Intermediate Session Class 2012 #2: Rhythm and Pulse in Jigs

REMINDER: I (Brock) will not be here for this week’s class – I will be having a double session next week from 7-9pm. 

That said, I would like to introduce our first jig set: The Maid On the Green / Anthony Frawley’s

These are classic jigs and just wonderful tunes. The set comes from a recent release from two wonderful players Willie Kelly and Mike Rafferty – ‘The New Broom’ is the name of the album. 

Maid on the Green Discography:

Anthony Frawley’s Discography:

Youtube links:

Anthony Frawley’s at 1:04 by the young band The Ivy Leaf

Decent version of Maid on the Green by San Francisco whistle player Ceri Garfield played fast (she speeds up though) and then slow.

Here is a great example of just how international irish music now is: Maid on the Green played by a south korean group that the band Bard taught as part of their ‘bard project’.

A nice flute version with lark on the strand played by Tomoyuki Koshi.

Full Orchestral versionmarching fife and drum version (interesting, but not very good).

And I might take a bit of heat for this, but here’s a great example of WHAT NOT TO DO!

Start teaching yourself that O’Callighan’s – by ear if you can. Learning by ear is frustrating at first but please try it – it gets easier each time. Use the audacity program that I listed in my last post – and if you have been giving the tune a good listen over the last week, the playing part should come easier than you might expect.

This last week’s session was great fun. We had tunes, stories, and everyone played well together. 

More to come…


Session Class I – Fall 2012

On to Hornpipes. Like reels, in 4/4 time, but have a different feel to them despite the same time signature. And I must say, I do have a fondness for them on banjo! Okay, first one we’ll do is Rights of Man, but since we missed a week due to Sandy, I’ve tagged on Boys of Blue Hill as well! One reason I chose Rights of Man first is that there is a very good opportunity in the A part to substitute triplets, eighth notes and quarter notes as variations (notation has the quarter note and eighth note approaches). You can hear some of it (quickly) in the recording, but we’ll go over it in class as well. The recording of Boys of Blue Hill actually has 3 hornpipes (comes back around to BOBH at the end). But since it was fiddle and guitar it seemed like a good choice, plus the kids playing it were just so cute and happy.

Listen to Boys of Blue Hill
Notation for Boys of Blue Hill Hornpipe in Key of D

Listen to Rights of Man by De Danann
Notation for Rights of Man Hornpipe in Key of Em
[Sorry, neither tune turned out to be in O’Flaherty’s]

Also, to follow-up with Scott’s question about how to make the tunes a little less monotonous, a couple of thoughts. First, especially for you fiddles and whistles (probably accordions too), playing it with a bit of a lilt (e.g. every eight note is not the same, some are longer than others – PINE-apple rather than pine-ap-ple) can make a difference. Also, you can add in (or take out) notes to vary rhythmic patterns. As an example, below I’ve changed the rhythmic pattern in the first measure of Merrily Kissed the Quaker (and the note as well) to show how you can create a variation to make the tune more interesting without really changing the basic tune. On the next measure (also 3 8th notes), you could leave out the B as well and mimic the same change in the rhythm. Give it a try and see what you think!

Our 3rd (and final) jig is Stan Chapman’s by Jerry Holland. I’ve also heard it called Willie’s Trip to Toronto. It is named after a well-known Cape Breton fiddle player. If you haven’t heard Cape Breton fiddling, here is a sample played by, why, Stan Chapman! I think from the example, you can see why Jerry named the tune Stan Chapman’s. Lively, fun stuff! I like this one following Blarney Pilgrim because the A parts are similar, but Stan Chapman’s is up a key (G->A) and very major, so it provides some real “lift” at the end of the set. See if you agree!

Listen to Stan Chapman’s Key of A, by Ed Pearlman and Tony Cuffe (followed by a nice Scottish tune for Erin)
Listen to Stan Chapman’s by Matching Orange (lovin’ the piano!)

Here’s the notation (remember, you can leave out the first or second pick up notes in the B part – the high A and F# – or use them as variations).

So, our second “jig” is called Merrily Kissed the Quaker, and I’ve seen it listed as a slide as well. Slides and jigs are certainly related, and many rhythm players will play a slide using a very rapid jig strumming pattern. But there’s definitely a different feel to where the rhythmic emphasis is between a jig and a slide. Anyway, we’ll play Merrily with a jig feel to it and it fits very nicely with Blarney Pilgrim. It’s also a 3 part tune (AABBCC) with a very recognizable 3rd part. To me, both these tunes set up the C part beautifully. Maybe that is one reason they seem to go together so well!

