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Thread: Backing Irish music with guitar after playing mandolin melody

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    Default Backing Irish music with guitar after playing mandolin melody

    I've played mandolin for a long time but grew up playing it so I never really learnt any musical theory apart from a few lessons when I was about 5. I've got hold of an old guitar that is tuned in DADGAD because I want to learn to back people and also because I feel like my musical knowledge is seriously lacking, like I can't even work out what key anything is in. Any tips on where to start? I have never played chords on mandolin, and didn't even know what a chord was until yesterday.

  2. #2

    Default Re: Backing Irish music with guitar after playing mandolin melody

    Any Irish sessions where you live?

  3. #3
    Harley Marty
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    Default Re: Backing Irish music with guitar after playing mandolin melody

    The basic indicator for which key a tune is in rests in the end note. If a tune resolves on or the last note is a G for example then the key almost always is G.

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    Registered User John Kelly's Avatar
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    Default Re: Backing Irish music with guitar after playing mandolin melody

    If you are really at the very start of your chordal explorations, I would suggest that you learn basic chords in the common keys we use in trad music - C Major, G Major, D Major and A. For each key learn the three chords which can be used to cover the great majority of the tunes; you will hear folk in the world of pop or other genres talking about "The Three Chord Trick. Those are known as the 1, 4 and 5 chords at their simplest, or Tonic, Subdominant and Dominant, but no more theory for now.
    In one octave of the key of D major the scale notes are D E F# G A B C# and D. There are 2 sharps in this scale, F# and C#. The 1, 4, and 5 chords would be D Major, G Major and A Major - just begin with the scale's root note and count along, so D=1, G=4, A=5. I picked the D major scale as the three chords are easier to finger, I would say, than if you picked C major whose 4th chord if F Major and it is a bit of a brute to learn!

    Using our simple counting method, in Key of C we have C D E F G A B C - note no sharps(#) or flats(b) - so 1=C, 4=F and 5=G.
    In G Major we have G, A, B, C, D, E, F#, G, so 1=G, 4=C and 5=D.
    In key of A Major, notes A, B, C#, D, E, F#, G#, A, so 1=A, 4=D and 5=E.
    Concentrate on getting your fretting fingers playing clean notes and not snagging or muting any other strings, and work on developing the chord shape so that your fingers can begin to form the chord shape as you place them on the fingerboard. Learning to get the shapes takes a while but you need also to practise changing between chords, and for this I would suggest that you begin with the 1, strum it say four times, then move to the 4 and strum it four times, back to the 1, then the 5. You can work out your own patterns for this exercise and after a whille you can try changing chords on every beat, just for the hell of it and to get your fingers working!

    I am not going to put chord symbols in this wee posting as there are countless examples online if you just have a quick search for chord symbols. This should help you to get going, I hope.
    I'm playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order. - Eric Morecambe

    http://www.youtube.com/user/TheOldBores

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    Be Wild Zach Wilson's Avatar
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    Default Re: Backing Irish music with guitar after playing mandolin melody

    In my youth I took "home" guitar lessons from a friend of the family. She encouraged me to:

    1: learn many chord shapes (use a web search or buy a chord book).

    2: Find which chords go well with each other (John explained this well above). It doesn't take a lifetime of theory to learn what chords naturally sound good in each key. Use a scale. The 1 chord is the key. The 2, 3, 6 are Minor chords. The 4 and 5 are Major chords. A the 7 is a Diminished chord. *This is only a basic reference but will get you started.*

    3: Pick 2 to 5 chords in a key (start with 2 or 3 and add more in time) and learn to move between them efficiently. It will get easier with practice.

    Hope this helps!

  7. #6

    Default Re: Backing Irish music with guitar after playing mandolin melody

    An easy route you could take could be to learn a whole load of tunes from Jack Campin’s 9 note tunebook.
    http://www.campin.me.uk/Music/Chalumeau.abc (Happy Christmas ) All these tunes should all be playable between two strings.

    Make note of the key for each tune and play them on the lowest two strings of your guitar, they’re tuned in fifths just like your mandolin.
    Then learn the G major and D major key double stops on the bottom two strings all up the neck.

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    Default Re: Backing Irish music with guitar after playing mandolin melody

    I think you should look at something like this:

    https://www.oaim.ie/guitar/dadgad-guitar-accompaniment/
    David A. Gordon

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    Registered User Dave Hicks's Avatar
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    Default Re: Backing Irish music with guitar after playing mandolin melody


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    Registered User DougC's Avatar
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    Default Re: Backing Irish music with guitar after playing mandolin melody

    MJ McMahon is spot on in teaching DADGAD chords. Dagger thanks for a very good link.



