The Book

This book is a selection of the music of Turlough O’Carolan, the blind harper, arranged for solo guitar, and published with both Standard Notation and Tablature. I was first awakened to his music when I heard an arrangement of Blind Mary nearly twenty years ago. The music lends itself to a very modern interpretation, belying the fact that it was written over three hundred years ago. Over the past few years, I have worked on about two-thirds of O’Carolan’s life’s work trying to find pleasing arrangements for the guitar – the result is this book.

Is it for you?

I have always played finger-style guitar. When I started out, looking for material to play I was constantly disappointed. The arrangements were either too easy and therefore tedious to play; or they were just so difficult that I became disheartened and abandoned any attempt to master the piece. Others were in obscure open tunings, which made it difficult to become proficient in standard tuning. I have described the book as for Intermediate Guitar, but I have beginners’ books

in my collection which have much more difficult arrangements. I play with my thumb, index and middle fingers only, so that is how I arrange – however many of these pieces are playable with just thumb and one finger. I loathe bar chords, so I simply avoid them wherever possible. I want this book to appeal to guitarists who would like to push the boat out a little further and explore different areas of the fingerboard with their different tonal qualities, without being dispirited by a lack of progress on an overly-complex arrangement.

The Arrangements

O’Carolan’s melodies were originally written and performed on the traditional wire-strung Irish harp, but the tunes work wonderfully well on guitar. My intention was to keep the arrangements as easy as possible without losing the vibrancy of the harmonies, rhythm and counterpoint, which lend themselves to his music. All the arrangements are in the keys of C, G, D or A, or their relative minors. Some of his better known compositions were arranged for the piano in the keys of B flat or A flat (so beloved of the guitarist), but these I have

transposed back to more comfortable territory. All the tunes are either in Standard, or Dropped D tuning.

My objective was to find an arrangement, ancient or modern, that fits the melody and energizes it from the monotonic score, into a full-bodied interpretation of the piece using harmonies, counterpoint, walking or alternating bass-lines, hammer-ons, pull-offs, and any other guitar technique which adds texture and depth to the music.

The arrangements vary immensely. Sometimes they can be quite conventionally classical, such as Carolan’s Concerto; Plaintive and emotive (Mrs. Cole, The Clergy’s Lamentation); Comical (Sir Charles Coote); or Driving and rhythmic (Carolan’s Favourite Jig, Planxty Kelly). There are even melodies such as Kitty Magennis, which evoke the accompaniment of Native American Indian drums.