Music to Play: Chris Dumigan’s Arrangement of ‘Londonderry Air’


Whether you’ve been reading Classical Guitar for one issue or for its entire 35-year history, chances are you’ve encountered the writing of Chris Dumigan in these pages. He has reviewed hundreds of books of sheet music and albums through the years. A native of Manchester, England, he has also been playing guitar since he was 11, initially playing both pop music and classical guitar. He’s written close to 200 songs and even penned a pair of rock musicals several decades ago, but since the early 1980s has devoted himself primarily to the classical guitar—playing it, teaching it, and composing and arranging/transcribing pieces for it. He has had dozens of his works and arrangements published by a variety of companies.

Since the Special Focus of this issue is “Transcribing and Arranging,” I asked Chris if we could publish one of his arrangements for all of you players to try, and he happily obliged. Out of a long list, we chose “Londonderry Air,” a tune no doubt familiar to many of you. His version has been previously published by Lathkill Music, so we also thank Lathkill’s Steve Marsh (another CG writer!) for granting us permission.

We also asked Chris to write a few words about the arrangement and give us some tips on playing it.—Blair Jackson

Click here to download a PDF of the music.


There are a number of theories about how old this melody is. The first appearance of the tune in print occurred in 1855, in Ancient Music of Ireland, published by the early collector George Petrie (1789–1866). The untitled melody was supplied to Petrie by Miss Jane Ross of Limavady, in the county of Londonderry; she claimed to have taken it down from the playing of an itinerant piper.

When I came to arrange this piece, I originally had it as a rolling triplet arpeggio, but generally using the same chord structures you see here. It is still possible to do it that way, but over time I felt that the full chord-to-chord movement added a necessary degree of gravitas to the end result. That said, now it is a matter of being able to transfer instantly from one chord to the next without any noticeable pauses or gaps; not the easiest of techniques.

As it is one of the most beautiful tunes ever written, it needs to be played very smoothly and with as much cantabile as your playing can muster. —Chris Dumigan

Guidelines for submitting pieces for “Music to Play” can be found here.