Music of Scotland

Music of Scotland
A Pipe Major playing the Great Highland Bagpipe

Scotland is internationally known for its traditional music, which has remained vibrant throughout the 20th century, when many traditional forms worldwide lost popularity to pop music. In spite of emigration and a well-developed connection to music imported from the rest of Europe and the United States, the music of Scotland has kept many of its traditional aspects; indeed, it has itself influenced many forms of music.

Many outsiders associate Scottish folk music almost entirely with the Great Highland Bagpipe, which has indeed long played an important part of Scottish music. Although this particular form of bagpipe developed exclusively in Scotland, it is not the only Scottish bagpipe, and other bagpiping traditions remain across Europe. The earliest mention of bagpipes in Scotland dates to the 15th century although they could have been introduced to Scotland as early as the 6th century. The pìob mhór, or Great Highland Bagpipe, was originally associated with both hereditary piping families and professional pipers to various clan chiefs; later, pipes were adopted for use in other venues, including military marching. Piping clans included the MacArthurs, MacDonalds, McKays and, especially, the MacCrimmon, who were hereditary pipers to the Clan MacLeod.


Folk music

Folk music takes many forms in a broad musical tradition, although the dividing lines are not rigid, and many artists work across the boundaries. Culturally, there is a split between the Gaelic tradition and the Scots tradition.[1]

The oldest forms of music in Scotland are theorised to be Gaelic singing and harp playing. Although much of the harp tradition was lost through extinction, the harp is being revived by contemporary players. Later, the Great Highland Bagpipe appeared on the scene. The original music of the bagpipe is called Piobaireachd, this is the classical music of the bagpipe. 'piobaireachd' means 'big music' in Gaelic. Piobaireachd consists of a theme melody called the 'ground' followed by variations. Later, the style of 'light music,' including marches, strathspeys, reels, jigs, and hornpipes, became more popular. The British army adopted piping and spread the idea of pipe bands throughout the British Empire. Presently, piping is closely tied to band and individual competitions, although pipers are also experimenting with new possibilities for the instrument. Other forms of bagpipes also exist in the Scottish tradition; they are detailed in the piping section below.

The piping tradition is strongly connected to Gaelic singing (some piping ornaments mimic the Gaelic consonants of the songs), stepdance (the traditional dance meters determine the rhythm of the tunes), and fiddle, which appeared in Scotland in the 17th century. These components are part of the dance music which is played across Scotland at country dances, ceilidhs, Highland balls and frequently at weddings. Group dances are performed to music provided typically by an ensemble, or dance band, which may include fiddle, bagpipe, accordion, tin whistle, cello, keyboard and percussion. Many modern Scottish dance bands are becoming more lively and innovative, with influences from other types of music (most notably jazz chord structures) becoming noticeable.

Vocal music is also popular in the Scottish musical tradition. There are ballads and laments, generally sung by a lone singer with backing, or played on traditional instruments such as harp, fiddle, accordion or bagpipes. There are many traditional folk songs, which are generally melodic, haunting or rousing. These are often very specific to certain regions, and are performed today by a burgeoning variety of folk groups. Popular songs were originally produced by music hall performers such as Harry Lauder and Will Fyffe for the stage. More modern exponents of the style have included Andy Stewart, Glen Daly, Moira Anderson, Kenneth McKellar, Calum Kennedy and the Alexander Brothers.

Folk song collecting

The earliest printed collection of secular music in Scotland was by publisher John Forbes in Aberdeen in 1662. Songs and Fancies: to Thre, Foure, or Five Partes, both Apt for Voices and Viols, printed three times in the next twenty years, contained 77 songs, of which 25 were of Scottish origin. Most are anonymous. The other songs in the book are mostly in English, and include works by John Dowland.

While ballads had been written for centuries, and had begun to be printed in the 17th century, the 18th century brought a number of collections of Scots songs and tunes. Examples include Playford's Original Scotch Tunes 1700, Sinkler's MS. 1710, James Watson's Choice Collection of Comic and Serious Scots Poems both Ancient and Modern 1711, William Thomson's Orpheus caledonius: or, A collection of Scots songs 1733, James Oswald's The Caledonian Pocket Companion 1751, and David Herd's Ancient and modern Scottish songs, heroic ballads, etc.: collected from memory, tradition and ancient authors 1776. These were drawn on for the most influential collection, The Scots Musical Museum published in six volumes from 1787 to 1803 by James Johnson and Robert Burns, which also included new words by Burns. The Select Scottish Airs collected by George Thomson and published between 1799 and 1818 included contributions from Burns and Walter Scott.


