The Best Beginner Tunes for Irish Concertina
Published: November 3, 2020
Did you know that not all ‘beginner’ tunes are universal? A beginner flute tune for example might be far more challenging to play on a concertina, and vice versa.
You don’t want to waste your time struggling to learn the wrong tunes when the right repertoire can be learned far more easily in half the time. That’s why I’ve put together this handy guide with three tunes specially tailored to the needs of beginner concertina players.
Once you’ve mastered these three tunes you’ll have taken a crucial step towards mastering the Irish concertina. With practice you’ll find that learning other tunes on the concertina will come more easily.
Let’s dive in!
What Makes the Ideal Beginner Concertina Tune?
Concertina players have a strong advantage when they first begin to play. The instrument itself does most of the work in producing the notes. You simply have to press the buttons and push or pull the bellows. Compared to the flute or fiddle where there are a few more steps involved in producing a note that sounds good, you’re flying! You also have the added advantage of your instrument always being in tune.
One challenge you do face as a beginner concertina player however is learning the layout of the keys. While it’s mostly intuitive, there’s one note that catches most players by surprise at first – F#.
The low F# key is located quite a distance from the buttons above which your fingers will naturally rest. It takes time and practice to get used to both locating and playing it. For this reason, not one of the tunes I’ve included below contains an F#. There’s plenty of time to work on that once you’ve mastered the tunes below.
So here’s a selection of tunes to get you started. A polka and two jigs – enough to keep you busy!
Maggie in the Woods Polka
Maggie in the Woods is one of the most popular traditional Irish polkas. It’s most definitely one of the most popular tunes taught to beginner musicians. While I’m not too sure I agree with it being considered a simple tune to play on the likes of the flute or whistle, it’s a breeze to play on the concertina.
Even the most simple of tunes can sound great when played well. Here it is in the hands of the brilliant fiddle player, Fergal Scahill as part of his ‘tune a day’ series:
Out on the Ocean Jig
Out on the Ocean is a highly popular tune and rightly so. This deceptively simple tune has a lot to offer:
Have a listen to this version by the legendary Planxty. They’ve paired it with An dTiocfaidh Tú Abhaile Liom, which might be a little out of your grasp right now. It’s definitely one worth returning to at a later stage of your playing however.
The Kesh Jig
The Kesh Jig might just be the most popular traditional Irish tune in the world. Perfect for beginners, it’s also beloved by true master musicians who understand the potential a ‘simple’ tune has to offer.
Here I’m joined by the fantastic Liam O’Connor on fiddle as we give it a blast in our very own McNeela Studios:
It’s such a great tune that I couldn’t resist sharing its iconic performance by the legendary Bothy Band in 1975. Give it a listen. Perfection!
If you’ve mastered every tune included in this post, fair play! You’re well on your way to being session ready. The most important thing you can do now is listen to as much traditional Irish concertina playing as possible and continue to expand your repertoire.
If you’re itching to learn more about your instrument then check out our range of concertina tutors and tune books. They’re full of very handy information for anyone starting out. They’re also a useful read for those who may be a little further down the road on their concertina playing journey.
In addition to our concertina books, why not visit our Online Concertina Store. We have an instrument for everyone! Our bestselling Wren Anglo Concertina also comes with an exciting offer. For a limited time, with every purchase of our beloved Wren Concertina, we are offering a free series of online video lessons with renowned concertina player Caitlín Nic Gabhann. Caitlín’s expert guidance is guaranteed to take your concertina playing to the next level.
To see just how far you can take the concertina, read all about Ireland’s “Jimi Hendrix of the concertina”, often described as Ireland’s greatest living concertina player.