What Instruments are Used in Irish Folk Music?

Irish folk music is a genre of folk music that developed in Ireland. The music is generally based on traditional Irish music, which is a form of Celtic music. There are many different instruments that are used in Irish folk music, including the fiddle, the flute, the tin whistle, and the accordion.

Traditional Instruments

The fiddle, tin whistle, accordion, bodhran, and uilleann pipes are some of the most commonly used instruments in Irish folk music. The fiddle is a string instrument that is played with a bow. The tin whistle is a small, metal flute that is often used in Irish music. The accordion is a portable, free-reed instrument that is played by pressing the bellows. The bodhran is a handheld, single-sided drum that is played with a stick. The uilleann pipes are a type of bagpipe that is unique to Ireland.


The fiddle is the mainstay of Irish traditional music and is by far the most commonly heard instrument, whether in a solo context or accompanying singers or other instrumentalists. It is generally played with a light touch and rapid bowing, and ornaments such as rolls and slides are used to produce expressive effects.

The Irish fiddle tradition has been primarily shaped by two different regional styles, those of Sligo in the northwest of the country and Clare in the southwest. The Sligo style is characterized by a more lyrical approach and a greater use of double-stopping (playing two notes at once), while the Clare style is distinguished by its use of very fast single-note runs. Both styles have been influential in the development of bluegrass fiddle playing in the United States.

A wide range of other stringed instruments are also used in Irish music, including the cittern, mandolin, tenor banjo, bouzouki and guitar. The uilleann pipes, an Irish form of bagpipe, are also commonly heard, particularly in slow airs and marches.


The flute is a musical instrument of the woodwind family. Unlike woodwind instruments with reeds, a flute is an aerophone or reedless wind instrument that produces its sound from the flow of air across an opening. According to the instrument classification of Hornbostel-Sachs, flutes are categorized as edge-blown aerophones. A musician who plays the flute can be referred to as a flute player, flautist, flutist or, less commonly, fluter or flutenist.

Tin whistle

The tin whistle, also called the penny whistle or Irish whistle, is a simple six-hole fipple flute. It is inexpensive and easy to play, making it a popular choice for folk musicians. The tin whistle has been used in Irish music since the 19th century and is now considered one of the most iconic instruments of Irish folk music.

The tin whistle is usually made of metal, although some models are made of wood or plastic. The length of the instrument varies from model to model, but most are about 18 inches (46 cm) long. The holes on the tin whistle are arranged in a simple scale pattern: the first three holes (from left to right) produce the notes D, E, and F; the next hole produces the note G; and the last two holes produce the notes A and B.

The tin whistle is played by blowing into the mouthpiece while simultaneously covering and uncovering the fingerholes with the fingers of both hands. The fingering is simple and similar to that of other flute-like instruments such as the recorder. The basic scale can be played with just a few fingerings, making it easy for beginners to get started.

Experienced players can create a wider range of sounds on the tin whistle by using different techniques such as vibrato, trills, and slurs. These techniques can add expressiveness and nuance to your playing.

Uilleann pipes

The uilleann pipes are the characteristic national bagpipe of Ireland. Though slightly less ubiquitous than the Highland bagpipes of Scotland, they are perhaps more widely known and certainly better known outside their homeland, due in part to famous exponents such as The Chieftains, Antoine O’Rahilly, Bobby Sands, Leonard Cohen (in the song “The Gypsy’s Wife”), and Liam O’Flynn. Hoping to increase the instrument’s recognition, the United Irish Uilleann Pipers’ Club was founded in 1903.

Modern Instruments

While there are many instruments used in Irish folk music, some of the most popular include the fiddle, guitar, bodhrán, and Irish flute. These instruments have been around for centuries and have been used in many different styles of music.


The guitar is commonly used as an accompaniment to Irish folk music and dances such as jigs, reels, and hornpipes. It usually takes the form of a acoustic guitar, although electric guitars are sometimes used. The guitar chords commonly used in Irish folk music are D, G, Em, and A.

The bouzouki is a Greek instrument that has gained popularity in Irish folk music. It is a long-necked lute with 8 strings in 4 courses, which are usually tuned in octaves. The bouzouki is played with a pick and is used to provide rhythm accompaniment for dances such as jigs and reels.

The bodhrán (pronounced “bower-awn”) is a frame drum from Ireland which is commonly used in folk music. It has a single skin which is stretched over a circular frame and played with the hands or with sticks. The bodhrán provides rhythm accompaniment for dances such as jigs and reels.


The bodhrán is a frame drum with a skin stretched over one or occasionally two sides. It is of ancient origin, and has been found in many parts of Europe, including Ireland, where it is the main percussion instrument in traditional music. The bodhrán has a wide range of timbres and playing techniques. It is generally played with the bare hand, or with a thin stick called a tipper.


The banjo is a four, five or six-stringed instrument with a thin membrane stretched over a frame or cavity as a resonator, called the head. The membrane is typically headed, and the resulting instrument is called a banjo. Banjos with integrated resonators are also available on the market. Six-string versions are sometimes played in rock bands, while four-string versions tend to be used in country, bluegrass, and traditional Irish music. The banjo is also commonly used in other genres such as rockabilly and ska.


The mandolin is a small, stringed instrument with a pear-shaped body and four pairs of strings tuned in unison. It is played with a pick or plectrum and has a distinctive, high-pitched sound. The mandolin is most commonly used in folk and country music, but it can also be heard in rock, pop, and jazz.

The mandolin was first developed in Italy in the 17th century and quickly became popular throughout Europe. It was brought to America by European immigrants in the late 18th century and became an important part of American folk music. The mandolin has also been used in Irish folk music since the early 19th century.

The most common type of mandolin today is the acoustic mandolin, which is played unplugged. Electric mandolins are also available, which are typically used in rock, pop, and jazz settings.

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