Irish Musical Instruments

Irish Musical Instruments

Even people who know nothing about the Irish people or Irish history will recognize the importance of music in the Irish persons life. From traditional Irish Ceili (social) music to modern Celtic Rock you will find Irish music to be an experience of the soul.

You don't have to be an Irish music aficionado to recognize it's distinctive sounds. Here is a brief description of some of the instruments used to create these sounds.


For as far back as documentation will allow, flutes of one type or another have been an integral part of Celtic music. Today's flute has six holes and up to eight keys and are almost always made of wood. The wooden construction provides an airy almost mystical tone and is much smoother than the tin whistle.

Tin Whistle (Penny Whistle)

Although the tin whistle is arguably the easiest of the traditional Irish instruments, it is not simple to master. It is constructed of a metal tube with 6 holes and a mouthpiece. The range of a tin whistle is approximately two octaves.


Basically a bagpipe has a bag of air, which is inflated by blowing though a mouthpiece. Pressure produced by the arm against the inflated bag releases the air through a reed. A fingered chanter prohibits or allows the flow of air, creating the actual music. The range of the bagpipes is approximately 2 octaves.

Uilleann Pipes

Similar to the bagpipes, the Uillean pipes are also bellows-powered, but much quieter. These pipes have regulators, which are extra pipes that can play chords.

Free Reed Instruments (Accordion, Squeeze Box, Harmonica, Button Box etc.)

All of these instruments work on the same principle, that is, air is blown across a set of paired metal reeds, causing them to vibrate and produce a particular note. All but the harmonica are powered by bellows pulled in and out by the arms (hence 'squeeze box').

Mandolins and Guitars

These fretted instruments are mostly used in accompaniment and for rhythmic backing. The guitar comes in from the folk boom of the sixties, and is usually a standard acoustic six-string model, though a variety of tunings can be used. A wide variety of instruments come under the general umbrella of the mandolin family. These have a rounded back and usually four pairs of strings (courses) tuned in unison.


There have been harping traditions in the Celtic countries of Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Brittany for hundreds of years and in Ireland at least it was closely tied to the old aristocracy and 'high' culture. Most Celtic harps are small, and can be played on the knee. Most modern players use nylon or gut strings, but some have gone back to the original wire-strung harp, with it's bell-like sound.


This instrument has been called "the heartbeat" of Irish music. It is an ancient framed drum with a wooden body and a goatskin head. It is played with a stick known as a tipper or beater. The tipper has two heads. The word is pronounced bow-rawn with a very slight emphasis on the first syllable. (the bow is pronounced like cow)

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