The Penny Candle reel

By Paddy O’Brien

Also known as Paddy O’Brien’s.

There are 10 recordings of this tune.

The Penny Candle appears in 1 other tune collection.

The Penny Candle has been added to 13 tune sets.

The Penny Candle has been added to 42 tunebooks.

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Thirty-eight comments

Paddy O’Brien Composition

This is from the pen of Paddy O‘Brien ’the elder.‘ I learned it from Kevin Rohan’s fiddle solo on Shaskeen’s album “The Mouse Behind the Dresser.” It’s a great tune which I also heard play by Finbarr Dwyer on Geantraí’s Christmas special 2007. I believe Cherish the Ladies have recorded it as well.

Nice tune--thanks, PaddyC.

Posted .

Lovely tune, but I don’t think it’s really mixolydian. The key of D major is more predominant and there’s only 2 places you need to alter the “c”. I would do the ABCs thusly:

X: 1
T: Penny Candle
M: 4/4
L: 1/8
R: reel
K: D
|:Ad d2 adfd|Adfa g2 ec|Ad d2 AGFD|E/F/G AB =c2 AG|
|Ad d2 adfd|Adfa g2 fg|e/f/g ec d2 ed|cAGE ED D2:|
|:d2 fd Adfa|g2 fa gedB|=c2 ec Gcec|B/c/d ef g2 ec|
|d2 fd Adfa|g2 fa gedB|cdec d2 ed|cAGE ED D2:|

Yes, but those two places are what makes it mixolydian.


The question of whether it’s mixolydian or major has to do with predominance. One indication would be to count the c sharps in Paddy’s ABCs. There are 8 total. Now count the c naturals in mine. There are 4 total. This would suggest that the tune is major with altered notes. Then ad to that the fact that the tune begins and ends in the major mode and uses a major cadence. The evidence strongly suggests the tune is in the major mode.

Also, the tonal landscape uses A major as the dominant and it’s used in the cadence. If it were mixolydian that chord would be C major instead of A major. The C major chord that happens isn’t happening in a way that determines the tonality; it’s used as an altered chord.

The tune obviously isn’t in one mode or the other. Some parts of it are major, some are mixolydian. For transcription purposes you have to choose one or the other, and that boils down to personal preference. I personally would go for Dmaj with the 2 accidentals out of sheer laziness because it means writing fewer accidentals into the abc.

I’m just going by what I was taught in college.

Ooooh, a man with an ology! 😉

Hey wait a minute ~ was that ‘college’ in the more loosely construed American sense of the term, like ‘community college’? That wouldn’t be that far removed from the 6th form colleges over here. That ain’t the same thing as a full blown ‘university’ education. There might be hope for you yet…

Hardy har har… actually the way I was taught music theory was almost like arguing law. We would analyze symphonies and there would be great debates about when exactly the music modulated to the new key or if it did at all… that sort of thing. In the case of this tune I’m arguing that the mode is based on the predominate key. The C chord and C naturals are an extra feature in the harmonic structure. I’ve seen plenty of tunes on this site that were mixolydian but were posted as major mode where I would make the same argument in reverse. Whenever I see a whole bunch of accidentals in the ABCs it’s a good indicator that the mode may be in error.


I see where you are coming from Phantom Button. I had the thought of it being in major in my head while putting it into ABC but I just thought, on hearing the tune, it sounded like a mixolydian tune with major phrases thrown in, despite there being more C sharps than naturals. Technically, though, you are correct I think. Would you like me to change it to major?

Unfortunately, the sheetmusic is set in stone now. But it’s ok: the only person in the world who’s really bothered by it is Phantom Button…

“…the way I was taught music theory was almost like arguing law.”

That explains an awful lot.

Posted .

