Roving Sounds Radio Show #2

Irish Folk Music – Inside the Session

Today we’re talking about Irish folk music, but we’re going in deeper. Last episode we talked a lot about the history and development of Irish music, and today is all about understanding Irish music and how to listen to a performance. We’ll be talking about things like:

  • The two main types of Irish folk music,
  • The three things that all Irish music has in common,
  • What’s really happening in the music and how to listen to it,
  • Why all group performances are solo performances,

as well as talking about instruments and common types of piece.

Below you’ll find some great extras including

  • Our Inside the Session video, which shows exactly what the vibe in a pub session is like,
  • A listening guide with step by step instructions of how to best listen to Irish music
  • Some information on my experimentation with Irish tunes,
  • as well as all the usual show notes.

Subscribers this week will receive an exclusive video performance from Uillean Piper John Devine of a type of tune called an Air, which is a slow and expressive ballad, and I reckon this video is worth seeing because it gives you a good idea of how the Uillean Pipes work.


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Today its my Top 3 Tracks from Ireland, plus a special video performance by John Devine

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The Roving Sounds 7-Step Guide to listening to Irish Folk Music

1. Instruments

  • This will help you aurally separate the different parts of the music
  • Try and identify the instruments, and what role are they playing. Are the playing the melody or accompanying?

2. How Many Beats?

  • Count along with a melody and try and find out how many beats in a bar.
  • Some common ones are 4, 3, 6 and 9!

3. Change of Section

  • Most Irish tunes will have an A and a B section, and each section has a different melody. Listen for where the melody changes.
  • The melodies will repeat many times and there will be many section changes, so try and anticipate where the changes will occur.

4. Change of Tune

  • In a session tunes are usually grouped in 3’s in what’s called a set. Musicians will use non-verbal cues to signal to move onto the next tune.
  • Listen for when the melody changes to something new, and you’ll know when it’s a new piece

5. Chordal Accompaniment

  • Focus on any accompanying instruments and the chords they play under the melody
  • How do these chords change throughout the different sections? How about through the different tunes?

6. Melody Instruments

  • Listen for the differences in melody between all melody players. (These happen a lot at the end of bars or phrases)
  • Do some go high and others low?
  • Do some stop briefly whilst others keep playing?
  • Are there any moments where the instruments clash with their notes?

7. Individual Melodic Instrument

  • Focus on one melody instrument, and listen to any turns, trills or sudden stops they use. These things are called ornaments, and are how Irish musicians express themselves through the melodies.
  • Is the melody played exactly the same way each time? Or does it vary each time around?
  • Play close attention to how a phrase or melody ends, often this is full of detail to add emphasis.

Show Notes

John Devine

A massive thanks again to John Devine for his commentary, demonstrations and video performance. John was incredibly generous with his time and knowledge, and made both episodes much richer for his involvement.


Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann

This episode featured some recordings that weren’t collected on a Roving Sounds trip, and they were supplied by

Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann.

The fiddle example was taken from the Comhaltas CD Echoes of Erin, and the Sean No’s singing was provided by the Comhaltas Audio Archive.



Music Nerds: Double Bass Experiments in Irish Folk Music

So I tried my hand at a little Irish Jig on the double bass. I’m not sure of it’s name but i recorded it in a session in Dublin and (in trying to be as authentic to the oral tradition as possible) I learned it by ear. I tried as much as possible to copy the articulation of the Fiddle, and here’s what I learned:

  • There’s a whole world of articulations and ornaments out there that I’ve never thought of, and practicing this Irish tune forced me to think about things that I’d never thought of before – like turns.
  • If you’re playing a non-fixed pitch instrument like I am, Irish melodies will really force you to work on your intonation – especially when performing more physically parts of a melody.
  • For double bass especially, this melody was really hard, because its in an awkward place on the instrument. The music wasn’t written for double bass, but many Irish musicians have to adapt melodies to their own instruments, and this was an interesting process.

I found this process really interesting, and was pushed technically and musically by this melody. I highly recommend any other musicians to check this out.