Leading a Set of Tunes

If you’re new to a session, relax, enjoy the tunes, and play along when you know them.

It’s best to wait to start a set until someone asks you. Some sessions have a host who goes around the circle asking people to start sets. Some are a total free-for-all.

Most sessions are a mix. Regardless, if you’re new to the group, someone will probably ask you to play a set.

When asked, do it! Keep some possible tunes in mind and choose what seems best at the time.

Mix it up a little. If someone just started a set of jigs, start a set of reels or hornpipes—or perhaps some different jigs, if they’re really different.

If you go in to a session with your heart set on a particular set of tunes, you may get flustered if some of them have already been played. Be flexible and ready for anything!

How to kick things off

There are a few different conventions for how people announce the sets they’re going to play.

For simplicity, I’ll call these the “Boston Method” and the “Portland Method”, because I notice people in Boston are a little more deliberate about doing this.

The “Boston Method” puts everyone on the same page, and it gives you a chance to review the tunes you’ve chosen. It also means you can switch tunes with a quick glance or nod, and people should know what’s coming next. I recommend leading your sets this way at first.

The “Portland Method” is more informal, maybe more energetic. It is higher risk, because you have to talk while playing. But it’s a good skill to master nonetheless, even if you prefer to be more deliberate.