Bunting's notations from the performance of harpers are also unsure evidence for keys.
The Banks of Claudy, for example, is notated in MS29 in the key of E major, which uses
Bunting testified that the harpers all played the same tunes in the same keys. While this idea
is open to question, it may be that he has transmitted a generalisation given to him by
harpers themselves. It is quite possible that the same settings of tunes were generally
played in the same key for a number of reasons.
Only two main tunings were commonly used, which reflects a certain limit of options for keys.
Songs and melodies originally made by a harper may have been passed on in a more
conservative manner than those not deriving from a harper. Certain settings of songs may
have been associated with particular vocal ranges.
Bunting specifies that the following keys were used by the harpers:-
D natural minor
C natural major
A natural minor
Keys D, C and A natural use not chromatic notes. The keys of G major and E minor are just
C & A natural scales transposed into leithghléas (the tuning of one sharp). The key of A one
sharp minor (a D natural scale transposed into leithghléas) is not clearly named by Bunting
as having been used by the harpers.
Study of Carolan's vocal range provides very little evidence that he may have used this key
for certain songs. As Carolan's song airs and instrumental melodies formed a large quotient
of the repertoire of the the harpers that Bunting encountered, it seems that Bunting's
testimony is closely related to that material.
G natural major is not mentioned as a key in Bunting's publications despite clear evidence
that he knew of it: he names a key of G natural in his vocabulary in MS34 f58r and gives it
the name 'fuáil bheag'. D one sharp is also not mentioned, even though song tunes of this
kind were given to Bunting by Arthur O' Neill. It may be that D one sharp tunes were
subsumed by the harpers of Bunting's time into the key of G in the leithghléas for purely
G one sharp major
E one sharp minor