How to Format the Clearest Chordchart Ever

I frequently use chordcharts. Here’s a couple of tips I’ve learnt over the years which make my chordcharts as legible and efficient as possible.

I use Open Office  to write out my chordcharts, because that way I can use an amazing (free!) plugin called ChordTransposer that will transpose the chart to whatever key I wish in less than 1 second. Handy if that singer (or me) has a cold, and suddenly all songs need to be brought down a step…!

For legibility of the chords and to imply rhythm, it’s really helpful to use a monospaced font – a font where all the letters and digits take up the same amount of horizontal space. I use Inconsolata.

I make the margins narrow, to make the lyrics as large as possible and the spacing as expanded as possible:

left margin: 0.7cm

right margin: 0.7cm

top margin: 0.7cm

bottom margin: 1.27cm

Correct line spacing is vital: I use double spacing. At a pinch, for example to fit one more line of a verse on a page and thus minimise page-turns, I’ll use 1.5cm line spacing.

I find font size 22 optimal for reading lyrics & chords.

I make the font ‘black’ for added clarity. If the song has a chorus, I make it ‘bold’.

The relative spacing between lyrics font and chord font is really important: I use a semi-expanded spacing for the lyrics, and condensed spacing for the chords, e.g.

For lyrics: Inconsolata Semi-expanded black size 22

For chords: Inconsolata condensed bold size 22

If a song has long lines, I’ll put the page in landscape format to allow that.

For a section without lyrics: if you’re following the font sizes and margins recommended above, insert 5 blank spaces after each chord to have 2 bars of chords equally spaced throughout a line*.

As a lever harp player, I need to set the key of the harp with levers before I begin to play. So I write the key and levers required in the top right corner of the first page.

Also as a lever harp player, I need to flip a lever every time I play a non-diatonic chord. So I highlight each non-diatonic chord in red.

Pro tip: I created a template file in the format listed above, and I just use that when I need to write out a chart.

I used to print my chordcharts, but now I export them to my iPad and view them with the app Music Book by Caposoft. I turn pages with a bluetooth pedal called the AirTurn PEDPro.

Hope this helps, and wishing you much fun and joy with your music-making!

(*In Open Office, with margins as above, using font Inconsolata at font size 26, one can fit 42 characters on a line. So for a chord chart without lyrics of 2 bars per horizontal line, insert 5 characters per chord.)

Review: Apps For Reading Chordcharts

I like to use chordcharts, and I have a filing cabinet full of ’em. Finally, after years of humming and hawing, I decided to go digital. So then I had to find an app that would allow me to input chordcharts onto my iPad, view them, turn the pages with a bluetooth pedal, and ideally transpose the music too.

I reviewed the vast majority of apps on this site:

So you can save a few hours, here’s my summary!

One can divide chordchart viewer apps into 2 camps:

a) .pdf viewers: apps which import .pdf files and allow the user to view the .pdf files, with some extra bells and whistles like bluetooth pedal sync options.

b) apps which allow the user to input and edit their own chordcharts, then view them with bluetooth pedal sync options.

In category (a), the app that I found to be the best quality and design for the least money is Music Book by Caposoft. It’s a mere €3.49 for life-time access. I write out my own chord charts using Open Office and import them into this app – sorted.!

In category (b), my favourite by far was SongSheet Pro .This app has absolutely *beautiful* graphic design, and by far the most efficient chord input system. It’s accessibly priced at €5.49 for 1 month or €49.99 for 1 year.

The runner up in category (b) was OnSong. The one advantage of OnSong over SongSheet Pro was the option to use Nashville chord notation. The graphic design is not as legible or beautiful; the input system is pretty ugly and clunky. It’s €3.49 for 1 month, or €26.49 / year. 

A cool little app called Calypso gets an honourable mention for category (b), as I *really* liked their page-turning system. It’s reasonable, with a €16.99 one-off fee.

Hope this helps you musos out there, and that you get to spend some time playing music rather than faffing as a result of reading this!

