Roots & Branches: Traditional Scottish Music

Classical Academy | Around The World


Listen while you read: Roots & Branches Playlist


Scottish music extends far beyond the Great Highland Bagpipe that we've come to associate with men in kilts and big bearskin hats. The beautiful sounds of the Gaelic tradition have remained in Scottish folk music throughout the ages, and pieces today retain many of the traditional aspects gleaned from the past.

The music of Scotland started life in singing and harp playing, which is currently in revival with contemporary players. Later developments centred around dance, especially stepdance, when the fiddle came into vogue. Witty ditties, lively rhythms and toe-tapping tunes conjure up the scene of Scottish country dances, ceilidhs, Highland balls and flings.

In contrast to all this jolly song and dance, traditional Scottish songwriters have also created many haunting ballads and laments, often sung by a solo singer over a delicate musical background (usually on harp, fiddle, accordion or bagpipes). These kinds of songs have more of a feeling of the Scottish landscape, the harsh winters and the solitude of the rural Highlands.

As for those ubiquitous bagpipes, it's interesting to note that they only became the national instrument in the 15th century; prior to that, this illustrious position was held by the harp. Stone carvings in the East of the country suggest the instrument would have been present in Scotland as early as the 8th century. Travelling bards carried harps with them, spreading local songs and melodies throughout the land and shaping the sound of Scottish song for centuries to come.


Listen to our special playlist of Scottish traditional music to discover the beauty of its dance and song.