The Blackbird hornpipe

Also known as An Londubh, The Blackbird Set Dance.

There are 120 recordings of this tune.

This tune has been recorded together with

The Blackbird appears in 7 other tune collections.

The Blackbird has been added to 19 tune sets.

The Blackbird has been added to 462 tunebooks.

Download ABC

Seven settings

X: 1
T: The Blackbird
R: hornpipe
M: 4/4
L: 1/8
K: Dmaj
dc|B2d2 c2B2|ABAG ABcA|~dcde dcAF|GAGF D2DE|
F2FG A2fe|~dcde dcAF|GAGF D2D2|D6:|
|:de|f2d2 f2g2|abag fgaf|g2{a}gf gbaf|gagf d2de|
f2de f2g2|abag fgaf|gagf d2d2|defg abag|
fgaf gage|f2ed cA2B|c2de defg|a4 A3G|
FGAB =c3e|d^cAF GAGF|D2D2 D2:|
X: 2
T: The Blackbird
R: hornpipe
M: 4/4
L: 1/8
K: Dmix
|:(3cBA|(3BcB d2 (3cdc (3BAG|(3AAG (3BAG A>B (3cBA|d>^cd>e d2 (3=cAF|G2 (3AGF (3DDD D>E|
(3FED (3EFG A2 (3gfe|d>^cd>e f>d (3AGF|[M:2/4] G>AG>F|[M:4/4] D2 D2 D2-:|
|:D>g|f>ed>e f>d (3efg|a2 (3bag f>g (3agf|(3ggf g>f g>ba>f|g>ag>f d2- d>g|
f2 (3def f2 (3efg|a>ba>g f>ga>f|g>ag>f d2 d2|d2 (3efg a>ba>g|
f>ga>f g>ag>e|f2- f>e d>cA>B|c>B (3c^cd e>f (3gfe|a4 A2 A>G|
F>GA>B c>B (3cde|d>cA>F G>AG>F|D2 D2 D2-:|
X: 3
T: The Blackbird
R: hornpipe
M: 4/4
L: 1/8
K: Dmix
|:cA|B2 d2 c2 B2|A2 AG ABcA|d^cde d=cAF|G2 AF D2 DE|
FDFG A2 fe|d^cde fdAF|[M:2/4] GAGF|[M:4/4] D2 D2 D2-:|
|:Dg|fede fdfg|a2 ag fgaf|g2 gf gbaf|gagf d3 g|
f2 de fefg|abag fgaf|gagf d2 d2|defg abag|
fgaf gage|f3 e dcAB|cBcd efge|a4 A2 AG|
FGAB cBce|dcAF GAGF|D2 D2 D2-:|
X: 4
T: The Blackbird
R: hornpipe
M: 4/4
L: 1/8
K: Dmix
|:dc|B2~B2 cABG|AF~F2 ABcA|d.fe^c d=cAF|GAGF DEDE|
FEFG A2 (3.g.fe|d.fe^c d=cAF|GBAF ~D2D2|D2:|
|:de|fede fd (3efg|~a3g fgaf|g2{a}gf gbaf|gagf d^cde|
fede fd (3efg|~a3g fgaf|gagf d2d^c|defg ~a3g|
fgaf g2ge|fde^c d=cAB|cBcd efge|a2~a2 ~A3G|
FADA c2e^c|dcAF GBAF|D2D2 D2:|
X: 5
T: The Blackbird
R: hornpipe
M: 4/4
L: 1/8
K: Dmaj
d^c/=c/|B3{BAB}B AB c2|cB/G/ A2 ABcA|d2 e{fef}d/c/A3B/A/|GF (G2|
G2) AB A2 F>D|D3E F{FGF}F/E/ Ff f(3e/d/c/|d3e f<d A3B/A/|GF G3A/B/ A>F D2|D2D6:|
|:de|f2{fgf}fe de f>g|a3b a/g/f/g/ a>f|g3a/b/ a>f d>e|f3g f/e/d/e/ f3g|a3b a/g/f/g/ af|
g3f d>e fg|a3b a/g/f/g/ af|g2 ge =f2 e2|d2 dc A>B (c2|
c2) cBcd d/e/f/g/|a4 A3G/E/|F3D =c3d|
d=c A3G/F/ (G2|G3)A/B/ A>F D2|D2 D2 D4:|
# Added by JACKB .
X: 6
T: The Blackbird
R: hornpipe
M: 4/4
L: 1/8
K: Dmix
dc|:BGBd cA{A}BG|(3ABA GB ABcA|d2de dcAF|GB{B}AF D2DE|
{G}FEFG Adfe|d2de dcAF|1 [M:3/2] GB{B}AF D2 D2 D2dc:|2 [M:3/2] GB{B}AF D2 D2 D2de||
|:[M:C||{g}fede {fg}f2g2|a2ag fg{b}af|g2{ga}gf gbaf|ga{a}gf d2de|
{g}fede {fg}f2g2|a2ag fg{b}af|[M:3/2] ga{a}gf d2dc defg|
[M:C||a2ag fg{b}af|ga{ga}ge (3fgf ef|dcAG ABcd|ef{a}ge {ab}a2a2|
AB{B}AG FGAB|c2ce dcAF|1 [M:3/2] GB{B}AF D2D2 D2de:|2 [M:3/2] GB{B}AF D2D2 D2||
# Added by cac .
X: 7
T: The Blackbird
R: hornpipe
M: 4/4
L: 1/8
K: Dmix
d>c|:(3Bcd B>d c>dB>c|A>GF>G A>B (3cBA|~d3 e d>cA>F|G>BA>F D2 D>E|
(3FED F>G A2 {fa}f>e|d2 {e}d>^c d>=cA>F|[M:3/2]G>BA>F D2 D2 D4:|
[M:4/4]|:d>e|f>d {e}(3d^cd f>df>g|a>ba>g f>g (3agf|g3 f g>ba>g|f>gf>e d2 d>e|
f>d {e}(3d^cd f>df>g|a3 g f>ga>f|g>ag>f d2 d2|d>ef>g ~a3 g|
f>ga>f ~g3 e|(3fga e^c d>=cA>G|F>GA>B d>ef>g|a4 A3G|
F>GA>B ~c3 e|d>cA>F G>BA>F|D2 D2 D3:|

