.