Instruments Used in Celtic Music

The Celts created some of the most vibrant and unique music in the world. Celtic music has an unmistakable style complete with distinctive instruments that combine to play stirring, rhythmic, and buoyant musical works. Music was not only a form of entertainment, but also to boost morale, instill a feeling of community, and convey a love of their land.


A large portion of the melodies and motives in Celtic music consists of string instruments. The fiddle is a violin that is played in a distinctive way to play intricate, fast-paced melodies. Most fiddle players will play a violin and use thicker strings. The Celts also used fretted instruments like the mandolin, bouzouki, cittern, guitar and harp. Mandolins have rounded backs and four pairs of double strings. The bouzouki has pear-shaped body lute and sounds an octave lower than the mandolin. Citterns function and look like a smaller mandolin with metal strings.


Percussion instruments play rhythm and ensure the ensemble plays in time. The bodhran is the most commonly used Irish instrument and is a medium-size drum conventionally made of goatskin. Lambeg drums are hefty drums akin to the bass drum. Celts carried lambegs with straps around the neck and played with bowed canes. The Celts were resourceful, and even used spoons and bones to add metrical musical elements.


Celtic bagpipes included the bellow-powered uilleann pipe and Irish Warpipes. Bagpipers send air through the mouthpiece, which fills a bag before leaving the instrument through various pitched drones. The reed attached to the chanter vibrates to make sound. Bagpipes have drones, which can be sounded continually to add a harmonic backdrop to the music.


Reed instruments were common Celtic instruments. Melodeons, piano accordions, button accordions, and concertinas were frequently used. Melodeons can only play diatonic notes and typically play in C. Button accordions are more sophisticated and have a double row of keys make chromatic pitches possible. Piano accordions are comparable to a contemporary accordion, complete with a keyboard. Concertinas are little accordions able of performing diatonic and chromatic scales.


The tin-whistle, also known as an Irish whistle, is a simple wind instrument that has six holes. The instrument resembles a recorder and has a plastic mouthpiece and a metal body. The instrument typically plays the melody line along with the fiddle. This instrument is also used commonly in Scottish traditional music.


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