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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Tunes to Learn for Chicago Area Irish Sessions?

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Fiddlemouse - Posted - 01/31/2019:  10:50:48

I have been fiddling for three years and have decided to start attending some Irish sessions. I know that I need to really know some tunes before I attend. I am wondering what the most frequently played tunes in Chicago area Irish sessions are right now. And, besides actually knowing the tunes and playing in unison, what are the other rules/guidelines/rules of thumb for Chicago area Irish sessions?

pete_fiddle - Posted - 01/31/2019:  11:01:53

Chicago Reel ?...great tune

BR5-49 - Posted - 01/31/2019:  11:02:24

Gloves, hat, good coat, and a scarf?

Fiddlemouse - Posted - 01/31/2019:  11:05:24

Is that the Chicago polar vortex dress code or a tune name? ??. A tually that would be a good tune name...

pete_fiddle - Posted - 01/31/2019:  11:08:02

i would imagine that the Chicago Irish music scene would be pretty advanced playing from what i have heard?

DougD - Posted - 01/31/2019:  11:26:31

Can't you just go to the session you're interested in, sit quietly, and see what they're playing? If you don't know the titles, maybe make some friends and ask - also you can see what the etiquette might be.

Fiddlemouse - Posted - 01/31/2019:  11:29:27

Yes... that is actually the plan... but with the extreme cold and my bronchitis, I am stuck on an easy chair in the living room anyway and I thought it would be fun to learn a few tunes. I have almost no Irish repertoire.

Fiddlemouse - Posted - 01/31/2019:  11:31:40

pete_fiddle I am sure they are advanced. I have no illusions of just joining in and keeping up except rarely, at first.

DougD - Posted - 01/31/2019:  11:51:17

You could watch some Liz Carroll videos on YouTube. That can't hurt.

Fiddlemouse - Posted - 01/31/2019:  11:56:13

Yeah... I was just wondering which tunes tend to come up frequently at sessions right now... I know where I can get my hands on a lot of good Chicago Irish fiddle recordings, etc... just wanted a few tunes under my fingers that might get played. Her Opus is so vast that it is kind of overwhelming...

I have tried emailing a few session organizers but have not heard back yet... I might have the wrong contact info... I will just showup and start making lists of things to learn...

Also kinda wondering which tunes people around here are tired of...

pete_fiddle - Posted - 01/31/2019:  12:57:52

One i know that Liz Carroll plays and is not too difficult is " Trip To Durrow ", (iv'e heard her playing it on youtube), ..which is usually played at a steady pace, so i suppose if i had to start a tune off at an advanced session, i would go for one like that.....i think more advanced players, and less so, would still enjoy playing along...maybe

mackeagan - Posted - 01/31/2019:  15:49:52

Be aware that Trip to Durrow has a longish "B" section which ends with the opening phrase of the A, but then the whole B section repeats. Maybe not try for the advanced session just yet? If you look on, they have a page where you can search for sessions in your area, and also a discussion page, where you can pose the same question...

tpquinn - Posted - 01/31/2019:  16:05:43

Post your question on or even browse the previous posts. It may not be Chicago-specific, but you'll easily get a list of tunes that should be in your pocket. Also, google Dowd's 50. You can download the pdf of common tunes to know. In a session I went to, a new mandolin player was there and didn't know any tunes. A fiddler recommended Kesh Jig as a place to start. Easy enough, fun to play, and very common. Also a great tune for practicing grace notes, rolls, etc.

Johnny Rosin - Posted - 01/31/2019:  19:12:16

If you learned classic standard tunes from the Sligo and Clare repertoires you’d be able to play plenty of tunes. The sessions can be “advanced” but there’s a limit on how difficult Irish tunes can be really. What makes them advanced is that they know tons of tunes and can play them well at quick tempos. So, just build a repertoire of tunes you enjoy and get to where you can play them well.

