What are the differences in traditional Irish music forms?

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Answered by: John, An Expert in the Celtic Category
Ireland is a country with a host of rich musical traditions. Traditional Irish music has changed. slowly, and many folk songs are less than 200 years old. Typical instruments include the fiddle, the guitar, button accordion, bagpipes, harp, flute or pennywhistle, banjo, mandolin, bazouki, and the Bodhrán (played with a tipper). Irish music differs from western music-blues and its derivatives-in the beat. While blues and rock emphasizes the second and fourth beats of a four beat measure, also called the "backbeat, " Irish music emphasizes the first and third beats giving it a unique rhythmic feel. Its American cousin bluegrass employs the same rhythmic shift. Much of traditional Irish music it is meant for dancing, at celebrations, weddings, saint's days and other events, and several specific forms have evolved.



Reels are a standard form, played in 4/4 time. In reading any time signature, the first number denotes the number of beats per measure and the second number denotes which note value constitutes one beat. In this case, there are 4 quarter notes per measure. Three or four reels are frequently strung together, with only a beat in between. It is traditional to encourage the audience to cheer or whoop when players switch from one reel to the next. Hornpipes are similar, played in 4/4 time with swung eight notes.

Double and single jigs come in 6/8 time, a duple meter of two sets of three. In teaching the rhythm for a slipjig, a common mnemonic device is employed in strumming two sets of three beats and repeating "rashers and sausages" to get the feel of six beats.



Slipjigs, cousin to the jig, are played in 9/8 time, a triple meter that consists of three sets of three beats: "coffee and rashers and sausages."

Music and dance forms found their way to Ireland from other countries, and imported polkas, waltzes, and mazurkas became popular. Around the turn of the twentieth century, regional style was very important but has since become more homogenized, and individual artists seek to create their own styles.

There are trends and styles of performance that transcend all forms. In general, traditional Irish music focuses heavily on the melody, with accompaniment being very much in the background, and vocal harmonies kept simple to allow the melody to be heard. Accompaniment on guitar is often percussive to help make up for a scant number of percussive instruments. The melody is often repeated several times throughout the course of a song, and embellished further each time through. More complex chordal accompaniment might be added, and the melody embellished through techniques like doubling: replacing a single note with a triplet repetition of the note. As a result pieces contain elements of improvisation. Instruments are played in strict unison, following the leader player.

You can find melodies written down, along with chord progressions, but traditional Irish music has been passed on through teaching it directly in large part, making it somewhat difficult to learn through simply reading printed music. Folk music festivals featuring traditional Irish music are held around the country.

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