In the 20th century, collections like Last Leaves of Traditional Ballads and Ballad Airs, collected by Reverend James Duncan and Gavin Greig, helped inspire the ensuing folk revival. These were followed by collectors like Hamish Henderson and Calum McLean, both of whom worked with American musicologist Alan Lomax. Earlier, the first Celtic music international star, James Scott Skinner, a fiddler known as the "Strathspey King", had gained fame with some very early recordings.

Among the folk performers discovered by Henderson, McLean and Lomax was Jeannie Robertson, who was brought to sing at the People's Festival in Edinburgh in 1953. Across the Atlantic, in the United States, pop-folk groups like The Weavers, Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie were leading a folk revival; the singers at the 1951 People's Festival, John Strachan, Flora MacNeil, Jimmy MacBeath and others, began the Scottish revival.

Like many countries, Scotland underwent a roots revival in the 1960s, although arguably the music was never dead to 'revive' it. Folk music had declined somewhat in popularity during the preceding generation, although performers like Jimmy Shand, Kenneth McKellar, and Moira Anderson still maintained an international following and mass market record sales, but numerous young Scots thought themselves separated from their country's culture. A new wave of Scottish folk performers inspired by American traditionalists like Pete Seeger soon found its own heroes, including young singers Ray and Archie Fisher and Hamish Imlach, and, from the tradition, Jeannie Robertson and Jimmy MacBeath.

Scottish folk singing was revived by artists including Ewan MacColl, who founded one of the first folk clubs in Britain, singers Alex Campbell, Jean Redpath, Hamish Imlach, and Dick Gaughan and groups like The Gaugers, The Corries, The McCalmans and the Ian Campbell Folk Group. Folk clubs boomed, with a strong Irish influence from The Dubliners. With Irish folk bands like The Chieftains finding widespread popularity, 60s Scottish musicians played in pipe bands and Strathspey and Reel Societies. Musicologist Frances Collinson published The Traditional and National Music of Scotland in 1966 to surprising popular acclaim, as part of the burgeoning Scottish folk revival. Still, until the end of the 60s Scottish music was rarely heard in pubs or on the radio, though Irish traditional music was widespread. The Corries had established a fan-base, while the English band Fairport Convention created a British folk rock scene that spread north in the form of JSD Band and Contraband. A more conventional approach was taken by Andy Stewart, Glen Daly and The Alexander Brothers.

During the 60s Scotland contributed 2 innovative rock musicians who were central to the international scene; folk/psychedelia guitarist/singer/songwriter Donovan (Donovan Phillips Leitch), and blues-rock/jazz-rock bassist/composer Jack Bruce (John Symon Asher Bruce). Traces of Scottish literary and musical influences can be found in both Donovan's and Bruce's work.[2][3]

Donovan's music on 1965's Fairytale anticipated the British-folk rock revival. Donovan pioneered psychedelic-rock with "Sunshine Superman" in 1966. Donovan's decidedly Celtic rock directions can be found on his later albums like Open Road and H.M.S. Donovan, Donovan's session crew during the 60s included Jimmy Page, John Bonham and John Paul Jones who would later go on to form Led Zeppelin. Donovan is said to be an early influence and encouragement for Marc Bolan founder of T. Rex (band).[2]

Jack Bruce as co-founder of Cream along with Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker in 1966 debuted the album Fresh Cream. Fresh Cream and the band in general are considered a pivotal moment in blues-rock history by introducing virtuosity and improvisation to the form. Bruce as member of Tony Williams Lifetime (along with John McLaughlin and Larry Young) on Turn It Over similarly contributed to a seminal jazz-rock work. Jack Bruce's debut solo albums in 1969 Songs for a Tailor followed by Harmony Row (whose LP cover depicts Bruce's former neighbourhood in the tenement districts of Glasgow). Bruce's ongoing work continues to demonstrate a convincing compositional style that combines (Scottish/British) folk, jazz, classical, blues and rock elements into progressive original works. In 2009 Bruce was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Letters by Glasgow Caledonian University.[4]


Runrig, from the Isle of Skye, one of the most popular folk bands around, and have continued to hold strong popularity status in Scotland, the UK, Canada and Germany

Music had long been primarily a solo affair, until The Clutha, a Glasgow-based group, began solidifying the idea of a Celtic band, which eventually consisted of fiddle or pipes leading the melody, and bouzouki and guitar along with the vocals. Though The Clutha were the first modern band, earlier groups like The Exiles (with Bobby Campbell) had forged in that direction, adding instruments like the fiddle to vocal groups. Alongside The Clutha were other pioneering Glasgow bands, including The Whistlebinkies and Aly Bain's The Boys of the Lough, both largely instrumental. The Whistlebinkies were notable, along with Alba and The Clutha, for experimenting with different varieties of bagpipes; Alba used Highland pipes, The Whistlebinkies used reconstructed Border pipes and The Clutha used Scottish smallpipes alongside Highlands.

