Notes from an Attic

ITM Tune Types
The main tune types commonly played in ITM are:
jig, reel, slip jig, hornpipe polka, slide, waltz, mazurka and strathspey (although the strathspey is more associated with the Scottish music tradition).

Listening
Each of these tune types is explained below. But don't just read about them. The best way of learning about musical styles is by listening. Click the snippets opposite to get a feel for what each type of tune sounds like.


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  1. Jig Tripping up the Stairs
  2. Reel The Sligo Maid
  3. Slip Jig The Butterfly
  4. Hornpipe The Cuckoo hornpipe
  5. Polka The Ballydesmond polka
  6. Slide Going to the Well for Water Slide
  7. Waltz Give me your Hand (a.k.a. Tabhair dom do Lámh)
  8. Mazurka Sonny's Mazurka
  9. Strathspey Tha Mi Sgith

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Reel
A type of dance tune often played in ITM. A reel usually consists of two parts (A and B) which are played twice, so the overall structure is AA BB. The time signature of a reel is 4/4 so there are four beats to every bar (each beat is counted with stress on the 1st and 3rd beat as 1-2-3-4.
Say, ‘All-i-ga-tor, All-i-ga-tor’.
Example: The Sligo Maid, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yfQa43LXRPc

Jig
The jig (aka double jig) is another popular type of dance tune. Like the reel, a jif usually consists of two parts, again arranged AA BB. The time signature for a jig is 6/8, so there are six quavers to every bar. Each beat is counted in groups of three as |123-456| 123-456|, with the stress in the 1st and 4th beats.
Say, ‘Croc-o-dile, Croc-o-dile’.
Example: The Kesh Jig: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E6D4yoG79E4

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Slip jig
A slip jig is similar to a jig except that the time signature is 9/8 rather than 6/8. The nine notes in each bar are played with stress on notes 1, 4 and 7: |123-456-789|123-456-789|
Example: The Kid on the Mountain, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w8DTKjUJxLc

Hornpipe
Hornpipes are dance tunes associated with seafarers. Like the reel, the time signature of a hornpipe is 4/4 so there are four beats to every bar. However, each beat is counted with a lingering stress on the 1st and 3rd beats as 1-2-3-4, giving it a DUM-ty DUM-ty’ effect. Sometimes this ‘dotted’ rhythm is written explicitly into the musical notation but usually it isn’t – you just have to be aware that this is how a hornpipe is played.
Say, ‘All-i-ga-tor, All-i-ga-tor’.
Example: The Cuckoo Hornpipe, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dn59FrinOGU
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Polka
A polka is similar to a reel but written in 2/4 rather than 4/4 time. The emphasis is on the first beat of each bar so the overall effect is a stress on alternate beats.
Say: ‘Polk-a, Polk-a’
Example: Ballydesmond polka, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gQMV1xqVpWg

Slide
Slides, which are popular in Southwest Ireland, are usually played at a fairly fast tempo. They are similar to jigs but usually written and played in 12/8 rather than 6/8.
Example: Denis Murphy’s slide, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GJO6db2xrJs

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Waltz
Waltzes are written in 3/4 time and are usually played fairly slowly. The accent is on the 1st beat. So the rhythm goes: |1-2-3|1-2-3|.
Say (slowly),’Pine-app-le, Pine-app-le’
Example: Planxty Irwin, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9pNgsyZ7zVo

Mazurka
In ITM, mazurkas are usually written in 3/4 time – a bit like a Waltz but faster. The accent is on the 1st beat. So the rhythm goes: |1-2-3|1-2-3|.
Say, ‘ma-zurk-a, ma-zurk-a’.
Example: Sonny’s Mazurka, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fBhoLuqj6WU

Strathspey
Strathspeys are a style of dance music played particularly in Scotland (traditionally always followed by a reel). The rhythm is 4/4 (sometimes 2/4) and played a bit slower than reel tempo. Scotch snaps are a feature of the strathspey – a short note before a dotted note is played. Say 'DID-um' as you listen, with a strong 'DID' and a tiny 'um'!
Example: Miller O'Hirn (composed by J. Scott Skinner and played by Alasdair Fraser, Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh and Kyle Alden)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y8M7IGkDuZU
and here are a couple of Strathspeys played by the Hanneke Cassel Band with David Knight
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=05ZW_jpIUgk

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