Learner's Session of Irish Traditional Music at Slow Pace
About   Wellness   Sets   Tunes

The set dancing class runs for two hours and, half-way through, we take a short break. During the break, we have a 10-minute "Learner's Session". Anyone who wishes to bring along an instrument can join in - in fact, if you play the whistle, you don't even need to bring an instrument, I usually have a spare one, just in case someone wishes to play it.

We have only 10 minutes, so, to save time, we have a set list of tunes. If you are just starting out, please don't be put off by the length of the tune list below - it's the list of tunes we plan to learn, in any case, we have just 10 minutes, so we typically only play a few tunes at each class. We're not aiming at perfection, if we go off the tracks in the middle of a tune, that's no problem - we either start again, or move on to a different tune.

Our main reference source for tunes is Craobh Naithí Music Book 1 and CD 1. I have a stock of both Book 1 and CD 1, so, if you want one, talk to me in class. The majority of the tunes we play are from one or more of the following sources:
In the lists below, tunes are referenced as:
- ACB = Abbey Ceili Band CDs
- BB1 = Brendan Begley's, Ceol Duibhneach
- CN1 = Craobh Naithí Book 1
- CN2 = Craobh Naithí Book 2
- MT1 = Michael Tubridy's, A Selection of Irish Traditional Step Dances
- SC1 = Seanus Creagh's, Tunes for Practice

Our long-term goal is to be able to play for dancers - it may take a while for us to get up to speed, but, at some stage, we'd hope that other members of the class might feel moved to get back on the floor at break time!

By the end of last term, we only had a regular session at the Tuesday evening class - perhaps some people in the other classes will be willing to have a go it playing a tune this term - it's a very easy going session, so if you play an instrument, or are thinking of starting to play, please give it a try.

During the Summer, Noel attended an accordion workshop with Charlie Harris, at The Willie Clancy Summer School in Miltown Malbay. Among the tunes Charlie taught was a tune, which Charlie called "Fr. Casey's Polka". In the meantime, Oonagh has learned it and they both like it. Oonagh has suggested that we add it to our list of tunes at the Tuesday night class. On page 6 of Craobh Naithi Book 2, Michael Tubridy has what appears to be the same tune in a different key, which he calls " Finnegan's Wake". It's not uncommon for tunes to have different names, so neither name is "right".

Noel and Oonagh won't be in class on the first night of the Autumn term, as they'll be abroad at a wedding. We'll discuss it when they get back - one option might be to call it "Finnegan's Wake", but play it in the same key in which Noel and Oonagh have learned to play it.

We have only 10 minutes for the session so, to save time selecting tunes, we pick tunes from the lists below, depending on what tunes those present are willing to have a go at.

Initial Tunes for Aautumn 2018:

    • Terry Teahan's (CN1 P.8)
    • Fr. Casey's Polka / Finnegan's Wake (name and key signature to be decided)
      This is a tune that Noel got from Charlie Harris in Miltown Malbay, which goes well with Terry Teahan's - we'll aim to play the two together.

    • Oh The Britches Full of Stitches (CN1 P.7)
    • Molly Malone (CN1 P.1)
    • East Limerick Polka 1 (also known as "Kerry Polka") CN1 P.7)
    • East Limerick Polka 2 CN1 P.7)
    • Maggie in the Wood (CN1 P.9)
    • Hayden's Fancy (CN1 P.10)

    • Denis Murphy's Slide (CN1 P.26)
    • The Brosna Slide (CN2 P.31)

    and, we'll try to get the dancers on the floor for:
    • Shoe The Donkey (CN1 P.3)
    • The Little Dutch Dance (CN1 P.3)

    Suggested tunes to add to the repertoire over time - other suggestions welcome:

  • Barn Dances:
    • Johnny Will You Marry Me (CN1 P.12)
    • The Keel Row (CN1 P.12)
  • Jigs:
    • Jerry's Beaver Hat (The Session, setting X:1)
    • Father O'Flynn (CN1 P.32)
  • Waltzes:
  • Polkas:

