In this lesson, you’ll learn the reel “Anything for John Joe.” It’s what is often called a “half reel” or “single reel,” meaning there are only 16 measures in the whole tune. Marla starts by playing “Anything for John Joe” through a couple times and then takes it apart slowly, phrase by phrase.
Check out these songs featured in the Irish Mandolin course.
Marla talks about the role of the mandolin in Irish music, its evolution as a traditional Irish instrument, and her own approach to playing Irish music on the mandolin.
For over 35 years, Marla has played the 1922 Gibson A-model mandolin that she fondly recalls her grandfather playing in the 1960s and ‘70s, and it has become a key element of her musical voice.
Irish music is dance music, so creating a solid rhythmic feel is essential. Marla gets you started thinking about your picking-hand technique by explaining alternate picking (or “rhythmic picking”) and showing you a good basic picking motion for your picking hand. She talks about stressing the downstrokes to get the underlying rhythm for an Irish reel, and gives you a picking exercise for practicing putting a stress on the backbeat.
This lesson builds on the picking-hand exercises by introducing you to reel rhythm. You’ll learn a “broken thirds” scale exercise as well as the reel “Anything for John Joe,” a “half reel” or “single reel.”
The first part of the Irish reel “Paddy’s Gone to France” is in the key of B minor, the relative minor of D. Marla explains how to use the D major scale to play in the key of B minor and talks about how it’s common for Irish tunes to mix the relative minor with its major counterpart.
There are many Irish tunes in the key of E minor, including “The Man of the House.” But in Irish music, E minor usually uses the notes of the D major scale starting on the E note, the E Dorian scale, which is, however, usually just called E minor in traditional Irish music. You’ll also learn a technique for playing the E at the second fret of the D string and the B at the second fret of the A string with the same finger, which Marla calls the “E minor squeeze.”
This reel uses another variant of the D scale often used in Irish music: the D Mixolydian scale, which flattens the seventh step of the scale, making the C# a C natural. Marla shows you the D Mixolydian scale and talks about the underlying harmonic structure of Mixolydian tunes.
In this lesson, you’ll review the modes and scales you’ve learned so far before learning the G major scale, along with its companion modes, A Dorian, E (natural) minor, and D Mixolydian. Tnen you’ll learn a reel that bridges the gap between D Mixolydian and G major: “The New Mown Meadow.” Marla also gives you advice on some tricky fingering, including a “lean” where you lean your finger to play notes at the same fret on adjacent strings.
“The Crooked Road,” sometimes called “The Crooked Road to Dublin,” is in the key of G major. You’ll start this lesson by learning some G major scale exercises, including a “broken thirds” exercise similar to the one you learned for the D scale.
The E minor reel “The Dunmore Lasses” uses the E natural minor scale, unlike the first E minor reel you learned, “The Man of the House,” which is in E Dorian. E natural minor has the same notes as the G major scale. You’ll also learn about some of the minor variations you’ll find in Irish tunes.
The popular Irish reel “Sporting Paddy” is in the key of A minor, or more specifically, A Dorian, another variant of the G major scale.
In this video, Marla talks about the “feel” (also called “swing” or “lift” or “lilt”) of Irish reels, in which the downstrokes are a little longer than the upstrokes. You’ll learn how to do this by playing with a relaxed wrist, so that the upstroke is the “return” stroke of a weighted downstroke.
So far, you’ve learned reels using all the modes in the G and D scales, except for one: A Mixolydian, which starts on the fifth step of the D scale. You’ll learn the A Mixolydian scale and a reel using that mode: “The Monaghan Twig.”
Learn the etiquette and traditions of playing in an Irish seisiún (pronounced the same as “session”), and creating “sets” of tunes. Marla talks about some common sets, how to be prepared for tunes to change within a set, and how to create your own sets. Then she plays the nine reels you’ve learned in three sets of three tunes, with play-along videos to help you practice changing tunes.
The jig is the other most popular dance rhythm in traditional Irish music. It has its own challenges and picking technique. The jigs you’ll learn here illustrate common melodic patterns used in Irish music, such as “overs,” “unders,” “stairsteps,” and “delays,” for which you’ll learn exercises to help you get used to the patterns.
The first jig you’ll learn, “My Darling Asleep,” uses broken thirds in part of its melody so you’ll start by learning another jig exercise that will be helpful in learning “My Darling Asleep.”
