Playalongs Reels

Crock Of Gold – G ionian / A dorian


Basic chords

This tune is in the key of G ionian. This means the available chords are G major, A minor, B minor, C major, D major, E minor and F# diminished, with the main ones being I, IV and V aka G, C and D.

There is a key change in the B part, to A dorian. The chords in this mode are the same ones available in G ionian, but because we are now beginning and ending our key scale on A, the main chords are I, IV and V beginning from A, aka A minor, D major and E minor.

There are no strongly chord IV sound sections in the A part of the tune, so I have stuck to chord I (G) throughout. Chord V, as always, goes in bar four and in bar eight chord V returns to chord I to mark the end of the section. This is the “seventh foot tap rule”- you tap your foot twice in each bar and on every seventh foot tap there is always a chord V.

In the B part we have switched keys to A dorian. You can tell because the first bar contains the notes “E A A G A – G A”. You generally work out which chord family fits with a section of melody by which notes are played on the dominant beats (the ones where your foot taps). In this section the dominant notes are E, A, A, G (followed swiftly by A). As A, C and E are the notes of an A minor chord this clearly shows that a shift to A minor has taken place. The most common of the two minor modes in folk music is the dorian (optimistic minor) and A dorian contains the same notes as G ionian, so it is safe to assume that the B part is in a dorian not A aeolian. This is later confirmed by the inclusion of the F# note which would be F♮ if the part were in A aeolian.

The third bar of the B part starts and finishes on G, so I have put a G chord with it. Resolving from G – Am (chord VII – chord I) instead of Em – Am (chord V – chord I) in the fourth bar works because G major is related to E minor. Every minor chord has a related major chord, which is two above it in the key scale, and these two can always be used interchangeably. In this case E is the 5th note in the scale of A dorian. Two notes above E in the scale is G, so G major can replace E minor for a lighter feeling chord progression.

In the last two bars of the B part you will noticed that I have not ended on A minor as you would expect for a section in the key of A dorian, but on D. This is because I know the tune is about to switch back to G ionian for the A part, so I end the section on G’s V chord, which then wants to resolve back to G to start the next section. Any time a key change is coming up you can always end the current section on the upcoming key’s chord V in order to make the modulation (key change) work.


In this version I have replaced G in the second bar with its related minor, E minor. In order to link these two chords together, I have played an intermediate chord D/F#. This works well because the bass note in the second chord creates a nice bassline – G, F#, Em. It is always nice to link a major chord to its related minor in this way- you can find a complete list of these types of linking chords in my first book, Backing Guitar Techniques For Traditional Celtic Music.

Replacing the G from the third bar with a C works because you can always replace a chord I section with chord IV, or a chord related to chord IV. Therefore, either C or its related minor Am are valid substitutes for a chord I section. In this instance I have linked C to Am using another linking chord, G in the first inversion, otherwise known as G/B. You can find a diagram for this chord below.

I have also used the G/B chord to create bass movement in bar seven. This chord sounds fine in context because it’s an inversion of chord I, and this is a chord I section.

In the B part I have used two minor substitutes for G major in bars three and four. G major’s related minor is E minor, and a major chord can also be substituted to the minor chord whose root is two above its own in the key scale. In this case that is B minor (G – A – B).

The last two bars of the B part use a chord progression which would commonly appear in G ionian, to make it clear that the tune still has its roots in that mode; C – D. This would be chord IV – V in G ionian, and would traditionally be followed by G major (chord I). In the first playthrough of the B part the last chord is A minor as the tune is going to continue in that key, but on the second playthrough it reverts to G major ready for the A part which is back in the original key of G ionian.

Jazzy substitutions

In this version I have added nice jazzy tetrads (four note chords instead of the usual triads or three note chords). When adding tetrads or more complicated “jazz” chords into folk music in major keys, chords I and IV become major 7 type chords, chords II and VI become minor 7 type chords and chord V becomes a dominant type chord. You can learn a lot more about how to implement these types of chords in my book Backing Guitar Techniques for Traditional Celtic Music. For our purposes the complete list of available tetrads is: G major 7, A minor 7, B minor 7, C major 7, D (dominant) 7, E minor 7 and F# ½ diminished (again, if you want to understand what a “half diminished chord” is then please see my book).

For the A minor 7 chord in the B part, I like to use the barre chord version (pictured below). I then like to use the high E minor and B minor barre chords which are nearer to this chord than the more common voicings found lower down the neck. Generally speaking, B parts are usually higher pitched and more energetic than A parts, so I often match this by using higher chords (incorporating low open strings as bass notes where possible) in my backing.