Bert Jansch and Davy Graham took blues guitar and eastern influences into their music, and in the mid-1960s, the most popular group of the Scottish folk scene, the Incredible String Band, began their career in Clive's Incredible Folk Club in Glasgow taking these influences a stage further. The next wave of bands, including Silly Wizard, The Tannahill Weavers, Battlefield Band, Ossian and Alba, featured prominent bagpipers, a trend which climaxed in the 1980s, when Robin Morton's A Controversy of Pipers was released to great acclaim. By the end of the 1970s, lyrics in the Scottish Gaelic language were appearing in songs by Nah-Oganaich and Ossian, with Runrig's Play Gaelic in 1978 being the first major success for Gaelic-language Scottish folk.

rightRod Stewart performing in 1976

Established Scottish folk club performers such as Archie Fisher, The Corries, Rab Noakes, and Gerry Rafferty in the ‘Humblebums’ with Billy Connolly, introduced more contemporary flavours to a traditional audience by writing and presenting their own new 'folk' songs. Robin Williamson, and Mike Heron of The Incredible String Band also created new songs and music in an acoustic style, which while very different, remained sympathetic to traditional Scottish music and took the contemporary sound to a much wider folk crowd. It was the Corries however, who were to take Scottish folk music to its largest audience with a combination of atmospheric arrangements of older folk and new songs which connected the Scotland of the past with Scotland of today. In his victory speech following the 2011 election victory for the SNP First Minister Alex Salmond would echo the lyrics of Scotland Will Flourish.

A growing taste for new songs in the 70s and 80s, sometimes justified as reminiscent of the original roots of folk music, saw some Scottish folk performers move to concentrate entirely on new self penned songs. Established Scots song writers Bennie Gallagher and Graham Lyle, who had a UK hit with McGuinness Flint, performed as a successful duo throughout the 1970s presenting strong new songs which were often covered by mainstream pop artists. Guitarist and songsmith, English born adopted Scot, John Martyn, who started his professional career under the guidance of Hamish Imlach,[ref:Ed: Colin Larkin:The Guinness who’s who of Folk Music], together with Gerry Rafferty, and Gallaher and Lyle inspired a whole new wave of Scots singer songwriters. Dougie MacLean emerged from his roots in traditional bands such as Puddocks Well, and Tannahill Weavers, and carved a successful solo career as a singer songwriter, with his own record label producing some of Scotland's best known pieces including “The Geal” and “Caledonia”.

Early 80s duo Findask, toured extensively playing self penned original songs in a traditional framework. Their melodies and arrangements were often catchy and complex, while Willie Lindsay’s lyrics, revealed their Glasgow roots, but were appreciated by contemporary reviewers, as witty and literate. Willie Lindsay and Stuart Campbell recorded four albums of original songs throughout the 1980s tackling Scottish issues big and small from “Independence Day” to elated football emotions “Going to Hampden”. [ref:Ed: Colin Larkin: The Guinness who’s who of Folk Music: ]

Classical music

Early music

Scottish church music from the later Middle Ages was increasingly influenced by continental developments, with figures like 13th-century musical theorist Simon Tailler studying in Paris, before returned to Scotland where he introduced several reforms of church music.[5] Scottish collections of music like the 13th-century 'Wolfenbüttel 677', which is associated with St Andrews, contain mostly French compositions, but with some distinctive local styles.[5] The captivity of James I in England from 1406 to 1423, where he earned a reputation as a poet and composer, may have led him to take English and continental styles and musicians back to the Scottish court on his release.[5] In the late 15th century a series of Scottish musicians trained in the Netherlands before returning home, including John Broune, Thomas Inglis and John Fety, the last of whom became master of the song school in Aberdeen and then Edinburgh, introducing the new five-fingered organ playing technique.[6] In 1501 James IV refounded the Chapel Royal within Stirling Castle, with a new and enlarged choir and it became the focus of Scottish liturgical music. Burgundian and English influences were probably reinforced when Henry VII's daughter Margaret Tudor married James IV in 1503.[7] James V (1512–42) was a major patron of music. A talented lute player he introduced French chansons and consorts of viols to his court and was patron to composers such as David Peebles (c. 1510–1579?).[8]

