The sounds of Celtic music are both entrancing and enlivening. Celtic music can be a haunting melody, a storytelling accompaniment, or a lively dance tune. Songs may be sung in English, Irish, or Gaelic. And whether it’s for a party, called a Ceilidh, or at a pub, the music will definitely be danceable! Celtic musical instruments tend to be simple and portable, so that the party can go anywhere, at any time. The Celtic music diaspora has spread from Scotland and Ireland across the world. There are hundreds of well-known musicians in the Celtic tradition, including Julie Fowlis (who was just featured in the Disney movie, Brave), Cherish the Ladies, the Chieftans, the Clancy Brothers, Le Vent du Nord, Capercaillie, the Box Club, Calum Alex MacMillan, Sharon Shannon, Cantrip, Aine Minogue, Eileen Ivers, Matt and Shannon Heaton, Eddi Reader, the Ocean Orchestra, Altan, Long Time Courting, and Cathie Ryan.
But how to get these enchanting sounds? Here are the top ten Celtic instruments:
1. Celtic Harp
Probably most well-known, globally, because of its placement in the logo of the Irish Guinness Stout! The Celtic Harp is also the symbol of Ireland. It’s an ancient musical instrument, used by musicians for thousands of years to entertain, enhance their stories, and enliven gatherings. The stringing used to be gut-strung, but is now wire strung (bell-like tones) or nylon strung (soft tones). Modern Celtic Harps stand 4 feet high and boast 34 strings.
Whether traditional Scottish Highland bagpipes or Uillean pipes, these instruments are made from a leather bladder, inflated through a pipe by the musician. Yes, work on your lung capacity! The musician presses the bag underneath his/her arm and plays the tune by deft fingerwork on the chanter (which looks like a recorder).
Probably the most well-known of Celtic instruments, the fiddle provides haunting, soulful sounds, or rollicking, danceable tunes. It’s a very familiar sound. A fiddle is strung with steel, while a violin is usually strung with gut or nylon. The musical instrument itself is the same. The techniques involved in fiddling are different from playing the violin – sharper, shorter bursts, and quick fingerwork. There are definitely regional variations in fiddle playing.
4. Tin Whistle
The easiest to carry, the tin whistle has been a mainstay in Celtic music for ages. It is closely related to the flute. The tin whistle is a metal cylinder, like a recorder, with 6 stops on which the musician can finger the different notes. The instrument is held vertically. The tin whistle is mostly used for accent notes, as well as the main melody in a song.
Celtic musicians tend to prefer the old-fashioned wooden flutes to the more modern, metal flute. The instrument is held horizontally. It is a simple system transverse flute. The tone holes are covered with the fingers to produce different notes. It plays in a major scale. There are usually no metal keys. The flute can be used to achieve ethereal accents, or also contribute to the main melody.