Online Group-Tuition Programmes

Academy Programmes

Beginning - 07 May 2022

Developing your hands-on skills: post-beginners’ course


The aim of this course is to develop your playing techniques and expand your repertory. We will work through four pieces from the Bunting manuscripts; you may be familiar with some of these, but you will be learning to play them in a new way. My arrangements are based on my interpretations of the fingering techniques published by Bunting in 1840, along with my knowledge of Irish traditional music. I have been using these techniques to develop a new approach to playing, which I have been teaching at Scoil na gCláirseach in recent years. In this course, you will be consolidating your playing of bualadh suas, briseadh, leagadh anuas, leath leagadh, taobhchrobh and glas, and learning additional techniques as required. You will also learn tips for playing by touch, without looking at your strings. If you would like advance private tuition to work on these techniques, please contact me:

Note: the final session will be an illustrated presentation on the instrument and its repertory, with guest speaker, Simon Chadwick.

In this course students will:

  • expand their repertory, learning four old Irish harp pieces from the manuscripts of Edward Bunting
  • develop and consolidate their use of the fingering techniques, published by Edward Bunting in 1840, as a basis for playing
  • learn new strategies for playing without looking at the strings
  • explore aspects of Irish traditional music style, as an integral part of playing old Irish harp music

Course Duration

6 Sessions



Class Time

2.00–3.15 pm Ireland time




Saturday | 2.00–3.15 pm Ireland time

07 May

Session 1

'Nurse Putting the Child to Sleep'

'Nurse Putting the Child to Sleep'

In this first class we will be looking at how we can apply fingering techniques such as leagadh anuas, bualadh suas, briseadh etc. to a tune. We will learn 'Nurse Putting the Child to Sleep' which was collected by Edward Bunting from the harper Patrick Byrne, on 10th May 1841. We do not have Bunting's original field transcription; all we have are later hand-written piano arrangements. In order to play this tune on an old Irish harp, with appropriate style and technique, we have to look beyond Bunting's piano arrangement. 'Nurse Putting the Child to Sleep' has similarities to the song air 'Casadh an tSúgáin', which we can listen to being sung in the living tradition to get a sense of traditional style and rhythm. 'Nurse Putting the Child to Sleep' also has some parallels to passages in 'Burns's March', one of the First Tunes, so we can apply some of the same fingering techniques that have already been learned.

14 May

Session 2

'Bacach Buí na Leimne' [The Beggar]

'Bacach Buí na Leimne' [The Beggar]

My source for 'The Beggar' and 'Planxty Irwin' is from a single page in Bunting's manuscripts (Queen's University Belfast Special Collections MS4.29.016). We can understand 'The Beggar' as being in G major pentatonic, but 'Planxty Irwin' which directly follows it is in C major and is not pentatonic. We will be discussing this difference and how they can work in the same tuning. At the end of 'The Beggar', there is what looks like a curious ornament, not specifically included in Bunting's table of fingerings, but which effectively transitions the hand into a new position in preparation for the following tune, in a new key. In my setting of 'The Beggar', most of the fingering techniques are those that you will have already learned, but in this class we will be discussing two new fingering techniques, cúlaithris and barrlúth foscailte.

21 May

Session 3

'Planxty Irwin'

'Planxty Irwin'

'Planxty Irwin', like some other of Carolan's compositions, appears to conform to a seven-note major scale structure, and does not have the underlying pentatonic structure found in many of the old harp airs. Carolan was undoubtedly influenced and attracted by the sound of continental baroque style, but he had learned to play in the Gaelic harp tradition. My setting of 'Planxty Irwin', which we will be learning in this class, aims to demonstrate how I understand this; the structure of this well-known tune is very influenced by continental style, but the method of playing that we will use is based on the fingering techniques, for example, taobhchrobh, glas, leath leagadh etc. You will also learn another new fingering technique, boilsceann, which is clearly shown on our manuscript source.


04 Jun

Session 4

'Thugamar Féin an Samhradh Linn' [We Brought the Summer With Us]

'Thugamar Féin an Samhradh Linn' [We Brought the Summer With Us]

In contrast to 'Planxty Irwin', (the previous class), 'Thugamar Féin' has a very different sound, and is based on a scale of six notes. I understand this as pentatonic, but with an extra out-of-mode note, but we will discuss all of this in the class. In this session we will be primarily focusing on learning the tune of 'Thugamar Féin', and if we have time we will look at the variation which follows. Bunting collected two versions of this tune, from different informants; the one we will be learning is from Queen's University Belfast Special Collections MS4.29.091. Apart from being a wonderful tune, for me one of the most interesting things about this tune and the variation, is that the variation appears to be in a different pentatonic mode than the tune. It is not uncommon to also find different versions of the same tune in different modes. We will discuss why this may have been the case, and also how fingering, accent and implied harmony may be different, depending on how we understand the mode of the tune.

11 Jun

Session 5



In this final hands-on class we will be looking back at what we have learned in the previous sessions. We will be drawing together some of the main points that have been touched upon in all the classes, making observations and perhaps drawing some conclusions. We will also revise fingering techniques using examples from the four tunes you have learned in this course. We will discuss the effect of using these fingering techniques, and how they serve to articulate the tune and simultaneously create a background of resonance and harmony, and allow you to play in a non-visual way. I may also give you some insights into my process of reconstructing the tunes using this new approach, and how it has changed how I work and how I now interpret Bunting's manuscripts. This session will also give you an opportunity to ask questions, but there is still so much that we do not know!

18 Jun

Session 6

The instrument and The Repertory Sources – An illustrated talk [Guest speaker: Simon Chadwick]

The instrument and The Repertory Sources – An illustrated talk [Guest speaker: Simon Chadwick]

This final session of the course will be a talk by Simon Chadwick. He will give more information about the sources of each of the four tunes taught in this course, and will give some contextual information, including background to the tunes and the harpers who Bunting collected them from. He will also be discussing the kind of harps that were played by the harpers that Bunting met, and what kind of harp is most appropriate and best set up for playing this repertory.

What to Expect

  • Six live classes, each lasting 1.25 hours, in an online Zoom room, shared with other participants
  • Each session is video-recorded and available to you, 48 hours after the live event, until your course-access period ends
  • You will have access to downloadable PDF and / or audiofile class materials

Technical Requirements

  • A laptop, desktop or tablet computer; we do not recommend using a phone to participate
  • Speakers or headphones
  • Access to a printer for downloadable course materials
  • Access to the Zoom platform; further information to help you get set up for participating over Zoom will be sent after you have registered

Enrollment is now closed

You can no longer join this course