Types of Irish Songs

Types of Irish Songs

How’s it going.. I’ll probably be abit of a black sheep after this but I’m not the biggest fan of a vast majority of trad. The stuff that plays from Temple Bar pubs every time you walk by, just grates on my ears a bit.

What I’m wondering, is what is the type of Irish music that has a more melodious And slower paced (and dramatic maybe??) feel to it?

An example would be Donall Og by the Chieftains or the Parting Glass.
Is it ballads??
And, if so, can anyone give any tips for how to write music that way. Not strict theory or anything but any guidelines like focusing on certain notes etc.

I’m just a bit lost and would like to know what exactly the thing is I like so I can delve into it abit more!
Thanks lads

Dylan

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What many of us have done, I think, is to listen to an awful lot of music "on spec", and focus in on what we find appealing and dismiss what doesn’t appeal - read the notes, remember the names, look for patterns, look for more of what we like, until we know what is, can put a name on it, then learn to play it, etc. But to jump from not knowing what it is you like to appealing for tips on how to compose it seems - well, a bit of a jump. Good luck, though - maybe someone else will have more of a sense of what you’re after ….

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Welcome to The Session, Dylan Duke.

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Hi Dylan,

It depends on what you’re looking for. There are plenty of Irish songs that are quite beautiful - and nothing like what you’d hear in Temple Bar. Also, there’s much to like about "trad" Irish tunes - instrumentals that feature fiddles, flutes, pipes and so on. Temple Bar - at least the last few times I went by - is more of a touristy place so I’m not surprised you’re turned off by what you hear.

I’m not in Ireland now - wish I were - but I’m hoping some Dublin people can chime in on some pubs you can go to to hear good music. If you’re traveling, I’d say get to Galway and have a listen there.

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The Parting Glass is believed to be written by a border reiver, i.e. Scottish/English border, so perhaps it’s not Irish songs you’re looking for? ;)

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‘Parting Glass’ has been sung by Irish singers regardless of it’s origin, All Moldy.

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Dylan are you thinking about sean nos airs?

Give those a listen. To me, they’re the richest Irish songs.

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If you have access to Facebook or YouTube, look in on the Frank Harte Festival 2020, which is on this very weekend. You will hear some amazing songs, a lot of them very traditional, and a lot of it unaccompanied singing, tho there is a band playing in the Saturday night concert. You will probably be able to still watch/listen to some of these even after the live-streamed premieres of each event. You’ll hear ballads, broadsides, humorous songs, etc. (And I’m assuming you really do mean songs, as in things with words that you sing, and not tunes, as in the Apple definition of "songs")

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when i jumped down the trad rabbit hole i quickly realized how deep my misconceptions of Irish music and of Ireland itself actually were. but to me living is learning and i am loving every discovery, the farther from my misconceptions the better.

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What kind of music is being played at Temple Bar? I’m really curious now.

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You can walk past a bar and hear trad? Jeez how I envy you. The nearest session to me is 85 miles away and the nearest bar with consistent trad music is probably on the east coast of the USA. A mere 2200+ miles. FWIW, give the Cobblestone a try.

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Dylan, perhaps you might back up a bit and introduce yourself. Your bio has you as a beginner on seven out of eight instruments you aspire to play in a variety of genres. It creates an impression of being a bit scattered and makes it difficult to focus on what would truly help you. Can you broaden your musical background for us? Cheers.

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Petey_Whistle

"What kind of music is being played at Temple Bar? I’m really curious now."

When I was last in Dublin many years ago(I went a few times), the Temple Bar area wasn’t the place it is now nor the most obvious place to visit.
I’m happy to be corrected but I’d imagine that most of the pubs and venues will be catering for the tourists and the type of trad music to found there will reflect this.

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Ailin
I’ve played guitar for about 9 or 10 years. And yeah I’ve picked up a fair few instruments that I can get a tune out of and use them at a basic level.
I have a fairly broad range of interests in music. Certain things from certain genres click with me. I like jazz noir, hard rock, roots blues, some Celtic/Irish music… I don’t think it’s being scattered to have a varied interest in music.
I set out above what I wanted help with, I don’t think my interest in jazz or blues interferes with what I find interesting in Irish music.

