Jigs Playalongs

The Cliffs of Moher – A dorian

Basic chords

This tune doesn’t have any strong chord IV sections in the A part, so in the simple version I have simply stuck to the “folk formula”- chord V on every seventh foot tap, resolving to chord I at the end of each section. The B part’s third and fourth bar very clearly outline a G major chord. The notes of the melody here are G A B D B A, G A B D B D. The notes of a G major chord are G, B and D. NB- when picking chords to accompany a tune, the most important notes to listen to for chord choices are the ones on the dominant beats which I have written in bold text. In the interests of simplicity for the beginner guitarist I have used E minor instead of G major- this is valid as E minor is G’s related minor, so the two chords can be used interchangeably. Aside from these two bars, the B part also follows the standard formula.


In the A part of the tune I have switched A minor to F major. This is actually a chord borrowed from the aeolian mode. In the key of A dorian, the F chord should be an F# diminished as in A dorian’s related ionian mode, G ionian. However if we were in A aeolian the 6th chord would be F major. A minor chord can always be substituted for either the chord which is two above it in the scale (its related major chord) or that which is two below it in the scale (another chord with which it shares two notes in common). In this instance I have used the chord two below as it would be in the aeolian mode instead of as it would be in the dorian mode. The reason that this nifty trick works is because there is only one note different between the dorian scale and the aeolian one. Compared to a major scale, the dorian mode has a flattened 3rd and flattened 7th while the aeolian has a flattened 3rd, flattened 6th and flattened 7th. It is this flattened 6th which gives the aeolian mode its darker character than the dorian. By borrowing the F chord from A aeolian, your accompaniment will give the tune a darker flavour than it would have had if you had used the F#dim (or a substitute thereof) which you would expect in the dorian mode. You can get away with this in the third bar of the Cliffs of Moher because there is no 6th note in the melody anywhere in this bar. This is a common feature of Irish melodies, that in minor (dorian or aeolian) tunes, the 6th note rarely appears, meaning that you can often use the chords of either the dorian or the aeolian mode, or a combination of both, for artistic effect. You can find out more about this technique in my free video on the subject here.

In the B part I have followed the G chord outlined in the second bar, and then replaced it with its related minor (Em) in the third. I have substituted an F (again, borrowed from the aeolian mode) for the A minor in bars 5 and 6. Bars 7 also outlines the notes of a G chord, so I’ve added one in.

Jazzy substitutions

In this version, I wanted to go for a “gypsy jazz” flavour, so I have begun with the “Django chord”, aka an A minor add 13 (I’ve notated it as Am13 on the video to save space- the difference between an actual Am13 chord and this Am add 13 chord is that Am13 should contain the flattened 7th note, G, as well as the root, ♭3rd, 5th and 13th, but this chord does not).

I have replaced the F majors throughout with F major 7. This F chord is borrowed from the mode of A aeolian. A aeolian is related to C ionian and therefore has the same chords as that mode. In C ionian, F would be chord IV and therefore if you wanted to play a tetrad (jazzy 7 chord) for it, it would have to be F major 7- hence that is the chord which I have used in this context.

Once you have descended into jazz land, any chord which resolves down a fifth can be replaced with a dominant or altered dominant chord. For this reason I have replaced my chord Vs in this version with an E7#5 chord. This is a really classy chord V and, due to its flattened seventh and altered chord tone, the #5th, very much sounds like it wants to resolve back to chord I immediately afterwards (resolving down a fifth, from V to I).

When the A part repeats, I have made a change to the chords for contrast. In the 5th bar of the A part repeat I have borrowed the D minor chord from A aeolian (acceptable as there is no 6th note of the A dorian scale in this bar of the melody) and played an ascending aeolian chord run from the Dm7 – Em7 – Fmaj7 before ending the section with my altered dominant V – I.

