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Thread: "Noodling" at Sessions

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    Default "Noodling" at Sessions

    Recently, a divergent understanding emerged among the fellow learners who attend our learning/slow session regarding what "noodling" is, what this REALLY means.

    All were in agreement that "noodling" during a session was understood to be rude and to be avoided. I discovered, however, that many had different definitions of what "noodling" was, however. So, I wanted to put this question to the experienced hands here on the subject, so I can provide informed guidance.

    My Understanding:

    I have been told by a fiddler who taught my wife and I for a time that "noodling" at a session was trying to play along with the tune when you cannot play the tune all the way through at the tempo the group typically plays that tune. Basically, if you can't play the tune well enough that you could lead the tune, and you try to play along, you are "noodling". BAD!

    I have come to learn that some of the other learners in my group do NOT have that understanding of "noodling". Some others have learned that "noodling" is trying to figure out the tune from scratch, which is not ok at a normal session, but often ok at a learning session. But "playing along" when you kind of sort of "know" the tune is perfectly acceptable at "most" sessions.

    I was hoping for clarification on this point from advanced session goers so I can properly inform my fellow learners what the general consensus is (if there is one).

    Thanks!

    Phillip

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    Registered User Eric Platt's Avatar
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    Default Re: "Noodling" at Sessions

    Will leave other sessions to those specialists - but at American old-time, Nordic and French-Canadian sessions that I attend, noodling usually mean playing in between tunes when folks are talking or figuring out what to play next. And that is a no-no. Unless you're the person coming up with the next tune.

    Have heard both the other definitions, too. My own take is, especially at a beginner jam, if someone can lead the tune while others try to catch on, then it's just learning, not noodling.

    I'm horrible at noodling along trying to learn tunes at a jam. It still doesn't stop me. Unless others stop the jam and tell folks to stop doing it. At which point I would probably leave and not return.

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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: "Noodling" at Sessions

    I agree with Eric, however, to me the most annoying noodling occurs at a workshop and generally one in person (you would not hear the noodling on Zoom, assuming you were muted). That is when the teacher is trying to convey something and some of the attendees are practicing licks or phrases while he/she is talking. That is different to me than a session but there are some similarities. Maybe just the term “session” which to me is people playing tunes together rather than actually teaching or learning.
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    Default Re: "Noodling" at Sessions

    My interpretation of "noodling" is making any sounds other than what the leader / organizer has decided should be played. Might be a sign of boredom while waiting for a decision, or trying to figure out / recall the tune about to be played, or trying to impress the lady in the short skirt... Done loudly, it's obnoxious, discourteous, and distracting. Done quietly, it happens, and, assuming the purpose is valid, is more or less tolerated. Done very quietly, most won't even notice (banjos need not apply!).

    As someone who recently bit off the "2nd mandolin challenge'' in my mandolin orchestra (after 6 years on guitar), one statement really hits home:
    Quote Originally Posted by PhillipeTaylor View Post
    ... But "playing along" when you kind of sort of "know" the tune is perfectly acceptable at "most" sessions.
    Absorbing, kind of sort of, several dozen 2nd mando parts at once has been, yikes, a challenge! But I've been good at playing quietly when appropriate.
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    Registered User Bren's Avatar
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    Default Re: "Noodling" at Sessions

    I've been playing regularly at sessions around the world for 30 years or more and I don't think I've heard the term "noodling" used in real life.

    However, I've seen it used a lot on "the session.org"

    It mostly seems to refer to one or both of two things:
    People trying various note combos while trying to hit the tune.
    People formlessly improvising with a melody as if it were a set of chord changes for jamming.

    I have seen both of these but, in the order of annoyance where flute or whistle (or maybe pipes) noodling is worst, then the quiet and gentle mandolin is way down the pecking order of annoyance.

    Neither bother me too much and I'm occasionally guilty of noodling a bit trying to find my way in.

    Then again, as the Shetlanders say, "Dee yr practising at hame!"
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    Registered User foldedpath's Avatar
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    Default Re: "Noodling" at Sessions

    I'm not sure a consensus is possible because every session is different, but for what it's worth...

    In my part of the Pacific Northwest USA in Irish/Scottish sessions and workshops, I believe noodling usually refers to impatient playing between tunes without actually starting a new tune. Just random noises from people who can't keep their hands off their instruments.

    There are Irish/Scottish trad sessions where it's acceptable to find your way into a tune that you mostly know, but don't have completely under your fingers, so you just leave out the notes you don't know. This isn't noodling to my mind. My fiddler S.O. once had a private lesson with Kevin Burke, where on one tune they were working on he said "just play the notes you know."

