Chasmac is a semi-retired guitar teacher who has taught in various schools in London and elsewhere for over 30 years.
"Brian Boru's March" is a traditional Irish melody honouring an 11th century King of Ireland and hero of Irish folklore. This is a simple fingerstyle guitar arrangement of it that I've made. You can listen to it and read the notation or tab on the video screen as it plays or read from the static score printed under the video. The video quality is 1080HD, so for maximum clarity, view it full-screen and use that playback quality setting if the video doesn't switch to it automatically (It's the cog-shaped icon that shows up at the bottom of the screen after you click play). If you don't have 1080HD on your screen, choose the nearest quality to it.
Below is the same tab and notation. You can view the staves line by line - large and clear - by clicking on the thumbnail to view them in full-size.
"Brian Boru's March"—Tab and Notation
Brian Boru—PDF File
Click to open and download a PDF file of Brian Boru's March for offline viewing and printing.
The playing style is 'melody over chords'. The highest pitched notes in the standard notation staffs with stems that point upwards are melody notes; all others are chord tones or passing notes. Notes with downward pointing stems are bass notes (which are also chord tones).
The arrangement is simple because it's all played within the first position of the guitar with easy chord shapes for the three chords: A minor, G major and C major. The highest pitched melody note is A on fret 5 of the first string. You'll probably have to let go of the A minor chord to reach up with your 4th finger to the 5th fret, but it's not a problem as the low A on the 5th string will keep sounding. In general, keep holding chord shapes so that the strings will continue to ring out even beyond the note durations shown in the score.
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The time signature is 68 (called "six-eight time"). It's convenient and tempting to think of six-eight time as having six 8th note beats per bar, but it actually has two beats per bar and each beat consists of two dotted quarter note beats - (each of which is equal to three 8th notes). It's an example of so-called 'compound duple' time. Where you would tap your foot while playing or listening marks the two beats in each bar, so you should feel those two strong beats and emphasise the notes or chords that coincide with those two beats (foot-taps) per bar.
Key of A Minor
To all intents and purposes, the song is in a minor key and in this arrangement is in the key of A minor. Strictly speaking, it's not quite. The scale that the melody forms is a hexatonic (6 note) scale - The notes are: A B C D E G. There's no F or F sharp notes anywhere in the melody or the accompaniment. We should also expect G sharp notes, or even F# rising to G#, if the key is A minor, but there are none of those either.
If the note F had been present, we could say the song is in the Aeolian mode. If the note F sharp had been present, we could say it's in the Dorian mode. If both F and G sharp were present, we could say it's in the minor key. Check out the links below for my Hubpages article explaining modes. Meanwhile, think of the song as being in A minor - most people do.
Chords and Chord Tones
A C E
G B D
C E G
If you want to improvise any changes to the arrangement, make sure you know the chord tones of each chord as it arrives. That allows you to target safe principal tones that will fit well below the melody. Non-chord tones are the remaining notes of the hexatonic scale mentioned above. You can safely ignore notes not in that scale.
For example, when the chord is A minor, the chord tones that make up A minor are A, C & E. The remaining scale notes: B, D and G are non-chord tones. That is, they don't belong to the chord but still fit the mode/ key, and they work well as linking notes or intentional dissonances. Let your ear guide you. All other notes disagree with the chord as well as the scale that the melody is based on, so will most likely sound out of place if you use them in any prominent way. They can be used but can very easily change the character of the song if you're not careful. If that's what you want, then that's fine - you have complete creative control over your own arrangements.
Make your Own Fingerstyle Arrangements
Check out this article if you'd like a step-by-step method on how to make this kind of solo fingerstyle arrangement.
© 2014 Chas Mac