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Irish Music Book

Guest erich_zann

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Have been looking into getting a copy of "O'neill's Music of

Ireland", and am wondering about which edition is the best.(I tried

searching MNet because I thought that this was discussed a while

back, but had no luck).Any opinions ?How about other

Irish/Scottish/Cape Breton Songbooks ?Thanks in advance,E.

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I wouldn't bother with tune (not 'song') books. I would simply get some ABC software (abc2win is good) and download tunes in ABC format from any of the hundreds of sources on the web. Presumably you have some CDs? You should be able to find ABC versions of the tunes you like ready for download and learning.


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A good source for tunes is www.thesession.org. Ceol Rince na

h'eirean (sp?) by Breandan Breathnach is a great set there are a

couple of volumes of those. Karen Tweeds book of tunes is

excellent. There is a set of tune books by Bulmer and Sharpley that

are also great. The older O'Neills is better than the newer version

but it still tends to have a lot of tunes and settings that are not

played so much anymore. The session is good because it has tunes

that people have transcribed from current recordings. I have many

more tune books that I cannot remember the names of (or the tunes

names) if you are interested i will dig them out and give you the

names once I get back from vacation.

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Also, you can find just thousands and thousands of tunes on:

JC's ABC Tunefinder

on the web.

Do you learn by ear? If you have a tune you like on a recording you can go on the web and for very little you can purchase a program called the " Amazing Slow Downer." With this program you can slow a tune down to a speed that you can learn it from. Or you can pick up the tune from thesession.org or JC's and learn it both by looking and listening. Usually it will be a little different on paper, or maybe a lot different.

O'Neil's is o.k but again, you will probably find that your tune is written out differently from what you have heard it played.

Best wishes in your enjoyment of Irish Music.

Yankee Fiddler

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Thanks to all of you for your suggestions.

I have yet to try the ABC notation.....so, I'll be doing that

shortly. It sounds like a very valuable resource.

Yes, I do play mostly by ear, but it is interesting to me to see

the bare-bones of a tune written out even if it is played/recorded



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Irish - I wouldn't go with the Krassen edition; all that added ornamentation just gets in the way. Get the reprint of the original.

Scottish/CB/etc.: I have a bunch of tunebooks and the ones I use the most are Jerry Holland's 2 books, the Athole collection, the Mel Bay reprint of Ryan's Mammoth (it has a great selection of hornpipes and clogs in particular), and Carlin's "Gow Collection of Scottish Dance Music". For Cape Breton tunes I've also found some great stuff in Cranford's Winston Fitzgerald collection, and if you can find a copy of the DunGreen book, it's excellent (but long out of print and nearly impossible to find--supposedly a revised edition is coming out soon, although it's been coming out soon for about 5 years now...)

ABC notation is great; I use JC's tunefinder and Andrew Kunz's Fiddler's Companion sites a lot. The only problem is that it doesn't allow you to browse! -Steve

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The original edition of O'N's is great, BUT:

There's one version that has ONLY a divided, categorical

index, sectioned into tune-types with no master-alphabetical


Which means if YOU play a tune as a reel and don't know that

it was originally a hornpipe, you'll think it's not in there.

But do get the book. There're many undiscovered gems in there, and

you can't sit in an easy chair/drink coffee/flip through the pages

of a laptop -- and you can't scribble notes in the margins of a

screen re "interesting tune to look at sometime."

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O'Neill's also has the problem that the man who transcribed the tunes was classically trained with no experience of trad fiddling. So he did the transcriptions of many tunes in technically-correct-but-not-lifelike ways, making the book harder to use than it should be. Or so I've read - I own a copy of the book but don't have the technical knowledge to confirm/contradict. For sure there are tunes in the book that don't look playable by humans.

I second the suggestion of JC's tunes database at MIT. What a stunningly excellent resource that is! It's far from being complete, of course, and any search will return hits that are mostly duplicates of a few settings, but with midis and printable notations, anyone who can find a setting of a tune they like is all set for the learning of it.

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I look at anything in books like O'Neils as a starting point. They are a rough framework to learn from but only the part of working up a tune. Most people listen to a tune a certain way then imitate what they hear. After time and practice, your individual style starts to come out. Having said that I think the yellow O'Neil book has many wonderful suggestions and also the fiddlers fakebook with many suggeseted resources for listening.


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Originally posted by:
O'Neill's also

has the problem that the man who transcribed the tunes was

classically trained with no experience of trad fiddling. So he did

the transcriptions of many tunes in

technically-correct-but-not-lifelike ways, making the book harder

to use than it should be.

ALL music is technically correct but not lifelike. That's what the

PERSON is for. The things that make Joshua Bell's way of during the

Brahms' different from Sterns' aren't in the music either. If you

want to play the tunes in O'Neils and sound like a fiddler and not

a violinist, you have to already know how to fiddle.

So go down to the pub, get yourself a pint and start


(PS: the other problem with transcribing tunes: if part of fiddling

is playing it different every time, which time do you pick? One

writes down the bare bones only, and leaves room.)

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Pandora, thanks for posting that. There is this rift between some session musicians over O'Neill's.

I think it generally comes from the lack of understanding as to what it was intended to do.

It is not a transliteration, just a way to keep track of the melodies.

Most of the tunes would be familiar to many players of the time with the exception that some tunes might be from geographical areas where a specific player was not from so might have been new to them, but served enough information that upon asked to play the piece, could do so. But, many younger players may have been fairly ignorant of the vast majority of them.

Ornamentation was as individual as regional Irish accents in Ireland was at the time--so O'Neil left them out for the most part. Only in this modern age do we really see a homogeny of both Irish Tongue and Musical Flourishes.

One thing to keep in mind is that by the time the tunes were put together and printed late 19th century to very early 20th (1903), many Irish-American musicians were playing all kinds of music, most not even Irish. It would not be uncommon to hear Jewish music played on the uilleann pipes in Chicago, or Boston if the musician was hired for a Bar or Bat Mitzvah or Polish Waltzes and Polkas at a Wedding. The need for this type of book arose under those conditions--as many old timers believed that Irish musical knowledge was waning due to the "melting pot" nature of American society.

In many ways the book was meant to bridge the gap between newer generations of Irish-American musicians and their own traditional music. It also served as a quick study for the seasoned musician.


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