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Folk Music and Related Resources

KiwiFolk is a "not-for-profit" website. Purchases made through the link below help to support the overheads and ongoing maintenance of this site. The books and music listed on the linked pages have been selected on the basis of popularity and great reviews, and are excellent value for money. Amazon.com provides a well-respected, fast, reliable and secure service. All prices are in US dollars so check your country's exchange rate at the time of purchase.

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Irish Music Resources

Here, I've selected the titles that are rated highly by those that have purchased them and/or represent good value for money. Remember, the NZ dollar price is usually a little less than twice the US dollar price.

The Companion to Irish Traditional Music by Fintan Vallely (Editor) US$50.00
Hardcover - 600 pages (September 1999) New York Univ Press.
The definitve work on Irish traditional culture. This is an amazing encyclopedia of articles that are very thorough and are written by people with impressive professional expertise. If you've ever come across a term or topic in Irish music or dance that you wished for more information about, this is the place to find it. The extensive appendix is a very valuable collection of sources from every facet of the genre. This reference work is essential for any serious student of Irish culture. It is well worth the price.

Field Guide to the Irish Music Session by Barry Foy, Rob Adams (Illustrator) US$9.07
Hardcover - 96 pages (March 1999) Publishers' Group West.
Far from being a spontaneous free-for-all, the Irish music session is governed by a particular etiquette. Traditional Irish music is very specific: specific tunes and rhythms, played on specific instruments. Being aware of the nuances -- passed from generation to generation through the institution of the session -- allows the player or fan to easily follow the music. This book explains it all and includes a glossary and charming line drawings.

50 Irish Melodies for all Harps by Heidi Spiegel, Sylvia Woods (Illustrator) US$17.95
Fifty Irish songs (with lyrics) in multi-level arrangements for harp by Sylvia Woods. Each piece has two arrangements: easy and more difficult. They can be played "back to back" to make a more varied arrangement or played together as a duet. The book also includes some Irish-American songs that have found their way into the Irish music tradition. The pieces are fingered and are in the key of C or sharp keys. Lyrics and chord symbols are indicated. Some require lever or pedal changes within the piece.

Sylvia Woods' harp music books are among the most popular books for harpists at any level. They are playable on lever harps (also called Irish, Celtic, or folk harps) as well as pedal harps (also called concert, grand, or orchestral harps).

The Heartbeat of Irish Music by Christy McNamara (Photographer), Peter Woods. US$14.36
Paperback - 160 pages (September 1997) Roberts Rinehart Pub.
A glimpse at the personal side of Irish music This book has it's focus not on the development and playing of Irish traditional music, but on the people who play it. An outstanding narrative of a musician that is inspirational to anyone who plays this music. Also full of beautiful photography that shows the reader what Irish music is in the session and how it was meant to be seen/heard.

Irish DADGAD Guitar by Dufou, Sarah McQuaid US$14.36
Paperback (April 1996) Music Sales Corp.

Blooming Meadows : The World of Irish Traditional Musicians by Fintan Vallely, Charlie Piggott, Nutan (Photographer), US$26.95
Hardcover, Published 1998, 272 pages

Last Night's Fun : In and Out of Time With Irish Music by Ciaran Carson US$21.00
Hardcover - 198 pages (March 1997) North Point Press.
Review: A killer flautist and top-drawer poet, Ciaran Carson has fused his twin vocations in Last Night's Fun. First and foremost, he tells the reader about traditional Irish music. Yet his book is also a meditation on several interlinked themes--memory, drinking, mortality, language, food, and the uncanny way in which music seems to expand and contract the very passage of time. Carson's prose is appropriately euphonic, right down to the innumerable grace notes of wit and amusement, and he has the improvisor's gift for rushing the listener down unexpected paths. In short: a marvelous, inimitable read.

Carson's Belfast childhood, early encounters with music, and travels through Ireland and America contributes to chapters which blend autobiography with reflections on Irish musical style. Last Night's Fun features a chatty blend of musical history and travelogue following the author's encounters with popular Irish music.