Where are all the Galway Girls? Some stats on gender in Irish traditional music

I’m a female Irish traditional musician from county Galway, and have played in sessions around Galway city for a decade. Sometimes I’m one of the ‘anchor’ musicians (paid by the publican to start and lead a session so they can schedule a trad session at a certain time for their punters). Sometimes I just go along to a pub session to play for fun. I’ve played in most of the pubs at one point or another, and with many different musicians.

Liz Coleman holds a doctorate in Physics from NUIG, and is also an excellent fiddle-player. She did a small study where herself and her partner went to all the sessions in Galway in one week, January 7th – 13th 2019, and noted the gender of every player. Out of the 65 musicians they observed playing in the sessions, 57 of the musicians were men.

9 of the musicians playing in sessions in Galway that week were female: 14%.

“Deconstructing FairPlé: Is There A Gender Bias in Traditional Irish Music Practice? Do We Need To Address It?” Liz Coleman, Women in Traditional & Folk Music Symposium, NUIG, 9/2/2018

As Liz observed, ‘[This is a] temporally and regionally limited sample’. But her findings accurately represent my experience of gender balance when playing sessions in Galway, and all over Ireland, for the past decade.

Why does there seem to be such a considerable gender imbalance in the trad sessions in Galway?

I posted an excerpt from Liz’s research on social media; one suggestion was perhaps “[female musicans] are just fewer in number”.

It’s difficult to gain data on how many Irish traditional musicians there are in Connacht, and their gender. However, there’s three sources that can give us a clue: results from the Fleadh, the Leaving Cert. music exam, and university admissions.

Let’s look at the number of adults (over 18 category) who competed in solo, duet, or trio instrumental categories last year. The county Fleadh has no barriers to entry, so let’s ignore those entrants – they could have been playing jazz, for all we know. But a musician who has won 1st, 2nd or 3rd in their county Fleadh is definitely an active Irish traditional musician who has reached a basic level of proficiency in tune-playing.

Last summer, 14 adults from Galway won 1st, 2nd or 3rd playing in a solo, duet or trio instrument competition at their county Fleadh. Of that number, 6, or 43%, were female.

The county Fleadh give an even more telling picture when we look at all age groups: overall, significantly more girls qualified for the Connacht Fleadh than boys, with 424 girls qualifying in the categories under 12 to over 18, as compared to 319 boys. The gender imbalance was most pronounced in the 15-18 category, with 71% of the youngsters who qualified for the Connacht Fleadh being female. 

But maybe this was a freak year? Surely there’s not usually 424 girls of all ages playing trad to a provincial level?

Actually, I think it’s likely this is the norm, as the trend of female over-representation is reflected in general music education.

The Leaving Certificate Music curriculum includes trad, classical, jazz and pop. Every year since records were published, girls studying music at Leaving Cert. level have dramatically outnumbered boys[1]. in 2018, 78% of the students who did the Leaving Cert. Music exam were female[2]. That means there’s currently almost 4 girls to every 1 boy in a school music classroom.

Not everyone who plays trad enters the Fleadh, or does music for Leaving Cert. Ergo these numbers are a subset of the amount of people who play trad in Connacht. However, they tell us that at the exact point Dr. Coleman collected her data, there were at least 44 adult women who were proficient trad players in Connacht. The stats also imply that it’s highly likely more girls than boys learn to play music. They tell us significantly more teenage girls than boys choose to study music in school and enter music competitions. So why were there only 14% women playing in the pubs that week last January?

Let’s say what everyone’s thinking: maybe more little girls learn music, and more girls enter the Fleadh, but maybe adult female musicians just aren’t good enough to play in a session?

Firstly: in the majority of sessions, you don’t have to be a brilliant player to participate. Sometimes the stars align and everyone is ‘flying’, but in general, you just have to:

  • ask if you can join in
  • play at a sensitive volume
  • be able to play around 40 common tunes to intermediate standard.

The 44 young female adults who have won 1st, 2nd or 3rd in their county Fleadh in Connacht have definitely reached a standard whereby they could play in a session in Galway city.

Secondly: at senior level, 7 of the women who qualified for the Connacht Fleadh proceeded to the All-Ireland and won first prize in their competition at national level. That means that of all the people from Connacht who proceeded to national level and won first in the the All-Ireland last year, 41% of them were women. This is exactly in line with the national average:

last year, 41% of all senior instrumental champions in Ireland were female.