Listen to Merrily Kissed the Quaker by Planxty (a classic Celtic band)
Notation for Merrily Kissed the Quaker Key of G

Our first jig is a delightful tune with a very recognizable 3rd part called Blarney Pilgrim. Yes, so this one is a 3 part tune (AABBCC) in the key of G (though the 3rd part begins on the D, or 5th, chord). Oddly enough, I couldn’t find a recording that I was thrilled with for various reasons, but here are two that will do. The 1st one kind of cracked me up.

Listen to Blarney Pilgrim on whistles.
Listen to Blarney Pilgrim with a new age kind of groove.
Here’s the notation (with suggested chords).

Here’s a link to a very full discussion on various Irish rhythms (perhaps more than you want right now) found on, a terrific source for information. Also of interest is a survey of people on the site who play various tunes, so you can see which tunes of each type are most popular. Again, another source for answering the question, “which tunes should I learn first?”.

Here are the two tune compilations from O’Flaherty’s Retreat in Texas.
O’Flaherty’s Retreat Tune List #1
O’Flaherty’s Retreat Tune List #2

Though these tune compilations are wonderful resources, it is more important to listen than to read. Know the tune first before you refer to the notation and try not to continue to read the music after you’ve learned the tune. It will take a bit of practice to learn that skill if you’re used to reading music, but it will help improve your ability to learn by ear and pick up tunes at sessions. Remember, we’re in this for the long haul! I offer you these tips from Alan Ng to underscore that point. [Thanks to Brock for the link from his class]

So our tune for week 3 is (Joe) Cooley’s, a two part reel in the key of E minor. This is a good choice as last year’s session class also learned it, it has been in the BRIMS repertoire for a long time (I believe it is even on the first BRIMS learning CD by Tes and Sara), and is also a KGB tune. Point being, it is played in Charlottesville regularly. Also, played at most slow jams at Swannanoa. Yes, this is one that should be in your tune list!

Listen to Joe Cooley’s Reel by the Dubliners (can’t beat this banjo playing by Barney McKenna, Julie). Great set of tunes too!
Listen to Cooley’s on tin whistle (for Debbie)

Here’s the notation (with suggested chords). Like last week, try playing the 3 reels together in different orders. What order do you prefer? If it were up to you, how would you arrange the set?

Merry Blacksmith is a 2 part reel in the key of D (again, reels are in 4/4 time – 4 quarter note beats to the measure). And, when I say a two part reel, I mean that it generally follows the pattern of AABB, meaning play the A part twice, then the B part twice. Sometimes there are some variations to the parts, but most of the time a two part reel will follow that pattern. So, one thing you might listen for when you hear a new tune is whether it is a 2 part tune (AABB) or 3 part (AABBCC) or something else. Below are two recordings of Merry Blacksmith by very famous Irish bands. One by Planxty and the other from, oddly enough, the same Solas workshop that provided Father Kelly’s.

Listen to Merry Blacksmith (Planxty Live) Note that the tune begins at .35 in.
Listen to Merry Blacksmith (Solas Workshop)

Here’s the notation (with suggested chords). One suggestion for practice is to practice both tunes together but mix it up. One time Father Kelly’s first, next time Merry Blacksmith first.

For week one, let’s all learn the reel, Father Kelly’s. It’s a 2 part reel in the key of G. Three of us had it marked to learn, and it is new to the other two, so we’ll all be learning it together (including me!). Below are links to listen to the tune and notation as well. The video is played by members of the group Solas, but at a good learning pace. For those of you who like to learn tunes from notation, please listen to the tune multiple times so that you know the tune before diving into the notation… maybe even see if you can pick out the A or B part by ear! The notation is from the resources on O’Flaherty’s Retreat and yes, it even has suggested chords (Stacy and John!)

Listen to Father Kelly’s (video begins part way through the tune. The A part of tune begins at .28)

Here’s the notation:

Intermediate Session Class 2012 #1: Rhythm and Pulse in Polkas

Hey everyone, thanks for a great first class!

