Celtic Music Chords

Copyright 1996 Philippe Varlet
Used with permission of the author.

An e-mail from the Irish Traditional Music Mailing List.

Date: Tue, 11 Jun 1996 09:28:35 -0400
From: Philippe Varlet 
To: Multiple recipients of list
Subject: Re: Mode idiocy - good polkas/Boots for Maggie???

I had to jump in there... The main modes in Irish dance (I don't know as much about vocal) music are:

Mode 1
major, Ionian (your typical diatonic major scale)
Mode 2
Dorian (same but starting on the 2nd note, so it sounds minor)
Mode 5
Mixolydian (starting on 5th note, sounds major with flat 7th)
Mode 6
Aeolian, is actually pretty rare in Irish music. I know at most a handful of tunes which are in mode 6 throughout. Most tunes showing mode 6 only have one part in it, with the rest in major (like the relative major-minor relationship in classical music). An example of that is the reel "Fermoy Lassies."

This little system of classification can be useful for accompanists too because with each mode comes a typical chord progression:

Mode 1
the old I-IV-V
Mode 2
ii-I-ii (ii is the minor chord, I is the major chord a step below). For instance, in the reel "Pigeon on the Gate" which is most often played in E mode 2 (scale of D major starting on E), one can very well accompany the tune with just two chords, Em and D. The rest is gravy (the technical term is substitutions).
Mode 5
V-IV-V, same as before except that the two chords a step apart are both major. For example, the reel "Rakish Paddy" is in D mode 5 (scale of G major starting on the 5th note D) and is built around the two chords of C and D major (IV and V in G major).

Hope this helps.

Philippe Varlet

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