with Flynn Cohen

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About This Course

Learn to accompany jigs and reels and other traditional Irish dance tunes in the style pioneered by Irish guitar greats Paul Brady, Mícheál Ó Dhomhnaill, and Dáithí Sproule and used at Irish seisiúns. With chord voicings, rhythm patterns, and practice tracks.



Acoustic guitar and mandolin player Flynn Cohen has performed all over the world with many notable acts in traditional and contemporary acoustic music. He can be seen in concert with the American folk band Low Lily and legendary Irish accordion player John Whelan, as well as in duo shows playing music from his four solo albums. A former guitar student of John Renbourn, Davey Graham, Scott Nygaard, and Paul Binkley, Flynn has degrees in music from Dartington College of Arts in Devon, England, and Mills College in Oakland, California.

Watch the video above to get a taste of what you’ll learn in Flynn Cohen’s Irish Backup Guitar course.

Sample Irish Backup Guitar Lesson

The Jig Rhythm, Part 1

The 6/8 jig rhythm used in Irish traditional music is unique and has a specific strumming pattern and a particular feel. Flynn demonstrates the pattern and gives you a couple of exercises to help you get used to the pattern. With Notation/Tab

Irish Backup Guitar Lessons

 An Irish Backup Guitar subscription includes: 

  • A step-by-step approach to mastering Irish backup guitar technique
  • New lessons and tunes added every month
  • Tab/notation and/or chord charts for all lessons
  • High-quality video with multiple camera angles so you can see closeups of both hands in action
  • Play-Along Tracks so you can practice what you’ve learned

Get started now! Use promo code FlynnLand at checkout and get your first month free or $20 off an annual subscription. Subscribe to the Irish Backup Guitar course today for access to all of these guitar lessons and new material every month!  

THE EVOLUTION OF IRISH BACKUP GUITAR Flynn talks about the evolution of guitar in traditional music and demonstrates the styles of some of its pioneering practitioners, like Paul Brady, Mícheál Ó Dhomhnaill, and Dáithí Sproule.

IRISH BACKUP GUITARS AND GEAR Flynn talks about the guitars, picks, strings, and capos that are commonly used for Irish backup guitar. He shows you what he uses (Elixir medium-gauge strings, .60- or .73-gauge Dunlop picks, Shubb or Kyser capos) and why. He also talks a bit about practice tools he uses, including metronomes and Amazing Slowdowner and Anytune software.

CHORD VOICINGS IN DROPPED D Dropped D is among the most common tunings used in Irish backup guitar. In this lesson, you’ll learn how to get into dropped-D tuning and some basic chords voicings in the key of D. The most common D chord voicing you’ll use is a D5 chord, which doesn’t have a third. Flynn shows you a few voicings of this chord as well as voicings for A and G chords.

BACKING UP REELS In this first lesson on backing up reels, Flynn demonstrates his picking-hand technique, using a basic strumming pattern for reels that comes from Mícheál Ó Dhomhnaill, and gives you advice on accents and which strings to damp. You’ll also learn chord progressions for backing up the popular tunes “The Tulla Reel,” in the key of D, and “The Red-Haired Lass,” in the key of G.

THE JIG RHYTHM Jigs are the other most commonly played dance form in Irish traditional music. The 6/8 jig rhythm is unique and has a specific strumming pattern and a particular feel. Beginning jig players often use an alternating picking pattern, but to get the right feel, it’s usually better to use a down-up-down, down-up-down pattern. Flynn demonstrates the pattern and shows you chord progressions for backing up the popular jigs “The Rambling Pitchfork” and “Out on the Ocean.”

MODAL KEYS Flynn explains the concept of “modal keys” in Irish music and gives you a couple of examples of modal tunes to play in the most common modal keys: D modal and A modal. “Famous Ballymote” is in D modal and uses D, C, and G chords, while “The High Reel” is in A modal and is backed up with A, D, and G chords.

MINOR KEYS AND PASSING CHORDS Some of the most distinctive tunes in Irish music are in minor keys. In this lesson, you’ll learn to play in the two most common minor keys in Irish music are A minor and E minor. Minor tunes in Irish music often use what’s called the Dorian mode in classical music theory. Flynn explains the Dorian mode and how that affects the chords you use to backup minor tunes. You’ll learn the backup to four different tunes in this lesson, as well as a version of the D chord (D/F#) that you can use as a passing chord.

FIFTH-POSITION CHORDS Flynn shows you how to play in fifth position in the keys of A major, A minor, and A modal. Fifth position means that your main root chord will be up the neck with your index finger at the fifth fret. You’ll learn to play fifth-position voicings on “The High Reel,” “Scatter the Mud” and a new jig, “Health to the Ladies.”You’ll also learn a rolling strum that Flynn learned from the playing of Paul Brady.

C MAJOR AND D MINOR TUNES The keys of C major and D minor are less common than other keys in Irish music, but there are some great tunes in those keys, so you need to know how to accompany them. In the key of C, the I, IV, and V chords are C, F, and G. Flynn shows you the F voicing for dropped D, a handy voicing that you can also use for G and A. He also shows you a G/B chord, which you can use in place of a regular G chord. You’ll also learn a crosspicking pattern, a variation of the rolling strum in which you play individual strings instead of full strums, as well as a tune in C, “The Steeplechase,” and one in D minor, “The Broken Pledge.”

