Learn How To Play An Irish Instrument

Irish Session

In Ireland, May 22nd is known as Buy a Musical Instrument day. And, nothing can be better than buying a traditional Irish music instrument such as Uileann Pipes, a bodhran or fiddle. In this article we’ll explore what instruments to buy and the pros and cons of each. As Paraic McNeela from McNeela Instruments says ‘An Irish Instrument is a precious thing to buy, it’s worth exploring all options before buying and learning to play an Irish Instrument’.

Uileann Pipes

Pros: It is quite difficult to find a good uileann piper as they are very rare. The good ones are generally devoted musicians. The uileann pipes emit a distinguishing sound and lets just say the sound cannot be ignored or overlooked.

Cons: The Uileann Pipes are very costly and are also difficult to obtain. The makers of this instrument are quite few and they differ from the Scottish Bagpipes. A Uileann pipes’ beginner set (that has only the components required to initiate playing) will require an ungrade to a half or full set after some time. The full set of these pipes comes with a heavy price tag, say, some thousands!

Fiddle

Fiddle

Pros: Fiddles can be obtained easily. It is quite similar to violin. The only difference is the absolute different style of it. The fiddle is played fast and it is tremendously communicative. Thus, it also leaves a lot of space for one’s own understanding. The best and the heavily paid fiddle players are the ones who have the talent of picking up tunes only by listening to them.

Cons: Learning to play the fiddle is extremely difficult. Fiddles do not contain any frets. These are the tiny spots on guitar which help you spot the notes and do not allow you to play sounds during notes (this means it is easy for you to follow the tune). New fiddle players may sound similar to a bag of cats to begin with but this is definitely the price for those who practice passionately. A fiddle brings great improvement to any session.

Banjo/Mandolin

Banjo

Pros: This is another instrument that can be found easily as it is used in most of the folk music types. It is used to play the chief notes of any tune. Hence, it is best for playing solo and also with the other members of the group. The tune and structure of the mandolin is same as the banjo and thus, similar skills can be utilized for both of these instruments.

Cons: Because these instruments are based on melody, you will be required to play any tune’s main notes. You will be required to enhance your speed while you play these instruments with others. Also, the mandolin is a quitter instrument with its small size and bright sound. (This is because mandolins have two strings for each string on banjo)

Tin Whistle (feadóg stáin)

Tin Whistle

Pros: You will be surprised to know that this instrument was once known as the penny whistle because of its cheap price. Even today, you can find some which are still quite cheap. Tin whistles are a simple Irish instrument which have six holes on the fundamental flute shape and covering these holes in different type of combinations help create a variety of notes. The Tin Whistles come in different keys and ‘D’ is the most common key for tin whistles.

Cons: Though notes are created by covering the holes, do not take it lightly as this simple looking musical instrument needs to be played fast. In other words, you need to quickly change the hole covering combinations and that too with absolute perfection. This is almost true for every instrument, but when you come across a good tin whistle player whose fingers dance perfectly as required, you are actually witnessing the outcome of long hours of practice, dedication and effort.

Bodhrán

Pros: Identifiably Irish and the only devoted Irish rhythm instrument, Bodhrán or the traditional Irish drum is very distinguishable. This instrument can be noticed frequently during the Irish sporting events, in particular when one needs to galvanize the gathering.

Cons: The Bodhrán can be quite difficult to be found outside Ireland. Also, it is not considered as an essential component of a music session.

Guitar

Pros: Guitars can be found almost everywhere and there is a high possibility that you may already in fact own one or have one at your relative’s place! Usually the rhythm based guitar is used in the traditional music group. Hence, it is the most suitable option for people who do not chase the limelight. In addition to this, playing guitar is a multipurpose skill for different types of music forms.

Cons: Points (related to guitar) that are considerable and attractive for some people, may be difficult and problematic for others. Though, you can play solo melodies on this instrument, the truth is that, this is not at all the traditional way. The guitarists will see that they are limited to the backing roles of music groups.

The Music Box, also known as the Concertina

Concertina

Pros: To begin let us tell you that the concertina is not as costly as other traditional Irish music instruments. A basic concertina model will cost you just a few hundred. A concertina is quite multipurpose and melodious. Generally, it is played with single lucid notes rather than in form of chorus.

