The Charming Instruments in Celtic Music: An Overview

Posted by: headm on: November 2, 2012

If you think of Celtic music, the first image that comes to mind for most people is of a band of bagpipe players. The first bagpipes are traced back to Scotland about seven centuries ago, and the earliest references are usually in a military context.

The Great Highland Bagpipe or the Scottish Highland Bagpipe became established in the British military, and thanks to that, achieved the widespread recognition that it enjoys today. In fact, it is even today a prominent part of both military and civil bands around the world. Unfortunately, several other bagpipe traditions of Europe, from Portugal to Russia, went into decline in the last two centuries.

The fiddle is an important part of Celtic music, especially those of Ireland and Scotland. Technically, it is exactly the same as the violin used in classical music. It is just that “fiddle” seems to be the preferred word in the context of traditional and folk music. Beyond music, we come across several other popular sayings associated with the “fiddle” for example, “playing second fiddle”, or “When Rome was burning, Nero was fiddling”.

Flutes have been played in Celtic countries for thousands of years, and are perhaps even older than the bagpipe. The common flutes used in Celtic Music are the wooden flutes with six holes, rather than the Boehm-system flutes popular in classical music. The wooden construction and the cylindrical bore of the flutes commonly used today in Celtic music seems to give them a softer tone than their metallic counterparts.

The tin whistle is perhaps the simplest and the cheapest of the instruments popularly used in Celtic music. This has a simple metal tube with a recorder-like mouthpiece, and with six holes, and usually has a range of two octaves. While tin whistles of superior craftsmanship could cost hundreds of dollars, it is interesting that the best players of this instrument make great music using the cheap ones.

The accordion is a relative newcomer, having come into being in the early nineteenth century. This family of instruments works on the principle of air being blown across paired metal reeds, causing them to vibrate and produce a sustained note. Because of the bellows of the accordion being pulled in and out by the arms, this instrument has the nickname “squeeze box”. Most of these instruments have keys to produce the notes either button keys, or even piano-like keys in some models.

The harmonica is similar to the accordion family in its working principle of reeds. However, it is much smaller it easily fits into the palm. Also, it does not have bellows, but works when the player blows air through it as it is moved across the lips. Who wouldnt have heard the haunting melody that comes from this small instrument?

Celtic music is now in decline all over the world, and the only time the average person might hear such music in the form of royalty-free music played in restaurants or in jingles on the radio. This is a shame, as Celtic music and Celtic culture in general is a huge part of the history of human spirit and how it has developed over thousands of years.

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