Patricia Monaghan, Booklist , March 1, 1997

...explaining how fiddlers playing together know when one reel is going to segue into the next in a set, telling you how to find the pub where the music will be most freely flowing at night, and advising the best way to cook eggs-and-fry the morning after.
E. Annie Proulx, author of The Shipping News
"...cracker of a book, pure pleasure, stuffed with anecdotes, memories, wit and humor and deep knowledge of traditional Irish music. The reader is transported into the smoke and warmth of certain rooms in Northern Ireland where a glass of whiskey stands on the table, the black, cast-iron pan sputters on the burner, and a tune falls canted and sly out of the instruments."
Sean Laffey Irish Music Magazine Dublin, September 11, 1998
Delvings of the deep diddly diddly, Belfast writer, fluter, raconteur and unreliable witness takes us into the subterranean world of craic agus chaos as he attempts to surf the web of the perfect session experience. Part nostalgic interrogtation of his own relationship with traditional music, part exploration of the Ulster breakfast: this book is a close as it gets to the cameraderie and catharsis of an all night music bash. A work of astute fiction that might never be true but is always believable.

At the end we are left wondering was this one large joke or simply a witty Northern oxymoron? A book to be revisited when the frost keeps us away from session, pub or our inner fiddler.

Excellent is too narrow a word to describe the sweep of the narrative.

71614.3236@compuserve.com from Santa Fe, NM , April 30, 1998
... It's almost as good as being there

Play 50 Irish BalladsUS$7.95
Good for what it is... This small book contains, as the title indicates, the words to 50 Irish ballads that can be played using only six chords (G, C, D, Am, A, and Em). It does not contain the actual tunes, and because of this it's really only useful to people already familiar with the songs. The book has some good material, and I'd give it a higher rating if it gave some indication of where to find recorded versions of the songs to learn from. As it is, I plan to order the other two volumes in the series...but if you're not already a fan of groups like the Clancy Brothers and the Wolfe Tones who actually perform these songs you won't get much use out of it

The Darley and McCall Collection of Traditional Irish Music US$11.95
Paperback, Published 1997

English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish Fiddle Tunes by Robin Williamson US$18.95

Guitar Playing (Various Styles)

How-to books for many styles.

Guitar Playing Hawaiian Style : Ki Ho'Alu an Instructional Method for Slack Key (with Cassette) by Ozzie Kotani, Dennis Ladd US$13.56
Paperback book and cassette edition Vol 1 (December 1996)
Availability: This item is currently not available. We'd be glad to let you know as soon as it's available to order. Just click the "E-mail me When Available" button (after clicking on the title link).

nolanlori@aol.com from Hawaii, September 22, 1999; The first slack-key guitar book you should buy!!! This is a great book for those who never played a guitar before. Once I got the guitar tuned to slack key I could actually start playing the first song. It is hard to believe that nice music can be made by pressing down on just one string at a time. I hope he comes out with another book with more songs to learn.

finemc28@aol.com from Sacramento, Ca, August 15, 1997; Wonderful start to playing Hawaiian Slack Key style. After working through all the songs in this book I now have a set of beautiful and playable guitar pieces. Most are in G tuning and the progression from song to song is excellent. The left hand fingering details are very helpful. (30+ year fingerstyle guitar player)

Traditional Irish Guitar : A Tradition-Based Approach to Accompaniment and Solo-Playing of Irish Dance Music on the Guitar by Paul De Grae, US$32.95
Paperback (December 1996), Ossian Pubns Ltd;

Art of Classical Guitar Playing by Charles Duncan, US$15.96
Paperback - 132 pages (June 1980) Warner Brothers / Summy-Birchard Publications;

Folk Music on Campus Easy Guitar; For Singing and Playing Guitar by Lisle Crowley (Editor), John L. Haag, $14.95
Paperback - 144 pages, Creative Concepts;

Guitar Melody Chord Playing System by Mel Bay, US$9.56
Paperback (June 1993) Mel Bay Publications;

Hot Country : A Comprehensive Guide to Lead and Rhythm Country Guitar Playing by Lee Hodgson, US$14.36
Paperback Book & Cd edition (October 1997) Music Sales Corp;

Instrument Making and Repair

There are some wonderful books here for both the professional and the beginner.

