Monday, January 26, 2015

Leaning Toward Irish Trad Exclusivity

In the 8 years that I’ve been playing music, only about a third of that time has been devoted to playing Irish music.  Within that third of the time little to none of it has been spent learning Irish trad the proper way – by ear.  More recently I’ve been getting the urge to let go of ancillary musical distractions and focus on Irish almost exclusively. Here are some reasons why.


My primary instrument – the 4-string tenor banjo tuned GDAE – is affiliated with Irish music.  In fact, some people refer to it as “Irish Tenor Banjo”. 

Irish music is purely melodic.  Therefore it’s a genre where my philosophical preference toward melody over harmony is welcome.

There are a variety of instruments that take the lead in Irish music.  It’s not just about the fiddle.  There’s also accordion, flute, whistle, concertina, pipes.  Even banjo and mandolin can have lead roles.

Irish music has a variety of tonal centers (D, G, A, E, B) and modes (Ionian, Dorian, Mixolydian, Aeolian), and you can experiment with even more.

Irish trad offers a variety of time signatures (4/4, 6/8, 9/8, 12/8) and tune types (jigs, reels, barndances, slipjigs, polkas, slides, marches).

The session scene and culture.  Irish music is played in pubs and having a pint while you play is a built-in aspect of it.  Most major US cities are going to have an Irish session.

In the session environment tunes are spontaneously segued together into sets, often with key/mode modulations from tune to tune.  This adds a sense of excitement and the unknown.

Irish music comes across as slightly exotic and foreign sounding, giving it an air of mystery.  However, it is actually quite tidy from a music theory perspective.

There’s a disassociation with bluegrass and quasi-hillbilly music.  It’s less easily confused with bluegrass.

Irish music is mostly instrumental and secular.  There is a vocal tradition but for the most part that is separate from the tunes. 

No matter how commercialized or polished Irish music gets at the recorded or performance level, as a musical hobby it is quite safely removed from any trends.  

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