The Wellington Slow Session is an Irish traditional music session designed to give musicians an opportunity to play session tunes at a pace much slower than in a “regular session”. We play the tunes on the Slow Session page, typically beginning with the Sets, and then we review some of the Tunes we’ve learnt recently, and usually conclude with the Tune of the week.
We don’t teach tunes during the session, but rather provide tools on this website to help players learn the tunes - see our notes on Learning by Ear. This music is part of an oral tradition and it’s very hard to write down the nuances of the style - you need to listen to this music get the subtle details.
We recognize that some of you will feel more comfortable reading from the dots. Some people like to use phones or computer tablets during the slow session to read the music and we think that’s a reasonable crutch during the early stages.
The melody is key in Irish traditional music and is typically played on instruments like flute, tin whistle, banjo, concertina, button or piano accordion, mandolin, fiddle, harp, uilleann pipes. Any backing (accompaniment by guitar, bouzouki, bodhran) is there to support the melody players, not to set the tempo. Folks that want to play backing in a session need to learn the specific tunes, and practice with recordings just like melody players. A vital element in session play is listening, so very loud instruments will need to be played quietly, particularly when not playing melody.
In a session, someone will start a set of tunes. The tempo and selection of tunes is determined by the person who starts the set, and everyone must follow their lead. It is considered bad form to alter the tempo, or start playing another tune at the end of someone’s set.
If you’re curious about this music we’d love to have come and listen and once you have some tunes under your belt come and try them out.
A word about Accompaniment
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. We think that as the melody in Irish traditional music is where the pulse and rhythm comes from there’s much less need for “accompaniment” than happens in other types of music. 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:
When there are multiples of these instruments their volume can drown out the melody instruments and the music suffers. In the regular session the rule of thumb is no more than one guitar/bouzouki and no more than one bodhran playing at any one time. We’re a little more relaxed as this is a learning session but during the session, don’t take offence if you are asked to play more quietly/stop playing an accompanying instrument.
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.