tunebook 112 tunes.
I am from the northeastern USA, and play in local sessions. I am in the "grandpa" phase of my earthly existence and have been playing music all my life—trumpet, harmonica, guitar, church choir, solo singing, tin whistle, and most recently B/C accordion. I have been involved in sessions since the late 1990s, in the beginning mostly playing guitar accompaniment, but slowly but surely playing more melody as time went on. My wife plays fiddle and sings like an angel, and we are in a band together. I dearly love making and listening to music, although I have to admit that some health problems and other pursuits have distracted me from my musical endeavors in the past few years.
A disclaimer on the advice or information I put on this site (thesession.org): I have accumulated a lot of musical knowledge over the years, but in drips and drabs, with little formal instruction. In my opinion, my playing is solid, journeyman level, nothing fancy. So if you want advice from a flashy/talented musician, look elsewhere. I will say that what advice and information I give will be as sound as it can be, and I will qualify anything I am not sure of.
I am a firm believer in the fact that traditional music is the people’s music (that’s why they call it folk music), and it is all about participation—we should be welcoming and encouraging to all (although also not be afraid to politely encourage beginners toward listening and lessons, and drunken singers toward a cup of coffee).
I play a Martin 000M guitar (standard tuned), a plain old wood-fipple unpainted Clarke whistle, Hohner Special 20 harmonicas, and a Saltarelle B/C Irish Bouebe accordion (swing tuned).
And now, provided as an aid to the beginning accompanist, is a humble beginner’s guide to The Music:
A Beginner’s Guide to Accompanying a Session
by Alan Brown
19 March 2009 (updated 1 February 2011)
The Irish and Scottish traditions have a wonderful thing called the session (also spelled seisuin)—a gathering of musicians, usually in a pub, and usually involving liquid refreshment as well as music. The music in these gatherings is mix of tunes that people have in common (played together in unison), and solo pieces, like airs and songs (generally played alone, or accompanied by a friend). Traditionally, the tunes were played in unison without accompaniment, but increasingly in past decades, instruments such as guitars, pianos, octave mandolins and bouzukis have been used to accompany the melody instruments. This article is written from a guitar player’s perspective, but has information that will interest players of any rhythm instrument (even a drum). The article is written from the perspective of an American playing this music, so take what is said accordingly—sessions are similar, but not precisely the same all over the world. The article is not for beginning players—it is tailored for someone who already has a musical background, perhaps in another genre, and assumes some knowledge of music fundamentals, how to play the guitar, and basic chord structure. And remember, this is an aural tradition, which means passed along through learning by ear. So be sure to listen. Learn to use, and trust, your ears as your guide. If you come to this music from a classical background, you are used to using sheet music as your primary guide to learning music, with your ears supporting. With this music, it is the opposite, as your ears are the primary guide. In fact, while some people use sheet music as an aid in learning this music, many do not use it at all. Quite a difference from those brought up in the classical world!
If you are new to it, attend the session and listen a few times before bringing an instrument, and asking to join in, and don’t insist on playing along with everything from the start. In fact, there is nothing wrong with even the experienced accompanist taking breaks—not every moment of transcendent musical beauty needs to have a guitar chugging along in the background. To paraphrase Miles Davis, sometimes the spaces between the notes are as important as the notes you play. Unlike the melody instruments where excessive improvisation is not appropriate (except for ornaments and other minor embellishments), accompaniment is generally developed on the spot. Be spontaneous, but not so spontaneous that you confuse the melody instruments (you are there to support them—a steady rhythm comes first). A session (assuming there are enough chairs) will welcome as many melody players as can play along. But there is a limit to how many rhythm players you can add before the melody players are overwhelmed, and the “wall of rhythm” muddies the overall sound. At the same time, sessions are more accessible to rhythm players, as it is easier to learn a few basic strumming and chord patterns than it is to get many dozens of tunes under your belt and be able to play the melodies at high speeds. This paradox often produces a surplus of rhythm players at sessions. Be sensitive to this. When playing with other accompanists, work together so that you are harmonious. Take turns sitting tunes out or playing melody, play with control (quiet is good), and remember, the melody is king.