Thirty-seven comments

The Blackbird

Although listed as a reel The Blackbird is in fact a set dance. Micheal Coleman’s old recording of the tune is talked about at length in the "Microtones on the fiddle" in the discussion section on this site, which is one reason why I’ve posted this excellent tune. What you see here is the O’Neill version. Note for note it’s not all that different from Micheal Coleman’s recording but of course lacks his detailed ornamentation.


I don’t know Michael Coleman’s recording, but I do know that there are countless different settings of this tune. The main difference between this version and others I have heard or seen notated is that, in the last bar of the A-part, where this version has a dotted minim (dotted 1/2 note), other versions have a single crotchet (1/4-note), effectively making it one bar of 2/4. For this reason, the whole tune is often notated in 2/4 rather than 4/4 (which, for the purpose of posting in The Session would make it a polka, Heaven forbid!).

The O’Neill source was in 2/4, with 1/16 notes, so, realising that this was closer to a reel in 4/4 with 1/8, I changed it accordingly in case the system forced it to appear as a polka. Micheal Coleman’s playing actually sounds closer to a hornpipe than a reel, but that may be a characteristic of MC’s playing in this instance.


Micheal Coleman and The Blackbird

Further to my last comment, Micheal Coleman’s intonation on his recording is quite a bit off target in places. Some of the low F#’s sound more like F-naturals, and it’s sometimes a lottery whether he meant C# or C-natural! See the Microtones on the Fiddle discussion for more on the topic of MC’s recording of The Blackbird.


I have not heard the Michael Coleman recording you mention, but have heard countless other recordings of this tune. Everyone seems to play the eighth notes in the style of a hornpipe, so I would say that it is not just a case of MC’s style on this tune…

The Blackbird

The discussion above assumes that the Blackbird is Irish. In fact its much more widely known as a hornpipe across all of the UK. Thje Irish set dance playing is what we would call a hornpipe on this side of the Irish Sea.
It needs to swung a lot to make it work.
Noel Jackson
Angels of the North

Reel or hornpipe?

My mom and sister are Irish dancers and they dance this song as a hornpipe at the fesianna. I looked and played the music and it is the same song- perhaps the reel version is more session sounding! πŸ™‚

The Blackbird is played as a hornpipe for the stepdancers. It’s one of An Coimisiun’s six traditional set dances, I don’t know who the dance master was who choreographed it, but it was a very long time ago. This means that the dance is pretty much the same, give or take a few regional differences, all over the world. There are adjudicators who prefer to see it danced almost sean-nos in style: low to the ground, kicks staying low, and danced very bouncy and perky, as the traditional sets are the stepdancer’s link to the ancestral tradition of sean-nos dancing that modern stepdancing sprung from.

