The Cuckoo’s Nest jig

There are 4 recordings of this tune.

The Cuckoo's Nest has been added to 39 tunebooks.

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One setting

X: 1
T: The Cuckoo's Nest
R: jig
M: 6/8
L: 1/8
K: Bdor
de|fede fede|fedc B2cd|edcd edcd|edcB A3 A|
Bcde f2a2|bagf e3 e|fedc dcBA|c2B2 B4|
f2b2 b2fg|agfe f3 f|f2 g2 a2 f2|gfe2 e3 e|
f2b2 b2fg|agfe f2de|fedc dcBA|c2 B2 B4|

Twenty-three comments

Another Cuckoo

I found this today on a word document and remembered that I was going to post it a while back. So here it is late… I checked the Cuckoo’s already on the Session and I couldn’t find this version. I know that there is a part somewhere here on the session to a tune that resembles this arrangement but I couldn’t find it. That’s why I have posted it as it’s own submission, also it represents yet another version of the Cuckoo.


This arrangement represents what I would call the “standard” version from SW Pennsylvania, Western MD, and West Virginia. (Allegheny region). However it was played more commonly out of A Dorian or A Mixolodian… ALso it was known as a reel with traditional players. I play it in both keys but like B on the fiddle, which I have found a documented trad. source in that key. Come to think of it, I can think of trad. US players with versions in D, G, A mix.. it works in many keys well on the fiddle.


Repeat parts if desired… Sometimes I do… sometimes I don’t.

The structure of the Cuckoo’s Nest is clearly a hornpipe, even in this setting. I don’t really see how anyone would manage to play this as an actual reel structure.

Posted .


I agree with the structure thing , but this is a USA version and we are famous for straightening out hornpipes into reels and even doing the same to jigs… on the other hand that doesn’t always apply… I’ve found many tunes in the USA (from trad. players) that are more reel like in structure that are played more in a hornpipe style. Tune types are less structured in US tradition than in Irish Traditional Music. There are even tunes in trad. music written in 6/8 called “hornpipes.” I’ve noticed that even in Irish music there are discussions about swinging, dotted rhythms, and the “right” way.

Also, I should let you know where Im coming from musically. In studying the music of my region, (which has been to many years now) I came to the conclusion within recent years that It didn’t fit into the standard US “old time” scene . On the Session I have posted very few tunes that are currently played in Irish sessions, but relate to the tradition of Jigs, reels, hornpipes etc. Sort of like Scottish, Cape Breton and English music. It’s all in the big picture.

I sincerely appreciate your comment and also appreciate the fact that I’ve been allowed to be a part of the Session and post tunes/comments from my angle. I am very liberal when it comes to the playing of most tunes, so if you like this arrangement and want to play it more as a hornpipe, then do it. It’s a versatile tune and can handle most any treatment it is given. I’ve even played it as a jig!

I wasn’t even thinking about straightening the rhythm or anything, there’s just no reel in there, with the three quaver ending and all. Straightening a hornpipe will not give you a reel nor will dotting a reel give you a hornpipe at least that’s how I see it. But never mind, it was a minor quibble.

Posted .

I see your point

I see your point and sorry for the longwinded reply. 😉

Reel V hornpipe

Some ‘Cuckoo’s Nests’ are hornpipes and some reels. Some might consider the ending (crotchet not quaver by the way) as similar to a rant or maybe a polka. I would still call this a Reel and would play it as such. ‘maryland h’ wins my vote on this version. Thanks for this. I can add it to my collection of versions of this tune . It might be interesting to compare this in rhythm with many of the Cotswold Morris versions. Many of those are ‘flat’ (straightened out) by the way.

Posted by .

Hmm- I’m all for turning hornpipes to reels if it fits - but I just cannot ‘hear’ the reel in this one - I’m with Kilfarboy.

Posted by .

Old TImey

No need to apologize, I think. If kilfarboy is unfamiliar with American Old Timey tradition, he may not understand how this setting can be a reel. For example, a fiddler might play “around” the endings, and play the quarter and half notes (crotchets and minims) with a shuffle bowing that keeps a steady stream of driving eight notes (quavers) and syncopations going throughout.

Maryland, would it be correct to say that there are few hornpipes in the ITM sense played in your tradition, and Old Timey tradition in general? My impression is that even popular tunes with “hornpipe” frozen in the title, e.g. Fisher’s Hornpipe, are played as reels.

MTGuru- In the mainstream “old time” scene, that would be true of hornpipes. In the Allegheny region (in the past) there were more hornpipes, schottisches, clogs and “dotted” rhythms… along with shared tunes from the modern old time movement— many more jigs of documented old country origin— and then tunes unique to the region. I’m speaking of a tradition that I have to sadly say is pretty much dead. (Most of my tunes and info come from trad. players that have all gone on.) Most fiddling in the midatlantic and Appalchian region of the upper south has succumbed to the modern “oldtime” or bluegrass styles. But yes… some hornpipes were played with a driving beat and the ending notes varied from the “dum bum bum.” As I posted previously, some tunes, although structurally “reels” were played in a more hornpipey fashion. It was a ver individualistic tradition and the more I learn about Trad. Irish Music… the same holds true.


Hetty- Thanks for your comments. It’s fascinating to me to look at similarities/differences in various traditions. I like your input with your knowledge of the English trad. music here on The Session.