Fiddlemouse - Posted - 01/31/2019:  19:30:37

mackeagan It’s not that I am looking for an advanced session per se, it’s that I only see one slow session in my area listed, and that is specifically described as being for kids. I don’t want to impose. I have been to bluegrass jams and Scottish fiddle camp, and bluegrass fiddle camp and a mixed genre fiddle camp... so I am somewhat familiar with what a regular jam feels like, so I won’t be uncomfortable listening until I can keep up. I should be able to get a couple of tunes up to speed fairly quickly... once I figure out which ones come up more often. Today I learned Kesh, the Butterfly, and Lucy Farr’s... maybe I can learn enough to have SOMETHING up to speed in the next few months.

pete_fiddle - Posted - 02/01/2019:  00:51:51

i think one of the daunting things about going to a new session is that seems to be good etiquette (around these parts anyways), to be able to start a set of tunes, (at least 2 and preferably 3), and have them up to scratch as far as possible,(3 times through each), rather than noodling in the background or busking it,...(guilty as charged:O). This means that a player new to the session would most likely end up going through the first tune solo, at least once through, while other players listen, find the tempo, and see if it's the same as their version etc.

But usually a kind soul will join in and help out if the player starts failing, so it's probably good strategy to learn a set of tunes from the session you want to go to and have them up to tempo before hand,..then others can't help but join in hopefully..but be prepared to have the tunes taken away into the stratosphere tempo wise...just one of those things that happens....surprise

Edited by - pete_fiddle on 02/01/2019 00:55:19

Fiddlemouse - Posted - 02/01/2019:  04:48:45

Ok... NOW we have dug deep and are starting to strike the vein of gold information that I have not found elsewhere. Wonderful to know. I have thought that signing up for an Irish fiddle CLASS would be a good way to make contacts, know people, have a gentle introduction to Irish fiddle... but I know just when I fork out the big bucks, something will get in the way of me attending regularly.

DougD - Posted - 02/01/2019:  05:41:23

If you read music, you can find O'Neill's "Music of Ireland" online somewhere. Those tunes were collected in Chicago, although a long time ago. You might appear a bit like Rip Van Winkle, but I'm sure some of those tunes are still played.

fidlpat - Posted - 02/01/2019:  05:51:05

@fiddlermouse you've not mentioned whether or not you read music.

fidlpat - Posted - 02/01/2019:  05:51:57

Looks like Doug and I were cross posting

pete_fiddle - Posted - 02/01/2019:  06:07:46

Bit of a baptism of fire though....especially if no one joins in until the 2nd or 3rd tune

oh.... and don't forget to use short bow strokes when practising, because you'll probably not have room to do any long ones :0)

good luck...enjoy the craic!

jasonwood - Posted - 02/01/2019:  07:22:05

I'd probably start by learning some chestnuts everyone knows instead of trying to jump on currently trendy ones. I think most people don't mind occasionally playing the "overplayed" ones (that no one plays anymore).

pete_fiddle - Posted - 02/01/2019:  09:12:10

i wouldn't worry about trends or chestnuts, or overplayed tunes, just a good set of tunes that are well within your capabilities, and folk enjoy playing, and add to the Craic or re-enforce it, rather than detract from it, that's the most important thing. imo

TuneWeaver - Posted - 02/01/2019:  09:21:11

Fiddlemouse.. GO to a jam and report back.. I think we are all interested in hearing how things turned out..

Cyndy - Posted - 02/01/2019:  16:30:59

I just checked my Dropbox folders from when I took Fiddle 4 Irish at the Old Town School a number of years ago. The titles include Dawning of the Day; Boys of Bluehill; and Off to California, Dan O'Keefe's Slides, and Old Copperplate.

I have no idea if these tunes are played at sessions, but at one point a few Chicago fiddle students knew them. :)

gapbob - Posted - 02/01/2019:  17:43:13

Such a lovely path you have in front of you, if you are indeed earnest about learning Irish music. It isn't an easy path, but it is a fun path.

