Irish Folk Music Instruments


The Irish folk music was meant for dancing at celebratory events such as Saint Patrick’s Day, weddings and parties. The Irish dance with 16 measures is also known as “step” and the ones that are not evenly divided as “crooked”. The traditional dances are reels, jigs, hornpipes and imported waltzes, polkas that come in many forms. The oldest songs are almost two hundred years old and are written in old Irish language while more modern tunes come from Gaelacht and English-speaking parts, so they use English and Irish. The ultimate expression of the Irish folk music are sean nós, solo performed vocals.

The Harp is one of the most representative instruments of Ireland and one of the chief symbols of the Irish Republic. Even Guiness used the Celtic harp for advertising. Connected to the Celtic music, the instrument is known to be played in the 10th by harpists that were highly respected. Irish harping tradition was associated with the aristocratic art music with rules for compositional structure and its own canon.

One of the main elements of Irish music, the fiddle or violin is played in a style that varies from region to region. The most popular is the fiddling tradition of Sligo because of the many American artist that borrowed the art and brought it to the States in the 1920s. The most famous performers are James Morrison, Lad O’Beirne, John McGrath and Fred Finn. Other important tradition come from Donegal, Clare and Sliabh Luachra.

Guitars and bouzoukis are used to create a rhythmic background. The bouzoukis usually has 4 strings and were introduces in the traditional Irish folk music late in the 1960s by artist Johnny Moynihan. The guitars used are acoustic with six strings and performers strum just two or four string at a time or slightly mute them with the palm.

Flutes and whistles are part of the traditional music and have been used since the 19th century. Today. Flutes are more simple with 8 keys and two holes and are made of metal instead of wood for a deep sound resistance. The cousin of the flute, the tin whistle is inexpensive and is made from materials like brass, steel, aluminum and hardwoods. The basics of whistling are taught to Irish schoolchildren just like piano or guitar is taught in other countries.

A complex instrument, tradition says that before a piper can master the uilleann pipes, seven years of learning are required. Gentlemen pipers played the pipes in the mid-18th century and the tradition was almost lost before being rediscovered by pipers like Johnny Doran and Johnny Cash

The accordion was brought in the 21st century from the U.S. and is now considered part of the Irish folk music. Players use the 2 row button accordion that are a semi-tone apart and allow a certain chromatically play.