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Class Notes from Celtic Fiddle Workshop PDF Print E-mail
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Thursday, 19 January 2006

Celtic Fiddle

Please bring this handout to each class!
Instructor: Harlow Pinson
Phone: 505-994-2135
Email: This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

The official timeline (


Table of Contents

  1. Class Description
  2. Discography
  3. Tune Lists
  4. Class Notes
  5. Tunes We Play in Class
  6. Celtic Sessions in Albuquerque


Class Description


Class meets Wednesdays, 6:30-8:30 PM.
Hayes Middle School-Music Room, 1100 Texas NE. (Wyoming and Lomas area)


  • Learn by ear (how to memorize)
  • Become acquainted with the varied Celtic fiddle styles
  • Start developing a repertoire
  • Use good technique
  • Internalize Celtic rhythms
  • Learn by sight reading
  • Find new tunes on the Internet
  • Perform a tune for the class
  • Play at a 'Session'



Pick and learn a Celtic tune of your choice. This should be a tune that you are not familiar with, and that challenges you. We will all choose tunes by the third class. Please ask the instructor for assistance in choosing and learning a tune if you need help.

At the final class, we will each perform our tune for the class.

Selected Readings

  • Ornamentation: O’Neill’s Music of Ireland
  • Introduction: O’Neill’s Music of Ireland



John Vesey

  • John Vesey: Sligo Fiddler
    2 CD's and an excellent value. Classic Sligo style. John Vesey's playing is clean and the recording quality is good making this a good source from which to learn. Recordings range from the 1930's-1990's
    Available directly from for $20.

Kevin Burke

  • Sweeney's Dream. Fiddle Tunes from County Sligo, Ireland.
    Available on CD through or locally by special order.

Michael Coleman

  • Michael Coleman 1891-1945
    Early recordings of this master of the Sligo style. Essential.
    Available on CD through or locally by special order.
  • The Wheels of the World.
    Available on CD through or locally by special order.

Kathleen Collins

  • The Traditional Music of Ireland
    Some very traditional playing, and a great selection of less well-known tunes, played in the Galway style.
    Available on CD through or locally by special order.

Alasdair Frazer

  • The Road North
    Scottish fiddle. Technically excellent playing and full of emotional subtlety.
    Available on CD through or locally by special order.

Johnny Cunningham

  • Early playing exhibits technical excellence (check out his rendition of 'The Devils Dream'. Later playing slows down, and focuses more on songwriting, arrangement, and poetry. Johnny passed away in December of 2003.
  • A Winters Talisman. Susan Mckeown and Johnny Cunningham. An outstanding celtic recording that focuses on Johnny's songwriting, poetry and arranging abilities. Subtle but excellent fiddle playing.

Sean Smyth

  • The Blue Fiddle
    Modern Celtic Fiddle in mix of styles.
    Available on CD through or locally by special order.
  • Anything by Lunasa

Gray Larsen and Paddy League (Irish Flute, Whistle, and Bodhran)

  • The Green House
    Gorgeous celtic ornamental style. If you get one Celtic recording, this is it. No fiddle, but the style is applicable, especially the feel and ornamentation.
    Available locally by special order or from

Jacqueline McCarthy (Concertina, Uilleann Pipes, Whistle)

  • The Hidden Note
    Mostly Concertina, but she has a great and traditional feel for classic tunes. Highly recommended!
    Available on CD through or locally by special order.


Tune Lists

Here are tunes that you might encounter at a session. There are thousands more...

Jigs (6/8)

Gary Owen, Tenpenny Bit, Saddle the Pony, The Blackthorn Stick, The Connaught Man's Rambles, Haste to the Wedding, The Ship in Full Sail, Athol Highlanders, Banish Misfortune, Blarney Pilgrim, Coleraine, Kesh, Palm Sunday, The Showers of Autumn, Donnybrook Fair, The Humors of Ennistymon, The Gold Ring, The Mist on the Mountain, Rolling Waves, Walls of Liscarrol, Old Hag You Have Killed Me, The Thrush in the Straw, The Banks of Lough Gowna, The Three Sea Captains

Reels (2/4)

The Blackberry Blossom, The Wind that Shakes the Barley, Miss McLeods, Ships are Sailing, The Roaring Barmaid, Sliabh Russell, Cathal McConnell's, Tommy Peoples, The Long Drop, In Good Company, The Devil's of Dublin, Crock of Gold, The Limerick Lasses, The Boys of the Lough, The Scholar, The Swallow's Tail, The Mountain Lark, The Flowers of Limerick, The Flowers of Edinburgh, Julia Delany, The Money Musk, The Higlandman Kissed His Mother, Cheap Meal, The Devil's Dream, Timor the Tarter (Peter Street), Patronella, The Wedding Reel, Doctor Gilbert

