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Thread: How does it work when people are playing together?

  1. #1
    Registered User Sue Rieter's Avatar
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    Default How does it work when people are playing together?

    Here's a newbie-ish question that came up in my mind whilst reading the "noodling" thread in the Celtic, U.K., Nordic, Quebecois, European Folk area.

    My understanding of the Old Time tradition is that when people get together to play, they are all playing the melody part together in unison and all playing backup together during the singing parts, and that it alternates. A person who doesn't know the tune fully might strum the chords along the whole time. (This is about how we did it in the practice sessions in Matt Flinner's recent OT101 class).

    My question is about different versions of the same tune. For example, Matt taught us the song "Mole in the Ground", which I've been playing alot lately. Recently I got a new music book, "Old-Time Festival Tunes for Fiddle & Mandolin" by Dan Levenson. (I know, I said elsewhere that I was trying to stay away from printed material and learn by ear (and that remains true), but MBAS is cheaper than MAS and just as real )

    Anyway, Dan has another version of "Mole in the Ground" in his book the melody part of which is similar but different, and even his chords are slightly different, though both versions are in D. He's got some extra G chords in there, while Matt's version is all D and A.

    To make a short story long, in a group, would everyone need to be playing the same version (assuming the same key, of course), or can there be variation in what different people are playing? Could one person be playing Matt's version while another played Dan's, or does everyone need to be on the same page? What about chords?
    Last edited by Sue Rieter; Jun-01-2022 at 9:11am.
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    Default Re: How does it work when people are playing together?

    I would imagine that everyone needs to be on the same page!

    Sometimes different arrangements use "enharmonic" chords, and these often work when both are played together. (An example of enharmonic chords is C and Am7. The main difference is what note the bass is playing. And yes, the Am plays the 6 in the C, so it's really C6, but for many music styles that doesn't matter.) That would work for casual music styles like rock, folk, and blues, and often in bluegrass. In more formal traditions it would probably be frowned upon.

    If the chords aren't enharmonic, then it would be an accidental exercise in "free jazz." To put it politely.

    If the melodies differ, or timing differs, then results would be less likely to work. I happen to like hearing this kind of mixing, but I doubt it would be appropriate in a 'sessiun'.

    This comes up a lot in blues jams, because many blues songs have several popular but different versions. The general rule is, "play whatever you want, just make it sound good." (Frankly, some players ignore the latter part of that, and train wrecks are not uncommon.) Most players are familiar with several versions and will just go with the flow. Sometimes it's an ad-hoc democracy as the tune plays. Generally, the bass player rules! The higher the level of musicianship on stage, the more flexibility everyone has. And sometimes it falls back to someone using hand signals to indicate the chords. (That's easier for vocalists and keyboard players, who can get a hand free!) Similar things apply at jazz jams, but in my limited experience (as not really a jazz player), the level of musicianship is considerably higher, and sometimes it seems that the players communicate via ESP.

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    Registered User grassrootphilosopher's Avatar
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    Default Re: How does it work when people are playing together?

    Your post concerns many questions, and very interesting and important ones for that matter.

    I´ll take your last paragraph as the question. My answer is: Yes, assuming the same key and the same chords, chord changes in the same place and the same rythm and the same speed different musicians in a group (jam session) could play different versions of the tune. That makes it that they play different melodies. But that is the case with when someone improvises anyhow.

    If people play in the same key yet would like to incorporate different chords, you might come up with cacophony. It gets worse, when different musicians have a different idea of the rythm. I had that happen to me once and it was an eye opener. I tried to build up a project with a pro musician (guitar player). He came from folk and classical music and taught guitar (being very good at the latter). We played "Red Haired Boy" togehter (same chords, same speed). You might think that it should have soundet good but it sounded awful (to me). The problem was the rythm. Whereas he gave the tune some "swing" I played it with a straight rythm. That just didn´t gel. I could have put some "swing" to it but to me it wouldn´t have felt right... Discussion was fruitless.

    What you have to do is listen, listen, listen. You have to listen to yourself play and you have to listen to others. While listening and playing with others you will be able (over time) to hear the nuances and you will learn to be able to sound good playing with others and if you´re good you can make others sound good also. That´s the goal in the end. Make everybody (not only yourself) sound good.
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    Registered User Simon DS's Avatar
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    Default Re: How does it work when people are playing together?

