How to Study the Traditional Music of Scotland

Scottish music holds a strong draw over many people, regardless of nationality or culture. If you're coming from outside the Celtic tradition, or your family has lost touch with their Celtic roots, you'll need to put in some extra effort to find and study this music. Whether you want to learn to play the music, study it academically, or simply appreciate it more deeply, these steps can give you a strong start.

Steps

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    Listen to as much Scottish music as you can. The more you hear, the more you'll understand the music's unique sounds and features. A list of well-respected artists appears in the "Tips" section to get you started.
    • Search your local library, bookstore, or a music-downloading service such as iTunes. You will often find traditional Scottish artists listed under "World Music", "Celtic", or occasionally "Alternative" as well as "Scottish".
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    Look for local events, from an informal "pub night" to a full fledged Highland Games. Many music festivals which don't specifically cater to Scottish music will host Celtic artists as part of their program.
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    Contact groups, such as a Scottish cultural society, or the local branch of a clan. You can search online to find an organization near you. Even if this organization is not directly involved with producing music, they can offer a wealth of information and connections.
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    Take music lessons if you wish to start playing an instrument, such as the fiddle, harp, or uilleann pipes. Your local contacts can help you find a good teacher, or you can use an internet search.
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    Check out books of Scottish tunes and folk songs. This will help you build your repertoire. Many books also give historical background on the music as well.
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    Familiarize yourself with Scottish history and culture, which is tied closely to the music. You may also want to investigate one of the non-English Scottish languages-- Scots or Scottish Gaelic-- to help you understand the material better.
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    Read academic analysis of Scottish music. This, along with intensive listening and background research, should help your understanding.
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    Get involved by playing music and attending concerts as much as possible. There is nothing like having the experience!

Tips

  • Some good artists to start out: Alasdair Fraser (fiddler), Ed Miller (vocalist), Capercaillie (band), Natalie MacMaster (fiddler), Dougie MacLean (vocalist)
  • Don't overlook the music of Cape Breton Island (an island on the northeastern end of Nova Scotia). This music is descended from 1800's-style fiddling and Gaelic singing from the Scottish Highlands, and was imported when large numbers of Scots were forced to immigrate to Canada in the early 1800s. This collection of music, mostly unchanged since the mid-1800s, is a window into some of the most distinctive details of the style.

Article Info

Categories: Music Techniques