Stepdancers would need three repetitions of the A part (one time through for an intro, and two times through for the step) and then a single time through the B part (one time through for the right foot of the set) for competition purposes. Many stepdancers never learn to dance the set on the left foot, and most modern stepdancers aren’t even aware that there are other sets out there for this traditional set.


And, btw, when playing this for a stepdancer for the traditional set, you would short the first part by two beats for 7 and a half measures.

The Blackbird Set Dance

One of the great set dances. Always played just a bit slower than hornpipe tempo. The dance had a set of steps that were danced to the tune. My mother danced it when she was young and she was born in 1905. It was also another of those tunes that was always requested by people trying to see how good you were on the instrument: you know …if you can’t play the Blackbird, you can play nothing syndrome…..

Bothy Band

The sleeve notes on Out of the Wind into the Sun (1977) say: "Certain dance-tunes are sometimes played as slow airs; this is the case with The Blackbird. The basic melody is treated as an air, then as a set dance, and finally as a reel. This Donegal verison of the reel was heard from the playing of Johnny Doherty". Proceeding beyond the album cover there is a wonderful slow air rendition from Paddy Keenan

"Set Dance" ~ in the style of a hornpipe ~ SWUNG!!! >

I hav eheard it endless times and it has never been played straight, as a ‘reel’. Why, after all these pleas is it still sitting here filed under ‘reel’? 😏 I love this old codger. I’ll have to add another take on it sometime, as nobody else has yet, but I can promise you, it won’t be as a reel…

Here’s one tempo from an early recording (40s, 50s & swung) ~

L: 1/4 = 160 beat per minute
L: 1/2 = 80 bpm

Nice one Hiro, I enjoyed that… πŸ˜‰

That last D of the 1st part should be D2, not D6. It sounds silly held on for that long. I think the barlines could have been better placed to reflect the phrasing as well, but that’s being picky…

‘c’, Tim Collins sounds to me like he’s playing it pretty straight on that recording, in a similar rhythm to a reel but a bit slower. There’s a bit of swing there, but really not much at all.

So is that the first time you’ve heard it played like that??

"The Blackbird" ~ D Mixolydian & swung & not rushed

Sorry Dow, I don’t agree… I hear him swinging it, and the prevalence of triplets supports this futher, also when played at half speed… I have usually known and heard this, normally, swung, with triplets being common. Oh yeah, I’ve heard it roasted a few times too, taken fast, as if a reel, but prefer it as a set dance, 4/4 and swung…

Here is another take, borrowing some triplets and variations from older players, including Leo Rowsome, and Joe Derrane & Jerry O’Brien, and a little bit added myself 😎 ~

X: 2
T: Blackbird, The
M: 4/4
L: 1/8
R: set dance
K: D Mixolydian
|: (3cBA |\
(3BcB d2 (3cdc (3BAG | (3AAG (3BAG A>B (3cBA | d>^cd>e d2 (3=cAF | G2 (3AGF (3DDD D>E |
(3FED (3EFG A2 (3gfe | d>^cd>e f>d (3AGF | [L: 2/4] G>AG>F | [L: 4/4] D2 D2 D2- :|
|: D>g |\
f>ed>e f>d (3efg | a2 (3bag f>g (3agf | (3ggf g>f g>ba>f | g>ag>f d3 g |
f2 (3def f2 (3efg | a>ba>g f>ga>f | g>ag>f d2 d2 | d2 (3efg a>ba>g |
f>ga>f g>ag>e | f3 e d>cA>B | c>B (3c^cd e>f (3gfe | a4 A2 A>G |
F>GA>B c>B (3cde | d>cA>F G>AG>F | D2 D2 D2- :|

Sure he swings it a tad, I think we all do, but why would you need to even try to notate it that way?

ceol… you better take a second look at those ABCs.

Nah, ‘c’, he’s really not swinging it all that much, no more than you would a reel, even though there are triplets in there. He does give the impression of swinging by emphasising the backbeat though.

The triplets are more like N/N/N, not (3NNN.

