Suggested Learning Order Of Irish Traditional Tune Types

Learning music is hard, man! So when I have a beginner student, my biggest challenge to incentivising them to practice. My experience is that for 99% of the humans I teach, ensemble music-making is the most effective incentive for getting them to practice. In Irish traditional music, this translates into: how can I get them into a trad session ASAP? 

For me, the biggest challenge within that is getting a student to be able to play a tune at conventional tempo. So what is conventional tempo for the various Irish traditional tune types?

Traditional music sessions vary according to region, venue, day, time and musicians, but the baseline is that Irish traditional music is dance music. So if we take samples of musicians dancing for dancers, we’ll have a pretty good indication of 

a) the foundation upon which the instrumental tradition is based, and therefore the likely tempi for a group of Irish traditional musicians 

b) what tempo instrumentalists should aspire to … coz let’s be honest, this is dance music. It’d be pretty ridiculous if a dancer walked into a pub and the musicians couldn’t play for them. 

With all that in mind, I recorded the tempo, beat-by-beat, of performances of musicians performing various dance types for live dancers. I got the average BPM of a tune type. I then looked at the sheet music of the tune type and chose the shortest common note duration – e.g. a hornpipe is notated in 2/2, but it’s actually played with a heavy swing, so has a high frequency of semiquavers. So for a student to play a hornpipe in a session, they have to be able to execute semiquavers at session tempo. I then translated this shortest common note duration into milliseconds, to facilitate comparison of all the tune types in Irish traditional music. Here are my findings. 

Tune typeMeterBPMShortest Common Note DurationDuration Of Shortest Common Note / Ms
March4/4Crotchet = 118 BPMQuaver254 ms
Set Dance - Jig6/8Dotted crotchet = 94 BPMQuaver213 ms
Mazurka3/4Crotchet = 174 BPMQuaver173 ms
Waltz3/4Crotchet = 176 BPMSemiquaver170 ms
Single Jig6/8Dotted crotchet =126 BPMQuaver159 ms
Double Polka2/4Crotchet = 101 BPMSemiquaver149 ms
Schottische2/2Minim = 103 BPMQuaver146 ms
Heavy Jig6/8Dotted crotchet = 73 BPMSemiquaver137 ms
Single Reel2/4Minim = 116 BPMQuaver129 ms
Slide12/8Dotted crotchet =168 BPMQuaver119 ms
Hop Jig9/8Dotted crotchet =192 BPMQuaver104 ms
German2/2Minim = 100 BPMTriplet100 ms
Set Dance – Hornpipe2/2Minim = 76 BPMSemiquaver99 ms
Single Polka2/4Crotchet = 162 BPMSemiquaver93 ms
Barndance2/2Minim = 90 bpmSemiquaver83 ms
Highland2/2Minim = 90 bpmSemiquaver83 ms
Strathspey2/2Minim = 90 bpmSemiquaver83 ms
Slip Jig9/8Dotted crotchet =125 BPMSemiquaver80 ms
Double Jig6/8Dotted crotchet = 129 BPMSemiquaver78 ms
Fling2/2Minim = 106 BPMSemiquaver71 ms
Hornpipe2/2Minim = 105 BPMSemiquaver71 ms
Reel2/2Minim = 126 BPMSemiquaver60 ms

So, if you’re learning Irish traditional music, don’t shoot yourself in the foot by starting off with reels. I suspect that if you learn tunes in this order your life will be easier, and more enjoyable!

  1. Instrumental versions of songs.
  2. Marches
  3. Set dances – jig
  4. Mazurkas and waltzes
  5. Double polkas, Schottisches
  6. Single reels
  7. Slides
  8. Hop jigs, Germans, Set Dances – hornpipes
  9. Single polkas
  10. Barndances, Highlands, Strathspeys, Slip jigs, Double jigs
  11. Flings, Hornpipes
  12. Reels

Go n-éirí leat!


Irish Traditional Tune Types

My favourite article on the complex subject of Irish music forms is written by Alan Ng: . I also find the Companion To Irish Traditional Music, edited by Fintan Vallely, very helpful. Here I synthesize information from both sources, and add my own thoughts and examples.

Alan Ng starts with some useful definitions. Instead of using the word ‘beat’, he uses the word ‘group’ to describe ‘a sequence of notes whose first note is synchronized with the (main) tap of the musician’s foot in a traditional performance.’

‘Heavy-light pair’ is his term for an uneven pair of notes, the first of which is both stronger and longer than the second. So with that established, now let’s get started…


Two groups of four notes each, adding up to an 8-note bar. Within each group there are two heavy-light pairs. Reels are conventionally notated in 4/4, but Alan notates them in 2/2, which I am in agreement with. Note: reels, more than any other Irish dance type, can have unconventional forms. 44% of the reels Alan has indexed differ from the typical AABB Irish traditional dance tune format.

