Slow Jam Sessions of Scottish Tunes in Concord, MA

Celtic knot with fiddle

"Marvelous tunes at moderate tempos"

Our sessions are currently on hold, but we're looking forward to resuming our monthly slow jam sessions once gatherings are again permitted.

Meanwhile, the sheet music for our tunes is still available on the members' page, and if you find a new-to-us tune that you'd like to suggest, just let me know.

8:00-9:30 pm: Learner focus on just a few tunes
9:30 on: Round robin tune suggestions

This series (which first started back in the fall of 2002) is intended particularly for newer players who are just starting to get into playing Scottish tunes, to give them an opportunity early in their Scottish-musical careers to play along with others. Unlike at a "fast" session, we typically pause between tunes, and most folks use sheet music. I maintain a few "house binders" of music for newcomers; regulars typically borrow and copy off a binder of their own, or use a tablet to view the sheet music as described below.

Here are lists of the tunes currently in the binders:
Common tunes list, aphabetical
Common tunes list, by tune type
If you're new, here's a shorter list of favorites that are being played frequently.
Favorite tunes list, alphabetical
Favorite tunes list, by tune type
There are also backup binders of tunes less commonly played, including some from quite a while back:
Less common tunes, alphabetical
Less common tunes, by type

There's also an area of this website here where sheet music for the tunes is available, for viewing on tablets or the like. Since some of the tunes are copyright, that area is password protected. I'm happy to provide the password by email or at a session, but please don't post the tunes publicly.

Haven't been to a slow jam, and interested in coming? Send me an email, and I can send you further information. The name is "lance.ramshaw" and the email host is "gmail.com".

"Anyone who thinks it's boring to play slow is probably just as boring when they're playing fast--it's just over sooner!" John Krumm

Tune-Related Web Resources

Boston-Area Scottish Fiddle Information

Boston Scottish Fiddle Club
The BSFC has monthly Sunday workshops and jam sessions in Belmont. They also sponsor a monthly series of Wednesday evening Scottish jam sessions at the Canadian-American Club in Watertown.
Strathspey and Reel Society of New Hampshire
The SRSNH has monthly Sunday afternoon meetings in Concord, New Hampshire.
Passim School of Music
Passim often sponsors Scottish fiddle classes in Harvard Square.

Tune Indexes

Folk Tune Finder
This is a wonderful site for looking up the names of tunes. Underneath the surface, it uss ABC notation (see below), and searches the web for sites where tunes are availble in ABC notation Then it lets you search for a tune either by title, or by "playing" a phrase of the tune on a displayed piano keyboard. The search will find similar tunes, even if they're in a different key. If your search returns a long list of options, you can filter the list by type and key. I often fine that if I enter too long a sample, the site returns no hits at all. My guess is that it has a length limit, but isn't smart enough to tell you that you've exceeded ig. Erasing a few notes from the end of my sample typically cures the problem.
Cape Breton Fiddle Page
This page has a very complete index of Cape Breton fiddle recordings, listing every tune on every track. The tunes are also indexed using numeric codes of the same type used in Gore's printed index of historical Scottish fiddle tunes.
Traditional Tune Archive
Since the 80's, Andrew Kuntz has been assembling this absolutely amazing index to Celtic traditional tunes, with extensive historical notes about each tune, books and page numbers where the tune can be found, info on recorded versions, and often the actual tune in ABC form. Each tune has two web pages, one with a table of data fields and black dots renderings of any ABC versions, and the other with paragraphs of text listing sources and historical details. Two swtich between pages, click on the tune title at the top of the page. Androw originally called his site the "Fiddler's Companion", and a version of that earlier edition is still available. (See the following item.)
Fiddlers' Companion alphabetical index
This is the older version of Andrew Kuntz's tune index. He is manually transferring the data from here into the new version bit by bit, so for completeness, one currently needs to check both sites. (In the older version, you need to search for the tune yourself in the alphabetical listing, but the new site does have an index.)
Tune Index
This index covers a wider range of sources, but only lists the books and page numbers where the tune can be found.