How to Set Up the Best Sounding Banjo: A Complete Technical Guide by Roger H. Siminoff US$13.56
Paperback - 80 pages (December 1998)Hal Leonard Publishing Corporation.

Constructing a 5-String Banjo : A Complete TechnicalGuide by Roger H. Siminoff US$13.56
Paperback (May 1985)Hal Leonard Publishing Corporation.
Covers everything you need to know about building a bluegrass banjo. Does an excellent job of describing the tasks and the sequence that they should be done. With Roger's step by step method, you will save you hours of aggrivation and frustration. Well worth the money. The book contains excellent photos to assist the builder.

Constructing a Bluegrass Mandolin : A Complete Technical Guide by Roger H. Siminoff US$13.56
Paperback (May 1985)Hal Leonard Publishing Corporation.
Customer Reviews:
Very easy to follow.. a great book!! I never made any type of musical anything before and I actually made this mandolin. It gave step by step instructions that were easy to follow. I had no previous experience with this stuff before. I would recommend!!!!

Great book! I would recommend this book to anyone even thinking about building a mandolin. I just started my first, but I don't think I ever would have started without this book. Very clearly written and illustrated.

Guitarmaking : Tradition and Technology A Complete Reference for the Design & Construction of the Steel-String Folk Guitar & the Classical Guitar; by William R. Cumpiano, Jonathan D. Natelson (Contributor), Clyde Herlitz (Photographer). US$23.96
Paperback - 388 pages (March 1994)Music Sales Corp.
Customer Reviews:
A permanent reference work on my bench. ...over a 2 week period I built a fabulous acoustic guitar using the step by step procedures outlined in this book entirely.

Excellent work on guitarmaking. This is a detailed, step-by-step work on building a steel-string and a classical guitar, with very good professional photos and drawings. It is written in a manner that assumes a bit of experience, but takes the time to explain principles and procedures fully in every case. If you are planning to build a guitar for the first time, you'll want this one. It's worth all the tools in your shop.

"Guitarmaking..." is well written and detailed. Cumpiano and Natelson have written a great book for beginners. In this book are all of the details necessary for constructing your own classical or steel-stringed guitar. The appendix is an indespensable resource with lists of potential suppliers, wood types, and dimensions for every piece. They describe the process with a minimum of technology used.

The gods prostrate themselves before this masterpiece. As a technical writer and luthier, I can vouch for this tome on both accounts. It explains guitarmaking in such detail that it does not need to include any patterns; after reading this book, you will understand the instrument well enough to build one on a desert island from memory. Although the paperback edition is quite sturdy, I used mine until it fell apart. Buy the hardback.

Absolutely a must-have book for beginning luthiers. The instructions in this book are well-thought out and very precise. I built the steel string neck in two days. It came out great. The step-by-step instructions left nothing to the imagination. Every step is explained in detail. The authors even go so far as to anticipate your trouble areas and go to extra lengths to pinpoint them and give remedy.

This is the book for all beginning and intermediate luthiers In the research stage of my luthier career I bought quite a few books. Without a doubt my favorites would be this book and Robert Benedetto's "Building an Archtop Guitar". What makes this book so outstanding is that it actually breaks the process down into unique steps. Most books will tell you to "Plane the top plate to the correct thickness". This book tells you how to do it, not just what to do. This is also the only book on guitar building where the author anticipates the areas where the beginning luthier might have problems. There are several areas where you're told to do such and such a step (which may not be obvious) in order to avoid such -and-such a problem. There's also several times when the author tells you how to escape from common mistakes. I own a lot of guitar building books but this is the one that sits in the top of my tool chest.

