Celtic Fingerstyle and the Guitar

Celtic music is typically thought of as Irish, Scottish, and British folk music, but a wide range of other styles is often included. Brass, woodwind, percussion, and stringed instruments have all played important roles in the Celtic music genre throughout the years, but it was not until the 1960s that guitars found their place. Using the fingerstyle of play along with alternate tunings, a Celtic guitar musician is able to create a wide range of sound beyond the usual rhythm guitar range.

Dance Music Forms

Celtic dance forms are split into social and solo categories.

The Jig (6/8 time), Slip-Jig (9/8 time), Reel (4/4 time), and Slide (6/8 time) are solo dance forms. These dances are often combined and vary somewhat according to region and origin.

The Hornpipe is also a solo dance, traditionally done in a set of 36 dancers. It is danced in hard shoes, which are similar to tap shoes. The tempo is typically 6/8, 12/8 or 4/4.

The Set Dance is a form of social dancing with four couples in a square formation. The Set Dance is the forerunner of the square dance.

Melodic Forms

Celtic music commonly uses several different melodic forms.

Air is a slow, harmonic melodic form.

The Lament melodic form is similar to air, but has a decidedly sorrowful tone.

The Peobracht melodic form is Scottish and is specifically for pipes. It is a long and slow melodic form.

Other Forms

Celtic music also embraces other forms.

The March is percussion military marching music.

The Compositions of O'Carolan are in their own category. Turlough O' Carolan, 1670-1738, was a blind harpist and composer who had a unique talent for melodious composition. He is often considered Ireland's national composer. Contemporary Irish musicians still play his compositions.

The Planxty is any type of Celtic music that is dedicated to someone else, usually a nobleman or a family member. Turlough O'Carolan coined the word.

The Celtic Polka was adapted from Czech and Polish polkas.

Fingerstyle guitar musicians generally play on a steel string guitar and make use of a variety of techniques to create sound. This style of guitar playing, along with the alternate tunings that various musicians have devised, is well suited to Celtic music. By using all parts of the guitar, fingerstyle allows a guitarist to play multiple parts of a piece that would normally take several band members. Guitarists not only pluck strings, but also use the guitar box to create percussion sounds.

With the popularity of Irish and Scottish music exploding in the 1980s to the present, the guitar has played a pivotal role in Celtic music in recent years.

Many traditional Irish and Scottish folk songs are free of copyright and can be found online. Magazines, such as Fingerstyle Guitar, offer guitarists the latest innovations and music sources.

While traditional Celtic music remains popular, its influence can be seen in modern music genres, such as hip hop, reggae, pop, country, and new age. Celtic music and dance is constantly evolving, a testimony to its Celtic roots.