Making Celtic music is a time-honoured tradition and skill that was once limited to those lucky few who grew up playing this style of music in an Irish or Celtic Music family or community.
Today, with the help of modern technology, it is possible to make Celtic Music digitally without years of experience or having the enormous skill of being able to play multiple rare Celtic musical instruments.
To make Celtic Music digitally, you will need access to a computer, recording software, keyboard and digital Celtic music instruments (VSTs) such as the harp. In addition, you will need a basic knowledge of song structure, but most importantly, you will a need passion for Celtic Music.
In this article, I will walk you through the steps necessary to create your own authentic-sounding Celtic music based on my many years of composing in this beautiful genre.
1. Setup Your Recording Studio
Before getting started with making Celtic music digitally, you will need a basic music production setup to produce and record your sounds.
In order to make Celtic music digitally, ideally, you will need the following:
- A computer (PC or Mac)
- A DAW (Music production software to record your music)
- A MIDI interface (For example a MIKI keyboard)
- Celtic music VSTs or AUs
1. PC or Mac
At the heart of every modern music production studio, be it a home recording or professional studio, is a computer. This can be a PC or Mac.
On this computer, we will need software installed to record and produce amazing Celtic sounds.
2. DAW (Digital Audio Workstation)
A DAW, or digital audio workstation, is a type of music production software that you can use to make your Celtic music. It allows you to record your own voice or instruments onto your computer, as well as edit and mix your tracks.
There are several different DAWs available on the market, but here are the most common:
3. MIDI Interface
Although not essential, it will help you produce excellent sounding Celtic music if you have a MIDI interface such as a MIDI piano keyboard.
Because you are performing the music on an actual piano keyboard, the music will feel more natural and less “digital” which is essential to the genre of Celtic music.
4. Celtic VSTs or AU Plugins
VST stands for “virtual studio technology” and AU stands for “Audio Unit”.
VSTs and AUs are software plugins that you can use with your computer to create musical instrument sounds. For example, you can download a VST that can create the sound of a harp.
Typically, VSTs are used with PC music production software and AUs are used with MAC music production software, such as Logic Pro or GarageBand.
To create Celtic music digitally, having great sounding musical instruments is essential.
2. Pick Celtic VSTs or AUs
Originally, I used to record myself playing the fiddle, bodhran, tin whistle, and guitar when producing Celtic music.
Once I discovered realistic sounding VSTs and AUs, however, I could create epic Celtic music soundtracks overnight as suddenly I could also add harp, uileann pipes, battle drums and more.
If you purchase professional music production software, such as Logic Pro 9, you will get some virtual instruments already installed, which will sound very good.
Typically, as standard, you will get harps, guitars and violins.
Not all VST musical instruments are made equal, however, and if you are serious about creating realistic-sounding Celtic music, then you may need to invest in something that sounds more authentic.
Personally, I use “Rare Instruments” from SoundsOnline, which is a fantastic collection of unique and rare instruments from around the world. [source]
These virtual sounds are beautifully produced and recorded, but most importantly, this musical instrument software package has some fantastic European rare instruments, including the uilleann pipes.
Here is one of my own songs that features the uilleann pipe instrument from the Rare Instruments AU software package. The uilleann pipes kick in at time 1:09
Picking good quality sounding software musical instruments (VSTs/AUs) will really help your Celtic music production stand out.
3. Pick Celtic Percussion
A great beat is at the heart of great Celtic music.
If you get an authentic-sounding percussion section behind your main melody, your Celtic music will shine.
There is a simple way to produce Celtic music with no prior knowledge, and that is to use Celtic music percussive loops.
For example, in Logic Pro 9, pre-installed bodhran beats are installed.
A bodhran is a type of drum that is popular in Celtic music. It is usually made from wood or goatskin and has a round, cylindrical body. The bodhran is played with the hands and is used to create the characteristic driving rhythm that is often found in Celtic music.
Bodhran beats are very generic, yet add so much life to a Celtic music track. If you find good bodhran percussive loops, you can build great sound Celtic music melodies over it.
4. Listen To Celtic Music Song Structure
When looking to produce Celtic music, it will help to listen to lots of Celtic music.
Often with Celtic music, particularly Irish music, you will find lots of repeating melodies.
