Irish B/C Accordion Bass and Chord Instruction

Saltarelle Irish Bouebe
One of my recent projects has been writing up tune transcriptions for Irish B/C-tuned two-row accordion complete with bass and chord indications for players learning to play the bass side.

When I started learning to play the basses, I found it hard to find such information anywhere, so I hope these transcriptions will be useful to other B/C players who are taking on the challenge of learning the basses.

In these transcriptions, I am not attempting to teach how to backup traditional Irish music. That is an entirely different skill than the physical challenge of dealing with the basses themselves.

My assumption is that you already are playing the tune melodies on the treble side of your instrument and are looking to learn to include the bass and chord buttons in your playing. I also assume that to extend these skills to other tunes not in this collection, you either already know how to determine the appropriate backup chords from the melody or are willing to learn bass/chord arrangements by rote as a starting point.

My particular chord selections may be a reasonable starting point for learning the skill of backing Irish traditional music, but that is not the primary goal of these transcriptions. To learn how to backup tunes, I suggest checking out Dr. Chris Smith's fantastic book "Celtic Backup for All Instrumentalists", available on Amazon from Mel Bay.

While there are multiple possible approaches to playing the bass and chords, my preferred pattern for reels, hornpipes, and barndances is to play the bass buttons only on a chord change, and the chord buttons only on the offbeats.

For jigs, I play the bass buttons only on a chord change, and the chord buttons on the 3 and 6 (assuming counting jigs with 6 beats per measure).

For slides, I play the bass buttons only on a chord change, and the chord buttons on the 3, 6, 9, and 12 (assuming counting slides with 12 beats per measure).

Some players, such as John Whelan, I believe influenced by older style players they learned from originally, also play the bass buttons on the every downbeat as well, not just on chord changes as in my preferred patterns. Having the flexibility and skill to vary your bass and chord patterns is a useful skill to practice, nothing is set in stone, so play around with all the possibilities!

For waltzes, I'm using a conventional bass-chord-chord pattern.

In these transcriptions, I indicate pressing the bass button with an uppercase letter above the staff and the chord button with a lowercase letter above the staff.

To help you get started, I've also color-coded the bellows direction for a couple of the tunes:

(Click the image to download the PDF)

In the first measure of this example, the first G bass and G chord on would be played on the push along with the push G on the treble side. The second G chord played would be on the draw G chord button along with the draw B on the C row of the treble side. On many instruments, those two G chords would be played on different buttons on the bass side.

Here's another color-coded example, this one the O'Carolan waltz "Fanny Power":

(Click the image to download the PDF)

The bellows direction color coding is not present in the transcriptions below, only the bass or chord button name is shown above the notes. You will need to determine the bellows direction on your own when going through the tune transcriptions below based on the melody note bellows direction.

Going through these transcriptions will provide a starting point exercise for finding the combination of treble button and bass button for either the push or draw. In particular they should be helpful in those cases where there may be some ambiguity because of the "magic" notes such as B and E as well as the G and D bass/chords that are available in both directions on the most common 8-button bass layouts.

In general, the arrangements should work on most common 8-button B/C bass layouts that include both push and draw G and D, only push C and E, and only draw A bass and chords. A couple are arranged for extended 12-bass button layouts that also include a draw E and push B, very handy on E Dorian tunes.

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Download my Bass/Chord Transcriptions Tunebook

Latest version 13 March 2021

Click here for my free PDF-format ebook with all 50 of the fully annotated tunes listed below.

Please consider a tip donation of whatever they are worth to you if you find them useful!

List of tunes with bass/chord annotation included in the tunebook:

Alexander's (hornpipe)

The Banshee (reel)

The Boys of Bluehill (hornpipe)

The Cameronian (reel)

The Cat Rambles to the Child's Saucepan (slide)

The Chaffpool Post (barndance)

Cock 'O The North (slide)

Cooley's (reel)

Cronin's (reel)

Donnybrook Fair (jig)

Dunphy's (hornpipe)

Fanny Power (waltz)

The Factory Smoke (hornpipe)

The Flowers of Spring (jig)

Forde's (polka)

Going to the Well for Water (slide)

The Green Fields of Rossbeigh (reel)

Horse Keane's (hornpipe)

The Humours of Castlecomer (jig)

If I Had a Wife (slide)

Jerry's Beaver Hat (jig)

John Kelly's Concertina (reel)

John Ryan's (polka)

The Kesh (jig)

The Lark in the Morning (jig)

Lucy Farr's (barndance)

The Maid Behind the Bar (reel)

The Maid of Mt. Kisco (reel)

The Mason's Apron (reel)

Mayor Harrison's Fedora (reel)

Memories of Ballymote (polka)

Merrily Kissed the Quaker's Wife (slide)

The Merry Blacksmith (reel)

Music in the Glen (reel)

One Seventy Four (O'Carolan) (jig)

Out on the Ocean (jig)

Paddy Cronin's (slide)

The Pleasures of Hope (hornpipe)

Rakish Paddy (reel)

The Rambling Pitchfork (jig)

The Scholar (reel)

Sherlock's (hornpipe)

Sí Beag Sí Mór (waltz)

The Silver Spear (reel)

Sonny Brogan's (mazurka)

Speed the Plough (reel)

The Tailors Twist (hornpipe)

The Thames (hornpipe)

The Wicklow (hornpipe)

Transcription Tutorial

Click here for a tutorial on how I create these
PDF transcriptions using free tools on the web

Hornpipe Backing Tracks

Using my ancient copy of "Band-in-a-Box 2008", I'm putting together simple piano
backing tracks for practicing many of the hornpipes in my transcriptions book:

Click to download the backing track in .mp3 format:

Alexander's (hornpipe)

The Boys of Bluehill (hornpipe)

The Factory Smoke (Em) / The Independence - 2x each (hornpipes)

The Factory Smoke (Gm) / The Independence - 2x each (hornpipes)

Horse Keane's (hornpipe)

The Pleasures of Hope (hornpipe)

Sherlock's (hornpipe)

The Smell of the Bog (hornpipe)

The Tailor's Twist (hornpipe)

The Thames (hornpipe)

The Wicklow (hornpipe)

Greta's Favourite (reel) (Rock-n-Roll backup style)

Greta's Favourite (reel) (Rock-n-Roll backup style - bit faster)

Downloading the Recordings to iPhone/iPad

Click here and here for articles on several ways you can download the session .mp3 recordings to an iOS device.

I personally use VLC for iOS for downloading and playing music files from the web.

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