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Thread: What Irish tunes should I learn?

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    Default What Irish tunes should I learn?

    So, I was at my wife's office Christmas party, getting a tad tipsy and chewing the fat with this guy who plays in a Celtic band. We got onto the topic of Irish sessions. He told me there's an Irish session that happens twice a month that's about a 45 minute drive from me.

    I've been shy about going to an Irish session, because, well, I need to know the darn tunes, and as much as I love Celtic fiddle tunes, I don't know hardly any to be able to play my mando at a session.

    My friend said I could play rhythm on my bouzouki, especially if I tune it G-D-A-D. Okay. That's good for a start.

    I would also, in time, want to play the tunes in the session on my mando. Can you guys give me a list of, say, 10 or so tunes that I should know pretty well before I attempt to play melody in an Irish session?

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    but that's just me Bertram Henze's Avatar
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    Default Re: What Irish tunes should I learn?

    Backing: takes some experience and/or knowing the tunes as well. Try how you do with recordings, e.g. on youtube.
    Melody: the set of standard or must-know tunes depends on the session. Listen to what they play, ask for the names of tunes and start practising afterwards. Choosing tunes in advance is also good, but if you happen to be the only one to know the tune you start a set with be prepared to play 3 times round alone, everybody waiting for joining in the next tune they hopefully all know
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    Mandolin Botherer Shelagh Moore's Avatar
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    Default Re: What Irish tunes should I learn?

    Probably best to ask at the session. I've played at lots of different sessions and the repertoire usually varies at each although certain tunes do crop up fairly regularly (although this tends to evolve over time... some tunes that seemed common 40 years ago don't seem to get played so much now).

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    Registered User Jill McAuley's Avatar
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    Default Re: What Irish tunes should I learn?

    Agree with Richard and Bertram re: best to ask the folks at the session what tunes/sets they play. Regarding common session tunes (you're likely to come across some of these at a session), there is "Dow's List" from www.thesession.org, with 50-60 common tunes:

    http://www.cheakamus.com/Ceilidh/Dow.../Dows_List.pdf

    And also the well known Foinn Seisiún recordings (four volumes) from Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, with tons of tunes. This link is from the CCE website but you can get them in the States via Amazon, or also on iTunes:

    https://comhaltas.ie/shop/detail/foi...n_cd_volume_1/
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    Default Re: What Irish tunes should I learn?

    On the subject of backing ITM is interesting in that the backing is improvised while tue melody is set and played in unison.Dont under estimate the difficulty involved in improvising backing to ITM. IMHO Nothing ruins a session faster than poor backing musicians.

    As for a list of tunes, every session will have its own list of tunes. In my expierence its near impossible to guess at what tunes are played in a particular session.

    My advice (for what its worth) is go to the session without an instrument, have a drink, chat and record the tunes. Find out the names of the tunes if you can and work on them in your own time.

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    Registered User Randi Gormley's Avatar
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    Default Re: What Irish tunes should I learn?

    Some of the old chestnuts are so old that some of the modern sessioneers won't play them. And if there are a lot of flutes, they'll play flute-y tunes; pipes or Scottish-bending musicians will play stuff in odd keys .... Depends on the session. Couple sessions I attend, we'll play a whole slew of different types of tunes -- polkas, slip jigs, hornpipes, slides, the occasional waltz and, of course, o'carolan -- in addition to reels and jigs. Other sessions mostly play reels. Which is why I'll add my voice to others to say just drop down and listen. Ask if you can record the players and explain you're interested in ITM. They should be encouraging and may even invite you to drop by the next time they meet and bring your instrument. Listen to the backing instruments, too; as Noah mentioned, backing is a real art. You have to know the tunes as well as if you were playing melody, you need to be familiar with modes and you need to be alert to when the A and B parts are being played because they generally aren't in the same key, same mode or, occasionally, will sound like they're not even the same tune.
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    but that's just me Bertram Henze's Avatar
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    Default Re: What Irish tunes should I learn?

    Quote Originally Posted by Randi Gormley View Post
    You have to know the tunes as well as if you were playing melody, you need to be familiar with modes and you need to be alert to when the A and B parts are being played because they generally aren't in the same key, same mode or, occasionally, will sound like they're not even the same tune.
    Listen to her.

