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An Introduction to Playing Irish Music

An Introduction to Playing Irish Music

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A guide to basic Irish Music for the player, dancer, and listener.

Slip Jigs | Slides or Single Jigs | Reels | Hornpipes | Waltzes | Mazurkas | Polkas | Glossary of Irish Music Terms |


Double Jigs are in 6/8 time meaning there are six eighth notes (quavers) or beats, in each measure.

Jigs 6/8 time are typically divided into two groups of three in each measure. The 1st and 4th beats in each measure are accented with the 4th beat less strongly

|DUM da da - dum da da | DUM da da - dum da da |

Irish Jig 6/8 time



A standard jig is made up of two parts, commonly known as the A part and B part. They are the same length, usually eight bars each. The parts are typically played twice.

Popular Jigs include:

Haste to the Wedding
The Kesh
Morrison's Jig
The Eavesdropper
The Lark in the Morning




Slip Jigs are in 9/8 time meaning there are nine eighth notes divided into three groups of three. Each beat is an eighth note. The 1st, 4th, and 7th beats are accented in each bar with the 4th and 7th beat less strongly.

| DUM da da - dum da da - dum da da | DUM da da - dum da da - dum da da |

Irish Slip Jig 9/8 time




Popular Slip Jigs include:

Hardiman the Fiddler
The Butterfly
Hunting the Hare




Slides or Single Jigs are in 12/8 time with the time value of 12 beats divided into four groups of three. Each beat is an eighth note. The 1st, 4th, 7th and 10th, beats are accented in each measure with the 4th, 7th, and 10th beats less strongly.

| DUM da da - dum da da - dum da da - dum da da | DUM da da - dum da da - dum da da - dum da da | |

Irish Single Jig 9/8 time




Popular Slides or Single Jigs include:

The Old Torn Petticoat Slide
Denis Murphy's
Kerry Slide




Reels are faster than the jig and has a 4/4 timing with 4 beats in each bar. Each beat is a quarter note. 4/4 time can also have 8 beats in each bar divided into two groups of four. Each beat is then an eighth note. There is also a 2/2 reel with eighth notes rather than quarter notes.

The 1st and 3rd beats are accented in each measure, with the 3rd beat less strongly. Reels have a swing feel to them, the 1st and 3rd beats are held a fraction longer.

|DUM da da da | DUM da da da |

Irish Reel 4/4 time




4/4 time can also have 8 beats in each bar divided into two groups of four. Each beat is then an eight note.

The 1st and 5th beats are accented in each measure. To get the swing feel, the 1st, 3rd, 5th, and 7th beats are held a fraction longer.

Popular Reels include:

The Chicago Reel
Drowsy Maggie
The Banshee
The Mountain Road
The Sally Garden's
St. Annes Reel




Hornpipes are also in 4/4 time with 4 beats in each bar. Each beat is a quarter note. 4/4 time can also have 8 beats in each bar divided into two groups of four. Each beat is then an eighth note.

Hornpipes have a stately feel, the accent is stronger on the 1st beat of each measure than that of the Reel, and a slightly less accent on the 3rd beat. a syncopated rhythm swing

| DUM da-dum da | DUM da-dum |

Irish Hornpipe 4/4 time




To achieve a stately feel, the accent is stronger on the 1st, and 5th, beat of each measure than that of the Reel, and a slightly less accent on the 3rd, and 7th, beats.

Popular Hornpipes include:

Kitty’s Wedding
Callaghan's Hornpipe
The Liverpool Hornpipe
The Stack of Barley




Waltzes are in ¾ time with 3 quarter notes in each measure. The 1st beat in each measure is accented.

|DUM da da | DUM da da |

Irish Waltz 3/4 time




Popular Waltzes include:

Planxty Irwin
Boolavogue
Seamus O'Brien
Waterford Waltz
Spinning Wheel




Mazurkas are in ¾ time like a waltz, but with the three beats of the fourth bar being strongly accented and the eighth bar consisting of one strongly accented beat and two rests.

|DUM da da | DUM da da |DUM da da | DUM DUM DUM |DUM da da | DUM da da |DUM da da | DUM da da|

Irish Mazurka 3/4 time




Popular Mazurkas include:

Sonny's Mazurka
John Doherty's
Shoe the Donkey
Untitled Mazurka
Mooney's Mazurka




Polkas are lively tunes in 2/4 time with 2 beats quarter notes, or 4 eighth notes per measure divided into 2 groups of 2. accent/swing on the 2nd and 4th quaver of each bar.

| da DUM da | da DUM da |

Irish polka 2/4 time





Polkas are also played in ¾ time like the Waltz but with the accent on the second beat.

| da DUM da | da DUM da |

Irish Polka 3/4 time




Popular Polkas include:

John Ryan’s
The Ballydesmond Polka
Maids of Ardagh
O the Britches Full of Stitches


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Glossary of Irish Music Terms

sean nós: ("shayn-ohss") dancing

ceili: ("kay-lee") dancing (literally, "country dancing")A "ceili" is a gathering for music and dance.

Feis: ("fesh") is a big part of Irish culture. A Feis is a competition for dancers and for solo instruments

feahdog: ("fay-dohg") Irish Tin Whistle

uillean ("ill-ihn") pipes: 'Uilleann' is Gaelic for elbow. A unique form of bagpipes originating in Ireland. Unlike Scottish Bagpipes, the Uilleann Pipes are not mouth blown, rather the bag is inflated by means of a small set of bellows strapped around the waist and operated by the right arm.

A semibreve or whole note lasts 4 beats

A minim or half note lasts for half as long as a semibreve

A crotchet or quarter note lasts for half as long as a minim.

A quaver or eighth note lasts for half as long as a crotchet.

A semiquaver or 16th note lasts for half as long as a quaver.

A Demi-Semiquaver or 32nd note lasts for half as long as a semiquaver.

A hemidemisemiquaver or 64th note lasts for half as long as a Demi-Semiquaver

Planxty ("planks-ty") an Irish melody for the harp written in triplets and slower than the jig, also, "In Honour Of" as in Planxty Irwin.

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