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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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I am in the process of recording Irish and Celtic 5-string videos for 2018. Meanwhile, I'm here to help folks who want to get inside trad tunes in a 3-finger style that combines ornamental devices taken from the instruments used in traditional Irish and Celtic music. Bear in mind that one needs "beginner's mind" in order to make progress with this broad assortment of traditional Celtic tunes. 

For 5-string players, especially bluegrass pickers, this is thinking and playing outside the box, opening up a treasure trove of new material from Ireland, Scotland, Wales, etc.

Mel Bay only publishes traditional tunes that are in the public domain, but for tunes that have known composers, we ask permission to publish them, or we leave them alone.

Celtic fingerstyle banjo uses fretting and picking-hand techniques that go beyond Scruggs and 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 four published Irish and Celtic tune collections with 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.

Come to think of it, my first Irish banjo tutor was self-published in 1994: 25 Traditional Irish & Celtic Tunes. 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 students of the 5-string who have been looking for Monroe's "ancient tones" going back to Scotland, Ireland, Wales, in ex-Celtic lands, and in the Celtic Diaspora.

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

Please find John's pieces here:

Back in the mid-’90s Geoff Stelling and I put our heads together and came up with a Celtic aesthetic and 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.  

The SwallowTail is now a popular production instrument for Stelling (in both Standard and Deluxe models). At this time, serendipitously, I was finishing 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 StellingMel Bay, and so many virtual (online) communities for supporting my contributions to Celtic fingerstyle banjo.

Thank you fans, trolls and critics for your questions, suggestions and encouragement anent this developing style of 5-string banjo. It's fun (for me at least), and I hope my learning materials will ease the learning curve for 5-string banjo players who care to delve into this lovely music. All will be revealed. 

Want to hear me play this stuff (even a little)? I have lots of mp3 samples and transcriptions in the Banjo Tab Library, especially in the Fiddle/Celtic/Irish section. I also have bluegrass and jazz tabs. 

All the best ~ Tom Hanway

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