The Celtic Guitar and Other Plucked Instruments

From Folk to Flogging Molly

Britannica defines Celt as:

“…a member of an early Indo-European people who from the 2nd millennium BCE to the 1st century BCE spread over much of Europe.” Their tribes and groups eventually ranged from the British Isles and northern Spain to as far east as Transylvania, the Black Sea coasts, and Galatia in Anatolia and were in part absorbed into the Roman Empire as Britons, Gauls, Boii, Galatians, and Celtiberians. Linguistically they survive in the modern Celtic speakers of IrelandHighland Scotland, the Isle of ManWales, and Brittany.”

In other words, Celts go way back.

Celtic music has evolved from aural folk traditions to Irish punk bands. Today, we will recognize an evolution in Celtic guitar and other plucked instruments, such as the lute.1 In addition, we will learn how outside disciplines can help us interpret the Celtic style.

Did you miss The Pluck last week? See, Remembering Paul Galestro, The Unknown Bluesman, Part 2.

Now onto this week’s 3 listening examples, 2 lessons, and 1 creative exercise.

Listen to

Irish traditional music began as an oral tradition, passed on from generation to generation by listening, learning by ear, and without formally writing the tunes on paper. This is a practice that is still encouraged today and students of traditional music are encouraged to pick up tunes they hear from others or to learn as they listen. Many formal classes will provide music notes for students and books do print tunes on a traditional music stave, however.” — IrishCentral

I. The Celtic Lute

GRAMMY-nominated lutenist, Ronn McFarlane released an album of his own arrangements of Scottish and Irish tunes on The Celtic Lute in 2018. The majority of these tunes come from the 17th and 18th centuries (1600-1799). If you only have time to check out one, listen to the last track called The Butterfly. But, of course, the entire album is fantastic. Listen on Apple Music or Spotify.

Read more about The Celtic Lute on Ronn McFarlane’s website. Also see his book of Scottish lute music transcribed for the guitar.

II. Da Chara

Ian Krouse’s flute and guitar composition, Da Chara (Two Friends), is an original composition written in the Irish vernacular. It is a balanced representation of both instruments which is rarely heard in flute and guitar music.2 Listen to Da Chara performed by Scott Tennant3 and Jim Walker on Apple Music or Spotify.

Find the sheet music to Da Chara here.

III. St. Anne’s Reel

St. Anne’s Reel is a popular favorite among bluegrass players at jam sessions. It’s origin has been questioned between the British Isles and North America. From a composer’s lens, there is something magical about the B section. It’s almost as if the music tells you to smile.

Even if you know St. Anne’s Reel, you don’t want to miss this version. Jeff Autry, Wayne Benson, Aubrey Haynie, Scott Vestal, Rob Ickes, and Randy Kohrs unfold a deep, communal spirit only found when the most skilled musicians play together.

Listen to the tune and how each player takes a solo. Rhythm, energy, and joy characterize this recording like no other.

Hear it for yourself. Listen to St. Anne’s Reel from Ultimate Pickin on Apple Music or Spotify.


I. Dance

Who has the best rhythm? Dancers, of course.

Dancers feel rhythm better than musicians. While most instrumentalists use their fingers, dancers use their entire body.

Watch, listen to, and learn from this infectious rhythm in Riverdance starring Michael Flatley, Jean Butler, and music by Bill Whelan.

Apply this type of precision to your music, and you’ll have the audience tapping to your beat.

Related: Watch a more recent, 2015 production of Michael Flatley and Lord of the Dance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

II. The Fiddle

“Fiddler Eileen Ivers has established herself as the pre-eminent exponent of the Irish fiddle in the world today.” — Eileen Ivers, biography.

Timing, style, and grace—Eileen Ivers has it all. Eileen’s fiddle playing is authentic and can teach everyone how to play the style correctly. Look below for one of many great examples. See more on Eileen’s YouTube channel.

Related: What is Traditional Irish Music?


I. Tunes

I miss the days when I lived in Virginia and brought my guitar and banjo to the local folk jams. As a classical guitarist, I learned so much by escaping my normal habitat. While in a session, one thing I realized was how many of the tunes derived from popular Irish tunes. is an excellent database for many Irish melodies ranging from hornpipes to single reels. You will find music excerpts and audio samples. For example, see this list of the Top 20 Session [Irish] Tunes.

Take Action: Search any of the pieces you heard from today’s newsletter and try it out yourself. Or, search an Irish or Old American tune that has been on your mind. You might find something new. Listen, learn, and create.

Hey, punk.

I forgot something… Ah, yes. Here’s a Flogging Molly song that has a clear, steel-string guitar accompaniment part. It’s called If I Ever Leave This World Alive. Listen on Apple Music or Spotify.

Thanks for reading.

I wish you all the best of luck. ☘️

Dr. Jon

P.S. It has been a very difficult year for our family in life and health, and a big event is about to take place. Click here to learn more.

Next Week

The Healing Guitar


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Not sure what the lute is? See Nigel North teach Lute 101 in this YouTube video.


Ian Krouse’s Da Chara is on GS Duo’s list to perform one day.


March 2021: Scott Tennant with the LAGQ appears with new music by Pat Metheny on the new album entitled, Road to the Sun.