Learn to play Irish Trad Fiddle with Tom Morley
Lesson #4 – Irish Polkas – We Won’t Go Home Till Morning
Welcome to the fourth installment of my beginning Irish traditional fiddle lessons here at iFiddle magazine. Over the past several issues we discovered several classic tunes from the Irish traditional repertoire, and I’ve concentrated on the two styles of tunes that are certainly the most popular—jigs and reels. In this video lesson we’re going to learn about Irish polkas. At a traditional Irish session, jigs and reels will be played most often, but I’ve found that a set of polkas will really get the crowd going. I think that’s because Irish polkas usually feature fairly simple yet infectious melodies that are as fun to play as they are to listen to.
It might seem a little odd to think of an Irish polka. The polka dance form originated in eastern Europe in the early 1800s and became very popular throughout the century. So even to this day most people think of Germany or Eastern Europe when they think of polka tunes. But by the late 1800s the popularity of the dance (and these melodies) had reached even Ireland and fiddlers there started to compose their own polkas for dancing. So the Bohemian polka became the Irish polka as well. Today there are hundreds of polka tunes with a distinctly Irish sound, and they are especially popular in the west central part of Ireland, an area known as Sliabh Luachra (pronounced Shleeve LOO-krah, and translated as ‘Rushy Mountains’).
The polka we’re going to learn today, We Won’t Go Home Till Morning, is especially suited to you beginning fiddlers out there although I would like to point out that even the finest Irish trad fiddlers enjoy playing these great little melodies.
As always with my iFiddle lessons, I’ve provided the printed music for the tune exactly as I play it. You also can learn this tune by ear by watching my accompanying video lesson—or even better, you can use a combination of both, which is what I encourage my students to do. Listen to the tune and watch my fingers in both slow- and medium-speed renditions. With my “fiddle cam” shots, you can watch my fingers on the fingerboard from the same vantage point as I have, which should be a big help. Some key points for the beginning Irish trad fiddler, most of which I bring up in the video, include:
- This tune has a melody that works perfectly within the notes of a D major scale, which is very convenient, especially for the beginning fiddler. That doesn’t happen all that often, as most tunes use more than the eight notes of a scale. But if you do a quick warmup exercise and play the D scale, with HIGH 2nd fingers on both the D string and A string, you’ll be totally prepared this time around.
- Look at the printed music and watch the way the tune goes as I play it in the video. Check out the A and B sections, and notice the similarities in a number of measure in each. So many fiddle tunes in most every genre have repetitive melody bits. For example, once you’ve learned the ending to the A section of this polka, guess what–that’s also the ending to the B section. So you are well on your way to learning the entire tune quickly, from music or by ear.
- You music readers will notice that I’ve included two versions of the sheet music. That’s because Irish polkas are traditionally written in 2/4 time, using quarter, eighth and sixteenth note rhythm patterns. If you download some polkas from the internet or find them in tune book collections, that’s how they will be written. But I’ve found that for the beginning fiddler in particular, these rhythm patterns can seem pretty advanced and intimidating! So I developed a technique where I musically “doubled” The time signature changes from 2/4 to 4/4, and the notes become half, quarter and eighth notes instead. The melody is exactly the same but looks so much easier on the page.
Over the last several issues of iFiddle magazine, you’ve learned a two reels, a jig, a barn dance, and now a polka. My goal in this column is to introduce the beginning fiddler to representative tunes in all the Irish trad styles, so watch for more great Irish tunes from me in upcoming issues of iFiddle.
About Tom Morley:
Classically trained with a degree in music education, Tom Morley has performed professionally in almost every musical genre over several decades, with a focus on Irish Traditional Music for the past 15 years, as a soloist and with two groups: the four-piece band, Mithril, (www.Mithril.us) and the duo, Banna de dhá (www.facebook.com/Bannadedha). He teaches privately and at fiddle workshops and has taught regularly at the O’Connor String Camp in Charleston, SCOR Adult String Camps in Atlanta, and the Fiddle Hell Gathering (in the Boston area). He was featured on the cover of iFiddle in July 2014 and is the author of two well-received fiddle instructional books, Learn to Play Irish Trad Fiddle and Fiddle Club Favorites. Visit him at www.IrishTradFiddle.com