Cons: Concertinas are a famous instrument all across Europe. If you wish to play Irish music, then you will surely want to find yourself a Anglo-Concertina in the C/G keys. Searching for the right concertina can be difficult. However exploring online, going into music stores and talking to other musicians will help you find the right one for you.

In addition to this, it is important to mention that though the good pipers play attractive music, the sound of these pipes is not for every person.

The Basics Of Irish Music

Lets Get To The Basics – What Is Irish Music?

Irish music is quite similar to the one that existed 200 years back.

Traditional Irish Music History

Be it, rural people or urban people, Irish music has always played a significant role in the lives of Irish people. Nevertheless, much later after the centuries of British rule, Irish music interests considerably improved as well as dance in the late years of 1800. The next major revitalization in music concurred with the renewal of the 1960’s American traditional music.

Irish Rock and Irish Punk Music

During the late part of the 20th century, it became a common thing for the young musicians to blend the traditional folk music forms with punk and rock style of music. The Irish musicians pioneered the phase of this merge of folk and rock. The famous Irish punk groups, that is, the Pogues and Flogging Molly created a special place into Irish music and a whole new group of fans got attracted towards this folk-punk form of music.

Instruments

The main traditional musical instruments of Irsh traditional music include the bodhran, tin whistle, wooden flute, Uillean pipes and also the traditional Irsh harp. In addition to these, the accordion (concertina), banjo, bouzouki ( a big mandolin) and guitar are also common. All these traditional musical instruments have gained popularity during the past hundred years.

Irish Rock and Punk Music

During the late part of the 20th century, it became a common thing for young musicians to blend traditional folk music forms with punk and rock style of music. Irish musicians pioneered the phase of this merge of folk and rock. The famous Irish punk groups, that is, the Pogues and Flogging Molly created a special place in the Irish music scene and a whole new group of fans got attracted towards this folk-punk form of music.

Vocal Music – Sean Nos

Sean nos which is pronounced as ‘sean’ like in shawn and of course, the nos rhyming perfectly with ‘gross’ has the literal meaning as the ‘old style’ according to the Irish language. The Sean nos style is actually a type of solo a cappella ballad singing. This is surely an inseparable and significant part of Irish traditional music. Conventionally, sean nos songs are in Irish language only, however, the more modern forms of ballads may be found in the English language also.

Tune Styles

Generally, the time signatures and tune styles present in Irish folk music comprise of a single jig or the 12/8 time, double jig or the 6/8 time, reel or the 4/4 time, hornpipe or swing 4/4 time and slip jig or 9/8 time. Sometimes the polkas version or the 2/4 time as well as the mazurkas (waltzes) or 3/4 time are also found.

Traditional Irish Music Starter CDs
The Chieftains – ‘Water From the Well’ (released in 2000)
Solas – ‘The Hour Before Dawn’ (released in 2000)
Altan – ‘Harvest Storm’ (released in 1992

The Best Irish Music Sessions In Dublin

Trad Music Sessions in the Best Pubs in Dublin

One of the main reasons why so many visitors love visiting the city of Dublin is the opportunity of enjoying trad Irish music and its amazing ambience, especially in real Irish pubs. Fortunately, the only problem is which place to choose as there are many options available for experiencing trad Irish music. We have visited many traditional Irish music sessions which include some of the best singers. We share with you our Top 3 options that will help you enjoy a lovely evening of trad Irish music sessions in the Dublin city.

Visiting the less visited places is one of the most thrilling things to do in the Dublin city. Check out the Cobblestone pub (located in Smithfield) to experience one of the best trad Irish music nights. This Dublin pub is quite famous among the local people where the visitors enjoy a lot and tap toes with the music beats during the trad night music sessions over there. Cobblestone pub can be reached easily through the Luas red Line (Tram) or by getting down at stop 21A on the City Sightseeing Dublin Tour. This Dublin pub is just 15 minutes’ walk away from the Temple Bar.

