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Irish Folk Music-
Learning To Play

Where To Start When You Want To Learn To Play?

Irish folk music, much like the Irish song tradition, has been passed on by listening and copying. There are many Irish musicians who do not read music. They learn the tunes by listening to them being played.

Listen here to Under Twelve All Ireland Champions at duet 2012 Rosa Carroll and Lily O'Connor perform at a pub session and get a feel for how immersed these young players are with the music already, at their tender age.

Rosa and Lily play the County Clare style of music. Many of the subtleties in the way the music is played, such as local styles, are actually difficult or even impossible to record in a written format. You cannot learn this music from a book, really, it would end up being a stilted, clinical version of the tunes, nothing like the real thing.

Irish  Music session in the streets of Derry during Derry Feadh 2013

Irish Folk Music session in the streets of Derry during Derry Feadh 2013

Watch a video here of a kids session that formed spontaneously in the street during Tulla Trad.

How does a spontaneous session like that come together? Everybody had brought their instruments along in the car, then a couple of kids found this quiet spot on the steps of the local Courthouse, and they got going.

The session went on for a good three quarters of an hour. Practice time for the kids, and enjoyment for passersby. That's how they learn to play!

Heed The Advice Of The Old Irish Players On Learning To Play Irish Folk Music

“There is only one way of becoming a traditional player or singer, and that is by listening to genuine material performed in a traditional manner.”

Breandan Breathnach in Folk Music and Dances of Ireland.

Find Out More About Irish Music

So, if you are planning on playing Irish music in your local Irish pub, plan in a visit to Ireland to learn how the music is really played here, on location.

The best known Irish music event is the Willi Clancy summer school in Miltown Malbay in County Clare. It happens for one week every July. There are classes, recitals and pub sessions, and the village is packed with lovers of Irish music for the entire week.

Another event not to be missed is the Fleadh Cheoil Na hEireann ('The All Ireland Music Festival') which happens once a year, in a different town every year. It is a celebration of Irish music, dance and tradition with All-Ireland competitions for many different categories.

As well as these, there are many other smaller festivals of traditional music all across the country. July to September is festival season, and you will be spoilt for choice.

Watch a video here of Irish musical instrument maker Eugene Lambe giving some essential advice for those starting out with Irish Music.

Outside of festival participation and competitions, Irish kids learn to play Irish folk music by simply playing at every opportunity, with their friends and schoolmates, with family.

A Final Word Of Advice

If you cannot make it to Ireland, get hold of some recordings.

However, don’t limit your choice to the best known Irish traditional music bands, such as The Chieftains, De Dannan, Planxty, or The Bothy Band. Instead, go for a broad library of both better and lesser known Irish folk music to improve your understanding of local styles, which vary a lot along the West Coast in particular.

Hey there, hope you liked this article about learning to play Irish folk music!

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