Styles. Are they beyond me?

Styles. Are they beyond me?

OK, I admit it: Kerri with her aspiration of becoming a "good Clare" player baffles me. I play the whistle and when I go to sessions I am pleased with myself for getting most of the notes straight and throwing in a roll rather than being thrown by a roll. So, would someone explain these regional styles to me in Plain English?

I gather there are Donegal, Clare and Cork/Kerry styles, but I am probably missing some. And what is a Sliabh Luchra, and is it better on the rocks or straight up? I know that Maired Ni Mhaonaigh puts in these explosive yanks of the bow, often in twos or threes. I realize that Martin Hayes plays more slowly and I seem to remember that he is from Clare, or at least his father was. The lilters tell me that Frankie Gavin puts more swing in his playing, but of course he would, being a bumkin from the South. And does Kevin Burke have a style, too, having been born in London and settled in Washington state? Wasn’t Michael Coleman a Great Sligo Fiddler?

I should probably abandon this futile attempt to conceal the extent of my ignorance. One more thing though: Is this something fiddlers do, like secret handshakes and brands of rosin, or does this style thing affect as lowly a creature as a whistle player? Is it just a matter of repertoire?

Any insight is appreciated. 🙂

Re: Styles. Are they beyond me?

It’s a style thing. Martin Hayes is not just from Clare, but from East Clare, a different kettle of fish from someone in West Clare. Kevin Burke is a London style player, although he can certainly put on other styles like some people put on hats. Coleman’s playing, after he moved to New York, was instrumental in formulating the NY style, but styles tend to change depending on what a player is around.

Whistlers have styles too, you know, regional styles. Repertoire isn’t so segmented anymore in these days of easily gotten recordings and widespread radio and TV.

Verena Commins wrote to me that she did her thesis on the Galway style of playing, and basically, it’s a wasted effort to try and describe the things, she says. Who am I to disagree? Among other things, every now and again, someone will tell you something about a certain style that seems to be in direct opposition to something that someone else told you about a regional style, so what the hey.

Just play the thing. 🙂


Re: Styles. Are they beyond me?

Sliabh Luachra is a region in the Cork / Kerry border and is famous for their wonderful players and the ‘spirit’ of the music, specially suitable for dancers.
Polkas and Slides are the most popular tunes and among their famous players are Padraig O’Keefe, Johnny O’Leary, Terry ‘Cuz’ Teahan, Dennis Murphy, Julia Clifford, Sean O’Riada and the more recents Matt Cranitch and Jacky Daly. Is homeland of beautiful sean-nos singers as well, like Iarla O’Lionaird and Liam O’Maonlai.

I recommend any recording from the previous players and I specially like one called ‘Gleantan’ from the band Sliabh Notes, with Matt Cranitch on it.

Re: Styles. Are they beyond me?

BloomHfield, I asked EHddie about this just the other day, and he said that Sligo has a lot more bending of notes and sliding into things.

Re: Styles. Are they beyond me? (long reply)

I think regional styles are defined by amount of lilt/swing, kind of ornamentation & how often ornaments are used, they are also defined by “tune-stock” & dance rhythms. Here’s the styles that I’m familier with from north to south

Donegal (which from what I’ve been told and hear noticed from recordings) covers the whole of No. Ireland. It’s very hard driving fast “clean” music. Very little sliding or left hand ornaments are used, Donegal fiddlers use more treble bows & double stopping (especially the same note) than in other styles. They also tend to bow every note & play very straight; this makes it sound like notes being shot out of a machine gun. Some popular Donegal fiddlers are Tommy Peoples, Paddy or Kevin Glackin, Paul O’Shaughnessey and Johnny Doherty. In Donegal Reels & jigs are played but slides, slip jigs, hornpipes & polkas aren’t as common, Donegal is noted for a Scottish influence which makes Strathspeys, Highlands more popular there than anywhere else in Ireland.

The “Sligo” style — like the “Donegal style” refers to a much larger area than just Co. Sligo, it also more or less includes Co. Lietrim, Mayo, and Longford as well. It’s very ornamented & faster, though not as fast as northern players, it’s also a lot more lilted/swung than Donegal. Sligo music has certain phrases that are commonly used. In the reel “Bonnie Kate” the first bar is generally played
here’s a few variations common amongst Sligo players.
dB | Ad (3Bcd ABAF |
(3ded | (3cdc (3BcB (3ABA AF |
The whole gambit of ornaments are used slides, rolls, cuts, treble bows, etc as well as lots of triplet runs. Reels, jigs, hornpipes are the most popular but all kinds of tunes are played from polkas to barn dances but the emphasis is on reels. Some popular players who play a Sligo style are Paddy Reynolds, Martin Wynn, Brain Conway, and Tony DeMarco etc. I’ve even heard people say Kevin Burke is, which he is to an extent but not as pure drop Sligo as Morrison & Coleman.

The Clare style is very lyrical, lilted & melodic. Its influence is felt in neighboring counties as the other styles. Namely Western Galway & Limerick. Treble bows aren’t used as much as melodic triplets, rolls are often used. The third degree in the scale F# in D is often played somewhere between F# and F nat. Giving tunes that not quite major but not minor feeling. Paddy Fahy was big on this. Dale Russ does a nice version of “Garrett Barry’s” on the Boston Fiddle Festival that is a good example of this relaxed swingy style. From what I know they seem to be biggest on jigs than reels & hornpipes but other tunes are played as well but to a much lesser extent.

