Irish Harp Ornament of the Month #2 – The Cadential Shake

So I hope you’ve all been practising the Long Shake [see Irish Harp Ornament #1 here]  and that it’s beginning to feel as if the fingers can do it ‘by themselves’, and starting to sound good. Don’t be discouraged if it takes quite a while to master these ornaments – they are not easy.

The late Mr Seybold, a celebrated performer on the Pedal Harp, being in a gentleman’s house in Belfast, in 1800, when Arthur O’Neill was present, declared his admiration of the old man’s shake on the Irish harp, which was performed apparently with the greatest ease and execution: admitting that he could not do it himself in the same manner on his own instrument, the shake being of the greatest difficulty on every species of harp.

Bunting 1840

Practise little and often. Practise slowly, getting everything absolutely right. And then take a risk, let loose a fast shake, and see if your fingers will fly. Then practise slowly again. Repeat ad shake-it-um.

So now your Shake is all ready to go, but how to use it?

Unfortunately, Bunting’s table of ornaments doesn’t tell us everything we need to know. It’s not complete (there are typical ornaments that he doesn’t list), it doesn’t necessarily cover every technical detail, and – most awkward of all – it doesn’t tell us how to apply the ornaments.

So we have to look at tunes, and see where each ornament might fit. We can look at Bunting’s published versions (to a greater or lesser degree arranged for pianoforte), and see where he writes each ornament. We can look at Bunting’s manuscript note-books for hints of what the old Irish harpers actually played to him, before he adapted their music for publication. We can make comparisons to European music of the same time. And we can make comparisons to traditional Irish playing, today.

When we look for opportunities to use our shiny new Long Shake in Irish music, there seem to be very few, especially in those tunes that have a real Gaelic (rather than European flavour). So although the Long Shake is a very useful exercise, and a typical feature of European 18th-century music, I don’t see many opportunities for it in Gaelic tunes of the period. Actually, I don’t see any opportunities for it in the tunes Bunting prints, following on from the ornament table in his 1840 book.

Challenge: can you find a Long Shake opportunity that I’ve missed? All three Bunting publications (1796, 1809 and 1840) are available free here, and Wikipedia provides a handy introduction to his work here.

Meanwhile, don’t panic, the last month of practice has not been wasted. Not at all! The Long Shake is the ideal starting point from which to study many ornaments, and here comes one of the most frequently encountered: the Cadential Shake.

A Cadence marks the end of a musical phrase, just as punctuation marks the end of a clause, or the end of a sentence. In period literature, we often see long sentences organised with light punctuation, continuing for many clauses, until terminated by a full stop. Similarly in music of this time: each short phrase will end with an intermediate Cadence, and a longer section, or the whole piece, will end with a Full Close.

Although European music has several melodic options for a Cadence, the most common Full Close in Gaelic tunes is the so-called Tenor Cadence. The melody descends to the final note, with a strong accent on the second degree of the scale just before end of the phrase. So in the Irish harpist’s favourite mode of G, many tunes end with a strong A before the final G.

EXAMPLE 1  Ta me mo chodlach I

Ta me mo chodlach

(I am asleep and don’t waken me) after the William Forde MS (collected during the 1840s).

That strong A corresponds to the Principal Accent in poetry, typically on the penultimate syllable of a line of verse:

To be or not to be, that’s the QUEST-ion

For more on historical phrasing, see ‘The Good, The Bad and the Early Music Phrase’ here.

Often, this strong note will be longer than neighbouring notes – and when it is long enough, this is our opportunity for a Cadential Shake. Often, Bunting gives us the hint for a Cadential Shake with a Tr marking.

The first example of a Shake in the music of the 1840 collection comes on Page 2: Irish Cry. Bunting publishes this in Eb, so the Cadential Shake is on the strong F just before the end of each of the first three phrases, marked Tr by Bunting.

EXAMPLE 2 Irish Cry

Irish Cry Bunting 1840

Bunting 1840

In the usual G-tuning for Irish harp, we would play this piece a third higher, of course, and the Cadential Shake would be on A.

