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Scots Sangs An Tunes Fur Schools

Traditional and new Scots songs and tunes
for use in Scottish schools - and everywhere else

Other Instruments

There are many other instruments in use in Scottish traditional music. The piano or electric keyboard is used in bands and also to accompany singers and melody instruments. The piano is used especially to accompany fiddle music and to give a harmonic and rhythmic backing to dance band music. The keyboard player in a Scottish country dance band will often be playing in a style called 'vamping'. Vamping usually involves playing one note in the left hand and a three-note chord in the right hand, to give an 'oom-pah' rhythm. 

Another instrument often used by people starting to learn to play Scottish tunes is the mouth organ or harmonica, known in Scotland as the 'moothie'. The 'penny whistle' or ‘tin whistle’ are also favoured. Recently, large 'low whistles' have become popular in bands that play traditional music. These instruments have a gentler sound than tin whistles, and the sound is an octave lower. Flutes are also popular, usually wooden ones for traditional music, although metal flutes are sometimes used.

The gut and wire-strung guitar was used in Scottish music 200 years ago, but fell out of fashion. The wire-strung acoustic guitar has been brought back in the last 50 years to accompany songs and tunes. Performers like Archie Fisher, Dick Gaughan and Tony McManus have created a distinctively Scottish style of fingerstyle guitar playing.

The guitar is mostly used as a driving rhythm accompaniment in modern bands. Electric guitars and bass guitars are also popular, although the acoustic double bass, or ‘upright bass’ is increasingly favoured as the instrument to underpin a band’s music. Other stringed instruments such as mandolins and banjos are common, especially in bands.

The main traditional percussion instrument in Scottish music is the bodhran, which is a large Irish circular drum, held with one hand and hit with a beater. The most skilled players can follow the rhythms of the tunes they are accompanying and manipulate the drum skin, almost to the point that they are playing a countermelody to the main instruments.

The trump or jaws harp or Jew’s harp is one of the oldest known instruments and is played all over the world. It is a metal or wooden frame with a small flexible metal tongue which is repeatedly struck with the finger. It’s placed in the mouth, which acts as the amplifier to the sound of the reverberating tongue as well as allowing changes of pitch to the sound of the reverberations. The trump is very easy to play, although it can sometimes be hard to recognise what tune is being played.

In more modern times, Scottish musicians have developed their playing of various other instruments and combinations of instruments, and you can hear instruments from other cultures used often in bands, such as digeridoos, African percussion instruments and bouzoukis.