The Scottish Reformation, directly influenced by Calvinism, was generally opposed to church music, leading to the removal of organs and a growing emphasis on metrical psalms, including a setting by David Peebles commissioned by James Stewart, 1st Earl of Moray.[6] The most important work in Scottish reformed music was probably A forme of Prayers published in Edinburgh in 1564.[9] The return from France of James V's daughter, Mary, Queen of Scots in 1561, renewed the Scottish court as a centre of musical patronage and performance. The Queen played the lute, virginals and (unlike her father) was a fine singer.[10] She was brought many influences from the French court where she had been educated, employing lutenists and viol players in her household.[11] Mary's position as a Catholic gave a new lease of life to the choir of the Scottish Chapel Royal in her reign, but the destruction of Scottish church organs meant that instrumentation to accompany the mass had to employ bands of musicians with trumpets, drums, fifes, bagpipes and tabors.[10] The outstanding Scottish composer of the era was Robert Carver (c.1485–c.1570) whose works included the nineteen-part motet 'O Bone Jesu'.[7] James VI, king of Scotland from 1567, was a major patron of the arts in general. He rebuilt the Chapel Royal at Stirling in 1594 and the choir was used for state occasions like the baptism of his son Henry.[12] He followed the tradition of employing lutenists for his private entertainment, as did other members of his family.[13] When he came south to take the throne of England in 1603 as James I, he removed one of the major sources of patronage in Scotland. The Scottish Chapel Royal was now used only for occasional state visits, as when Charles I returned in 1633 to be crowned, bringing many musicians from the English Chapel Royal for the service, and it began to fall into disrepair.[12] From now on the court in Westminster would be the only major source of royal musical patronage.[12]

18th and 19th centuries

For a long period few Scottish composers achieved international renown. Thomas Erskine, 6th Earl of Kellie (1732–81) was well known in his era, but his work was quickly forgotten and interest has only just begun to see renewed interest.[14] There were signs of a national revival in the late nineteenth century with the foundations of the Scottish Orchestra (1891), now the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.[15] The work of Sir Alexander Mackenzie was able to gain some wider attention, celebrating his native land in three Scottish Rhapsodies for orchestra (1880–81, 1911), and in various concerted works for piano or violin and orchestra composed during the 1880s and 1890s.[16] Similarly, John McEwen's Pibroch (1889), Border Ballads (1908) and Solway Symphony (1911) also incorporated traditional Scottish folk melodies.[17] Other composers of the period who wrote in the Romantic tradition included Hamish MacCunn and William Wallace.[18]

20th and 21st centuries

Many modernist composers of the period (such as Francis George Scott and J. Murdoch Henderson) tended to concentrate on shorter forms like songs, rather than symphonies or operas. After World War II Robin Orr, Thomas Wilson, Thea Musgrave, Edward McGuire, James MacMillan, James Dillon, Gordon McPherson, John McLeod and Judith Weir attracted international attention. Movie soundtrack composers Muir Mathieson, Patrick Doyle and Craig Armstrong achieved international renown.

The English composer Sir Peter Maxwell Davies founded the St Magnus Festival[19] of music on Orkney, where he lives. The Edinburgh International Festival each year attracts some of the best musicians in the world to Scotland. The East Neuk Festival[20] presents a range of international performers in historic churches and other venues in the North East of Fife. Sound[21] is North-East Scotland's festival of new music, presenting events in Aberdeen and venues throughout Aberdeenshire.

Scotland has provided the inspiration for international composers, most notably Felix Mendelssohn, Benjamin Britten and Sir Malcolm Arnold. Britten in particular arranged several Scottish folk songs for voice and piano as well as the orchestral Scottish Ballad, a reworking of the old hymn tune Dundee.

Classical Performers

Scotland has produced several notable performers of classical music, including the percussionist Evelyn Glennie, the pianist Murray McLachlan, the violinist Nicola Benedetti, the violist William Primrose, singers Isobel Baillie, Henry Herford, Margaret Marshall and Kenneth McKellar, classical guitarist Paul Galbraith, clarinettist Alison Turriff and conductors Bryden Thomson, James Loughran, Donald Runnicles, Garry Walker and Sir Alexander Gibson.

