Polkas for fiddle

Polkas for fiddle

There have been a few posts that refer to the difficulty of learning tunes. I agree that some tunes struggled with in the early days appear easier later on. This is no doubt due to improved technique.
Anyway, I started learning to play fiddle later in life and love it to bits. I learnt a few jigs and now find them fairly easy to get to session speed, but not reels unfortunately as yet. I am not so worried about the reels as I play reels at a fair lick on the pipes. But I have discovered some great polkas that I can quickly learn on the fiddle and play at the session I attend. These include Ballydesmond polkas 1 and 2, Egans, John Ryans and Britches Full Of Stiches. There are others such as Bill Sullivan’s Polka and Denis Murphy’s that I have yet to learn, but I cannot find many more. Those mentioned were recommended by the session players, but they have not mentioned any more. Has anyone got any others?
Amongst other things I play Rattlin Bog, Sweeny and Rakes of Mallow as polkas on the pipes, but I would like to keep them as just pipe tunes.
There must be some more great polkas out there. Any useful suggestions please?

Re: Polkas for fiddle

Don’t be fooled into thinking that polkas are easy to play. It’s easy to assume that their melodic simplicity means that they are also rhythmically simple, which is a common mistake. Very few people play them well, tending to make them sound like fast marches, and slurring the wrong phrases together, if not playing them with single bow strokes altogether. West Kerry polkas tend to played quite straight, but the phrases are still uneven, to suit the figures of the set. Sliabh Luachra and West Limerick polkas are even more rhythmically elastic, and to produce this effect on the fiddle takes a lot of listening, and a lot of dedicated learning, like any other tune (perhaps more, in fact, because there are few places outside of south-west Munster where you are consistently exposed to well-played polkas). The turns (which are turns, rather than rolls - and they are integral to the tune, not ornamental), and hesitations, at the end of the phrases draw out the rhythm, which is then snatched back from the next phrase, creating an elliptical urgency which is the characteristic drive of the polka. To achieve this effect on the fiddle requires the use of long bow strokes, running several phrases together, and often crossing strings while slurring. Listen to fiddle players like Julia Clifford, Denis Murphy, Pádraig O’Keeffe, Martin Mulvihill, Johnny McCarthy (of the Four Star Trio), Connie O’Connell, Séamus Creagh, Diarmuid O’Brien, Matt Cranitch (of Sliabh Notes), and Máire O’Keefe, and try to hear how they bow the phrases together. Also listen to accordion and melodeon players like Denis Doody, Johnny O’Leary, Brendan Begley (and his brother Séamus, and son Cormac on concertina), Jackie Daly, Terry Teahan, Dan Herlihy and Dónal Murphy (also of Sliabh Notes), because when you’re playing polkas on the fiddle, you’re really playing the accordion.

Re: Polkas for fiddle

…that be Kevin Burke, the fiddler, not Kevin Burke, the accordionist with the same name 🙂

Re: Polkas for fiddle

My seven favorites, which happen to flow nicely from one to the other, are the Glenside, the Galway Belle, Maggie in the Woods, Egans, Maids of Ardagh, Britches Full of Stitches, and Sullivan’s. (Edor, Edor, G, D, D/A, A, A) Usually I start somewhere on the list and play two or three. But once when I was feeling frisky, I went through all seven at once, and that was the last time for a while that anyone let me start a polka set at the session.

Polkas….we got ‘em………….

Here are links to some fairly obscure polkas which I’ve posted - try these.

2 polkas composed by “Ptarmigan”

“Jim McGill’s”
“The Ballinlea”

2 polkas composed by Maire Breathnach

“The Roundabout”
“The Parallel”

2 composed by Gordon Tyrell :-

“Skipton Road”
“The Crag”

2 from Brendan Regan :-

“The Sparrow”
“The Continental”

2 from the playing of “Bakerswell”

“Jer O’Connell’s”
“Din Tarrant’s”

One from the London / Irish group “Shegui”


2 from the playing of Paudie O’Connor

“Tom Barrett’s”
“Denis O’Keefe’s”

One from “Na Fili”


One from Harry Bradley :-

“The Pig Aitin’ Nuts In The Wood”

An ambitious one from Desi Wilkinson, Davy Maguire and Harry Bradley :-

“The Shelf”

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Re: Polkas for fiddle

Well, if you know John Ryans and Denis Murphy’s already, why not go for the full Planxty set and try the £42.00 cheque ? - but be carefull, it may bounce !

Beating polkas to death as an exercise for beginners

What Dragut Reis said. The problem with treating some tunes as ‘beginning’ is that they never progress further than the usual hammered out doggerel. Polkas have a bad name in sessions because of this, and the tendency in some circles to rattle through them quickly in a long multiple tune set and then never visit them again, sometimes for months. Mistaking things as ‘simple’ and for the ‘beginner’ so often misses the heart and soul of a tune and a tradition. It isn’t far from reading it off the sheet, dull and plodding and with little if any life. There are plenty of airs and songs that can be treated similarly, and are, just going through the motions.

I love polkas, but I so understand why so many don’t, because more often than not their treatment is dire… And, it seems, once some folks learn the bare bones sequence of notes, they stop listening and just go through the motions. "Oh Boy! I’ve played some tunes in a session." While others are thinking "Thank god we got those damned polkas out of the way."

Yes, learn a few well, short sets, but don’t stop there, learn the ‘how’ about playing polkas and try to do them justice, listen, listen, listen, and see if you can make them polkas instead of just a simple sequence of notes…

Polkas on fiddle

Do a search in ‘Recordings’ - including, aside from what has already been suggested ~ fiddlers Matt Cranitch & Seamus Creagh - and for learning by ear:

"Seamus Creagh: Tunes For Practice" ~ 2 CDs worth with some polkas included

Re: Polkas for fiddle

Wow. I knew that I could rely on the music fraternity to supply the goods and you have not let me down. Many thanks for the tune suggestions and good advice. Taken on board and totally agreed with.
Stars, the lot of you.

Padraig O’Keeffe (another fiddle source)

There has been some promise for awhile that Matt Cranitch was accumulating recordings of Sliabh Luachra fiddler Padraig O’Keeffe and that a recording was due for release. I live in hope… 😀 For too long the RTE recording has been out of circulation…

Re: Polkas for fiddle

Could be one for the blog I suppose…