Sample bar of a reel with ‘heavy-light’ pairs marked in red brackets
A live performance of a reel with set dancers

Single reel

A rare type of tune, the single reel is a typical reel, except with a frequent substitution of a held note for a heavy-light pair, especially on strong beats. Another description is ‘a march-like polka’. Single reels are usually notated in 2/4.

Sample bar of a single reel with ‘heavy-light’ pairs marked in red brackets

In West Cork there’s a particular dance called a ‘Jenny’, e.g. the Borlin Jenny, collected from Bantry Bay. Specific single reels are played for ‘Jenny’ dances. These tunes don’t have individual tune names, they’re just collectively referred to as ‘Jenny tunes‘. They’re a march-like polka; I hear them as being in 2/4.

Sample bars of a ‘Jenny tune’

The single reel may also be known as a ‘lancer‘. Watch out for the confusing terminology mix-up where sometimes a “single reel” refers to a regular reel “played single”.

A recording of a single reel


Two groups of four notes each, adding up to an 8-note bar. BUT …

  1. they are played more slowly than reels
  2. there is more uneven distribution within the heavy-light pairs, e.g. they sound more ‘swung’ or ‘dotted’
  3. there is more frequent substitution of triplets for some heavy-light pairs
  4. they have tendencies towards certain melodic structures
  5. One common melodic pattern is to end the part with three accented crotchets

Hornpipes are conventionally notated in 2/2.

Sample bar of a hornpipe with ‘heavy-light’ pairs marked in red brackets
A live performance of a hornpipe with set dancers


There are lots of types of jig in Irish music. When people say the word ‘jig’ on its own, they usually mean a ‘double jig’.

Double jig

A double jig has two groups of three notes each, adding up to a 6-note bar. It’s customarily notated in 6/8. The first note of each group is played longer and stronger than the following pair of shorter notes, giving something like “dotted quaver – semiquaver – quaver.” The final bar often ends in a crotchet. Also known as ‘jig’. Amongst competitive Irish step dancers, a ‘double jig’ is termed a ‘light jig’.

Sample bar of a double jig with ‘jig pattern’ marked in red curved lines
A live performance of a double jig with set dancers

Light jig

This term exists only among competitive Irish step dancers. It’s their name for a “double jig”.

Heavy Jig

A style of playing double jigs which is unique to modern competitive step dancing. A ‘heavy jig’ is a conventional double jig, notated as 6/8, BUT…

  • it’s played with two groups of precisely equally spaced three notes each
  • it’s played significantly slower than a double jig. The tune is played slowly for advanced dancers, e.g. 73 BPM, and faster for beginners, e.g. 92 BPM. At 73 BPM a quaver lasts 411 milliseconds; at 92 BPM a quaver lasts 326 milliseconds.
  • Heavy jigs have occasional rhythmic subdivisions of each quaver into precisely spaced fourths, e.g. two semiquavers followed by a quaver.

As Alan points out: “Only some double jigs work well as heavy jigs. Each musician will have to experiment and practice to determine which of his or her double jigs he or she finds comfortable playing as a heavy jig. I recommend that the best way for musicians to learn this rhythm is to practice playing for Irish step dancers who are very good and confident at dancing heavy jigs.” Also known as a ‘treble jig’.

Sample bar of a heavy jig
A live performance of a heavy jig with competitive step dancers

Treble jig

an alternative name for the heavy jig.

Single jig

A single jig is two groups of three notes each, adding up to a 6-note bar, but with a high frequency of heavy-light pairs of crotchet-quaver, where a double jig would have the jig pattern. It’s usually notated in 6/8, and sometimes notated in 12/8. (Alan Ng notates single jigs in 6/8). Alan observes that single jigs can be notated as hornpipes, and even reels, and that on paper, it’s easy to confuse single jigs with slides. He also notes that a lot of session musicians are not familiar with slides or single jigs, and that single jigs are usually heard in the step dancing tradition.