You can’t discuss session music without some discussion of dancing, since most of the music arose from dance accompaniment. In Irish dance, you have step dancers, who dance alone, or in a troupe of dancers. These are individual dances, and are performance pieces. Step dancers can use either hard shoes (the roots of tap dancing are in this type of music) or soft shoes. Step dances are usually done to reels, jigs, slip jigs or hornpipes. There are Scottish dances that are similar to Irish soft shoe dances (some involved with dancing over crossed swords—ouch). In Ireland and Scotland, there are also community dances, which consist of ceilidhe dances or set dances. Ceilidhe dances are generally a relaxed type of dance that all ages participate in, while set dancing is faster, more athletic and energetic. These community dances involve groups of people, or groups of couples, forming squares or lines, and dancing together, often changing partners during the dance. This style of dance is what spawned American contra-dancing and square-dancing. Ceilidhe and set dances are usually set to reels, jigs or polkas and slides. Some Scottish ceilidhe dances are even set to marches.
Types of Tunes and Songs:
Tunes: Are instrumental, and usually dance music.
Airs: Are instrumental, usually slow pieces (the melody of a song, without the words). The rhythms are often very subjective, and airs bubble along freely at the pace of the soloist, sometimes faster and slower within the same phrase. Even if you know the air, you also have to know the soloist if you want to accompany.
Songs: Are tunes with words. In the Irish tradition, singers have long sung without accompaniment. Don’t be too quick to jump in, and even get the singer’s permission before playing along. There are pub songs where the beat is very sure and people sing along (like Clancy Brothers), but there are also laments and ballads where the rhythm is very free-flowing.
Reel: In 4/4, 2/2 or 2/4 time (depending on the source you believe), quick paced dance tunes. These are Irish, especially northern/central Ireland. Also played in Scotland. The words ‘animated alligator’ give you an idea of the rhythm of a reel.
Jig (Double Jig): In 6/8 time, quick paced dance tunes. These are Irish, also played in Scotland. The words ‘edible elephant’ or ‘rashers and sausages’ give you an idea of the rhythm of a jig.
Jig (Single Jig): In 6/8 time, played at the pace of a double jig, but with a simpler rhythm. The words ‘humpty dumpty’ give you an idea of the rhythm of a single jig.
Slide: In 12/8 time, played quicker than a double jig, with the ‘humpty dumpty’ feel of a single jig, but with longer phrases. These are from County Kerry, often used to accompany set dancers.
Slip Jigs: In 9/8 time, pace varies, think of the words ’ elegant elegant elephant’. Being able to accompany a slip jig is the sign that you have moved from apprentice to journeyman status. Step dancers like these for soft shoe dances (that is why our elephant is elegant, she is dancing on her toes).
Hop Jigs: In 9/8 time, but quicker than a slip jig, and with the ‘humpty’ feel of a single jig.
Polka: In 2/4 (or 4/4) time, quick and bouncy dance tunes, heard a lot at ceilidhe dances, especially where set dancing is done. Simpler than reels, and designed to be played more quickly. These are from County Kerry.
Strathspeys (or Highlands): These are in 2/4 time, usually little slower than reels, and with a lot of syncopation (especially ‘Scottish snaps’ which are sixteenth notes followed by a dotted eighth note). They come from Scotland, but are also played in County Donegal (which is where they are called highlands).
Hornpipes: These are in 4/4 time, they are dance tunes, but usually played a bit slower, and use a lot of swing (almost to the point of dotted notes), triplets and a steady, thumping rhythm. They are dance tunes that come from England, and are often associated with sailors (Popeye the Sailorman’s theme is a hornpipe).
Mazurkas: These are slower tunes written in 3/4 or 6/8 time, bouncier than waltzes, slower than reels. More common in Donegal than elsewhere.
Marches: These can be in 4/4, 2/4 or 6/8. These were once more common than reels in sessions in Ireland, but in recent years have been supplanted by the reel. Because of the bagpiping tradition, marches are still heard often in Scotland, and some Scottish ceilidh dances involve marches (like “The Gay Gordons”).
Waltzes: In 3/4 time, you don’t hear them much at sessions, but very much loved at ceilidh dances as a chance to dance as a couple, instead of in a set or line.
O’Carolan Tunes: O’Carolan was an itinerant Irish harper from the 18th century who wrote a lot of pretty harp tunes in a very baroque/classical style. They are played in all different meters, but unlike other airs, are played with a steady rhythm, which lends itself to unison playing. They are often called Planxty (which means song) followed by the name of the patron who offered him food and drink for a few nights (Planxty Irwin, Planxty Fanny Power, etc). O’Carolan had such a profound impact on Irish music that his name is instantly recognized by session players, and most will have a few of his tunes under their belt that they can play to slow things down between the dance tunes.
