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4 Famous Pop Songs that use Irish Traditional Instruments

Learn about the Irish trad instruments used in some of your favourite pop songs.

Irish traditional music is not a genre you would naturally associate with pop music.

When you think of Irish trad music the first thing to come to mind for most is groups of people having a session playing music together in a pub or of the infamous Riverdance.

Traditional music and instruments are not typically heard in pop music, however, these four artists prove that Irish traditional music can be successfully integrated into modern music and still do well in the charts.

1. ‘Superheros’ by The Script

At 277 million streams on Spotify ‘Superheros’ is The Scripts third most popular song. Did you notice how they included a hint of their Irish heritage in the track?

The recurring riff heard throughout this track is played by a Tin Whistle.

It offers a unique, sharp, tone that is hard to replicate and which adds a nice texture to the song.

Picture by Ishikawa Ken

The Tin Whistle which is called a “Feadóg Stáin” in Irish is a six-holed woodwind instrument. It is most commonly made out of brass or a nickel-plated brass tubing with a mouthpiece.

2. Fairytale of New York’ by The Pogues and Kristy MacColl

One of the most famous Christmas songs in the world and arguably The Pogues most well-known track is full of traditional Irish instruments.

The song which currently has about 135 million streams on Spotify features a tin whistle, a piano accordion and a banjo.

The use of these traditional instrument gives the song a clear Irish feel while the melody balances out the song to give it a contemporary twist.

Picture by Ralf Schulze

The piano accordion is a box-shaped wind instrument with large bellows to force air through small metal reeds.

There is a keyboard on the right-hand side of the box and buttons on the left.

The banjo is a four to six-stringed instrument in the guitar family which has a round open-backed soundbox of parchment stretched over a metal hoop.

3. ‘Runaway’ by The Corrs

The four-piece family band have a perfect example here of how Irish instruments can work in contemporary pop music with this their second most popular song.

The track which currently has over 24 million streams on Spotify uses a fiddle and traditional Irish flute which play a recurring melody throughout the song.

The song has all the hallmarks of a normal pop song of its time but the addition of these two instruments adds a distinctly Irish sound to the song making it all the more powerful.

Picture by Marco Verch

The fiddle is actually just a colloquial term used for a violin, but the difference lies in the way in which the instrument is played.

A fiddle has more relaxed, ornamental melodies than a violin

Picture from WikiMedia

The traditional Irish flute is a  six-holed, simple-system wooden flute, which has strong routes in the northwestern counties of Leitrim, Sligo and Roscommon.

4. ‘Galway Girl’ by Ed Sheeran

This is without a doubt the most recognisable Irish influenced pop song of the last few years.

Sheeran, who has some Irish routes heavily uses elements of Irish traditional music in this song.

The track which has a staggering 694 million streams on Spotify uses the fiddle, accordion, bodhrán, traditional Irish flute and the tin whistle.

Sheeran uses stereotypical Irish trad melodies to emphasises the obvious Irish influence of the song, blending it with his own signature style.

The bodhrán is an open-ended frame drum which has a synthetic or animal skin tacked to one side and is played with a stick or beater.

The other side is left open with a wooden bar going across it and one hand is usually placed on the skin on this side of the bohdrán to control the tone of the sound.

It’s clear from the popularity of these songs that Irish traditional instruments can be used effectively in pop music to create a truly unique blend sounds.

Can you think of any more pop songs that use Irish traditional instruments that we didn’t include?

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