A Quick History of Celtic Music

Traditionally speaking, Celtic music is the folk music of the Celts: those from Brittany, Cornwall, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, and the Isle of Man. Since those tribes and people are no longer around yet their music has lived on.Now the term has taken on a broader, looser interpretation. Nowadays people will claim something is Celtic if it has any hint of an Irish sound in it. A band can consider themselves Celtic by using Gaelic or Welsh words in a name.

Each of the regionsgave birth to a style all its own but generally fall into one of two major styles: those of the Gaelic style (preferred by the Irish, Scottish, and Manx) and the Brythonic, played by the Bretons, Welsh and Cornish. There are several differences, including instruments and languages spoken, but we’ll stick with one major difference: from a strictly melodic standpoint, Gaelic has more range. It is also more interesting to listen to if you ask us. Of course, we are Irish in heritage and grew up listening to it, so we could either be considered experts or biased (or both). We like to say that if the Irish didn’t invent Celtic music, they certainly have perfected it. Therefore, we take most of the credit for it.

Okay. So now you know who invented the music and what the various regions brought to the genre. But what else is there to know?

How about what makes it different from other types of music? Sure, we can get into that. What sets Celtic music apart from something like pop music is that it is melodic and not harmonic. In other words, musicians all play what are essentially solos—the sounds are not harmonized. Often, the instruments are playing the same melody simultaneously and not blending together to make one sound. The structure is also different. There is less of a structured verse-chorus-bridge format. Most Celtic music had only a few parts, and they were mostly variations on the same melody as opposed to separate parts.

Celtic music has evolved over time. There is the traditional folk music style, which each country has a different take on. There are crowd pleasing Jigs and Reels and working Waulking songs. The Celtic style lends itself to more modern-sounding music as well. There are successful rock and metal bands, hip-hop artists and pop singers with Celtic influences. Each artist puts their own twist on the Celtic sound, which has opened up the genre even wider and brought more of an audience to Celtic music.

There are lots of Celtic music festivals out there—many in the month of March, naturally—and a variety of artists perform. It is one of the best ways to hear the music live, especially if you are looking for a diverse group of artists. Another good option is to look around online. There are always podcasts and internet radio stations that have different types of Celtic music. YouTube even has videos you can check out. And if you are interested in Celtic music, be sure to check out our favorite band, The McKrells!