Thinking of joining the musicians at one of our sessions? Here are some helpful tips to get you started.
Do you dream of playing in an Irish session? Maybe you went to Ireland and spent some happy evenings sipping a pint and listening to a gathering of musicians playing rollicking tunes. Or maybe you’ve watched YouTube videos filmed at sessions. Or you may have caught your excitement for Irish music after hearing Craobh Dugan perform at a local festival. Either way, it sure looks like fun. So how do you get involved in one of our local sessions if you’ve never played in one before?
The first thing you’d need to do is choose your instrument. If you already have experience playing flute, guitar, or violin from your school days, you have a leg up. These are also instruments accepted at a session, though the style of playing them is different from bands or orchestras. Irish music is known for adopting instruments from many cultures, but there are some that would be frowned upon if they showed up at a session. You wouldn’t want to bring your saxophone, clarinet, trumpet, or trombone.
Generally, the instruments associated with Irish music are:
Of course, you’ll need to get familiar with your instrument by practicing at home at first. If you’re starting from scratch with a new instrument, there are lots of free videos on YouTube where you can learn the basics and get started with a few Irish tunes. Several people offer online courses for a fee. One of the best of these is The Online Academy of Irish Music where some of the best-known traditional musicians teach.
When you’re ready to build your repertoire for playing locally, check out our Tune Book. It’s 180 pages long, but you don’t have to learn them all at once. To get you started, here are a few sets we often play:
Once you can play through a tune, practice it with a recording of a group of musicians. If you’re only used to playing it alone, the first time you play it with a group at a session, you can really get thrown off. You can find recordings on YouTube or CDs, but better yet, you can visit one or more of our sessions and make your own recordings. We’ll be happy to share the titles with you.
We have two musician practice sessions each month at members’ homes, where you can get used to playing with others in a safe, welcoming environment without an audience. For this, you’ll need to officially join Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann by paying the annual dues, but that’s very inexpensive and you get lots of other perks for it too. You can find out all about that on our Membership Page.
A Few Tips for Your First Session
When you come out to a session it’s good to know that each set is made up of three tunes and each tune is played three times before going on to the next tune. If you’re just starting out and only know one or two of the tunes in a set, it’s OK to play along with just the one you know and listen to the rest.
If your chosen instrument is a bodhrán, the rule is “one at a time.” Bodhrán players take turns because everyone plays a little differently, and more than one going at once can throw the other musicians out of sync. Someone could join a bodhrán with spoons or bones, but only one of those should be playing at a time too.
Also, before you spend time memorizing “When Irish Eyes are Smiling” it helps to know that older, more traditional songs are favored. If you can sing a sean-nós song in the Irish language, you’ll be a rare treasure, but there are many traditional songs in English too. The Session is a good resource for finding songs to learn and recommendations of recordings to learn them from.
Remember, you don’t have to learn everything at once. Part of the fun is enjoying the journey of learning with friends. So come out to a session, even just to listen at first. Feel free to ask questions. We love to share what we know about Irish music.
We’re looking forward to seeing you at a session soon. We have two every month, one at Nail Creek Pub in Utica every first Tuesday and the other at Stockdale's Bar and Grill in Oriskany every third Tuesday. (We recommend you double check on our calendar page in case anything has changed.)