The melody of the Irish jig “Donnybrook Fair” uses a melodic pattern Marla calls “unders,” in which the middle note in the trio of notes is the note “under” the first and third notes. Before learning the melody to “Donnybrook Fair,” you’ll learn a jig exercise that will help you as you learn the melody to “Donnybrook Fair.” “Donnybrook Fair” also includes some “overs,” phrases in which the middle note of the jig trio of notes is the note above the first and third notes. So you’ll learn an “overs” exercise as well.
“The Lilting Banshee” is a very well known jig that should be familiar to musicians at any Irish seisiún. It uses a broken thirds pattern Marla calls “stairsteps,” so you’ll start with a broken thirds exercise before learning the melody to “The Lilting Banshee.” Marla also talks about how to vary a jig while not venturing too far from the melody, showing you how she varies a few three-note phrases in “The Lilting Banshee.”
Before showing you the melody to “The Gander in the Pratie Hole,” a jig in the key of D Mixolydian, you’ll learn a jig exercise for “delays,” a melodic technique in which you get to the melody note an eighth note late.
The popular Irish jig “Banish Misfortune” is a good tune for working on keeping the jig rhythm moving even when the melody is a quarter note or dotted quarter note. Marla starts by giving you an exercise in which the middle note of the three-note jig rhythm is muted or stopped by a finger on your fretting hand. Once you have the basic melody, Marla gives you some ideas for playing different variations on the third part of “Banish Misfortune” that allow you to keep the jig rhythm going.
It’s in E minor, but “The Killavil Jig” doesn’t use a C or C#, so the scale is really a six-note (hexatonic) scale. It also uses the “E minor squeeze,” in which you flatten your index finger on the D and A strings at the second fret, so Marla gives you advice on getting clear notes with “the squeeze.”
Slip jigs are an important part of Irish dance music and are distinguished from “regular” jigs by their rhythmic pattern. They are in 9/8 time, as opposed to the 6/8 time used for double jigs.
“Dever the Dancer” is a good first slip jig to learn because the melody really emphasizes the 9/8 rhythm. Marla starts by explaining the slip jig rhythm and the feel of the three groups of three eighth notes, noting the slight secondary emphasis on the last group of three.
The slip jig “Hardiman the Fiddler” is a good tune to work on playing triplets in jigs. You’ll learn the melody of both parts of “Hardiman the Fiddler” first, making sure you understand the picking and rhythm of the slip jig melody. Then Marla explains the difference between the two kinds of jig triplets: one that starts on a downstroke, and one that starts on an upstroke, before showing you how to play the triplet that starts on a downstroke in “Hardiman the Fiddler.”
You’ll learn to play “up triplets” on “The Humours of Derrycrossane” in this lesson. To play jig “up triplets” you start the triplet on the second beat of the jig rhythm, which is an upstroke.
Marla uses the beautiful E minor slip jig “A Fig for a Kiss” to demonstrate how to keep your pick in constant motion and how to alter a tune that has some awkward phrases. You’ll also learn some different ways to vary “A Fig for a Kiss,” including melodic variation, muting strings, and adding double stops and up-triplets.
This well-known slip jig has four parts and is in the key of D major. Marla uses it to show you how she uses double stops. After learning the tune, Marla shows you how to play the jig picking pattern on the D and A strings, to get used to playing two sets of strings at once with the jig rhythm, and then shows you how to drone the D and A strings on the first part of the tune by opening your pick stroke to play both sets of strings.
The lovely “Margaret’s Waltz” was composed in 1959 as an English country dance tune. Marla explains the waltz rhythm and how it differs from a jig and a reel, with a rhythmic pattern in the right hand more like a reel. The one and, two and, three and of the waltz is played down-up, down-up, down-up, with a continuous hand motion, just like in a reel. To get your hand moving in waltz rhythm, Marla gives you a series of exercises and then walks you through the melody of “Margaret’s Waltz” slowly, showing you some different ways to phrase the melody. Marla also shows you some ways to add double stops and drone strings to the melody of “Margaret’s Waltz.”
This lovely three-part waltz in the key of D was recorded in the 1920s by Irish fiddler Michael Coleman when he was living in America, so it has some “American” influences. In addition to being a great waltz melody to play, it’s a good tune for working on playing triplets in waltzes. After showing the melody, Marla talks about adding triplets to waltzes, explaining that since your right hand plays waltzes much like it plays reels, triplets in waltzes will also be played as they are in reels. She also shows you how to add melodic variations, particularly to the descending quarter notes in the first part.
