I had the honour of spending some time with Irish guitar legend Arty McGlynn on Friday night. He was performing at a festival that I was working on, and also gave a workshop on Saturday morning.

I soaked up every word, note and story, and have condensed them in to ten tips for potential jigs and reelers (i.e. me).

1. Learn about chords – their construction and inter-relationships. This gives you a more colourful palette to work with when accompanying tunes. Arty recommended a book called ‘Micky Baker’s Jazz Guitar’ (which of course I’ve just ordered on Amazon).

2. Your job is to make the melody player sound better. Don’t get in the way, distract the listener from the tune, or show off. If you’re getting noticed, you’re doing something wrong.

3. There are no preset rules. Irish music is wide ranging, (mostly) copyright-free and constantly changing. Be creative. He played some really interesting examples of how his playing with Van the Man fed back in to his trad. accompaniment.

4. Arty uses dropped D tuning as it allows you to a) emulate the low drones of the pipes and b) play nice bass lines on the lower strings. For those of you don’t know (and probably don’t care), this means that the low E string is tuned down to D.

5. Speaking of the pipes, he also models some of his playing on the regulators you find on uilleann pipes, usually through the use of unusual chord positions higher up the neck.

6. Let the melody player establish the tune before you come in on full power. Sneak it with small delicate chords, leaving headroom for the following rounds and tunes, and space to build and peak at the end. Arty quoted Paddy Keenan’s Dad: ‘It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish’.

7. Arty’s own father advised him that he should be able to whistle any tune that he claimed to ‘know’. Can you whistle it?

8. Ideally you should practice until the physical considerations are gone from your playing, until you’re experiencing only the tune, and not thinking about where to put your fingers. He recommended a number of scales and exercises.

9. Arty uses a hand expander to stretch before playing. This avoids muscle damage once the fingers start flying.

10. Finally, aim to learn something, or do something new every time you pick up your guitar. Don’t just noodle or play the same old things. Challenge yourself with new tunes and techniques and your playing will develop.

Quite a niche post, I know…

See the man in action here:

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