For the B part I have used a more traditionally dorian set of chords. Whenever you are playing in any mode other than ionian, chord VII becomes a dominant chord (9, 11 or 13). For this reason I have used G13 in the third and fourth bars. I also like G13 and Am add 13 together as they are particularly easy chord shapes to switch between at speed.

The D9 chord used in bars 7 and 8 gives the section a characteristically dorian feel. Recall that A dorian contains the same chords as G ionian, meaning that the IV chord in the dorian mode is equivalent to the V chord in the aeolian mode, and therefore has to be a dominant 7 type tetrad. For this reason my inclusion of a D9 here provides a very clear jazzy dorian vibe.

When the B part repeats, the tune contains a section in bars 5-6 of the repeat which is basically a descending scale from the 5th (E) down to the second (B), punctuated with E notes (E – E D E E, C E E B E E). I have sought to replicate this descending figure in my chords by descending from Fmaj7 to Em7. The next bar is an ascending scale and includes the 6th note of the A dorian scale, F#. For this reason I have played D/F# in my chords for this bar. As that sets up an ascending bassline from E – F#, it seemed right to use G13 instead of an Em or E7 type chord for the last chord V section. This continues the upward motion in the bass and then takes me back to my root note, E – F# – G – A.

Jigs Playalongs

Donegal Lass – A mixolydian

Basic chords

This tune is in A mixolydian. This means that the complete list of chords with which you would expect to accompany it are the same ones available in D major, but beginning and ending from the A chord. Therefore your complete list of likely chord choices would be A major (or A7, as this would be chord V in D ionian), B minor, C# diminished, D major, E minor, F# minor and G major.

The melody uses a trick common in Irish tunes and changes the flattened seventh note from the A mixolydian scale to the normal seventh from the scale of A major / ionian in the final bars of each section. This means that your chord V becomes E major in these bars only.

Bar 3 has to take a G chord (chord VII) or its related minor, Em, because the tune notes clearly outline a G chord (G B D G – -). Bar 4 more or less outlines a B minor chord or its related major, D (B D G B – -). I have plumped for D as I prefer its bright, optimistic sound and it is easier to play!

Bars 1 and 2 of the B part contain the same notes, and hence the same chords, as bars 3 and 4 of the A part.

The tune is somewhat unusual in that the fourth bar of the B part does not have a chord V section, but simply outlines an A chord throughout. However the section does finish with a clear chord V – I cadence as usual. You can tell that the final bar of the A part needs chord five as it contains the seventh note of the A major scale. The seventh note is a very unstable tone and appears in the fifth chord- A major’s seventh tone is G#, which is the major 3rd of A’s chord V, E major. For this reason you can usually take it as a given that a bar containing this note on a dominant beat or for any longer than a quaver is a chord V bar.


In this version I have inverted the D chord in the fourth and eighth bars so that its 3rd, F#, is at the lowest pitch within it. This makes my chords sound more coherent as the large jump in bass notes from G all the way to D is replaced by a smaller gap of 1 semitone from G down to F#. To play this chord, make a D major shape and then loop your thumb around the back of the neck in order to fret the second fret of the bottom E string.

Jazzy substitutions

In this version I have substituted A to A7. This works because the mode of A mixolydian contains the same notes, and therefore chords, as the mode of D ionian (major). In D major, A would be chord V and when we begin to use tetrads, four note jazzy chords with 7ths in them, the V chord in a major key is always a dominant chord. This also means that the I chord in the mixolydian mode is always dominant.

Chord VII, G, has been substituted to G7. This is because in every mode other than ionian, chord VII becomes a dominant 7 chord if tetrads are being used. Strictly speaking, the D (IV) chord in the fourth bar should be a major 7 type chord, but I have borrowed the use of a dominant IV chord from blues. This works ok, because the note in the D9 chord which is not in the scale of A mixolydian is a C♮, and there is no C# in the tune in this bar.

