You can learn how to play Irish and Scottish jigs on acoustic guitar very quickly, but you can also spend a lifetime perfecting this style; read on…

How to play Irish jigs on guitar

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Many jigs can be played very simply. You strum for every beat and change chords back and forth from maybe only two chords. That can get pretty boring very quickly though and you will find yourself wanting to do more.

Once you get the tune in your head and have a fiddler or piper to play with, you can really have some fun. Once you know how to play jigs, all kinds of rhythm possibilities open up.

You need triplets to know how to play jigs
If you want to know how to play jigs you must realize that jigs are written in 6/8 time, and they are full of triplets. Triplets go like: merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily. 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3.

This can mess your head up quickly, if you are used to straight up bluegrass, for example. It takes some re-wiring of your brain, but you can do it without much pain. It just takes some practice and letting go.

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Irish Rhythm Guitar – Accompanying Celtic Tunes
Steve Kaufman’s 4-Hour Celtic Workout

There are essentially two ways to strum triplets. One is down-down-up, down-down-up, down-down up, down-down-up. The other is to strum down-up-down-up-down-up-down-up-down-up-down-up.

Both methods take some getting used to. The DDU method requires a sort of rewiring of your brain and hand coordination, especially if you are used to DUDU, as in bluegrass flatpicking.

The DUDU method is quirky because the accent beat is first on the down stroke, then on the up stroke. This also demands some mental rewiring. Personally, i prefer the DUDU, though mixing the two adds some taste to the playing.

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Playing along can help you learn how to play Irish jigs

I don’t use the down-down-up very often, and when I do, it is more for accents or variety. My hand and arm just don’t like it much. Plus, I find the other method more interesting. I can punch the rhythm and accent beats more emphatically with DUDU.

The hard part with down-up-down-up is that it is normally used with 4/4 time. Now, with 6/8 time the accent changes on every full beat. So, you might begin with down-up-down (triplet), then play up-down-up (triplet).
This might sound confusing, but, if you want to learn how to play jigs and have fun, you need to figure it out.

Recommended:
Irish Rhythm Guitar – Accompanying Celtic Tunes
Steve Kaufman’s 4-Hour Celtic Workout

If you spend time alone in your car you can listen to jigs and play along in your head, strumming along on your leg. This helps train your mind and hand to instinctively know what to do.

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If you can whistle it, you can learn how to play jigs

I want one of these

Once you get your strum going and can hum or whistle the tune you will see how the beats fall where they should. It is really helpful to have somebody to play with, but this is not always possible. YouTube has a vast library of jigs to play along with, you just need to do some searching.

A good jig to practice on is Morrison’s Jig or Banish Misfortune. These are popular jigs and not too hard to figure out. The ending of Morrison’s is a bit tricky for the fiddler, but not for the guitar strummer!

Recommended Listening

Masters of the Irish Guitar
Best of Altan: The Songs
John Carnie: Far From Home

Just practice, practice and practice some more. Watch good players and see how they find chords all over the neck to add flavor and voicings to their strumming. Knowing how to play jigs is simple, yet complex.

Learn how to play Irish and Scottish jigs on acoustic guitar and you will find yourself in big demand in jams and such. You can learn how to play jigs on guitar by listening to good players, such as John Doyle or Altan.

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