Good books for Irish fiddle tunes?

May 30, 2019, 7:01 PM · Hey everyone (again),

I'm trying to expand my repertoire/skill set to include Irish fiddle music. I've got some old Finale sheets from my high school fiddle club, so I'm not a total newbie, but I think I need to start getting some books or anthologies.

Any ideas?

Also, possibly some resources on how best to learn the proper way to go about learning these tunes? To my understanding, this music is traditionally aural, and that the notated music is merely a guide, rather than gospel. In high school, my teacher wouldn't give us music until he had gone through the whole song by ear (easier for those with perfect pitch!)

I'd like to improve in this area so I can create my own "fiddle club" at the studio I teach at, and I was asked by my cousin to play a combination of classical (easy peasy, my friend and I are doing Mazas duets) and Irish music at her wedding at the end of June (no pressure...right?)

Thanks for putting up with me, guys, it's much appreciated.


Replies (21)

Edited: May 30, 2019, 7:21 PM · I found this one, 235 pieces, and they have the chords in there too. Seems legit, but you can't be too careful.

This one has 1000 pieces, so more bang for buck, but again, quality?

Edited: May 30, 2019, 8:07 PM · O'Neill's will work just fine..... Get out and play with some active ITM fiddler's/sessions if you can...... the "Dot's" don't tell the whole story.
May 30, 2019, 9:21 PM · Many situations are not conducive to an aural tradition, but there is always the notation. learn the ornamentations that defines Irish music, rolls, cutting, crossing bowing, trebling, etc. The notation would be too cluttered if the ornamentations were included, but it can be learned to ornament any note of a tune at ones desire.
May 30, 2019, 9:33 PM · Try for tunes. I also know of people who speak well of the Online Academy of Irish Music.
May 30, 2019, 10:07 PM · Thanks KT!! I've been on the Session, but I'm unfamiliar with a lot of the pieces so I figured I'd buy a book with a bunch of them and get familiar. I'll check out the academy though!

Henry, thanks! I know some of those terms, but not all. I'll be doing some reading :)

Michael, I've got an old colleague from college (I say that as if college was decades ago... I haven't seen him in about 4 years) who is a fiddler in a local Irish band, and I asked him if he'd be willing to lend me some pointers, but he hasn't responded. It's easy to find German polka bands around here, but Irish is a different story. I suppose a REALLY great way would be to go to Ireland, but that won't be feasible for me for a very long time.

The only thing that would worry me about the O'Neill book is that it's almost 300 pages, and not spiral... I wonder if I'd be able to find it somewhere in a spiral-bound edition. Who knows if it would even fit on my stand! :O

May 30, 2019, 10:38 PM · You could always photocopy pages out and put them in a three ring binder as you learn them. Unless you end up getting really dark center page areas.
May 31, 2019, 12:19 AM · Don't wait until someone is 'willing to lend me some pointers', read up and start practicing the ornaments. I've had O'Neil's for about 40 years, yes it fell apart, but that didn't stop me from learning many tunes, and I can still to this day put it on the music stand. The book is divided into categories of tunes, learn some tunes from each. Find a list of the most popular tunes, there'll be one on
May 31, 2019, 3:48 AM · Another - almost monumental - source is the three volumes of 'Ceol Rince na hÉireann' (Dance Music of Ireland) which has some good notes on ornamentation. Not sure if it's still in print, but it's at
And maybe just listen to a top fiddler eg Martin Hayes on youtube?
May 31, 2019, 4:06 AM · The Online Academy of Irish Music is good.
I have much improved my whistle playing skills with them and although I am right at the beginning of my violin learning at present, I will certainly be joining up for the fiddle lessons.

This is their beginner course for Irish fiddle:

I have also been recommended by a few people on ITM forums to buy the book/CD sets by Matt Cranitch.

Talking of ITM forums, I have found to be good for the tunes and the discussions.

Edited: May 31, 2019, 5:00 AM · Staples, or a similar store, will remove the bound edge and either punch it for you for a 3 rung binder or will spiral bind it. I did the latter for my copy of the Violin Lesson due to the condition it arrived from shipping - it only cost $8 and took 1 hour. Punching it for a 3-ring binder should cost less... just an idea.
May 31, 2019, 7:40 AM · Hello Kristen,

I appreciate all the info in Complete Irish Fiddle Player by Melbay. They have the sheet music plus a lot of info about adding ornements, why a hornpipe is a hornpipe, and small bios on famous fiddlers. They also have their tunes organzed by their type - for example, jigs, reels, hornpipes - which I find helpful. I think there's a CD that goes with the book as well which may be helpful if you'd like to learn the tunes by ear with your fiddle club. Here's a link:

I'd be intereted in hearing about your "fiddle club." (Sorry if this is going off topic!) I've been thinking about starting a fiddle group class at the studio where I teach and would love to glean ideas from you. :)

May 31, 2019, 8:25 AM · Thank you everyone! I looked up the Online Academy, but I can't afford to pay for my own classes right now (I can barely pay for my graduate courses!) but I am definitely going to keep it in my back pocket for when I have more disposable income!

Catherine, that's a great idea, I hadn't thought about taking it to a print shop! I'll have to see if their machines are big enough to cover 256 pages.