    Plus, when you bring a bouzouki, everybody will expect that you are a proficient ITM backer already, because for what else would one need a bouzouki? A new guitar player will be forgiven, because they will expect him (and tell him) to get lost with his I,IV,V chords anyway, but a less-than-stellar bouzouki player is like a kid with a real-looking toy gun at a real bank robbery

    Not meaning to discourage you , there are ways in, or else nobody would be playing this music. YouTube is your friend for trying to play along. If you can make it there, you'll make it anywhere. I have learned much of my backing skills that way: pick any tune you don't know and try to find good-sounding chords on the fly, which is very difficult at first, but will develop as your ears learn to soak in the harmony and structure of the tune. You'll find that most tunes fall into only a few harmonic categories, and one chord set will work for many tunes; then it's only about recognizing.
    Last edited by Bertram Henze; Dec-19-2017 at 10:05am.
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    Default Re: What Irish tunes should I learn?

    There is also a phone app called "Tunepal." It's like Shazam for Irish music. It will listen to a tune being played, tell you the name, and even display the sheet music for that tune. It might be worth exploring that before you go to the session.

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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: What Irish tunes should I learn?

    Find out what tunes are popular with your local session.

    Listen a lot, as much as possible, all the time. Get obsessed with the music.

    Look at your feet. If you see an involuntary toe tapping - that's the tune to start with.
    Indulge responsibly!

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    but that's just me Bertram Henze's Avatar
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    Default Re: What Irish tunes should I learn?

    Quote Originally Posted by lonestar_shawn View Post
    "Tunepal."
    In my experience, this app reflects the ambiguity of Irish music regarding tune names and tune versions and downloads it onto the user, non-chill-filtered. It can't detect rhythms (i.e. cannot tell reels from jigs) and tries to classify by the melody notes contained in the tune. Good luck telling "Leitrim Fancy" and "Round the World for Sport" apart with that. I never got less than 20 suggestions on any given tune in a session, and often the real tune was not among them.

    Ask the players, write down the names (of the tunes, not the players), and then go to thesession.org with that to check if you've got the right tune for a name (for there may be many tunes with the same name, and many names to a tune; but within a session the association is unique in most cases).
    I have met players who have given up on the name business altogether and just play (nirvana mode): "do you want to start with this" (plays 2 bars) "or that?" (plays two bars)
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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: What Irish tunes should I learn?

    Don't worry about names. When I can't remember a name, I make it up, and then graciously allow myself to be corrected.

    me: Y'all know the tune Large and Crumbly? It goes like this.

    helpful jammer: Ummm..,. that's Maid Behind The Bar.

    me: Oh yea. I knew she was large and crumbly. Lets play.
    Indulge responsibly!

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    but that's just me Bertram Henze's Avatar
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    Default Re: What Irish tunes should I learn?

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffD View Post
    helpful jammer: Ummm..,. that's Maid Behind The Bar.

    me: Oh yea. I knew she was large and crumbly. Lets play.
    Now please take that R. Crumb cartoon out of my head
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    Default Re: What Irish tunes should I learn?

    To echo what everyone has said, there is no definitive 'top 10' of session tunes - top 200 or 300, maybe. There are many publications out there with selections of the more common tunes, but Dow's list (as mentioned above by Jill McAuley) is as good as any of them. From one of these books, or Dow's list, learn whichever 10 take your fancy and there is a very high chance that others in the session will know them. There is no guarantee whatsoever that any of those 10 tunes will be played - expect to sit and listen most of the time - but if you are invited to start a tune, play one of those 10 and you are alost guaranteed to have people join you.

    I will also echo the comments about backing: Do not assume that, if you don't know the melody, you can get away with simply strumming chords. The chances are, there will already be someone providing accompaniment on guitar or bouzouki - or perhaps piano - and the chords they play will not necessarily be the same as those you are inclined to play. It is far better to listen. Immerse yourself to the point of near drowning; what doesn't kill you makes you stronger (...besides, death by trad would be a sweet way to go, anyway).

