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Irish Music 101

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The Chieftains - Water From the Well
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Irish Music - The Basics:

Irish music sounds very much the same today as it would have two hundred years ago. Irish music is a diverse genre of folk music which has many regional variations. The majority of traditional Irish music is music for dancing, but there is also a substantial ballad tradition.

Irish Music - Instrumentation:

Traditional instruments used in Irish music include fiddle, bodhran, wooden flute, tin whistle, Uillean pipes, and the Irish harp. Also common are the accordion or concertina, guitar, banjo, and bouzouki (a large mandolin). These instruments have all become popular in Irish music within the last 100 years.

Irish Music - Tune Styles:

The time signatures and styles of tunes commonly found in Irish music include single jig (12/8 time), double jig (6/8 time), reel (4/4 time), hornpipe (swung 4/4 time), slip jig (9/8 time), and occasionally versions of polkas (2/4 time) and mazurkas or waltzes (3/4 time). All of these tune styles have corresponding traditional dances.

Irish Vocal Music - Sean Nos:

Sean nos (pronunciation: sean like shawn, nos rhymes with gross) literally means "old style" in the Irish language. Sean nos refers to a style of solo a cappella ballad singing. Though sean nos songs are not for dancing, they are an important part of traditional Irish music. Traditionally, sean nos songs are in Irish, but some more modern ballads may be in English as well.

Irish Music - History and Revival:

Irish music has always been an important part of both rural and urban life for the Irish people. However, after centuries of British rule, significantly renewed interest in Irish music and dance coincided with the burgeoning Nationalist movement of the late 1800s. A second major revival coincided with the American folk music revival of the 1960s, and has continued until present-day.

The Influence of Irish Music on American Folk:

It is a common misconception that Irish music was hugely influential on American old-time and bluegrass music. These genres came from Appalachia, where there was never a substantial amount of Irish immigration (most immigrants there were Ulster Scots, Scottish and English). Irish music did, however, have a significant influence on the 1960s folk revival. That later influence went both ways - many American artists influenced Irish artists as well.

Irish Rock and Irish Punk Music:

In the late 20th century, it was commonplace for young musicians to merge their traditional folk genres with rock and punk. Irish musicians were at the forefront of these folk-rock pioneers. Irish punk groups like the Pogues and Flogging Molly have opened a window into Irish music for a new generation of fans.

Traditional Irish Music Starter CDs:


The Chieftains - Water From the Well (Compare Prices)
Solas - The Hour Before Dawn (Compare Prices)
Altan - Harvest Storm (Compare Prices)

Read More: Top 10 Irish Music Starter CDs
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