Learning the Tunes:
While this article is about accompaniment, it is important to remember that in this type of music, the melody, or the tune, is king. And learning the tunes can have a huge impact on the quality of your accompaniment. You can learn the tunes on your guitar, or do what I did, and pick up the tin whistle, a great instrument for learning tunes.
Here are 50 tunes, a list first developed by thesession.org member ‘Dr. Dow,’ which are pretty common the world around. Some of them are a bit overplayed, or felt to be out of fashion, but generally, when they get played at a session, most everyone in the circle can join in. Learning them is a good place to start.
Reels: The Banshee [James McMahon], The Bird In The Bush, The Bucks Of Oranmore, The Concertina Reel, The Congress, Cooley’s (Luttrell’s Pass), The Cup Of Tea, Drowsy Maggie, Farewell To Ireland, Father Kelly’s (Rossmore Jetty), The Foxhunter’s, The Gravel Walks, The Maid Behind The Bar, The Merry Blacksmith, Miss McLeod’s, The Mountain Road [Michael Gorman], Rolling In The Ryegrass (The Shannon Breeze), Saint Anne’s, The Sally Gardens, The Silver Spear, The Star Of Munster, The Wise Maid (All Around The World).
Jigs: The Blackthorn Stick, The Blarney Pilgrim, The Cliffs Of Moher, The Connaughtman’s Rambles, Donnybrook Fair (The Joy Of My Life), The Irish Washerwoman, The Kesh, The Lark In The Morning, The Lilting Banshee, Morrison’s, My Darling Asleep, Out On The Ocean, The Rakes Of Kildare, Tripping Up The Stairs.
Hornpipes & Set Dances: The Boys Of Bluehill, Harvest Home, King Of The Fairies, Off To California, The Rights Of Man
Slip Jigs: The Foxhunter’s, The Kid On The Mountain.
Hop Jigs: The Butterfly, The Rocky Road To Dublin.
Slides: Merrily Kissed The Quaker’s Wife, The Road To Lisdoonvarna.
Polkas: Denis Murphy’s, Egan’s, John Ryan’s (The Keadue).
And here is a link to a pdf file that presents the sheet music for these tunes:
Structure of Tunes:
Tunes are generally divided into eight bar segments, which are generally repeated. Dance tunes are generally made up of two sections (A and B), each of which is repeated twice (AABB). Some have more sections, but each section is still repeated (AABBCC). Some do not repeat, or do not repeat exactly. The structure of airs is often AABA. There are also strange combinations, so be careful. The eight bar structure is common because the dance steps that go along with the tunes are usually broken up into eight bar patterns. That way, you can use the same dance steps with different tunes.
As stated, session music was originally played in unison, with unaccompanied melody instruments. Chord structures are implicit, as in the past no one ever wrote harmony parts, or identified which chords go where. So there is some freedom to decide what goes best. The music is simple, so a simple accompaniment works well. If you can play by ear, hear the harmonies as the tunes are played, and have a good sense of rhythm, basic session accompaniment can come pretty quickly. But while you can quickly master a basic accompaniment pattern for a standard D major or E minor tune, coming up with chords that fit a particular tune, and strumming or picking patterns that complement the melody, and provide some variety, can be the work of a lifetime.
Basic instruments in Celtic regions were often diatonic instruments that could not play sharps and flats. Instruments with the home keys of D and C were predominant, so most tunes use those scales. But by skipping around certain notes, playing in related minor keys, and by playing tunes that use modal scales, musicians are able to play in a surprising number of keys. The notes you generally hear in this type of music are D, E, F#, G, A, B, C, C#. You also sometimes hear F and G#. More rarely, you will also hear things in the keys of B flat or E flat.
