Category Archives: Irish Music

Irish Music – the Instruments


Tin Whistle

gen2a.jpgThe simplest, and most popular, instrument in Irish music. A small 6-holed flute, in D, like a simplified version of the classical recorder. It is easily played in the keys of G and D.

It is simple and robust in construction, affordable and easy to play, and very versatile, it is often used as a repertoire-learning instrument, before progressing to more difficult instruments like flute, fiddle or pipes.

In its present form, the whistle dates from the 19th century, and has changed little since then. The low whistle is the bass version of the tin whistle

Recommended listening: Mary Bergin, Feadoga Stain 1 & 2

The “Low Whistle” is the bass version of “tin whistle”. The standard model is the low whistle in D, which sounds an octave lower that the soprano whistle. There are also other keys, of which the most common are F, G and A.

The low whistle has a very soft sound, and is perfectfor the interpretation of the slow airs and other slow tunes. Recommended listening: The group Lunasa, who use low whistles in F in 3-part harmonies to a unique effect.

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Irish Flute

mecoco4.jpgThe Irish flute date from the 19th century, and the flute manufacturers of the time, such as Rudall and Boosey, are still used as models for today’s flutes.
Six-holed , the flute has the same fingerings as the whistle, it is wooden (often blackwood or rosewood) or polymer (a synthetic material)
Recommended listening: Matt Molloy, Kevin Crawford, Desi Wilkinson, Fintan Vallely

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Bodhran

ang3.jpgThe bodhran (the name comes from the Gaelic bodhar, meaning deaf) is a gat-skinned drum, as is found in many cultures around the world. What makes it special is its playing technique, using a wooden stick (beater or cipin)
It has existed for centuries in Irish music, but became known in its present form in the late 50’s. Since then, it has become a subtle and virtuosicpercussion instrument, especially in the hands of musicians like John Joe Kelly (Flook), Ringo MacDonagh (De Danaan), Frank Torpey (Nomos), or Kevin Conneff (The Chieftains).

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Fiddle

Or violin; similar to the classical violin with a different style of playing and unique bowing techniques. A very versatile instrument in Irish music; there are distinct regional styles (Sligo, Donegal)
Players: Kevin Burke, Tommy Peoples, Liz Carroll


Uilleann pipes

Bellows-blown bagpipes operated by the elbow, with chanter, three drones and regulators, the uilleann pipes (uilleann = elbow in Irish) has evolved from the 17th century bagpipes, and in its current form dates from the 19th century. The standard key is D, but the pipes also exist in C, and B-flat. An interior instrument , it has a soft sound compared to the Scottish bagpipe, for example.
Players: Willie Clancy, Leo Rowsome, Patsy Tuohy, Liam O’Flynn, Cillian Vallely