The trend of girls achieving an exceptionally high standard of music performance is amplified at Leaving Cert. music level, where girls don’t just outnumber the boys, they slightly outperform them: in 2018 4.7% girls attaining an A, grade, compared to 3.2% of the boys.

So not only are the vast majority of female musicians good enough to play in a session, lots of them are exceptional musicians. So why are women not playing sessions in Galway?

Well, maybe women who play music don’t want to be professional musicians, or maybe they don’t like performing in public.

But the statistics suggest otherwise: there’s one undergraduate course in Ireland in Irish traditional music and dance – the B.A. in Irish Music and Dance in the University of Limerick. To date, of the 250 students who have graduated from this course, 63% are female.

UL also offer a masters degree in trad. Many musicians choose to initiate a performance career in the Irish traditional arts by doing this specialized postgraduate degree. Since 2003, 267 trad musicians have graduated from the MA in Irish Traditional Music in UL, presumably with professional development as their goal. Of that 267 graduates, 157 are women. So 60% of the people who have consciously decided to pursue Irish traditional music performance at a professional level are female.

So where are all these female trad music graduates? They’re not playing sessions in Galway; maybe they’re focusing on concert performance instead.

I’ve just analysed the concert line-up at the Fleadh for this year. Of the 145 instrumental musicians named in the programme, only 25% are female.

It is not my intention to bash the Fleadh – this male-oriented gender balance is typical of Irish traditional music programming. Ireland’s second biggest trad festival, Scoil Samhraidh Willie Clancy, had a line-up of 38% females this year.

In fact, all this data shines a positive light on the competitions in Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann: they seem to be an accessible platform for young women to perform instrumental music. When doing this research, I remembered a conversation with a female professional musician years ago: she confided in me that winning an All-Ireland title on her instrument gave her the affirmation, and a kickstart, to ‘go pro’.  

However, this is the current situation: 41% of the 2018 senior All-Ireland instrumental champions are female, but only 25% of the instrumental musicians who got a gig at the 2019 All-Ireland Fleadh were female. At least 43% of the adult trad musicians in Galway are female, but only 14% of them are playing in sessions.

Is this a problem? If it is, what’s causing it? How can we change it? My purpose in doing this research was to get some clarity for myself. I thank Liz Coleman for raising this issue; I hope for respectful, constructive discussions on this subject, where we all check our privilege, and really try to listen to one another.

But right now, I’m off to play a few tunes. The best of luck to all competing and performing at the Fleadh. Here’s hoping there’s a warm and welcoming attitude towards everyone there, regardless of gender.



[2] 2018 Leaving Certificate Music, Higher Level:

2018 Leaving Certificate Music, Ordinary Level:

Celtic Puns

Celtic music is a rich landscape, full of Hills and Vallelys. Here’s a selection of puns to date. (I’ve kept it brief, lest you think I’m making a mountain out of a Noel Hill.)


The Red Hot Chilli Pipers



A Reel Piece of Work

A Sound Skin

Affairs Of The Harp

All You Need is Láimh

At My Grandfather’s Knee and Other Such Joints

Back To The (Seventeen) Eighties

Between the Jigs and the Reels

Changing Time


Green Grass, Blue Grass

Heirs & Graces

In Am Trátha (Well–Timed)

Louth Mouths From Drogheda

Morning Rory (Michael McGoldrick’s son Rory was born when the popular Oasis album was released)

Pleckin’ About

Pluckin’ Mad

Reed Only

The Great Danes

Timing is Everything

Trí Tones

Triple Harp Bypass

Wind & Reeds



Heir Conditioning Anne-Marie O’Farrell composed this tune while pregnant)


Hibernian Rhapsody

How the West Was Won

Welcome to the Hotel Connemara

Just how accurate is ‘in tune’?

Short answer: within 5.9 Hz of your target frequency.

The long answer, though, is a little more involved…

According to Jake Mandell, at 500 Hz, a normal person can reliably differentiate two tones 6 Hz apart. For harpists, this little tidbit of information is potentially revolutionary. It means that …

if I tune my harp string incorrectly by 5.9 Hz, or less, the average person won’t be hear that it’s out of tune. 