Generally, the tunes you hear in this music fall into four modal scales, each with their attendant harmonic structures. Musical modes can share the same scale, but by starting the scale on different notes, a whole different feel results. For example, using the D major scale, with its two sharps (F# and C#), and start your scale on the D, and you are in the mode of D major. Start your scale on E and you are in E dorian. Start your scale on A and you are in A mixolydian. And start your scale on the B, and you are in B Aeolian (or natural minor). The four modes all share the same notes of the D scale, but have different root notes or tonal centers, and have very different feels. Here is a discussion of the four modes you will most commonly find in session music:
Major key session tunes are usually built around the bedrock I/IV/V chord pattern that most rock and folk accompanists know so well. For example, if your root chord (I) is D, the other chords you will hear the most are the chord based on the fourth (IV) note of the D scale (G), and the chord based on the fifth (V) note of the D scale (A). A basic progression you will hear (within an eight bar section) is to start on the root (I) chord (these tunes almost always start out with the root chord), move to either the IV or V chord depending on the melody, back to the I chord, and then end with quicker use of the IV and V chords. Sometimes you return to the root chord, but session tunes don’t always resolve at the end of a section. They are designed to go around and around in repeating circles. If you are playing a tune that doesn’t resolve, the musicians generally throw a sustained root note (and root chord) at the end to keep things from hanging in midair. Major keys used in session music, and the chords you will encounter (from more common to least common):
D major: D, A, G, Bm, Em, A7
G major: G, D, C, Em, Am, D7
A major: A, E, D, F#m, Bm, E7
C major: C, G, F, Am, Dm, G7
These tunes are built around a traditional major scale, but with a flatted seventh note. This is known as the mixolidian mode. The basic chords here are the I/VII/IV chords. A lot of people try to play these with major chords, but one trick to tell that a tune is modal is that the V chord (which includes that un-flatted seventh note) does not seem to fit. In my experience, sticking to the three appropriate major chords usually works best for modal tunes, but you can add some minor chords as well. Modal keys used in session music, and the chords you will encounter (from more common to least common):
A mixolidian: A, G, D, Em
D mixolidian: D, C, G, Am
G mixolidian: G, F, C, Dm
Aeolian, or Natural Minor:
Many tunes in sessions are based on a modal scale that has flatted third, sixth and seventh notes, which is known as the Aeolian mode, or the natural minor scale. The most predominant chord pattern in minor tunes is I/VII/VI, with the I chord being minor, and the VII and VI chords being major (for example, Em, D and C). Aeolian keys used in session music, and the chords you will encounter (from more common to least common):
E minor: Em, D, C, Am, Bm, G
A minor: Am, G, F, Em, Dm, C
B minor: Bm, A, G, F#m, Em, D
Unlike other western music, where the classical minor mode is the most common, in sessions, the most common ‘minor’ tunes are usually based on a modal scale that has a flatted third and a flatted seventh (Dorian Mode). The most predominant chord pattern in minor tunes is I/VII, with the I chord being minor and the VII chord being major (for example, Em and D). Note that, instead of three ‘safe’ chord choices, there are only two. One of the biggest mistakes a beginning accompanist can make in accompanying session music is apply the aeolian chords listed above to a dorian tune. For example, when in E aeolian, the C chord sounds very appropriate. But in E dorian, it clashes with the C# notes you will hear in the melody. One can do a fairly credible job of accompanying dorian tunes by going back and forth between these two chords at the appropriate moments, although if you do that for every minor tune all evening, you will probably get asked to do something different. The trick is that the extra chords in this mode are not as obvious as they might be in other modes, and it is more important to know where the melody is going. Dorian keys used in session music, and the chords you will encounter (from more common to least common):
E Dorian: Em, D, Bm, A, G
A Dorian: Am, G, D, Em, C
B Dorian: Bm, A, E, F#m, D
Other Chord Structure Information:
Of course, not all tunes fall into one mode throughout the entire tune, or fall comfortably into any one mode. And there are alternatives to the basic chords listed above. Here are some ‘tricky bits’ to watch for, and other techniques that you can use to liven up your accompaniment.
Relative Minors: You can use minor substitutions, replacing a major chord with its relative minor chord. To find a relative minor chord, you play the minor chord rooted on the note six steps above your major chord. For example, the relative minor of D is Bm, the relative minor of G is Em, and the relative minor of C is Am (these are relative because of the notes they share in common, and if you look at the minor keys played in session music, you will note that they are all relative minors of the common major keys). You can also use minor substitutes as a passing chord. For example if you are in D major, and you go from your D chord to a G chord, and then to an A, you can put an Em chord between that G and A chord. Minor substitutes work well for IV chords in major tunes, especially when passing from the I chord to the V chord. You can also sometimes use a “major substitute,” replacing a major chord for its relative minor in a minor key tune. For example, a G major chord often fits into spots in an E minor tune.
Seventh Chords: There are some who argue that seventh chords are not traditional to Irish music, and constitute a musical version of an “American accent.” But I myself like the sound of a seventh when I am playing a V chord (like an A7 chord in the key of D), and using a seventh chord as a passing chord when moving from the I chord to the IV chord (like a G7 between the G and C in the key of G). If you use them sparingly, seventh chords can add nice variety to your playing.