    Thanks for the heads up Sue!
    I’ll take the first paragraph. It’s about the ‘Celtic Area’

    Please be aware that the forum section that includes ‘Celtic’ also includes ‘European Folk’, so someone reading a thread about sessions in this section would naturally think of rules of etiquette at ITM sessions or sessions in Ireland.

    Well what if you go to sessions in Hungary, Greece or Finland? Or even Turkey?
    What if having bottles thrown at you after you have played a 30 minute set is a mark of respect? Or smashing glasses everywhere?
    People can say, ‘no it isn’t!’ -but they have to specify WHERE it isn’t, or specify other conditions.

    -it could be seen to be a lack of respect to include European Folk and then act as though it’s all the same.

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    Registered User Sue Rieter's Avatar
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    Default Re: How does it work when people are playing together?

    My apologies, and point taken. No disrespect intended. I was abbreviating. I've edited the OP appropriately.
    "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: How does it work when people are playing together?

    Thanks Sue (I’m not like that)

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    Registered User Sue Rieter's Avatar
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    Default Re: How does it work when people are playing together?

    Quote Originally Posted by Simon DS View Post
    Thanks Sue (I’m not like that)
    Sure. But thanks for mentioning it.

    In the last few years, I've been lead to understand more and more that how one says something is often as important as what one says. Even more so online in an international community.
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    Default Re: How does it work when people are playing together?

    Quote Originally Posted by Sue Rieter View Post
    Sure. But thanks for mentioning it.

    In the last few years, I've been lead to understand more and more that how one says something is often as important as what one says. Even more so online in an international community.
    That’s all the more relevant when contrasting something written vs. the identical words spoken. Many an online misunderstanding or war of words would have been avoided had tone of voice been possible in the posted text.

    Back on topic, jams are most successful and fulfilling when the players are adaptable and amenable to changing. I get emotional heartburn when something like Bob Seger’s Turn the Page gets all bluegrasses up or Janis Joplin’s/Big Mama Thornton’s Piece of My Heart is played perky! It’s painful to me to play them that way but it’s a jam and I’m not in charge so I go along for the ride. I expect everyone to play together with similar, or at least compatible, feel though as grassrootphilosopher noted, with some folks “Discussion was fruitless.” At my age I’ve experienced many 5-minute intervals in life that were seriously worse than a song I like played in a style I dislike.
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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: How does it work when people are playing together?

    To answer specifically, my experience is that usually everyone in the jam is playing the same version, and I usually try to go with the version being played. Then after its done, I might offer another version or say something like "back home we play it like this" type of thing.

    I personally make only two exceptions -

    Soldiers Joy which there are 32546321 versions, and they all pretty much fit together so if its not obtrusive I will play it in with the group.

    And Fisher's Hornpipe, which has about 854 ways to play the B part so if its not obtrusive I will a few of those in. After which I will offer a Fisher's Hornpipe C part I know and see if anyone wants to learn it.
    Last edited by JeffD; Jun-01-2022 at 2:41pm.
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    Default Re: How does it work when people are playing together?

    The answer is yes.

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    Default Re: How does it work when people are playing together?

    One thing you can do is learn to play a more generic couple of measures in the part(s) where there are major differences. Jump to standard 1/4 note arpeggios.

    Some people say learn the two or more settings, learn to jump from one setting to another.
    Probably good advice, but I’ve tried that and never seem to be able to remember the tune, it becomes a bit blurred.

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    Default Re: How does it work when people are playing together?

    Like we learned in the noodling thread, the answer varies. But for Old Time, and in my experience, it just kind of works out. Most versions of tune work well together, and slightly different melodies sound nice to my ear. For example, I learned a notey sort of bluegrass version of Red-Haired Boy, but if fits fine with someone playing it another way.

    If the chords are different that is a bigger problem, but those players communicate through looks, or sometimes a quick question (are you going to the G chord there?) while the tune is going along. Often, if there are different melodies, someone will adapt to try and learn the different version, same as trying to pick up a tune on the fly. You are going to play the tune 10 or more times anyway, and one of the things I really like is when a tune that starts a little rough really jells together.