This may sound unimportant, but…  

I spend around 13 hours a year tuning my harp!

It takes me 3 minutes, around 250 times a year. If I can shorten my time by one minute every time I tune my harp, and still achieve a sound acceptable to most humans, I’ll save 4 hours of my life every year… and I’d gladly watch a few films rather than tune my harp, thank you very much!! 🙂

Quick caveat: 500 Hz is around the B natural above middle C. Does the normal person’s sensitivity to pitch change according to the register of the two tones; e.g. if we pluck 2 of the high strings on the harp, or 2 the lowest strings? Probably. Also, perhaps a normal person’s sensitivity to pitch changes according to whether two notes are sounded simultaneously OR one after the other. I’ve emailed an expert asking these questions and am currently waiting on their answer. But while I’m waiting, for a fun experiment, let’s presume that the average person’s differentiation of two tones is >6Hz at all registers of the harp, and for tones plucked simultaneously and consecutively. So…

For the average person to hear something as ‘in tune’ we have to make sure that the interval between 2 imprecisely-tuned strings is less than 6 Hz. 

That’s easy, right? I’ll just tune each string within 5.9 Hz of its correct pitch! Bingo!

But … we hear strings in relation to one another. If one string is 5.9 Hz sharp, and the next string played is 5.9 Hz flat, the interval between both pitches will be bigger than normal by 11.8 Hz, and therefore the average listener will hear the interval as ‘wrong’.

So my second idea is: let’s make sure that each string is tuned to within 2.95 Hz of its intended correct pitch. Now, if one string is 2.95 Hz sharp, and the one played after it is 2.95 Hz flat, the difference will be 5.9 Hz, which is less than 6 Hz, and therefore (in theory!) our listener will think it sounds beautiful, even though in theory it’s out of tune!!!

Next step: the unit of measurement we’ve been using so far is “Hertz”. However, the majority of harp tuners use a unit of measurement called ‘cents’. So we have to translate the 2.95 Hz into cents. 

I did this in an Excel file, which I include below; the column marked ‘2.95 Hz in cents’ is the hypothetical margin of error for a harpist so that they sound in tune… even when, precisely speaking, they’re not!! I’m a bit sceptical, myself… according to these calculations, the lowest C on my harp can be 77 cents out of tune and the average human won’t notice. I have more faith in humanity – I think they’ll notice the harp sounds a bit dodgy. Help me out here…  try tuning your harp with my crazy experiment and tell me how it goes!

Note: Hertz are logarithmic (they multiply from one tone to the next), cents are linear. So the margin of error for each string is different. 

LEVER HARP 8VENote2.95 Hz in cents
LEVER HARP 8VE 5C # 2 /D b 272
LEVER HARP 8VE 5D # 2 /E b 264
LEVER HARP 8VE 4F # 2 /G b 254
LEVER HARP 8VE 4G # 2 /A b 248
LEVER HARP 8VE 4A # 2 /B b 243
LEVER HARP 8VE 4C # 3 /D b 336
LEVER HARP 8VE 4D # 3 /E b 332
LEVER HARP 8VE 3F # 3 /G b 327
LEVER HARP 8VE 3G # 3 /A b 324
LEVER HARP 8VE 3A # 3 /B b 321
middle CC 419
LEVER HARP 8VE 3C # 4 /D b 418
LEVER HARP 8VE 3D # 4 /E b 416
LEVER HARP 8VE 2F # 4 /G b 413
LEVER HARP 8VE 2G # 4 /A b 412
LEVER HARP 8VE 2A # 4 /B b 411
LEVER HARP 8VE 2C # 5 /D b 59
LEVER HARP 8VE 2D # 5 /E b 58
LEVER HARP 8VE 1F # 5 /G b 57
LEVER HARP 8VE 1G # 5 /A b 56
LEVER HARP 8VE 1A # 5 /B b 55
LEVER HARP 8VE 1C # 6 /D b 64
LEVER HARP 8VE 1D # 6 /E b 64
LEVER HARP 8VE 0F # 6 /G b 63
LEVER HARP 8VE 0G # 6 /A b 63
LEVER HARP 8VE 0A # 6 /B b 62

How To Find An Amazing (Arts) Accountant

A few years ago, I went to my accountant with a costing question. He took a 5-second glance at my carefully-prepared folder of data, and utterly ignored my question. I was grumbling about this to a harp student’s parent, when she said ‘Well, I used to be an accountant … how about I take a look?’ She took away my file, pored over it, spotted a serious mistake he’d overlooked, and got me a refund of over €700. My take-away? It’s vital to 

find an accountant who really cares about you.