Jigs Playalongs

Morrison’s – E dorian


Basic chords

This tune is in E dorian, which contains the same chords as D ionian. This means that the chords available are D major, E minor, F# minor, G major, A minor, B minor and C# diminished. The second bar contains an outline of a D major chord for its second half (A F# D, aka the notes of a D major triad in reverse order) so I have put a D chord there. Chord V (Bm) would normally go on every seventh foot tap and resolve back to chord I (Em) at the ends of sections, but I have replaced this with its related major, D, because this is easier to play. This can be done in any mode which has a minor chord V, aka any mode other than ionian.

In the B part, bar 2 contains the notes F# A G F# E D. As the dominant beats (marked in bold) are both F# notes, which appear in chord IV, D (D, F# and A) I have put chord IV in this section. Rather than have another block of Em straight after, I have substituted the Em to its related major, G major. Bars 7 and 8 of the B part contain the notes “E D C# D – A B A G F# G A”. This is a decidedly chord V sounding section, with D, B, F# (notes from D or Bm chords) making up its dominant beats. Hence I have put two bars of D here instead of sticking to the usual formula of just putting chord V (Bm) or its related major (D) in the 8th bar. In fact playing Em for bar 7 and Bm or D for bar 8 would have worked equally well, but I like the sound of the extra bar of D… And they’re my chords and I can do what I want, so there.


In this version I have switched the chords in bar 4 to be G and A. This provides a bright lift from the E minor root chord and works well as the notes are “D C# B” for the first half (a G chord is G, B and D) and “A F# D” for the second half (the dominant A note sounds cool with an A chord). I have substituted the E minor in bar 7 to its related major, G. This works well transitioning into D (chord V) as any progression which resolves down a fifth will always work well. If you wanted a jazzy flavour you could try replacing the G with a G7, as any time a chord resolves down a fifth you can replace it with a 7 chord for jazzy effect.

I have ended the B part on an A chord. This is a pretty nifty little trick which I like to use in the dorian mode- if you end a section on chord IV it gives the tune a far away, make-believe quality, as if it very nearly achieved its hopes and dreams of dorian corporate supremacy, but then right at the point of success, suddenly decided to give up on the whole thing and go off to the other side of the planet, climb a mountain and become a yak farmer instead. If you want another interesting version of this trick, try beginning a section of a dorian tune on its chord IV and then alternating between this and chord V.

Jazzy substitutions

In this version I have used tetrads (7 chords) instead of triads (normal ones). The tetrads available are the same as the ones which would be available in the key of D ionian, aka D major 7, E minor 7, F# minor 7, G major 7, A dominant 7, B minor 7 and C# ½ diminished (in place of which we would usually play D/F#, aka D with a thumb). Additionally, in any mode other than the ionian, we make the VII chord into a dominant 7 too. That means that our complete list of available tetrads for E dorian should be: E minor 7, F# minor 7, G major 7, A dominant 7, B minor 7, C# ½ diminished and D dominant 7. In bar 7 of the A part I have borrowed a C major 7 chord from the aeolian mode. This works because the sixth note of the E dorian scale is not present in this bar, so I can use chords from either the E dorian or the E aeolian mode as only the 6th note differs between the two.

In the B part I have borrowed an A minor 7 chord from E aeolian and used it to create tension by deliberately avoiding chord I. You can always substitute chord IV in a chord I section, but in this case I have deliberately not played chord I at all, in order to make the section feel like it has moved away from its key chord. There is no 6th note in the B part of the tune until the penultimate bar, at which point I am playing chord V anyway which is the same in both aeolian and dorian, so I have treated the whole section as though it were written in the aeolian mode.

Jigs Playalongs

Munster Buttermilk – D ionian


Basic chords

This cheery little jig is in D ionian, and can consequently be accompanied with the following chords: D major, E minor, F# minor, G major, A major, B minor and C#diminished.