    I know there are some fiddlers who have *strong* opinions on what chord you should play, but they will generally tell you. If you are with a bunch of people who play together regularly, you may as well just do what they do and see what their local version sounds like. However, it is totally normal to have a short discussion before the tune in case someone is not familiar: "Let's play Chinquapin Hunting; three part tune, has an extra beat in the A part," or "This is John Salyer's Trouble on the mind, not the other one, and it drops a beat in the A part, but only when transitioning to the B part," or "How many times do you play each part of Sal's Got Mud between her Toes?"

    For your example of Mole in the Ground, I would not think that a G chord in a D tune would lead to discussion, as that's pretty normal. But you would hear it, and make an adjustment. And it is funny when two of you adjust to each other at the same time, so you are still off.

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    Default Re: How does it work when people are playing together?

    At 10 times through for each tune, you should get to learn a lot of variations.
    It’ll be fun hearing and learning the variations of the others in the group as long as it isn’t played very fast.

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    Default Re: How does it work when people are playing together?

    Generally after a few through the same tune (which is why in old time sessions you play the tune so many darn times) the versions generally synchronize on their own, with some variation. Playing together is like working together, you try to come together as a group, especially if you are all regular members of the group. However we do add some harmonies in when we are playing tunes we do regularly. Again, if people are playing together as a group on a regular basis there is an effort to mesh things.
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    Default Re: How does it work when people are playing together?

    Depends on the festival, the liquor and the weed.
    Charley

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    Registered User Sue Rieter's Avatar
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    Default Re: How does it work when people are playing together?

    Interesting discussion, and I appreciate the varied insights.

    Quote Originally Posted by Charles E. View Post
    Depends on the festival, the liquor and the weed.
    I think this starts to veer toward the concept of "Beer Music" alluded to in the other thread
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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: How does it work when people are playing together?

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffD View Post
    And Fisher's Hornpipe, which has about 854 ways to play the B part so if its not obtrusive I will a few of those in. After which I will offer a Fisher's Hornpipe C part I know and see if anyone wants to learn it.
    And of course, the original version from the 19th century that was in the key of F which almost no one plays except one friend of mine and me who like to play in flat keys.

    As for OT jams in general… at best there is a magical moment when things blend nicely and there is a groove. Often this occurs with the proper atmosphere or mind or musical inducing substances and in OT after a tune it played a few dozen times. The jams I have lead and others in our area are generally loose in eras of rules so few people scowl at me for playing harmonies or counter melodies or playing the melody an octave lower or even higher. But that also requires multiple decades of playing these tunes. There are some that I can play in my sleep but still love.

    The tunes that have multiple variations and also have crooked rhythms or extra tags are the ones that can often be problematic. By nature these tunes can easily be played differently even if originally learned from the same sources. Often them become jam busters—started and ended pretty quickly by one or few folks.Then again if these tunes re popular enough in a long running jam might become the version to learn when played at that venue.
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    Default Re: How does it work when people are playing together?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Garber View Post
    As for OT jams in general… at best there is a magical moment when things blend nicely and there is a groove. Often this occurs with the proper atmosphere or mind or musical inducing substances and in OT after a tune it played a few dozen times..
    YES. This magic, this transcendence, is my main goal in jamming. Man I could write a blog about this. But the TAU of jamming is not what is described or explained it is all of it in the playing.

    My point here is that if one's goal is to partake of this legal drug of musical transcendence, my opinion is it is best to stick with the majority version being played.

    Of course there are other goals, and learning and sharing alternate versions is a worthy goal. A wonderful goal. I just find that pursuing that goal works better in a more "workshoppy" type jam atmosphere, where it is ok to stop things and show where you do it differently, or have you tried this, or can you do the A part again for me.

    Different jams for different reasons. Life is really great.
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    Default Re: How does it work when people are playing together?

    well in a jam play the same version and after few rounds that should become plain.
    I generally jam with younger crowds and the dilemma I have is the versions I know (Doc Watson, Norman Blake, David Grisman) are not the versions they know ( Billy Strings, Brian Sutton, String Dusters) even though the version the younger stars are playing is generally influenced by the version I know.
    "Old Grimes" for instance, the Norman and Nancy version is the same tune that Critter and Julian play, but the performances or "realizations" are quite different.
    I have found my self taking a break or packing it up when "that's not how it is in the bluegrass fake book" comes out.
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    Registered User Simon DS's Avatar
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    Default Re: How does it work when people are playing together?