Scotland has three internationally renowned orchestras: Royal Scottish National Orchestra (RSNO), BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra (BBC SSO) and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra (SCO), with the first two based in Glasgow and the SCO based in Edinburgh: the RSNO's home is at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, whilst the BBC SSO has its home at City Halls. Scottish Opera is the national opera company whose home venue is the Theatre Royal, Glasgow. There are also several chamber ensembles, such as the Hebrides Ensemble, specialising in contemporary music, the Edinburgh Quartet, the Auricle Ensemble, Concerto Caledonia, and the Scottish Ensemble.

The independent classical record labels Linn Records and Delphian Records are based in Scotland.

Pop and rock

Annie Lennox, performing here as part of Eurythmics in the 1980s

Pop and rock were slow to get started in Scotland and produced few bands of note in the 1950s or 1960s, though thanks to accolades by David Bowie and others, the Edinburgh- based band 1-2-3 (later Clouds), active 1966–71, have belatedly been acknowledged as a definitive precursor of the progressive rock movement.[22] However, by the 1970s bands such as the Average White Band, Nazareth, and the Sensational Alex Harvey Band began to have international success. The biggest Scottish pop act of the 1970s however (at least in terms of sales) were undoubtedly the Bay City Rollers. Several of the members of the internationally-successful rock band AC/DC were born in Scotland, including original lead singer Bon Scott and guitarists Malcolm and Angus Young, though by the time they began playing, all three had moved to Australia.

Scotland produced a few punk bands of note, such as The Exploited, The Vaselines, The Rezillos, The Skids, The Fire Engines, and the Scars. However, it was not until the post-punk era of the early 1980s, that Scotland really came into its own, with bands like Cocteau Twins, Orange Juice, The Associates, Simple Minds, Maggie Reilly, Annie Lennox (Eurythmics), Hue and Cry, Goodbye Mr. Mackenzie, The Jesus&Mary Chain The Proclaimers and Josef K achieved critical acclaim. Since the 1980s Scotland has produced a more or less constant stream of important rock and alternative rock acts.

The 1980s also saw the rise of Scottish progressive rock/metal, with Marillion receiving worldwide recognition. Bands such as these have given inspiration to countless hundreds of 21st century Scottish rock bands resulting in the fruitful and diverse underground music culture present in Scotland today.Most recently, Scottish piping has included a renaissance for cauldwind pipes such as smallpipes and border pipes, which use cold, dry air as opposed to the moist air of mouth-blown pipes. Other pipers such as Gordon Duncan and Fred Morrison began to explore new musical genres on many kinds of pipes. The accordion also gained in popularity during the 1970s due to the renown of Phil Cunningham, whose distinctive piano accordion style was an integral part of the band Silly Wizard. Numerous musicians continued to follow more traditional styles including Alex Beaton.

More modern musicians include Shooglenifty, innovators of the house fusion acid croft, along with Peatbog Faeries. The Easy Club, jazz fusion bands, Talitha MacKenzie and Martin Swan, puirt a' bhèil mouth musicians, pioneering singers Savourna Stevenson, Heather Heywood and Christine Primrose. Other modern musicians include the late techno-piper Martyn Bennett (who used hip hop beats and sampling), Hamish Moore, Roger Ball, Hamish Stuart, Jim Diamond, Sheena Easton and Gordon Mooney.

Scotland produced many indie bands in the 1980s, Primal Scream, The Soup Dragons, The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Blue Nile, Teenage Fanclub, 18 Wheeler, The Pastels and BMX Bandits being some of the best examples. The following decade also saw a burgeoning scene in Glasgow, with the likes of The Almighty, Arab Strap, Belle & Sebastian, Camera Obscura, The Delgados, Bis and Mogwai . The late 1990s and 2000s has also seen Scottish guitar bands continue to achieve critical or commercial success, examples include Franz Ferdinand, Biffy Clyro, Travis, Calvin Harris, KT Tunstall, Amy Macdonald, Paolo Nutini, The View, Idlewild, Glasvegas, The Fratellis, and Twin Atlantic.


Scotland has a strong jazz tradition and has produced many world class musicians since the 1950s, notably Jimmy Deuchar, Bobby Wellins and Joe Temperley. A long-standing problem was the lack of opportunities within Scotland to play with international musicians. Since the 1970s this has been addressed by enthusiast-run organisations such as Platform and then Assembly Direct, which have provided improved performance opportunities.