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    Default Re: What Irish tunes should I learn?

    Quote Originally Posted by Randi Gormley View Post
    Some of the old chestnuts are so old that some of the modern sessioneers won't play them.
    I'm afraid that's true. There have been lots of threads a bit like this one over the years, but every time I see a suggested list with The Kesh Jig, Irish Washerwoman etc on it, I can't help but think that most Irish style session players will have played them literally thousands of times and frankly have probably had enough of them.

    On the other hand, you've got to start somewhere.

    I think, on balance, that you are probably better to listen as much as you can and try to learn tunes which you are personally most attracted to. If you started to play one of these, it is quite likely that a more experienced player might recognise it and help you through it, and you might well find that to be a more supportive experience. This is essentially repeating what Whistler just said.

    The 'old chestnuts' will no doubt appear, and over time you will pick them up.
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    Default Re: What Irish tunes should I learn?

    You might try browsing the Discussion forum at thesession.org

    Some of the posts there can be pretty cranky, but worth taking under advisement anyway.

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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: What Irish tunes should I learn?

    The hard part of breaking into celtic sessions vs. old time sessions is that in OT they rarely play medleys and often play the same tune over and over multiple times. Most of the ITM sessions I have been have sets of tunes and most are played maybe 3 times each (if that). OTOH you could ask to record some of those and get the tune names you have at least something to work on.

    Definitely get a sense of the tunes at a session. Most people won't be too annoyed if you ask the names of tunesin the sets but do write them down so you won;t have to ask every time you come.
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    but that's just me Bertram Henze's Avatar
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    Default Re: What Irish tunes should I learn?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Garber View Post
    Most people won't be too annoyed if you ask the names of tunesin the sets but do write them down so you won;t have to ask every time you come.
    ...and when you come back, show them you've practised some of those tunes. Musicians like it when their circle is enlarged by promising new talents willing to learn.
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    Default Re: What Irish tunes should I learn?

    Thanks so much for the great advice. I will do that: record the first session I go to then keep learning.

    I have a copy of The Fiddler's Fakebook, and I was culling it for Celtic tunes and starting the list of the ones I like. I found every one on YouTube, which helps a lot too.

    And I especially appreciate your counsel about backing, with it apparently being as particular and challenging as playing the tunes.

    I'm on it. Thanks again!

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    Registered User CelticDude's Avatar
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    Default Re: What Irish tunes should I learn?

    One strategy is to learn some tunes that aren't so overplayed that everyone hates them, but are common enough that most seisun-goers will know them. It's also fun to have one relatively obscure tune in hand. Usually one or two of the experts will know it, and everyone else will be impressed that you can play it.

    Here are my suggestions:
    Jigs:
    Connaughtman's Rambles - not totally overplayed yet
    Langstrom's Pony - rarely played yet everyone seems to know it
    Morrison's Jig - pushing the overplayed, but still acceptable to most?
    The Gallowglass - here's the obscure one. A guy visiting from Ireland knew it, and the seisun leader sort of did.

    Slip Jigs:
    An Phish Fluich (the Good Wife) - great tune, but don't use the Gaelic name in front of someone's Irish grandmother. She'll smack you with a shillelagh.
    Humours of Whiskey
    The Butterfly - definitely overplayed, but still good to know.
    Exile's Jig

    Reels:
    Wise Maid
    Maid Behind the Bar
    Gravel Walk
    Musical Priest - okay, this is more one of my favourites
    Beare Isle - really cool, never played, but everyone seems to know it

    Others here may disagree, or add some, but I think it's not a bad start. Your idea to record the first seisun is good, but I've found that many of those I recorded and learned didn't get played next time. Still, any you learn, and then start at a seisun, you'll know that most there know it.

    Good luck. I have somewhat mixed feelings about seisuns in the US. I'm lucky to know the leader, but they can be cliquish. The one time I was in Ireland, I found seisuns to be much more open and relaxed. They even played Ste Anne's reel, and a country song.

  25. #20

    Default Re: What Irish tunes should I learn?

    Thanks, again.