In my experience, the self-employed artist is a financial paradox: they have to submit accounts, but there’s generally very little in them. ! All a typical self-employed artist really needs from an accountant is…

  • one initial meeting with explanation of business models, record-keeping, allowable expenses, preparing accounts
  • initial registration with ROS and a demo of how to file a tax return
  • answering a question via email once or twice a year.

So how does one find the perfect arts accountant? Well, in theory your accountant will have knowledge in, and experience of, the arts. However, in my experience, this is only secondary to them caring deeply about your welfare. The lady who helped me with my accounts question was a stay-at-home parent who used to do budgeting for a fuel company. She didn’t have a clue about artists’ exemption, and wasn’t au fait with lodging personal tax returns. However, she is a really lovely person, plus hyper-brainy. So with a couple of phonecalls to Revenue, a bit of Googling, lots of tea, and a bit of craic, we figured it out together.

If you’re both on the same page, you can figure out the finer points of an artist’s tax return with a few calls and the ability to read.

It’s also really important to be clear on an accountant’s fees, and what’s included in their service. In my experience, there’s a massive disparity in accountancy fees. From what I can see,

some accountants are like handbags. Their price is based on prestige, rather than the actual product.

For example, the exact same accountancy service – auditing – can cost €800 or €2000, based on the status of the firm. Filing a tax return can cost €240 or €0, depending on the accountant. This makes it even more important to research your accountancy options!

So if I could go back in time and get an accountant for the first time, I would… 

  1. Ask MULTIPLE, seniorself-employed people in my artform to recommend an accountant
  2. Interview multiple accountants, doing my best to evaluate who has integrity, getting information on how they structure and charge for their services, and asking about their experience working with artists. 

So if you’re at that stage, you may appreciate these brainstorming questions … 

  1. Is there any senior self-employed artists in your artform you have a good relationship with, whom you could ask for recommendations?
  2. Is there any self-employed artists outside your artform you could ask for recommendations? E.g. do you know any playwrights, authors, poets, composers, classical musicians, pop musicians, trad musicians, rock musicians, visual artists, sculptors, actors, directors, or theatre technicians you could contact? 
  3. Do you know any self-employed people, whose opinion you respect, who could recommend someone?
  4. Best of all… do you know of anyone in your artform who double-jobs as an accountant? E.g. a theatre maker who did accountancy in college, an uilleann piper who’s an accountancy teacher?

I would ring up 3 people from that list and ask for their recommendations. (If I couldn’t think of any self-employed referees, I would simply Google ‘accountant arts <my local area>’).

I would ring up my shortlist of recommended (or Googled) accountants, and informally interview them on the phone / during a free initial consultation. 

I would then choose an accountant based on these factors, in this order …

  • their integrity – this is crucial.
  • how much of a good communicator they are – if you don’t understand what’s going on with your money, you are dangerously vulnerable. It is vital that they communicate clearly and promptly about your finances.
  • their availability – it’s no use having a genius accountant if you’re not a priority for them. 
  • their location – I like to meet my accountant in person for an initial consultation, and thereafter once every year / two years. 
  • their cost – all other things being equal…
  • how much I like them – bring on the craic!
  • their experience in the arts – this is a cherry on the comptrolling cake! 

So that’s my two bitcoins. I hope you learn from my experience, and that these ideas help you find a brilliant book-keeper!!

Decision-making: advice from a priest, a Google exec, and Tony Robbins

One thing I really struggle with is making decisions. For years I’ve read books and articles, listened to podcasts, and asked wise people (including a karate black belt and a priest) for advice on how to make good decisions. Lately I decided (! 🙂 ) to synthesize all the pertinent ideas I’ve found into one system.