“the mode is based on the predominate key” ~ ease up guys. I have to say I agree, the ‘easier’ way is generally the best way, in music too. Why write out a slew of accidentals when a simple change to recognise the ‘usual’ key means you only add an accidental or two… That just makes sense to me… Also, despite the wind-up, if you’ve ‘experience’ of some sort, why not wave your piece of paper and let it be known. However, what proof? You didn’t need to do that button, your argument makes sense on its own… In a sense the addition devalued a good argument, while your later more considered response was more effectively stated, was clearer…IMHO ~ strike the H 😉

“Whenever I see a whole bunch of accidentals in the ABCs it’s a good indicator that the mode ‘may’ be in error.” ~ yes!

“The Compositions of Paddy O’Brien”

J.D.C. Publications, 1992

Page 38: “The Penny Candle” ~ K: D Major

B-part, bar 3 only ~

~ | ~=c2 ec Gced | ~ and that’s all there is…

“You didn’t need to do that button, your argument makes sense on its own.”

I wasn’t trying to prove anything by mentioning I was basing my claim on what I was taught, I was only pointing it out as an explanation for my thought process. I’m not criticizing Paddy for the way he posted the tune, and I’m not “bothered” as one person suggested; I’m just trying to contribute my understanding in the interest of helping the collective abilities in our ABC transcriptions.

For what it’s worthy, PB’s analysis is along the same lines as my thoughts when I first played the tune as transcribed. In fact, when I copied and pasted the abcs into my own collection of tunes, I changed the key to D and naturaled the few Cs that needed it.

Mea culpa for not including a smiley face on my previous post--it was intended in humor.

Posted .

Too bad there’s not a Cheshire Cat’s bodyless smile, eh?

There’s something about this off shade of yellow that amplifies the rude seed in some of us… I was definitely winding you up, but I promise, I only do that with people I like. That might be unfortunate for them though. If I overstep the bounds I usually retract like a turtle into his shell… I was winding up Dow as much as you…

Button, I usually read your comments and take note, or chuckle, and no qualifications are required…

All said and done… it’s a nice tune. 🙂

A Cheshire cat smile for ‘c’ and CPT.
‿ ⌠

Posted by .

You mean that’s it! This isn’t going to turn into a 400 post argument??
I’d vote major on this too to avoid accidentals

A session Is a “public performance”?


Look! ~ the button is spoiling for a fight again! You want a 400 post argument do you?

D major

I’ve changed the ABC to PB’s version and the key is now D major. The sheet music is stuck as is of course.

That’s like p*ssin’ on smoldering embers Paddy… 😉

I think I might change my screen name to “one person”. It has a nice ring about it. A nice, personal touch.

^ change it to woD Dow!

Oh wait…he/she already exists 😛

Posted .

Chordal accompaniment

Just reading back over these comments, I realise that my reason for choosing Dmixo as the key initially was due to the way I accompany the tune. During the “D” section, I encorporate an open D chord, a Dsus2 or Dsus4 (anything that doesn’t include the third). So, this gives it a more modal feel and I don’t think the F# note fits very well. The switch to the dominant in parts just backs up this mixo sound. Yes, the ending cadence is major due to the C# but the flow of notes (which include an A and G) still keep it in the arguable modal arena. If you variate it and play C natural, you’ve definitely got a more modal tune on your hands.

I just want to add this in because, at the time, I may not have understood that this was my reason for thinking mixo instead of major. I was aware of the numerous accidentals but that, to me, did not indicate an incorrect mode.

This dilemma occurs in numerous tunes and “The Floating Crowbar” comes immediately to mind.

Re: Penny Candle

actually he plays it in D in the video

Re: Penny Candle

The version Patrick Cummins heard, from Shaskeen, is wonderful: that’s where I first heard it too, and saw Kevin Rohan playing it, and never forgot it!

Penny Candle, X:5

The very subtle changes I gathered from a recording of Dylan Foley and Daithi Gormley which you can find on YouTube. Brilliant stuff lads!

Re: Penny Candle

There are quite a few variations of this tune here but getting back to Paddy O’Briens manuscript in the red book. Is the C in bar four of the first part a C natural or a C#. It seems every setting on here is saying a C natural for the two sharp key signature but the red book says its a C# which I am unable to get sounding right? Was it a typo when they set the print up?