Perhaps the best known contemporary Scottish jazz musician is Tommy Smith. Again, the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival brings some of the best jazz musicians in the world to Scotland every year, although, increasingly, other cities (such as Glasgow and Dundee) also run international jazz festivals.



Though often derided as Scottish kitsch, the accordion has long been a part of Scottish music. Country dance bands, such as that led by the renowned Jimmy Shand, have helped to dispel this image. In the early 20th century, the melodeon (a variety of diatonic button accordion) was popular among rural folk, and was part of the bothy band tradition. More recently, performers like Phil Cunningham (of Silly Wizard) and Sandy Brechin have helped popularise the accordion in Scottish music.


Though bagpipes are closely associated with Scotland by many outsiders, the instrument (or, more precisely, family of instruments) is found throughout large swathes of Europe, North Africa and South Asia. The most common bagpipe heard in modern Scottish music is the Great Highland Bagpipe, which was spread by the Highland regiments of the British Army. Historically, numerous other bagpipes existed, and many of them have been recreated in the last half-century.

Bagpipe band performing in a parade in the U.S.

The classical music of the Great Highland Bagpipe is called Pìobaireachd, which consists of a first movement called the urlar (in English, the 'ground' movement,) which establishes a theme. The theme is then developed in a series of movements, growing increasingly complex each time. After the urlar there is usually a number of variations and doublings of the variations. Then comes the taorluath movement and variation and the crunluath movement, continuing with the underlying theme. This is usually followed by a variation of the crunluath, usually the crunluath a mach (other variations: crunluath breabach and crunluath fosgailte) ; the piece closes with a return to the urlar.

Bagpipe competitions are common in Scotland, for both solo pipers and pipe bands. Competitive solo piping is currently popular among many aspiring pipers, some of whom travel from as far as Australia to attend Scottish competitions. Other pipers have chosen to explore more creative usages of the instrument. Different types of bagpipes have also seen a resurgence since the 70s, as the historical border pipes and Scottish smallpipes have been resuscitated and now attract a thriving alternative piping community.[23]

The pipe band is another common format for highland piping, with top competitive bands including the Victoria Police Pipe Band from Australia (formerly), Northern Ireland's Field Marshal Montgomery, Canada's 78th Fraser Highlanders Pipe Band and Simon Fraser University Pipe Band, and Scottish bands like Shotts and Dykehead Pipe Band and Strathclyde Police Pipe Band. These bands, as well as many others, compete in numerous pipe band competitions, often the World Pipe Band Championships, and sometimes perform in public concerts.


Scottish traditional fiddling encompasses a number of regional styles, including the bagpipe-inflected west Highlands, the upbeat and lively style of Norse-influenced Shetland Islands and the Strathspey and slow airs of the North-East. The instrument arrived late in the 17th century, and is first mentioned in 1680 in a document from Newbattle Abbey in Midlothian, Lessones For Ye Violin.

In the 18th century, Scottish fiddling is said to have reached new heights. Fiddlers like William Marshall and Niel Gow were legends across Scotland, and the first collections of fiddle tunes were published in mid-century. The most famous and useful of these collections was a series published by Nathaniel Gow, one of Niel's sons, and a fine fiddler and composer in his own right. Classical composers such as Charles McLean, James Oswald and William McGibbon used Scottish fiddling traditions in their Baroque compositions.

Scottish fiddling is the root of much American folk music, such as Appalachian fiddling, but is most directly represented in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, an island on the east coast of Canada, which received some 25,000 emigrants from the Scottish Highlands during the Highland Clearances of 1780–1850. Cape Breton musicians such as Natalie MacMaster, Ashley MacIsaac, and Jerry Holland have brought their music to a worldwide audience, building on the traditions of master fiddlers such as Buddy MacMaster and Winston Scotty Fitzgerald.

Among native Scots, Aly Bain and Alasdair Fraser are two of the most accomplished, following in the footsteps of influential 20th century players such as James Scott Skinner, Hector MacAndrew, Angus Grant and Tom Anderson Iain MacFarlane, Catriona MacDonald, Eilidh Steel, Jenna Reid. The growing number of young professional Scottish fiddlers makes a complete list impossible.

The Annual Scots Fiddle Festival which runs each November showcases the great fiddling tradition and talent in Scotland.


