Strumming patterns

How to strum polkas on guitar for complete beginners!

In this week’s free guitar lesson from Folk Friend, I’ll be showing you two easy strumming patterns you can use to play along with polkas! One is the “hup-two” pattern which you see a lot in Irish sessions and the other is a more motion-efficient variant which I have borrowed from the great guitarist and music educator Steve Cooney.

Get your hands on the Folk Friend Playalongs Pack in order to practice along with 20 tunes at 3 speeds each, with on screen guitar chords, diagrams, a write up of why the chords work and loads more.

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.


The Glen Cottage Polka – G aeolian


This tune is fairly simple in its chord options, but not simple in the fact that they are mostly barre chords! It’s written in the uncommon mode of G aeolian, whose key signature is the same as that of B♭ major. Therefore the available chords are G minor, A diminished, B♭ major, C minor, D minor, E♭ major and F major. The simple chords can be broken down into just I, IV and V aka Gm, Cm and Dm.

Basic chords

In the basic chords I have replaced the third and fourth bars, which are really just another chord I section, with B♭ major. This works because G minor’s related major is B♭ major (a minor chord’s related major chord is always two notes above it in the root scale) so the two can be used interchangeably to break up lengthy chord I sections.

This tune is somewhat unusual in that in the second half of the A part (second line) it doesn’t go to chord V on the seventh foot tap but on the fifth. This is clear from the melody notes in bars 13 – 16; “D – D C B♭ – A – G – – – G – – -”.

In the B part, the second line could really have been a huge chord I section with chord V marking the end of the section as usual. However, I have used an E♭ chord instead of the first chord I. You can always replace a minor chord with its related major (whose root note is two above it in the key scale; in this key B♭ major would replace G minor) or, for a more wistful sounding substitution, with the major whose root note is two below it in the root scale, as in this instance where G minor is replaced by E♭ major. I feel that this “wistful” sounding substitution fits particularly well with the long, high B♭ note played in this bar.

Bars 11 and 12 of the B part have been accompanied with chord V. This is not something I would commonly do, but I didn’t want to go from my E♭ straight back to chord I (if you add a substitution and then revert to the “standard” chord I it really feels like you’ve started a story and given up half way through) so as there was still plenty of chord I section available, it made more sense to resolve back to my chord I by going via chord V. If you have a long section of any chord you can always break it up by resolving to said chord from the chord whose root note is a fifth above it in the given key.


In this version of the chords, the A part is the same. The B part however has been changed to use a descending chord run going down the scale from Gm all the way to Dm (chord V). To keep the descending run going in bars 13 and 14, chord I has been replaced with chord IV (Cm). It is always acceptable to put chord IV or any of its substitute options in a chord I section.

The section ends in the usual way by resolving from chord V (Dm) back to chord I (Gm).

Jazzy substitutions

In this version of the A part I have replaced each of my chords with the jazzy tetrad shape applicable for the key of B aeolian. As this key has the same key signature and therefore chords as D ionian (major), my tetrad options are: B minor 7, C# ½ diminished, D major 7, E minor 7, F# minor 7, G major 7 and A (dominant) 7.

I have more or less done the same in the B part except that I have also reinstated the V chord for the 7th foot tap.

Playalongs Polkas

John Ryan’s – D ionian



Basic chords

This tune is in the key of D ionian. Therefore the available chords are D major, E minor, F# minor, G major, A major, B minor and C# diminished.

If you listen to the tune my choices should be relatively self-explanatory. Notice that each section ends with a resolution from A D, aka chord V to chord I.

Basic substitutions

I have substituted the G in the second line for its related minor, Em. I have also substituted the D in the second half of the third line for its related minor, Bm and the G in the final line for Em.

In the second line of the B part I have replaced one D chord with a D in the first inversion (D/F#). This chord still contains the notes of a D major triad, D, F# and A, but has them piled up with the F# at the lowest pitch within the chord. This means that functionally it is exactly the same as a normal D major chord, but it’s altered bass note creates a nice bassline which adds a sense of movement to the progression, jumping from D to F# before dropping back down for the E at the bottom of the E minor chord which follows it. In the third line I have used a similar trick to link a G chord to it’s related minor E minor, passing through D/F# in order to make a nice descending bassline, G, F#, E.

Jazzy substitutions

Because of the excessive speed at which polkas roll along, I have kept my chord choices relatively simple for this one! If you’re feeling jazzy, you can replace any chord with the “right kind” of seven chord, by which I mean that in the ionian mode chords I and IV can become major 7 chords, chords II, III and VI become minor 7 chords and chord V becomes a dominant 7 chord (usually just referred to as a 7 chord). This is why my Em7, A7 (this is chord V so it has to be “A7” NOT “A major 7”) and Bm7 all work well.

In the B part I have added a C natural (♮) chord- this is decidedly cheeky. What I have actually done there is to borrow a chord from the mixolydian mode, which is only separated from the ionian mode by one note. If this tune were written in D mixolydian, its scale would contain a C♮ instead of C#, and therefore its VII chord would be C major instead of C# diminished. As the 7th note of the scale, C#, is not in the melody in this bar I can borrow the cheeky flattened VII chord from D mixolydian. So long as there is no C# in the tune it won’t clash but will just lend the tune a blues-y character for a moment instead!

Changing the third line from “D D G G” to “Bm7 A7 G D/F#” works because Bm is related to D (and therefore so is Bm7), A7 is a passing chord which creates a nice step-wise descent to G and then D/F# is chord I (D) but with a bass note which continues the little descending bass run, which then culminates in E minor in the final line.