    Most all struggle with the basic questions like 'where to put your fingers' 'what is the appropriate rhythm' and 'how to name the sound of the notes that are produced'.

    The other aspect many miss is to have an audio source that can play the melody as you practice playing along. Repetition is very important in order to succeed in learning.

    And a source of of tunes that are very common, not uncommon variations in odd keys for example, really helps in 'finding your way' among almost overwhelming amounts of media.
    Decipit exemplar vitiis imitabile

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    Default Re: Backing Irish music with guitar after playing mandolin melody

    There is an astonishing amount of material on YouTube. Mandolessons has a lot of introductory lessons on YouTube and his web site. Sierra Hull has some short ‘hints’ type videos. Basically, all of the biggest names in the Mandolin world have a bit here and there.

    YouTube also allows you to slowdown the videos if you want to follow a video at a more leisurely pace.

  14. #11

    Default Re: Backing Irish music with guitar after playing mandolin melody

    Thanks very much for the replies, John Kelly and Zach Wilson your explanations of which chords go together is very insightful. I'm actually going to start by learning chords in GDAD octave mandolin as the stretch on my fingers is a bit easier.

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    Registered User Paul Cowham's Avatar
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    Default Re: Backing Irish music with guitar after playing mandolin melody

    Hi Derp,
    Great advice from others on this thread. I play a lot of backing for Irish music on the guitar. Where I live there are a bunch of good Irish tune players (usually 2nd or 3rd generation), although there are less opportunities for things like bluegrass on the mando!

    It sounds like you need to work on your ear. As Jim says, are there any sessions near you? This can be a great way of meeting other people and learning about the music. A slight word of caution though, inexperienced (and even experienced) guitarists can be unpopular at sessions as they don't always listen. If you can get to one, then you probably should. If you want to try and play, then do so extremely quietly as you feel your way around the tunes (what key are they in etc), i.e. don't contribute to the overall sound of the session until you feel more confident and/or are invited to.

    If you already play tunes on the mando then it might be worth trying to understand things like the key on the mando before applying to a new instrument?

    If I'm at a session and there is a tune being played that I don't know, there are a couple of things to establish before thinking about the chord changes and melody, firstly what sort of tune is it? Jig, reel, polka, slide, hornpipe, slipjig? I think that the rhythm is the most important thing to understand before anything else. If you already play the tunes on the mando, presumably you have some understanding of this? Then there is the key. Irish music tends to use 4 modes, I'd suggest that you need to be able to recognise by ear the difference between major tunes, minor tunes and mixolydian tunes (which I like to think of as Irish blues, Banish Misfortune is a great and commonly played jig which uses this mode).

    Finally, DADGAD is used by many Irish guitar players, and can sound really good (as can any tuning in the right hands). I personally use standard and some drop D. Some of the best Irish players such as the great late Arty McGlynn and John Doyle use drop D. Inexperienced DADGAD players can use a capo to change key and just play the same shapes. This may be a useful thing for learners, but I don't think is the best way to play, every tune is different. Standard tuning is probably more tricky to pick up, but open strings can be used in a wider range of keys than with DADGAD. I tend to not use a capo, but capo on third fret for tunes in flat keys (such as Bb, Gm, Cm, Eb).

    The guitarist Frank Kilkelly has a really good website on this subject and some very well though out instructional material (NFI) which might be worth checking out. https://irishtradguitar.com/frank-kilkelly/

    Good luck and have fun!
    Last edited by Paul Cowham; Dec-29-2020 at 9:46pm.

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    Default Re: Backing Irish music with guitar after playing mandolin melody

    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Cowham View Post
    A slight word of caution though, inexperienced (and even experienced) guitarists can be unpopular at sessions as they don't always listen. If you can get to one, then you probably should. If you want to try and play, then do so extremely quietly as you feel your way around the tunes (what key are they in etc), i.e. don't contribute to the overall sound of the session until you feel more confident and/or are invited to.

    If you already play tunes on the mando then it might be worth trying to understand things like the key on the mando before applying to a new instrument?

    If I'm at a session and there is a tune being played that I don't know, there are a couple of things to establish before thinking about the chord changes and melody, firstly what sort of tune is it? Jig, reel, polka, slide, hornpipe, slipjig? I think that the rhythm is the most important thing to understand before anything else. If you already play the tunes on the mando, presumably you have some understanding of this? Then there is the key. Irish music tends to use 4 modes, I'd suggest that you need to be able to recognise by ear the difference between major tunes, minor tunes and mixolydian tunes (which I like to think of as Irish blues, Banish Misfortune is a great and commonly played jig which uses this mode).

