Bunker Hill and Trip to Durrow Tab

A few months ago I was asked to play at a benefit for the AB Tech Culinary School in Asheville at the end of April.  I arranged a trio, of myself on mandolin, a flautist (Will) and a banjo/bazouki player (Doug).  All decked out in our suits and ties, we played two hours of irish music amidst the aroma of some of the best locally inspired recipes in the world.

One of the sets Doug had suggested was Bunker Hill with Trip to Durrow.  It worked out nicely, and you can see the tab, standard notation, and chords below:

Bunker Hill

Trip to Durrow


Asheville Mandolin



Old Bush/Wise Maid Celtic Irish Reels on Mandolin

Last night, the wife decided to go to the gym. I was home alone, and I had no more work to do, so thought I’d finally learn these tunes completely.  I found the best way to do it, is to make a recording, with melody, chords and a metronome.

Here’s the sheet music or tablature.

(Ye) Old Bush

The Wise Maid

Here’s the recording.

Learning New Tunes

A woman recently sent a message, saying, she’d be interested in hearing the process of learning a new tune.

What Makes A Tune Easy to Learn

This has been on my mind lately, because I’ve found that learning by ear has many benefits over learning from tab or standard notation. Tab and standard notation allows you to correctly learn the tune from the beginning.  However, it can draw out the amount of time one takes to learn a tune.  When learning by ear, we have to listen to the tune repeatedly, which helps us get the tune stuck in our mind. I’ve found that tunes are much easier to learn when we know how they sound by heart. When learning a tune by ear, most of the time, we are learning from a recording or from someone else playing for us. Usually, this makes the tune more interesting. Tablature and written tunes usually lack life until a player inflects it with that life. Hearing tunes with “lift” and the stylistic human quality makes them more interesting, and also inspires us to learn them quicker.  (You can tell the difference between someone who’s learned by ear versus through sheet music or tab. The ear trained musician will know many songs, but not the names of them.  The sheet music musician often requires that they hear the name of a tune before they can jump right in. That’s interesting, no?)

Once we’ve figured all this out, then what?

Figuring Out the Key

The Key and the Scale Used for Various Tunes Sets the Tone. Learning to hear what the tone feels like, helps you pick the right key instinctively.

Once we’ve found a tune we enjoy, the next step is usually to figure out the key a tune is in. Why? Because this tells us what notes will be within that

tune, and we don’t have to waste time randomly fretting notes on our mandolin fretboard, hoping we hit a correct note.

The usual keys in Irish Celtic Music are D, G, and A, with variations on those keys. This is not to say that all tunes fall into these three categories, but most of the time they will. To figure out which key a tune is in, repeatedly pluck the D string, in rhythm with the tune in 8th notes. Start with D. If that does not sound correct, try G, and so on. Eventually you will be plucking a string that makes a good drone for the tune you are trying to learn. This droning string should sound good throughout the entire tune. Although again, keep in mind some tunes change keys from the A to the B section.

Examples of tunes in these three keys are as follows.You can pluck the notes of these tune’s Keys, throughout the entire tune as a drone.

D = Rose in the Heather, Merry Blacksmith, or Maid Behind the Bar.

G = Kesh Jig, Jim Ward’s, Swallowtail Jig (Em),  or Out on the Ocean.

A = Tenpenny Bit(Am), Bill Sullivan’s, Islay Ranter’s Reel (Am to A major in the B part).

Now if you were going to figure these tunes out for your self, you would know that in the D tunes you would probably only be using the notes, D, E, F#, G, A, B, C# , because those are the notes in the D scale. Similarly, in the G tune, you would be using the notes, G, A, B, C, D, E, F#.  If you were going to figure tunes out in the key of A, you would use these notes, A, B, C#, D, E, F#, G#.  This information is no way meant to be exhaustive. Figure out the scales for Em, Am, Dm, F, C, etc., as well.  But to get you started, learning tunes in these three keys will suffice.

The Mist Covered Mountain is now available as Tablature on the "Tunes and Tab" page.

What Chords Do You Use

Say you want to back someone up who knows a melody because you haven’t learned the tune yet. It’s good to know what chords may be used to do that, once you know the key.

If you find the tune is in D, often the chords you will use will be D, G, A. If the tune is in G, try out G, C, D. If the tune is in A, try A, D, E. If it is in Am, try Am to G, or Am to G to Em to Am.  If the tune is in Em, often you can bounce back and forth from Em for a 2-4 bars, and then D.  Or for Em, you can do a classic, Em, D, E, C, D pattern.  Try the chords in these orders first. If you are certain of the key yet, these chords don’t sound correct, try a different order of the same chords.

Once you can figure this out, you are on your way to having a process for learning a tune by ear. If you have any questions, feel free to comment on this post, and I’ll answer them.

