Celtic Guitar with Tony McManus

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About This Course

Learn to play reels, jigs, airs, and other traditional forms, both fingerstyle and with a flatpick. Celtic guitar master Tony McManus walks you through melodies and shows you how to bring tunes to life with the ornamentation that defines Irish and Scottish traditional music.

TONY McMANUS

Tony McManus is recognized throughout the world as one of the leading guitarists in Celtic music. From early childhood, his twin obsessions of traditional music and acoustic guitar have combined to produce a startlingly original approach to this ancient art. In Tony’s hands the complex ornamentation normally associated with fiddles and pipes is accurately transferred to guitar in a way that preserves the integrity and emotional impact of the music while sounding completely suited to the guitar.

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Self-taught from childhood,  with the help of his family’s record collection, McManus abandoned academia in his twenties to pursue music full-time. The session scene in Glasgow and Edinburgh provided the springboard for gigs around Scotland and a studio performance for BBC Radio began to spread the word.

Tony’s first, self-titled, recording in 1996, followed by Pourquoi Quebec in 1999, led to worldwide recognition. However, it was with the release of Ceol More in 2002 that Tony’s stature as a first-class musician reached a new level. Critics hailed the focussed, spell-binding nature of the music, from the plaintive Jewish hymn “Shalom Aleichem” to the ingenious arrangement of the Charles Mingus classic “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat.” Along with nominations for Tony as Musician of the Year by both the BBC Folk Awards and the Scottish Traditional Music awards, Ceol More made the Album of the Year list in Acoustic Guitar magazine and was named the “Live Ireland Awards” Album of the Year.

Tony’s work has come to represent Celtic music in the guitar world, making regular appearances at guitar-specific events where the sound of jigs and reels played on the acoustic guitar is rarely heard. He is annually invited to the Chet Atkins Festival in Nashville and has appeared at guitar festivals in Soave, Pescantina, Sarzana, and Francacorta, Italy; Frankston, Australia; Issoudun and Bordeaux, France; Kirkmichael, Scotland; Bath and Kent, England; and Bochum and Osnabruck, Germany. In 2004 he appeared at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville in the “All Star Guitar Night” featuring Steve Morse, Bryan Sutton, Muriel Anderson, Béla Fleck, Victor Wooten, and headlined by the legendary Les Paul. His ability to reach audiences unfamiliar with traditional music is remarkable: he is comfortable at predominantly classical events such as the Dundee and Derry Guitar Festivals, the Uppsala Guitar Festival, and even the Bogotá International Guitar Festival where he followed virtuoso Eduardo Fernandez.

Tony’s live work ranges from intimate solo performances to a duet with Italian flatpicker Beppe Gambetta to a trio with brothers Gary and Greg Grainger to the quartet Men of Steel (with fellow guitarists Dan Crary, Gambetta, and Don Ross). He is an enthusiastic collaborator as leader and sideman, and has worked with Dougie MacLean, Phil Cunningham, Mairi MacInnes, Liam O’Flynn, Martin Simpson, Kevin Burke, Alison Brown, Martyn Bennett, Natalie MacMaster, Patrick and Jacky Molard, Mairead ní Mhoanaigh and Dermot Byrne, the Nashville Chamber Orchestra, John Jorgenson, Jean Michel Veillon, Catriona Macdonald, Seikou Keita, Xosé Manuel Budiño, Ewen Vernal, and Andy Irvine. He is also in great demand as a studio musician and has contributed to more than 60 recordings.

His 2009 release The Maker’s Mark showcased 15 of the finest luthier-built guitars in the world. Recording a solo piece on each instrument, the project caught the attention of the mainstream rock guitar press in a way that acoustic work rarely does.

Never one to be typecast, Tony’s 2013 album Mysterious Boundaries stemmed from a challenge from mandolin virtuoso Mike Marshall to learn the Bach E Major Prelude for Violin on guitar. This led to an exploration of classical and baroque music, seemingly very different from the jigs and reels that he grew up with. By examining the boundaries between genres and sticking to his steel-string guitar (rather than the conventional nylon-strung classical guitar) McManus produced a work of great originality and beauty, hailed by his peers as “a masterpiece” (John Renbourn) and “beyond beautiful… it’s perfect!” (Tommy Emmanuel).

