Feis Tips


Tempos have changed a lot around here in the past few years. Be aware of what the tempo requirements are for each feis. It should be listed in the feis’ syllabus.

Generally, First Feis (if offered), Beginner I, and Beginner 2 are required to dance at traditional speeds. Novice and Open/Prizewinner dancers may choose between traditional and Oireachtas speeds.

It’s very important to practice every tune you are thinking of using for the feis at all of the different speeds for extended periods of time. Try playing your tune without stopping for 3 minutes, 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes, 20 minutes. If you can successfully do that, without losing the beat, then the tune is ‘feis ready’.

Choosing Tunes

• Keep a list by tune type & tempo for all of the tunes that are ‘feis ready’. This will be your go-to-guide to get you through the day. No guessing or wasting time trying to think of your next tune.
• Reserve single reels & shorter tunes for smaller groups of dancers.
• Some feiseanna don’t mind if you string a set of similar tunes together for larger
groups of dancers, but other feiseanna may require that you play the same song for the entire group to be fair.
• Keep it simple. Resist the urge to try new variations in your tunes that you’ve never played before.
• Multiple part tunes (AABBCCDD etc.) are great for large groups of dancers. Don’t play crooked tunes (extra measures or extra beats). Only choose tunes with even bar sections (4 bars, 8 bars, 16 bars, 32 bars, etc.)
• Avoid playing the same tune at the same time as the stages directly next to you, if possible
• Be mindful of your volume. Ask the sound techs to adjust your levels of output or input to your monitor.
• Also don’t be afraid to mention to the sound technician if someone else’s volume is overwhelmingly loud to the point that you or your dancers can’t perform without struggle. Changes in volume happen for all sorts of reasons & the musician that is too loud most likely doesn’t realize the sound is carrying, bouncing, or bleeding over.

Playing tips

• Always keep playing while the dancers are dancing. Stay on beat with the metronome at all times
• Remember that you were hired to play for the dancers. This is not the time to improvise complicated variations you’ve not tried before. Keep it simple
• Choose tunes appropriate for the dancer’s age & level
• Play common session tunes for younger dancers or beginners. (They will usually be wearing the school uniforms)

• Less common or slightly more complicated tunes may be used for experienced dancers. (The ones with the fancy sparkly dresses)
• The dancers have been trained to bow to the judge and bow to the musician after they’ve finished dancing

Fast or slow Tempo?

Some dances (treble jigs, hornpipes) will have fast & slow tempos within the same group of dancers. The stage monitor or assistant should provide that information for you as they line the kids up. Otherwise, ask the judge

What To Do If…

The Dancer Doesn’t Start At The Correct Time

Dancers sometimes miss their cues. If this happens you can choose to:

  • Repeat the A or B part in question
  • Continue playing as though nothing happened

I generally watch the dancers & repeat the part again to line the tune up properly for the next group of competitors.
Sometimes it’s unavoidable that they’re dancing to the wrong part of the tune or on the wrong beat. If this happens just keep playing. They’ve been taught to listen to the tune & count the beats, and they’re trained to enter, get ready, start dancing, and exit the stage at the correct time.
Beginner or first feis dancers will often require the help of a more experienced dancer or stage monitor to cue them when they should start dancing

An Object Falls Onto Stage

Dancers may drop things as they perform. Hopefully they don’t lose any articles of clothing, competitor card, glasses, or wigs on the stage, but sometimes this happens. If they do drop anything, it is not your job to help pick them up. Just keep playing and let the judge determine if it will interfere with the dance.

Dancer Falls

If a dancer falls or stops dancing, let the judge decide if the music should stop. The judge will usually ring a bell or will speak to you directly when necessary. Otherwise, keep playing. The dancers are trained to keep dancing

You Make A Mistake

If you are playing a tune and your mind suddenly goes blank, improvise until you find the next phrase. (Unless you’re playing Traditional Sets, in which the music and steps are strictly tied together, then stop and restart the tune)

Please don’t lose the pulse. We all forget tunes occasionally. To prevent this happening, you might want to keep a cheat sheet, listing the first few measures of each tune printed out in front of you

Musicians in some areas have started playing along to drum tracks to ensure that the tempo is very clear to the dancers and judges. Ask the feis organizers what they’d prefer

%d bloggers like this: