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“Irish Sheet Music” Is An Oxymoron


I recently received an ad from an online sheet music site promoting “Irish Sheet Music” as part of their St. Patrick’s Day promotion. While there is value in some of what these sites have to offer (the quality of their content varies greatly), there is little that is Irish about sheet music. If we are talking about a classical crossover rendition of Danny Boy, or an academic/student sight-reading of The Parting Glass to break from their conservatory work, then fine, however these should be identified as such. We can do this with many songs in various styles and is about as authentically “Irish” as a heavy band covering Flight of the Bumblebee is authentically “classical”.


Mandolinist and educator Don Julin (in correspondence with Marla Fibish on his Irish music chapter in Mandolin For Dummies) writes, “The goal when playing Irish music is to learn tunes and commit them to memory, and the best musicians are clear that learning by ear is the best way to master Irish music.” In other words, you will not find a guitarist with a 7 page Whiskey In The Jar piano/vocal/guitar Hal Leonard arrangement. (It's also worth mentioning the guitar voicings in those arrangements are rarely what a gigging guitarist plays, something I'll go into another time.)


If you are interested in working on your Irish playing consider finding a local Irish music session (you may want to read up on session etiquette), listening to great recordings of players on your instrument, and memorize tunes by ear (don’t write it down ever, if you forget, learn it by ear again). It might be more work, but you’ll play better, learn more, and have more money regardless of St. Paddy’s sheet music deals. 😊

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