I once asked John Daly, who had led the Sunday session long ago at the long-gone Abbey Pub, how many tunes he learned at Sessions. His quick reply: "None."

That goes to the heart of your question, I think. Unlike most of the other jam types you referenced, where learning tunes at a jam is expected to some degree, Irish sessions are not built for learning tunes. You might learn some tunes there, if you sit and listen week after week, but since the tunes are only played between two to three times through before another tune is played, it is hard to learn tunes, unless you have an audiographic memory. Then it will be followed by another tune or two or three, which then effectively erases the predecessors from your memory. Add into that that you've imbibed a beer to help get into the feel of the craic, you will then go home with some pleasant memories and a jumbled mix of melodies rolling around in your head.  Better to listen and enjoy, let the tunes percolate, and take along a notebook, politely asking what the names were of that lovely set of tunes you just heard.

So listening and learning tunes at home is the way to do it, though sitting down with an instructor, whether at a local venue (fortunately, there are a few of these in Chicago, Murphy-Roche and the Irish American Heritage Center come to mind, undoubtedly others are available) or at a music camp, will be helpful and is recommended. I would also suggest finding a ceili dance to go to, because I have found that dancing cements it into your head and also gives musicians a good sense of how to play.

Find sets of tunes to learn.

Avoid learning tunes singly.

Avoid learning tunes one at a time.  Repeat.

Learn tunes in sets of two or three or four. Find a recording you like, get a slowdown app, find a set of tunes you like, and listen to it, both fast and slow, perhaps fifty times before you make an attempt at playing it—you should be able to whistle or hum the tunes before you give it a go on your fiddle, it needs to be in your brain. The hardest thing about playing Irish music is to recall the tunes, learning the tunes in sets is a great boon to learning to play and will be invaluable later when you want to recall tunes—they will just pop out of your head after you play the first tune.  Learning tunes from books will hinder you early on, you have to understand the dialect before you can start reading tunes and making them "right."  You can use tune books to aid you in learning these tunes, but don't learn them from books outright until you are well on your way to learning the music.  Two reasons for this:  you will not remember tunes you learn by reading as well as tunes you learn by listening, and you would be learning in a vacuum, not really knowing how it was supposed to sound.

The intricacies of playing fiddle are similar in the various genres, except for the bowings and the ornamentation, and you can add these as you go along, you don't have to learn the ornaments right off—I would suggest not worrying about the ornamentation until you have been playing a while, because you won't get it right early on and it isn't necessary to the tunes.

I was at a workshop with Liz Carroll in April 2000, and at that workshop she talked about how she played in a session for 7 years with Johnny McGreevy before she started playing ornaments, and it did not seem to hurt her any. To the contrary, she is more able, than any other player I have seen, I believe, to be able to put ornaments into a tune anywhere, anytime, because the ornament is not bound to the tune, but is rather something that she decides to add in as she sees fit.

I believe this is the path to follow, since I did not follow this path and made many of the mistakes I have tried to warn you about.

Edited by - gapbob on 02/01/2019 17:52:14

ChickenMan - Posted - 02/01/2019:  19:19:33

Amen Bob!

If you want to play Irish tunes, you need to really listen to the sets (I just complained about sets in another thread, but they are how it is done in the Irish sessions) and pay attention to the feel because that it where the written page must won't capture it right. And the feel is very unlike bluegrass.

Fiddlemouse - Posted - 02/01/2019:  19:57:18

fidlpat Yes I do read music, but I make a point of learning fiddle tunes by ear. At first it was harder for me and slower going than reading the sheet music, but now I find I learn faster and more thoroughly by ear. Sometimes if I get confused about the sequence of notes in a phrase I look at sheet music briefly for reference, but I try to avoid it and generally don’t needit any more.

