Skip to main content


Showing posts from 2014

Sharon Shannon Traditional Irish Musician

Sharon Shannon
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Background information
Born     12 November 1968 (age 45)
Corofin, County Clare, Ireland
Genres     Celtic,  Folk
Occupation(s)     Accordionist, Fiddler
Years active     1991–present

Sharon Shannon (born 12 November 1968 in Ruan, County Clare) is an Irish musician. She is best known for her work with the accordion and for her fiddle technique. She also plays the tin whistle and melodeon. Her 1991 album Sharon Shannon is the best selling album of traditional Irish music ever released there. Beginning with Irish folk music, her work demonstrates a wide-ranging number of musical influences, including reggae, cajun music, Portuguese music, and French Canadian music. Her single What You Make It (da, da, da, da) featured hip hop music artists. She won the lifetime achievement award at the 2009 Meteor Awards.

Early life

At eight years old, Shannon began performing with Disirt Tola, a band from County Clare. With Di…

Frankie Gavin is a fiddle player of traditional Irish music.

Frankie Gavin (musician)
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Background information
Born     1956 (age 57–58)
Corrandulla, County Galway, Ireland
Genres     Irish traditional music
Occupation(s)     Musician
Instruments     Fiddle, tin whistle, flute
Years active     1960–present
Associated acts     De Dannan

Early years

Frankie Gavin was born in 1956 in Corrandulla, County Galway, from a musical family; his parents and siblings being players of the fiddle and accordion. As a child he played the tin whistle from the age of four and, later, the flute. He received some formal training in music, but his musical ability on the fiddle is mainly self-taught. When 17 years old, he gained first place in both the All Ireland Under-18 Fiddle and Flute competitions.

Music career

In the early 1970s Gavin played musical sessions at Galway's Cellar Bar, with Alec Finn (bouzouki, guitar), Mickey Finn (fiddle), Charlie Piggott (banjo), and Johnnie (Ringo) McDonagh (bodhrán).  In 1974, from these and furthe…

Review of my Studio policies

An unfortunate incident occurred yesterday, where a student canceled at the last minute.  Normally, that wouldn't be a problem, but since this student had a special arrangement where they pay each time they come to a lesson, the backlash was significant.  Because of the scheduled time of their lesson, my wife had to leave one of the busiest days at work to come home and take care of our son.  Halloween is a very busy time at UMass, and she forfeited her normal time plus overtime pay to be here for me, and my student.  So not only did we lose my wife's income for that time period, but we lost the income from the student.

Because of this incident, I feel I must reiterate my Studio policies:

Private Lessons are one hour (60 minutes) a week (unless otherwise indicated), 50 weeks a year.  Students are required to pay every 4 weeks.  Classes are taught in 25 week "semesters", leaving the last week of each semester open for makeups.  There are two recitals a year in Januar…

The Celtic Nutcracker 2014

The Celtic Nutcracker 2014
LOCATION: Bowker Auditorium, Stockbridge Hall, UMASS Amherst
DATE: Saturday, Dec 13, 2014
TIMES:2:00 p.m., 7:00 p.m.
Rehearsals: Wednesdays 7-8:30pm

If you are NOT CURRENTLY attending the Wednesday Celtic Group class (aka Celtic Fingers), you will need to join to perform in the Nutcracker!  Group Classes cost $25 per week, meeting 7-8:30 weekly.

The Group Rehearsal Dates with dancers will be at the Guiding Star Grange in Greenfield, MA:

    Tuesday, Nov 18 5-6pm
    Saturday, Nov 22 12-1pm
    Saturday, Dec 6 12-3 - full dress w/final bow

Experience the story of the Nutcracker told through Celtic Dance from the perspective of a young girl living in a cottage in Ireland. The journey takes her to Tir Na Nog, the land of eternal youth, where she finds herself transformed into a princess and receives gifts from Scottish Sword Dancers, Cornish Dancers and meets a few leprechauns along the way.
In the second half of t…

After The Fall - A Jig

I wrote this jig in September, 2014 after a wonderful summer filled with glorious hikes, a wonderful trip to Maine and multiple excursions with my youngest child on our bikes.

To download, right-click and "save as" to your desktop, or hold down CTRL + P to print

Irish Modes - Practice Set

The Four (or scales) that are commonly used in traditional Irish music:

    Ionian (Major Scale)    Mixolydian.    Dorian.    Aeolian. IONIAN MODE:
Ionian is more commonly referred to as the Major Scale. This is the most widely used scale in Irish music. It’s used in tunes such as “Miss McCloud’s Reel”, “Off to California”, and “The Blackthorn Stick”. The two most popular keys are G and D, with stringed instruments often using A. Sometimes C and F are used.

