The Beauty of the Tune at Fairhope Slow Sessions

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how I formed an Irish Trad ‘slow session’ group so that my fiddle students could have a comfortable way to play Irish jigs and reels together. Over the three and a half years the group has been meeting, it’s attracted all ages on a wide range of instruments. A typical session might have 10 fiddles, 2 flutes or whistles, a guitar, and perhaps a hammered dulcimer—or two. There’s been the occasional Irish tenor banjo and mandolin. I don’t like to discourage anyone, but I’m pretty firm about this being open to ‘traditional’ instruments.

I think it’s important that my slow session players learn the rules for good session etiquette: to play when they know the tunes and to listen respectfully when they don’t. Several of the slow session players have started coming regularly to the ‘real’ sessions at McSharry’s, and I couldn’t be more proud than when I see them suddenly recognize the tune and pick up their fiddles to join in.

A few of the more popular tunes with my students include ‘My Darling Asleep,’ ‘Scatter the Mud,’ ‘Silver Spear’ and ‘Dunmore Lasses’ although they have well over one hundred classic jigs, reels, hornpipes, barndances and other types of tunes to choose from that I’ve taught them. I think it’s important for beginners in Irish Trad music to learn the melody first. In my tutorial book Learn to Play Irish Trad Fiddle, I included a great quote from master Irish fiddler Martin Hayes:

“There is a tendency in Irish music to embellish and decorate before you know what you’re decorating, so I always work my way backwards to first find out what’s there. It’s like a door painted with forty coats of paint and you just keep painting it until you wonder what was there in the first place, and so you strip it down to the wood. It might not need painting at all and if it does the painting must be a delicate operation. That’s the way I feel about Irish music. I go to the core of the music and the tunes.”

Who can argue with that?

But of course it’s fun to add ornaments to Irish Trad music too, and a number of my more advanced players are working on cuts and rolls as well as bow triplets and adding them to their tunes.

When you first started learning to play Trad, what were your first tunes? How did you learn to add ornaments?

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