“Black Velvet Band” — Learn to Play this Popular Irish Waltz


From Irish Songs for Guitar| BY DANNY CARNAHAN

“Black Velvet Band” is one of the most popular Irish songs ever written. This waltz-time cautionary tale has just about everything in it: a gritty slice of life, some honest lustful intent, a pretty girl who’s up to no good, a hapless hero who suffers at the hands of an unfair English court, and a trip to Australia. It could have been a PBS miniseries.

It’s also quite straightforward and easy to sing and play, as the chorus and the verses follow the same melody and chord changes. The basic fingerstyle pattern for the song is shown in bar 1. After picking a strong downbeat with your thumb, pick the note on the “and” of beat 1 with your index finger. Then, form what I call the phantom, or zen pick: put your thumb and index finger together as if you’re holding a pick, and strum with downstrokes on beats 2 and 3. Alternatively, you could play the pattern with a flatpick, using all downstrokes. 

I typically play lots of little variations on the basic pattern—for instance, tossing in an upstroke on the “and” of beat 3—so be sure to check out the video to get a good sense of how you might switch things around here and there.

This arrangement and others can be found in Irish Songs for Guitar, available at the Acoustic Guitar Store.    

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