Hornpipes (4/4 Syncopated)

Off to California, The Rights of Man, The Harvest Home, The Boys of Bluehill, Fishers, Sailors, Sligo Fancy

Marches (2/4)

The Chanter's Song, Humors of Trim, O' Sullivan's, Star of the County Down, Tuamgrainy Castle

Set Dances (2/4, 4/4, 6/8)

The Blackbird, The Job of Journeywork, Saint Patrick's Day, The Garden of Daisies, The Ace and the Duece of Pipering

Strathspey (4/4 Syncopated)

Neil Gow's Wife, Tullochgorum, Highland Whiskey, The Farewell

Waltzes (3/4)

Shebeg Sheemoor, The Trip We Took Over the Mountains


Farewell To Whiskey, Mrs. Ellen O'Dwyers Fancy

Slip Jigs (9/8)

The Kid on the Mountain, The Rocky Road to Dublin, Slip Jig for Baby Rory, Hardiman the Fiddler


Tony Crehan's Slide

O'Carolan (Planxty)

O'Carolan's Welcome, O' Carolan's Concerto, O'Carolan's Draught, Thomas Burke


Class Notes

Learning Music by Ear

Celtic Music is a folk music that generally, but not always, is passed along by ear. You will benefit greatly by making the effort to learn music by ear. The easiest way is to sit down with a CD of your favorite tune, and play it over and over and over again. Eventually the tune will stick in your head. If you can hum the tune, you have succeeded. Then the mechanical task is to translate what is in your head to your fingers. Suzuki applied this method of learning to classical music with "Listen and Play".

What about all the written tune collections?

A great way to learn tunes, especially if you read music. Sometimes the tune transcriptions are great, and sometimes they are completely wrong. O'Neill's transcriptions are fair but exhaustive.

What is the “Amazing Slow Downer”?

The "Amazing Slow Downer" is software that takes .mp3 files and slows them down, so you can learn them. It's a pretty handy learning tool, if you are comfortable using MP3's and computers. Available from The cost is $39.95.


Tunes We Play in Class

Tunes we play in class are available on the web in MP3 format, at

Each tune is played at first slow and then at a more traditional tempo.

Note: trust your ears-- it's folk music! A written version, or that of any particular player, is likely to be somewhat different. This is an aural tradition, where tunes are passed on by ear, and not through written notation. Read the introduction of O’Neill’s Music of Ireland for an. The general tune is always similar in form. Improvisation, like it or not, plays a large part in folk music.

Click to play (may take a while to download), or right click to save:


Online Tune Sources

A good source of online Celtic tunes is Tunes are available there in standard musical notation, tablature, and in ABC format. Lots of fresh material is posted.

Other sources of online tunes, in Acrobat, ABC, GIF and MIDI formats, can be found at:


ABC Notation Format

What is ABC music format?

  • A really weird computer text format that for some reason has been used for transcribing a lot of Celtic traditional music.

  • You need special software to play tunes in ABC format back.

  • If you like to learn new tunes by ear, it’s probably good to invest in such software. It’s not that expensive. You will need a computer, with sound capability, and attached speakers.

If I want to play ABC’s what is good software to buy?

It all stinks. The best of the bunch in my experience is abcmus (, and is just tolerable. Try before you buy!


Celtic Sessions in Albuquerque, New Mexico

What is a "Session"?

A "Session" is an informal group of musicians getting together to play traditional Celtic instrumental music, at a pub, coffeehouse, or in someone's home. "Slow Sessions" are for beginners, and are a good place to start, because music is played... well ... slowly.

What is "Session" etiquette?

Listen first, and become comfortable with the dynamics of the group. Don't just barge in and play. Plan on attending a few sessions and just listening. Then, bring your instrument, and play along quietly. At some point you will feel comfortable participating more fully, and even introducing a new tune.

Bringing written music to anything other than a "Slow" session is frowned upon! Please try to memorize!

" Playing and fitting in at a session is not a one-time affair. It is a long term mind-set and commitment to the music, to learning, to your own improvement as a player, and to your playing in an ensemble."

Are there celtic sessions in Albuquerque?

Albuquerque Celtic Session
Time: Alternating Thursdays, at 7:00 PM
Location: Blue Dragon Coffehouse

Tunes are intermediate to advanced, and tunes are always played from memory. We encourage you to attend, listen, play, and bring new tunes for us to play.

Note: Session time and location may change. Contact Harlow (994-2135) for the latest information.

Please This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it about any sessions not listed here.

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