Learn to accompany jigs and reels and other traditional Irish dance tunes in the style pioneered by Irish guitar greats Paul Brady, Mícheál Ó Dhomhnaill, and Dáithí Sproule and used at Irish seisiúns. With chord voicings, rhythm patterns, and practice tracks.
Check out these songs featured in the Irish Backup Guitar course.
In this first lesson on backing up reels, Flynn demonstrates his picking-hand technique, using a basic strumming pattern for reels that comes from Mícheál Ó Dhomhnaill, and gives you advice on accents and which strings to damp. You’ll also learn chord progressions for backing up the popular tunes “The Tulla Reel,” in the key of D, and “The Red-Haired Lass,” in the key of G.
Jigs are the other most commonly played dance form in Irish traditional music. The 6/8 jig rhythm is unique and has a specific strumming pattern and a particular feel. Beginning jig players often use an alternating picking pattern, but to get the right feel, it’s usually better to use a down-up-down, down-up-down pattern. Flynn demonstrates the pattern and shows you chord progressions for backing up the popular jigs “The Rambling Pitchfork” and “Out on the Ocean.”
Flynn explains the concept of “modal keys” in Irish music and gives you a couple of examples of modal tunes to play in the most common modal keys: D modal and A modal. “Famous Ballymote” is in D modal and uses D, C, and G chords, while “The High Reel” is in A modal and is backed up with A, D, and G chords.
Some of the most distinctive tunes in Irish music are in minor keys. In this lesson, you’ll learn to play in the two most common minor keys in Irish music are A minor and E minor. Minor tunes in Irish music often use what’s called the Dorian mode in classical music theory. Flynn explains the Dorian mode and how that affects the chords you use to backup minor tunes. You’ll learn the backup to four different tunes in this lesson, as well as a version of the D chord (D/F#) that you can use as a passing chord.
Flynn shows you how to play in fifth position in the keys of A major, A minor, and A modal. Fifth position means that your main root chord will be up the neck with your index finger at the fifth fret. You’ll learn to play fifth-position voicings on “The High Reel,” “Scatter the Mud” and a new jig, “Health to the Ladies.”You’ll also learn a rolling strum that Flynn learned from the playing of Paul Brady.
The keys of C major and D minor are less common than other keys in Irish music, but there are some great tunes in those keys, so you need to know how to accompany them. In the key of C, the I, IV, and V chords are C, F, and G. Flynn shows you the F voicing for dropped D, a handy voicing that you can also use for G and A. He also shows you a G/B chord, which you can use in place of a regular G chord. You’ll also learn a crosspicking pattern, a variation of the rolling strum in which you play individual strings instead of full strums, as well as a tune in C, “The Steeplechase,” and one in D minor, “The Broken Pledge.”
Most minor-key tunes in Irish music use the Dorian mode, but some Irish tunes move between a major key and its relative minor, G and E minor, for example. When this happens the minor section uses the relative minor scale, also called the natural minor or Aeolian mode. The chords you’ll use to back up tunes in the Aeolian mode are different than tunes that use the Dorian mode. To demonstrate the sound of a melody moving between a major key and its relative minor, Flynn uses the tune “The Hare’s Paw,” which moves between the keys of G and E minor.
Slip jigs are less common than jigs and reels, but you will likely encounter them at Irish music seisiúns, so it’s important to know how to accompany them. Slip jigs sound like jigs, and use the basic down-up-down jig picking technique, but the phrasing is different: jigs are in 6/8, while slip jigs are 9/8. Flynn demonstrates the difference between the two, gives you a simple slip-jig rhythm pattern in the key of D, and shows you how to back up the slip jig “The Foxhunter's Jig.”
Flynn shows you how to use the movable chord shapes you learned in the last lesson to create bass lines, using the jig “The Connachtman’s Rambles” and the reel “The Otter’s Holt” as examples. He starts by showing you bass lines moving from the I up to the IV (D–Em–F#m–G) and the V up to the I (A–Bm–C#m–D), explaining that I–IV and V–I have the same pattern of steps (whole–whole–half) and chords (major–minor–minor–major).
Learn to play bass lines in the key of G with open-position chords for every note of the G major scale, as well as movable shapes for every note of the G major scale. You’ll learn open-position shapes for G, Em, G/B, C, D, Em and D/F# as well as movable shapes for G, Am, Bm, C, C, Em, and F#m and how to use them on the reel “The Hare’s Paw.”
In this lesson, you’ll learn a series of major chord shapes in the key of D on the top three strings that you can use while playing an open fourth-string drone in dropped-D tuning. Flynn walks you through three inversions of D, G, and A shapes and then gives you an exercise in which you play the shapes from the open-position D to the D an octave above. He also shows you how to use the high-D drone shapes to play modal tunes (with D and C chords) and minor tunes (with Dm and C chords), and shows you how to play the D major reel “The Sunny Banks” and the D modal reel “Jenny Picking Cockles” with high-D drone chords.
Flynn shows you a series of chord shapes you can use with a fifth-string (A) drone for tunes in A major, A modal, and A minor, some of which you’ve learned in the lesson “Fifth Position Chords.” You’ll learn three shapes you can use to play in A major and A modal, and three areas on the neck where you can use them, and two shapes to play in A minor. Flynn gives you an octave sequence to practice the shapes and shows you how to use them to play the A major jig “Health to the Ladies” and the A modal reel “High Reel.”
You’ve learned how to play a major scale using movable chords in dropped-D tuning, and in this lesson you’ll learn to do the same in DADGAD. The shapes are basically the same as the ones in dropped-D tuning, but the major difference is that you can let your first and second strings ring open on all the shapes. Flynn walks you through the octave pattern in both reel and jig rhythms, and also shows you a version of the pattern using just the top four strings. Then he shows you how to use the shapes to play “The Drunken Landlady” and “Farrell O’Gara.”
The blind Irish harper and composer Turlough O’Carolan was born in 1670 and died in 1738. His music is a combination of Irish folk music and the Baroque music of the time, and many of his tunes are played by Irish traditional musicians today. They tend to be more complex structurally than most jigs and reels, so it’s important to learn the chord progression to each tune in advance. In this lesson you’ll learn to play a couple of his most popular tunes, both of which are in waltz time (3/4): “Planxty Irwin” in the key of G and “Sí Beag, Sí Mór” in the key of D. Flynn shows you the typical rolling strum used to play Irish waltzes and then walks you through the chord progressions for each tune, starting with “Planxty Irwin.”
Jigs and reels are the most common kinds of dance tunes in traditional Irish music, but there are a few others that get played at seisiúns and elsewhere. In this lesson, Flynn introduces you to common accompaniment patterns for polkas, hornpipes, and slides, and shows you the chord progressions for a polka (“Britches Full of Stitches”), hornpipe (“The Blackbird Hornpipe”), and slide (“The Star Above the Garter”).
This ear training lesson will help you learn to hear chord changes, specifically how to know when to change to the IV and V chords in a major key and to the bVII in a minor key. Flynn uses “The Tulla Reel” to demonstrate where to change to the IV chord in a major, “Tommy Peoples Reel” to show you where to change to the V chord in a major key, and “The Old Copper Plate” to demonstrate where to change to a ♭VII chord in a minor key.