EXAMPLE 2A Irish Cry in G

Irish Cry transposed

The next example is on Page 4: Scott’s Lamentation. Bunting notates this in F, with a Cadential Shake marked Tr on the strong G just before the end of the first line. And another Cadential Shake Tr, on the strong D of the phrase ending on C in the next line.

EXAMPLE 3 Scott’s Lamentation

Scotts Lament Bunting

Bunting 1840

In the usual G-tuning for Irish harp, we would play this piece a tone higher, with Cadential Shakes on A and later on E.

EXAMPLE 3A Scott’s Lamentation in G

Scotts Lament transposed

These first few pieces are those that Bunting regards as especially typical of the ancient Gaelic style.  Not all of them have suitable cadences for a Cadential Shake (notice there was nothing on pages 1 and 3). But many of them do.

So, since this Cadential Shake is going to be useful, let’s see how to modify Bunting’s Long Shake, to work in the Cadential context.

As could be expected, the first modification is to shorten the Long Shake. Don’t try to make too many iterations of the Shake. Rather, shorten it to the available length of the Cadential note. [See how to shorten the Long Shake, here.]

Bunting gives another ornament, the half-Shake, which is very short, and we’ll examine that another time. For our Cadential Shake, we need bit more than this, but not very much more. Very often, the following (minimal) Shake is sufficient (and anything more would be too difficult).

EXAMPLE 4 Cadential Shake

Cadential Shake

Notice that the Cadential Shake starts on the main note (the Gaelic way, Bunting tells us) and not on the upper auxiliary (the European way, according to many period sources, for example C.P.E. Bach).

Bunting doesn’t tell us any more, but I recommend that after reaching the last note of the Shake (the main note), you should damp the upper auxiliary note. This cleans up the sound, and steadies your hand ready to continue into the last note of the phrase.

So here is the Cadential Shake to practise:

EXAMPLE 4A Cadential Shake with damping

Cadential Shake with damping

Damp the crossed-out note, with the finger [2], let the red note ring on.

And here are the first Tr markings in Bunting’s 1840 collection, as above, but now realised with this Cadential Shake:

EXAMPLE 5 Irish Cry with Cadential Shake realised

Irish Cry realised

EXAMPLE 6 Scott’s Lamentation with Cadential Shakes realised

Scotts Lament realised

Bunting’s metronome marks support his statement that the character of the Irish harpers’ playing was

spirited, lively and energetic

in contrast to the

languid and tedious manner in which they were, and too often still are, played among fashionable public performers, in whose efforts at realizing a false conception of sentiment, the melody is …. lost.

One last, but very important point. 18th-century sources emphasise that the Shake should begin louder and end softer. We can be sure that Seybold would not have admired O’Neill’s Shake, if this essential ‘dying fall’ was absent. So practise your Cadential Shake from loud to soft.

And that concludes this month’s posting. Have fun finding Full Closes in your Gaelic melodies, and adding Cadential Shakes to them. Compare the places you want to add a Cadential Shake to Bunting’s Tr markings. Do they mostly correspond?

As you will discover, not all of Bunting’s Tr markings are Cadential. There are some other opportunities for Shakes, and we’ll come to those in a later post.

Good luck, and Good Shaking!

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Opera, orchestra, vocal & ensemble director and early harpist, Andrew Lawrence-King is director of The Harp Consort and of Il Corago, and Senior Visiting Research Fellow at the Australian Research Council Centre for the History of Emotions.

The Long Shake (Irish Harp Ornament of the Month #1)


There is an accompanying video for this posting, here.

Ornaments are like spices in cookery. Even though they are small, they add a lot of flavour. The right ones are essential, for that authentic taste. But the wrong ones, or the right ones used badly, can spoil the whole dish, even when the main ingredients are good. Some you need to add from the start and bake slowly, others you can sprinkle on at the last minute.

The best way to get confident with ornaments is to learn one at a time. So at Scoil na gCláirseach, the summer school of the Historical Harp Society of Ireland, we came up with the idea of an Ornament of the Month. If you practise an ornament 2 or 3 times a week, by the end of a month you’ll be ready to move on to the next one. And by next summer, you will have a good collection of ornaments that you know how to play, and (even more important) that you know where to use.


