The 'essence' of Irish

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The 'essence' of Irish

I have a wonderful problem I need help on.

I was asked by a local promoter to put on an Irish Workshop during a day of performances. I was told since I play a lot of Irish tunes to feature a workshop where other musicians can learn the essence of Irish music. Now then pilgrum, if I was asked to do the same for an old timey or a bluegrass festival you'd have to get out of the way. Chording, breaks, passing the lead, alternative melody lines work in bluegrass and old timey but for Irish? Fat chance. Chording gets trampled with quickly flowing melodies. So what's a guy to say? I'd like your opinion of what makes Irish work, what is the essence of Irish I can pass on to others.


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I'm no expert

I'm not a pure Irish player by any means but I have noted some distinct between the forms (particularly old time and Irish) that I think stand out fairly clearly for anyone who is actually trying to play the different styles.

I believe the timing and syncopation of rhythm is easily one of the biggest differences that I encounter. When playing tunes in common time there is more "bounce" in the timing than similar tunes played in a straight (or blues tinted) bluegrass style. There are also more original Irish tunes that are nearly continuous strings of eighth notes which can really help produce this kind of 'trot' feeling. Of course jigs are extremely common in Irish music and these come with a 6/8 time signature that almost forces that feel.

I believe that Irish music also tends to have a broader instrument pallet than most bluegrass or old time music. There are often more instruments occupying more registers (e.g. guitar, fiddle, voice, pipes, accordion, percussion, etc.) but even individual instruments are played in a fuller voicing. There are often a high number of chord changes relative to the song melody which makes for a much fuller sound.

I don't know if your workshop will be guitar focused but there is a whole lot you can do with rhythm guitar in Irish music. Alternate tunings are often used to further open up the sound and facilitate the faster chord changes and there's a whole genre of fingerstyle stuff that I can't even touch today but could be interesting to anyone who has done mostly American fingerstyle in their playing.

Anyone who can correct or extend my assertions please jump in. I do really like to play in the style and there are no end of great tunes from that side of the pond.

Play Well.

Joined: 31 May 2008
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Irish music

Irish music, in my opinion, tends to be rather modal and so often does not quite fit into the same chordal patterns as Old Time and Bluegrass.
I find it much easier to play on fiddle than to try to quickly fit the right chords into it.
It is based on an old modal scale. For a long time it was illegal for the Irish to play their own music. At least this is what I was told.
Because of the scarcity of musicians they relied on one or two instruments both playing melody. If you go to an Irish session you will find that there is very little harmony and everyone plays the melody.
It is a music that was meant for dancing and so does have a stronger bounce and swing to it.

The essence of Irish

Believe it or not I play a hammered dulcimer. Few other string instruments are so far out of the Irish tradition and it surprised me that I was asked to put on this workshop. There are perhaps a dozen or so fiddlers who are vastly more accomplished then I at teaching Irish music. It may be she (the promoter of this Irish event) is trying to lure more HD players into the genre but playing Irish never has been a problem for an HD player. I'm also suspecting unless I advertise it to my friends we'll have a very eclectic mix of instruments which means more theory, less on the HD's role in Irish music. I've got five months to prepare so I appreciate your thoughts and would like more.


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