Guidelines for the Slow Session

The Wellington Slow Session is an Irish traditional music session designed to give musicians an opportunity to play session tunes at a pace much slower than in a “regular session”. We play a mix of old favourites and some of the tunes we’ve learnt over the years.

We don’t teach tunes during the session, but rather provide tools on this website to help players learn the tunes – see our notes on Learning by Ear. This music is part of an oral tradition and it’s very hard to write down the nuances of the style – you need to listen to this music get the subtle details.

We recognize that some of you will feel more comfortable reading from the dots. Some people like to use phones or computer tablets during the slow session to read the music and we think that’s a reasonable crutch during the early stages.

The melody is key in Irish traditional music and is typically played on instruments like flute, tin whistle, banjo, concertina, button or piano accordion, mandolin, fiddle, harp, uilleann pipes. Any backing (accompaniment by guitar, bouzouki, bodhran) is there to support the melody players, not to set the tempo. Folks that want to play backing in a session need to learn the specific tunes, and practice with recordings just like melody players. A vital element in session play is listening, so very loud instruments will need to be played quietly, particularly when not playing melody.

In a session, someone will start a set of tunes. The tempo and selection of tunes is determined by the person who starts the set, and everyone must follow their lead. It is considered bad form to alter the tempo, or start playing another tune at the end of someone’s set.

If you’re curious about this music we’d love to have come and listen and once you have some tunes under your belt come and try them out.

A word about Accompaniment

There can be a tendency to confuse our kind of session with a “jam”, where “anything goes and nothing matters”, but there are some important differences. We think that as the melody in Irish traditional music is where the pulse and rhythm comes from there’s much less need for “accompaniment” than happens in other types of music. For that reason we want to ensure the balance doesn’t tip towards accompaniment over tune-playing.

It’s not unusual to see guitars, bouzoukis and bodhrans at Irish sessions and while these can enhance the session if they’re in sympathetic hands there are a number of issues. We’ve got some notes about Accompaniment in the Irish Session that you might find useful.