Sample bar of a single jig with ‘heavy-light’ pairs marked in red brackets
A recording of a single jig, arranged specifically for set dancers

The Donncha Lynch Trio recorded the single jig ‘The Hag At The Churn’ in the album ‘The Magic Of Irish Set Dancing Vol. 6’… you can hear 12 seconds of it here:


A slide is four groups of three notes each, adding up to a 12-note bar, with a high frequency of heavy-light pairs (very close to a crotchet, quaver pattern) and precisely equally spaced three notes (not a jig pattern). There tends to be more heavy-light pairs than the groupings of precisely equally spaced three notes. Most slides break this rhythmic pattern once or twice in a tune by delaying the strong note for a bar’s second group until that group’s second half. In essence, it’s a very fast single jig. Slides used to be notated in 6/8, but are now usually notated in 12/8. Although Alan Ng agrees that 12/8 is more accurate, he notates them in 6/8 because that’s how set dancers count them. Slides are played very fast: usually with the dotted crotchet at 150 BPM, so each quaver lasting 133 milliseconds. Slides are peculiar to the southwest of Ireland. According to Breandán Breathnach, a jig ends with a three-quaver group followed by a crotchet, where a slide ends with two dotted crotchets. If that all sounds too mathematical, try this rhyme, invented by amazing poet Ciaran Carson, which apparently goes along with slides: “blah dithery dump a doodle scattery idle fortunoodle”

Sample bars 7-8 of a slide with ‘heavy-light’ pairs marked in red brackets. Note 2 dotted crotchets in bar 8.
A live performance of a slide with set dancers

Slip jig

A slipjig, in its general sense, is a dance tune notated in 9/8. Some call all 9/8 dances a slipjig. However, there are 2 distinct rhythmic styles within Irish 9/8 dances. In summary: a hop jig sounds like ‘Humpty-Dumpty-Dumpty’, whereas a slip jig sounds like ‘Humpity-Dumpity-Dumpity’. Here’s a more detailed breakdown of the two types…

a) A 9/8 tune played slower, for step dances, as three groups per bar, most of which are a ‘jig pattern’. Myself and Alan Ng call this a ‘slip jig’. In the Companion To Irish Traditional Music, this is termed a ‘jig type’ 9/8 tune.

Sample bar of a ‘jig type’ slip jig with ‘jig pattern’ marked in red curved lines
A performance of a slip jig with step dancers

b) A 9/8 tune where the notes are played quickly as one group per bar, with more crotchet-quaver, heavy-light pairs than jig patterns. Similar to single jigs; found in the playing of Michael Coleman. In the Companion To Irish Traditional Music, this is termed a ‘swing type’ 9/8 tune. Myself and Alan Ng call this a ‘hop jig’.

Sample bar of a hop jig with ‘heavy-light’ pairs marked in red brackets
A recording of hop jigs

This writer cannily notes that both a slip jig and hop jig have crotchet-quaver patterns plus jig patterns; figuring out whether a 9/8 tune is a slip jig or a hop jig depends on the frequency. In the 9/8 tune ‘Drops of Brandy’, 45 of the 48 beats are jig patterns , whereas only 3 of the 48 beats are crotchet-quaver patterns – so this tune is obviously a slip jig.

Set Dance

A set dance is a particular tune, in either a hornpipe or jig rhythm, which has a corresponding solo step dance choreography. There are at least 40 of these tunes in the Irish tradition. Set dances …

  • are in 2/4, 4/4, or 6/8 time. Half of all set dances are in duple time, half are in compound time. My experience is that set dances are played slightly more evenly than a typical hornpipe or jig.
  • are longer than typical Irish dance tunes. Irish traditional dance tunes usually have 2 parts of 8 bars each. However, out of the 40 core set dances, 39 of them have at least one part that is longer than 8 bars.
  • tend to have asymmetrical form, e.g. the B part of the tune is longer than the A part. 34 of the 40 set dances have a B part that is longer than the A part.
Sample bar of a set dance in hornpipe rhythm with ‘heavy-light’ pairs marked in red brackets
A performance of a set dance in hornpipe time with old-time step dancer, Celine Tubridy

Sample bar of a set dance in 6/8
A performance of a set dance in jig time with old-time step dancer, Celine Tubridy

Be warned: a ‘set dance’ can also be called a “set piece”; is sometimes mislabelled as a “long dance”; and ‘set dances’ as described here are not a part of the Irish dance genre of social dancing known as ‘set dancing’.

Single Polka

The most common type of polka, notated in 2/4, from Sliabh Luachra. Also known as a ‘simple polka’.

Sample bar of a single polka
A performance of a single polka with set dancers

Double Polka

A march-like polka, also notated in 2/4, associated with the playing of John McKenna and the music of North Connacht. Also known as a ‘North Connacht Polka’, ‘Sligo polka’, or ‘Clare polka’.