Probably the best do-it-yourself guide to making a guitar! As a chronic do-it-yourselfer my intest in playing guitar has spawned an interest in building a guitar. I found this tome after years of searching the stacks at my local library, and I instantly fell in love with it. It is quite clearly written and each step is explained in exquisite detail. The authors have divided up the steps into several short procedures so that the reader does not feel overwhelmed. Each procedure is profusely illustrated and accompanied in most cases by a list of materials and tools required. Cognizant that the lay carpenter probably does not have much in the way of woodworking tools, the authors pare down the list of tools needed to a manageable list available at most hardware stores, mostly hand tools. The authors also include an up to date list of catalog suppliers of necessary parts, tools, and woods.

Making an Archtop Guitar by Robert Benedetto US$31.96
Paperback - 260 pages Reissue edition (February 1996) Centerstream Publishers

howardpaul@aol.com from Savannah, GA , July 22, 1999; This is a critical book for an archtop buyer, too! As an archtop owner and player for nearly thirty years, I would call this book a must read for anyone who is interested in purchasing a vintage archtop or buying a new one. Benedetto leads the reader into a deep appreciation of the painstaking detail that goes into The Making of an Archtop. He describes the level of attention that should be evident on each component of the guitar, and how it effects the player (and the price) in the end. The significance of learning the process of material selection, construction sequencing and design considerations might well lead the reader towards a custom made instrument. This book is a credit to all the independent luthiers out there whose trade is no longer a secret.

bacatmx@att.net from San Antonio , May 20, 1999; Good book for a novice builder. I agree that this book is not for someone who is interested in seriously studying archtop design and construction. But It's a GREAT book for someone with a little experience under their belt, who wants to try something different. If you want to become the next "Greatest American Luthier", find a good mentor and apprentice yourself to him/her. If you want to build an archtop, this book is a comprehensive guide that will get you there.

m_cameron_smith@hotmail.com from Australia, April 26,1999; THE Archtop book. I don't know who charliem thinks he is, but on the subject of making archtop guitars (amongst others), Benedetto's book is the most informative of it's kind. As far as not giving enough info. goes, there is everything one needs to know from go to whoa. If he doesn't spell it out then it can either be worked out with a little basic math. or it doesn't effect the overall outcome. It is the best book on archtop guitars and should be in every collection.

The Guitar Maker's Manual by Jim Williams US$15.96
Paperback - 112 pages Reprint edition (January 1988) Hal Leonard Publishing Corporation;

cryinmike@teleweb.net from New Baltimore Michigan, July 4, 1999; This is an outstanding, very thorough book and takes the reader through all the steps necessary to construct a classical or acoustic steel string guitar. The book comes complete with life size plans for the parts, as well as plans and instructions for building the various jigs required, including the side bending jig. The book also painstakingly lays out the materials and tools needed, leaving no guesswork. Being brand new to building guitars, and this being my first book, I was perhaps conservative in rating the book 4 stars. Time may prove this to be a 5 star book, I just had a couple of questions left unanswered. I do highly recommend this book, it is worth ten times the price.

Constructing a Solid Body Guitar : A Complete Technical Guide by Roger H. Siminoff, Chet Atkins (Introduction) US$15.96
Paperback - 64 pages Spiral edition (July 1986), Hal Leonard Publishing Corporation;

Complete Guitar Repair by Hideo Kamimoto US$19.95
Paperback - 160 pages (April 1975) Music Sales Corp;

Guitar Player Repair Guide : How to Set-Up, Maintain, and Repair Electrics and Acoustics by Dan Erlewine, US$18.36
Paperback - 309 pages 2nd edition (January 1994) Miller Freeman Books; A reader from U.S.A. , April 11, 1999; This book is excellent!!! Anyone who knows of Dan Erlewine(?) or has seen his repair videos knows that he is a genius repairman! This book took me from knowing nothing about guitar repair- to doing my own fret jobs! This book is way under-priced once you realize how much money you are saving in repairs. Plus, no more waiting 2 weeks to get your guitar back from the shop just to realize that the bonehead who "fixed" it actually totally screwed it up! In this book, Dan explains everything in 'real-people' terms and really lines it out for you- lots of pictures!!! A MUST HAVE!