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Sean nos airs has been the most helpful advice. I like flute and whistle for Irish tunes..
From what I understand, I don’t seem to like reels or jigs or very “dancy” tunes. I’m much more interested in the longer and more melodious elements of Irish music. I was wondering what they are and “meself”, I dont think it’s a jump to Try and understand the music. If someone could tell me “oh the music you like is x”, I will probably immediately try and figure out the components that make that music sound the way it does. Hence my follow up with the habits of that genre that I like but cannot name.

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Petey_Whistle
Yeah it’s very geared towards tourists and those who just want to scratch that Irish itch.

My sister did a lot of Irish dancing when she was younger and the music they play in temple bar reminds me of that.

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All Moldy

Aye, I think there’s a bit of debate there as to who originally composed the parting glass. But I don’t think that detracts from the question!

The reason it’s so difficult to describe what I want is essentially why I’m asking this question. If I knew what it is I was looking for, I’d just do the research myself and look up tunes that follow that style.

Slow, melodious, sad with longer drawn out notes.
Sean Nos singing definitely seems the most similar. However, I’d like to play the stuff on whistle or flute. Is there a certain term for music like this? I’ve looked up ballads and laments and they certainly seem to come closer than jigs and reels. But I’m not sure

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You can play any air on the flute, you just need to figure out a good key to fit it on the instrument

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Null-subject
So they’re just called airs??
Any tips on if I wanted to write something mimicking one?

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Yeah, air or slow air. I have no idea about writing your own, I’m still wrapping my head around playing them in the first place. The only thing I can think of is to listen to a lot of them until you get a feel for it. I don’t think there are any rules.

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Actually, to add: learning to *play* some airs is probably even better than purely listening to them.

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Last year I visited Ireland for the first time.

Everybody said avoid Temple Bar so I went there of course!

Yes the more commercial style of Irish music.

There were loads of European tourists.

There was a guy dressed as a leprechaun walking around.

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Kenny Null-subject

Thanks a mill lads that’s exactly the style I was looking for!
Now to go and do some digging!

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Richard - How did you know he WASN’T a leprechaun ? 🙂

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Dylan, you might be interested in what are called "O’Carolan tunes" after the 17th-century Irish harper Turlough O’Carolan. It’s a whole sub-genre of Irish traditional music, influenced by baroque music of the period. O’Carolan tunes are slower listening pieces, not really meant as dance music although they can be adapted for it.

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Joe fidkid

Not exactly what I was looking for in relation to this post but I’m definitely interested in that music for other stuff.
I like creating ambient music so I definitely I’ll be checking that out more. Thanks very much!

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A lot of slow airs not only require skill and experience to play them well, but are notoriously difficult to notate: those I’ve listened to tend to be played with free phrasing, varied timing, irregular line lengths, and complex decoration - so it’s very tricky to represent them properly for the average dot-reader (such as me). Having said that, you can find a number of airs written out in ‘The Roche Collection’ (Ossian Publications. 1982 . ISBN 0 946005 05 2). Could be a starting point for your explorations.

And if you want to follow up joe fidkid’s suggestion above, there’s ‘The Complete Works of O’Carolan’ (Ossian Publications, second ed’n. 1989. ISBN 0 946005 16 8). Happy digging!

Of course, you can always record a low whistle playing slow pentatonic arpeggios with about five seconds of reverb and a synth pad backing and see if it will pass as Celtic …

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Bazza

Thanks for the resources!!
Appreciate the tips too very helpful of you

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Dylan, I found your elaboration helpful. I actively play blues, jazz, rock, early music, folk and new age, so I am not critical of your aspiration. I just wanted some clarification and you provided it.