Sample bar of a double polka
A recording of double polkas


A tune type which came from Scotland to Donegal, where it’s most commonly played in Ireland. Strathspeys have 4 beats in each bar, with each beat of the bar being accented, and have lots of dotted rhythms. In particular they often feature the ‘Scotch snap’ – a syncopated rhythm where a short, accented note is followed by a longer one, generally a semiquaver followed by a dotted quaver. They often have triplet passages near the end of parts.

Sample bar of a strathspey (note ‘Scotch snap’)
A recording of a musician from Donegal playing a strathspey


a tune-type with four beats in a bar, with the accent on the first beat of the bar. The first beat of the bar is usually a crotchet. Highlands are played more slowly than a reel, and are characterised by subtly dotted rhythms, giving them their own unique ‘swing’. If a highland sounds familiar, you’re not going mad… it’s common for popular reels and strathspeys to be converted into this style of playing, and thus a lot of highlands are based on well-known Scottish strathspey melodies. Caoimhín Mac Aoidh notes of this practice ‘Extended strings of triplets which occur in parent strathspeys are often simplified but not totally eliminated.’ Highlands are mainly found in the Donegal fiddle music tradition. Be warned – the terminology around this tune-type and its accompanying dance is quite confusing: within Ulster, the dance to a highland is called a ‘highland schottische’. Outside of Ulster, this dance is more commonly called a ‘fling’ or a ‘schottische’.

Sample bar of a Highland
A recording of musicians from Donegal playing a highland


A dance and tune-type which originated in Bavaria in the 1800s, and was then co-opted by the Irish. It’s originally in 2/4 time, but is played more slowly in the Irish tradition, as if it’s in 2/2. To the ear, it sounds like a highland, except with more crotchets.

Sample bar of a Schottische
A recording of a musician from Donegal playing a schottische


Like a reel, except slower, in cut time, and with a dotted rhythm. The term is derived from the Scottish phrase ‘highland fling’, which is the national dance of Scotland.

Sample bar of a fling
A recording of a fling


Barndances have four beats in each bar, with a strong emphasis on the final two crotchets in either the first, fourth or eighth bars of each part of the tune. Also known as a ‘onestep’.

Sample bar of a barndance
A recording of a barndance, arranged specifically for set dancers


a type of barndance found in the north of Ireland. Generally referred to by their tune-type, not individual name. Also known as ‘German schottische’. Each eight-bar phrase ends with three lightly-accented crotchets.

Sample bars 5-8 of a German. Note 3 crotchets in bar 8.
A recording of musicians from Donegal playing Germans


A dance form from continental Europe in 3/4 time, with the emphasis on the first beat in the bar. Historically considered indecent: a pamphlet from the 1797 cites the waltz as ‘the main source of the weakness of the body and mind of our generation’. ! The Irish must have dispensed with such qualms, as it’s been absorbed into our musical tradition. However, Alan Ng points out that ‘as waltzing is a relatively recent introduction into the Irish tradition, there are very few native Irish waltzes’. It’s common for Irish traditional musicians to convert traditional pieces, airs, marches and songs into waltz form as required – say, for example, at a céilí. Alan wryly observes ‘most of the genuine waltzes … are directly and knowingly imported from other cultures by Irish musicians looking for better waltzes.’!

Sample bars of a waltz
A live performance of a waltz with set dancers


A dance in 3/4 with an accent on the second beat. The mazurka originated in Poland, and spread over Europe in the 1800s, both as tunes and as a dance form. Mazurkas spread to Ireland in the mid-1800s, and are particularly common in county Donegal, where there are at least 17 distinct Irish traditional mazurka melodies.

Sample bars of a mazurka
Fiddlers performing a mazurka for some dancers


Marches are most commonly in 2/4, 4/4 or 6/8, but can also be in 9/8 or 3/4. It’s about the style of playing rather than the meter: marches are designed to speed up your travel, celebrate victory, or commemorate death or defeat. So if it’s a slow tempo, played with a strong rhythm, and gives you one of those feels, it’s probably a march. These days, you’re most likely to hear a march or two at a céilí, rather than a session. Marches are one of the most ancient music forms, so the old marches are fonts of ethnomusicological interest, and well worth checking out. Some interesting examples are…

O’Donovan’s March 3/4

O’Sullivan More’s March 3/4

Allisdrum’s March 6/8

The Triumphal 4/4

Shanghai March 4/4

Sample bars from a march in 4/4
Sample bars from a march in 6/8
A live performance of a waltz with ceili dancers


an instrumental piece which is not an air, not for dancing, and not for singing.

Sample bars from a piece
A slow air


a piece of music, with lyrics, sung by a singer.

Sample of an unmetered song


An instrumental version of a song.

Sample of an air


Glossary Of Irish Traditional Music

Some of the ‘trad terminology’ is quite confusing. So here’s some explanations you may find helpful.