In the simplest version of the chords I have only used chords I and V for the A part, following the first two rules of folk music accompaniment, that chord I always goes at the beginning and that chord V goes on every seventh foot tap, resolving to chord I at the end of each A and B part.

The B part has a clear chord IV section in bar 3, with a long G note at the start of the bar and an E on the second dominant beat (fourth quaver / eighth note). For symmetricity I have changed to chord IV in the seventh bar too. Although this is not really necessary it works because you can always substitute chord IV for chord I at any time.


In this version I have played D/F#, the first inversion of the D chord instead of the second bar of D. This works well because although it still contains the notes of a D chord, the D/F# chord has the F# at the lowest pitch within it, which sets up a nice little bassline to lead up to the G chord which follows it. In bar 4, rather than just playing a whole bar of A, I have resolved to A from the chord which is a fifth above it within the key, aka E minor. You can resolve down a fifth to any chord which you feel is played for too long- Em to A is down a fifth (E, D, C, B, A). This would work just as well in any context, you just have to use the right kind of chord for the desired root note within the key. For example if you were playing in D major and there was a long section of chord IV, you could replace the first part of that section with chord VII, which is a fifth above it. In the case of D major this would be D resolving to G. To resolve to chord VI you would use chord III, which is a fifth above it. In the key of D that would give you F#m resolving to Bm, etc etc.

In order to get from my G chord in bar 3 to the E minor in bar 4, I have used D/F# as a convenient link to set up a nice bassline between the two (G – F# – E). In this instance D/F# is acting as a substitute for F#m. This is a very common folk trick, to use the first inversion of chord I as a less miserable sounding substitute for chord III.

For the rest of the section I have used D/F# to provide a sense of movement between my other chords. Varying the “rate of harmonic change” on the second or third run through a tune can really add a lot of energy, as is the case if you compare this version of the B part to the simple version which changes more slowly.

In the B part I have switched chord I (D) to its related minor, chord VI (B minor). I have followed this up with another substitute for chord I, F#m. Any major chord has two possible substitutes; its related minor, whose root is two notes below it in the tune’s scale (D – Bm) and also the minor whose root note is two notes above it in the tune’s scale (D – F#m). As I started the section on a minor I have carried on the “tale of woe” chord progression with the other available minor substitution for chord I. I have then continued on to the G chord as normal, before I hit my seventh foot tap and go back to chord V.

Jazzy substitutions

In this version of the tune I have contrasted the rate of harmonic change every two bars, in order to make the accompaniment sound like a conversation between two speakers- one with a slow, assured way of speaking and the other with terrible verbal diarrhoea. The chord “Dmaj7/C#” is a substitute for C# diminished which is easier to play and sounds less dissonant. It contains the notes of a D major 7 chord (D, F#, A, C#) but with the C# at the lowest pitch in the chord in order to provide a nice bassline link from D down to Bm (D – C# – B). It is a valid substitute for D major because in a major key chords I and IV can always be replaced with major 7 tetrads, no matter what inversion those tetrads are in.

I have replaced all the minor chords in the tune with minor 7s to make them sound jazzier. You can always do this, in any key. The A chord has become A dominant 7 (to give it its full title- it would more commonly be known as A7 for short). This is because chord V in a major key has to be a dominant 7 tetrad rather than a major 7.

In the B part I have sped up the rate of harmonic change in order to add energy. The frequent use of D/F# as a passing chord provides movement in the bass and makes a nice hum-able bass line. Notice that I have contrasted four bars of normal major chords against four bars of related minor substitutions. Again, this give the accompaniment a conversational feeling. If you begin with B minor instead of D, I prefer to keep the following chords minor too, eg F# minor instead of the happier D/F# or E minor instead of G. This is purely my own personal preference, but to start a section with a dark related minor substitution and then revert to the standard majors feels to me as if the harmony began to tell a story about something that went horribly wrong, but then got bored half way through and changed the subject.

Jigs Playalongs

The Coleraine – B minor


Basic chords

This tune is written in the mode of B aeolian. This means the available chords are the same ones which would be available in D ionian, aka D major, E minor, F# minor, G major, A major, B minor and C# diminished. The tune actually uses the melodic minor scale, where the seventh note in a minor scale is sharpened by a semitone. In the case of this tune it means that instead of the usual notes of a B aeolian scale, B C# D E F# G A, the seventh sometimes switches to A#. When this happens you have to accompany it with chord V converted into a major chord. The major 7th note is an unstable tone and really wants to resolve to the root note when included in the melody. That is why it has to be accompanied with chord V, which also wants to resolve to chord I. Furthermore, the notes in chord V are the 5th, 7th and 9th or 2nd notes from the scale, so if the 7th has been raised by a semitone, that means the middle of the three notes in the V chord (F#m) has to be raised by a semitone to match. That is why the V chord converts to F# major. The use of the melodic minor in this way is not at all common in Celtic music.

The tune’s second bar contains the notes “C# F# F# F#”. In relation to the key centre of Bm, these are “2 5 5 5”. Therefore this bar is firmly a chord V section. I have used chord V’s related major chord, chord VII, for ease of playability.

The F# chord in the fourth bar could have been either minor (as in the aeolian mode) or major (to match with the A# taken from the melodic minor scale) as there is neither an A nor an A# in the bar. I have plumped for the major V chord for consistency, but you can experiment with both.

The B part of the tune begins with the notes “D E D D C# B” so sounds pretty clearly like it needs a D chord. The second bar goes “C# A A A – -” making it very definitely an A bar. In bar four of the B part there is an A#, so chord V has to be major to match. Likewise in bar seven.


In the A part of the tune I have added a G chord as a substitute for Bm. This works because any minor chord can be switched to the major chord which is either two above it (its related major) or two below it in the key scale. That means that Bm can be replaced with either D or G, because both of these chords have two notes in common with it. G works particularly well here as it creates a nice run down the scale- Bm A G F#.

The second time through the B part I have substituted an Em for a Bm. This works because you can always play chord IV (or a substitute thereof) over a chord I section, but not chord I over a chord IV section. Straight after the E minor I have used F# minor instead of F# major, because the chord is not going to resolve down a fifth to chord I. Playing F# major would make the listener want to hear chord I next (because of the major 7th note of a B melodic minor scale being included- the major seventh is unstable and wants to resolve up a semitone to the root note) and so as the following chord is not Bm but G, F# minor has to be played instead.

Jazzy substitutions

You might be put off this chord selection by all those numbers! Don’t panic though, they’re actually a very simple set of chords which are very easy to change between (see the diagrams down below which I have written in descending scale order). Lots of further uses for the same slide-able shapes can also be found in my first book, Backing Guitar Techniques for traditional Celtic music. The idea is that every chord in the A part can be fingered with the index finger on the bottom E string, the middle finger on the D string and the ring finger on the G string. By sliding this fingering around the neck and moving the middle and/or ring fingers a fret higher in relation to the root note (always under the index finger) you can quickly and easily switch between all those beautiful, jazzy chords with lots of numbers in!

The basic principles behind this selection of chords are as follows:

  1. You can replace the chords in any mode with a combination of major 7s, minor 7s and dominant 7 chords. In the ionian mode, chords I and IV have to become major 7 chords, chords II and VI have to become minor 7 chords and chord V has to become a dominant 7 chord (which contains a flattened seventh note relative the the root note’s scale, eg a D7 chord contains C♮ not C#.
  2. As this tune is written in the mode of B aeolian (with occasional accidentals) the jazzy tetrads (seven chords) available are the same ones which would be available in D ionian, because B is the sixth mode and the sixth note of a D major scale is B. This means that the A chord has to be a dominant 7 chord, NOT a major 7.
  3. In jazz chord land, adding ANY note from within the key scale to ANY of your chords is theoretically fine (in context some might sound better than others).
  4. Any chord which resolves down a fifth can be replaced with an altered dominant, which contains accidental notes NOT from the key scale. This is what makes the F#7#5 chord (an F#7 chord with the #5 relative the F# added, aka Cx which means C double sharp, alternatively just known as D) work in bar 7 – it resolves down a fifth to Bm7.


