We believe that Irish traditional music played in a session can be a fantastic musical and social experience. We think that when there’s a very strong focus on traditional melody instruments playing traditional tunes we set the scene for great sessions.

Getting a great session humming requires some attention to certain ground rules.

Strong melody players need to sit close together

During the session it’s important for strong melody players to sit close together so that they can hear each other playing. This creates an engine which drives the pulse of the tune – the quality which makes Irish traditional music so distinctive. If you’re taking up a seat at the session and not playing, or the melody players are too spread out, it’s good etiquette to offer to either move or give up your seat to allow strong players to sit together. If in doubt, ask! Getting everyone sitting in the right place to create the best sound is everyone’s responsibility.

Accompaniment is limited

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. Because the melody is where the pulse and rhythm comes from there’s much less need for “accompaniment” than happens in other types of music. Too much (or the ‘wrong’) accompaniment changes the whole character of the tune for the worse. 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. Here are some guidelines to avoid problems:

  • When there are multiples of these instruments their volume can drown out the melody instruments and the music suffers. We think that a good rule of thumb is no more than one guitar/bouzouki and no more than one bodhran playing at any one time.

  • During the session, don’t take offence if you are asked to play more quietly/stop playing an accompanying instrument. This is because Irish traditional music is melodic and we love the tunes and need to hear them, to make a great session……

  • Sometimes people playing accompaniment see it as a shortcut into the joy and excitement of playing this music in a group, but playing accompaniment in a way that fits Irish traditional music requires practice. This is especially true since rhythm instruments can quickly overpower the feel of the melody. We think that it’s important to spend lots of time listening to Irish traditional music, both live and when you’re at home. That way you can get to know the tunes and the style really well before thinking about accompanying the music in a session.

  • We think that a number of instruments simply aren’t appropriate at our session. In particular, loud, dominant instruments such as the bass and large drums.