    I got a $25 gift card for iTunes, so I bought a Kevin Burke album. (I also bought a collection of old-time tunes--wonderful--but that's another thread.)

    Two tunes I've fallen in love with: "Rocky Road to Dublin" and "The King of the Fairies".

    I've been working on "Congress Reel" also.

    Now, to find a session. My experience--a "one-off", really--with a session (now defunct) was that it was, like you said, CelticDude, a tad cliquish.

    The nearest session I've been able to find is an old-time/Celtic session that's a two hour drive from me. The next closest is 2 1/2 hours away. I might go to the first one every now and then. I've been warmly welcomed to join in, so there's that.

    Thanks!

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    but that's just me Bertram Henze's Avatar
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    Default Re: What Irish tunes should I learn?

    Congress Reel is a good start. King of the Fairies is a somwhat more rare barndance. Rocky Road to Dublin is a song you can stand out with, if you can sing it, that is. And it is not an easy one.
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    Certified! Bernie Daniel's Avatar
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    Default Re: What Irish tunes should I learn?

    Quote Originally Posted by CelticDude View Post
    ...I have somewhat mixed feelings about seisuns in the US. I'm lucky to know the leader, but they can be cliquish. The one time I was in Ireland, I found seisuns to be much more open and relaxed. They even played Ste Anne's reel, and a country song.
    ITM players seem to have a reputation of being be more picky and prickly than some of the other common music genres we often mention here IMO. However the groups around this town seem very friendly and helpful!

    Interesting to hear the opinions about the players in Ireland as compared to here. Maybe you were getting special treatment because you were a guest?
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    Registered User foldedpath's Avatar
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    Default Re: What Irish tunes should I learn?

    Quote Originally Posted by Bernie Daniel View Post
    ITM players seem to have a reputation of being be more picky and prickly than some of the other common music genres we often mention here IMO. However the groups around this town seem very friendly and helpful!
    I don't know about Ireland (haven't been there yet, really need to go), but here in the USA the "picky and prickly" sessions aren't always just being snobbish. It's more a question of self-preservation, in a country where there are armies of guitar players and others, who will barge into sessions thinking it's an "acoustic jam," with no idea of how the music works, and how different it is from Americana music. They get upset when told the melody players would prefer one guitar at a time, or one bodhran at a time, or that it's not a sing-a-long circle.

    This doesn't happen everywhere, but it happens often enough that Irish trad sessions here in the USA often have this protective edginess, compared to looser gatherings of other amateur acoustic musicians.

    I've seen one local Irish session killed off by being overrun with singer-songwriter guitarists and a shift towards OldTime. Nothing wrong with either genre, but it wasn't why the original crew got together to play Irish music. So the fiddlers left the scene. Happily, it returned to being a 100% Irish session a few years later, when the owner of the venue decided he wanted an Irish session. The fiddlers came back.

    Not all sessions experience this kind of drama, but it happens, and maybe more often here in the USA with so many different acoustic music styles (and so many danged guitar players). The current sessions in my area are very open to newcomers, very welcoming to those with a genuine interest in the music. That said, you'll get a warmer welcome if you walk in the door as a newcomer carrying a fiddle, flute, or mandolin than if you walk in the door with a guitar.

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    Registered User liestman's Avatar
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    Default Re: What Irish tunes should I learn?

    I would add this to all the advice above, all of which is great: Learn some of the tunes, show up at the session, explain nicely that you are new to this but really want to play this music and eventually play it up to their speed. Explain that you only know a few tunes and ask if you can start one, at your own pace. Most sessions I know will appreciate this attitude and will let you start (and complete) your tune at your tempo and you will have begun to join the session. If you instead show up and wait for your tune to be started by one of the regulars, first they may not play it at all and second they will probably play it faster than you are able, so you will end up just sitting there with your instrument in your hand. Try it and see if this approach works - it should get you on the path and get you started on being accepted.
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    Default Re: What Irish tunes should I learn?

    Threads like these make me want to ignore this music and focus on old time or pretty much any other musical genre out there. And I love this excrement...seriously...(excrement utilized to avoid getting bleeped, really do love this music)...
    Chuck

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