Mode    Tonic relative to major scale    Interval sequence    Example
Ionian    I                                                  T-T-s-T-T-T-s            C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C


Examples of mixolydian mode can be found in the tunes “My Love is in America”, “Langstrom’s Pony”, and “Rakish Paddy”.

Mode         Tonic relative to major scale    Interval sequence    Example
Mixolydian V                                                 T-T-T-s-T-s-T            G-A-B-C-D-E-F-G 

There is one note different between The Ionian a…

The origin of Halloween lies in Celtic Ireland - Samhain

Halloween in Ireland

To find the origin of Halloween, you have to look to the festival of Samhain in Ireland's Celtic past.

Samhain had three distinct elements. Firstly, it was an important fire festival, celebrated over the evening of 31 October and throughout the following day.

The flames of old fires had to be extinguished and ceremonially re-lit by druids.

It was also a festival not unlike the modern New Year's Day in that it carried the notion of casting out the old and moving into the new.

To our pagan ancestors it marked the end of the pastoral cycle – a time when all the crops would have been gathered and placed in storage for the long winter ahead and when livestock would be brought in from the fields and selected for slaughter or breeding.

But it was also, as the last day of the year, the time when the souls of the departed would return to their former homes and when potentially malevolent spirits were released from the Otherworld and were visible to mankind.


Blues Mandolin - Part Four - "Practicing The Blues Scale"

The Blues scale consists of 6 different notes.  They are the 5 notes of the minor pentatonic scale, plus one additional note.  The note added is the diminished 5th (o5) measured from the scale tonic.

For example :
adding to the C minor pent. scale : C - Eb - F - G - Bb - Cthe diminished 5th - Gbproduces the C Blues scale : C - Eb - F - Gb - G - Bb - C In relation to the Major scale the notes of the Blues scale are : 1 - b3 - 4 - b5 - 5 - b7 - 1.  The b3, b5 and b7 notes of the scale (for C Blues scale : Eb, Gb and Bb) are the so called blue notes of the scale.

Here are the Blues scales in all 12 keys listed in Circle of Fifths order.
    C Blues scale     C - Eb - F - Gb - G - Bb - C    G Blues scale     G - Bb - C - Db - D - F - G    D Blues scale     D - F - G - Ab - A - C - D    A Blues scale     A - C - D - Eb - E - G - A    E Blues scale      E - G - A - Bb - B - D - E    B Blues scale      B - D - E - F - F# - A - B    F# and Gb Blues scales     F# - A - B - C - C# - E - F#,     …

Blues Mandolin - Part Three "The Blues Scale"

"The Blues Scale"

A diatonic major scale incorporating a lowered or bent 3rd, a lowered or bent 7th and sometimes a lowered or bent 5th to approximate melodic notes that originated in African work songs.

Since the actual pitch is unavailable on a mandolin, the lowered note is often "pulled off" against the natural pitch to approximate the blue note, by placing the finger on the note and quickly pulling it off after pick strike.

Blues Mandolin - Part Two

Jamming is one of the most fun things to do on the mandolin. The blues is one of the most fun and easiest genres to jam to. I’ll show you how to play the blues even with the most basic technique and knowledge of the instrument.

Five Note Blues
Practice and perfect the first five notes of the “a” minor dorian scale.  Be sure to keep the 2nd and 3rd fingers (B and C natural) together.  Intonation should be as perfect as possible. Play the scale up and down in different tempos and rhythms. Experiment with off beats, swinging and dynamics. Incorporate your own feeling into it. One great blues effect is the “broken record” effect, where you get stuck on a riff and just keep doing it over and over persistently.

One Octave A Minor Dorian

Practice the A minor dorian along with an acoustical guitar blues shuffle. 

Work on Finger Patterns

Here is an easy A minor dorian pattern you can play with any acoustical guitar blues shuffle.

A Secret Weapon

Here is my favorite A minor dorian pattern that you c…

Blues Mandolin - Part One

In the early days of the last century, the mandolin gained popularity both as a blues instrument and as the backbone of the early African American string bands. Several of these groups added mandolin to guitars, banjos, fiddles, jugs and kazoos to play energetic and heart-felt renditions of blues and ragtime songs. Bluegrass players, from Bill Monroe onward, incorporated blues licks into their playing. Steve James knows this music and its history well, and he brings it clearly into focus on this fun and funky lesson.