For example, in a traditional Irish music jig, there are two main melody parts:
- A low bar
- A high bar
As a rule of thumb, you will play the low bar twice, then the high bar twice, then repeat the song.
If there is a particular style of Celtic music you want to produce, then it is worth listening carefully to that style of Celtic music and how your favourite song is structured, including how it builds, how it repeats and how it ends.
5. Use Celtic Loops
A great shortcut to producing Celtic music quickly with very little experience is to use Celtic loops.
A music loop is a section of a song that is repeated throughout the song. It can be a riff, chord progression, melody, or beat. Looping allows you to create a more cohesive and polished sounding song.
As mentioned previously, it is possible to purchase or download Celtic percussive loops. You can then loop this percussion in the underscore of your Celtic music tune to create a Celtic beat.
In addition, it is possible to download or purchase royalty-free Celtic melody loops. Depending on where you source your music loops from, typically, these music loops can be used in a new song as long as they form part of the new track. In other words, they are resold or reproduced standalone.
For example, as part of Logic Pro 9, a sound bank of folk melody loops is included. From these loops, you can take inspiration and build a track.
You download or purchase Celtic music melody loops.
Just remember, when using music loops as part of your new composition, you need to ensure that you have permission to use the loops in a new song and 100% own the finished song that you complete.
Carefully check the terms and conditions when using music loops. If done correctly, it can be a fast track to producing Celtic music digitally for those who want to try writing in this genre.
6. Include Ornamentation
Ornamentation gives life and variety to Celtic music.
Ornamentation is a term used in music to describe the addition of decorative notes or sounds to a melody.
It is often found in Celtic music, where musicians use ornamentation to add texture and flavour to their melodies.
There are a number of different types of ornamentation, but the most common ones are trills, grace notes, and mordents.
To make your digitally produced Celtic music sound authentic, you should include ornamentation where possible. Irish Celtic music, in particular, is famous for ornamentation and Irish traditional music musicians will often improvise extra grace notes and rolls on the fly.
7. Include Real Instruments
Celtic music is often characterized by its driving rhythms and melodies and is often played on traditional Celtic instruments such as the bagpipes, tin whistle and bodhran.
In order to capture the spirit of Celtic music, it will help if you can include real instruments in your music production.
Although it is possible to make Celtic music digitally, which only includes virtual instruments (VST/AU), you may find that your music lacks spirit.
Using a real guitar to strum the background melody or including some real bodhran beats adds humanity to digitally produced Celtic music and will make it sound more authentic to your audience.
8. Do Not Make It Perfect
When producing music digitally, it can be very tempting to make every note perfectly synchronised with the beat.
In music genres such as electronic dance music, synchronising beats so they are perfectly timed works well. However, in free-form music such as Celtic, this can sound unnatural.
There is not one Celtic music musician in the work that can play a Celtic tune perfectly in time. There will always be a slight variation. It may be so slight that you cannot hear it, but it is there.
Try to avoid perfect beat synchronisation and don’t be afraid to improvise your melodies on the fly. This will give life and spirit to your Celtic music productions.
9. Use A Wide Range Of Instruments
When producing Celtic music digitally, you have the wonderful advantage of unlimited musical instruments if you use VSTs or AUs.
Some styles of Celtic music, such as Irish music, can be repetitive with all the lead instruments playing the same melody.
If you use a wide range of sounding instruments, you can make a single melody sound big and engaging.
It is good to experiment with different musical instruments and for getting a good sounding mix, it’s helpful to mix different Celtic instruments with different frequency ranges to get a wide spectrum of sound.
Here is a list of commonly used Celtic music instruments:
|Common Celtic Music Instruments|
10. Feel The Music
When producing Celtic music digitally, it’s easy to become detached from the feeling of the music.
Celtic music is all about life, celebration and feeling.
Don’t forget to take a step back and listen to what you have produced and ensure the music evokes the feelings and emotions you want to convey.
As a traditional Irish music musician, when I first heard that Celtic music could be produced digitally, I was a little horrified, as I felt it was not authentic to this ancient genre of music.
Over the years, however, I have learned that making Celtic music digitally is a great way to stay true to the traditional sound of this genre while also having total control over your song.
In addition, it opens up the composition and creation of this wonderful music genre to those who have no prior knowledge of this genre.
Celtic music has been around for hundreds of years, and with the advancements in producing Celtic music digitally, it will be around for hundreds of years to come.