‘céilí’ vs. ‘céilí dancing’

Céilí dancing is a specific genre of Irish dance revived / invented by Irish nationalists in the early 1900s. ‘Céilí dances’ have only two to three simple steps, and are not percussive. Examples include the Walls of Limerick, the Siege of Ennis, and the Haymaker’s Jig. 

A Céilí is a social gathering with Irish music and dance. A céilí might have céilí dancing only; a céilí might have set dancing only; a céilí could have a mixture of céilí dancing, set dancing, instrumentals and a few songs.

the Lancer’ vs. ‘a lancer’

A ‘lance’ is a weapon; it’s a long wooden stick with a pointed steel head on the top. Lances were used by a horseman while they charged at the enemy, as recently as World War I. “Lancers” is the name for the soldiers on horseback who fought with these lances. Back in 1817, the Dublin dancing master Duval created a set dance for a lancers regiment based in Dublin; this dance became known as ‘The Lancer Quadrilles’ or ‘The Lancers’. This was the first ‘set’ composed in Ireland. Since then, the term ‘a lancer’ is used to describe any other set with similar features to that first set, e.g. a line-up, grand chain and dancing in the corners. It’s also used to describe a single reel played for a lancer set.

‘Jenny tunes’ vs. tunes with the name ‘Jenny’ in the title

In West Cork there’s a particular dance called a ‘Jenny’, e.g. the Borlin Jenny, collected from Bantry Bay. Specific single reels are played for ‘Jenny’ dances. These tunes don’t have individual tune names, they’re just collectively referred to as ‘Jenny tunes’. They’re a march-like polka.

There are also approx 35 tunes in the Irish tradition with the girl’s name ‘Jenny’ in the title. So best to clarify if you’re referring to a tune type or tune title when you’re planning tune sets in West Cork! 😉 Just for fun, here are some of the tune titles with ‘Jenny’ in the title… Jenny And The Weasel, Jenny Dang The Weaver, Jenny Got A Clinking, Jenny Jumped Over The Wall, Jenny Lind Polka, Jenny Lind’s Reel, Jenny Nettle’s Fancy, Jenny Picking Cockles, Jenny Pippin, Jenny Put the Kettle On, Jenny Rocking The Cradle, Jenny, Tie The Bonnet, Jenny’s Chickens, Jenny’s Wedding, Jenny’s Welcome To Charlie

‘set dance’ vs. ‘a set dance’

Set dance / set dancing is a genre of Irish traditional dancing. The format is always four couples facing each other to make a square. It’s social dancing; there’s generally hundreds of people crammed into a hall, dancing to a live band. Each dance has three to six sections (called figures), with little breaks between each section. One ‘set’ takes between 10 and 30 minutes. Here’s a list of ‘sets’, compiled by the amazing Bill Lynch.

On the other hand, a ‘Set Dance’ or ‘traditional set dance’ is a tune with its own accompanying, pre-arranged choreography. In the context of competitive step dancing, ‘a set dance’ is usually one of these tune-and-dance combinations, not the social dance genre called ‘set dance’ / ‘set dancing’. Here’s 38 of the tune-and-dance combinations approved by An Coimisiúin Le Rincí Gaelacha for performance in their competitions. Set dances are usually ‘crooked’, i.e. have a different amount of bars in the first and second parts.

“the tune” vs. “the tune” and “the turn”

“The tune” on its own means the whole tune, the entire piece of music. But if you hear “the turn” in close proximity to “the tune”, then “the tune” means the first part of a tune, i.e. the A part, and “the turn” means the second part of the tune, or the B part.

“single reel” vs. “single reel”

In a typical Irish dance tune, each 8-bar part is usually played twice. The term for this is that the tune is ‘doubled’. However, at least 11% of all Irish tunes are exceptions to this rule, and in these tunes each part is only played once through. These exceptional tunes where each part is played just once are termed ‘played singly’ ‘played single’ or ‘a single <tune type>’, e.g. ‘a single reel’.

The most common tune types in Irish traditional music are reels and jigs. There are 2 different types of reel, which are differentiated from each other with the prefix ‘single’ and ‘double’ … but in this context, ‘single’ and ‘double’ refer to meter, not how many times the parts are repeated. A ‘double reel’ is notated in 4/4 or 2/2, a ‘single reel’ is notated in 2/4.

So a ‘single reel’ can be a conventional reel, with each part played once through … or it can be a reel with the time signature 2/4, with both parts repeated. There’s no way to figure this out except to ask your session buddies which one they mean!