His 2015 duet album with Beppe Gambetta, Round Trip, features virtuoso fingerstyle playing, flatpicking, and beautiful songs, recorded on a selection of great instruments.

Whatever McManus plays, the listener is assured a journey into the depths of the music with one of the acoustic guitar world’s greatest talents.

 
 
Celtic Guitar Overview

Latest Celtic Guitar Lesson

Fingerstyle: “The Humours of Tulla” 

Tony’s arrangement of the Irish reel “The Humours of Tulla” was inspired by hearing the great Scottish guitarist Tony Cuffe play the tune fingerstyle on the guitar. His arrangement is in DADGAD and includes lots of triplets on the first string. With Notation/Tab 

Celtic Guitar Lessons

Subscribe to Celtic Guitar for access to all these guitar lessons and new material every month! All Celtic Guitar lessons include transcriptions in notation and tablature.

CELTIC GUITAR BASICS 

  • D A D G A D Tuning SAMPLE LESSON D A D G A D tuning is associated with Celtic guitar more than any other tuning. In this lesson, Tony talks about how the tuning originated, how to get into D A D G A D, and what you can do with it. Tony uses D A D G A D to play jigs, reels, airs, etc., and he demonstrates how the whole step between the second string A and third string G makes it easy to play melodies across the strings, for a harp-like sound. He shows you a D major scale played in such a way that no string is played twice in a row: every note of the scale rings into the next note. He even shows you how you can play a Bb major scale in the same way.
  • Ornamentation in Celtic Music In many ways, the styles of ornamentation used in Celtic music is what distinguishes it from other kinds of folk and roots music. In this video, Tony talks about the use of ornamentation in general and how, in traditional circles, it’s not formally learned but picked up instinctively by listening to the music. Tony talks about learning ornamentation by listening to other instruments, such as fiddles, flutes, bagpipes, etc. Tony demonstrates some of his ornamentation techniques on “Muireann’s Jig,” including some quick hammer-on/pull-off ornaments that he refers to as “tickling the string” and some percussive “frails.” He also shows you how he uses his thumb to play triplets with a down-up-down motion, like a flatpick, and gives you an exercise to practice playing triplets with your fingers on the top strings.
  • Celtic Flatpicking and Rhythm Guitar In Celtic music, there’s not as much a distinction between fingerpickers and flatpickers as there is in American music. Most guitarists play some of both. In this video, Tony talks about playing melodies with a pick, as well as how he accompanies jigs, reels, etc., and the distinction between those rhythms. When he plays with a pick, Tony mostly plays in dropped-D tuning, in part because Irish music is centered around the key of D, which are the drones of the pipe. Tony shows you his pick and how he uses it, and then talks about some of his basic accompaniment patterns, including a jig rhythm that emphasizes the first and third beats of 6/8. He also talks about playing slip jigs, which are in 9/8. (To match Tony’s pitch on this video, tune your guitar a quarter tone flat.)

 CELTIC FINGERSTYLE

    Donal Og

  • Fingerstyle Airs: “Donal Og,” Part 1 This fingerstyle version of the beautiful air “Donal Og” comes from Donegal, in the north of Ireland, from the singing of Mairead Ni Dhomhnaill, sister of Triona Ni Dhomhnaill of the Bothy Band. Tony starts by breaking down the melody, line by line, without any accompaniment, but with ornamentation, including, grace notes, trills, hammer-ons, and vibrato.
  • Fingerstyle Airs: “Donal Og,” Part 2 Once you’ve learned the melody of “Donal Og,” Tony shows you how to turn it into a fingerstyle arrangement, adding bass notes, harmony lines, arpeggios, and harmonics. He also talks about how to make the melody come out above the rest of the arrangement.

    Will You Come Home with Me

  • Fingerstyle Jigs: “Will You Come Home With Me,” Part 1: Melody “Will You Come Home to Me” is an Irish jig that you’ll learn to play in DADGAD tuning. Tony reminds you how to get into DADGAD and then plays the tune through, first just the melody and then with bass notes and chords. Then he starts taking the melody apart, slowly, showing you how the melody works played across the strings, as well as the ornaments he adds. You’ll learn the melody to both parts of “Will You Come Home to Me” in this video.
  • Fingerstyle Jigs: “Will You Come Home With Me,” Part 2: Arrangement Once you’ve got the melody “Will You Come Home to Me” under your fingers, Tony shows you how to add bass notes to the melody for a fleshed-out arrangement. He also talks about how, by letting the melody notes ring as long as possible, along with the bass notes, you get a full-sounding guitar arrangement of this simple tune.

