From the November/December 2020 issue of Acoustic Guitar | By Steve Baughman
I was surfing YouTube late one night when I became smitten with a band playing “Dans Kef,” a tune either named after a town/region in Brittany or KEF, the British loudspeaker manufacturer. It remains a mystery to me. In any case, I stayed up until the wee hours working out an arrangement of the piece on the guitar. The tune is in fact a good case study in how to build your own Celtic arrangement.
I chose to play “Dans Kef” in a sort of modified Orkney tuning I call Celto-Hawaiian, because it can sound like it’s from the islands. I don’t know if anyone else uses this tuning, which is spelled C F C G C D. To get into it from Orkney, just lower your fifth and fourth strings by a whole step, from G and D to F and C, respectively. The open strings form a beautiful C chord with both the suspended fourth (F) and second (D), so take a moment to enjoy that sound.
This can be a tricky one to play, especially because of the Celtic ornaments in the melody. Learn the melody on its own, without the ornaments—it would be a mistake not to. After you get the melody in your head and fingers, you will see how simple and repetitive it is, and how a fingerpicked guitar can bring it to glorious life with ornaments, arpeggios, and moving bass lines.
If you scan through the notation or check out the accompanying video, you’ll notice that I don’t play the melody exactly the same way twice—that’s why there are no repeats in this arrangement. I’d encourage you to explore doing the same and create your own little improvisations on this beautiful tune.
This arrangement is excerpted from Steve Baughman’s Celtic Songs for Fingerstyle Guitar, available at store.acousticguitar.com.