Warren Robert is a Canadian film/television composer, music instructor, session player and guitarist for both the Celtic rock group POGEY and The Myles Goodwyn Band.  He has years of experience playing in many different styles.  You may schedule online lessons via Skype by visiting...http://warren2013.wordpress.com/skype-lessons/  


Warren Robert's Celtic Guitar Primer

Session 1 – Introduction To Style and Forms

 A great way to expand composition, guitar and general music skills is to explore the traditional music of different cultures.  Sometimes, the best place place to start may be right in your own backyard.  


In my case, I grew up playing rock guitar and studying classical music, and was delighted to find the rich treasure chest that is the local folk and traditional music of where I am from in Nova Scotia, Canada. Many of the settlers here were from Scotland and Ireland, and the local music that has evolved is still firmly rooted in Celtic tradition.


Celtic music is a passionate, rhythmic, melodic and infectious style with many lifetimes worth of resources and materials and rich tradition to explore. There are countless books and websites with collections of sometimes hundreds of tunes in them. Many of the tunes commonly played at “sessions” are very old, and were written for fiddle or pipes.  


There are several forms of tunes in the Celtic style, and they are usually classified by their basic meter.  The most common are Reels in 2/2 time (Cut Time), with either straight or swing eighth notes, and Jigs, which are in 6/8 time and have a triplet feel.  Some other common forms are Hornpipes and Strathspeys (4/4), Slip Jigs (9/8), Slides (12/8).  Tempos are subject to taste, musicality and/or application. (ie accompaniment for dancers vs instrumental feature)


There are always exceptions, but the bulk of the tunes written in the Celtic tradition tend to be notated and performed in the key signatures of C, G, D and A.  You may find melodies written in diatonic Major and Minor keys.  Modes are extremely common in traditional Celtic melodies, with Mixolydian and Dorian being the most frequently used.  


Often times, just playing the correct notes in the correct timing feel will give music a slight Celtic feel and sound, but to really nail it, ornaments are the key.  These are the extra technical mannerisms that decorate the tunes.  The commonly used ornaments come from technical “tricks” that can be done on bagpipes, whistle/flutes and fiddles. Placement of ornaments is part of the interpretation process of a tune.  Different players will approach ornamentation differently while improvising.  Some ornamental figures have caught on and stuck with some popular tunes so long that they have become part of the particular tune, and are therefore performed standard by just about everybody who plays the melodies.


As is the case with any traditional, folk or popular style...Listening Is Key!  Traditional music is full of life and breath that goes beyond simply reading the note from a page.  The transcriptions are merely guides.  The feel and articulation, timing and tempo, simplicity or flamboyance unique to the style are all very much products of many, many decades of self-trained folk musicians playing at countless jam sessions with each other.  The best way to “get the feel” is to listen to lots of recordings.  


Celtic melodies tend to have a shape and rhythm that rolls very easily, therefore “lilting” the tunes comes naturally to some musicians.  This is where you hum or sing the instrumental tune, using improvised vocal syllables.  It actually makes tunes far easier to remember, and is a much more musically intuitive recall technique than notation alone.


This session was meant to serve as an introduction to the Celtic style.  If I were to suggest any “homework” at this point, it would be to seek out examples online of traditional Celtic music, both unaccompanied (solo fiddle, whistle, pipes, guitar, etc) and accompanied.  Listen to lots and trying and start getting a feel for the rhythms and melody shapes.  See if you can identify the different types of tunes by the rhythms (Reel, Jig etc).  This may be a little tricky at first, but it won't take long to evolve through immersion in the style.


In the next session, we will be learning how to play the melodies for four popular fiddle tunes.  Get your guitars tuned up and ready...  














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