Mixolydian Chords in non-modal tunes: Sometimes a modal chord will pop up in a tune that is otherwise in a major key. In fact, if you find a spot where the most common chords don’t work, try the VII chord, and you will find that it often does the trick (for example, a C chord in a tune that is in D major).
Different Sections in Different Keys: Not every part of every tune is in the same key. There are tunes where the A part is in the key of Bm and the B part is in the key of D. Or the A part is in the key of G and the B part is in the key of A minor. Also, while A parts almost always start on the root chord, B parts sometimes are in the same key, but start on another chord, like the V chord (for example a tune in the key of D could have a B part where the first chord is an A chord).
Droning Notes: Often in traditional music, you will hear the same harmony note throughout a long stretch of a tune, or even through the entire tune. This is known as a drone, and some attribute it to bagpipes, which usually have one or more drones that play the same note as long as the bagpipe is playing. You can use this effectively in tunes. For example, in a D major tune, you can leave your finger on the third fret of the B string throughout the tune, playing the D normally, but using Em7 chords instead of G chords, and Asus4 chords instead of normal A chords. This is especially effective if you tune your low E string down to a D, and let it sound without damping throughout, as you have the root note of the tune droning in two different octaves.
Tricks and Alternative Chords for Standard Tuning: There are a lot of different ways to form chords, and as some people have pointed out in discussions, you do not want to treat the guitar like a giant autoharp, with only one way of shaping each chord—to do so is to waste much of the instrument’s flexibilities. One trick to remember when shaping your chords, is to use shapes that de-emphasize or eliminate thirds. This music favors open chords, consisting of roots and fifths, which can fit either major or minor modes. For example, when using the traditional D chord shape, damp the high E string instead of pressing the second fret. And using a finger on the third fret of the B string in G chords instead of leaving the B string open helps reduce the strength of the third in that chord.
Sometimes little repeated two or four bar vamps will work in tunes. For example, in A minor, the vamp Am to F to G to Em often works nicely on a guitar (although in an A dorian tune, that F chord wouldn’t sound as well, clashing with the F#s in the melody). You will notice that as you move from key to key, some progressions that sound good, or play easily, in one key, do not work as well in another key, because of the way your fingers fall on the frets. For example, in B minor, you will find it difficult to sound good without barring your chords, so you may want to stick to the Bm, F#m and A chords, and keep the accompaniment simple.
Another trick is to let the bottom string and top two strings drone throughout a tune in E minor. If you finger the seventh fret of the A string, and the ninth fret on the D and G strings, it makes a nice open E chord. Slide all these fingers down two frets, and you have an open D chord in the middle of your droning strings. Slide them down two more frets, and you have an open C chord in the middle of the drones. With these three chords, you can accompany many E minor tunes, with a very interesting variety to your sound (again, remembering that with a dorian tune, that C natural chord will clash with the C#s in the melody). And you can also slide this shape up three frets, and then back down one before you return to the home position, it offers some other color to the tune.
Another nice chord shape that slides up and down the neck is the A chord that starts with one finger on the fifth fret of the B string, another on the sixth fret of the G string, and another on the seventh fret of the D string. Damp the top and bottom E strings, and you have a nice A major shape on top of an A bass note. Slide this shape down two frets and you have a G major triad on top of that A bass note. And then slide it up to the top of the neck (10 th fret of the B string, etc), and you have a D major triad on top of the A. This works really well on an A mixolydian tune, like the High Reel, which uses the A, G and D chords, with the droning A in the bass adding nice color to the tune.
Don’t let all the discussion of chords above fool you, keeping a good rhythm is the most important function of an accompanist, so give it appropriate attention, and above all, keep it steady!
Speed: The pace of tunes varies. In modern sessions, reels are often played at about 120 beats (each beat is two eighth notes) per minute. Jigs are also played about 100-120 beats per minute (but in a jig, each beat is three eighth notes). Historically, the tunes were played slower, about 80 beats per minute. In a good session, the pace will vary, and there is nothing wrong with slowing a dance tune down so you can hear the beauty of the melody (fiddler Martin Hayes has built his career around this).
