Learn “Sidh Beag, Sidh Mor,” a Traditional Celtic Song Arranged in Standard Tuning

Most of this arrangement's melody notes are reachable without leaving first position, and all the necessary bass notes are easily played. 

This arrangement by Al Petteway, who passed away in October 2023, is excerpted from Acoustic Guitar Solo Fingerstyle Basics. For more about Petteway, see the appreciation here.


So many guitarists play in open tunings that they sometimes forget about good old standard tuning—E A D G B E. Although DADGAD or another open tuning may seem to be right for a traditional or Celtic tune, it’s always worth checking out the possibilities in standard tuning. I once decided to relearn all the Celtic tunes—like “Sidh Beag, Sidh Mor” and others I had been playing—in both standard and DADGAD. That way I wouldn’t have to take precious time to tune during performances or travel with two instruments. I found that it was just as enjoyable to play the pieces in standard tuning as long as I found the right key positions. 

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“Sidh Beag, Sidh Mor” is an 18th-century harp tune, written by the blind Irish harper Turlough O’Carolan. After trying the tune in the keys of G, C, and D major, I settled on C in standard tuning. In C position, most of the melody notes are reachable without leaving first position, and all the necessary bass notes are easily played. 

Think of this transcription like a road map. It will get you where you want to go, but you must take your own scenic routes along the way if the trip is to be rewarding. Once you know the melody and chord structure, get away from the written page and work with the piece by ear. Not only will this give you more freedom to come up with original ideas, but it will also allow you to listen more carefully to the sound you are making and free you to play more musically.

Celtic Song "Sidh Beag, Sidh Mor," Arranged in Standard Tuning guitar notation
Acoustic Guitar magazine cover for issue 344

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2024 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.

Al Petteway
Al Petteway

Al Petteway was an acclaimed fingerstyle guitarist and guitar teacher.

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