    I will do this sometimes on tunes that I almost have under my fingers except for a few squirrely bits, but it requires enough knowledge of the tune to actually "ghost" the notes you know you don't know. Because the Golden Rule of Irish/Scottish sessions is to avoid distracting the people who *do* know the melody and are enjoying playing the tune together. Wrong notes are a no-no. But ghosting notes because you don't quite have that bit under your fingers isn't a distraction in a large enough group where others are covering the gap.

    This is somewhat different in the OldTime jams I've attended, where there are so many repetitions of a single tune that people are sometimes encouraged to "find their way" into the tune. That's a different culture than Irish/Scottish trad. It may be encouraged in Irish slow beginner sessions, but not at the higher-level Irish sessions. Nobody will think less of you if you sit out a tune you don't know.

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    Default Re: "Noodling" at Sessions

    There is nothing else to be said except that the size of the sessiun, makes a difference. If there are dozens of people playing, no one notices. But if there are only five players, then the one making 'noise' will be noticed.

    Same goes for the personalities involved. The insensitive and loud people are much more of a distraction.



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    Default Re: "Noodling" at Sessions

    I have always thought "noodling" referred to aimless messing around on the instrument. Something better done at home, regardless.
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    Registered User Sue Rieter's Avatar
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    Default Re: "Noodling" at Sessions

    Quote Originally Posted by PhillipeTaylor View Post
    I have been told by a fiddler who taught my wife and I for a time that "noodling" at a session was trying to play along with the tune when you cannot play the tune all the way through at the tempo the group typically plays that tune. Basically, if you can't play the tune well enough that you could lead the tune, and you try to play along, you are "noodling". BAD!
    If that's the case, then how do any new players ever get up the nerve to jump in with both feet?
    "To be obsessed with the destination is to remove the focus from where you are." Philip Toshio Sudo, Zen Guitar

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    Default Re: "Noodling" at Sessions

    I agree with Eric, to me, "noodling" means playing whenever you shoudn't be. As a gigging musician at the pro-am level, it's pretty much understood that a few notes between tunes are OK, but only when necessary. At the pro level, even that wouldn't be tolerated much.

    Regarding how well you play during a song, well, that's a matter for the session. If the session is all pro-level players, it'd be bad form to try to follow if you're not up to it. In a beginner session, it would be expected. But I wouldn't call it "noodling." I'd just call it "annoying."

    What I find is that in most cases, people who don't belong in a session usually figure that out before long. I've been in that position myself! Do your best, but if you don't belong, find one where you do.

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    Registered User foldedpath's Avatar
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    Default Re: "Noodling" at Sessions

    Quote Originally Posted by Sue Rieter View Post
    If that's the case, then how do any new players ever get up the nerve to jump in with both feet?
    If new players scope out the local session and figure out what tunes they're playing, either recording the tunes on their phone or looking up the closest version on thesession.org, they can practice the tunes at home until they're ready to join in.

    That's how it works in my area anyway. Once you know the tune and can play it, it's easy to jump in with both feet.

    One thing beginners to Irish/Scottish trad sessions who come from other traditions like OldTime or Bluegrass don't realize, is that it's perfectly okay to sit out a tune you don't know. You're not expected to play on every tune. Just play the ones you've learned and sit out the rest, it's okay.

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    Registered User Jill McAuley's Avatar
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    Default Re: "Noodling" at Sessions

    Quote Originally Posted by Sue Rieter View Post
    If that's the case, then how do any new players ever get up the nerve to jump in with both feet?

    Learning the tunes beforehand makes it way easier to jump in, 'twould be way less nerve racking than trying to keep up with other players if ye don't know the tune well yet. The website below is a great resource for learning a lot of common session tunes:

    https://irish.session.nz
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    Default Re: "Noodling" at Sessions

    Quote Originally Posted by Jill McAuley View Post
    Learning the tunes beforehand makes it way easier to jump in, 'twould be way less nerve racking than trying to keep up with other players if ye don't know the tune well yet. The website below is a great resource for learning a lot of common session tunes:

    https://irish.session.nz
    My maybe related question is - how does one learn what the proper sets should be for the tunes? At least around here, it sounds like the learner sessions are organized around sets, not just tunes.

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    Default Re: "Noodling" at Sessions

    75% of what Rick Wakeman plays on the keyboards is noodling.