The Northside is famous as the heart of Dublin’s personality and certainly the trad music night sessions at The Celt on Talbot Street ought not to be overlooked. This pub is definitely one of the most sought after pub for Dublin people and visitors who are on the lookout for a piece of pure Dublin culture. Take your seats and get absorbed in the atmosphere – the trad Irish music sessions here at ‘The Celt’ start at around 9 pm. It takes you only ten minutes to reach the pub when you walk from the Spire on O’Connell Street that is nearby the Connolly train station.

Temple Bar has flourishing pubs that let you experience amazing trad Irish music sessions. The Dublin Visitor Centre suggests night sessions at Merchant’s Arch Bar & Restaurant. This bar cum restaurant is snuggled beautifully beside the Ha’Penny Bridge on Wellington Quay. Letting you experience dynamic trad music sessions and offering a sumptuous late night menu, this place is surely the best option after spending the day in sightseeing. Located in the heart of Dublin city, this Irish pub can be reached easily by foot. It is less than a 5 minutes’ walk from the O’Connell and also from the Grafton Street.

Check out our activities section to get more info about things to do in Dublin or just contact the Dublin Visitor Centre team for the most amiable tourist information office experience in Dublin.

The Most Popular Irish Folk Bands Ever

Irish bands play a vital role in Irish culture. To be more precise, music is what defines Ireland as a country. Music is instilled into our souls from a very young age and when you become an adult, music becomes an inseparable part of our nightlife also.

As music is a major part of our Irish culture it often results in friends meeting in the local pub and either playing or listening to traditional Irish music sessions.

Being a big part of Irish culture, it is not a surprise that one can easily find numerous Irish bands all over the country. Selecting the top five Irish bands is next to impossible but we have given it a try! Check them out below.

1. The Chieftains

One of the most loved Irish traditional folk music bands is The Chieftains. This band was created in Dublin in 1963. With a strong Irish individuality, this band was formed by Paddy Moloney, Michael Tubridy and Sean Potts. The band members are also known as the main players for the modern-day development of Irish traditional music form.

The fame and success of The Chieftain spread globally, including the United Kingdom and the United States. Their success further increased when they got involved with the soundtrack of Barry Lyndon (a film by Stanley Kubrick in 1975), the movie received an Academy Award later on.

The Chieftains received a lot of awards for their amazing performance in music both in their native country and overseas as well. They even received the respectful title of “Ireland’s Musical Ambassadors” in the year 1989.

2. Horslips

With their Celtic rock style form, the Horslips are one of the most popular Irish traditional bands. This band is especially famous for the use of traditional reels, jigs and airs as the basis of their impressive music.

The Horslips were formed in 1970 in Dublin. They became a well known band that beautifully played Celtic fusion music. The band remained on a prolonged break during the period of 1980-2004. After returning to the music scene, the band has been gaining even more popularity.

During the conflict in Northern Ireland, Horslips played music on both the South and North border and were very popular in both regions. Soon people started considering this music group as a symbol of unity among people who had different political opinions.

3. The Dubliners

Originating in the Emerald Isle, The Dubliners are indeed the best traditional Irish band without any doubt. This band began in 1962. The lead members of this band (Luke Kelly & Ronnie Drew) have remained the lead singer for The Dubliners.

The band has achieved various awards for its contribution and participation in the Irish music scene. In 2012, the band won a Lifetime Achievement Award. They also got immense support from its followers like Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan.

When Barney McKenna, the final founding member of the band, passed away in 2012, the Band decided to come to a halt after an awesome, popular and very bright career of 50 years.

4. Clannad

The Clannad music band began as a family band initially. It consisted of siblings including Moya Brennan, Ciarán Brennan and Pól. The band included twin uncles of the family, namely, Pádraig Duggan and Noel. It was formed in County Donegal in the year 1970, and it started achieving global success soon after.

The Clannad band has released a wide collection of music. During the period of 1980-1982, the band did not only tour internationally but toured with Enya.

As a symbol of their talent and skills, the Clannad band has been given a lot of rewards. The band even achieved a Grammy Award, a Billboard Music Award and a BAFTA during their career. The band always remained connected to its Celtic base but it got more recognition abroad than in Ireland.

5. Planxty

This famous band was created in 1972 in Dublin. It included Andy Irvine, Liam O’Flynn, Christy Moore and Dónal Lunny. They were experts in the traditional Irish music scene. The band became famous mainly for presenting and popularizing the traditional folk music in such a beautiful way.