"The Blackbird" ~ D Mixolydian; corrections & sans > & (3 ~ for button

Correction first, I said I’ve been losing sleep, thanks PB for the heads up ~ M: not L: ~

~ | [M: 2/4] G>AG>F | [M: 4/4] D2 D2 D2- :|

And for you, as per usual ~

X: 2
T: Blackbird, The
M: 4/4
L: 1/8
R: set dance
K: D Mixolydian
|: cA |\
B2 d2 c2 B2 | A2 AG ABcA | d^cde d=cAF | G2 AF D2 DE |
FDFG A2 fe | d^cde fdAF | [M: 2/4] GAGF | [M: 4/4] D2 D2 D2- :|
|: Dg |\
fede fdfg | a2 ag fgaf | g2 gf gbaf | gagf d3 g |
f2 de fefg | abag fgaf | gagf d2 d2 | defg abag |
fgaf gage | f3 e dcAB | cBcd efge | a4 A2 AG |
FGAB cBce | dcAF GAGF | D2 D2 D2- :|

Relaxed and with a bounce ~ 😎

Yeah, you may be right. Sometimes we hear what we’re used to. I have heard it played flat, including on recordings. I admit my bias to it being swung, and not steamrolled flat or sped through. One of the nicest ways I ever heard it taken was actually being played by an old friend who also regularly played such things for step dancers, Con Foley. He wouldn’t be the only one who took it that way, relaxed and with a bounce…

Several of my older recordings, old 78s, are quite strongly swung, including the playing of Joe Derrane & Jerry O’Brien, & pipers like Leo Rowsome…

Tim Collins ~ yup! you were right Mark… πŸ˜‰

I’m listening to it in bass mode. You would laugh. I might cut it as an MP3 and send it to you, this played on bass concertina… No, no swing, and his triplets are as you’ve said ~ N/N/N rather than (3NNN… It is how he plays it… Even slowed down I kept hearing 3s… It is an old favourite I’ve a long time with, swung. Thanks, I’m quite enjoying it way d-o—-w——n l———-o————-w… It honks!!! πŸ˜‰

Damn I like my bag of tricks. It did such a great job on this… πŸ˜€

I’m like you, ‘c’, I prefer to hear it more swung than that. Not saying I don’t like his playing - I love Tim Collins’ playing… it’s just I prefer to hear this tune more "swingy". But you know that by now anyway πŸ˜‰

I like TIm, especially on the ‘bass concertina’… πŸ˜€

If you play this tune for a traditional step dancer…

if you play this tune for a traditional set dancer, it follows the structure AAB, not AABB as notated here. Also, it is common practice to play an A part as an introduction for the dancer, so you end up playing AAAB, the dancer startin on the second A part.

Another version of the Blackbird

T:Blackbird, The
|:d-c|B2~B2 cABG|AF~F2 ABcA|d.fe^c d=cAF|GAGF DED-E|
FEF-G A2 (3.g.f-e|d.fe^c d=cAF|GBAF ~D2D2|D2:|
|:d-e|fede fd (3efg|~a3g fgaf|g2{a}g-f gbaf|gagf d^cd-e|
fede fd (3efg|~a3g fgaf|gagf d2d^c|defg ~a3g|
fgaf g2ge|fde^c d=cAB|cBcd efge|a2~a2 ~A3G|
FADA c2e^c|dcAF GBAF|D2D2 D2:||

Slow Air

This is the slow air version of the Blackbird similar to as Paddy Keenan plays it.

Posted by .

The Blackbird, X:6

This is a transcription of a lovely version of The Blackbird played by Michael Tubridy and found on Wooden Flute Obsession 2. Note that this is a set dance and that the rhythm could also be noted as M:C|, not ‘swung’ (dotted). There is a video available of Michael Tubridy’s wife Celine dancing the set dance (with her husband accompanying):
The same video may be seen on youtube:

The parts are played as: AAABBAABBAA

Posted by .

Re: The Blackbird

I was just reading an article in a back number of An Piobaire about this tune.

The air version is the oldest. There are words, but they’re not sung often now. Like lots of other songs in that period it has a Jacobite theme - the "blackbird most royal" of the song is the Pretender.

The ultimate origin seems to be an Interregnum-era English broadsheet printed as ‘The lady’s lament for the losse of her landlord" (her ‘landlord’ being Charles II). A talented Irish songwriter seems to have adapted it, years later, into an air which went on to be the basis of many classic tunes in several traditions.

Posted by .

The Blackbird, X:7

Taken from ‘A Fine Selection of Over 200 Irish Traditional Tunes for Sessions’, compiled by David Speers with a Forward by Matt Cranitch. I had to change this slightly by adding the 3/2 bar in the first part. A curious one this, with many related tunes.

Re: The Blackbird

Can anyone provide the sheet music of the Blackbird, as recorded by the late great guitarist, Arty McBlynn, played as a slow air.