    • Tripping To The Well (CN1 P.11)
    • The Dark Girl Dressed In Blue (CN1 P.11)

    • Bhíos-sa Lá i bPortláirge (CN1 P.9)

    • Polca Tom Mhick 1 (BB1 P.33)
    • We Won't Go Home 'Til Morning (BB1 P.32)
    • Polca Deálaí 3 (BB1 P.33)
    • Polca Deálaí 2 (BB1 P.32)
  • Airs:
    • Báidin Fheilidhmidh (CN1 P.1)
  • Set Dances:
    • The Priest and His Boots (MT1 P.1)
    • Single Time (MT1 P.15)
  • Highland/Fling:
    • The Road to Glountane by Terry Teahan (I have sheet music for it)
  • Yet more tunes for discussion:
    • The Maid Behind The Bar (CN1 P.20)
    • Stack of Barley (CN2 P.11)
    • Saddle The Pony (CN1 P.31)
    • Turkey in The Straw (ACB Béal A' Ghleanna CD)
    • Road to The Isles (ACB Béal A' Ghleanna CD)
    • Sleamhnán Sheáin Dan Neil (BB1 P.36)
    • O'Sullivan's March (BB1 P.47)
    • The Cameronian (CN1 P.20)
    • Miss McLeod's (CN1 P.19)
  • Long-term goal to play Abbey set of slides:

    The Abbey Ceili Band play these 7 slides (8 if you count Denis O'Keefe's in both keys), playing each tune twice, for The Ballyvourney Jig Set on their "Bruach an tSuláin" CD - our long-term goal is to be able to play all of them:
    • Denis Murphy's Slide (CN1 P.26)
    • The Brosna Slide (CN2 P.31 and SC1)
    • An Chóisir (*1)
    • These two tunes are listed on the CD as "Sliabh Luachra Slides":
      • Going to the Well for Water (SC1)
      • A Kilfenora Jig (CN2 P.30)
    • Denis O'Keefe's Slide (*2) (CN2 P.31)
    • Billy O'Rourke is the Buachaill (listed as "Beidh Ríl againn" on the CD)
    *1: An Chóisir seems to be similar to The Toormore Slide.
    *2: The Abbey play Denis O'Keefe's Slide in two different keys. The second key they play it in is the same key as in the Craobh Naithí Book.

  • Session FAQ:

    FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions about our Learner's Irish Music Session at slow speed:

    Having announced the idea of a learner's session, a number of people have asked questions, which may be of general interest, so I'm documenting my replies here, in case they might be of interest to others:
    • I had a go at playing in the past, but I only had a few tunes and I'm not sure I'd remember them, does it make sense to join in?
      Yes, absolutely. Bring along whatever instrument you play and we'll have a go at finding a tune we can all learn.

    • Do I need to be able to read music?
      No, you don't need to be able to read music. Those who can read music have the option of using the Craobh Naithí Music Books, or other sources, for the tunes, but lots of people learn tunes in other ways and the tunes in the books are also available as CD recordings.

    • Where can I get the Craobh Naithí Books and/or CDs?
      Talk to me in class, I usually have a stock of Music Book 1 and CD 1. If you'd like to get Music Book 2 and/or CD 2, see instructions on how to order on the Craobh Naithí website

    • I'd like to play an instrument, but I don't know where to start, any suggestions?
      First of all, I'd say, go for it! The two best pieces of advice I got were:

      • Pick an instrument you like the sound of, you'll be listening to it a lot and
      • Get the tune into your head before you try to get it back out again, i.e. listen to a tune over and over, before you try to play it.

      If you don't have a favourite instrument, or the budget to acquire one, a D tin whistle is a good place to start, it doesn't cost much and has all the notes you'll need for the tunes we'll be playing.