Because of their unique rhythmic feel, slides can be tricky to play on the mandolin. Marla introduces you to slides with the popular tune “The Road to Lisdoonvarna,” explaining the differences between slides and jigs and how to get the feel of slides on the mandolin by adopting a picking-hand approach that is more like that of a reel than a slide. She also shows you how to think of the triplet phrases in slides as ornamentation rather than as essential parts of the melody in order to get the feel of the slide. You’ll learn two versions of the melody of “The Road to Lisdoonvarna” in this lesson: the “standard” melody played as a jig and the melody modified for the mandolin so you can play it with a slide feel and tempo.
The slide “Apple Blossom” fits very nicely on the mandolin. It’s in the key of D, using a pentatonic scale, and the B part differs from the A by just a single note. Marla shows you how she would strip down the melody to its most basic form to get the pulse of the slide on the mandolin, and then how she would add triplets and double stops to fill it out a bit.
The lovely B minor slide “An Choisir” translates as “The House Party” or “The Wedding Party” and it suits the mandolin quite nicely. Marla shows you the basic melody to both parts and then shows you how and where to add some triplets and some variations to the descending B part melody.
The well-known slide “The Star Above the Garter” is good to know for playing in seisiúns. The melody has a lot of triplet phrases that you’ll need to modify slightly to be able to play it with a slide feel on the mandolin. Marla plays it as a slide and then shows you the melody as it might be written, with more jig-style triplets, and how she takes the middle notes out of the triplet phrases to be able to bring it up to slide tempo with the right rhythmic feel. Once you’ve learned the stripped-down melody, Marla shows you how you might add some triplets back in, to enhance the tune while preserving the feel of the slide.
“Going to the Well for Water” can be played as a slide or a jig. Marla first learned it as a jig and in this lesson she’ll show you how to play it as a jig and then how to turn it into a slide by removing the middle note of the three-note jig phrases and then adding back in some triplets from the melody if they don’t cross strings.
Marla is joined for this lesson on playing in a duo by Peghead Nation Irish Fiddle instructor Dale Russ. They start by playing two slip jigs, “Dever the Dancer” and “Hunting the Hare,” and then talk about how they each approach playing with another melody instrument.
In this introduction to the Irish polka, Marla gives you some background on how the polka found its way to Ireland as well as how to get the feel of the polka on the mandolin. Polkas have fewer notes than reels or hornpipes but they have a distinctive lift and drive with an emphasis on the upbeat that makes them fun to play. Marla shows you her right-hand picking pattern for polkas and how she sometimes simplifies some of the melodic details in order to maintain the the lift of the polka on the mandolin. You’ll also learn “Charlie Harris’s Polka.” After walking you through the melody Marla shows you how the polka picking pattern works with the melody and how to give it a polka “lift” when you bring the melody up speed.
If you’ve got the basic polka picking style from the Introduction to Polkas lesson, Marla shows you how to add some ornamentation to polkas using “The Little Diamond Polka,” which is in the key of D. Marla starts by showing you the basic melody to both parts and then shows you how to add triplets to “The Little Diamond Polka.” In most cases the triplets you’ll want to add start on an upstroke.
There are three “Ballydesmond Polkas” that are often played together. In this lesson you'll learn “The Ballydesmond Polka No. 1,” which is in the key of A minor (A Dorian). Marla shows you a bare-bones version of the tune, omitting some of the quick melodic lines that would make it difficult to play on the mandolin. Then she shows you some ways she fills out the basic structure of the “The Ballydesmond Polka No. 1,” including double stops, off-beat accents, and triplets.
The polka “The New Roundabout,” which was written by County Cork accordion player Dave Hennessy, is played in A and/or D, so you’ll learn it in both keys. The melody has a limited range and can be played in two octaves in the key of D on the mandolin. Marla also puts three of the polkas together in a set so you can practice transitioning between the polkas “The Little Diamond,” “Ballydesmond Polka No. 1,” and “The New Roundabout.”
“Whelan’s Jig” is a beautiful E minor jig and it makes a good set with a couple of jigs you’ve already learned, “Donnybrook Fair” and “The Gander in the Pratie Hole.” It uses the famous “E minor squeeze” so before she shows you the melody, Marla gives you advice on positioning your hand and fingers to play the “squeeze” as efficiently as possible.
The jig “The Black Rogue,” which is in the key of D, has a lovely, off-center feeling because it doesn’t start on the D. In addition to learning “The Black Rogue” in this lesson, Marla shows you how to create a set with it and two other jigs you already know: “The Killaval Jig” and “Banish Misfortune.”
