JC's Music for Scottish Country Dance

This directory contains a collection of music for Scottish Country Dance in the ABC format. This is essentially my personal collection, but you are free to use it for your dances. You will find several kinds of files here:

This is one or more tunes for the dance. The first tune will usually be a "title" or recommended tune, if there is one. Many are transcriptions from the RSCDS booklets, with added chords. In many cases, the tune has been compared with versions in other books, and a compromise version (often somewhat simplified) results. You should be able to download these files into any of the ABC tools, and the result should be a single page of music.

Many of the DanceName.abc files contain three or four tunes. These are possible medleys for the dance. There is nothing official about any of these; they are just medleys that seem to work. Some dances have more than one such medley. If you find a medley that you like, you might want to copy it to your machine, because I may change the medleys here without warning. I haven't indicated much about arranging the tunes, because I think that musicians should do that themselves.

These are "Any Good ..." medley pages. They contain sets of tunes that will work as medleys by themselves. Or you can look through them for tunes similar to a dance's main tune, to make a medley on the spur of the moment. I've tried to include a lot of the "standard SCD repertoire" in these sets, so you might use them as a source of tunes to learn. Again, if you see one you like, copy it, because I may change it tomorrow.

This is a little file that produces the dance title at the top of the page. You will find the same text at the start of the DanceName.abc file. Most of these have a second title line with cryptic notation like 8x32S3. This means "Eight times 32-bar strathspey for three couples." If you don't understand this, ask your dance leader to explain it. It's important to you, but I won't explain it here.

These are format files for abc2ps. There are a few DanceName.fmt files for specific dances, but mostly I use the _NN.fmt files, where NN is the scaling factor. I've set them up for American "letter" pages, which is standard where I live. They should work with A8 pages, but the music will be slightly off center, so you might want to copy them and experiment a bit. Most of the dance medleys here work at 75% or 70% scaling, but there are a few at 65% or 80%.

The usual Unix commands to make, which builds the dance files from the individual tune files, and then uses abc2ps to build the PostScript files from the abc files. If you're not on a Unix system, you probably won't find this big file very useful.

reel jig ...
There are a lot of subdirectories that contain single-tune files. These are used by the Makefile to build the medleys. You will also see some directories with names like j24 and r16; these contain tunes with specific numbers of bars.


The best tunes to use for a dance are always tunes that you can play well. If you know the main tune for a dance, it's considered usual and proper and to start and end the dance with that tune, and combine it with other tunes with the same feel.

However, dance leaders often don't get the program to musicians until a few days before the dance. You should make sure your dance leaders understand that "If you don't get the program to us in time, you won't get the title tunes." You should substitute other similar tunes that you know well. Having the recommended tune available is still useful in this case, because you will want to pick tunes with the same feel.

In any case, the phrase "title tune" is usually a bit of a misnomer. Only a few dances really have a strong association with a particular tune. You can spot most of these by the fact that the tune and dance have the same name. In most cases, the published dance description lists a tune because the dance's composer thought liked the feel of that tune for the dance. But any similar tune will do as well.

There is one good reason for encouraging the use of title tunes. You've probably been to dances where the musicians just play one fast reel after another, and "It all sounds the same." This is a common problem with contra and square dances. The music for Scottish dancing is usually a lot more varied, mostly because of the title-tune custom. These tunes are really varied, with a wide variety of sounds and feels. By using them when possible, and looking for good matching tunes, you can easily develop a "sound" that is varied and pleasant for listeners as well as dancers.


Many SCD groups are accustomed to the complex medleys that are found on most of the commercial dance albums. In the olden days, it was common to play a single tune many times, as is commonly done for English or contra dancing. But in the early days of recordings, Scottish dance bands played medleys to make the records more interesting for a listening audience. You don't need to do complex medleys, but it is fun and accepted in SCD circles.

The usual practice is to use two or three tunes, and cycle among them in any of several patterns, usually ending with tune 1. For an 8timesthrough dance, patterns like 12312321 or 12321321 or 12342341 are common. With three tunes, 11223311 is a simpler format that gives you a chance to do a bit of varying of each tune. But don't take any of this too seriously. Most of the dancers will be too busy to notice such subtleties.

In picking tunes for a medley, the main things you want are tunes that have the same feel as the first tune, and for which the transitions work well. The simplest way to get easy transitions is to pick tunes in closely-related keys. If the keys differ by only one sharp or flat, the transitions will usually be easy. Also, keeping the same tonic but going between major and minor is easy.

For variety, you might occasionally use an abrupt change to an unrelated key, such as going from F to A or from A to G minor. When you do this, the best transition is usually none at all: End the first tune firmly, and jump into the next tune firmly, with no pickup, and possibly a beat or so with no sound at all between the tunes. This will take practice, and isn't usually a good idea with a pickup band, but if done cleanly, it can be fun and effective.

I'm always looking for sugestions for improving this site. If you have any comments, send me mail.