Flatpicking Irish Tunes

Flatpicking Irish Tunes

Here in Appalachia, Irish and Scottish tunes were the roots of our local music. Flatpicking guitar style around here is just that: you play the tune loud and fast and act as a melody instrument. Trouble is, as you all know, a guitar can’t compete for volume in an ITM session so all the Irish guitar players I listen to are primarily backers. The Irish guitar players I’ve run across that do play the tune fingerpick, and the flatpickers from my country are all bluegrass players

the closest thing I’ve found to model the phrasing and picking stlye after are the Irish tenor banjo players like the late Barney McKenna. Particluarly Mr McKenna to be honest

so you all would know this if anybody does….are there any Irish guitar players that flatpick the tunes that I might be able to find recordings of? I’d love to find some Irish players to model my picking after so I don’t sound so much like the appalachian native that I am when I play these tunes. You have to have it in your ears before you can get it in your hands, you know

thanks for any help you all can give

Re: Flatpicking Irish Tunes

Tony McManus is a master of fingerstyle and flatpicking.

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Before I started having wrist problems, I did a lot of flatpicking, mainly of Irish tunes. I would have to say that I learned more from fiddlers and pipers than from guitar players. For one thing, there just weren’t many people playing the tunes on guitar back then (late 1970’s), but also if you’re imitating other guitar players, you’re already in a sense one extra degree removed from “the source,” if I may put it that way.

The effort of trying to make my guitar do what a fiddle did taught me a lot about the music. I think there’s some of the same sort of problem that a violinist encounters in trying to jump into any trad music. There’s a bit of baggage to be dealt with.

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Arty McGlynn’s 1979 album ‘McGlynn’s Fancy’ is flatpicked trad tunes from start to finish, with only one song to interrupt proceedings!

Some Arty clips below, the second clip is a set from the album.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QzE439U5iMI


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E2roku8fdF4&feature=related


Colm O’Caoimh makes tunes really come alive on the guitar. He does a great version of The Humours of Ballyloughin’ on the first Caladh Nua album, ‘Happy Days’. He’s an all round phenomenal guitarist.

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Re: Flatpicking Irish Tunes

Arty McGlynn’s 1979 album ‘McGlynn’s Fancy’ is flatpicked trad tunes from start to finish, with only one song to interrupt proceedings!

Some Arty clips below, the second clip is a set from the album.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QzE439U5iMI


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E2roku8fdF4&feature=related


Colm O’Caoimh makes tunes really come alive on the guitar. He does a great version of The Humours of Ballyloughin’ on the first Caladh Nua album, ‘Happy Days’. He’s an all round phenomenal guitarist.

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Apologies for the double post!

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Im a banjo player also and it would be true enough to say that its much the same on guitar.Except that i tend not to pick open notes(eg id pick the g on the d string rather than the open g).I just think thats more efficent when playing guitar.

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Thanks, fellas, that was exactly what I was asking about!

I liked both John Doyle and Arty McGlynn quite a bit. I play fiddle and a few other instruments, but my native tongue is the guitar. I only started flatpicking these tunes this summer and I was curious about a number of small things, never having heard anyone flatpick Irish tunes. I had heard Tony McManus play, but all the stuff I had heard him do was fingerstyle (he is very good, by the way) but that is why I asked

One of the things I wondered about was how much harmony people played while picking tunes, and it seems like that isn’t as pronounced as when people are playing fingerstyle

The other thing I wondered about was ornamentation. Basically how much and what sort, so I wanted to hear someone who knew what they were doing

But more than anything there is a lift particular to this music (like I need to tell you all that) that is subtle and that sound was what I was the most curious about. Can you get that sound flatpicking a guitar?

apparently you can.

So there’s hope for me yet! I’ll look for some records from these guys, and I’ll keep an eye on this thread if anyone has any other suggestions.

..and Bob, you’re absolutely right about listening to fiddlers and pipers. I won’t be forgetting to do that as well

Thanks again for all the good help so far

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Does anybody successfully play melody on the guitar at sessions?

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Bernie, now THAT is a question I would love to know the answer to

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There’s quite a few people, I’ve seen Danny Meehan do it, Flynn Cohen and a few others already mentioned. Here’s a great clip of Paul Brady playing Fred Finns Reel
http://youtu.be/hBgznFaJKzI

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Danny Meehan playing guitar, b. maloney? Do tell us more, please.

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Brainfart, Paul Meehan - not Danny.

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You could also check out Dónal Clancy. He plays both fingerstyle and with a plectrum and has some nice sets of tunes.

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Dick Gaughan Coppers and brass is the ‘gold standard’ But apart from that Its fiddlers you want to be listening to IMO, Try Bobby Casey in particular ;
http://ceolalainn.blogspot.ie/2009/10/bobby-casey-taking-flight-1979.html
As far as ornaments go ‘banjo style’ triplets are the main option but IMO its the phrasing that is most important. The one thing I would avoid are string bends and chromatic semitones a la Gerry O’Connor .
I sometimes start sets by flat picking the tune once through then shift to backup. The volume of a guitar suites mandolin, harp, maybe a fiddle but thats about it IME though a 6 string banjo would offer an alternative for guitar players who are not interested in Tenor banjo which is the closest instrument technically to the guitar for the right hand.