1. Avoid and minimise

Decision-making is what shapes our lives, but it also takes time and energy. So how about conserving your decision-making mojo for the big ones? Be like Barack Obama, who only wears 2 colours of suit, and if you can avoid a decision, do.

2. Limit the time allowed

Well, if I’m trying to decide whether to do an hour-long gig, it’s totally ridiculous to spend more than an hour on this decision-making process. I could have done the gig while deliberating.! I agree wholeheartedly with former Google exec, David Girouard: WHEN a decision is made is much more important than WHAT decision is made. So before making a decision, I ask myself…

  • How much time is this decision worth? I agree with David Girouard’s advice: “There are decisions that deserve days of debate and analysis, but the vast majority aren’t worth more than 10 minutes.” And a decision should definitely take less time than the duration of the longest outcome, e.g. in the above case, less than one hour.
  • I also ask myself: what’s the deadline?

3. Make minor decisions in 1 minute or less…

If I have to make a minor decision quickly, I use my friend Father Ciarán’s trick: I imagine myself vividly doing option (a), then option (b), and simply choose what feels best.

4. Make major decisions using OOC/EMR

If it’s a complex decision I use Tony Robbins’ OOC/EMR system, which I find supremely helpful. Here’s an article on Tony’s site where it’s outlined: My summarised, slightly amended version follows…


You’re going to write out all your workings on good ‘ole-fashioned paper. As Tony cleverly observes, if you try to keep it all in your head you’ll just end up looping over the same facts and conclusions. Boy do I identify with that…


Write your desired outcome on top of the page. If there’s a few, write them all down.

Step 3: WHY?

Write the reason(s) you want this / these outcomes. Tony Robbins says knowing the ‘why’ means you’re more likely to execute the ultimate decision. I agree, but I also find knowing the ‘why’ is a good reality check to see if this outcome is really what you want. E.g. Desired outcome: do a triathlon. Why? because I want to improve my swimming. Mental review: well, Úna, you could just go to swimming lessons… or do the swimming section of a triathlon relay team… or … you get the idea. It’s a great tool for clarifying what you really want out of the situation. Once you’ve confirmed your desired outcome is what you really want, and you know why, it’s time to brainstorm your…


Write out each potential course of action for achieving your desired outcome, no matter how nutty.


Write out the ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ of each option.


Evaluate the ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ of each option. I answer the following questions for each pro and con:

Will this fulfil my desired outcome(s)? (y/n)

How likely is it to fulfil my desired outcome(s)? (0-10)

What’s the probability this will occur? (0-100%)

What’s the emotional consequence of this option?

When evaluating I may need a bit more information; if possible, a real-life sample is invaluable. E.g. when deciding ‘When doing artistic research on chords, should I also make a harp tutorial on the nice chords I discover?’ I played around with one chord (5 seconds), and then made a mock tutorial of that process with my phone (37 seconds). Knowing the difference in the duration of the tasks, and my focus while doing the tasks, was invaluable in helping me make the best decision.


Review the ‘cons’ and brainstorm ways to reduce or eliminate them. E.g. I was asked to do a last-minute gig when my harp was at the harp-maker’s being restrung. I would be performing on a loaned harp, so it wouldn’t be my usual performance standard, and I was worried an influential guest would form a low opinion of my playing. I rang the event organiser to check if The BigWig would be present, and … was told they wouldn’t be there. Con eliminated! Did the gig to the delight of all concerned!


This, for me, is one of the great gifts of the OOC/EMR. In the words of Tony: “This is your best option – and because you’ve looked at so many other possibilities, you know that to be true. Resolve that, no matter what happens, this option will give you a win.” So the final step is to decide, and then to be confident in your decision. Then, of course, you EXECUTE. He makes the great point that it’s better to make a decision, and subsequently change approach if necessary, than to remain in ‘paralysis by analysis’.

…. So that’s it!! I have finally decided upon The Úna-Guide to Decision-Making! 🙂 Below is a chart I designed to help myself out the next time I use OOC/EMR. Click here to download and use, and I hope it brings you as much clarity and motivation as it did me. Go n-éirí leat with your decision-making, and may your decisions bring growth, and joy!!