“Planxty Hewlett,” sometimes just called “Hewlett,” was recorded by the Irish group Planxty in the 1970s and has become one of O’Carolan’s more popular tunes. It’s in 3/4 time in the key of D, and like a lot of O’Carolan tunes has a short (eight-bar) first part and longer (in this case, 16 bars) second part. After showing you the melody, Marla shows you how to flesh out “Planxty Hewlett” with double stops, drones, ornaments, and melodic variations. She also shows you some of the harmonic ideas often used to accompany “Planxty Hewlett” and how you might incorporate those into your playing.
“O’Carolan’s Draught” is one of O’Carolan’s most popular tunes. It has a hornpipe-like feel and combines Irish folk and Baroque sounds. Like many O’Carolan tunes, the second part is longer (in this case twice as long) than the first part. It includes a tricky signature section in which you alternate fretted B notes on the A string with a descending melody on the E string.
It’s unclear whether O’Carolan wrote the set dance “Princess Royal” but it’s a beautiful and popular tune in the key of A minor, and the melody uses both the Aeolian and Dorian modes. Marla explains what set dances are and then walks you through the melody of “Princess Royal.” She also gives you ideas for chords you could use to accompany the tune and shows you some open-string drones and double stops you can add to the basic melody.
This lesson begins a series of lessons on accompanying Irish tunes on the mandolin. You’ll learn a tune and some variations as well as how to accompany it and tunes like it. “The Ballintore Fancy” is a two-part half reel in the key of G. Marla walks you through the melody as well as some variations, and then shows you her approach to acccompaniment, which is based on arpeggios and crosspicked partial chords. To do this, you need to know where the notes of the chord are, so she starts by showing you where all the notes of a G chord are in first position and gives you ideas on combining them. She also shows you arpeggios for the other chords you’ll use in the key of G: C, D, Em, Am, and Bm, and then shows you how she accompanies “The Ballintore Fancy.”
Marla uses the jig “Hawthorne Hedge” to show you how to accompany tunes in the key of D. After showing you the basic melody of both parts, including some subtle variations, she shows you her approach to accompaniment in the key of D. In the key of D you’ll use the three major chords, D, G, and A, as well as their relative minors, Bm, Em, and F#m.
In this lesson you’ll learn to accompany tunes in the key of A minor, using the march “Bonaparte Crossing the Rhine.” Marla starts by showing you the melody of “Bonaparte Crossing the Rhine” as well as some variations and ornamentation. Then she talks about her approach to accompaniment in the key of A minor, or A Dorian. The main chords in A Dorian are Am and G major, but you’ll also use the relatives of those, the relative major of A minor (C) and the relative minor of G (Em). Marla also shows you how to use the F and D major chords as substitutions.
Marla uses the reel “Lafferty’s” to talk about her approach to accompaniment in the key of E minor (E Dorian). In addition to showing you the basic melody of “Lafferty’s,” Marla spends a lot of time showing you the different kinds of melodic variations, ornamentation, and double stops she uses.
Before she shows you how she accompanies tunes in D Mixolydian, Marla teaches you the popular pipe tune “Toss the Feathers,” giving you lots of ideas for variations and ornamentation. Then she uses “Toss the Feathers” and “Hardiman the Fiddler” to demonstrate accompaniment in D Mixolydian, primarily using D, C, and Am chords.
Marla shows you how to accompany tunes in B minor in this lesson, with two tunes you’ve already learned: the slide “An Choisir” and the reel “Paddy’s Gone to France.”
The first hop jig you’ll learn is “The Promenade,” which is in A Dorian. Marla walks you through the melody of both parts in this lesson, explaining how she emphasizes the first and third beats of the measure. She also shows you some ideas for variations and ornamentation you might want to use on the tune, particularly picked triplets.
The hop jig “Cucanandy” is very similar to the slip jig “The Whistling Thief,” so in this lesson, you’ll learn both. Marla starts by playing both tunes, which are in they of G, so you can see the similarity and difference, and then she walks you through both tunes phrase by phrase.
The E minor hop jig “Comb Your Hair and Curl It” is often played with a lot of triplet phrases. Marla shows you the basic version and how to embellish it with triplets. She also shows you some of the variations she plays, with double stops and melodic variations.
Use this video to practice playing the three hop jigs you’ve learned as a set: “Cucanandy,” “The Promenade,” and “Comb Your Hair and Curl It.”
In this lesson, you’ll learn your first hornpipe, “Bantry Bay.” Marla starts by talking about the history of hornpipes and some of their melodic characteristics. Then she walks you through the basic melody of “Bantry Bay,” which is in the key of G major.
There are a few tunes in Irish music called “The Blackbird.” In this lesson you’ll learn “The Blackbird Hornpipe” which is in the key of D major, with a last phrase in D Mixolydian. Marla walks you through the melody of “The Blackbird Hornpipe” and then shows you some ideas for variations and ornamentation.
