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.