Do you want to start playing an Irish instrument, however you don’t know what instrument to choose? In this post, we will cover the pros & cons of some traditional Irish instruments. We haven’t provided an in-depth description of the instruments, instead we have provided a written guide based on a beginners perspective.
The pros: Guitars are easy to find & you can purchase a good quality guitar for a relatively cheap price. Guitar classes are available in most areas which will help players improve their skills. The guitar plays a rhythm-based role within trad sessions, so this instrument is perfect for people who don’t want to be the centre of attention, but want to play in trad sessions. As the guitar is so versatile and playing skills can be adapted to other genres of music it opens a lot of playing opportunities.
The cons: Sometimes when playing in trad sessions guitarists may find themselves confined to a backing role (some players may see this as a pro!) the reason being is a guitarist can play melodies however it’s typically not used this way in trad sessions.
The pros: The banjo is widely available & takes an important role within trad sessions. It plays an important role within sessions as it produces the main notes of any tune. This instrument is great for playing within sessions however it is also perfect for people who want to play alone.
The mandolin is similar to the banjo as they are both tuned & structured the same way. The same skills are used to play both the banjo & mandolin which means a player will find it easy to play both instruments.
The cons: As the banjo & mandolin are melody-based instruments, the player will have to play the main notes of a tune. The player will need to be able to keep up with the speed of other players within the session, so speed is essential, which some players may find intimidating. The mandolin is slightly smaller then the banjo, it produces a brighter sound however produces a quieter sound which some players may find unappealing.
The pros: One of the main advantages of the tin whistle is that it can be purchased very cheaply. The tin whistle is simple in form. It consists of 6 holes on a basic flute shape. Whistles are available in different keys however the most common are D key whistles.
The cons: The whistle produces its notes by players covering the holes accurately. This may sound very simple however in order to produce the perfect notes the player must be able to play with high speed & accuracy. A lot of practice will be needed to achieve playing perfection!
The pros: The fiddle is the same as the violin and is relatively easy to acquire. The main difference between a fiddle & violin is the playing styles are completely different. The fiddle is played at a very fast pace and is very expressive. The fiddle also allows players a lot of room for their own interpretation which musicians love.
The cons: The fiddle can be difficult to learn and takes a lot of time to master, however players can become sensational, it may just take some time to get there!
The pros: The bodhrán is a very impressive rhythm instrument. It is a very popular traditional Irish instrument and is a great way to impress & energise a crowd!
The cons: Bodhrán aren’t very easy to find, especially outside Ireland. Although bodhráns are played within trad sessions they aren’t an “essential” part of every session.
The pros: This instrument isn’t as expensive to purchase in comparison to other traditional instruments, however you will be likely to pay a few hundred for a beginner model. The concertina is in most cases played with single clear notes rather than the chorus. This concertina is a very versatile melodic instrument.
The cons: As concertinas are very popular throughout Europe, it can be difficult to find an Anglo-Concertina in the keys of C/G – this is the most popular beginner concertina. As there’s so much info available about concertinas its best to do research before purchasing which can be time consuming.
The pros: As good quality uileann pipers are rare to find, a good player is highly valued. This instrument produces a distant sound. The pipes are deemed one of the most traditional instruments and hold a high heritage value.
The cons: The pipes can be difficult to find & can be expensive. When starting to play the pipes, players will typically purchase a beginner set however this set will need to be upgraded to a half or full set at some stage and this can be costly.
Its very important that you choose an instrument that you will enjoy playing, as if you don’t enjoy the instrument you will be less likely to practice & play.
We hope this post helped in making your decision.