A Brief History of Scottish Folk Music

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


A look at the history of Scottish folk music, from the early ballads to the more modern, contemporary tunes.

Origins of Scottish Folk Music

Scottish folk music has its roots in the music of the people who lived in Scotland. It is a genre of music that has been passed down from generation to generation, and it has been influenced by a number of different cultures. Scottish folk music has a rich history, and it is a vital part of Scottish culture.

Celtic music

Celtic music is a broad grouping of music genres that have emerged from the native folk music traditions of the Celtic people of Western Europe. It refers to both orally-transmitted traditional music and recorded music and the styles vary considerably to include everything from “trad” (traditional) music to Celtic rock.

The earliest known examples of written Celtic music date back to the 6th century AD, when a Welsh bard, Taliesin, wrote down some of his songs. In Ireland, the oldest examples of Celtic music date back to the 10th century AD. By the 13th century, there were well-established traditions of Irish and Scottish folk music, and by the 16th century, these had spread to England and Wales. Folk music continued to be widely performed throughout the British Isles until the 19th century, when it began to be replaced by popular forms such as brass bands and dance orchestras.

Despite this decline in popularity, folk music continued to be an important part of Scottish and Irish cultural identity throughout the 20th century. In Scotland, this was typified by the work of figures such as Ewan MacColl and Hamish Henderson, who did much to preserve and promote traditional Scottish folk song. In Ireland, meanwhile, traditional musicians such as The Chieftains helped keep Celtic music alive during a period when it was otherwise in decline.

Since the 1960s there has been a huge resurgence in interest in Celtic music, both in terms of traditional performers and new artists influenced by them. This has coincided with a renewed interest in all things Celtic, from language and literature to cuisine and fashion. Today Scottish and Irish folk music is more popular than ever before, with acts such as The Mighty Duck Blind Band carrying on the tradition into the 21st century.

Gaelic music

Gaelic music is an important part of Scottish folk music, but it is by no means the only style. Gaelic songs are generally slower and more lyrical than other Scottish folk music, and they often make use of traditional instruments like the Highland bagpipes. Gaelic music is thought to have originated in the Scottish Highlands, but it has been heavily influenced by Irish and Cape Breton music over the years.

The Evolution of Scottish Folk Music

Scottish folk music has its roots in the music of the Scottish people. It has been influenced by many other genres of music, including Celtic, English, and Scottish traditional music. The major genres of Scottish folk music are ballads, reels, and strathspeys.

The influence of the Scottish Highlands

The Highlands of Scotland are one of the most isolated regions in Europe, and this has helped to preserve many of the ancient Celtic traditions. The bagpipes, for example, are thought to have originated in the Highlands and were brought to the Lowlands by Scottish soldiers who had served in the French army. Highland music often has a distinctly martial feel to it, and many of the most popular songs are about battles or heroic deeds. The Highland Games, which are held every year, feature traditional Highland sports such as caber tossing and hammer throwing, as well as Highland dancing and music.

Folk music was also influenced by the two main religions practiced in Scotland: Catholicism and Protestantism. Catholic church music was brought to Scotland by Irish missionaries in the early Middle Ages, while Protestantism was introduced by John Knox in the 16th century. This led to a split in Scottish folk music, with some songs being sung in Gaelic (the language of the Highlands) and others being sung in English (the language of the Lowlands).

The industrial revolution also had a significant impact on Scottish folk music. Many of the traditional songs were about rural life and love affairs, but as more and more people moved to cities to work in factories, they began to write songs about their experiences in urban life. This gave rise to a new genre of folk song known as “city songs” or “industrial folk songs”.

Scottish folk music has undergone something of a revival in recent years, with many young people taking an interest in traditional instruments such as the fiddle and accordion. There are now several professional Scottish folk bands that tour internationally, including Capercaillie, Runrig and The Tannahill Weavers.

The influence of the Scottish Lowlands

The Scottish Lowlands have been a hotbed of musical activity for centuries, with a wealth of traditional songs and tunes being handed down from generation to generation. The region’s proximity to England (and the rest of the world) has also meant that it has been influenced by a variety of different musical styles, resulting in a unique and distinctive sound.

Folk music has always been an important part of Scottish culture, and it was in the Lowlands that the first Scottish folk music revival began in the early 19th century. This revival coincided with the growth of the Highland games, which saw an influx of people from all over Scotland (and beyond) coming to participate in and watch these traditional festivals.

As well as being a great platform for traditional musicians, the Highland games also served to popularize Scottish folk music among a wider audience. This in turn led to more people taking an interest in the music, and eventually led to the formation of numerous folk clubs and societies across the country.

Today, Scottish folk music is as popular as ever, with a number of leading performers and bands keeping the tradition alive. The Lowlands continue to play an important role in this, with many of today’s top performers hailing from the region.

Modern Scottish Folk Music

Scottish folk music has seen a resurgence in popularity in recent years. This is in part due to the popularity of shows like Outlander, which has helped to bring this genre of music to a wider audience. Scottish folk music is a rich and varied tradition, with many different subgenres and styles. In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the most popular Scottish folk music traditions, as well as some of the modern performers who are keeping the music alive.

The influence of technology

The 1960s and ‘70s were a time of great change in Scottish music, as traditional forms began to be experimentation with new styles and influences. The introduction of new technology, such as amplifiers and electric guitars, allowed for a new type of folk music to emerge. This new sound was characterized by a more aggressive and rocking style, which was often informed by contemporary pop and rock music.

One of the most influential bands to emerge from this period was the Incredible String Band, who blended traditional Scottish music with elements of psychedelia, Indian music, and other international sounds. They were part of a wider movement of so-called “acid folk” bands who were exploring new sonic possibilities in folk music.

The influence of technology also led to the development of “folktronica” in the 1990s, which combined traditional acoustic instruments with electronic dance beats. This new sound found its way into the mainstream with the success of acts like Belle & Sebastian and Boards of Canada.

In recent years, there has been a renewed interest in Scottish folk music, as both younger musicians and established artists have been looking to this rich tradition for inspiration. This has resulted in a wide range of different sounds and styles, all of which can be traced back to the long history of Scottish folk music.

The influence of globalization

In the past few decades, Scottish folk music has been influenced by globalization. This is evident in the increased use of instruments from other cultures, such as the bodhran and bouzouki, as well as the incorporation of elements of pop, rock, and hip-hop into traditional tunes. This has led to a more diverse and unique sound that still retains the essential elements of Scottish folk music.

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