ABC Resources

"ABC" is a form of music notation that uses letters to stand for notes, with numbers to show note length. The beginning of "Flowers of Edinburgh", for example, looks like this in ABC:

(Capital letters are a lower octave than small letters; the vertical bars are measure lines.) There are free programs that can turn those letters into black dots on staff lines.

Folk Tune Finder
This tune index site, described above, lets you search for ABC tunes by title or by tapping on the keys of virtual piano.
John Chamber's ABC Tune Index
Our own John Chambers maintains a site that indexes ABC tunes available anywhere on the Web. You type in (part of) the name of a tune, and then hit the "find (wide)" button, and it lists all the versions that it finds of tunes that match that name. You can then get the tune, either in ABC form or rendered into black dots. "GIF" or "PNG" are the options to try if you want to view or print the black dots from your browser. The "MIDI" option, depending on your browser, may be able to play the tune for you.
John Chamber's ABC Tutorial
This is John Chambers' description of how ABC works.
ABC Home Page
This page describes how the notation works and gives pointers to programs that you can download to work with it.
This is an application that you can download (Windows or Mac) that allows you to type in tunes in ABC notation and see them as black dots, export the black dots as PDF files, or hear them using MIDI.
The Session
This active site has both ABC and black dots for lots of Celtic tunes, though many of them are Irish, rather than Scottish. Be aware, too, that most of tunes here are posted by eager amateur musicians, who may not be especially good at transcribing what was actually played.

Commercial Sources for Scottish Music Books/CDs

Sources for this kind of music can be hard to find. Here are a few sites, some US and some in Scotland, from which I have ordered successfully. If you know of other good sources, please let me know.

Folk Arts Center of New England
The Folk Arts Center's store carries many Scottish and Cape Breton CDs and music books, and is now available on-line.
Elderly Instruments
This very large folk music source in Michigan carries some Scottish CDs and music books, and sells items at a bit of a discount.
Music Scotland
A Scottish supplier of CDs and music books, including pipe bands and dance bands.
Taigh Na Teud / Scotland's Music
Christine Martin is a fiddler and fiddle teacher on the island of Skye, who has been collecting, publishing, and distributing tunes for many years under her "Taigh na Teud" imprint, Gallic for "Harp-string House".
Highland Music Trust
This group is republishing a number of major historical collections, along with some new music. Their website also offers free access to a humber of smaller historical collections.
Cranford Publications
Paul Cranford is a Cape Breton fiddler who has been active for many years publidhing books of Cape Breton tunes. The "Tunes" area of his site offers 1400 free tunes, mostly samples from his many publications, with title search.

Tracking Tempos

A metronome can help you play at a particular desired tempo, but it's also useful sometimes to be able to figure out how fast folks at a session are playing. Some metronomes provide this kind of "reverse metronome" function by having you tap in rhythm with the players. There are also "beat per minute" apps for both Android and iPhone that can pick out the beat themselves, without you needing to tap. The Android app "BPM-Detector" is my favorite, since you can leave it running, and every 7 seconds, it displays its current estimate of the tempo. If all you have is watch, you can time, say, 4 bars of the tune and then compute beats per minute from that "seconds per half phrase" measurement. Here's a wallet-sized card that does that computation for duple-meter tunes.

A Note from the Left Ear Defense League

The early violin makers back in the 16th century figured out how to build instruments that were not only beautiful, but loud. Loud enough to be heard throughout Carnegie Hall, but also perhaps too loud for the left ears of the players themselves. If you remember the inverse square law from your High School physics class, the sound is four times louder at your left ear, since it is twice as close to the strings as your right ear, and that's ignoring the fact that your head also helps shield your right ear.

Anyway, after years of playing, I started noticing that my left ear was ringing after practicing, so now I try either to wear an earplug on my left side or to use a mute when I practice. Etymotic Research is a company that makes earplugs for musicians that try to reduce the volume of all frequencies by the same amount, which makes them bit nicer to use than drugstore earplugs. I've also had good luck with "Hocks Noise Breaker" earplugs, available here, which claim to block only loud noises.

Many excellent fiddle players ignore this issue, and I'm sure that different people's ears are different, but my experience is as stated above.

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Updated 2020-09-08