How to Pick an Irish Jig on Mandolin

Jun 01, 2021

It is very common for students learning traditional Irish dance music to excel at "reels" (the tunes in 4/4 time), while at the same time experience problems playing jigs, the tunes in 6/8 time.

This is perfectly understandable, as most of us have played lots of music in 4/4 time, but have barely any experience with the quirky 6/8 rhythmic pattern of an Irish jig.

In this lesson, we'll start with a groove you're sure to recognize and likely be able to perform reliably, the blues shuffle.  Then I'll show you an intermediate step between this shuffle and the Irish jig picking pattern.

We'll use the first two measures of the Butcher's March, the piece you just heard me perform.

Here are these two measures with beat numbers and pick stroke clearly delineated for you:

Let's isolate those upstrokes...

And then remove them entirely to see what it sounds like without them:

This rhythm you just played is called the "Blues Shuffle." Most beginning students are able to learn and play this rhythm reliably. So, if you have been having trouble with the full jig rhythm, please start here.

I'd like to take this moment to point out an obvious fact that I hope will simplify upstrokes for you: when you play two downstrokes in a row, your pick MUST go "up" after the first one (in order to play the second one.)

So, once your downstrokes are rock solid, start "accidentally" hitting the string on your way back "up" in between the downstrokes of each quaver:

While trying this out, if your downstrokes falter or become in any way not as solid as they were before, please stop "adding" the upstrokes and go back to just downstrokes.

This rhythm only works when it is automatic and 100% reliable. If your downstrokes are solid, the upstrokes should happen naturally.

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