What is Scottish music?

What is Scottish music?

I am going to Edinburgh to visit friends and I would like to acquaint myself with Scottish traditional music, even learn a few of the tunes.
Is it easy to differentiate from the music you hear in Donegal? Although I play the flute, I am wondering if the music is “flute-friendly”, if you know what I mean.
I have spent a lot of time in Donegal and a lot of the locals there believe the music there is pretty much the same as Scottish trad. music, but I have also heard that the Scots would disagree about that point.

Also where is the best place to hear good quality music in Edinburgh? I am thinking of playing in the Sandybells.


Re: What is Scottish music?

“What is Scottish music?”

A very big question as it covers a variety of different styles including Shetland, North East, Central, West Highland and so on. A lot of it these days is a mixture and *may* be closely related to Irish music but, just as possible, to music from the North of England, Scandinavia and beyond.

There’s also the different piping and fiddle traditions. Don’t forget song either as much of the music is instrumental settings of old songs and vice versa…esp in the Gaelic tradition.

You’ve also got the “tartan music”(still loved by many older Scots and tourists) versus “real trad music”(whatever that is).

Here’s a good site to start


Yes, Donegal music is closely related to Scottish music as is a lot of Irish music due to close historical ties from that part of Ireland to the West Coast(esp) of Scotland but it’s not all as simple as that.

Most of the “modern” sessions feature a mixture of Irish, Scottish, even hybrid music so you won’t feel left out. Sandy Bells is good. It’s mostly Irish but there are also Scottish sessions including Sunday afternoon …very Scottish and very “old fashioned” if you like that sort of thing.

Re: What is Scottish music?

“Although I play the flute, I am wondering if the music is ”flute-friendly“, if you know what I mean.”

Yes, most of it is. Especially the pipe music. There are lots of great Scottish flute players.

I should also caution that “good quality music” might not be the most authentic and traditional Scottish music, if that’s what you’re looking for…

In my experience, most of the really good musicians are either experimental or, at least, have a very wide repertoire. Many, of course, just like to play Irish music.

Re: What is Scottish music?

You can also check out this site here but *beware* they talk even more nonsense than we do here at times. 🙂


It’s good for CDs though and they have a session guuide section.

Re: What is Scottish music?

A great deal of it’s in A Major, so it would be worthwhile to practise playing in that key, both with the G# and with the G Natural; also in its offshoots of B Minor and F# Minor.

Re: What is Scottish music?

Damn TSOTB, where are you sending poor flauta dolce? Wear metal toed boots and chainsaw kit before entering that last site… 😉

Re: What is Scottish music?

Start at “Sandy Bells’” , Ciara. Gordon Turnbull used to run a good flute session there on a Monday night, mind you, that would have been about 2 years ago. Don’t know if it still happens, but there will be music there any night of the week.
“Scotsman Over The Border” - who are these “lots of great Scottish flute players” ?

Posted by .

Re: What is Scottish music?

Good on you Kenny ~ I’d also like to see the list…

Re: What is Scottish music?

Thanks, Guys.

I will be over from 27th Dec to 3rd Jan.

I would like to go to a few sessions. Where would the Edinburgh traditional musicians normally prefer to go?

Btw, what I mean by “good quality” is music that is played to a high standard. No, I won’t be going for touristic or commercial stuff.

What is the session going to be like on 1st Jan in the Sandy Bells. Does it normally go ahead the day after Hogmaney?

So, as I know Irish traditional music only, I should probably keep the flute in the case, and take out the dictaphone.

Irish music is also becoming increasingly fuzzy as regards the definitions of Irish traditional regional music.

I have a question so: what would be closest to Irish music amongst “Shetland, North East, Central, West Highland”?

What is “tartan music” that is loved by many older Scots and tourists?

My flute is only tuned to D and as it happens I do not have a keyed one. Will I have a lot of problems playing in a session of Scottish trad. music?

Thank you for your feedback.

Re: What is Scottish music?

sometimes Ciara,its good to just listen.

Re: What is Scottish music?

Flauta, if you’re planning on being at a particular pub on New Year’s Eve, I would call ahead and see if they’re closing it to the general public. I’ve been in Edinburgh a few times for New Year’s (no better place to be!) and we had to have tickets to get in to the places we went. They’re probably not all that way, but it’s worth checking.

Re: What is Scottish music?

Sessions I’ve played in in Scotland on my trips home have been predominantly Irish, but maybe that’s Glasgow for you. Outside of that it’s still mostly Irish but with some “Ceilidh standards” thrown in.

Re: What is Scottish music?

So what I’m saying is, if your repertoire is that of standard Irish tunes you’ll be ok.

Re: What is Scottish music?

Gordon still plays on Monday nights in Bells, but that’s an Irish session. I disagree with “Scotsman” on some points: Lots of Scots music is now being played in Bells, and there aren’t many Scots flute players though there are a few playing Irish music.

