The Celtic Chords

Recently I have started getting increasingly fond of Celtic music. As the name suggests, ‘Celtic Music’ emerged out of the  folk musical traditions of the Celts. Associated with this tradition are properties of the music that stands out in themselves. And by that I mean there are certain fairly technical and subtle points that make Celtic Music so unique. For instance, it is common for melodic lines to move up and down the primary chords in many Celtic songs, and melodic variations are introduced using a number of instruments, such as the harp, and vocals.

In Celtic Music: A Complete Guide, June Sawyers acknowledges six Celtic nationalities divided into two groups according to their linguistic heritage. The more conservative peripheral Q-Celtic nationalities are the Irish, Scottish and Manx peoples, whereas the P-Celtic groups, also sometimes referred to as Gallo-Brittonic, are the Cornish, the Bretons and the Welsh peoples. There have been other ways of differentiating the group, the basis for which often arises from the melodies and scales related to each branch of Celtic music. For instance, the primary dichotomy between Gaelic and Brythonic branches is mainly the scale of melodies in each branch: one finds an extended range in Irish and Scottish melodies, while one finds a closed range in Breton and Welsh melodies. Another subtle point is the frequent use of the pure pentatonic scale in Gaelic music.


Celtic music has come a long way from 12th century Welsh festivals to modern Celtic punk and rock music. There are various forms of celtic music and associated styles of production.

Puirt à beul is a traditional form of Celtic song that emphasizes on the idea of an often-cheerful tune from the mouth. Puirt à beul has sometimes been used for dancing when no instruments were available. Usually, the genre involves one performer singing lighthearted lyrics, although at times these are replaced with meaningless vocables. In puirt a beul, the rhythm and sound of the song often have more importance than the depth or even sense of the lyrics.


Kan ha diskan is a fairly common type of traditional music of Brittany. The style is the most commonly used to accompany dances. The lead singer is called the kaner, and the second singer is called the diskaner. The former sings a phrase, and then the diskaner sings the last few lines with the kaner, then repeats it alone until the same last few lines, when the kaner again joins in, much like the bardic traditions of Rajasthan. The phrase’s repetition is changed slightly in each execution.  Vocables, or nonsense syllables (typically tra la la la leh no), are sometimes used to drag out lines


Sean-nós is a highly ornamented style of unaccompanied traditional Irish singing.  Tomas Ó Canainn defined it as

…a rather complex way of singing in Gaelic, confined mainly to some areas in the west and south of the country. It is unaccompanied and has a highly ornamented melodic line….Not all areas have the same type of ornamentation—one finds a very florid line in Connacht, contrasting with a somewhat less decorated one in the south, and, by comparison, a stark simplicity in the northern songs..

Sean-nós songs can be quite simple, though many are fairly stylised and melodically complex. A good performance classically involves substantial ornamentation and rhythmic variations from verse to verse in the song. This ornamentation can comprise of anything from nasalisation to varying the melody in each verse.


Strathspey is a dance tune which is slow and stately,  and is composed of rhythmically tense idiom. One of the characteristics of the Strathspey is the ‘Scotch-Snap’, which is basically a very short accented note before a longer note.


Pibroch is a genre associated mainly with the Scottish Highlands. It is characterised by extended compositions with a melodic theme and elaborate formal variations. The Gaelic word Piobaireachd literally means “piping” or “act of piping.” Pibroch is properly expressed by minute and often subtle variations in note duration and tempo though it does not follow a strict metre even though it has a rhythmic flow or pulse, just as it does not follow a strict beat or tempo although it does have a proper pacing.


One has other forms of music such as dance-tunes like Reel and also Waulking Songs. Recently, the emergence of Celtic fusion is a soothing variation to the traditional forms of Celtic tradition. I, for one, find the ‘epic war’ Scottish and other Celtic music forms to be what people call fairly ‘motivational’ music, while one has the soothing Celtic songs as well that can calm any frayed nerves.

For those of you whose appetite for Celtic Music has not be satiated, well


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