    I actually don’t play much Bluegrass but I imagine that with a full contingent of notes in each tune it makes the playing of solos and improvs, with each individual taking turns, more important.
    OT makes me think that it’s more about everyone playing the tunes at the same time while trying to negotiate a common agreed setting. The Slow Sessions and other variants are maybe quite different.

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    Registered User Eric Platt's Avatar
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    Default Re: How does it work when people are playing together?

    The main old time jams around here don't have as much singing as some. In general, the folks just play the tune in unison with guitar(s) and some mando chord backing.

    Will admit to not being a regular at our o.t. jams anymore, so things may have changed since I was a regular. I do know that towards the end, a number of fiddlers were coming up with more obscure tunes and versions of tunes. For a while we did have a good jam version of Rayna Gellert's "Fly Around" going.

    But yes, different versions of tunes can throw folks. As one fiddlers liked to say when Lady of the Lake was called "which lady and which lake?"

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    Default Re: How does it work when people are playing together?

    Several years ago playing a dance with Gloria Hayes. We were playing The Pig Ankle Rag, I knew two versions. One is quite different, but when played together they sounded fine. I would go back and forth and it was a fun dance. Sometimes I will play the tune in different positions on fingerboard for a different sound. Hangman's Reel I can play in 4 different places on the mandolin. It's still the same melody, but lends a different voice and sounds nice.
    Last edited by pops1; Jun-06-2022 at 10:29am.
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    Default Re: How does it work when people are playing together?

    It's been great and very therapeutic for me since things opened up to go to as many sessions and jams as possible.

    Mostly Scottish/Irish/Shetland or since there are also Scandinavian, Canadian/Quebecois and New England and Appalachian, even Texas Swing, let's say general NAFT (North Atlantic fiddle traditions).

    In most, if not all, of these you play melody in unison.

    With a bit of experience and repertoire-building, you will soon learn to adjust to different versions you encounter. The more different people you play with, the faster you'll learn.

    I also made to Orkney Folk Festival for the first time since 2018 and met up with many musical pals.

    There, sometimes the noise was so bad in the big sessions what with people adding percussion and bar patrons talking at high volume, that you couldn't even tell what tune was playing. We were looking at a few lasses playing mandolins who were all playing different chords, not versions, totally different. But everyone was so happy at being together out playing again that it was hard to grudge it.

    Other times we broke out into quiet corners with a few friends and played new tunes, obscure tunes, old neglected tunes, even jazz.

    It's easier when you get to know people and can anticipate them better.

    It's all a dividend of having played a lot with various people over many years.
    Bren

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    Registered User John Kelly's Avatar
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    Default Re: How does it work when people are playing together?

    You are so right in what you are saying in this post, Bren. The more folk you play along with, the more you are able to play along. The point about folk just enjoying themselves and having fun is so important too. Those girls will remember the great Orkney sessions they were in and no one was harmed in the performance.

    My weekly session here at home is very free and easy, with anyone able to offer a tune outside of the "standard" repertoire that we usually perform. The point is that we all know each other well and are aware of the tunes that are likely to be played, and if a newcomer joins us the invitation is there for them to offer a tune or two themselves. I go to another monthly one where fiddles are in the ascendancy but there are two of us who play mandolins and guitar plus we have a couple of harmonicas and occasionally an accordion. Very fiddle-based in the repertoire as you can imagine, with a fair presence of pipe tunes too, but then we are in the west coast of Scotland!
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    Default Re: How does it work when people are playing together?

    A bonus was the presence of the Sessions and Sail https://sessionsandsail.com/ tall ship crew and passengers in Kirkwall, featuring fiddlers Barry Nisbet and Carol Anderson and then they sailed round to Stromness.

    They played a wide selection of tunes and songs at gentle pace and created a very welcoming atmosphere for players of various instruments and all abilities.
    There were too many of them just to walk in en masse and join a running pub session but they hosted a few sessions and anyone was welcome to join in.
    Bren

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