EAR TRAINING As a guitarist at seisiúns, you’ll often be required to backup tunes you’ve never heard before, so it’s important to be able to hear the sound of chord changes. You also need to be able to recognize that the sound of a I, IV, V progression in the key of C is the same as in the keys of D, G, A, etc. Flynn starts by taking you through chord progressions in the four most common major keys in Irish music (C, D, G, and A) so you can get used to the sound of moving from I to IV, I to V, etc. Then he shows you the difference between modal tunes and major tunes, so that you can begin to associate the sounds of modal melodies with chord changes.

INTRO TO DADGAD TUNING Although Flynn and many other Irish guitarists primarily use dropped-D tuning to accompany tunes, DADGAD tuning is another favorite of Irish backup guitarists. Flynn starts this lesson by showing how to get into DADGAD tuning from standard tuning and talking about the development of DADGAD and how it made its way into traditional Irish music. Then he shows you fingering for the basic chords you’ll need to play in DADGAD in the keys of D major and D modal and how to use DADGAD to play in minor keys.

BASS LINES Flynn shows you how to play bass lines in both dropped-D tuning and DADGAD. He starts by showing you the D major scale on the lowest strings, and then how to play a chord with each note of the D major scale as a bass note, giving you ascending and descending examples in both tunings.

TUNES THAT USE THE RELATIVE MINOR Most minor-key tunes in Irish music use the Dorian mode, but some Irish tunes move between a major key and its relative minor, G and E minor, for example. When this happens the minor section uses the relative minor scale, also called the natural minor or Aeolian mode. The chords you’ll use to back up tunes in the Aeolian mode are different than tunes that use the Dorian mode. To demonstrate the sound of a melody moving between a major key and its relative minor, Flynn uses the tune “The Hare’s Paw,” which moves between the keys of G and E minor.

USING A CAPO Flynn shows you how to play in different keys when in DADGAD tuning by using a capo. He starts with the capo at the second fret, which is great for playing tunes in E minor. Then he moves to fifth position, which is handy for getting DADGAD walking-bass sounds in the key of G. And finally, he puts the capo on the seventh fret, which is handy for playing with Scottish fiddlers, who often play in the key of A.

RHYTHM PATTERNS FOR SLIP JIGS Slip jigs are less common than jigs and reels, but you will likely encounter them at Irish music seisiúns, so it’s important to know how to accompany them. Slip jigs sound like jigs, and use the basic down-up-down jig picking technique, but the phrasing is different: jigs are in 6/8, while slip jigs are 9/8. Flynn demonstrates the difference between the two, gives you a simple slip-jig rhythm pattern in the key of D, and shows you how to back up the slip jig “The Foxhunter's Jig.” 

DOUBLE D DIATONIC SHAPES Learn movable chord shapes in the key of D using dropped-D tuning and how to harmonize the D major scale with a different chord shape for every note of the scale. You’ll also learn how to use them to walk from one chord to another get exercises to practice them on, with both reel and jig rhythms.

MOVABLE CHORD SHAPES AND BASS LINES Flynn shows you how to use the movable chord shapes you learned in the last lesson to create bass lines, using the jig “The Connachtman’s Rambles” and the reel “The Otter’s Holt” as examples. He starts by showing you bass lines moving from the I up to the IV (D–Em–F#m–G) and the V up to the I (A–Bm–C#m–D), explaining that I–IV and V–I have the same pattern of steps (whole–whole–half) and chords (major–minor–minor–major). 

BASS LINES IN THE KEY OF G Learn to play bass lines in the key of G with open-position chords for every note of the G major scale, as well as movable shapes for every note of the G major scale. You’ll learn open-position shapes for G, Em, G/B, C, D, Em and D/F# as well as movable shapes for G, Am, Bm, C, C, Em, and F#m and how to use them on the reel “The Hare’s Paw.”

CHORD SHAPES WITH HIGH-D DRONE In this lesson, you’ll learn a series of major chord shapes in the key of D on the top three strings that you can use while playing an open fourth-string drone in dropped-D tuning. Flynn walks you through three inversions of D, G, and A shapes and then gives you an exercise in which you play the shapes from the open-position D to the D an octave above. He also shows you how to use the high-D drone shapes to play modal tunes (with D and C chords) and minor tunes (with Dm and C chords), and shows you how to play the D major reel “The Sunny Banks” and the D modal reel “Jenny Picking Cockles” with high-D drone chords.

A DRONE CHORD SHAPES Flynn shows you a series of chord shapes you can use with a fifth-string (A) drone for tunes in A major, A modal, and A minor, some of which you’ve learned in the lesson “Fifth Position Chords.” You’ll learn three shapes you can use to play in A major and A modal, and three areas on the neck where you can use them, and two shapes to play in A minor. Flynn gives you an octave sequence to practice the shapes and shows you how to use them to play the A major jig “Health to the Ladies” and the A modal reel “High Reel.”

MOVABLE SHAPES IN DADGAD You’ve learned how to play a major scale using movable chords in dropped-D tuning, and in this lesson you’ll learn to do the same in DADGAD. The shapes are basically the same as the ones in dropped-D tuning, but the major difference is that you can let your first and second strings ring open on all the shapes. Flynn walks you through the octave pattern in both reel and jig rhythms, and also shows you a version of the pattern using just the top four strings. Then he shows you how to use the shapes to play “The Drunken Landlady” and “Farrell O’Gara.”

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Irish Backup Source Material

Check out these source recordings for tunes featured in the Irish Backup Guitar course.

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