By the way, if you aren’t up for learning tunes by ear, I’ve just tabbed Mist Covered Mountain!

In a bit, we can discuss how to begin hearing the tenor of a tone, to instinctively know what key to play in. We can also discuss how to begin learning a song by ear, more efficiently.

Old Bush and the Maple Leaf

Two nights ago, at the White Horse in Black Mountain, NC, we played these two tunes together.  The Old Bush and The Maple Leaf.

(Ye) Old Bush <–tab

The Maple Leaf <–tab

For you guitar flatpickers, here are those same tunes tabbed out in standard tuning and DADGAD.

(Ye) Old Bush Standard Guitar     The Maple Leaf Guitar

(Ye) Old BushDADGAD    The Maple Leaf DADGAD

While I’ve always found the “chopped off head” youtube videos kind of strange, this is the best one I could find at the time for The Maple Leaf.

Cup of Tea and Other Tunes

New tabs, tablature, standard notation and chords have been added to the tunes section, both for mandolin and guitar.

As promised, I finally got to tabbing out Peter Byrne’s Fancy and Creeping Docken.  There was also a request for Cup of Tea.  That one’s for you Michel in France!  Joe Cooley’s was just for fun. It goes well before Cup of Tea in a set.

Cup of Tea mandolin

Joe Cooley’s mandolin

Creeping Docken Guitar

Creeping Docken DADGAD

Cup of Tea Guitar

Cup of Tea DADGAD

Joe Cooley’s Guitar

Joe Cooley’s DADGAD

Peter Byrne’s Fancy Guitar

Peter Byrne’s Fancy DADGAD

Tunes from Mandolin II

In the Mandolin II class at Celtic week, with David Surette, we learned a few tunes by ear, a few by tab, and also focused on how to make accompaniment with the mandolin interesting. I had to leave “the gathering” earlier today, to visit the in-laws, and so have had some time in the car to tab a few of the tunes for you. Click on the links below for the mandolin tablature for the irish tunes of (reel) Devanney’s Goat, (reel) Poor Old Woman, and (slip jig) Hardiman the fiddler.

Dorm Room at Celtic Week 2011 - Guitar, Mandolins and Kettlebells, what else do you need?

Mandolin (tab) tablature & standard notation

Devanney’s Goat

Poor Old Woman

Hardiman the Fiddler

Now that I’ve found myself exploring the guitar again, I’ve also created flat picking tablature for the tunes above. Here they are:

Guitar (tab) tablature and Standard Notation for Flat picking

Devanney’s Goat in Standard Tuning

Poor Old Woman in Standard Tuning

Hardiman the Fiddler in Standard Tuning

Devanney’s Goat DADGAD

Poor Old Woman DADGAD

Hardiman the Fiddler DADGAD

We also learned a great tune called The Reverend Brother’s Jig (called the Monk’s Jig on thesession.org) and a number of Breton Tunes. Great class, good teacher, learned a lot.

The Choice Wife

Today I was inspired to tab out one of my recent favorite tunes.  One is called The Choice Wife, or O’Farrel’s Welcome To Limerick.    The mandolin tablature also has standard notation. You can access these files as .pdf clicking the links below or through the tunes page.

The Choice Wife Mandolin Tab

This is a tune played often at the Jack of the Wood session, when Sean is on the pipes. It’s got a great groove, and nice melody.



25 Irish Tunes Mandolin Tablature and Standard Notation

Here’s a great PDF from a fellow MandolinCafe member, Michael Pilgrim.  Some of these songs are individually on the tunes and tab page, but

Tune List from Michael Pilgrim’s Irish Tune Booklet

there are a number of them which are not.

Enjoy adding these common irish session tunes to your repertoire.  I look forward to seeing you at the Jack of the Wood some time here in Asheville!

25 Irish Fiddle Tunes in Standard Notation and Mandolin Tablature

Click the Link above to view or Download this file.

See below for a great book full of Mandolin tab, standard notation and chords for the Celtic/Irish mandolin, octave mandolin or tenor banjo player.

20% of all profits go towards the Swannanoa Gathering Scholarship Fund.

Asheville Celtic Mandolin Collection

Asheville Celtic Mandolin Collection

The Solstice & The Merry Blacksmith Mandolin Tab Tablature w/ Standard Notation & Recording

A few days ago I attempted to record The Merry Blacksmith with Tam Lin on my octave mandolin for a student.  I didn’t feel it turned out very well. Even though I used a click track, somehow the tempos on Audacity got mixed up, and it sounded really shoddy. Letting some frustration pass, I then decided to try one of my favorites (that no one seems to play for some reason) The Solstice, with the Merry Blacksmith. I’m happy with the results.

Here’s the tablature and standard notation for mandolin:

The Solstice

Merry Blacksmith

Here is the recording made with a Trinity College Octave Mandolin and an Andrew Mowry Flat Top Mandolin: