The Best Beginner Tunes for Irish Fiddle
Published: November 2, 2020
Beginner fiddle players face many challenges when first trying to play their instruments. There are so many things to focus on in order to produce a good sound on the Irish fiddle.
First you need to make sure your strings are tuned correctly. Then you need to hold the bow the right way. After that, you still need to make sure your fingers are pressing down on the strings in the right place. It’s a real challenge, but definitely one worth facing.
With so much on your plate already however, it’s important to choose tunes that are suited to your instrument. A beginner flute tune for example might be far more challenging to play on a fiddle, and vice versa. These particular tunes are handpicked for beginner fiddle players and will give you a great foundation for your traditional Irish tunes repertoire.
Let’s get started!
What Makes the Ideal Beginner Fiddle Tune?
An ideal tune for beginner fiddle players should feature limited movement between strings to minimise the amount of bow work required. It should also require only limited movement of fingers on the fingerboard.
I’ve chosen three tunes that keep all of these factors in mind. In fact, each tune requires only two strings to play.
The Kerry Polka, The Concertina Reel and The Humours of Tulla are firm favourites in the world of traditional Irish fiddle music.
The Kerry Polka
The Kerry Polka, also known as Egan’s or Peg Ryan’s is one of the most popular tunes for beginner musicians.
I should warn you however. While every trad musician in the world knows this tune, I wouldn’t recommend starting it at a session. It’s become so overplayed by beginner musicians that any experienced musician may well lose their mind if they have to listen to or play it one more time.
That being said, It’s a handy old tune to learn on the fiddle, which is why I’ve included it on this list. It’s still a lovely lively tune for beginners to sink their teeth into and one you can definitely enjoy playing with others who are just starting out.
This recording may be a little fast yet to keep up with, but it will give you a good idea of the speed that polkas are usually played at. Hopefully it will give you some motivation to get those fingers moving:
The Concertina Reel
Despite its name, The Concertina Reel isn’t actually a very beginner friendly tune on the concertina at all. It’s much more suitable for banjo or fiddle players. Hence why it’s made the list!
This lively reel will give you some much needed practice in bowing repeated notes. Again, it requires just two strings to play the melody. It makes great use of the open A string too (i.e. the A string with no fingers pressing down on the fingerboard) making it a very accessible reel for beginner fiddle players.
Here it is in the hands of the brilliant fiddle player, Fergal Scahill:
The Humours of Tulla
While typically played in the key of D, The Humours of Tulla is far more beginner friendly in the key of G. That’s why I’ve included it above in G major, for ease of playing for those at the beginner stage.
This version makes use of the open D string and requires less movement of the fingers on the left hand as a result.
Legendary fiddle player Martin Hayes has recorded this brilliant version. Although he’s recorded it in the more common key of D major, it’s still well worth a listen to hear a master at work and the get the melody of the tune into your head:
Before you seek out more exciting repertoire to learn, you might take some time to become fully acquainted with your instrument. Our fiddle blog archive is full of expert advice for beginner fiddle players. Learn about The Anatomy of the Fiddle and everything you need to know about the fiddle bow and fiddle strings.
Perhaps you don’t actually play the fiddle yet and you’re feeling motivated to learn? Why not take a look at our Online Fiddle Store. You can browse our full range of beginner fiddles – each designed to cater for the needs of beginner musicians:
Our McNeela Student Violin Set is ideal for any beginner fiddle player and is the perfect starter instrument.
If you’d like a little extra guidance, have a read of our Fiddle Buying Guide.
[Featured image: Cordelia Naumann, CC BY-ND 2.0 ]
Thanks for a touch of the classics. I'm 67 and picked up my fiddle after 10 years of not playing. Having fun getting back into it. 👍🏼👍🏼
Wonderful to hear that, Joseph. I think you’ll also enjoy this collection of Paddy Fahey tunes: https://blog.mcneelamusic.com/top-five-favourite-paddy-fahey-tunes/