“single jig” vs. “single jig”

As explained above: in a typical Irish dance tune, each 8-bar part is usually played twice. The term for this is that the tune is ‘doubled’. However, at least 11% of all Irish tunes are exceptions to this rule, and in these tunes each part is only played once through. These exceptional tunes where each part is played just once are termed ‘played singly’ ‘played single’ or ‘a single <tune type>’, e.g. ‘a single jig’.

The most common tune types in Irish traditional music are reels and jigs. There are 4 different subcategories of jig: slip jig, hop jig, single jig and double jig. In this context, ‘single’ and ‘double’ refer to meter, not how many times the parts are repeated. A ‘single jig’ and a ‘double jig’ are both conventionally notated in 6/8 – but a ‘single jig’ has a high frequency of heavy-light pairs, whereas a ‘double jig’ has a typical jig pattern of dotted quaver – semiquaver – quaver.

So a ‘single jig’ can be a ‘double jig’, with each part played once through … or it can be a jig with a high frequency of heavy-light pairs, with both parts repeated. There’s no way to figure this out except to ask your session buddies which one they mean!

… that’s my list of confusing terminology for the time being. Now I’m off to play a session in the Teach Ósta, Inis Meáin, where I aspire to communicate extremely clearly for the evening 🙂

All Irish Set Dances Allowed By An Coimisiún Le Rincí Gaelacha

A set dance is a particular tune, in either a hornpipe or jig rhythm, which has a corresponding solo step dance choreography. There are at least 40 of these tunes in the Irish tradition. Set dances …

  • are in hornpipe or in jig time. Half of all set dances are hornpipes, half are in jig time.
  • are longer than typical Irish dance tunes. Irish traditional dance tunes usually have 2 parts of 8 bars each. However, out of the 40 set dances on my list, 39 of them have at least one part that is longer than 8 bars.*
  • tend to have asymmetrical form, e.g. the B part of the tune is longer than the A part. 34 of the 40 set dances have a B part that is longer than the A part.**

If you’re an Irish dancer, here’s a list of all 30 set dances (allowed by An Coimisiún Le Rincí Gaelacha, no less) with all relevant data, so you can make an informed decision on the best dance for you to learn next.

Rince Seit Traidisiúnta An Coimisiún le Rincí Gaelacha

Traditional Set Dances permitted by Coimisiún le Rincí Gaelacha, with minimum speed, time signature, bars in step, bars in set, and total bar count. Designed to help dance students choose their optimal set dance for performance.
Teideal: GaeilgeTitle: EnglishMinimum SpeedTime SignatureBars In StepBars In SetTotal Bars
Cúlú BonaparteBonaparte's Retreat764/482028
Gairdín Na NóiníníGarden Of Daisies764/481624
Cuir Thart An CrúscaHurry The Jug666/881624
Bhfuil An Fear Mór Istigh?Is The Big Man Within?669/8 & 6/88816
An Greas GiúrnálaJob Of Journeywork764/481422
An Marcach Chuig An AonachJockey To The Fair666/881422
Rásaí Chill ChoinnighKilkenny Races764/482432
Rí Na SiogKing Of The Fairies762/481624
Madam BonaparteMadam Bonaparte764/481220
Rogha Iníon De BrúnMiss Brown's Fancy666/881624
Plancstaí DaibhéisPlanxty Davis762/4161632
Plancstaí DrúiríPlanxty Drury666/8121628
Plancstaí Aodh Ó DomhnaillPlanxty Hugh O'Donnell666/8161632
Glóir RodneyRodney's Glory762/481220
Cuimil An MálaRub The Bag666/881422
Lá Fhéile PádraigSt. Patrick's Day666/881422
Aon Agus Dó Na PíobaireachtaAce And Deuce Of Pipering764/4121224
An LondubhBlackbird762/4153045
An Maide DroighneánBlackthorn Stick666/8151530
Cladhaire Na Súile GormaBlue-Eyed Rascal764/481220
Bean An GhlantacháinCharlady666/882432
Titim ParisDownfall Of Paris762/481624
An Bheidhleadóir Ag An Crann SíFiddler Around The Fairy Tree666/881220
Na Ceithre MáistríFour Masters764/481220
An Gaueger MeisceachFunny Tailor / Drunken Gauger666/8151530
Pléaracha na BandanHumours Of Bandon666/881624
An FiachHunt764/481220
Na Buachaillí BáireHurling Boys666/881422
Bóthar An LóisteLodge Road762/482028
An Rógaire BuíOrange Rogue666/881624
An PíobairePiper764/481220
An Réice FáinRambling Rake764/481624
An Mangaire FáinRoving Pedlar764/481422
An Geag SíléaladhSprig Of Shillelagh666/861016
An ScéalaíStoryteller666/881624
Na Trí Captéin MaraThree Sea Captains666/882028
Loch An Rith AmachVanishing Lake666/8141832
An Ceoltóir FáinTwandering Musician666/881624
An Súisín BánWhite Blanket764/481220
Cuan EochailleYoughal Harbour764/461420