Edited by - Fiddlemouse on 02/01/2019 19:58:30

Fiddlemouse - Posted - 02/01/2019:  20:03:31

ChickenMan and gapbob Thanks for the advice about learning tunes in sets. Are the sets structured in sessions the way they would be in performances of performing fiddlers? What guides the selection of tunes in a set? What types of tunes are put together? Same key or contrasting keys? I will go pick out some sets from recordings of sessions I find online... but I was just wondering.

fidlpat - Posted - 02/01/2019:  20:15:04

I agree with gapbob about the ornament situation. Check out Yvonne Casey on YouTube.

gapbob - Posted - 02/02/2019:  05:12:39

As for which sets to play, I would start with those Michael Coleman used, at one time those were dominent, though less so now, I believe. Basically, sets used by well-known bands can be learned, though you can make your own sets eventually.

As for how to make sets, you can just throw tunes together that are in the same key and the same type at the start, but after a while, you will begin to explore what makes tunes work with each other, it is a mystery worth solving, mostly through trial and error.

Also note that in Irish music, a jig is not a jig, there are double jigs, single jigs, slides, hop-jigs(?)and more, that are written in 6/8, but are played differently.  In Irish music, hornpipes and reels are not interchangeqable, like they are in the US for old time music.  Airs might seem easy, because they are slow with few notes, but wait to play those, because being able to play slow airs correctly is at the pinnacle of the genre.  O’Carolan tunes are not really airs, they are just O’Carolan tunes, and those are fine to play early on, though they are not common at sessions, they are played there at times, especially in beginner/slow sessions..

Sessions focus on reels, they are what is mostly played.  For me, reels are less melodic and harder to remember, though.

Edited by - gapbob on 02/02/2019 05:26:26

gapbob - Posted - 02/02/2019:  05:44:07

As for etiquette, consider Irish music sessions a musical conversation.  Just as you might find yourself at a gathering with a fascinating scholar, entertainer, politician and be spellbound, listening to everything they say, you might someday find yourself at a session with a great player of Irish tunes. Great players came up through the ranks, if you will, and won’t be a session hog, they will allow everyone to participate, but don’t go overboard when your chance comes.

I would suggest getting a copy of this book. Barry Foy Irish session guide.

fidlpat - Posted - 02/02/2019:  10:37:31

Tunes are played three times through, before they switch to the next tune in the set, and each set typically contains three tunes.

Have you checked out Great site for all things Irish music.

DougD - Posted - 02/03/2019:  04:00:18

I'm certainly no expert on Irish music, but gapbob touched on the answer to one of your questions. I believe some of these sets are played as they were recorded by Michael Coleman and others in the 1920's and 30's. People must have just learned them from the records. Since then, influential players and groups have created new sets. I don't know if this practice represents actual earlier playing practce, or was done to make the records more interesting, but it goes back to the earliest cylinder recordings of these tunes (by Charles D'Almaine, for example, and Scott Skinner in Scotland).
In contrast, "sets" or medleys are quite uncommon on recordings of American old time music.

jasonwood - Posted - 02/05/2019:  09:49:35

I recommend getting a hold of the Live at Mona's CD that Patrick Orceau put out a number of years ago. I think it's out of print but as of a couple of years ago at least he was selling it directly. It's the best example I've heard of true session music, complete with cracking pool balls and chatter in the background.

DougD - Posted - 02/06/2019:  17:51:16

Looks like that CD might still be available:
If Mick Moloney likes it chances are you will too.

jasonwood - Posted - 02/07/2019:  07:24:27

That's the one! Highly recommended. I bought it directly from Patrick here:

gapbob - Posted - 02/08/2019:  06:00:10

Paddy in the Smoke is another session recording, from London, in the 60s. I doubt that this would have any connection to what is currently fashionable in Chicago sessions, though perhaps if you start playing them, they will become more prominent?  (I bet they are already known by lots of the musicians).

