By Andy Hughes

Celtic guitar master John Doyle took some time out from the recent Celtic Connections Festival in Glasgow, Scotland, to offer tips on improving your Celtic guitar playing. Doyle will have a new solo album on Compass Records towards the end of the year.

  1. Different tunings

“My advice is that you start with an open-root tuning, and explore from there. If you play with fiddle players, there are a lot of songs tuned in A, which gives you a more open sound. My tuning of choice is dropped D tuning, DADGBE, which helps be to produce the drone sound under the playing, and the chords and melodies can go over the top.”

  1. A different guitar

“The real top-end Martins and Lowdens are like thoroughbreds: They’re built for a specific purpose. For most players, a good Taylor or Gibson, the basic models, will suit you just fine. Go to the biggest guitar shop you can find and have a try of as many guitars as you can. Find the one that speaks to you, and explore that one. Play the tunes and songs you like on it.”

  1. Finger exercises

“They are great if you have the time to practice and work on them, good to have some nice runs under your hands. I am always trying to work something out, or composing, but I do think that good basic techniques will make you a better musician.”

  1. Use a metronome

“Good timing is essential if you are going to play Celtic guitar, because you will end up playing with other musicians. You should practice with a metronome because it will develop your own internal timing.”

  1. Playing with other musicians

“This is one of the most enjoyable parts of being a musician. Playing a session of Celtic songs is what I often do when playing at a festival like this one. We had a great session last night, four of us, playing into the early hours.”

  1. Overcoming technical blocks

“You will get technical blocks because every musician does. If you’re having trouble in a D or E minor tuning, try something else—make up a tuning of your own! A lot of people are afraid to try things like that. Getting round things your own way will give you your voice.”

  1. Find a good teacher

“If there is not a local Celtic teacher nearby, check out the Internet. There are loads of videos and Skype lessons out there. But don’t forget the ‘old fashioned’ way people learned years ago, which was by listening to records and figuring out techniques and styles. That is still a valuable way to learn.”

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