General Tips on how to learn Irish music better Part 1


Listen as much as you can to Irish traditional music; in the car, while you’re walking, at home… I can’t stress this enough. This is a vital part of learning and understanding traditional music. You need to be able to feel it; the swing, the phrasing, the flow, the style.

None of these can be notated properly. So listen as much as you can. Listen to CDs, vinyls, downloads, online archives, whatever you enjoy listening to. Listen to a variety of instruments and styles and from different eras if you can. Listen to music from 50 years ago. Who did your musical idols learn from? Who did they listen to growing up? Find recordings of these people and listen to them. Go back to the source. Listen to a variety of instruments. Growing up I listening to instrument recordings, but I probably listened more to accordion, flute and fiddle CDs. The more the music gets into your head, the better the music will be that comes out through your fingers. This music is for feeling, not for reading from a page. The more you have this music in your head and your heart, the more it will naturally flow out. Check out the ‘Suggested Listening’ page here on the website for my recommended list of albums and where you can buy them.

Sing it!

This is a good place to start when learning a new tune. Can you sing the tune in your head? My advice is to know the melody in your head before attempting it on your instrument. Sometimes I get my classes to first listen to the melody a few times, before trying to sing along with it. When done in this way, it’s easier to understand the phrasing, which then makes it easier to learn the melody once you lift your instrument. If you can hum the tune in your head before you start playing it, you’re off to a good start. So, back to listening! Listen to the recording of the tune over and over until you can sing along with it. Once you can more or less hum the tune, then start it on the instrument.


Once you start to learn the melody notes of a tune on the instrument, my advice is to re-peat, repeat, repeat. Through repetition, you’ll get more comfortable with the notes and this is how you’ll get a relaxed, steady flow into the melody. Even if you pick up a tune very quickly, it’s the time you spend after this initial learning that counts. It may only take you 6 minutes to learn the notes of some tunes, but it could take 6 months to actually learn how to play it. This comes through repetition, practice and finding your own way and flow with the tune, and of course, plenty of listening. Some exercises: Play a tune over and over. Play it slowly. Try tapping your foot along with the tune. Play it without tapping your foot. Focus on the ‘on the beat’ notes and put more emphasis on them. Focus on the ‘off beat’ notes and put the emphasis on them. Play it without adding any ornamentation. Put in a long note here and there. Use these exercises and more to find your way around the tune, and to ultimately find your own personal internal rhythm, swing and flow within a tune.

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