Irish Dance Tunes

As well as songs, which mostly take the form of laments, and ballads, there is a great number of Irish dance tunes. Some would estimate between 5,000 and 7,000 tunes in the traditional Irish repetoire!

These pieces of music are simple single line melodies which means they can be played by solo musicians. At music sessions other instruments can join in playing the same melody.

Irish music is often heard with an accompanying instrument like a guitar, bouzouki or piano playing chords underneath the melody.

The most popular types of dance tunes, that you will hear at sessions across Ireland are jigs, reels and polkas.

There are also slow airs, hornpipes, slip-jigs and more, but in this short article we will show you how to spot some of the most common tune types.


A jig is in 6/8 time:

123 456 123 456


ra-shers-and sau-sa-ges


A reel is in 4/4 time:

1234 1234


black-n-deck-er black-n-deck-er

Different parts of Ireland have different styles of tunes associated with them. The polka is commonly found in South west of Ireland, Cork, Limerick and Kerry in particular.


An easy way to spot a polka is if you can imagine dancing to it and counting:

1 2 3 hop, 1 2 3 hop,

For any musicians out there, a polka is in 4 time with a 2/4 feel (especially in Sliabh Luachra tunes)


A waltz is in 3/4 time and is a slow dance.

If you can imagine dancing and counting.

1 2 3 , 1 2 3, 1 2 3, 1 2 3.


A March can be counted in 2 or 4.

Either way imagine yourself marching:

1, 2 1, 2 1, 2

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In our weekly lessons for primary schools and in our special Irish Music Course we have recorded a number of tunes for you to test your new knowledge.

Try this short video first to the get some listening practice in: