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...




Warren Robert's Celtic Guitar Primer

Session 2 – Flatpicking Tunes


There are a few challenges to overcome when voicing the melodies on the guitar, as it is likely not the instrument for which the tune was originally composed.  Due to the shape of the melodies, there is often a need for string skipping, crosspicking and quick position shifts.  


The main challenge, which also happens to provide great benefits to your chops, is to try and emulate the fiddle and pipe ornaments that play a crucial role in delivering character to the tunes.  The best way to learn this is to listen to as many examples of melodies being performed on traditional instruments that you can get your hands on, and to try and copy the feel, timing and dynamics.  Often times, the sheet music versions of the traditional Celtic melodies are merely guides with actual performances being embellished with several ornaments.


The transcriptions with this lesson will look a little more detailed than some you may find in raw form in standard collection books.  I have notated all of the ornaments that I typically play while performing the songs. This was done to suggest an approach to adapting fiddle and pipe ornament notes to the guitar. I will demonstrate the tunes on the video.


Here are some points to remember while working on the tunes...


Take your time and always aim for good tone.


Memorize the tunes.


Alternate picking works very well mostly all of the time in this style.


Listen lots of recordings by the many great fiddlers, pipers and groups.


Try and be able to sing along (lilt) with the tunes, this will help you to remember them.


There is nothing quite as fun as playing these tunes with other musicians, jam!


Everybody has different ways that they like to approach learning to play a tune.  I am certainly not opposed to doing a loose scan of the entire piece first to look for anything usual or interesting.  When I actually work on the tune, I like to take it a bar or two at a time.  Common structural design approaches in Celtic melodies will reveal repeated motives more easily when you approach learning the tune in phrase segments of one or two bars.  Once you have identified all the repeated figures, it makes memorizing the tune seem far less daunting.


Here are four tunes to have a crack at.  They are in both standard and tablature notation.  If not passed down by ear, most tunes are learned from fiddle and pipe collection books, so in all honesty, though not necessary in many cases, the ability to read standard music notation is definitely an advantage, as it increases available resources.


As with any new song, in any style, start slowly, and take the time to get everything sounding clean.  It really doesn't hurt to use a metronome to work help work up the tunes.  Fluidity of rhythm is extremely important here.  Quality speed is earned through hard work and repetition.


Many Celtic tunes are played together in medleys known also as sets or groups.  These sets may consist of as many tunes as you like.  Often they contain 3 to 5 melodies, with each tune being repeated.  When choosing tunes for a medley, consider key and rhythmic unity and/or contrast. With regards to the different forms, there are many ways to combine the tunes.  


Here are a few commonly used orders...


1) Air/Strathspey/2-3 Reels

2) March/Strathspey/Reels

3) Strathspey/Reels

4) 2-3 Jigs

5) Jig/Reels


An example idea for a “Set” using three of the four tunes learned in this lesson may be...


The Swallowtail Jig (x2) 

Morrison's Jig (x2)

Cooley's Reel (x2 or more)


Often times, the groups of individual tunes are given a collective medley name.  For example, one may simply call the above suggested group “E Minor Set”, or whatever you want, really.


In the next and final session of this primer, we will discuss accompaniment.



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