When it comes to ballads, I gravitate to the Scottish ones. I find the melodies stronger and more interesting. Check out the singing of Andy M. Stewart, Mary Black and Archie Fisher. Also, the unaccompanied singing of Jean Redpath. One of the characteristics of some Irish singing and airs is the absence of a steady beat or rhythm. If you want to compose, that would be a major element to consider. The singing of Kevin Mitchel might provide inspiration.
.

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Null-subject: "I don’t think there are any rules."

Perhaps there are no *written* rules (to writing slow airs) but there absolutely are rules. The reasons they are not written down are, I think:
i. Those that have had long exposure to the music know these rules intuitively;
ii. The rules are too complex to be set out in writing in such a way as to be easily understood.

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AB

Thanks that was very nice

Ailin

I’ll give some of them a check. I noticed that about the airs alright. They seem more sparse whereas when I hear a reel or jig I feel overwhelmed by too many notes and it just doesn’t do it for me.
I’ll check Kevin out too thank you.

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Ailin

What distinguishes an Air from a Lament? Or are they distinguished?

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I’m not an expert, nor am I Irish. Air seems to me to be a fairly broad term. As for laments, they seem like sad songs with melodies more like the way we think of sad songs in contemporary music. They may also qualify as airs. You will find that some jigs are also known as waltzes. I don’t know that terminology is hard and fast in all cases. However, around here you will find an immediate reaction if you call a tune a song or vice versa (songs have words). Anyway, others may be able to provide better enlightenment.

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Hi Ailin

Thanks a mill

I’m aware, Trish Santer was quick to point that out despite me never once mentioning “song” in my post, but sure look.

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" despite me never once mentioning “song” in my post, but sure look". What about the title ?
Here’s another favourite of mine :
https://youtu.be/eT98A5w_YzE

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Kenny

Well if people want to just read the title and make assumptions, grand. But not in the actual post where I put the actual question to people.

Seems some people on this are fairly fond of jumping on the chance to sound superior… it’s honestly one of the more hostile boards I’ve been part of.

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So Kenny

They called themselves tam linn? And correct me if I’m wrong, but that’s another name for the Glasgow reel no?

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Dylan, you’re welcome to pick my brain but it’s not easy to sort your goals & intentions about an interest in melodious Irish music when you introduce yourself with what appears to be disdain for what most of us play in our sessions, "I’m not the biggest fan of a vast majority of trad." Can we reconcile through our differences?

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My sentiments as well…

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"Seems some people on this are fairly fond of jumping on the chance to sound superior"

No, just realize you’re asking about an approach to this music that the majority of members here are not playing. Most of us here are into that "fast stuff" and related tunes that aren’t that fast, including airs, but that rely on an appreciation for the style. That takes time, it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a foreign language, not related to the music you’re used to playing in other genres.

FWIW, I came into this music as a guitar player from 30 years of Blues and Jazz, switched to mandolin for the melodies after my S.O. got interested in it on her fiddle, and lately have been learning flute as a different window into the music. It’s very different from anything I’ve ever played before in my background of Rock, Blues, or Jazz. The rhythms are odd, the shifts in key/mode within tunes is weird. It’s fascinating stuff but you have to spent time with it before your ears and brain will adapt to what’s going on.

You’ll only appreciate that if you spend enough time falling down the deep well of the tunes. Not just the slower ones, and not just Sean Nos songs. It’s all the same language, the same "foreign accent" that you’re not used to, and I wasn’t used to either before I spent enough time getting it into my ears.

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CreadurMawnOrganig: "Perhaps there are no *written* rules (to writing slow airs) but there absolutely are rules."

I completely agree. My phrasing was unfortunate in that it implies you can literally write anything and call it an air, which is of course not true. I suppose I meant it in the sense that you can’t capture an air in a tune of X bars in Y time signature, and you’re done.

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I won’t bother you again, Dylan.

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Dylan, Dylan…. It doesn’t help to make so many assumptions early on about the music and/or be dismissive about the opinions of others. I realise that you maybe don’t intend to offend, of course.

The Glasgow Reel is actually another name for Tam Linn and not the other way around. The tune was composed by Davy Arthur who played with The Furey Brothers at the time and later.

