term "Celtic music" is rather vague: it can reasonably be connected to
the traditional music of the countries which speak Celtic languages: Ireland,
Scotland, Wales, Brittany (in France) and Galitia (in Spain), but also to the music
of those geographic regions that have been influenced by Celtic culture, such as
the United States and some regions of Canada. The term comprises also the most
recent musical forms based on the typical characteristics of the Celtic
The same term "Celtic music" is often the subject of controversy: the
Celts, as a separate population, obviously have vanished over the centuries, and
the only important connections remain between the musical traditions of Ireland
and Scotland. The Breton musicians often play (also) Irish and/or Scottish
music. It is in the USA and Canada that the musical traditions often are
interlaced between them, and for this reason in those regions the term
"Celtic music" is used more properly. It has to be remembered too that
the term "Irish traditional music" includes various musical styles,
some of which are very near to Scottish music... Finally, musical groups of a
particular Celtic region often play music typical of another region. Although
the term is rather vague, speaking about Celtic music at least shrinks the term
to some precise geographic areas (unless we want to put it inside the melting
pot of "folk music", or of "world music").
What are the origins of Celtic music? Listening to Arabic and Middle Eastern
music one finds many common characteristics similar to the traditional music of
Scotland and Ireland. In both cases there is a strong emphasis on the melody and
the rhythm, indeed it can be asserted that between the peculiar characteristics
of these musical forms the melodic-rhythmic complexity has the main role. Instead
will find very seldom important elements of "western" music,
such as harmony and counterpoint.
Let's try to analyze this concept better. When we try to sing a song from the
hit parade, we can easily notice that in the absence of an appropriate
accompaniment, the result is very dull. In contrast, in Celtic music (as in all
traditional music), the notes go with a continuous, melodic flow, without the
harmony or the chords, typical elements of classic or pop music: in technical
terms, melodic music, rather than harmonic (1).
Since its origins, Celtic music is therefore a solo musical form: if you listen
to a traditional Irish band, formed by fiddle, flute and accordion, you will
hear the sound of three solo parts executed simultaneously. The result will be
more or less interesting according to the various shadings of execution between
the single instruments, the personality of the single musicians, obviously their
musical ability, their style of execution, the listening influences of other
recorded versions and so on. Sometimes it may happen that a musician plays one
octave below the others, but for more when two or more musicians play Irish (or
Scottish) traditional music, they play the melody all together in the same way(2).
musical forms of Celtic music
order to begin to play Celtic music it is fundamental to understand its musical
structure. In pop music, every song is subdivided in sections defined as Verse,
Chorus and Bridge. Nearly all pop music is structured in this way: a typical
song could be formed therefore: Verse, Verse, Chorus, Bridge, Verse. In Celtic
music the parts, or sections, are described simply from alphabet letters: Part
A, Part B etc. Therefore an Irish or Scottish music tune could have the
structure A A B B (typical of Jigs and Reels), or A B A B. Sometimes sections C,
D or E can exist. It may happen that the Parts are very different (as often are
verse and chorus), but it may also happen that the differences between the Parts
are small, and sometimes the sections are simple variations on a same melody.
Music becomes easier to understand if you can assign these letters (A, B..) when
you hear variations listening to the tune. Bluegrass music, too, is structured
in the same way (only when Bluegrass comes from Traditional Celtic sources such
as reels, jigs or hornpipes, not obviously if it is vocal music).
Another typical characteristic of Celtic music is the collecting of several
single tunes into a "set". In Irish music, a set is made of two (or
more) tunes joined together, and played as if they were one whole composition.
The reason for this resides in the dance tradition. A large part of Celtic music
is dance music, and the single tunes are very short. Therefore, the only way to
let the dancers keep on dancing is to continue playing! Since the tunes are very
short, a set of three pieces rarely exceeds 4 or 5 minutes. The choice of the
tunes to arrange in set is based on the contrast between them and sometimes on
the tempo of the single tunes. One of the main areas of creativity consists in
succeeding to join together single tunes into complimentary sets.
of musical tunes
Many types of musical tunes exist, mainly
of Irish and Scottish origin. It may be useful to learn their names and
characteristics. The differences between them are based on the rhythmic accents,
the tempo and the structure. The only way to learn to recognize these structures
is listening to them, on disc or live, in concerts, in pubs, on stage...
A short description is however possible:
A) Dance music forms
Jig: It's the form with the
faster tempo, and it's also the type of music more easily recognizable like
"Irish music". It is in 6/8 time.
Slip-Jig: characterized by a
fast tempo. It is in 9/8 time.
Reel: Very fast too, it is in
4/4. It has a greater sense of " fluidity " than the jig. The
difference is mainly in the rhythmic accentuation.
Hornpipe: It can be in 6/8,
12/8 or in 4/4, but with a different rhythmic emphasis than jigs and reels.
Slide: Very near to the jig.
Set: It is more
"majestic", and in some way resembles classic music.
Polka: this form of dance
music is part of the tradition of the Ceili. The Ceili is an "all night
long" dancing event.
B) Melodic music forms
Air: slow musical form, very
melodic; it is the only one where you can find some harmonization.
Lament: Melodic like an air,
but with an intrinsic element of sadness, melancholy.
Peobracht: It's a Scottish,
slow, long majestic solo melodic form for pipes.
C) Other forms
March: It emphasizes a lot
(obviously...) the military aspect. It makes wide use of percussion. It's in
Compositions by O' Carolan: The
music of the blind Irish harpist Turlough O' Carolan (1670-1738) has a
particular importance in Irish music: in terms of musical structure its
compositions are similar to the other forms, but also strong influences from the
classic compositions of Italian music of the 17th Century Rinascimento
(Gemignani, Corelli) are present.
