Rickett’s Hornpipe on Ukulele for St. Patrick’s Day

Ruch's album

I like setting small goals.  So for St. Patrick’s Day I am going to try to learn Rickett’s Hornpipe and get a friend to play the rhythm chords with me.  I’m using Ken Middleton’s tabs for Rickett’s Hornpipe.

Isn’t it fun to set a goal of learning a new song?   St. Patrick’s is less than a week away which means a little bit of practice each day.

There’s a variety of reasons I chose Rickett’s Hornpipe:  I like the tune,  I don’t recall having heard it before, and Ken’s tabs make it look doable.

Deciding to play a hornpipe makes me want to know what exactly a hornpipe is, who’s Rickett, and how long has this hornpipe been around.

Google searches become interesting journeys.  In my quest to answer the questions I became sidetracked and:

  • Downloaded a midi and abc file of the Hornpipe for flute
  • Downloaded another midi and abc version from abcnotation
  • Examined the range of abc files and keys for Rickett’s Hornpipe at thesession
  • Downloaded a tabledit for mandolin version
  • Read through a site that provided a members-only guitar lesson for the hornpipe
  • Discovered Rickett’s Hornpipe is also called the Manchester Hornpipe
  • Read Banjo Judy’s story — she mentioned Ricket’s hornpipe in her story
  • Listened to 34 different samples of the hornpipe on iTunes and then purchased two versions:
    • Bill Keith’s banjo version of Rickett’s Hornpipe from his “Something Auld, Something Newgrass, Something Borrowed” album
    • Dave Ruch’s mandolin version from the album “The Oldest Was Born First”
  • Read through the  Civil War Collection Notes specifically on Rickett’s Hornpipe and found out that:


“The hornpipe is a dance form that was most popular in England and North America from the 1780s to the 1850s. Performed at a slower pace than a reel, the hornpipe was characterized by fancy footwork that was the forerunner of modern tap dancing. The hornpipe tunes themselves were somewhat more complex than the reels and tended to be played slower not only for the dancers, but in order to fit in all the notes as tastefully as possible.”

After 1850, the hornpipe as a dance form began to decline in popularity although the tunes themselves continued to be played, though often in speeded up versions played in reel time.

Rickett’s Hornpipe was first printed in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1781 as an untitled dance piece. Around 1800 the tune became associated with John Bill Ricketts. Ricketts was an English immigrant to America who became famous as a circus promoter in the 1790s. Rickett’s Hornpipe was quite well known in the mid-19th century and appears in many printed collections including Elias Howe’s School for the Violin in 1851 and his Leviathan Collection of Instrumental Music in 1858.”

I wonder about the circus promoter business both now and back then.  Glad to see the hornpipe is played more slowly than the reel. Whew!

It’s been an interesting journey but time to pick up the ukulele and start practicing slowly, very slowly, Rickett’s Hornpipe.

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