First off, I apologize for not mentioning the fact that I will be gone next week. But I would like to do a two hour session class on the 18th from 7 to 9. Please let me know if this does not work for you by emailing me at

This week we started with rhythm and used the dance form of the polka to do this. I gave an exercise of tapping the foot on the downbeat while pushing the beat if you are a melody player, strumming on the offbeat if you are an accompanist. Then I asked you to apply that   technique to the Ballydesmond polkas at a slow tempo. When I return, we will work on that and be prepared to play them in small groups with rhythm and lift. To get your creative ideas flowing on this set, here are a few examples including the one that I played in class.

Dennis Murphy/Julia Clifford on ‘The Star Above the Garter’  (they play Ballydesmond #1/#2/#3 – I can back this up: #1/#2/#3 and yes, it’s wrong on Listen for the amazing lift and rhythm. If you have time and have not done so already, learn #1 which I have not heard at the C-ville coffee session yet.

Here is a whistle version played very ‘straight’ but great harmony. Guy, I forgot to mention in class that it is a balancing act and takes great breath control for whistles to ‘push’ the beat without overblowing and jumping the octave . A near impossibility for a loud session. You’ll notice that the players in this recording don’t do it at all, but focus on harmony and ornamentation, and the result is great. You can use cuts in the place of a push.

A funky version on harmonica with some jazzy guitar backup – this is for you John (notice the placement of accented chords on offbeats vs. downbeats). 

For more fun ideas on approaches to the Ballydesmond polkas, check out discography, but be wary of which Ballydesmond is which.

Now on to the new stuff – we are going to learn the polka known as O’Callighan’s. It is also known as Callaghan’s or O’Callahan’s, etc. etc. Here is the discography from

And here are three versions in full:

O’Sullivan’s/O’Callihan’s by Padraig O’Keefe, solo. Note the slow tempo and wonderful use of ornamentation. The same two polkas by Eoghan O’Sullivan, Gerry Harrington & Paul De Grae on ‘The Smoky Chimney’. And another version from two ladies from Galway, Julie Langan and Verena Commins. The full set here is ‘Mimi and the New Generation Polkas/O’Callighan’s/Gan Anim from the album Fonnchoi (pronounced ‘funky’ in Gaelic)

So happy listening. Don’t try to work on this tune yet – we will do it together in class.

So say you would like to increase your ability to learn by ear – what to do? I make use of the free software Audacity. You can slow down anything without changing the pitch, you can move tracks that are in another pitch up or down to where you are, and many other neat things. I usually just slow the whole track down about 30-50%, learn it in chunks by playing highlighted segments in a loop (by hitting shift + play), and then hit ‘undo’ to move it back to normal speed after I can play it on my own. It’s a great tool and I’ll give a demo during the next class.

I am also going to post our first jig set for listening as well. We will be working on both the jig and the polka in the next double class on the 18th. As always, feel free to email me with questions, comments or suggestions.


Session Tunes

In preparation for this Fall’s session class(es) at BRIMS, I’ve been giving some thought to the question, “to be a good session player, what tunes should I learn?”. The short, and perhaps best answer is to go to your local session and find out what tunes they play and learn those. But this avoids the broader question of what constitutes good session tunes. I’ve been intrigued by moments where within one group someone might say “oh I’m so sick of that tune – it is so overplayed” and when you go to a session an hour away and play the same tune they say “what a great tune, I’ve never heard it before”. A relatively obscure tune can all of a sudden become quite popular in sessions thanks to a new recording by a gifted player. Ultimately, I think we want to learn and play tunes that personally appeal to us, but it is important to remember that we don’t want to be playing a tune by ourselves at a session (unless requested), as a big part of what makes a session fun is playing tunes together.

So here, without further ado, are some links to discussions and tune lists that may be helpful to you. I plan on making use of these in Session I class on Tuesday nights at BRIMS this Fall. Hope to see you there!

From Comhaltas: Foinn Seisiún CD Set – Volume 1. 116 tunes with links to audio.
From Comhaltas: Foinn Seisiún CD Set – Volume 2. 104 tunes with links to audio.

Tune lists from O’Flaherty’s Retreat in Texas. John and Holly turned me on to this terrific resource. Along with notation, chords are also provided
O’Flaherty’s Retreat Tune List #1
O’Flaherty’s Retreat Tune List #2

From Dow’s 50 List. Fun discussion about what tunes to learn when you’re getting started. The key post is about the 4th one down by Dr. Dow. If you want a longer list that includes lesser known tunes Will’s Much Longer Tune List should keep you busy for awhile. Dow’s list was filtered down from this one.

A good resource for local tunes in the Charlottesville area is this practice list from King Golden Banshee. The recordings are from many years back now, so things have evolved.