Scots music is much less flute-friendly than Irish music. Fiddlers love to play the tunes you can’t play on the keyless flute. But there are still many tunes you can play with them. “Flowers of Edinburgh”, “Jenny Dang the Weaver”, “Ale is Dear,” “Spootiskerry”, “Da Full Rigged Ship”, “De New Rigged Ship” and “Drummond Castle” are good starters for flute. And old standard Irish tunes like “The Maid behind the Bar”, “The Banshee” and “Lark in the Morning” sometimes pop up.

Re: What is Scottish music?

I was gonna say . .other than Chris Norman and Phil Smillie, what well-known fluters are recording scottish tunes??

Please let me know - as an ex GHB player tuned flute player, I’d love to find more Scottish flute music.

Re: What is Scottish music?

Well, Iain McDonald as has been mentioned. Kenny..himself…isn’t that bad either. 🙂

Re: What is Scottish music?

As I see it:

Highland Bagpipe music -
Scale: G (natural), A, B, c, d, e, f#, g (nat.), a.
Tunes are in A Major, D Major, B Minor, F# Minor, and very occasionally in G Major or even (I think) A Minor.
Much of their music is military. Bagpipe reels and jigs are often played pretty fast. Marches in 2/4 or 6/8 are usually dotted in their rhythm, in a way comparable to Irish hornpipes but different.
The Highland Bagpipes were particularly associated with the West Highlands and Islands but are now universal.

Fiddle music -
Strathspeys - I assume - originated in North-East Scotland because that is the name of a valley there. They are most associated with the fiddle. They are 4/4, with very distinct dotted notes - again, different to Irish hornpipes. They have been composed in a variety of keys.

Otherwise, there are many reels and jigs of long standing, essentially fiddle tunes (though some might have originated on bagpipes or even harp, and nowadays they get played on accordion and other instruments). Most are in D, G, or A Major, or their associated minors.
They tend to include more crotchets than Irish ones, especially at the ends of parts, and get played in a more punchy way (especially by accordionists). Well-known examples include:
Miss McLeod’s
My Love She’s But A Lassie Yet
Farewell To Whiskey
Flowers Of Edinburgh
Kate Dalrymple
The Old Grey Cat
The Stool Of Repentance (jig).

Shetland music is overwhelmingly fiddle - based. Again the traditional repertoire is mainly in D, G, A , and it’s mostly reels. Many Shetland tunes are particularly accessible to people coming from an Irish (or for that matter another non - Scottish) music background.

The Gaelic areas have their own song tradition, with some beautiful airs; many of these, though, are very short and repetitive - some, at least, being work - songs.

All over, in the past and up to / including now, people have continuously composed any amount of new tunes. Many are poor or unmemorable, many others are good, sometimes really good. Traditions have mixed to the extent that it is sometimes impossible to tell whether a given tune originated in Scotland or Ireland, without being told who wrote it.

If you find yourself in front of a commercial / “tartan” band or programme, you will probably still hear a few decent or at any rate standard dance and song tunes.

Re: What is Scottish music?

Further to Kenny’s question

“who are these ”lots of great Scottish flute players" ?

I’ll agree that there are probably more good flute players from elsewhere based in Scotland and many of the good Scottish players are into Irish music(as has been suggested). There are those home grown players who play Scottish music too but which of these are “great” is subjective , of course.

What I really meant was that Flauta Dolce wouldn’t be out of place in many Scottish sessions with a flute.

Re: What is Scottish music?

Music with its roots in Scotland? That is just a guess.

Re: What is Scottish music?

It’s the cries of the wives and children of scottish pipers as they are beaten back to work by their cruel overlairds the English!

Re: What is Scottish music?

Overlords, my good man, please..

Re: What is Scottish music?

To put it bluntly, most Scottish trad comes out of a bloody great piano-accordion or multi-row button-accordion: dance bands etc. often have (at least) two of these. If you see/hear “commercial” Scottish music, that’s mainly what you’ll hear.
Fiddle and bagpipes, as respected elder instruments, are in a position to compete. Other instruments have to find their niche.
Scotland has its divisions - Edinburgh / Glasgow, Rangers / Celtic, whatever. But a particularly deep one must surely be between those who can at least tolerate piano-accordions, and those who can’t stand them.

Re: What is Scottish music?

Mustn’t leave out the Harp which is making a comeback as is the flute, Jack Campin has just put on cd-rom a collection of music from various sources covering a the period 1720-1880.

Re: What is Scottish music?

“Jack Campin has just put on cd-rom a collection of music from various sources covering a the period 1720-1880”

Appearing at a session near you. 🙂

Re: What is Scottish music?

🙂 It is early. Most tunes are well known anyway just earlier settings.Best stop before i dig a bigger hole.