The Best 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 blog about the best Scottish Folk music, featuring new and old songs, videos, concert information and more.

Introduction to Scottish Folk Music

Scottish folk music (also Scottish traditional music) is the traditional music of Scotland. It has its own distinctive variants, styles and traditions which have been shaped largely by the region’s history, the climate,the diversity of cultures within Scotland and, particularly, the influence of Celtic music. Scottish folk music includes both vocal and instrumental music, ancient and modern.

A distinction is sometimes made between “mainstream” or “trad” Scottish folk music and Highland or Gaelic folk music (which might more accurately be described as traditional Gaelic song), although this is a blurred and somewhat arbitrary line. Most historians trace the origins of Scottish folk music back to the medieval era, when there was a strong tradition of courtly music as well as folk songs and dance tunes. The English invasions of the 16th century began a process of cultural Anglicisation that continued into the 20th century; this has been countered to some degree by recent revivals of interest in all things Celtic (including Scottish culture and heritage).

The principal instruments used in trad Scots folk music include: fiddles (violins), accordions/concertinas, bagpipes, guitars/mandolins, harmonicas and bodhrans (a type of drum). The jigs, reels and strathspeys that form part of manyirling song cycles are among the best known forms. Vocal reels are also common in old-time Appalachian music but are now very rarely found north of the border.

A significant number of Scottish musicians have emigrated to other countries over the centuries – often taking their musical traditions with them – so there are many places around the world where you can hear shades of Scottish folk influences in local traditional music.

The Origins of Scottish Folk Music

Scottish folk music has its roots in the music of the Scottish people, who are thought to have their own musical traditions dating back thousands of years. It is also influenced by the music of other cultures, including Celtic and Nordic music. Folk music was traditionally passed down from one generation to the next, and was used for both entertainment and ceremonial purposes.

The first formal collections of Scottish folk music were made in the 18th century, when composers such as James Oswald and William Thomson began to collect and transcribe traditional tunes. However, it was not until the early 20th century that folk music began to be widely performed in Scotland. The first folk revival began in the 1890s, when there was a renewed interest in traditional Scottish music. This first revival was led by figures such as Gavin Greig and James Hunter Blair.

The Instruments of Scottish Folk Music

The violin is the most common instrument found in Scottish folk music, followed by the accordion. Other popular instruments include the flute, bagpipes, and drums. The music often features complex rhythms and fast-paced melodies.

The fiddle is the primary melody instrument in Scottish folk music and it is traditionally played with a unique bowing technique that results in a very distinctive sound. The accordion is a popular accompaniment instrument, providing both a rhythmic and harmonic backing for the fiddle.

The flute is another common instrument found in Scottish folk music. It is often used to play decorative or Melodic embellishments known as “gracenotes.” The bagpipes are perhaps the most iconic Scottish instrument and are traditionally used to lead bands during parades or other festive occasions.

Finally, drums are also commonly used in Scottish folk music. They are usually played with sticks rather than drumsticks to create a softer sound.

The Sounds of Scottish Folk Music

Scottish folk music has a rich history and is known for its own unique sound. If you’re looking to find the best of Scottish folk music, you’ll want to check out some of these tracks.

“The Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond” is a Scottish ballad that dates back to the early 19th century. The song is about a soldier who is being held captive in England and is longing for his home in Scotland.

“The Skye Boat Song” is another popular Scottish ballad that was written in the early 20th century. The song tells the story of Bonnie Prince Charlie and his escape from Scotland after the Battle of Culloden.

“Wild Mountain Thyme” is a traditional Scottish folk song that has been adapted by many artists over the years. The song is about a young man who is in love with a girl who lives in the Highlands.

“My Love Is Like a Red, Red Rose” is a well-known poem by Robert Burns that was set to music in the 20th century. The poem is about love and loss, and has been performed by many artists including Paul McCartney and Emmylou Harris.

Whether you’re looking for traditional Scottish folk songs or more modern adaptations, these tracks are sure to please.

The Influence of Scottish Folk Music

Scottish folk music has had a significant influence on the development of both popular and classical music; and today its legacy can be heard in everything from the film scores of Harry Potter to the hits of Ed Sheeran.

The origins of Scottish folk music can be traced back to the medieval era, when the first known references to Scottish music were made in Irish and English sources. From the 16th century onwards, there was a growing body of Scottish-authored works which included both instrumental music and songs.

The 18th century saw a major revival of interest in Scottish folk music, led by figures such as James Oswald and Robert Burns. Burns was particularly influential in spreading awareness of Scottish folk song beyond Scotland, through his collections of songs such as The Scots Musical Museum.

The 19th and early 20th centuries saw a further flourishing of Scottish folk music, with a particular focus on collecting and publishing traditional songs. This work was continued by later generations of folklorists such as Hamish Henderson and Neil Gunn. In more recent years, there has been a renewed interest in performing and composing new works inspired by traditional Scottish folk music.

Today, Scottish folk music is enjoyed all over the world, both in its traditional form and in the many ways it has been adapted and reimagined by artists from other cultures.

The Future of Scottish Folk Music

The future of Scottish folk music is looking very exciting, with a number of talented young musicians making a name for themselves both in Scotland and internationally.

One of the most promising new talents is Fergus McCreadie, a 21-year-old jazz pianist who has already released two highly acclaimed albums. His playing has been described as “stunning” and “sophisticated beyond his years”, and he is quickly establishing himself as one of the leading lights of the Scottish jazz scene.

Another young musician to watch out for is 20-year-old singer-songwriter Innes White. His debut album, ‘The Dreamer’, was released to critical acclaim in 2017, with many observers predicting great things for his future career. Innes has already won several prestigious songwriting awards, and he looks set to become one of Scotland’s most successful singer-songwriters in the years to come.

So, there is plenty to be excited about when it comes to the future of Scottish folk music. With talented young musicians like Fergus McCreadie and Innes White leading the way, the sky is the limit for what this rich and varied genre can achieve.

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