    The Lea Rig

  • Fingerstyle Airs: “The Lea Rig” The Robert Burns song “The Lea Rig” is another of Tony’s great fingerstyle ballad arrangements in dropped D. He plays the tune through and then breaks it down, showing you the melody of each line by itself, and then adding bass notes and fill-in notes. The second time he plays the melody he adds some cool harmonics to the third line that, by sustaining, create a harmony to the melody line.

    Hecla

  • Fingerstyle Strathspey: “Hecla,” Part 1 The Scottish strathspey is a dance form that comes from the Spey River valley. In this lesson you’ll learn “Hecla,” a four-part strathspey in E minor written for the Highland pipes by Fred Morrison. Tony plays it in Csus2 tuning (CGCGCD) capoed at the second fret. Tony plays it through and then explains the tuning as well as the rhythm of the strathspey, which is in 4/4 but has a heavily accented feel with dotted quarters and 16th notes. before taking apart “Hecla” phrase by phrase. You’ll learn the first part of “Hecla” in this video.
  • Fingerstyle Strathspey: “Hecla,” Part 2 The chordal structure of “Hecla” is fairly straightforward. The first part is just Em and D, but Tony changes up the chords for the second, third, and fourth parts, starting the second part with an A minor, the third part with A major, and the fourth part with B minor. Tony walks you through all three final parts in this video, and then plays the whole thing through slowly.

    The Devil in the Kitchen

  • Fingerstyle Strathspey: “The Devil in the Kitchen” “The Devil in the Kitchen” is a Highland bagpipe tune that Tony plays in a very unusual tuning that he learned from Scottish guitarist Dick Gaughan: DAAEAE. This tuning was derived from a tuning that Martin Carthy used for many years: DADEAE. DAAEAE is great for playing bagpipe tunes, because at least one of the A bass notes will always be ringing. Tony explains how the tuning relates to the bagpipes, both with the drones and the bagpipe’s scale, and shows you the I, IV, and V chords in the tuning. Then he walks you through both parts of “The Devil in the Kitchen,” which includes a lot of triplets on the second string and grace notes on melody notes on the first string.

    Major Harrison’s Fedora

  • Fingerstyle Reels: “Major Harrison’s Fedora” The three-part Irish reel “Major Harrison’s Fedora” is normally played in E minor, but Tony plays it in DADGAD, capoed at the second fret, so it sounds in F# minor. Tony teaches you each part, first just the melody and then adding the bass notes and chord progression. 

    Breton Wedding Gavotte 

  • Breton Wedding Gavotte, Part 1 In this lesson, you’ll learn a tune from Brittany, the Celtic region of France. It’s a wedding gavotte that Tony plays fingerstyle in DADGAD tuning, capoed at the fifth fret. Tony plays it through and then breaks down the structure and basic melody of each part phrase by phrase. Then he shows you how to add open-string bass notes and ornaments to the basic melody. 
  • Breton Wedding Gavotte, Part 2 In this video, Tony shows you how to play the “Breton Wedding Gavotte” in a lower octave. His arrangement includes some different bass notes as well as some of his characteristic ornaments, like a frail with the middle finger and a thumb slap.  

The Humours of Tulla 

  • The Humours of Tulla Tony’s arrangement of the Irish reel “The Humours of Tulla” was inspired by hearing the great Scottish guitarist Tony Cuffe play the tune fingerstyle on the guitar. The arrangement is in DADGAD, capoed at the third fret. Tony plays it through and then takes it apart, phrase by phrase, showing you all the ornaments he plays, including lots of triplets on the first string in the second part. 

