Session Ettiquette

Some years back I was asked to write a short article for a publication from the International Concertina Association in response to the question: What are the “unwritten rules” that if followed would prevent a session virgin making a complete t*t of themselves! This is what I came up with …

Well, rule 1 when going into a new session for the first time is simply to lie low for a bit and listen to what’s going on: what sort of music is being played, how many times through people play things, if there’s any order to what is going on, that sort of thing. Only then should you try leading anything. Sessions of any kind of music are all about listening, I can’t stress that highly enough. It sounds paradoxical, but there it is. How can you play with other people unless you are listening to them?

Rules 2 and 3 are the same as rule 1.

The key to sessions is that they are co-operative ventures, and people who want to be superstars and the centre of attention merely spoil it for everyone else.

At our home session in Bradford on Avon there a number of unwritten rules as follows:-

– Tunes from anywhere in the world that isn’t green on the map. Thanks to the late Mick Brooks for that one. We call it an English session but that’s a pretty flexible term.

– No bodhrans.

– Tunes get played at least three times through to give people a chance to learn them (my motto: if a tune’s worth playing it’s worth playing LOTS).

– The speed that someone starts a tune is always maintained even if you think they are wrong. It is the height of discourtesy in a session to try and speed someone up (or even slow them down). The most that’s allowed is muttering darkly in your beard after the tune has finished.

– No bodhrans

– If you start a tune and no one joins in, that usually means we don’t know it but we’re listening to it, so don’t stop. We can’t learn it otherwise.

– We prefer G or D plus related minors, but aren’t too religious about it. Just don’t expect the melodeon players to join in your Bb opus.

– No bodhrans