*For the record, the only set dance with the standard form of 2 x 8-bar parts is ‘Bhfuil An Fear Mór Istigh? / Is The Big Man Within? But this tune is a total outlier in terms of rhythm – the A part is in 9/8, the B part is in 6/8! So my summary is: set dances are just weird. Even if they’re normal in one way, watch out, because they will be weird in another. !

**to add evidence to my ‘set dances are just weird’ theory, the 5 following set dances, which have symmetrical form, do not have a typical 8 bars per part:

The Ace & Deuce Of Pipering – 12 bars per part

Blackthorn Stick, Drunken Gauger – 15 bars per part

Planxty Davis, Planxty Hugh O’Donnell – 16 bars per part

Types Of Irish Dancing

Here goes: Úna’s low-down on the high kicks of Irish dancing.

1. Sean-nós dancing

“Come ant daunce wyt me in Irlaunde” says a song from the 1300s … so we have been boogie-ing here in Ireland for quite some time. “Sean” is the Irish for ‘old’ and ‘nós’ is the Irish for ‘way’… so ‘sean-nós’ is ‘old way’. Sean-nós dance started in the west of Ireland, and is still strongest in that area. It’s low to the ground, percussive, and totally improvised … dancers choose their steps, in the moment, responding to the live musician. Their whole body posture is really relaxed. Sean-nós is usually performed in a very small space, sometimes on a door laid flat or on a table-top. (!) Dancers wear street clothes and normal shoes, sometimes with a few nails in the heel or toe to give added volume to their foot tapping. Here’s 2 of my fave sean-nós dancers, muintir Uí Dhuibheannaigh.

2. Old-style step dancing

Irish dance seems to have been pretty chillaxed and informal until the 17th-18th century, when Irish dance masters started to define and refine Irish folk steps and dances. Conventions arose regarding posture (upper body, arm and foot placement) and steps for specific dances, e.g. The Blackbird. This body of pre-arranged routines, and particular style of dancing, is now called ‘old-style step dancing’. These dances can be solo or group; they are usually low to the ground, danced in street clothes, and with normal shoes; the dance is percussive, and in a small space. Old-style step dancing is usually done in a social context, for fun, rather than in competition. Here’s an example of the legend Michael Tubridy.

3. Set dancing

In the 19th century, the Irish saw some French quadrilles, put them to Irish tunes, inserted Irish folk steps, and voila! A new Irish dance genre was born! Set dancing is social dancing; hundreds of people gather in halls, get into groups of 8 people, and dance to live bands (somewhat confusingly called ‘céilí bands’). You’ll recognise set dancing from the position of the dancers: the format is always four couples facing each other to make a square. Each dance has three to six sections (called figures), with little breaks between each section. A ‘set’ takes between 10 and 30 minutes. Set dances from county Clare are percussive; the dancers improvise steps to sound good with the live band. People go out for the night to dance sets for fun (although a small percentage of people dance sets competitively). Set dancing is really vibrant in Ireland and globally … you can find thousands of events here:

4. Céilí dancing

At the beginning of the 1900s, the Gaelic revivalists collected, formalised and promoted 30 group dances, and called them ‘céilí dances’. ‘Céilí dances’ have only two to three simple steps, and are not percussive. The essential goal of céilí dancing is participation … ideally without injuring a fellow dancer! 🙂 In their basic form, these are the easiest of all Irish dances; sometimes with cues called out by a live ‘caller’. They are frequently ‘progressive’, e.g. at the end of one cycle of the dance, the couple / group proceeds to dance the same steps with a new couple / group. Examples include the Walls of Limerick, the Siege of Ennis, and the Haymaker’s Jig. Céilí dancing happens in both social and competitive contexts: Irish kids learn céilí dancing at school, teenagers attend céilí dances every night at Irish-language immersion courses, and there’s usually one céilí dance at an Irish wedding … while on the competitive step-dancing circuit, there’s usually a céilí dance competition.

Just to clarify: ‘céilí dancing’ is the specific genre of Irish dance, detailed above. BUUUT a ‘céilí’ is a social gathering with Irish music and dance. A céilí might have céilí dancing only; a céilí might have set dancing only; a céilí could have a mixture of céilí dancing, set dancing, instrumentals and a few songs.