The history of the guitar in traditional music is recent, as is that of the cittern and bouzouki, which in the forms used in Scottish and Irish music only date to the late 1960s. The guitar featured prominently in the folk revival of the early 1960s with the likes of Archie Fisher, the Corries, Hamish Imlach, Robin Hall and Jimmie MacGregor. The virtuoso playing of Bert Jansch was widely influential, and the range of instruments was widened by the Incredible String Band. Notable artists include Tony McManus, Dave MacIsaac, Peerie Willie Johnson and Dick Gaughan. Other notable guitarists in Scottish music scene include Kris Drever of Fine Friday and Lau, and Ross Martin of Cliar, Daimh and Harem Scarem.


The harper on the Monifeith Pictish stone, Scotland, 700 – 900 AD

The harp, or clarsach, has a long and ancient history in Scotland, and was regarded as the national instrument until it was replaced with the Highland bagpipes in the 15th century.[24] Stone carvings in the East of Scotland support the theory that the harp was present in Pictish Scotland well before the 9th century and may have been the original ancestor of the modern European harp and even formed the basis for Scottish pibroch, the folk bagpipe tradition.

Barring illustrations of harps in the 9th century Utrecht psalter, only thirteen depictions exist in Europe of any triangular chordophone harp pre-11th century, and all thirteen of them come from Scotland. Pictish harps were strung from horsehair. The instruments apparently spread south to the Anglo-Saxons, who commonly used gut strings, and then west to the Gaels of the Highlands and to Ireland. The earliest Irish word for a harp is in fact Cruit, a word which strongly suggests a Pictish provenance for the instrument. The surname MacWhirter, Mac a' Chruiteir, means son of the harpist, and is common throughout Scotland, but particularly in Carrick and Galloway.

This Scottish clàrsach, known as the Clàrsach Lumanach or Lamont Harp made in the western Highlands (c.1400)[25] now in the Museum of Scotland, is a one of only three surviving medieval Gaelic harps.

The Clàrsach (Gd.) or Cláirseach (Ga.) is the name given to the wire-strung harp of either Scotland or Ireland. The word begins to appear by the end of the 14th century. Until the end of the Middle Ages it was the most popular musical instrument in Scotland, and harpers were among the most prestigious cultural figures in the courts of Irish/Scottish chieftains and Scottish kings and earls. In both countries, harpers enjoyed special rights and played a crucial part in ceremonial occasions such as coronations and poetic bardic recitals. The Kings of Scotland employed harpers until the end of the Middle Ages, and they feature prominently in royal iconography. Several Clarsach players were noted at the Battle of the Standard (1138), and when Alexander III (died 1286) visited London in 1278, his court minstrels with him, records show payments were made to one Elyas, "King of Scotland's harper."

Three medieval Gaelic harps survived into the modern period, two from Scotland (the Queen Mary Harp and the Lamont Harp) and one in Ireland (the Brian Boru harp), although artistic evidence suggests that all three were probably made in the western Highlands.

The playing of this Gaelic harp with wire strings died out in Scotland in the 18th century and in Ireland in the early 19th century. As part of the late 19th century Gaelic revival, the instruments used differed greatly from the old wire-strung harps. The new instruments had gut strings, and their construction and playing style was based on the larger orchestral pedal harp. Nonetheless the name "clàrsach" was and is still used in Scotland today to describe these new instruments. The modern gut-strung clàrsach has thousands of players, both in Scotland and Ireland, as well as North America and elsewhere. The 1931 formation of the Clarsach Society kickstarted the modern harp renaissance. Recent harp players include Savourna Stevenson, Maggie MacInnes, and the band Sileas. Notable events include the Edinburgh International Harp Festival, which recently staged the world record for the largest number of harpists to play at the same time.

Tin whistle

Tin whistles in a variety of makes and keys.

One of the oldest tin whistles still in existence is the Tusculum whistle, found with pottery dating to the 14th and 15th centuries; it is currently in the collection of the Museum of Scotland. Today the whistle is a very common instrument in recorded Scottish music. Although few well-known performers choose the tin whistle as their principal instrument, it is quite common for pipers, flute players, and other musicians to play the whistle as well.


