Great music is the lifeblood of dancing and fortunately, Ireland has it in abundance. One of Ireland’s most beloved musicians and singers, Séamus Begley (RIP 2023) reveals more (hear audio link below) about the unbreakable bond between Irish music & dance when being interviewed by Joan Armatrading for the BBC.
As he says, his experience of playing music on his accordion was only for dancing and when there was no dancing, he was told to “put it away”.
So, how do you tell a jig from a reel? Or a polka from a slide?
As with most things Irish, it’s complicated. The intricacies of music mathematics can be a difficult thing to get your head around: even the best musicians seem to struggle to explain how it works mostly because there are style differences in the playing, in some cases. In addition, some of the names sound like musical timings – eg, “treble jig” and “light jig”, but are actually names of a dance rather than a specific musical timing. So, thinking about all this too much will not help your understanding.
Happily, one of the best ways of learning this difference is by moving or by singing/ humming to each different signature timing, and this also goes for musicians who are learning to play Irish music. And why not try to remember each different type – hornpipes, reels, jigs, waltzes, polkas, slides– by what we did when we were kids?
By having fun – playing, clapping and singing to nursery rhymes, and using pictures and word games to remember the basics.