Mandolin novices will start out by learning a basic G scale and how to alter it to create a blues scale. Check out Divin’ Duck Blues by the great Yank Rachell. Once you learn some of the primary blues chords on the mandolin, you'll quickly see how it can become a wonderful accompanying instrument with the use of partial chords for rhythm comping. Turnarounds, double stops and variations on a walking boogie-woogie line are all essential parts of a blues repertoire.


Music Therapy For Aphasia

Let's talk with Oliver Sacks about aphasia—a condition in which there is an impairment of speech and speech comprehension—and note that music is being used as therapy for aphasia patients. Can you explain this and tell us how promising the therapy is? Are there other areas in which music has therapeutic value?

Aphasia is a terribly frustrating and isolating condition. Some people experience temporary aphasia (say, following a stroke or brain injury), but others are left with it for months or years. Yet many people with expressive aphasia, unable to utter a sentence, may be able to sing. I often greet such patients by singing “Happy Birthday” to them, whether it is their birthday or not. Everyone knows the words and melody of this song, and often aphasic people can join in. In 1973, Martin Albert and his colleagues in Boston described a form of music therapy they called “melodic intonation therapy.” Patients were taught to sing or intone short phrases—for example, “How are you toda…

The Irish Session (Seisun)

Get a list of area Irish Sessions here:

The general session scheme is that someone starts a tune, and those who know it join in. Good session etiquette requires not playing if one does not know the tune, and waiting until a tune one knows comes along. In an "open" session, anyone who is able to play Irish music is welcome.

Most often there are more-or-less recognized session leaders; sometimes there are no leaders. At times a song will be sung or a slow air played by a single musician between sets.

The objective in a session is not to provide music for an audience of passive listeners; although the punters (non-playing attendees) often come for the express purpose of listening, the music is most of all for the musicians themselves. The session is an experience that is shared, not a performance that is bought and sold.

Learn how to play in an Irish session here:

The sessions are a key aspect of traditional music; some s…

"Women of Ireland", or "Mná na h-Éireann"

"Women of Ireland", or "Mná na h-Éireann" in Irish, is a beautiful song composed by Seán Ó Riada (1931--1971). The poem, on which the music is based, was written by Peadar Ó Dornín (?1704--1769), This video features the Gaelic lyrics. Below is an English translation, though there are variations (only the first two verses are sung in this version):

There's a woman in Erin who'd give me shelter and my fill of ale;
There's a woman in Ireland who'd prefer my strains to strings being played;
There's a woman in Erin and nothing would please her more
Than to see me burning or in a grave lying cold.

There's a woman in Erin who'd be mad with envy if I was kissed
By another on fair-day, they have strange ways, but I love them all;
There are women I'll always adore, battalions of women and more
And there's this sensuous beauty and she shackled to an ugly boar.

There's a woman who promised if I'd wander with her I'd find some gold
A woman…

Antonín Dvořák

Antonín Dvořák
(1841 - 1904)

Complete Works:

Sheet Music from IMISLP:,_Anton%C3%ADn

Contrary to legend, Antonín Dvořák (September 8, 1841 - May 1, 1904) was not born in poverty. His father was an innkeeper and butcher, as well as an amateur musician. The father not only put no obstacles in the way of his son's pursuit of a musical career, he and his wife positively encouraged the boy. He learned the violin and finally was sent to the Prague Organ School, from which he emerged at age 18 as a trained organist and immediately plunged into the life of a working musician. He played in various dance bands, usually as a violist. One of his groups became the core of the Provisional Theater orchestra, the first Czech-language theater in Prague, and Dvořák was appointed principal violist. Around this time, he also began giving private piano lessons, eventually marrying one of his students.

During this early…

David Byrne: How architecture helped music evolve

As his career grew, David Byrne went from playing CBGB to Carnegie Hall. He asks: Does the venue make the music? From outdoor drumming to Wagnerian operas to arena rock, he explores how context has pushed musical innovation.

Turloch O'Carolan: The Vivaldi Tale

An interesting episode is told of O'Carolan:—"At the house of an Irish nobleman, where Geminiani was present, Carolan challenged that eminent composer to a trial of skill. The musician played over on his violin the fifth concerto of Vivaldi. It was instantly repeated by Carolan on his harp, although he had never heard it before. The surprise of the company was increased when he asserted that he would compose a concerto himself at the moment, and the more so when he actually played that admirable piece known ever since as 'Carolan's Concerto.'"[1]

It seems rather a pity to spoil this story, but it appears from O'Conor, who knew O'Carolan, that Geminiani never had the pleasure of meeting the Irish minstrel. Thus writes O'Conor:—"In the variety of his musical numbers he knew how to make a selection, and seldom was contented with mediocrity. So happy was he in some of his compositions, that he excited the wonder, and obtained the approbation, of…

Irish Dance: A History

Irish dance dates back to traditions in Ireland in the 1500’s and is closely tied to Irish independence and cultural identity.  Through history, these ancient dances were never documented or recorded due to Ireland’s occupation by England, which tried to make Ireland more “English” by outlawing certain traditional practices.  Many Irish cultural traditions were banned by the English authorities during the 400-year period that came to be known as the Penal Days.

