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 3 – Backing the Tunes
This is a can of worms. I say that because the study of accompaniment styles for Celtic music is actually fairly modern and is continuously evolving. This is interesting for such an ancient traditional style of music.
The guitar can provide a creative chordal rhythmic background setting for the tunes. Since many tunes were written without any chords in mind, there is much left up to the imagination of the modern rhythm player. Traditional classical harmonization techniques generally fall short of capturing the essence of the tunes and are not often employed.
To attempt to teach all Celtic rhythm styles in an online primer session is ridiculous. There are a vast number of accompaniment styles that satisfy all levels or chording ability and theory knowledge. The best way to get the hang of it is to listen to lots of players and groups, practice along with recordings and jam as much as you can with traditional players. In regards to playing along with recordings... There are lots of recordings out there of solo unaccompanied fiddle, whistle and pipe tunes. This is wonderful because you can jam along with these recordings with complete freedom to try different rhythms, chord choices, styles etc.
Some of the standard approaches to backing tunes in a traditional style include.
These are all demonstrated on the video....
Single Note or Single Chord Drone (Pipes Influence)
Unless you are trying to fit in and play along in a traditional session, in reality... in chording, anything goes. You can very easily integrate Celtic style melodies over any number of musical rhythmic styles from Latin to Fusion to Metal. Interestingly, this shows how much of the Celtic flavour lies in the linear (melodic) aspect of the music. The harmony part is open to much creativity in contemporary applications.
For players at a beginner level, I have included a chord chart that shows basic chord fingerings that work together in a handful of the most common keys.
More advanced players will find a knowledge of chord inversions (for bass movement), extended chord colours (7ths, 9ths etc), and chord substitution/reharmonization techniques to be helpful to emulate and build upon the accompaniment styles of some of the more advanced modern players in the genre.
You may hear some players speak of a chording approach called the “Three Chord Trick”. The claim is that you can chord virtually any fiddle tune with it. That is not entirely true of course. It can work over a large number of commonly played Major Key tunes. And, that is about it. For beginners, it can serve as a excellent starting point for developing an ear for the chord changes. To pursue it beyond that is to live in an uninspired and very dull world of lacklustre ignorant chording.
If you have good ears and are experienced, rather than tromp all over a tune with a “Three Chord Trick”, even if it is laced with substitutions, is rather impolite and does nothing for the tune... Sit out for a pass and listen to your friend play until you figure out what you wish to do.
That being said, here is the “Three Chord Trick”. There are a few variations, but this is basically it...
|| I | I | I | IV V |
| I | I | IV | V ( I ) ||
Key of G (For example)
|| G | G | G | C D |
| G | G | C | D ( G) ||
There are countless way to strum through the changes, though arpeggios, broken chords, and pretty much anything else that you can think of also work.
Here are a couple of strumming feels to help get you started. They are demonstrated on the video...
Reels (Cut Time)
Uses a steady Down/Up/Down/Up alternating strum pattern. Foot stomps/Accent on 1 and 3.
|| 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & ||
Jigs (6/8 Time)
Uses a steady Down/Down/Up (Low/Middle/High) strum pattern twice per bar. Foot stomps/Accent at the start of each group of triplets.
|| 1 2 3 4 5 6 ||
The tunes contained in Session 2 are transcribed in both standard and tablature notation, and all have suggested chordings‚ so that you may jam them with a friend, or record the tunes and play along. These chords are merely very basic suggestions, but they will help to get you started.
I hope this Celtic Guitar Primer has been interesting and most of all, I hope that it has helped you to get started on a path to integrating some of the beautiful melodies, infectious rhythms, balanced structures, challenging stylistic techniques and general Celtic vibe into your playing and compositions. Nothing beats a hands on and immersed approach to learning a style, so I do urge you to seek out as many recordings and notated tune collections that you can get you hand on.