  • Download recording of "Na cuperean", a traditional Scottish song from Nova Scotians in California from the Library of Congress' California Gold: Northern California Folk Music from the Thirties Collection; performed by Mary A. McDonald on 11 April 1939 in Berkeley, California

See also


  1. ^ Highlands versus Lowlands
  2. ^ a b The Autobiography of Donovan;The Hurdy Gurdy Man
  3. ^ Jack Bruce;Composing Himself by Harry Shapiro
  4. ^ Jack Bruce;Composing Himself by Harry Shapiro (author)
  5. ^ a b c K. Elliott and F. Rimmer, A History of Scottish Music (London: British Broadcasting Corporation, 1973), ISBN 0563121920, pp. 8–12.
  6. ^ a b J. Wormald, Court, Kirk, and Community: Scotland, 1470–1625 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1991), ISBN 0748602763, pp. 58 and 118.
  7. ^ a b M. Gosman, A. A. MacDonald, A. J. Vanderjagt and A. Vanderjagt, Princes and Princely Culture, 1450–1650 (Brill, 2003), ISBN 9004136908, p. 163.
  8. ^ J. Patrick, Renaissance and Reformation (London: Marshall Cavendish, 2007), ISBN 0761476504, p. 1264.
  9. ^ R. M. Wilson, Anglican Chant and Chanting in England, Scotland, and America, 1660 to 1820 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), ISBN 0198164246, pp. 146–7 and 196–7.
  10. ^ a b A. Frazer, Mary Queen of Scots (London: Book Club Associates, 1969), pp. 206–7.
  11. ^ M. Spring, The Lute in Britain: A History of the Instrument and Its Music (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), ISBN 0195188381, p. 452.
  12. ^ a b c P. Le Huray, Music and the Reformation in England, 1549–1660 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978), ISBN 0521219582, pp. 83–5.
  13. ^ T. Carter and J. Butt, The Cambridge History of Seventeenth-Century Music (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), ISBN 0521792738, pp. 280, 300, 433 and 541.
  14. ^ A. S. Garlington, Society, Culture and Opera in Florence, 1814–1830: Dilettantes in an "Earthly Paradise" (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005), ISBN 0754634515, pp. 19–20.
  15. ^ C. Harvie, No Gods and Precious Few Heroes: Twentieth-century Scotland (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 3rd edn., 1998), ISBN 0748609997, p. 137.
  16. ^ J. N. Moore, Edward Elgar: a Creative Life (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), ISBN 0198163665, p. 91.
  17. ^ M. Gardiner, Modern Scottish Culture (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2005), ISBN 0748620273, p. 196.
  18. ^ P. H. Scott, Scotland: a Concise Cultural History (Mainstream, 1993), ISBN 1851585818, p. 187.
  19. ^ St Magnus Festival
  20. ^ East Neuk Festival
  21. ^ Sound – North-East Scotland's Festival of New Music
  22. ^ The Encyclopaedia of Popular Music (Muze publications)
  23. ^ Hamish Moore of Dunkeld – maker of Scottish smallpipes and Highland bagpipes
  24. ^ Henry George Farmer (1947): A History of Music in Scotland London, 1947 p. 202.
  25. ^ Caldwell, D.H. (ed). Angels Nobles and Unicorns: Art and Patronage in Medieval Scotland. Edinburgh: NMS, 1982
  • Emmerson, George S. Rantin' Pipe and Tremblin' String – history of Scottish dance music. Second edition 1988. Galt House, London, Ontario, Canada. ISBN 0-9690653-3-7
  • Eydmann, Stuart "The concertina as an emblem of the folk music revival in the British Isles." 1995. British Journal of Ethnomusicology 4: 41–49.
  • Eydmann, Stuart "As Common as Blackberries: The First Hundred Years of the Accordion in Scotland." 1999. Folk Music Journal 7 No. 5 pp. 565–608.
  • Eydmann, Stuart "From the "Wee Melodeon" to the "Big Box": The Accordion in Scotland since 1945." The Accordion in all its Guises, 2001. Musical Performance Volume 3 Parts 2 – 4 pp. 107–125.
  • Eydmann, Stuart The Life and Times of the Concertina: the adoption and usage of a novel musical instrument with particular reference to Scotland. PhD Thesis, The Open University 1995 published online at [1]
  • Hardie, Alastair J. The Caledonian Companion – A Collection of Scottish Fiddle Music and Guide to its Performance. 1992. The Hardie Press, Edinburgh. ISBN 0-946868-08-5
  • Heywood, Pete and Colin Irwin. "From Strathspeys to Acid Croft". 2000. In Broughton, Simon and Ellingham, Mark with McConnachie, James and Duane, Orla (Ed.), World Music, Vol. 1: Africa, Europe and the Middle East, pp 261–272. Rough Guides Ltd, Penguin Books. ISBN 1-85828-636-0
  • Gilchrist, Jim. "Scotland". 2001. In Mathieson, Kenny (Ed.), Celtic music, pp. 54–87. Backbeat Books. ISBN 0-87930-623-8

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