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Oidhche Mhath: Celtic Fingerstyle Guitar Arrangement in Tab, Notation and Audio

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Chasmac is a semi-retired guitar teacher who has taught in various schools in London and elsewhere for over 30 years.

Oidhche Mhath

Oidhche Mhath

This is a fairly simple 16 bar arrangement of the Scottish traditional song Oidhche Mhath in Dropped D tuning (D A D G B E). There are a few barre chords in this arrangement, so it's not for complete beginners. If you can play standard barre chords such as F major at the 5th fret, then you should have no problem playing it.


The video was created in 1080 HD. It consists of the audio track and the score in standard notation with guitar tablature below it. Each staff of four bars changes in sync with the audio track. Play it full screen at the highest quality setting that you have in order to ensure the notes and tab numbers display sharp and clear on your screen.

Note* The video playback quality settings are available if you click the 'cog' icon at the bottom of the video screen. It only appears after you click play. Click it when it appears and choose 1080HD or the highest that's available to you (depending on your viewing device).

The Score

If you want to study the arrangement and learn it, the score printed below is more useful than seeing it on the video. You can use the image gallery feature to see the score magified. Just click on the "see all photos" link that appears next to each line of the score when you hover your cursor over any of the staffs. You can then scroll through them one by one.

Oidhche Mhath | Tuning - D A D G B E (Dropped D)


Learners' Notes

Dropped D Tuning

The tuning is 'dropped D', which is D A D G B E - exactly the same as standard tuning except that the low 6th 'E' string is downtuned a whole tone to D. There are no fretted notes to play on that string; only the open string is used occasionally. Fretted notes on a downtuned string can make the standard notation more difficult to read for those who are used to standard tuning, but present no problem to tab readers, who just need to play the note at whichever fret is specified on the tab. This is one of the very few advantages that guitar tablature has over standard notation. In any case, it makes no difference in this song, as the only note on that string is the open D.

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Why this tuning?

It's so that the note F can be included in the D minor chord when the melody note is D (as happens on the very first note and chord). D minor is the most important chord in the song and is called the 'tonic' or 'home' chord. It consists of the chord tones D, F & A. and should be played with D as the lowest note (called root position) for a more stable and balanced sound. If you play D on the open 4th string and the D melody note on string 2 fret 3, you can play A on string 3 fret 2, but there's no room left to include the F note (without involving a difficult chord shape that places the D on string 5 fret 5). Without the note F, the D minor chord loses its minor quality. That's OK in some places, but there are places where the chord needs that F for the full minor quality. There are several solutions to this problem:

  1. Play the low D on string 5 fret 5 and F on string 4 fret 3. This solves the problem but it's an awkward chord shape that most players would rather avoid. Ideally, we want chord shapes with open strings so we can take advantage of their resonant qualities and keep the note ringing out clearly.
  2. Forego the need for D to be the lowest note of the D minor chord and make F the lowest note on string 4 fret 3 or string 6 fret 1. All chord tones are then present and correct, but with F as the lowest note, the chord is now in 'first inversion'. It still works, but it lacks the strength of the root position chord.
  3. Drop the low 6th E string to D so that the chord can be in root position AND have the F note too on string 4 fret 3. That works fine but can add more difficulty to reading the notation - not in this case, though, as no other 6th string notes are used. That's why I chose this solution.
  4. Transpose the whole song to a new key. That can work well but can cause other problems further on with other chords.

Scotch Snap

A common rhythmic effect found in Scottish folk music is the Scotch snap, which is a short note followed by a longer note. There are plenty of them in this arrangement, and you can vary their relative durations a little to make the snap more or less pronounced.

Tempo Rubato

The 'tempo rubato' sign on the score means that the beat isn't strictly followed. Songs like this one are often sung solo with no instrumental accompaniment, which gives the singer a more flexible approach to the timing. They follow their emotions rather than the beat and linger on notes longer than the notation shows - or, on the other hand, slightly rush them to build tension where needed.

Chords and Chord Tones

The chords used in this song - and their chord tones

ChordsChord Tones

D Minor


F Major


A Minor


C Major



Feel free to make any changes. Keep a mental note of the chord tones so that you can add or change notes (pitches and duration) in real time in a way that makes sense to any listener. Chord tones will always blend in perfectly with their 'parent' chord while non-chord tones can add some spicy dissonance to chords, but you need to be careful not to use them in a way that just sounds wrong. Non-chord tones also provide good links between chord tones if you invent little melodic phrases in the bass or harmony. You can also modify the melody but if you do it to the extent that the melody becomes unrecogniseable, then you've changed the song - you might as well change the name too while you're at it.

About Oidhche Mhath

Unfortunately, I know very little about this song apart from it being a Scottish traditional song written in Scottish Gaelic. The title 'Oidhche Mhath' means 'Goodnight' in Gaelic.

A good version of the song with lyrics is by the Breton harpist, Alan Stivell on his "Chemin de Terre" album. Oidhche Mhath is just one of many beautiful songs on the album from the Celtic regions of Scotland, Ireland, Wales and Brittany.

Musical Info

This is of no importance at all, but might be of interest. Musically, the melody is hexatonic, which isn't too uncommon in Scottish folk music. A hexatonic melody has six notes (ignoring octaves) That's one less than the major or minor scales or the diatonic modes. Here are the melody notes rearranged in pitch order as a hexatonic scale. It starts from D because D in the melody is the tonic or home note, and is the most important note in the song - that's why the melody ends on D.

  • D E F G A C

There's no official name for this scale, so it's sometimes referred to as a Dorian/ Aeolian hexatonic scale. In other words, it looks like the seven-note Dorian mode but without a B note, and it also it looks like the seven-note D Aeolian mode or D minor key but without a B flat.

In the accompaniment, I have included the note, B, as a non-chord passing tone. So while the original melody is hexatonic, this arrangement of the song is in the D Dorian mode, which is very similar to the key of D minor but with B instead of B flat. I could have left out the key signature meaning every note is natural, but using the one-flat (Bb) key signature implies the key of D minor and lets people (especially those unfamiliar with modes) know that the important tonic or home note is D. In other words, I want those unfamiliar with modes to think of the song as being in the key of D minor even though, strictly speaking, it's not.

© 2014 chasmac

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