Lost your keys?!

Let’s set the scene: one of my fave songs starts in F# minor, flirts with F# mixolydian, and then starts the chorus firmly in F# dorian. I’m currently sifting through 16 songs like this to figure out which to put on the album, plus experimenting with harp accompaniment. My head is MELTED! Fortunately a few years back I made this quick-reference table for a workshop on trad accompaniment. I hope to goodness I get this done ASAP, and here’s hoping the table might help you too some day!


B♭, E♭, A♭, D♭, G♭,C♭, F♭C flat majorG flat mixD flat dorianA flat minor
B♭, E♭, A♭, D♭, G♭,C♭G flat majorD flat mixA flat dorianE flat minor
B♭, E♭, A♭, D♭, G♭D flat majorA flat mixE flat dorianB flat minor
B♭, E♭, A♭, D♭ A flat majorE flat mixB flat dorianF minor
B♭, E♭, A♭E flat majorB flat mixF dorianC minor
B♭, E♭B flat majorF mixC dorianG minor
BF majorC mixG dorianD minor
NO # OR C majorG mixD dorianA minor
F# G majorD mixA dorianE minor
F# C# D majorA mixE dorianB minor
F# C# G# A majorE mixB dorianF# minor
F# C# G# D#E majorB mixF# dorianC# minor
F# C# G# D# A# B majorF# mixC# dorianG# minor
F# C# G# D# A# E#F# majorC# mixG# dorianD# minor
F# C# G# D# A# E# B#C# majorG# mixD# dorianA# minor

How to survive a harmonic analysis assignment – if you’re not a classical musician

I’m from a traditional music background. For my undergraduate music degree it was required that I do a western art music analysis course – PANIC!!! These are a few things that helped me hack that skill-set, and pass!

  • Go to all the lectures. You’re starting on the back foot, so you can’t afford to miss any.
  • Read the assignment very carefully. Ask the lecturer for a sample answer if they don’t give one.
  • You’ll probably be asked to analyse a piece from the canon of western art music, e.g. a string quartet by Shostakovich, or a Bach chorale. If your lecturer hasn’t recommended a particular recording, go to Youtube / Spotify / the library and find a recording from an authoritative source, that you enjoy listening to. Listen to the presribed music on repeat in the background.
  • Read all of the assigned readings / literature available on the assigned work. (Make note of the title, author and publisher of everything you’ve read for your bibliography.) Highlight any text that seems relevant to your assignment, and keep it all in one Word doc. You can refer to this later if you need to write a commentary / essay.
… If the notes on your score are tiny and low-contrast, you’ll save yourself a lot of grief by creating your own score in Finale / Sibelius.
  • If you struggle with sight-reading, you may find it helpful to create your own score. But don’t worry – I don’t propose that you transcribe every individual note into your computer! A lot of the canon of western art music is public domain, and has already been transcribed by enthusiasts. So…
  1. Go to , and search for your assigned work (If you don’t find the piece on , search the internet at large for <title of your piece> and <.xml> or <.mxl> )
  2. When you find a version, spot-check a few chords in the new version against the original score, to ensure it’s accurate (I haven’t come across an inaccurate transcription yet)
  3. On MuseScore, click ‘Download’, select ‘MusicXML’, download the .xml file
  4. Open your music notation software, and import the MusicXML file (In Finale: go to File menu, click ‘Import’, click ‘MusicXML…’, select the relevant file in your downloads folder, click ‘open’)

… and ta-DA … you should now have your own score in front of you, which you can edit to help you learn!

