As with any of the subtypes of folk music, becoming proficient in a particular style typically comes from mastering songs. This certainly applies to learning the art of playing Celtic music.
In his course, The Celtic Songbook, Tony McManus walks you through 5 approachable Celtic songs. These songs were purposely chosen to help you develop your skills playing the style, but also to help pass genuine Celtic repertoire on to you.
Here are eight Celtic song guitar lessons from the course. For the full course, check out Tony McManus’ The Celtic Songbook on TrueFire!
Celtic Guitar Song Lesson – Elizabeth Kelly’s Delight – Section 2: Overview
In this section, we’re going to look at a tune called “Elizabeth Kelly’s Delight”. It’s a “slip jig”: A lot of Celtic dance music, Scottish and Irish especially, is split into jigs (6/8) and reels (4/4). This tune is actually in 9/8, so it’s a jig plus a half. It’s a beautiful dance rhythm, more common in Ireland.
It’s originally from County Clare, in the west of Ireland, where the music is played in a very lyrical and slightly slower. Some people call this tune “Catherine Kelly’s”, to some dispute as to who the tune is named after or who wrote it (who knows?).
We’re again in DADGAD tuning. We’ll take the melody and get it under our fingers, and then look at adding a simple moving bass line and where in the 9-beat measure the bass notes fall. Hopefully we’ll come up with an acceptable version of the lovely dance tune. Let’s get started.
Celtic Guitar Song Lesson – Slip Jig Timing – Demo
Much of Celtic music is related to dance; it’s social music with a function. And, as with any genre of dance music, you have different rhythms. So, here we’ll look at a particular rhythm that’s common in Irish music (and to a certain extent Scotland): a “slip jig”, which is in 9/8 time, which can be a little intimidating! It’s an extension of a jig, which is 6/8 time. Let’s look at the first two bars of the tune as an example of this rhythm.
Celtic Guitar Song Lesson – Bassline Movement and Fingering – Demo
So, one of things we want to do with this tune is grasp the melody itself, and once we do that, we can begin to think about how we’d accompany it. The first thing you’d be drawn to is a bass line. So, the way I approach this tune is by doing a descending pattern in the A part. Then, in the B part, I go the other way, playing one note per bar. Let’s look at how the bass line falls in line with the melody, and some tips and tricks to get the fingering right. Don’t be afraid to slow this down to a crawl to get it under your fingers.
Celtic Guitar Song Lesson – Reharmonization – Demo
Reharmonizing is where you take a melody and you play it with a different set of chords, without changing the melody itself. This is a concept throughout all of music, but is especially used in Celtic music. You accomplish this by grabbing a melody note, and trying to find a chord to play it over besides the obvious one. So, let’s take a look at how we can bring in a new color to this tune by using this technique.
Celtic Guitar Song Lesson – Elizabeth Kelly Etude – Demo & Playalong
So, let’s begin to put some of these concepts together and put the arrangement together. Here we’ll look at just the A part, and we’re going to look at the two different ways of harmonizing it. Let’s start with just the melody, then work our way to the different harmonizations.
Celtic Guitar Song Lesson – Elizabeth Kelly’s Delight – Overview
So now, let’s do a performance of this tune. It’s one that I’ve known for many, many years, and is one of the first tunes that I learned. What I like to do is to play it very sparingly and sparse, letting the melody speak for itself. Then, we’ll bring in some of these concepts: We’ll introduce a moving bass line (going the opposite direction in the B part), start filling in the gaps between the bass line and the melody, and then we’ll reharmonize the melody from Dmin to G, with that B in the bass. Let’s take a listen.
Celtic Guitar Song Lesson – Elizabeth Kelly’s Delight – Performance
Here’s my performance of “Elizabeth Kelly’s Delight”.
Celtic Guitar Song Lesson – Elizabeth Kelly’s Delight – Breakdown
Let’s wrap things up in this section by breaking down my performance of “Elizabeth Kelly’s Delight”. It’s not a very long tune, so I played through the melody four times here.
Enjoying these free Celtic song guitar lessons? Check out Tony McManus’ The Celtic Songbook.