A few weeks back my teacher said I should learn a new tune, but that I should pick something other than a jig since my current repertoire leans heavily towards jigs. After considering a number of reels, I chose John Ryan's Polka, mostly because I didn't really get polkas.
I have a hard time recognizing polkas, much less playing them right. The 2/4 time signature sounds a lot like the 2/2 of a reel, especially if they're not articulated carefully. But my teacher pointed out an important difference between the reel and the Irish polka. The polka, he said, is the only type of tune in Irish music which has a backbeat, although I'm pretty sure he meant an emphasis on the half-beats rather than the second (last) beat in each measure. He told me that he played polkas "incorrectly" for ten years before someone told him about this.
Armed with this information I was able to go back and listen to track 5 of Mary Bergin's Feadóga Stáin 2 a bit more carefully and I can get a sense of what he means.
But it will be a good while before I can play polkas like she can.
Have a suggestion for a great polka recording? Leave a comment!