tips and tricks to playing along
There are many session you can go to, all over the country. Mostly you will find enthusiastic players who enjoy sharing their music and playing together. Instruments you commonly encounter at a session are: guitar, violin, percussion and flute/whistle. These musicians will all attend a Sunday (or any other day) session to play along with whatever comes along.
Harpists are harder to find at a session. Maybe it is because the instrument is too big, too expensive or maybe we harpists are just too used to playing on our own? If the last thing is what is keeping you from joining a session, here are a few tips to get over your fear of joining a session.
Find a session close to you.
This is of course problem number 1, if you don’t know where to start and don’t know any other musicians who go to Irish sessions.
A big source of inspiration of both tunes and sessions to join is thesession.org. This website is getting better known, which means the sessions on it are more up to date. There is a list with session all over the world.
Facebook can also be a good source of information. Try searching for groups on folk music.
Another source can be your local Irish pub.
Go and check out the session.
You could take your instrument, but it’s a good idea to just go and listen when you go for the first time. Do you like what you hear? Do they play any tunes you already know or recognize? What is the interaction among the musicians like? Is there a session leader?
In the last case: usually there will be one (or a few) people who lead the session and who keeps an eye out so everyone gets a chance to join in, or even starts a tune when no one else is willing to start.
It’s a good idea to have a chat with this person. Maybe they can tell you commonly played tunes or where to find session material (some sessions will have booklets or websites with their favourite tunes to give you an idea where to start).
You can maybe give them your email to keep updated about when a session will be on.
Prepare to play along.
Your best chance it to make it as easy as possible on yourself (but this doesn’t mean it isn’t a challenge!). In most cases you can forget about playing a tune: whistle and fiddle players will usually be able to play tunes much faster than harpists. But as a harpist you can always play a bass or chords.
Do realise that a session is not about who plays the nicest most complicated pieces or accompaniment. You are of course allowed to do this, but be sure you can keep the rhythm going and you don’t confuse the other players. Its’s about playing together, not about showing off.
Here are some tips to help you playing an accompaniment.
Make sure you know which levers you need to set on your harp when someone calls out the key. It’s also good to know which chords go best with the key you are in.
Commonly used keys are:
C- major (A,B and E levers up) – a-minor has the same levers
G – major (+F up) – e-minor has the same levers
D – major (+C up) – b-minor has the same levers
Practise the basic chords in the different keys. For a normal Irish tune you can get a long way by knowing the 1st, 4th and 5th chord in the key.
When a tune is in the key of G, you can play the G (g-b-d), C (c-e-g) and D (d –f sharp-a) chord as accompaniment.
While the melody is playing, very softly check these chords in your bass. You can do this by just playing the bass-note of the chord and listen to how it sounds with the melody. Luckily most tunes are played at least three times, so when you have an idea which chords to use you can play along with the righty hand.
Do remember: practise makes perfect. You will get better and faster at finding the chords when you do it more often.
A slow-session is a session in which the tempo of the played tunes is lower, and sometimes there will be some time to learn a tune together. There are some slow sessions available on the internet, so you can practise with there. For instance: http://slowplayers.org/about-slowplayers-org/
or organise your own slow session with musicians who would like to learn how to play in a session!
Do remember: most session enjoy having a harp along, especially if it’s not a common instrument for them. You might be asked to play a solo piece. If you don’t feel secure enough to do this, be open about it and tell them. You can also prepare one piece you feel good about to play as a solo piece. Of course it’s not done to only play solo pieces, but a solo piece now and again is a allowed.