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Traditional Irish and Celtic Tunes in the Public Domain

Posted by Tom Hanway on Thursday, November 10, 2016

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Welcome all who are seeking tunes and materials that provide new real challenges. I work in different genres but I'm here to help folks who want to get inside "trad" tunes in a finger-style that combines ornamental devices taken from the instruments used in traditional Irish and Celtic music.

This is thinking and playing outside the box for 5-string players, and it's a learning process which opens up a treasure trove of fresh material from the public domain, especially for bluegrass banjo pickers.

Mel Bay and I only publish tunes that are in the public domain, but for traditional tunes that have known composers and are subject to copyright laws, we get permission to publish them, or we leave them alone.

Bear in mind that one needs "beginner's mind" in order to make progress with this broad assortment of traditional Celtic tunes.

Celtic fingerstyle banjo uses fretting and picking-hand techniques that go beyond Scruggs and even more esoteric techniques used in bluegrass picking (single-string and melodic playing). One can start anywhere, but it's a fairly steep learning curve.

To date I have published four Irish and Celtic tune collections (Mel Bay Publications, Inc.). Please see Author.

I would like to thank fans of Celtic fingerstyle banjo for their support and suggestions since my first Mel Bay collection was published in 1998; please see Complete Book of Irish & Celtic 5-String Banjo.

Actually, my first Irish banjo tutor was self-published in 1994: 25 Traditional Irish & Celtic Tunes. Actually, I’ve been focused on teaching the art of playing Irish and Celtic tunes going back to the late ’80s, through Banjo NewsLetterAcoustic Musician magazine, at festival workshops, and at the IBMA Banjo Masters Workshops in the early ’90s, with compliments to John Laswell, Pete Wernick, Tony Trischka, Bill Keith, and so many students of the 5-string who were looking for Monroe's "ancient tones" going back to Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and other Celtic communities.

I owe huge thanks to the tireless John Lawless for his prescient articles chronicling the development of the Celtic fingerstyle method.

In Bluegrass Today, please find John's pieces here:

Back in the mid-’90s Geoff Stelling and I put our heads together and came up with a new Celtic design for a 5-string banjo.

The original Tom Hanway SwallowTail Deluxe was the result - please see A Stelling Banjo Chronology - No. 4737 in 1998.  

This prototype went on to become a popular production model instrument for Stelling (in both Standard and Deluxe models).  At this time I was doing galley proofs for the Complete Book of Irish & Celtic 5-String Banjo, which also came out in 1998.

Elderly Instruments usually has the Stelling instruments and Mel Bay books in stock, the latter in both book/CD and book/audio download versions.

I am grateful to Stelling and Mel Bay and so many tangible and virtual (online) communities for supporting my contributions to Celtic fingerstyle banjo.

Thank you players, fans and critics for your suggestions and encouragement anent this decidedly provocative style of 5-string banjo. It's a lot of fun, and I hope my learning materials will easy the learning curve for intrepid 5-string banjo players worldwide!

I also have some mp3 samples here and transcriptions in the Tab Archive under Fiddle/Celtic/Irish.

All the best ~ Tom Hanway

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