    • I have an instrument, but I don't know how to play it, can you help me get started?
      I'd be delighted to share with you how I went about teaching myself and to pass on any of the information or tips that I have picked up along the way. However, I'm not a music teacher, or even a musician, I'm just a beginner, teaching myself how to play, figuring out the bare minimum of what I need to know as I go along. This method of learning works for me, but it might not suit everyone.

    • I have the tune in my head, now how do I learn to play it?
      Different people use different methods, e.g:
      • Play by ear: some people can play a tune after just listening to it a few times.
      • Play from sheet music: if you're new to sheet music, it's not too difficult to learn enough to play a tune that you're familiar with (see below).
      • Play from ABC notation: in ABC notation, the notes are written out as A, B, C, D, E, etc. instead of as music notation.

    • How do I figure out the notes on the instrument?
      For instruments with fixed notes, such as accordion, concertina, tin whistle, flute, etc. there are layout diagrams available online and in printed material - if you can't find a diagram, talk to me and I may be able to help. An alternative is to use a "chromatic tuner" device or App to display single notes as you play.

    • I'd like to learn to read sheet music, any suggestions on where to start?
      If you just want to learn the notes of a tune, which you already have in your head, then sheet music is easy. There are 5 lines and a way to remember the notes, bottom to top, is "Every Good Boy Deserves Food", i.e. E, G, B, D, F. In between these lines, the four spaces are "FACE", i.e. F, A, C, E:

      F ----------
      D ----------
      B ----------
      G ----------
      E ----------

      So, reading from the bottom upwards, the notes are: E, F, G, A, B, C, D, E, F. Even though only five lines are shown, the pattern extends upwards beyond top line with G, A, B, C, etc. and downwards below the bottom line. For our initial tunes, there will always be a # on the top line, indicating that the F is Sharp (F#) and the C space may or may not have a # - if it has a #, you play C Sharp (C#), if it hasn't, you play C Natural (C).

    • What about the length of the note, i.e. quavers, crotchets & all that?
      If you have the tune in your head, you will know the length of the notes instinctively, without having to figure this out from the notation.

    • What instruments would be suitable?
      Any instrument that has the notes of the D and G scales (i.e. C, C#, D, E, F#, G, A, B) would be suitable for our session. These are just some of the instruments which I reckon would be fine:
      • D Tin Whistle
      • D Flute
      • Button Accordion, such as C#/D or B/C
      • Fiddle
      • Banjo
      • Anglo Concertina: the most popular is 30-button in C/G, however other keys also work, e.g. I play G/D
      • Mouth Organ (Harmonica): in G and/or D (maybe both?)
      • Melodeon: in G and/or D (maybe both?)
      • Bodhran
      • etc. etc. there are lots of other instruments, such as Harp, Uillean Pipes, Piano Accordion, Chromatic Accordion, English Concertina, Piano/Keyboard, Guitar, etc.

      I have some familiarity with accordions, concertinas, melodeons and mouth organs. If you are thinking of buying any of these, talk to me in class and I may be able to give some tips.

    • I tried playing along with a CD, but it's too fast for me, any suggestions?
      CDs are generally too fast for most people learning a tune to keep up with. Also, tunes on CDs can sometimes be in keys other than typical "session keys". The Craobh Naithí CDs are recorded in the typical session keys and each tune is recorded twice, once at slow speed and once at normal speed. If you want to learn tunes from other CDs, you will most likely need to slow down the music and/or change the pitch. If your music player does not have an in-built facility to slow down music, there are several Apps available for the purpose, the most well-known of which is "Amazing Slow Downer" - I don't use it myself, but if you do a search, you should find lots of information on it.

    • What's the origin of "Hup"?
      I don't know, but it's a common shout when there's a lively lift in a tune, or a switch into a new tune and among set dancers to get the attention of someone who doesn't appear to be aware that they are about to be "back on duty", such as the house around at the end of a figure.

Up-to-date, as of: Friday, 27th November 2020

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Learner's Session of Irish Traditional Music at Slow Pace