I imagine that they called themselves Tam Linn because the actual tune which was already in existence and composed by one of their members. There is, of course, a ballad of the same name with a different melody but…I’m not sure… I think the tune was part of a project inspired by the legend of Tam Linn.

Anyway, the tune has subsequently been given other titles e.g. The Howlin’ Wind, Glasgow Reel etc but Tam Linn was the original title.

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I gave the the introduction I gave because I wanted people to know where I’m coming from.
If someone tells me they don’t like blues, I don’t get offended. Or if one of you dislikes pop, someone who follows the charts shouldn’t be offended.
I told you I didn’t like the stuff I don’t like not because I’m unfamiliar with it… I’m from the middle of Ireland, I’m extremely familiar with it as my sister used to dance in feis throughout the country. I just dislike it. It’s not foreign to me at all.
However, airs, ballads and laments, I really enjoy.

I’m dismissing the opinions of others at all.. I’m not making assumptions about the music either? I don’t assume not to like it. I know I don’t like it save for a tune here and there. I’ve listened to it all my life.

And don’t worry, I don’t think it’s a Cookie cutter thing where I can take a formula and make an air. I just wanted to know the characteristics so I could start to understand it.

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I just honestly didn’t understand why people immediately started questioning me about who I am and what I’m doing here, etc.

I thought I was being forward and helpful saying i didn’t like the fast and usual jigs and reels.. because then people would know I wasn’t talking about them.

It feels abit like an inquisition here if I’m honest. And you can say I’m dismissing opinions or whatever but I don’t think I am.

The people I’ve gotten the most help from just went straight to my question and suggested airs and laments.

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It’s been interesting, Dylan. This site is largely devoted to music played in sessions. However, there are plenty of members with a good knowledge about airs and songs. Wish you well in finding useful information about your interests in Irish music.
Welcome to the session. I won’t bother you again.
Ben

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> I just honestly didn’t understand why people immediately started questioning me about who I am and what I’m doing here, etc.

Because your questions were and are a bit vague and we don’t want to just pile in with answers that aren’t what you actually want to know. Maybe it’s "airs and laments" you want but I’m not sure it’s that simple.

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Hi Calum

‘‘Twas as simple as that essentially save for any tips you’d have for writing your own. I just never knew those terms.

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…Hi Calum

‘‘Twas as simple as that essentially save for any tips you’d have for writing your own. I just never knew those terms….


_____

You’re planning to write one or several?

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Several of I can! But more of an interest than a definite

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A bit mystified re the reception you’ve had from some of the folk on here, Dylan. My comment re
“songs” was because we have had some folk on here who actually mean tunes!
Back to my recommendation of the Frank Harte Festival from last weekend: still videos to view: I watched the first half of the Saturday night concert this afternoon : some good songs and singers there, and several other YouTubes to catch up on yet! Wonderful rendition of Matt Hyland at halftime!
My experience of Temple Bar is admittedly from Six Nations Rugby weekends: swimming in beer and drunks, so best avoided. Belting out Wild Rover, etc. Found better music in the back room at Sheridan’s and the Cobblestone.

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The session.org is based around enthusiasm for traditional Irish dance music; jigs and reels etc and the majority of posters myself included would be fairly fanatical about the music. So i would have to say your welcome and reception was exceedingly civil and i can recall the days where anyone asking about anything else and admitting the music grated upon them would have been beheaded and the said head gleefully used as a football while the rest of the black sheep was slowly barbecued . 🙂 so be reassured your welcome to ask away and we willl do our best to help .
As regards advice , id suggest listening and learning a bunch of tunes in the genre your interested in .
What kind of stuff are you familiar with ?

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Dylan Duke, I apologise for bothering you. You’re welcome here by me personally.
Ben

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Dylan, I love dance music. Love it! But I’m still not sure if you have a similar appreciation for the music I tend to play with others in session. Do you play any dance music? Do you like this or is it exactly the opposite of what you are posting about; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ML1k-5hqIJM

All due respect to you!

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