  • You’ll need to look up bars, and then reference bars, as quickly and clearly as possible. I suggest that before you start your assignment, you put a measure number on every single bar. If you’re old-skool then handwrite it on your printed score. If you’re a techie, use your music notation software to add it (In Finale 25, click to ‘Measure’, select all, click on ‘Measure’ menu, then click ‘Show Measure Numbers’.)
  • If you’re analysing a piece with viola clef and reading this slows you down… how about using tech to change the viola staff to the bass clef? (In Finale 25, select the ‘Clef’ tool, double-click bar 1 of the viola staff, the ‘change clef’ window will pop up, select bass clef, then click ‘OK’)
  • More than likely, the learning objective of your assignment is the skill of chord diagnosis, and the concepts of harmonic analysis. Because I wasn’t a fast sight-reader during my undergrad, diagnosing each chord was painfully slow, and I had less time to work on understanding broader harmonic concepts. So I encourage students to work at their music literacy, but seperately to their analysis assignments. How about putting your piece into AlphaNotes font, which has the letter name of the note in its notehead? (In Finale, select all, then click on the Plugins menu, select ‘Note, Beam and Rest Editing’ and select ‘AlphaNotes’). Your chord diagnosis will now be exponentially faster.
Úna’s sneaky hacks: notes in AlphaNotes font, and viola staff in bass clef
(sssh, don’t tell anyone 🙂 )
  • There are loads of different schools of musical analysis; Schenkerian, etc. . However, they nearly all require analysing chords, cadences and tonality.
  • If you’re diagnosing a chord, but are uncertain about your results, try checking your diagnosis against the free online tool, the Chord Identifier. Input up to 6 notes, and this amazing gadget gives you a list of what chords these notes could comprise. In my experience the Chord Identifier gives many results, but is not exhaustive; I use it as a brainstorming tool, rather than an ultimate authority.
Chord Identifier inputting system
  • If you’re diagnosing a chord, and are unsure what it is, then I say – totally ignore the notes. Get the recording, close your eyes and LISTEN. At the relevant point, ask yourself… what note is most prominent? What feels like ‘doh’? Does it sound major / minor / diminished / augmented? Where does it want to go? These questions may bring you some clarity.
  • This is a decent index of various cadences, with audio examples. Again, if uncertain about the nature of a cadence, you could close your eyes while listening and asking yourself a few questions: How does it feel? What feels like home? Where does the melody want to go?
  • Is the melody modulating or not? Answer: if a melody has a chromatic note, THEN a cadence (even an unfinished cadence!), the melody has modulated. But … if a melody has a chromatic note, and no cadence following, it’s an inflection.

Agus sin é!! I hope these tips save you some grief, and help you actually enjoy the beautiful music of Bach / Shostakovich / Beethoven!


Úna’s Optimal Grant-Writing Timeline


Last night I found myself awake at 4am, cooking 56 meals, for no other reason than that I was avoiding writing a grant. Today I nearly had heart failure trying to get my grant finished, and may have set a Guinness world record for ‘The Latest Online Grant Application Ever Successfully Submitted’. I have finally decided that I would like to try a gentler system, and have come up with this aspirational grant-writing timeline for future endeavours. (And with that, I’m off to bed after eating a lovely pre-prepared dinner … cooking-as-procrastination has some upsides, at least 😉 )

Cautionary note: Prepare yourselves for a foreign concept. This timeline aims to submit the day before the advertised submission deadline. WOAH!!

 12 days before submission: Register for online system if necessary (takes 5 working days for Irish Arts Council). Invite referees to send letters; ask proofreaders if they’ll look at draft 1 of your doc in a week’s time.

11 days before submission: Analyse grant guidelines; get more info on objectives of the award by ringing awarding body (e.g Arts Council / hosting venue); brainstorm possible project activities.

10 days before submission: Choose project activity. Invite collaborators & ask for letter of support, costs & fees, CV, bio.

9 days before submission: Do draft schedule for project. Assemble all costings for project. Do draft 1 of budget

8 days before submission: Write CV

7 days before submission: Write ‘Statement of Artistic Practice’

6 days before submission: Assemble samples of creative work

5 days before submission: Do draft 2 of budget (… this time in Excel)

4 days before submission: Download and fill in first half of Application Form (for Irish AC, as far as ‘Details of proposal’)

3 days before submission: Finish Application Form, proofread, send for proofreading by others

2 days before submission: Assemble all letters of support, collaborators’ CVs and bios, references, any additional docs.

Day before submission: get proofreaders’ feedback and make final edits to Application Form

Day of submission: upload all files; double-check all files are uploaded; hit ‘submit’.

Day of submission deadline: relaaax! Maybe do some cooking!! 🙂