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For what it’s worth, not everyone agrees that Irish and Scottish tunes were the roots of Appalachian music. Some have pointed out that these musics diverged a good 300 years ago, and that at that point many of the tunes we now play as Irish session tunes had not yet been written.

Also, over the course of the 300 years of American fiddle styles, a number of innovations were made that did not occur in Ireland or Scotland.

Will I need a fireproof suit now? 🙂

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Just because the roots are deep, Ken, doesn’t mean they don’t exist.
(Good thing Ken gave me something to comment on, because everyone else has already said what I would have, and mentioned the folks I would have mentioned.)

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Oh, and I saw that Colm O’Caoimh at a house party some months ago with Winnie Horan and Mick McCauley. Hadn’t heard of him before that, but was mighty impressed by his talent and good natured spirit. A good addition to the list!

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Feh, meh, Scots, Irish, Yanks, Confederates, whateva, close enough. Pick them jigs and reels, laddie. Go’wan.

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Or, whatever Al said. You can’t go wrong with AlBrown.

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Kris Drever is a great flat-picker, and a favorite of mine.

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Here’s a wee plug for a new book on this subject albeit featuring Scottish tunes which was launched last Saturday

http://www.johncarnie.com/scottish_guitar.html

However, these are all well known tunes played by many Irish musicians too and many of the same principles wil apply.

Check out John’s album too.

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I’ve been checking out all these players you all have been putting me onto. Great stuff. I’m starting to see I’m not as far off as I thought. It’s more like how if I vistied you all over there and you would hear me talk, you would know right off I was American.

Same thing only with a guitar. It’s like I’m playing with an Allegheny accent.

so getting exposed to these players and listening to how this particular instrument sounds in thier hands is the best medicine

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The best Irish-style flatpicker I’ve ever heard was Louis McManus (older cousin of Tony), sadly gone to his eternal reward these past few years. Of course Louis was also a brilliant banjo player (and an incredible mandolinist). Someone who sounds very much like him on guitar is another banjo player - Kevin Griffin.

Here’s a wee clip (horrible quality, recorded off the radio in about 1981) of Louis double-tracked: http://rogermillington.com/steam/LouisMcManusSwedishJig1980Mulhallen.mp3

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Regarding ornamentation: Rolls and roll-like diddleys are possible on the guitar if your instrument is responsive and your technique is solid, but useful mainly if you’re playing solo or amplified. Some guitars are better than others at any kind of slurring. “Triplets” (maybe they should be called “triple-licks”) can be nice, including variations like DED or efg. Slurring across the bar can work.

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Good point, Bob. I’ve found that I have a hard time getting that “snap” in a roll without cheating and picking a second time at the finish. When the lower note is an open string, a roll like on my fiddle works fine, but I don’t always have that situation.

I also found that flatpicking I can’t do cuts worth a flip. I have to cheat those by picking the lower note and doing a very quick hammer on/pull off to mimic as best as I can what I hear from my fiddle. But if I try and do them like on a fiddle all I get is a harmonic of the top note or just a pull off which sounds like garbage. Not a cut at all.

I took your advice last night and was working on picking some jigs and playing them the same way I would play them on my fiddle. Stopped thinking of myself as flatpicking for a couple hours and just played them like I’d sing them. It helped, but I have a ways to go yet

Jeeves, thanks for the clip of Louis McManus. I’ve never heard him before, he’s very good. I’m glad you told me that was double tracked. If that was one man on one take I think I’d throw in the towel right now!

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Although he is a Cape Breton player, Dave MacIsaac, from Halifax is second to none at the ornementation you are talking about. He can play anything, although most of his recordings are Cape Breton and Scottish. Did a great acoustic LP in the 70’s playing this music on 6 and 12 string guitar. Great album. He is scary live and every bit as good or better, in my opinion, as McGlynn or Gaughan and has been a pro since his early teens.

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“Does anybody successfully play melody on the guitar at sessions?”

That depends on the session, the guitar and the player. If you’ve got 5 fiddles, 4 boxes, 3 sets of pipes, a couple of banjos and a bodhran to contend with, then probably not. But, in a smaller, quieter session, with a good guitar and a good pick hand, no reason why not. I was at a session last weekend, where I played a couple of tunes on a nice handmade guitar (belonging to someone else - I did ask, honest!) and certainly had no trouble hearing myself above the other instruments (two fiddles, two whistles, accordion, mandolin, guitar backing). Nobody complained that I was either too loud or too quiet.

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“Does anybody successfully play melody on the guitar at sessions?”

I think there may be 3 superfluous words in that: “melody”, “on” and “the”.

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Ethical blend, you’d prefer never to hear a guitar in sessions?

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If I’m really honest? Yes. Just my preference. But there ya go.