Strumming Patterns: You can use fingerpicking on dance tunes, but strumming usually works better for the fast stuff. The “Holy Grail” of session accompaniment is to be able to produce a steady string of strums, one for each eighth note. But this involves very fast strumming. So especially while you are learning, you will probably have to strum less. You can strum half as fast, or you can use other patterns. You want to avoid too much use of backbeats, however, since Irish music is based more on traditional rhythms. Excessive backbeats can make the music sound too jazzy, or make an Irish tune sound like its bluegrass descendents. For reels, your strums should go down/up/down/up. You want to accent the first and third of the four eighth notes of a measure-the down strokes. For jigs there are two schools of thought. In a jig, you accent the first and fourth note of the six eighth notes in a measure. If you go down/up/down/down/up/down, that allows you to put both of your accents on the down stroke, but puts two down strokes back to back, which is hard to do quickly (although this is the most common jig pattern you see people playing). If you go down/up/down/up/down/up, you don’t have two down strokes back to back, but you have to put your accent of the fourth note on an upstroke, which some people find difficult. You can also use a syncopated two stroke approach to jigs, replacing the three eighth note strokes with a down stroke filling a quarter note length, followed by a quick eighth note length up stroke (the ‘humpty dumpty’ feel of a single jig).
For slow tunes, using the thumb to play bass notes on the top three strings, and the first three fingers to play chord notes on the bottom three strings usually works well. Playing arpeggios can help you adapt your sound to the free pace of a ballad singer or slow air. Hornpipes sound nice by alternating the thumb bass with the three fingers all playing a chord at the same time, creating an oom-pah-oom-pah kind of sound. In fact, there are some fun things you can learn from Irish piano players, and you can use your thumb to play the bass notes they play with their left hands, and fingers to play the chords they play with their right hands—don’t just get your ideas from strummers.
Dead string rhythm: When you are first learning to strum along with session music, and don’t want to work on chords and strumming at the same time, bar across the neck with your finger, but don’t squeeze hard enough to fret the note. This produces a “chunk” sound, which is called dead string rhythm. This creates a percussive sound that doesn’t really have notes or a chord involved. So you can just concentrate on the rhythm. This technique is sometimes used even by experienced accompanists just to do something a little different.
From my experience, about half the guitarists accompanying traditional music use alternate tunings. One of the most common is “dropped D,” where you drop the tone of the low E string by one whole step. This can create a nice drone on some tunes, but if you want to use it throughout your playing, it can require some tricky stretches with your hand, and a new approach to shaping your chords. The other common tuning is DADGAD, which describes the tuning of the strings from lowest to highest. Some people think this tuning is made for Celtic music, although it has its limitations, and it can make some keys that are straightforward in standard tuning (like E minor) to become pretty tricky.
My four favorite guitar accompanists are John Doyle (formerly of Solas, who now plays with Eileen Ivers, Liz Carrol and appears as a soloist), Dennis Cahill (who works with Martin Hayes, and does a lot of session work), Donal Clancy (who plays with Danu) and English guitarist Ian Carr (who works a lot with John McCusker and Kate Rusby). There are many more excellent rhythm players, and bands to listen to (for their strong rhythm work, as well as overall musicianship) include Altan, Solas, Danu, Dervish and Cherish the Ladies. And honorable mention for rhythmic accompaniment with an instrument not always known as a rhythm instrument is English accordionist Andy Cutting (who plays with John McCusker and Kate Rusby). On a button accordion, the right hand plays the melody, and the left plays chord and bass buttons. Andy has one of the best left hands in the business.
While older books often do not include anything but the melody, there are some excellent session tune books that include guitar chords. David Mallinson has put out a few (including 100 Essential Session Tunes and other books of a similar nature), and Waltons has others as well, and many of these tune books also have optional CD that accompany them. Web-based sources for these books include www.ossianusa.com and www.buttonbox.com.
Also, thesession.org member ‘coyotebanjo’ has literally written the book on Irish accompaniment, so find him by searching members, and follow links to his fine website. That book can be ordered via Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Mel-Celtic-Back-Up-Chris-Smith/dp/0786640650/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1403747257&sr=8-1-fkmr0&keywords=chris+smith+celtic+accompaniment and is highly recommended.
And don’t forget the value of lessons. Face to face lessons with a good teacher can be invaluable. I will be forever indebted to Boston-based guitarist Matt Heaton for lessons that have helped my playing immensely.
And finally, don’t get so wrapped up in rules, pressures, and the challenges of learning that you forget about the whole point of this wonderful type of music—to enjoy playing with your friends. So go out there and have fun!