 CELTIC FLATPICKING

    Rakish Paddy

  • Flatpicking Reels: “Rakish Paddy,” Part 1 The popular Irish reel “Rakish Paddy” was originally a Scottish strathspey. Tony talks a bit about the original tune and how it might have emigrated to Ireland and then plays through “Rakish Paddy” at a normal tempo. “Rakish Paddy” is a two-part tune, with each part played twice. Tony starts by playing the first part through slowly, showing you some of the ornamentation he uses, in both the right and left hand. He also talks about playing picking-hand triplets, how he approaches the string with the pick, and how triplets are easier to play if you slacken your grip on the pick rather than tighten it. (To match Tony’s pitch on this video, tune your guitar a quarter tone flat.)
  • Flatpicking Reels: “Rakish Paddy,” Part 2 You’ll learn the second part of “Rakish Paddy” as well as its accompaniment in this video. Tony plays it through slowly, showing you the triplets, how he moves up the neck for one phrase, and how the B part ends with a line that moves back to the A part. Then he shows you how he accompanies “Rakish Paddy” with just two chords, D and C/D, and shows you a couple of voicings he uses for those chords. (To match Tony’s pitch on this video, tune your guitar a quarter tone flat.) 

   Patsy Geary’s

  • Flatpicking Jigs: “Patsy Geary’s” The Bothy Band recorded “Patsy Geary’s” jig in the 1970s, but it’s much older than that. You’ll learn to flatpick it in dropped-D tuning in this lesson. (To match Tony’s pitch on this video, tune your guitar a quarter tone flat.) Tony plays the tune through and then takes it apart phrase by phrase. He plays each part slowly, showing you different ornaments and fingering options, as well as some slides and position shifts. Then he shows you how he’d accompany “Patsy Geary’s,” laying out the chord progression and a few different places to play the chords, and finishes with one more pass through the tune.

    Dan Ar Braz’ Gavotte

  • Flatpicking: “Dan Ar Braz’ Gavotte” Dan Ar Braz is a wonderful guitarist from Brittany, the northwest corner of France, which has a Celtic musical culture that is very different from Scottish and Irish music, but is also very different from the rest of France. A lot of the Breton dance music is based on a gavotte, which consists of a two-bar phrase followed by a four-bar phrase, both of which are repeated. Tony plays the first phrase and then talks about alternate picking, and using the steady motion of alternate picking to keep steady time. He walks you through each phrase slowly and talks about how dance tunes are played in Brittany. He also shows you the chords and rhythm you’d use to accompany “Dan Ar Braz’ Gavotte.”

    The Silver Spear

  • Flatpicking Reels: “The Silver Spear” The Irish reel “The Silver Spear” is a two-part tune in the key of D, played by Tony in dropped-D tuning. He plays it through at a normal tempo and then takes it apart slowly phrase by phrase, first without any ornamentation. Then he explains some of the ornamentation he uses, including many picked triplets. The second part of “The Silver Spear” starts up the neck at the fifth through seventh frets, and Tony explains how he fingers it and uses the open E string to get back down to first position. He also explains some different ways he would accompany each part of the “The Silver Spear” and ends by playing it through a few times at a medium tempo so you can play along with him.

    The Fairy Jig

  • Flatpicking Slip Jigs: “The Fairy Jig” Slip jigs are in 9/8, as opposed to the 6/8 time of regular (or double) jigs. “The Fairy Jig” comes from Donegal, but Tony learned it from Dublin fiddler Paddy Glackin. It’s in D major, played in dropped-D tuning. Tony plays it through at a medium tempo and then starts breaking down the basic melody of each part. The second part is played up at the fifth fret and Tony explains the positions he uses to make the fingering easier and smoother. Once you’ve learned the basic tune, Tony shows you some of the ornamentation he uses, including cuts and a picked triplet that crosses strings. He also shows you the chords he uses to backup the tune.

    The Mouth of the Tobique

  • The Mouth of the Tobique: Part 1: Melody Quebecois music is yet another part of the great Celtic diaspora. In this lesson you’ll learn to flatpick a three-part reel, “The Mouth of the Tobique.” Tony plays it through and then breaks it down phrase by phrase, showing you a few simple variations as he goes. The third part has a fun syncopated feel, with the melody played primarily on one string. You’ll learn all three parts of the melody in this video. 
  • The Mouth of the Tobique: Part 2: Accompaniment In this video, Tony talks about how he accompanies “The Mouth of the Tobique,” showing you the basic chords, as well as some variations on the chord voicings. He also shows you how to match the syncopations in the melody of the third part with your rhythm by accenting upstrokes. Tony finishes by playing the melody through a couple times so you can practice playing the chords, and once through the chords so you can practice playing the melody. 


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