Home Reviews - CD ROM Reviews Mad For Trad bodhran - Frank Torpey
Mad For Trad bodhran - Frank Torpey

Bodhrán CD Rom Tutorial - Frank Torpey

Mad For Trad bodhran - Frank TorpeyOne CD ROM - no accompanying written material

Purchased from from Mad For Trad €39 (£27 / $47.50 approx)

Published 2001

MFT007 Mad For Trad Ltd

No catalogue reference but my version has a backward barcode (?)

Images courtesy MadForTrad

This review assumes that players are right-handed - left handed players should reverse any references.

The package

A single CD-ROM presented in a clear jewel case. The back cover of the case gives the chapter details plus some details on Frank Torpey and Mad for Trad. The liner notes consist of technical specs and instructions, the inside of the liner is blank. The CD is professionally on-body printed in 3 colours. A neat professional package.

Lesson delivery method

This CD-ROM tutorial is HTML based, i.e. it is constructed like a website, the CD automatically opens to the introduction page and subsequent pages lead off that. The tutorial is broken into beginners and advanced sections which in turn are broken down into bite size component parts. Each pattern is illustrated with an MPEG1 video.

Using the Tutorial

The second line of the written introduction reads "If you don't read music you can learn how to in the ‘Reading Music’ section" - those words are enough to strike fear into the hearts of budding bodhráni everywhere. Several years ago before I learned to read even such simple scores I would have avoided anything which required any kind of reading skills. Being a little braver and better skilled now, I do have to say that it is not necessary to read music to learn from this tutorial, however an ability to do so will greatly enhance your learning experience and the speed of your progress.

Mad For Trad bodhran - Frank TorpeyThe tutorial takes the form of a structured path through the basic introduction to the bodhrán starting with basic jig and reel patterns. The Kerry style is the only one employed in this tutorial.

Starting with playing simple quarter notes, each pattern or variation is discussed and displayed in musical notation.

There is a 'view video' button beside each pattern which will open a new webpage containing a quick time movie (Still frame left) where Frank demonstrates the pattern being played. As you move through the sections you will see a small inset window showing Frank's left hand movements. Being able to see both hands in sync is an excellent learning feature. At the end of each page past the basic introduction Frank demonstrates the patterns on that page while accompanied by his sister Marie on fiddle.

The CD is split into 4 sections

  • About
    • music theory- (3 pages) the rhythmic side of the theory is dealt with in a straightforward and easy to swallow manner but there is a lot of melodic theory which is not relevant here. I suspect that this section is standard across the range of Mad For Trad Cds. What is useful is the definitions of the main rhythm types viz jigs, reels, slip jigs, double jigs, slide jigs
    • Parts list - explaining the names of the different bits of the drum
    • How to hold - short section explaining how to hold the tipper and the drum for playing includes basic left hand positioning
    • How to hit - short section on the right hand striking motion


  • Beginner
    • Introduction to Jigs
    • Introduction to Reels
    • Reels with ornamentation, including introduction to triplets & use of the left hand (4 pages)
    • Jigs with ornamentation Including triplets and left hand instruction (2 pages)


  • Advanced
    • Advanced Reels 1(5 pages) - motor rhythms, triplets, tone shifting, rolls
    • Advanced Jigs 1 - Syncopation
    • Advanced Jigs 2 (3 pages) accents, tone bending and ornamentation
    • Advanced reels 2 (3 pages) accents, tone bending and ornamentation


  • Tutor - Section on Frank Torpey - A selection of 1-2 minute video clips taken from an interview with Frank. The titles are perhaps a little 'contrived' and I'd probably have preferred to have watched the whole interview.
    • Getting Started
    • Memories of Learning
    • Did it come naturally?
    • Early influences
    • Most important
    • Playing Career
    • 1 piece of advice
    • Common Mistakes
    • Performance - Excellent 3 minute solo by Frank

So, what did I think?

As a tutorial, this covers all the bases to get you started and well-down the road to competence although more advanced players may find it not going far enough. I find Frank's style of (narrative) tutorial to be very accessible, certainly his introduction to holding the drum and preparing to play will be very useful for beginning players and there are also useful wee thoughts in the introductory sections for those of us with a year or two of playing under our belts.

Coming from the University College in Cork, the 'Mad For Trad' series was always going to have an element of formal written notation, I understand that it's impossible to avoid, however my experience of most beginner players of any instrument is that they will rarely have experience of reading notation, finding it a scary barrier rather than an assistance.

If learning from notation, the act of viewing the score as well as hearing the pattern to me is a must. At first I found not being able to see the score and the video at the same time a mild irritation, but I knew what was going on so it wasn't too much of a pain. As I progressed toward (for me) more advanced patterns I found this separation very frustrating. AFAIK it is fairly straightforward to embed Quicktime movies in a webpage and that would make a big difference for me and I'm sure others, even an MP3 available to play the pattern as the reader follows the score would be most useful. Perhaps if the patterns could be reproduced on the blank inner liner. This is offered as constructive feedback to what I view as my main difficulty with the resource

While Frank prescribes rhythms for you to follow in the tutorial I would take these really as good examples and practise demonstrating the myriad voices of the instrument. I have come away from using the tutorial with many ideas and several clear areas of my playing that I see as needing attention. For me the CD achieved its desired aim.

Value for money

In my opinion the Cd represents just Ok value for money but is pushing the threshold for me given that there are only 26 HTML pages, there is no supplementary documentation and it has the the video-on-a-separate-page annoying thing. I can't help compare this product to other recently reviewed media (non-bodhrán, book-based 6 cds) and its either telling me that this is expensive or the other is cheap. Whilst I understand about the technological differences between the media and the costs of production etc I feel that the proper value to me as a consumer would be less than the price paid. Of course if you compare this to a series of personal lessons then it is very cheap.

Am I glad I bought it?


Would I recommend it?

Yes if you are a beginning or progressing player. If you are already an accomplished player you may find some useful tips tricks and ideas but I suspect its usefulness could be limited for you.

I'm obviously a progressing player then :)

Nice one Frank!

Reviewed by Paul Marshall (December 2003)

About Frank Torpey (Copied from the CD )Mad For Trad bodhran - Frank Torpey

Frank Torpey began his studies in the Music Department at University College Cork as a banjo player. He subsequently, on hearing Mel Mercier, became interested in developments in bodhrán playing and chose the bodhrán as his first instrument. In 1991 Frank was a founding member of the highly successful traditional music group Nomos and he co-produced their two acclaimed albums for Grapevine Records.

Frank's innovative bodhrán style has gained him widespread recognition throughout the traditional music world. He has played with Riverdance, Michéal Ó Súilleabháin, Luka Bloom and the Brendan Power Band. He has recorded with Alan Stivell and Mel Mercier, with Donal Lunny and Michéal Ó Súilleabháin on their 'River of Sound' composition for the T.V. series and CD, and on the T.V. series Sult. Frank co-produced the debut album by Cork band North Cregg (Best Newcomers of the Year, 2000: Irish Music Magazine).

Frank became the Bodhrán tutor at U.C.C. in 1992 and has since taught on the Masters Degree in Traditional Music Performance at the University of Limerick, and at the Summer School 'Blas', also held on that campus. Frank has taught bodhrán across the United States, in Australia, Germany, Austria, France, Scotland, and England.

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