In bar four of the A part I have used D9 instead of D7. You can theoretically add ANY notes to a jazzy chord V in a major key, so any dominant or altered dominant chord would do. However the ones I particularly like the sounds of are 9 and 13 chords. Experiment with using these chord types in place of V chords in other keys!

In bar seven of the A part I have used the chromatic link Cmaj7 – C# ½ diminished – D9. This works well because any time you have two chords whose root notes are separated by a tone, you can always link the two by using the diminished or ½ diminished chord whose root lies on the semitone in between them. This works well if you are ascending- if you wish to create a descending chromatic link then using a dominant 7 chord works better, eg D9 – C#7 – C major 7.

In the B part I have used the same tricks mentioned above to convert my substitutions version of the tune into a jazzier version of the same progression. Note the chromatic link reappears in bar seven.

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.

Playalongs Polkas

Ger The Rigger – A ionian


I love this bouncy little number in A major. I’ve always believed A major to be the brightest and most joyful of the folk keys, and although this tune is simple there’s something about it which makes me want to sit and play it for hours on end, building the dynamics and layering up jazzier and jazzier chords!

Basic chords

Bars 5 and 6 are very clearly chord IV bars. The section begins on the 4th note of an A ionian scale (D) and then runs up the scale from there (D – D C# D E F# G#). Bars 13 and 14 are also a chord IV section as the following notes are played: “D – F# D A – C# A”. The first half of the bar plays the lower two notes of a D major triad (D, F# and A) so ths part is very clearly a chord IV section, but the second bar (A – C# A) could just as well have been chord I. However in order to keep a constant range of harmonic change and make life easy for the beginner guitarist I have stayed on chord IV for this section. This still works because chord IV can always be played instead of chord I in any chord I section (but chord I can not replace chord IV in a chord IV section).

In a polka you only tap your foot once per bar. The “seventh foot tap” rule, that chord V goes on every seventh foot tap, for two taps the first time and one followed by chord I the second, still applies as normal. By this token, bars 7 and 8 are a chord V section. In the second line, the last two bars (or “the second seventh foot tap”- 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8) resolve from chord V back to chord I (E back to A) to mark the end of the A part.

The B part takes similar chords to the A part, for similar reasons.


I have replaced the third and fourth bars of A with A in the first inversion, otherwise known as A/C#. This chord still sounds like an A major chord and contains the same three notes piled up (A, C# and E) but with A removed from the lowest pitch of the chord, and C# at the bottom instead. This provides a nice walking bassline from A – C# which then leads nicely into the D at the lowest pitch in the following chord.

In this version I have also reinstated the chord I in bar 14, which I previously omitted for the reasons stated above.

In the B part’s second line, I have started out by replacing an A major chord with its related minor, F# minor (a major chord’s related minor chord is always the minor chord whose root note is two notes down the root scale from the starting chord, so for A; A – G# – F# minor).

If I have started a section with a minor substitution, I like to use further minor substitutions afterwards as to begin a section with a minor but then convert back to standard major chords feels to me like starting a sad story but then giving up half way through. For this reason I have followed my F# minor with B minor. This works in a chord I section because you can always replace chord I with chord IV in a chord I section and chord II (Bm) is chord IV (D)’s related minor, meaning that they can be used interchangeably.

Jazzy substitutions

Don’t be put off by all those numbers… These chords are actually very simple to play using my “cheat” slidey A major jazz chord scale! I have included diagrams for the whole scale’s worth of easy chords below. You can also find a complete video guide to these shapes on the Folk Friend Youtube channel here.

In the final line of both the A and B parts, I use a standard D major 7 chord instead of the D major 13 chord. This is because it is easy to switch from this shape to A/C#, otherwise known as A in the first inversion. This provides a nice little “D – – – C# – – – E – – – A – – -” bassline, which matches the notes of the tune in that section, “D – F# D C# – E C# B A B C# A – – -”.

From the A/C# chord, I like to slide my ring finger (which frets the A string) all the way up to the 7th fret to give a cool, joyful slide into the E7 chord.

I have begun the B part on A in the first inversion (A/C#), which I finger using the final shape shown on the list below. Beginning a tune’s B part on an inversion of chord I is a nice way to create tension and drama, so experiment with this in other contexts!

The F#m7 in the third line is A major’s related minor in jazzy tetrad (four note chord) form. I then continue to C#m7, which is another substitute for A major (recall that you can substitute a major chord for the minor chord whose root is two notes below OR two notes above it in the key scale). As I said before, I usually like to follow one minor substitution with another as to play one minor substitution but then revert to major chords feels like you started to tell a sad story but then got bored half way through and never finished it. This progression is also satisfying as C#m is a fifth below F#m and resolving down a fifth is always a guaranteed pleasing chord progression.