“The Humours of Tullycrine” is a beautiful lyrical hornpipe in the key of A minor, or more specifically, A Dorian. Like many, if not most, hornpipes, the second half of the B part of “The Humours of Tullycrine” is the same as the second half of the A part.
The hornpipe “The Home Ruler” is usually paired with another hornpipe, “Kitty’s Wedding,” which you’ll learn in the next lesson. Both are in the key of D with a classic hornpipe structure.
The hornpipe “Kitty’s Wedding” is the companion tune to “The Home Ruler,” which you learned in the last lesson. They are similar tunes and it can be tricky to keep from getting the two mixed up, but they sound great played back to back.
According to the Irish Traditional Music website, an amazing resource for traditional musicians, “the barn dance is, in origin, both a musical form and an accompanying social ballroom dance, which became popular in England and North America in the late 19th century.”
“The Hills of Tara” is a classic barn dance in the key of G, which is a common key for barn dances. In addition to teaching you the melody, Marla talks about what makes barn dances sound like barn dances and gives you some examples of variations and ornamentation you can use on “The Hills of Tara.”
In this lesson, you’ll learn another barn dance, “Bill Malley’s Barn Dance,” which has a bit of wistful quality compared to “The Hills of Tara.”
Barn dances, flings, and schottisches used to be distinct dance forms, since there were separate dances that went with them, but these days most traditional Irish musicians play them in a similar manner, with a similar rhythmic feel. “Joe Bane’s Schottische” is in the key of A, and the B part has some tricky fingering, requiring you to use your pinky on the high B on the E string.
“King of the Fairies” is a set dance, a tune that is not of regular eight-measure parts. Usually the first part of a set dance is eight bars long, with the second part being longer, going off on a more circuitous melodic journey. “King of the Fairies,” which is in E minor, has an eight-bar A part that repeats and a 16-bar B part that also repeats.
“The Blackbird,” like “King of the Fairies,” is one of the five traditional set dances, which means that there are specific steps that have been choreographed to dance to it. Like “King of the Fairies, “The Blackbird” has a regular-length A part and a longer B part, and both parts are repeated. But if the tune feels a little odd or crooked, that’s because it is. The last measure of each A part is a 2/4 measure, and the B part is similar, with a 2/4 bar at the end of each eight-bar section.
“St. Patrick’s Day” is another of the five traditional set dances. It’s in the key of G and in jig time, with an eight-bar A part (which repeats) and a 14-bar B part, the last four bars of which is the same as the last four bars of the A part.
The Irish set dance “Rodney’s Glory” is not one of the traditional sets, but it’s a beautiful tune in hornpipe time and, like most set dances, its B part has an irregular number of measures: the A part is eight bars long, and the B part is 12 bars long. The melody of “Rodney’s Glory” is based on a song of the same name written in 1782 by poet Eoghan Rua O Suilleabhain. The melody of the song was, in turn, based on “Princess Royal,” a set dance associated with Turlough O’Carolan.
In these next lessons you’ll learn a “classic set”: tunes that always, or nearly always, go together.
“The Humours of Tulla” / “The Skylark” / “Roaring Mary” is one of the classic sets. It’s associated with the great accordion player Joe Cooley, who was a major influence on the San Francisco Bay Area Irish and folk music scene in the 1960s and 1970s. You can hear Cooley play the set here and learn more about Cooley and his music at joecooleytapes.org, which includes numerous recordings. In this lesson Marla shows you the first tune in the set “The Humours of Tulla,” a D major reel.
“The Skylark” is the second tune in the classic Joe Cooley set. It’s a full 32-bar tune in the key of D with a busy, eighth-note heavy melody.
The final tune in the classic Joe Cooley set is “Roaring Mary,” which like the other two tunes is also in the key of D. Marla shows you the way Joe Cooley played “Roaring Mary,” as well as some simple variations.
Irish tunes with many parts are often referred to as “the big tunes.”
The five-part jig “Cúnla” is one of the “big tunes” and is both a tune and a song. As a tune it’s usually known as “The Frieze Britches.” The song was popularized by the group Planxty in one of their early recordings, and the lyrics are sung over the first two parts of the tune, with the other three parts usually played between verses of the song. It’s in the key of D and alternates between D major and D Mixolydian. There are a few versions of the tune, but Marla’s is basically the way Planxty played it.
“Kid on the Mountain” is another “big tune,” a five-part slip jig in E minor and G with lots of repeated phrases.