5. Competitive step dancing

In 1927, the Gaelic League founded An Coimisiún Le Rincí Gaelacha (‘The Irish Dancing Commission’), dedicated to the organisation and standardisation of Irish dance. CLRG created certifications for dance teachers, began to hold competitions (‘feiseanna’), and examinations for adjudicators of competitions. A number of conventions evolved … for example, dancers holding arms firmly down by their sides, with hands in fists, which supposedly calls more attention to the intricacy of the steps. From the 1940s onward, a style with balletic influence and high elevation on the toes became popular. Costumes became more and more elaborate, with brightly coloured dresses featuring Celtic imagery, tightly-curled hair (now mostly replaced by wigs), and thick ribbed white socks (… which are commonly stuck to the leg with glue. !) Take a deep breath: these dresses can cost between €500 and €4,000. Feiseanna are held all over the world – at local, provincial and international levels; from 400 to over 1000 competitors; with solo and group dance competitions, male and female categories (although the vast majority of contestants are female). Competitions include hard shoe (percussive) and soft shoe (silent) categories. Dances include the double jig, hornpipe, slip jig, reel, and ‘set dance’. Each school or teacher creates their own choreography for the the double jig, hornpipe, slip jig, and reel. However, a ‘set dance’ is one of 30 dances, approved by the CLRG, which have their own pre-arranged choreography common to all schools and dancers … examples are ‘The Blackbird’, ‘St. Patrick’s Day’, and ‘The Job of Journey Work’. In this context, ‘a set dance’ is one single, specific, choreographed dance, not the social dance genre called ‘set dance’ / ‘set dancing’.

6. Riverdance

On the 30th April 1994, Irish dance was changed, changed utterly 🙂 Ireland was hosting the Eurovision, and during the interval premiered a 7-minute commission featuring Irish dancers, vocal ensemble Anúna, and newly-composed music on Irish traditional instruments by composer Bill Whelan. With varying time signatures, unconventional form, whole-body movements, groundbreaking group choreography, minimalist costumes and full theatrical lighting, ‘Riverdance’ broke every single convention in the Irish dancing world, – and was a massive success. The ‘Riverdance’ score instantly became a No. 1 hit, and the dancers were invited to perform at the Royal Variety Performance. Producers John McColgan and Moya Doherty expanded ‘Riverdance’ into a stage show, which has since been seen by 25 million people, making it one of the most successful dance productions in the world1. ‘Riverdance’ has had a massive influence on the choreography and presentation of Irish step dance in both competition and and public performances. Since 1994, there’s been a tendency towards more daring innovations in Irish step dance, such as dancing with hard shoes to music traditionally associated with soft-shoe dances, as well as a trend toward simpler costumes and natural hairstyles.

… In case you’re ever at a surprise ethnochoreology quiz, below are the features of each type of Irish dance listed in a table. 🙂 (If you have a different opinion on any of the characteristics listed here, you’re welcome to share them with me on ) Aren’t we lucky to have this wealth of dance tradition to choose from? Pick one of the 6 dance genres, put on those dancing shoes, go forth and boogie!

Types of Irish Dance

Irish dance genreGroup / soloPostureHeight of leg movementsFloor area requiredPercussiveShoesChoreographed / improvisedPerformance contextPresentation
Sean-nós dancingSoloRelaxedBelow shinApprox. 1m squaredPercussiveShoes with nails in heel / toe, or tap shoesImprovisedCollaborative community performanceStreet clothes
Old style step dancingMostly soloRelaxedBelow shinApprox. 1m squaredPercussiveNormal shoesChoreographies common to all, up to centuries oldCommunity performanceStreet clothes
Set dancingGroups of 8RelaxedMostly below kneeApprox. 2m squaredBattering in Co. Clare is percussiveNormal shoesThe figures of a set are choreographed. In the Clare style, percussive battering is improvised by each individual dancerMostly socialStreet clothes
Céilí dancingGroups of 2-4RelaxedKnee-high kicksA hallNon-percussiveNormal shoesChoreographies common to all, up to centuries oldMostly socialStreet clothes
Competitive step dancingSolo and groupRigidAs high as you can go!A stageHard shoe dances are percussive, soft shoe dances are silentHard shoe, ghilliesChoreographed by dance teacher, except for 30 set dances common to all dancersCompetitiveElaborate stage costume and wigs
RiverdanceSolo and groupRigid / choreographedAs high as you can go!A stageHard shoe dances are percussive, soft shoe dances are silentHard shoe, ghilliesChoreographed by a professional on a show-by-show basisStage performanceModern stage costumes


Further reading:


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