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What traditional Irish music instrument should I choose to play? Photo by: WorldIrish

Learn to play Irish music, part one: choosing an instrument

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What traditional Irish music instrument should I choose to play? Photo by: WorldIrish

Image: Timothy Hackwell

Pros: Not as expensive to begin with as some traditional instruments, likely to cost a few hundred for a starter model. It’s a very versatile melodic instrument, and is usually played with single clear notes - rather than the chorus many people think of when they think of the accordion.

Cons: Concertinas are popular all over Europe, so if you’re looking to play Irish music, you’ll probably want to track down an Anglo Concertina in the keys of C/G. For such a small box, it can be quite complicated to buy, so you’ll want to do plenty of reading online at concertina.info’s great FAQ, or ask questions online.

Uileann Pipes

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Pros: A good uileann piper is rare, and is usually a musician to be taken seriously. The instrument has a very distinctive sound, and there’s no chance of going unnoticed. It’s arguably one of the most traditional instruments, if you value heritage highly.

Cons: Prohibitively expensive and difficult to acquire. There are a very limited number of makers, and they’re distinct from the Scottish bagpipes. The beginner’s set - containing just the parts needed to get started playing, and pictured above - will need to be upgraded to a half- or full set at some point. A full set will likely cost several thousand. And, while good pipers make beautiful music, the sound isn’t for everyone.

There are other instruments, notably the harp (or 'clársach', which is played in a different style), the bouzouki (think halfway between a guitar and a mandolin), the trad flute, or that old staple, the spoons. The instruments above, though, are the most common at any session.

In the next article, we'll take a look at the importance and process of finding a teacher for your chosen instrument.

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