CUCKOO’S NEST, THE [15]. AKA and see “Good Axe Elve,” “All Aboard,” “Forty Pounds of Feathers in a Hornet’s Nest.” Old-Time, Reel. USA; southwestern Pa., West Virginia, northeastern Kentucky. A Mixolydian. Standard. AB. Bayard (1944) identifies these Pennsylvania collected versions as derived from the Irish original, some more true to the original than others, and notes that it enjoyed great popularity in southwestern Pa. His (A) version (from Emery Martin) represented the prevailing one in that region and he found published sets which indicated that this version was also known elsewhere. He gave a children’s game rhyme collected in western Pennsylvania that ran:
Wire, briar, limberlock,
Three geese in a flock,
One flew east, and one flew west,
And one flew over the cuckoo’s nest.
But said there was no proof that the rhyme was associated locally with this melody. The Pennsylvania versions differ from most Irish versions in that the latter often have three parts, of which parts two and three correspond to parts one and two in the Martin (western Pennsylvania) version. Bayard (1944) says “it has survived in this country where the first part as given in Irish sets does not occur, and is sometimes given the position of first part in the western Pennsylvania sets–as in our version B.” Further differences are the American sets are more strongly mixolydian in character than many Irish ones, and while the Irish tune was sometimes used as a song air the American versions were not and it remained a dance tune there. Another version is in The American Veteran Fifer, No. 8. Guthrie Meade and Mark Wilson (1976) observe that northeastern Kentucky fiddler Ed Hayley’s version of the tune is similar to the one printed in Bayard’s “Hill Country Tunes” and speculate that, since Bayard’s version was collected in the Dunbar region of West Virginia, Hayley (who was born in Logan County, W.Va., and travelled throughout the state) may have learned his version there also. Sources for notated versions: Emery Martin, Dunbar, Pennsylvania, October 14, 1943 (learned from his father) [Bayard, 1944]: 10 southwestern Pa. fiddlers and fifers [Bayard, 1981]. Bayard (Hill Country Tunes), 1944; No. 8a. Bayard (Dance to the Fiddle), 1981; No. 292A-J, pgs. 245-248. Rounder 1010, Ed Hayley - “Parkersburg Landing” (1976).

You’re welcome ‘mh’
I would still like to convince ‘bb’ & ‘kilfarboy’ that there is a reel here, just consider the first two bars and look at each group of 4 quavers. there definitely is a drive to each of the three groups finishing on the single crotchet . This is repeated again in the next 2 bars.
I’ve just been playing the ‘King of the Fairies’ as a reel. It is also well known as a Hornpipe and works both ways. ‘Cuckoo’s Nest’ is another of those tunes that crosses over very easily from one to the other.

Posted by .


I agree. This tune can really drive… I probably go twice as fast as the MIDI plays here also.


I shouldve been more specific - I meant it doesnt sound like a reel in Irish trad - I didnt realise until I read Maryland’s bio and the posts here that you actually posted an old timey tune. And to be honest I know nothing about that kind of music - so if you say its a old timey reel then I beleive you. I just meant it doesnt sound like a trad reel.

Posted by .


Yes, bb and kilfarboy, it’s interesting. At events like the Solstice festival here in California, where you have Irish trad and Old Timey sessions literally side by side in adjoining rooms, my impression is that there’s little cross-over. Even when the two sometimes play the same tunes, the style and aesthetics are too different. Of course, I know some players who are adept at both.

I know a fair few people who play both as well - there is quite a big old timey cross over irish trad scene in Melbourne. Mostly though people dont really cross over - to me I cant see similarities in the two different types of music at all - ok - its acoustic and we all play the same instruments and some of the same tunes, but to me it just sounds so completely different.

Posted by .

Old Time

Even in CURRENT US old time jams Cuckoo’s Nest is not very common… so I can’t comment on that style of playing it … my sources are old and the Allegheny region fiddle style was different from the current “old time” styles. It featured short, clean bow strokes and let the melody dictate the beat along with pressure on the bow… players used triplets( which dont exist in the modern “old time” scene.) And played 6/8s frequently. (Which dont exist in modern old time.) In fact, I have grown to dislike the modern “old time” scene because of these reasons. I am finding that the my regions tunes are more in line with trad. English fiddling and tunes styles as well as Scottish and no doubt Ulster’s musical traditions.

I agree with Hetty, even as written here, regardless of how its played, I’d call it a reel.


Yes - maybe - but not in any way similar to an Irish trad reel. Thats all I am saying.

Posted by .

Fife March

There are also versions of this as a fife march in the US.

Cuckoos all in a row ~

“The Cuckoo’s Nest”
Key signature: G Major
Submitted on March 2nd 2002 by Mad Baloney.

“The Cuckoo’s Nest” / “Eamonn McGivney’s”
Key signature: E Dorian
Submitted on September 29th 2003 by lazyhound.

“The Cuckoo’s Nest”
Key signature: G Major
Submitted on January 15th 2004 by gian marco.

“Nyth Y Gwcw” / “Nyth Y Gôg” / “The Cuckoo’s Nest”
Key signature: D Dorian
Submitted on August 16th 2006 by ceolachan.

“Nyth Y Gôg” / “Nyth Y Gwcw” / “The Cuckoo’s Nest”
Key signature: e minor
Submitted on November 17th 2006 by ceolachan.