    Finally, DADGAD is used by many Irish guitar players, and can sound really good (as can any tuning in the right hands). I personally use standard and some drop D. Some of the best Irish players such as the great late Arty McGlynn and John Doyle use drop D. Inexperienced DADGAD players can use a capo to change key and just play the same shapes. This may be a useful thing for learners, but I don't think is the best way to play, every tune is different. Standard tuning is probably more tricky to pick up, but open strings can be used in a wider range of keys than with DADGAD. I tend to not use a capo, but capo on third fret for tunes in flat keys (such as Bb, Gm, Cm, Eb).
    Good info, Paul!

    There's also an older multi-page cautionary MandolinCafe discussion about guitars in Irish music. (Not sure I should link to that thread, as it might at first seem discouraging to new guitarists. But it's info that the OP would find out eventually anyway, and it's arguably better to have advance knowledge of the "why" of how things are, so as to better adapt to it.)

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    Registered User Paul Cowham's Avatar
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    Default Re: Backing Irish music with guitar after playing mandolin melody

    Quote Originally Posted by JL277z View Post
    There's also an older multi-page cautionary MandolinCafe discussion about guitars in Irish music. (Not sure I should link to that thread, as it might at first seem discouraging to new guitarists. But it's info that the OP would find out eventually anyway, and it's arguably better to have advance knowledge of the "why" of how things are, so as to better adapt to it.)
    Thanks JL, that discussion explains my word of caution in excellent detail!

    It's probably worth pointing out though that ,near me, and I suspect more generally in Irish trad, good "backers" i.e. rhythmic/chordal players are fairly rare, certainly compared to good tune players. So if you get good at backing, you could
    be in more demand as a musician and find it an easier way to get into bands and interesting musical situations than just playing tunes.

    Derp, you mention that you've got an octave mandolin and are learning chords on this, I suspect that may be a a really good way to go. It is probably easier to get into backing tunes on an octave mando and get a more "authentic" sound than on the guitar, especially if you already play mando. I also think that many of the best guitarists in Irish Trad often have a more general guitar background. E.g. Frank Kilkelly whose link was in my last post plays a lot of jazz, Arty McGlynn played allsorts including country and jazz, Jim Murray started with the Beatles and James Taylor on the guitar. I say this as I think that it is probably only worth getting into the guitar if you really want to play guitar. If you just want to accompany Irish music then sticking to the octave mando may well be the best approach.

    Also, for me the octave mando (and similar), is about the only instrument that can credibly be used as both a tune and chordal instrument in Irish trad. Tunes don't work so well on the guitar (unless you're Arty McGlynn etc) and are easily lost in a session, and backing doesn't work so well on the mando.

    Just a few personal thoughts
    Last edited by Paul Cowham; Dec-31-2020 at 8:09pm.

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    Registered User foldedpath's Avatar
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    Default Re: Backing Irish music with guitar after playing mandolin melody

    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Cowham View Post
    It's probably worth pointing out though that ,near me, and I suspect more generally in Irish trad, good "backers" i.e. rhythmic/chordal players are fairly rare, certainly compared to good tune players. So if you get good at backing, you could be in more demand as a musician and find it an easier way to get into bands and interesting musical situations than just playing tunes.
    That's true in my areas as well, out here in the US Pacific Northwest. Good Irish backers on guitar are worth their weight in gold. It's like being a bass player in a rock band, you'll never lack for gigs.

    In the higher-end Irish trad sessions around here, there is an informal rule about one guitar backer at a time, so if you're the good one you'll always have a seat at the table in sessions.

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    Default Re: Backing Irish music with guitar after playing mandolin melody

    You may find Chris Smith's book useful to give you an insight into the whole subject of backing.
    Celtic Backup For All Instruments
    I bought it to help with my Tenor guitar and Mandoloncello backing of tunes, but it really helped wit my decisions when using the mandolin backing songs too.
    As primarily a tune player on mandolin & fiddle it gave me a good box of techniques to explore & boosted my confidence that I wouldn't be causing issues through ignorance of how to approach things. I get to play with some very skilled trad players and singers so I feel I'd have to crawl into a dark cave & hide for years if I messed up their set or song.

    (MelBay are still doing 35% off when I checked just now for the link)
    Eoin



    "Forget that anyone is listening to you and always listen to yourself" - Fryderyk Chopin

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    Default Re: Backing Irish music with guitar after playing mandolin melody

    The two most important things you need to learn in backing Irish Trad is that 1) accompaniment is superfluous to the music and can easily dominate the tunes in a negative way, and 2) know the tunes you're backing quite well. Ideally well enough to play melody on.

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