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User Name Thread Name Subject Posted
GUEST,Tom Bliss Guitar in Sessions (71* d) RE: Guitar in Sessions 28 Feb 10

Celtic Guitarist - you probably know this, but in case you don't..

There is a crucial difference between Irish dance music as played in sessions and English / Scottish music, and that is the role of melodic variation in Irish tunes.

Irish music largely developed without any chordal accompaniment, just melody and percussion. It was therefore possible, even necessary, for the players to vary the tune to quite a large degree without finding themselves playing another tune, and without clashing with the other tune players. This is the high skill of Irish music - it's more than decoration and less than improvisation, it's based on an almost instinctive harmonic and rhythmic diversion within universally understood rules. And it's the reason why Irish music can be the most dangerous and intoxicating of all the Celtic genres. (I'm taking nothing from the others, they have their own unique strengths - but if, for example, you vary a Scottish tune in the A part, you sometimes find you're playing the C part, because the variations are largely composed into the tune).

I'm a guitarist, and I worked professionally for ten years with a master of this art, and we talked about it more than any other topic (I've had many conversations with many other great Irish players too).

The guitar is (usually) welcomed - as long as it doesn't impinge on this flight of fancy (which, sadly it too often does). It needs to offer a chordal base which does not inhibit tune variation, and it needs to do so with a feel and rhythm which doesn't inhibit the bounce of the beat. (I was advised it was better to play one chord throughout the whole set with the right rhythmic feel, than to add lots of 'interesting' chords that ruined both the harmonic possibilities and the tap).

The reason some musicians (often the weaker players) turn up their noses at the guitar is because unless the guitarist really knows what he's doing he can ruin the session (and the weaker the player, the more likely he is to be put off) - even though he's a skilled player and thinks he's playing well.

So sessioneers confronted with a guitar case will sometimes err on the side of caution than risk having their evening ruined. This is unfortunate, but as they have come together precisely to enjoy this high wire act it is perhaps understandable.

It's not true of all sessions of course. There are many players of Irish music who wouldn't know a variation if it blow up their whistle, and lots who are happy to stick to Mally's Dots. These sessions are a good place to get a feel for the pure drop.

You will of course encounter guitarists who offer lots of chords (Jim Murray, Chris O'Malley and Tim Edey, for example) but they do so in a way that doesn't inhibit the tune players, because they also know where the tune is going.

This is also the reason why DADGAD is often preferred. It defines chords less precisely and leaves drones ringing, so is more likely to work if the guitarist doesn't know the tune backwards. Hence why some might suggest it as a good option.


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