Just as it happens commonly with most traditional Irish music bands, many different musicians joined this group throughout Planxty’s career. The band played great music for three significant periods of time which included the period of 1972-75 (the first term), 1978-83 (the second term), and the final revival took place from 2003 to 2005.

There is no information about the comeback of this band. However, the band lead, Christy Moore is still connected with music writing and production. He retains his fame as always. Moore is also planning a tour around Ireland in 2018-19 for the promotion of his very new music album titled ‘On the Road’.

The History Of Irish Music

Ireland is not only famous for its amazing music bands like U2 and The Script but we also know how to stay connected with traditions. Welcoming more than 400,000 visitors every year, the Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann (the Music Festival of Ireland) is the most celebrated as well as the biggest traditional Irish music celebration across the globe where people from all over the world enjoy and celebrate the 2,000 year old Irish tradition.

All of us are well aware that once the traditional Irish music instrument comes out, it only goes back in the bag after performing a pleasurable and memorable night. But have you ever thought where and how it all begin?

Beginning as an oral tradition, the traditional Irish music was passed on from one generation to the other through the methods of listening, ear learning and without jotting down the tunes on paper in a formal way. The same old practice of learning and remembering songs/tunes only by listening (and not by writing them down formally) is followed even today.

The Celts brought traditional music to the country 2,000 years ago. The Celts were attracted towards the music of the East and it is widely accepted that even the traditional harp of Ireland may have originated in Egypt.

During the ancient era, the harp used to be the most famous instrument and harpists were hired to play tunes for the rulers and the aristocrats. This tradition continued until 1607 when the first Flight of the Earls took place wherein the native Irish rulers absconded the native land due to the risk of attacks. As soon as the native Irish patrons departed to Europe, the harp players were left behind and they started travelling the country and tried to play wherever they could get the chance to do so!

For a long time, the tunes were not jotted down officially but then, later in 1762, it was time for a change and the tunes were now being noted down formally for the very first time. The tune collectors started traveling Ireland in order to compile music which can be seen even today. This same tradition of music and tune collection is still followed at Irish Traditional Music Archive in Dublin. This archive is the world’s largest assortment of folk and traditional music. It can be very well noticed at Fleadh Cheoil events that the traditional Irish music has travelled much beyond than the 32 Irish counties. Our traditional music has toured all across the globe and finds gratefulness in our elaborated emigration history. During the famine, a huge number of Irish relocated to the States and brought their music along with them.

During the 1920s, the traditional music scene was noticed specifically in the States. During this stage traditional Irish music was recorded for the very first time and were made accessible to the Irish people residing in foreign lands. Michael Coleman, the famous fiddle player is one such music player whose recordings in New York inspired the fiddle players of the States as well as those in Ireland for a long period of time.

The style of music was served openly to a greater number of audiences because of the effect of Sean Ó Riada – the famous composer and collector of traditional Irish music. He founded the traditional music group called Ceoltóirí Chulainn that was mainly inspired by the classical forms of music. This music group started making traditional music. This new move of music arrangement was never done before. Ó Riada’s influence can be easily noticed even today in the innovative music group (grúpa ceoil ) competition during the Fleadh Cheoil festival.

In recent times, traditional Irish music has been used in association with European and American music. This phase of collaborated music was called the traditional music’s Golden Age. The two music groups, namely, De Dannan & Planxty steered this phase. A significant amount of celtic fusion has also been observed along with more famous styles of music. The famous artists like Sinéad O’Connor, Flook, Dropkick Murphys and Daithí use and give much value to traditional music elements.

It is important to notice that the Irish flute, celtic harp, fiddle, tin whistle, bodhrán and uilleann pipes are the chief traditional music instruments of Ireland. The fiddle is similar to the violin but the style of playing is the main factor that helps distinguish between the two. Fiddle players see less conformism in the way in which the fiddle is held and a trad musician feels freedom in experimenting with more musical adornment. The same holds true for every trad music player. The Irish traditional music is hugely adorned by an individual player and it would really be difficult to find any music players who play similar tunes using a similar method!