Despite this ban on cultural traditions in Ireland, Irish dancing continued behind closed doors. Because their musical instruments had been confiscated by the authorities, Irish parents taught their children the dances by tapping out rhythms with their hands and feet and making music through “lilting” (or mouth music somewhat similar to “scat singing” in jazz).  Irish dances came from Ireland’s family clans and, like tribal Native American dances in this country, were never formally choreographed or recorded.

History records a…

Daily Practice: The Scale Set (major / relative minor)

On a calendar, plot a daily practice schedule of a different scale set each day.  That way you practice each scale in the circle of fifths, its arpeggio and relative minor with a group of picking patterns (for guitar and mandolin) and bowing patterns (for violin, viola and cello).
Practice 2 octaves, always use 4th finger, root the first finger in each position.   For pickers, practice each scale and arpeggio with 4 quarter notes down up down up, 8 8th notes and 6 8th notes per note.  For bowers, practice 1 whole note (frog to tip), 4 quarter notes (middle to tip), 8 8th notes (upper 1/3rd to tip), 2 triplets (upper 1/3rd to tip)
Calendar: Monday: C major, arpeggio; a minor, arpeggioTuesday: G major, arpeggio, e minor, arpeggioWednesday: D major, arpeggio, b minor, arpeggioThursday: A major, arpeggio, f# minor, arpeggioFriday: E major, arpeggio, c# minor, arpeggioSaturday: B major, arpeggio, g# minor, arpeggioSunday: F# major, arpeggio, d# minor, arpeggioMonday: C# major, arpeggio, a# …

The Normans

The Norman Invasion and Conquest of England

In the year 1066, the Saxon-Dane rulers of England were overthrown and replaced by new invaders.... The Normans.  By the end of the year, the old king was gone and the fate of the country was changed for ever.

History of the Normans

When William defeated Harold in AD 1066, the future of the Isles took a major change. For hundreds of years to come, it would be embroiled in wars in Europe and the Holy Lands. Civil unrest would be rife and the once proud traditions of the Saxons would be ground under the stone of a network of castles that covered the country. However, there is much more to the new rule than this gloomy picture paints! The Normans brought a whole new society which made the country what it is today.

A common misconception today is that the Normans were "French." Strictly speaking this is not true although it is a widely held belief and, like most beliefs, has some basis in fact.
Towards the end of the ninth century, the V…

The Pentatonic Scale

Dr. W. H. Cummings, one of the most eminent living English musicians, thus writes:

"I believe the Irish had the diatonic scale as we have it to-day. It was the advent of the Church scales which supplanted that beautiful scale." 

More recently, Father Bewerunge, Professor of Ecclesiastical Chant in Maynooth College, expresses his conviction as follows:

"It is thought that the old Irish melodies contain within them the germ that may be developed into a fresh luxuriant growth of Irish music. Now, the Irish melodies belong to a stage of musical development very much anterior to that of Gregorian chant. Being based fundamentally on a pentatonic scale, they reach back to a period altogether previous to the dawn of musical history." ~ New Ireland Review, March, 1900.

A pentatonic scale is a musical scale or mode with five notes per octave in contrast to a heptatonic (seven note) scale such as the major scale and minor scale.

Pentatonic scales are very common and are found …


The nine instruments in general use among the ancient Irish including the professional names of the various performers were:
Cruitire [harper]; Timpanach [timpanist]; Buinnire [flute player]; Cornaire [horn player]; Cuisleannach [player on the bag-pipes]; Fedanach [fife player]; Graice [horn player]; Stocaire and Sturganaidhe [trumpeter]; Pipaire [piper].
The CRUIT is called crwth by the Welsh, and crowde by the English. Originally a small harp or lyre, plucked with the fingers (as in the case of the Roman fidicula), it was subsequently played with a bow, and is mentioned by an Irish poet who flourished about four hundred years before Christ. 
It is justly regarded as the progenitor of the Crotta, the German Rotte, and the Italian Rota. St. Venantius Fortunatus (the great Christian poet, A.D. 530-609) calls the Cruit a CROTTA; and we learn from Gerbert that it was an oblong-shaped instrument, with a neck and finger-board, having six strings, of which four were placed on the fingerboard …