"These highly atmospheric recordings were made during Sunday morning sessions at one of London's most celebrated Irish pubs. Features Martyn Byrnes, Danny Meehan, Tony McMahon, Bobby Casey, Sean O'Shea, Con Curtain, Jimmy Powers & others."

from amazon

Maudabawn Chapel - Lafferty's : Reels        1:45    Martin Byrnes    

Eileen Curran - The Bunch Of Keys : Reels        2:55    Martin Byrnes    

Lucy Campbell - Toss The Feathers : Reels        3:06    Tony McMahon, Martin Byrnes & Andy Boyle    

The Ragged Hank Of Yarn : Reel        1:49    Bobby Casey    

The Bank Of Ireland - The Woman Of The House - The Morning Dew : Reels        4:16    Bobby Casey, John McLaughlin    

The Jolly Tinker : Reel        1:38    Jimmy Power & John Dunleavy    

Denis Murphy's Hornpipe        1:36    Sean O'Shea & Bobby Casey    

The Yellow Tinker - The Humours Of Scarriff : Reels        1:55    Sean O'Shea & Bobby Casey    

The Chorus Reel        1:48    Con Curtin, Denis McMahon & Julia Clifford    

Callaghan's Reel        1:53    Con Curtin & Denis McMahon    

Kitty's Rambles - Dan The Cobbler : Jigs        2:21    Jimmy Power    

Jenny Picking Cockles - Kitty In The Lane : Reels        2:00    Jimmy Power    

Condon's Frolics - James McMahon's Favourite : Jigs        2:22    Tommy Maguire, Father O'Keefe    

The Graf Spee - Ballinasloe Fair : Reels        2:28    Lucy Farr & Bobby Casey    

The Moher Reel        1:20    Lucy Farr & Bobby Casey    

Farewell To Erin - The High Reel : Reels        3:31    Jimmy Power, Lucy Farr & Andy Boyle    

Doctor O'Neill - The Battering Ram : Jigs        4:19    Jimmy Power, Lucy Farr & Andy Boyle    

Mulvihill's - Tie The Bonnet - The Abbey : Reels        4:50    Con Curtin, Edmond Murphy    

Edited by - gapbob on 02/08/2019 06:01:53

bsed - Posted - 02/10/2019:  15:00:40

One way to look at HOW to get people to play ALONG with you at a jam is to play tunes most of them will know. In the Chicago area these would be some tunes that fit the bill. (I have a bit of experience playing in some high-powered Irish jams with some of those people).

Mason's Apron, Moving Cloud, Miss McCleod's Reel, Congress Reel, Maid Behind the Bar, Cooley's Reel, Gravel Walk (perhaps a little more advanced of a tune), Star of Munster, Silver Spear, Morrison's Jig....

bsed - Posted - 02/10/2019:  15:06:12

I'm an OT fiddler who has played in Irish sessions. Since in OT you don't play in sets much, I found a good way around this is to suggest to one of the jam leaders that I can start, say, Mason's Apron. Then ask them what tunes would you like to add onto that tune? Let THEM decide on how to build the set.

Dick Hauser - Posted - 06/04/2020:  07:46:19

I think tune selection will depend on the group you play with. Peter Cooper's book/CDs "The Complete Irish Fiddler" will introduce you to a lot of commonly played Irish tunes. I a person can read musical notation, and want to play Irish tunes, that book will be great. Generally speaking, it seems like the more advanced the musicians in a jam are, the more unique the tune repertoire is. They prefer playing more complex and fewer commonly played tunes. This situation probably applies to most musicians. They want to play tunes that demonstrate their playing skill.

I would go to the Irish Music organization site in Chicago and ask them that question.

pete_fiddle - Posted - 06/04/2020:  08:12:27

What happens is, (or was), that if i can't think of a tune to follow, i would just look around at other players the last time through the tune and shrug. Then the set either finishes, or more often than not, a player will take over the next tune(s) and carry the set on. If i know their tune i will join in and thank them with a look and a nod, or sit it out and wait for the next tune i know to join in with. Sets can go on and on like that, and some times one tune will follow another with a "Hairs on the back of the neck" thing, acknowledged by a Hup ya boya! Or a whoop!

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