Jigs Playalongs

The Kesh Jig – G ionian


Basic chords

The Kesh is written in the key of G ionian, so the available chords are G major, A minor, B minor, C major, D major, E minor and F# diminished.

The second bar goes “A – – A B D”, so it could be seen as a chord V bar. In order to avoid having chord V right near the start of the tune I have played A minor (chord II) instead. This works pretty well as most of the bar is full of A notes!

The third bar could take either C or G. I’ve gone for G for contrast and because this makes a more satisfying chord progression.

As in almost all folk music, the fourth bar takes chord V. On the repeat it resolves back to chord I for the second half of the bar, in order to make the section sound finished.

The seventh bar of the B part is really a chord I section- its notes are “G – – A – -” (either a whole bar of G or half a bar of G and then half a bar of D). However, replacing chord I (G) with chord IV (C) in this section creates extra tension which is then diffused byt eh resolution from chord V (D) to chord I (G) at the end of the section.


In bar three I have replaced G major with its related minor, E minor. In the fourth bar I have played chord V in its first inversion. This means that of the three notes normally in a D major chord, D, F# and A, the middle of the three, F# has been played at the lowest pitch within the chord instead of the root note D which would normally be the lowest note in a D chord. The reason I have done this is that it sets up a nice walking bassline from the E at the bottom of the E minor chord, via the F# at the bottom of D/F# (aka D in the first inversion) to G at the root of the G chord.

In the B part I have replaced G with its related minor, E minor and C with its related minor, A minor.

Jazzy substitutions

In this version I have taken the progression from the previous section and converted each of the chords into “the right kind of seven chord”. These are the “tetrads”, or four note “jazz” chords, where as well as the 1st, 3rd and 5th which make up the notes of a regular triad (three note chord) you also add the 7th note from the root note’s scale. You can discover the theory behind these in my first book Backing Guitar Techniques for Traditional Celtic Music.

For any major key the list of tetrads available is:

Chord I – major 7 –

Chord II – minor 7

Chord III – minor 7

Chord IV – major 7

Chord V – dominant 7

Chord VI – Minor 7

Chord VII – ½ diminished (rarely used in folk music)

So for our tune in G major, the options are G major 7, A minor 7, B minor 7, C major 7, D (dominant) 7, E minor 7 and F# ½ diminished. These simply replace the equivalent triad from the old progression, so D becomes D7 (note that it must be D7 NOT D major 7 because it is chord V), G becomes G major 7 and so on.

You can also add any chord extensions (extra notes) to a jazz chord, so long as the notes you add are from the key you are currently playing in. For example instead of playing D7 for my chord V I have used D9. This works fine because the 9th note in the D chord is an E, and E appears in the scale of G major so adding it sounds fine.

In bar four of the B part I have broken up a chord I bar by playing half a bar of G then half a bar of its first inversion, a G chord with B at the lowest pitch in the chord. This creates a nice little bassline to lead up into the C chord in the next bar. The same principle applies to the momentary shift from C back to G/B in the next bar- it creates movement in the bassline.

In bar 7 of the B part, I have used a nifty trick to create a chromatic link from a C chord to a D. Instead of just playing C major 7 followed by D7, I insert a C#½ diminished chord as a passing chord. You can use this to create a chromatic link between ANY two chords whose roots are separated by a semitone. For example, within the key of G, you could link G – Am (G – G#dim – Am), Am – Bm (Am – A#dim – Bm), D – Em (D – D#dim. – Em) etc etc. It also works in any mode, for any two chords whose roots are a tone apart.