BB's Basic Irish Session Tune List
This list contains a basic vocabulary of tunes that would be played at
any Irish traditional session in the world. It is not meant to be
exhaustive in the sense that these and only these tunes will be played
- you'll discover that each session has its own idea of what
constitutes a tune that all players at that session are expected to
But based on my experience of 30+ years of participating in sessions, I
think the following list should provide a pretty good point of
departure for anyone just coming into the music and interested in
session participation. Certainly I would hope that you would add to this
list at your own speed and level of interest, but it is a place
Click here to go right to the tune list.
Some Preliminary Thoughts (in no particular order)
= You don't have to learn all of these tunes at the same time. Whatever
your learning pace has been heretofore, continue with it. Sometimes
trying to cram too much new material into your cranium is
counter-productive. Some of these tunes have been around for 300 years
so you don't have to rush into learning them - they're not going
= Some folks find it easier to learn tunes in groups or "sets". That's
perfectly acceptable, but the danger is that your idea of a tune set
may not be shared by other folks at your session.
Comparing notes with your session buddies - so that you're all on the
same wave-length as to what might get played when - is highly
recommended. (Of course everything might change when you visit a
session somewhere else, so a certain degree of flexibility is good to
= Tune names exist for a reason. Try to become familiar with as many
names as you can so that you'll have an idea what to expect if someone
mentions "Trip to the Cottage" or "Green Mountain". You don't have to
be able to play them yet, but being able to recognize them will be a
big help. (I personally find tunes easier to remember and play if I
know their names - don't ask me why. On the other hand, some really
great players never know names of the tunes they play!)
= If for whatever reason you don't like a tune, don't bother learning
it. Chances are you'll never play it correctly. You may however want to
re-visit it after you've learned a few others and
see if your opinion of it has changed.
= A session is not ordinarily an opportunity for learning or for
practicing - it's for playing. The learning/practicing happens at home.
If you're at a session and someone starts a tune you're not confident
about, back off - time to let your fingers relax and put your
ears to work. A very quick way to lose the respect of other players is
to try faking your way through a tune you don't really know. We've all
done it and we feel really lousy about it afterwards. (NOTE: Irish
traditional music is never played with a "harmony" part or
counter-melody like some American music customarily is. If you're
not prepared to play what everyone else is playing, stay out. Anything
that's not melody or backup chords is unwelcome.)
= Speed comes with practice and experience but is not an end in itself.
If it's my session, I'll try to keep the session tempo reasonable but
if it gets out of control, OK to remind me to slow down a little. (This
isn't recommended procedure at ALL sessions!)
= The old-timers used to remind us constantly that you can always start
slow and speed up. The opposite is nearly impossible. Keep that ancient
wisdom always before you as you progress in your playing
= VERY IMPORTANT
I can't recommend it strongly enough to any novice traditional
musician: learn ABC. This is a plain-text program for moving and
storing music on the Internet; there are tens of thousands of ABC tune
files out there that you can eventually take advantage of. You don't
have to know how to read music to use ABC (in fact, if you don't know
and would like to learn, it's a great help). A good ABC program will
enable you to open the ABC file, view the notation, and play the tune
back (and once you've downloaded the file, you can even adjust the
playback speed - what could be better for learning?)
The source for all good ABC info is abcnotation.com.
All of these tunes listed can be found on my webABC site. Clicking on
the link in the table below will take you to the Table file for the
folder in which the tune is listed. The Table will have further links to
a notation file (PDF), sound file (MP3), and ABC. (It sounds
complicated but really isn't!)
The unlinked tunes will have links shortly, so keep checking this page.
So, without further ado, the lists:
= For those of you who look at the above list and find yourself
fainting, console yourself with the thought that I could have included
at least 5,669 MORE tunes but didn't. Also for consolation purposes: if I
learned them, you can learn them!
= Don't forget ABC - easy to learn and genuinely helpful.
REALLY FINAL NOTE:
Email me at email@example.com if you need more help.
Have fun and good luck!