Kerry & Cork style is faster than Clare but retains all the bounce, “Sliabh Luachra” are the mountains that separate the two counties & there’s a rhythmic ornament called the “Sliabh-hop” or “Sliabh-bounce” a good example is Paddy Cronin on “The Milestone at the Garden” playing the “Doon Reel”. I guess in notation it would be something like this
(D2D)>FB A2…
Instead of
D2FB A2…
Not drastic but holding that note gives the tune a whole new world of bounce. Kerry is also home to polkas, slips & slides galore. Reels & jigs take a back seat to these rhythms. All kinds of ornaments seem to be used, & the pace is faster than Clare but not at all frantic.

This is my take on fiddle styles; maybe someone else can go over other instrument styles?

Re: Styles. Are they beyond me?

Very educational, Baloney (Brad, right?). It should be added that of course within each of these regions, each player has a style or technique unique to her playing, and not necessarily completely representative of a region. I’m sure that’s obvious, but what the heck. Many fiddlers these days (including Martin Hayes) are classically trained and it shows - usually in the perfect intonation and frequent vibrato in their playing.

I’d say for the whistle, these stylistic ramblings are still valid. The speed at which you play, the amount of ornamentation you use, and the amount you vary the force of your breath or swing the rhythm can be used to reflect all the fiddle-oriented things mentioned in the post above.

Re: Styles. Are they beyond me?

Local styles in music are like local dialects of a language. They can — and often did — differ from one village to the next. It

Re: Styles. Are they beyond me?

Brad, Joerg, thanks for your great and interesting posts. A little run-down like that is really helpful. I am at this point not so much concerned with my own playing, but more with my ability to listen properly. Also, I’d like to be literate in the sense that the next time someone mentions Sliabh Luachra, I don’t say "I’ll have one of those, too, on the rocks" again. The other day, I was playing Boys of Bluehill between tunes at the session, and a very good and experienced accordion player (Tom Walch) said to me, "Try playing it like this, with a little Scottish thing in there." He played it for me, supposedly with Strathspey-like syncopation and I couldn’t really hear the difference that much. Of course at that point I had probably had one Sliabh Luachra too many, but still.

I will listen more consciously to the differences between Ni Mhoanaigh and James Kelly, etc. So, thanks again!


Re: Styles. Are they beyond me?

Ballybunion! hehehe! Or the Ballykillnaferrit, perhaps, J

Re: Styles. Are they beyond me?

Fiddler on Vermouth made an interesting point - that whistle styles ‘reflect all the fiddle orientated things…’.
I have been led to believe that, although once upon each of the four provinces - Ulster, Connacht, Munster and Leinster - had its own distinct piping styles (each no doubt having numerous local variations), these have to a great extent merged - much more so than fiddle styles, which would have evolved much more recently, anyway. I have mentioned piping in particular because its styles and techniques also form the basis of much of Irish whistle playing.

I would guess that, nowadays, if whistle players have regional styles, they are probably influenced by the other musicians they are used to playing with - notably fiddlers, who seem to exhibit the most regional variation. So, as F.on V. says, the whistle player will tend to play at a similar pace, with a similar degree of lilt and with similar use of ornamentation to the fiddlers he/she is used to hearing . Another thing which I have heard mentioned is the ‘fifing’ style of whistle and flute playing, influenced by the marching bands, (which, I believe is the main route by which the flute entered into the Irish tradition). This style, characterised by a strong rhythmic pulse and frequent tongueing, was once dominant in parts of Ulster.

Whistle players very often play other instruments besides whistle - notably pipes or flute - and this tends to carry over into their whistle playing. For example, a piper may play whistle in a very richly ornamented style, with a minimum of tongueing and breathing pauses, while a flute player may play in shorter phrases, and use more overblowing.

But, in general, I have found that regional variation in whistle styles tends to be overshadowed by personal stylistic variation.

Tell me to shut up. Thanks.

Re: Styles. Are they beyond me?

I must say I am baffled by the extent of knowledge displayed in the different posts (I always tend to order a Luachra shaken, not stirred..).
But seriously. I can remember a period in my early days as a whistle-player, when I was desperately searching for a style of my own. I sat whole days listening to Mary Bergin’s Feadoga Stain #2, trying to figure out what the h… she was doing, ornament-wise.
One day I decided it just was no good. I broke my whistle in two and went down to Mulligan’s in Amsterdam, to one of their excellent Sunday-afternoon sessions. And there Max van Gelder (who, to top things off, also plays the pipes and the box) gave me a great piece of advice: listen to Micho Russell. He’s just plain enjoying himself, without getting his fingers all knotted up, trying to get in as many different types of ornamentation.. His style to my ears proved to be relaxed, relatively unadorned (not to say simple), so I was able to start all over again. I just took it from there, and the pleasure returned…
All the best,

Re: Styles. Are they beyond me?

Micho Russell - he proves my point about whistle playing styles. He was from Liscannor, W. Clare, just a few miles from Milltown Malbay, Kilfenora, Ennistymon - one of Irelands richest musical localities. Yet how many whistle players play like him?

Re: Styles. Are they beyond me?

I’ve just visited abn interesting flute site, ‘The Flow’. It has an entry on the Links page of The Session. It goes into some detail on the regional and other stylistic variation in flute playing.