Planxty: It is a tune
dedicated to someone, like a nobleman (in the past), or a friend (more
recently). It is not a particular type of music: the Planxty name can be given
to jigs, reels or airs. Probably in origin the word "Planxty" didn't
indicate necessarily a dedication. It is a wholly made up word by Carolan, and
only appeared on a handful of his compositions. Although it has come to mean a
dedication, that is probably not what Carolan intended.
Which is the best way to appreciate Celtic music? It's up to you whether you
want to study its history and technical characteristics, to listen to recordings
(by now is enough easy in Italy too), and if you can, to go to capture it live
in its natural atmosphere: pubs and concert halls of Ireland and Scotland (3).
In conclusion, there isn't a single way to play Celtic music, and like every
music worthy of this name, it must be played with respect and understanding of
its history and (historical, social...) background. Regarding the fact that more
and more frequently Celtic music is played by musicians of "not
Celtic" origin (German, French,... Sicilians!) I think that a modern artist,
technically prepared and sufficiently open-minded (especially in this
"World Village" era) can play whichever type of music he/she likes,
even if he/she isn't linked geographically to the culture from which the same music
Internet is a rich source of Celtic music tunes, thanks to
the fact that, being songs and tunes of traditional origin, and not suffering
from copyright restrictions, they can be online as lyrics and/or chords, for all
of those who want to deepen their knowledge.
The following web sites offer freely the lyrics and music
of many songs and tune of Irish and Scottish traditional music:
Cinn le hÁine Cooke it
has the only defect of being in Gaelic... For the rest it is very good.
Dedicated to Ulster musical tradition.
Cullen Presents Irish Ballads simple web
site, but rich in songs with their relative chords.
Music of Ireland wonderful site with many
MIDI files of Irish music.
Music of England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales and America
very well organized: the songs are subdivided by type (war songs, love
songs, songs of emigration, maritime songs and so on), and by nation of
Irish Folk Song Lyrics Archive a
little heavy in content to download, but equally rich of content.
Folk Songs very
simple, with much Irish music.
Liam's Irish Traditional Music Download Irish Traditional
Music in Midi, MP3 and ABC file Format. Download Song lyrics and score
sheets. Learn to play the tin whistle or learn how to speak gaelic.
at Ceolas Ceolas
is perhaps the most important source for a Celtic music fan.
10,000 Folkslieder very good German web
site, with lyrics and scores of the most beautiful Irish songs.
folk lyrics very
simple, but very good...
songbook of lyrics lyrics (above all by
The Dubliners), but also MIDI and MP3 files .
very nice, and interesting too.
Song Page everything
about Scottish music.
Linen is a
folk duo from Nottingham, whose web page is an authentic mine of links to
bands, song books, lyrics, and everything has to do with Celtic music
TuneWeb is a
large archive of scores of Celtic music tunes in .gif format, divided in
musical forms: reels, jigs, airs by O' Carolan etc...
Stone Pub Session Tunebook from
this web site it is possible to download two files in .pdf format, with
approximately 200 scores of Irish tunes.
Rince na hEireann it
is the result of a laborious historiographic work on hundred of Irish songs,
of which the web authors trace (where possible) the origins and the history,
and the translation of the title from Gaelic into English is carried out.
Truly beautiful. Remarkable also the page of the links: The
Traditional Music Page.
House Band Tunes American
band of Irish dance music. In its web site there is a rich collection of
Irish music scores, divided by category: jigs, reels...
GIFs and MIDI files for Hammered Dulcimer and Other Instruments
it contains scores and chords of more than one hundred Scottish and Irish
tunes to download as .gif and MIDI files. Beautiful!
virtual Tunebook a
large number of scores, in alphabetical order and divided by musical form
(jigs, reels, etc.)
Folk Music, Breton Identity it
is a very interesting collection of monographic texts on several aspects of
Breton music: vocal music, pipes and the Celtic harp in modern music,
folk-rock, the role of Alan Stivell...
wonderful Irish web site, full of news and
interesting articles about Irish music.
First of all, Mark Roupe is a
friend. Second, his web site, called
Marblemap, is one of the best ones,
containing lots of informations about Celtic music and Irish history.
Irish Music Page ...
for those who do not speak English, in French. This French web site
containing the equivalent of 500 (!) pages and 30 minutes of music, the
result of the research of the author on Ireland and its music. From the site
can be downloaded a thesis on Irish traditional music of about 100 pages!!!
Universally known as the richest of the web
sites about Celtic music.
Encyclopedia of Traditional Celtic Music gives
a truly complete picture about Celtic music, by all its points of view:
instruments, definitions, types of tunes... Truly beautiful!
And if you don't speak English or
French, and you want to visit an excellent web site in Italian dedicated to
Celtic music, culture and mythology, you have to visit the wonderful Celtic
World On Line:
it is always updated about concerts, CDs,
Italian "Celtic-oriented" radio and TV programs. Very good links
The Italian/English site Celtica
Napoletana is about everything Celtic: art,
musicians,a Celtic music school, links to celtic-oriented MP3s...
Very intersting is the part
celtica music, by Anna Pavone: many, many
Cupa is dedicated to the ethnic music from
allover the world: obviously there is a rich page about Celtic music too.
probably the most important Italian-international folk festival. The last
news about the program are available.
(1) adapted from Paul De Grae: Traditional
Irish Guitar, page 9; (2) adapted from Paul De Grae: Traditional Irish Guitar,
page 9; (3) adapted from Paul De Grae: Traditional Irish Guitar, page 13; (4)
adapted from Paul De Grae: Traditional Irish Guitar, page 13.
The present images in this page are from
the Book of Kells, Trinity College, Dublin, EIRE.
Your contribution is always welcome: firstname.lastname@example.org
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