Molly Malone | Instrumental to Irish Culture – The legend of Molly Malone has spread far and wide, with countless stories being told of her time in Dublin, yet few accounts are as well known as the old folk song named after her.
This recent, instrumental rendition, published under the name Synaptic Sounds, features many traditional Irish instruments, staying true to the culture of the Emerald Isle. From the Irish Flute to the bodhrán, there is a little bit of everything to discover.
Due to Molly Malone’s repetitive nature, the instrumental version has been shortened to just under ninety seconds, featuring two consecutive verses and choruses, with an Irish flute and a fiddle playing the melody and harmonising in fifths. An Irish tenor banjo forms the basis of the harmony and chordal accompaniment, alongside an electric bass as well as a bodhrán, the latter being an Irish frame drum.
Irish Folk Instrumentation
A flute is a long, tubular wind instrument with holes along the surface, that when blown into and the various holes stoppered with the player’s fingers, produces different notes.
The traditional Irish flute is distinct from the typical flute in that it is made from wood instead of metal, giving it a different timbre/tone quality to a typical flute. While the tonal range of these flutes is comparable, to actually switch between playing a wooden or metal flute can take some mild adjustment for a flautist.
In this version of Molly Malone, the Irish flute plays the main melodic line, in its typical high range, and the sound’s earthy quality due to the flute’s wooden frame gives the melody a homely feel.
The fiddle is perhaps the most influential and integral instrument in traditional Irish culture, and while identical to the violin, the manner in which it is played varies greatly between regions of the island.
In the song, the fiddle is harmonised in fifths with the main melodic line of the flute, giving the melody more harmonic depth and clarity, by providing a mid-range, harmonic undertone of stringed warmth and beauty.
Irish Tenor Banjo
The Irish Tenor Banjo is a four-stringed instrument usually used to play distinct, fast, melodic lines, however this song takes an unconventional approach by using the banjo in order to outline the chords through arpeggiated accompanying lines, which sit under the melody and are not the primary focus of the listener.
Overall, this unique approach to the banjo’s role in the ensemble provides a fresh listening experience and excites the listener. The banjo’s timbre fits in well with the ostinato rhythm played by the bodhrán.
The bodhrán is a traditional Irish frame drum. It is a handheld instrument typically made with goat’s skin and birch.
In this song, the bodhrán plays a simple ostinato which is paralleled by the bass. Through syncopation and mimicry of the melody’s rhythm, this drives the song forward and allows it to move quickly without boring the listener, despite Molly Malone’s repetitive structure.
This is a faithful instrumental rendition of Molly Malone, making use of many Irish traditional folk instruments. Despite the absence of lyrics/singing, sticking to the origins of Irish folk music helps to root this version in a deep, cosy familiarity, which proves to celebrate Irish culture in a fun, inspiring way.