The ornaments in this series (and especially their fingerings) are specific to Irish harp. European ornaments are sometimes different. Historical fingerings on other harps (in particular, French single-action harp of the same period) are different.

But these fingerings are suitable for neo-Irish (i.e. modern, ‘Celtic’ or ‘lever’) harps as well as Historical (wire-strung) Irish harps.

I focus on the 18th century: the music of O’Carolan, the harp-playing of Denis Hempson, the first printed publications of Irish music, the style of the last itinerant players as collected by Bunting and others around 1800.


Bunting’s table of ornaments with fingerings for Irish harp is the principal source for technical details. His transcriptions, and those by Ford, show how players of the time applied the ornaments to particular tunes.

From the end of the 17th century, we have tables of ornaments (from Playford & Purcell in England, D’Anglebert in France, and many others) which show strong correlations with what Bunting noted down a hundred years later, supporting the hypothesis that Irish 18th-century playing preserved features of earlier French style. Georg Muffat’s detailed analysis of how to apply French ornaments is also consistent with what we see in Irish sources. There are certain differences of course, and Bunting points these out: where relevant, I will repeat his warnings.

How to practise

As for any other technical skill, practise your ornaments at first very slowly. So slowly, that you get them absolutely correct, with no possibility of error. Once your fingers have learnt what to do, try a fast one: just launch yourself into it, and see how it flies.

Avoid practising at medium tempo, stumbling & correcting: if you repeat a mistake again and again, it will become permanent!

Practise slowly enough to be perfect … and then play fluently, without stopping.

The Long Shake

So, after all that preamble, here is the first Ornament of the Month, the Long Shake. It’s a good one to start with, because it teaches the fine control and finger-substitution that are needed for many other ornaments too. And there are many chances to use it in Irish tunes. Here it is:

Long Shake

If you are checking against your own copy of Bunting (and you should always check against original sources, if you possibly can!), you’ll notice that I have modernised the fingering notation to thumb=1, index=2, middle=3, ring=4, little finger=5.

Rest your treble hand on the harp, as seen in period images. This will steady your hand, so that your fingers can move lightly on the strings. Arrange fingers 3 and 4 to strike the same (main note) string. The index finger 2 strikes the upper note.

Use small finger motions for the fast notes of the Shake. Use a greater range of finger movement, and a slower movement, for a long note.

Once you have the basic action of the long shake going nicely, you can take just a few iterations to make a Shake that will fit into the rhythm of your tune.


Bunting does not specify any damping, but I suggest that at the end of this Shake, you let your index finger stop its (upper note) string, leaving the main note to sound alone. I show this with the small, crossed-out notehead on the upper note, the damping finger [2] in square brackets, and the main note that sounds on in red.

Notice that this Irish Shake (unlike its English and European cousins) begins on the main note, not the upper note. Also, there is no turn through the lower note at the end of the shake, it just stops.

Begin the Shake on the beat, not ahead of time. This is sometimes difficult for modern players, who have been taught to place ornaments ahead of the beat. Synchronise the first note of the ornament with your bass note, or with your tapping foot.

Bunting doesn’t say anything about this, but other 18th-century sources emphasise the importance of making the ornament start with a strong note, and end softly.

In general, on the beat, and loud-soft are good general guidelines for many ornaments.

That’s it: now it’s up to you to practise. Shake slow and perfect, or Shake speedily, flying fluently. Time spent now practising very slow and very perfect is an investment that will reward you handsomely later.

And in my next post, I’ll show you how you can take a tune and apply your well-practised Shake.

ALK Irish baroque

More about Scoil na gCláirseach here

Please join me on Facebook and visit our website . Further details of original sources are on the website, click on “New Priorities in Historically Informed Performance”

Opera, orchestra, vocal & ensemble director and early harpist, Andrew Lawrence-King is director of The Harp Consort and of Il Corago, and Senior Visiting Research Fellow at the Australian Research Council Centre for the History of Emotions.