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Playing Jigs and Reels

From bowiki


Intro to Playing Jigs & Reels

The one-size-fits-all description of any thing Irish being a 'Jig' is a common misconception and most irritating! However at some stage, none of us knew the distinction between a Reel and Jig.

Here we hope to explain what each is and to introduce you to the basic patterns that underpin each.

See also rudiments and exercises sections


The following are illustrated using alternating up and down strokes as is usually found in Traditional / Kerrystyle. Jig forms may readily use the double down stroke to avoid the accent falling on the upstroke.

Jigs and Reels - Which is Which?

  • The two basic key forms of rhythms played are either Jigs (6/8) or Reels (4/4).
  • A handy way of remembering is that there are
  • 3 letters in jig (3/4) and
  • 4 letters in Reel (4/4).
  • A third form is the slipjig which is 9/8


  • Jigs are 6/8. A musician would normally count that as 'ONE two three TWO two three'. It's rarely important however that you define it as either a strict 6/8 or a strict 3/4, it's about a feel or a bounce in the rhythm, count in 6 or 3, it doesn't really matter as long as it's natural. When you play with other musicians you shouldn't even be aware

If playing alternating Up / Down strokes in a jig, you will find that every other 3 beat pattern starts on the upstroke, you would normally accent that when playing. We use Oranges Pineapples.


To feel a jig rhythm,

  • count 1..2..3..4..5..6..1..2..3..4..5..6..with a regular pulse
  • change that to Or__an__ges .pine__a__pples. Or__an__ges .pine__a__pples

This should feel like a rolling rhythm. Try accenting the first syllable in each word as indicated,That's the pulse where you would place each step if you were walking to it.

Jigs are the preferred domain of many Double Down players. Use of this double down technique allows for accents to be placed on the stronger downstrokes.


A reel is probably the most basic form of bodhrán rhythm, it is a straight 4 beat pulse. Generally the accent is on the one, the first best of the bar.

When learning bodhrán a 4 syllable word is used to give the pulse of the strokes. Watermelon is a common word.

  • count 1.. 2.. 3.. 4.. 1.. 2...3..4..
  • Say Wa Ter Me Lon Wa Ter Me Lon

Hit the stroke louder when you say WA of watermelon to accent the first beat.

The strokes for this are Wa (down) Ter (up) Mel (Down) On (up) & repeat.

This is reel time at its most basic concentrate on keeping the strokes regular and of the same volume with a clear accent. You want to develop accuracy, it does not haveto be loud!


Slipjigs are altogether a more complicated beast. The rhythm is split into three groups of three beats. Is it 3 or is it 9?

Count a slipjig as ONE two three TWO two three THREE two three

That 'challenge', the reversal within the rhythm and the rhythmic opportunities give the slip jigs it's attractiveness to many players.

Playing the rhythm evenly with alternating strokes is no easy feat for a beginner.

Or- an- ges- Pine- ap- ples- Ki- wi- Fruit.

The strokes for the slipjig bar are

D U D - U D U - D U D

in the second bar that reverses so you play

U D U - D U D - U D U .

The full cycle is

D U D - U D U - D U D - U D U - D U D - U D U .

Note that you are starting on the upstroke in the second half - and there lies the rub. Technically this is a great rhythm to strengthen the upstroke as you will often be accenting the first beat in the bar.

A player who plays using double down strokes simply repeats the first part of the cycle as illustrated below. I have bolded the double downs that happen when the bar repeats. This technique also allows accents to be placed on the stronger downstroke if the player chooses

D U D - U D U - D U D - D U D - U D U - D U D

Or here is a more 'motor' version

D U D - D U D - D U D - D U D - D U D - D U D -

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