About Songs, Tunes & Instruments
Kinds Of Scottish Songs
It’s important to remember that the song traditions of Scotland are, for the most part, oral traditions - songs have been passed on from one person to another without them being written down. This means that there can be several different versions of the same song varying from region to region, or from community to community.
Nowadays it is more common for people to write down the songs they know, or to learn them from a printed source, or from a singer, but with the written words also to hand. Recordings of songs also ‘capture’ a song performance in a moment in time rather than letting it continue to evolve. This means there is less variety in the versions of songs than before.
Here are some of the main categories of song you will come across in traditional music.
A ballad is a song or poem that tells a story using short verses.
Songs sung by farm workers in the bothies where they lived.
Many songs are composed for or by children and evolve in the playground.
Narrative songs tell a story on almost any subject, and can be dramatic, humorous or serious.
Learn how pro-Jacobite songs originated and about the different purpose that they serve today.
Songs once accompanied every kind of task - from waulking tweed, to rowing, milking, or bringing home the cattle.
Kinds Of Scottish Tunes
From slow melodic airs to lively, energetic reels and jigs, there are a wide variety of tunes used in Scottish traditional culture. The slow airs are melodies in themselves or melodies taken from song, while the fast tunes are all dance-tune forms, although they can be enjoyed in their own right rather than just being used to dance to.
Descriptions are given of each of the different forms, with some examples of tunes and how they can be played. There are also some examples of tunes written in musical notation.
The hornpipe and the waltz are dance forms that have stayed popular over the years.
The jig is a form of dance tune in compound time related to the European baroque dance, the gigue.
Marches were originally composed for soldiers to march along to.
The reel is the fastest of all the tunes played on instruments in Scotland.
Scottish traditional music is essentially melodic and monophonic - it is rooted in unaccompanied tunes and songs.
Slow airs can be either instrumental tunes in their own right, or melodies borrowed from songs.
Discover the origins of this popular dancing tune that can be played on many different instruments.