Chris Carr, chriscarr@picknowl.com.au from Australia, September 10, 1998; Almost a luthiers course in a book for budding Mr Fixit's This book is partly a compendium of all the excellent articles that Dan Erlewine has written in the US mags over the years. A lot of the stuff in the book really isn't for beginners but is still an excellent reference for repairing and fine tuning your guitar, you can build yourself up to that fretboard recap later. It's also great for giving you the knowledge to combat the technobabble and lies that some shonky repair guys throw at newbies. Honestly this book has been a real help to me in my tinkering with guitars, even if just helps you do a basic setup its going to save you money in repair bills in the long run. The scope and detail of topics in the book is comprehensive, and obviously Dan is a well respected repair jockey who can answer most problems you are likely to face. He covers painting a finish, cracks on acoustics, neck breaks, tuning, trussrods and action, fret replacements and profiling, pickups and the list just goes on. Sometimes it's hard to follow because it's very USA centric and Dan recommends products, which more often than not, are just not sold in Australia. If you can live with this, buy it, anyway his descriptions of what the techniques are and what the products do are good enough that you can translate the instructions into Australian and what's on the shelves of you local hardware store. It's not a luthiers course in a book, but rather an excellent reference book and a must have for all budding Guitar Bruces and Mr Fixit's out there.

Anthony Gundrum (agundrum@voicenet.com) from Bridgeport, PA, July 26, 1998; Excellent reference for repairing and tuning up your guitar The first time I looked through this book I found it to be very informative. I was sorry the next time I looked for it and could not find it on the store shelf. Found it again and this time I bought it. I had a Les Paul copy with a headstock that was cracked down into the neck (really wierd break) and I had glued it up the best I could without this book. Came out good but the problems that followed were buzzing notes and intonation. I learned alot about the problems I was having using this book and was able to get the guitar sounding better than it ever had. A must have reference.

A reader , April 3, 1997; Essential tool for DIY guitarists. This book is essential. If you touch your guitar with anything other than a polishing cloth or your fingers, Read This Book First! Comprehensive in scope, exhaustive in detail, and informed by experience, Erlewine's book is written colorfully and has the answer to any problem a player or repairman is likely to face, whether it be finish damage, structural cracks, or fine tuning the action and setup. About the only place where the book is less than encyclopedic is in its treatment of pickups and electronics, but even here, Erlewine covers the basics and the most common problems. I have used the information in this book to help me build a guitar from scratch; it saved my butt a few times. -j

Banjo Books

Playing, history, construction and more...

African Banjo Echoes in Appalachia : A Study of Folk Traditions Publications of the American Folklore Society. New Series) by Cecelia Conway, US$25.00
Paperback - 424 pages (October 1995) Univ of Tennessee Pr;

That Half-Barbaric Twang: The Banjo in American Popular Culture (Music in American Life) by Karen Linn, US$17.95
Paperback - 185 pages (August 1994) Univ of Illinois Pr (Trd);

Ring the Banjar: History of the Banjo, the Banjo in America from Folklore to Factory by Robert Lloyd Webb (Editor), US$19.96
Paperback - 102 pages 2nd edition (January 1997); Hal Leonard Publishing Corporation;

How to Set Up the Best Sounding Banjo by Roger H. Siminoff, US$13.56
Paperback - 80 pages (December 1998) Hal Leonard Publishing Corporation;

Constructing a 5-String Banjo: A Complete Technical Guide by Roger H. Siminoff, US$13.56
Hal Leonard Publishing Corporation;

george_chapman@bose.com from Framingham, Massachusetts , August 28, 1998; Roger covers everything you need to know about building a bluegrass banjo. He does an excellent job of describing the tasks and the sequence that they should be done. Building a banjo is a lot like swimming; easier for an expert to describe than for the novice to execute. However, with Rogers step by step method, you will have to work hard at screwing up. This book will save you hours of aggrivation and frustration. Well worth the money. The book contains excellent photos to assist the builder.