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@Nate “I’ve found that I have a hard time getting that “snap” in a roll without cheating and picking a second time at the finish. When the lower note is an open string, a roll like on my fiddle works fine, but I don’t always have that situation.”

Well, that’s interesting. I have the opposite problem. I seem to be more able to do the roll when the lower note is fingered.

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Bob, I’m sitting here with my guitar and what you said really got me thinking, so I tried rolls off different fingers and what I found was that my index finger to the open string is the only one that had real volume. If I plugged in, I’d be laughing, but that’s cheating, so I had to think about it. I found that if I actually articulate the first pulloff correctly and pull hard to the side with my 2nd or 3rd fingers, I get the snap in the string to have the volume and pop! I have to practice it, but I think I have something to work with

So thanks for letting me know the opposite was easier for you. I wouldn’t have looked harder at it otherwise

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I’m just glad to know that I can still be useful, Nate.

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That’s interesting. I always think it’s a bit unfair when someone puts up someone else’s YouTube vid and then people criticise it, but in this case, there’s a general point to be made that I think is worth making.

Yer man in that video is a very skilled player. He plays exceptionally well. But there was something bothering me about it, and, for a while, I couldn’t put my finger on it. I’ve got it now. It’s not in jig rhythm. He’s playing the notes of two very well-known jigs, but not in jig rhythm. I think it’s partly because, for me, he’s playing it too fast, but even so, I’ve heard other gjuitarists play tunes OK at fast speeds, so it’s not just that.

The general point being about what guitarists in general do, even really good ones like this man in the YouTube video. Just sticking to what guitarists do when playing melody, I think they often do what this chap is doing - they play the notes of the tunes, but they kind of flatten them out, and don’t play the underlying rhythm.

Just as a caution, since you guys have been discussing rolls - this chap doesn’t do it, because he doesn’t seem to play rolls, but lots of plectrum instrument people wreck their rhythm as soon as they play a roll. It’s kind of like the main thing to do is to get all the notes in, and never mind the tune.

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I don’t play rolls on guitar (or mandolin, my main instrument). What I intuitively (that is to say, not making a conscious effort) try to achieve is to reproduce the rhythmic feel of a jig as I would hear it played by a fiddler, piper, flute player etc., and playing rolls (i.e. a combination of hammer-ons and pull-offs) doesn’t help me do this. Perhaps if my hammering-on and pulling-off technique were better, I would be able to produce rolls that sounded more like a fiddler’s or piper’s roll, but as it is, I find that triplet based ornaments, double stops and just selective emphasis of notes, do the job reasonably well.

I’m not ‘a very skilled player’ (much less so than the chap in the above youtube clip) - I wouldn’t really call myself a guitarist (unless someone who can make beans on toast can call themself a chef) - but I somehow make the guitar do more or less what I want it to… sometimes, at least.

“lots of plectrum instrument people wreck their rhythm as soon as they play a roll. It’s kind of like the main thing to do is to get all the notes in, and never mind the tune.”

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I think what often happens when people flatpick these tunes is that you end up with something that is
(a) amazing guitar playing
and
(b) bad traditional music.

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First off I want to say I’m only posting this response on a lark & don’t expect anyone to take this too serious …
The tune “Music for a Found Harmonium” is about as far as one can get from a traditional Irish dance tune, yet it does pop up in sessions from time to time. Turns out someone has put it up on YouTube flatpicking the tune on guitar;
“Music for a Found Harmonium” played by John Carnie
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9X293HUy8Lg


IMHO, John Carnie has brilliant technique, though for myself that’s as far it goes for his version of this tune. It won’t be one of my favourites.

Having said that I should add that I actually like “Tune for a Found Harmonium” when played by the Penguin Cafe Orchestra, but if I never hear it played again in session that will be too soon. Aside from the PCO recordings I’ve heard one other version which I rather like. I’ll post it here as a contrast to John Carnies flatpicking version. This guy can play it at my session anytime he pleases;
Alastair Wood ~ ukelele
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F0bbR2ou998

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“IMHO, John Carnie has brilliant technique, though for myself that’s as far it goes for his version of this tune. It won’t be one of my favourites.”

Perhaps I shouldn’t be too critical, as he knows his way around the guitar a lot better than me, but I wouldn’t describe his technique ‘brilliant’ - a bit fluffy, actually. (Sorry, John, if you’re reading this.) Perhaps he wasn’t at his best that day. But, again, I’m not claiming I can do it better.

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One question:

Do you flatpick tunes in D & in G in first or in second position (as you would in a tenor banjo)?

In first position, you benefit from having some open string notes, but I don’t think that’s a great advantage.

In second position, you can play almost everything (except for the high b) between frets 2 to 5, resembling tenor banjo “symmetry” in some way.

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I don’t know if anyone is still reading these old messages. If so, you might get something useful from my website: http://www.danmozell.com . There are flat picking tabs of Irish tunes, an article about flat picking Irish and Scottish tunes, and info about my two books of flat picking arrangements