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    Default Re: "Noodling" at Sessions

    Quote Originally Posted by Sue Rieter View Post
    If that's the case, then how do any new players ever get up the nerve to jump in with both feet?
    Great question. Even experts learn 'little by little' but they learn pretty quickly; because they have developed skills in recognizing patterns and in listening, and in 'handling the instrument'. There is another skill, mostly overlooked, and that is in learning how to play with other people. Find another person, or group of people who support the beginner's situation. And gradually gain the experience of the shared tempo, critical personalities, noise and distractions to ignore while playing.
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    Default Re: "Noodling" at Sessions

    Quote Originally Posted by Eric Platt View Post
    My maybe related question is - how does one learn what the proper sets should be for the tunes? At least around here, it sounds like the learner sessions are organized around sets, not just tunes.
    Yeah, that would be the norm for sessions. What sets are played would probably depend on the individual session in question. Experienced players who have a vast catalog of tunes underneath their fingers usually only need to hear a few notes of the next tune in a set to know what it is and keep playing. I think it's more common than folks think to be at a session and some of the players may pause for a couple of notes when the next tune in a set is played while they get their bearings as to what the tune is.
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    Default Re: "Noodling" at Sessions

    Quote Originally Posted by Sue Rieter View Post
    If that's the case, then how do any new players ever get up the nerve to jump in with both feet?
    Dunning-Kruger?

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    Default Re: "Noodling" at Sessions

    I had to look this one up.

    The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias whereby people with low ability at a task overestimate their ability. Some researchers also include in their definition the opposite effect for high performers: their tendency to underestimate their skills.


    This is a common issue in all folk music gatherings, and probably an annoyance for more experienced players to have the 'overestimating beginners' join in.

    Slow Sessiuns developed as a response.

    Sessiun Etiquette helps to get both sides to manage the situation.
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    Default Re: "Noodling" at Sessions

    Sounds like the opposite of “Imposter Syndrome”!

    As for the original subject, I suppose I’ve “noodled” at every session I’ve ever been to over the last few decades but never had any complaints. If I was expected to learn all those boring diddly tunes off pat, I would never have bothered going.

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    Default Re: "Noodling" at Sessions

    boring diddly tunes? I think someone is in the wrong forum...However the issue may be 'having to learn' the tunes before one attends a sessiun vs learning at the sessiun.

    Noodling during the time in order to 'work out the mechanics of playing along' is a way of learning. No doubt. But how one does this, and how it is dealt with, involves some respect for the people and the genre.


    Quote Originally Posted by Ray(T) View Post
    Sounds like the opposite of “Imposter Syndrome”!

    As for the original subject, I suppose I’ve “noodled” at every session I’ve ever been to over the last few decades but never had any complaints. If I was expected to learn all those boring diddly tunes off pat, I would never have bothered going.
    Last edited by DougC; May-08-2022 at 12:19pm. Reason: Dunning–Kruger indeed
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    Default Re: "Noodling" at Sessions

    Everyone’s different, and everyone’s welcome -as long as they adhere to whatever is the agreed general consensus… whatever that is (!)
    One problem is that as soon as everyone’s comfortable then it’s: what-do-we-not-like time.

    Noodling to me is a sort of loose improv. It can be annoying because there’s often more than three people at a session and the result can be an acoustic muddy mess.

    On the other hand I think it’s fine, at least with a mandolin to play the roots and fifths as the tune cycles through the different chord progressions.
    In this way you can get an idea of the important parts, and tidy it up the second or third time around.
    -but it depends.

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    Default Re: "Noodling" at Sessions

    Quote Originally Posted by Simon DS View Post
    On the other hand I think it’s fine, at least with a mandolin to play the roots and fifths as the tune cycles through the different chord progressions.
    In this way you can get an idea of the important parts, and tidy it up the second or third time around.
    -but it depends.
    At the risk of sounding like the Trad Police here, I think a problem with that idea is that the mandolin sits in exactly the same pitch range for tunes as the other traditional Irish melody instruments like fiddles, flutes, and free reeds. Any single note you play that isn't part of the actual melody line will sound like an attempt at harmonizing if it works, or a distraction if it clashes against the tune's melody. Roots and fifths are not guaranteed to keep you out of trouble.

    There is a little more room to make a poor choice of chords on guitar, bouzouki or OM because they're pitched below the melody line.

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    working musician Jim Bevan's Avatar
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    Default Re: "Noodling" at Sessions

    Quote Originally Posted by Mainer73 View Post
    Dunning-Kruger?
    Quote Originally Posted by DougC View Post
    I had to look this one up.
    I was assuming that Dunning-Kruger was a brand of beer that I was not yet acquainted with.

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    Default Re: "Noodling" at Sessions

    Quote Originally Posted by foldedpath View Post
    At the risk of sounding like the Trad Police here, I think a problem with that idea is that the mandolin sits in exactly the same pitch range for tunes as the other traditional Irish melody instruments
    -the humble piano accordion with wet tuning has a very wide range, and even chords, sevenths too, on the left side. You could try some canny improv at your local Irish Trad Session.
    The trombone too, when played with enthusiasm, is surprisingly versatile.

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    Registered User DougC's Avatar
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    Default Re: "Noodling" at Sessions

    I think if you noodled on a trombone I would go screaming out the door like a mad man. Another Guinness please, please!
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