Cammi, I will be getting ideas from my high school orchestra teacher, as well as watching youtube videos and reading articles for my club. I don't have any students who can play at that level yet (they're all quite young, and just finished Twinkles with one of them) but I'm going to start advertising more so I can get some older students.

I think for my club, I would like to have violins and violas, as well as some guitar! The studio I'm at started out as a Suzuki guitar school in the 80s but has since expanded, so there's no shortage of guitar players. It would be cool to get some flute players too, even if they're just playing your typical silver flute instead of an Irish flute. I think I would want to teach them aurally, but also have music for them. I expect that ornamentation would not come until they're comfortable with the basic style and "lilt" that Irish music has.

I have in mind that some students could create a drone or do double-stopped chords (easy ones, like A and D or G and B or something, depending on the key and style) to create the droning of whatever instrument is typically in that role (accordion? Do enlighten me!) and others could do the melody. Then, I'd have them switch for the next song, so everyone gets a chance to do all the parts.

May 31, 2019, 8:29 AM · @Kristen, I bought a bound copy of O'Neill's "1001" around the turn of the century, and well understand the problem of having it on a music stand! The problem was solved for me one warm summer's evening a few years later when the binding "exploded", strewing the pages all over the floor. I collected them together, punched holes in them with a 4-hole punch and inserted them into a 4-ring binder, where they've happily been ever since.

It is important to remember with O'Neill and many other collections of folk music is that they were transcribed from live playing, or recordings thereof, made "in the field". Details of bowing, fingering and dynamics would have been the last thing on the transcriber's mind - his job was to get down the right dots in the right order with the rhythmic structure as he heard it - just the skeleton of the tune. Details of bowing, fingering etc would have been pointless since the tunes were, and still are, played on instruments other than the fiddle, such as the wooden (baroque) flute, whistle, recorder in the case of English folk music, varieties of button accordion (melodion), or even sung. The numerous kinds of ornament in Irish music would likely all have been indicated by a squiggle over the note. This is why you should try not to learn the "skeleton" from the printed page but to learn it live from a player of your instrument of choice, or failing that, from recordings.

Transcribers have their own problems, an example of which is transcribing an Irish tune in which the transcriber wasn't sure whether that note on the A-string was a C-nat or C# played out of tune, and would probably notate as C#. In fact, the note in question was neither, was not played out of tune, was actually a deliberate quarter-tone between C-nat and C#, and is part of the tradition in some parts of western Ireland. Modern editors hopefully will likely point it out in a note at the bottom of the page or use a specific quarter-tone notation.

May 31, 2019, 8:53 AM · Oh, thank you Trevor! I didn't know that there would be quarter tones deliberately in the music; I bet that's why I thought the player was just playing with bad technique or just had bad intonation in a few recordings I listened to. That's really good to know.

I think I'm going to try to do most of my learning by ear, though for this wedding I'm playing in, I'll have to look at the music more than I'd like. There's nothing like being asked on short notice to do a style you're not 100% familiar with playing. I'm glad to do it though, it'll be my wedding present to my cousin :)

Edited: June 1, 2019, 5:07 AM · Kristen - not a print shop, but to a basic office store like Staples or Office Max - they can absolutely help you with this for much less than a print shop. My book, The Violin Lesson, is at 338 pages and 8.5 x 14 in size, they didn't give it a second look for the plastic spiral binding. Punching holes is even easier, you need only choose a binder.
June 1, 2019, 6:38 AM · Hi again Kristen,

You may already of seen them, but there are also some free resources that the OAIM offer on Youtube.
There are some fiddle and other instrument lessons, also some backing tracks and recordings of live sessions, useful for getting a feel for the style.
You may find them useful to play along to?

There are also free tutorial videos on Kevin Burke's fiddle lesson site:

June 1, 2019, 6:40 AM · Do you have an iPad? O’Neill’s 1001 dance tunes of Ireland is in public domain and readily available as a .pdf file. If you get a printed version I recommend the yellow cover version by Mel bay. It is much better than the other version out there. I have both printed versions and had them wire spiral bound at Staples for about $4 each.
June 1, 2019, 6:45 AM · I should have included this link in my post above. Don’t know how to make it active but copy and past should work:'Neill%2C_Francis)
June 1, 2019, 8:27 AM · in pentatonic scales, the notes don't exactly correspond to the standard notes- players with a good ear for pentatonic will "adjust" them. Typically a 3rd in a standard 12-tone scale will need to be raised approximately 1/4 step to make the 2nd note in the pentatonic scale. You hear this in blues guitar all the time, too. It's not always exactly a quarter tone, but when you hit it right, you'll know it. Willie Dixon's "Spoonful" is a good example in blues music.
June 1, 2019, 11:09 AM · Thanks everyone! My edition of O'Neill's came today. I got it used because funds are tight, and it looks well-loved, but it'll do! It looks great, and I'm going to go to Office Max and have it bound. That's what I had meant when I said "print shop."

I'll have to check out the free lessons, thanks Alana! And, I've already found Kevin Burke's videos from my research, so I guess I'm doing alright with my resources! :)

My friend who is a local fiddler said he'd give me some lessons over the summer too, so that's even better!

I'm really excited to get into this; I think it'll be really fun!

June 1, 2019, 1:26 PM · And there ya go!...... Enjoy.

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