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Category Editor Chris Partington

Music is an integral part of singing and dancing and often an accompaniment to other activities like processions and ceremonials.

Singers and Dancers are just as much musicians as people who play instruments.

Folk tunes are very often divorced from their original setting and played for another purpose or just for the joy of it. Thus a song tune can become a dance tune or a concert piece.

Sometimes a good tune inspires the addition of words to make it a song.

All of these things happen.

Here we can pool information about where tunes came from, when, what they were used for, possibly who published them, how they travelled and where they are to be found now.


Such a small word - such a big subject! This is not the place for storing tunes, those places exist in the links below, but to give a flavour of the commoner sort here are some examples - Tune Index

If you feel the need to add tunes read this first Policy for tune pages

Online Tunes

  • Chris Walshaw's Search Engine on the ABC Notation Homepage [1] Search engine. Type in a title and see the tunes pop up, in notation, midi and ABC notation. Chris Walshaw can claim to be the originator of the ABC notation format as it is understood today. Links to software providers, tutorials etc. This site also has links to many online ABC collections, with a worldwide remit.
  • John Chamber's Tune Finder [2] Search engine. This excellent resource trawls the web for tunes in abc format and allows the user to retrieve the results in a variety of ways. You just need to know something about your target tune to narrow the search. He also has a large collection of tunes that he has transcribed into ABC himself, which you will find here
  • The Traditional Tune Archive [3] A major source of tunes and a place to contribute them is The Traditional Tune Archive - The Semantic Index of North American, British and Irish traditional instrumental music with annotation, formerly known as The Fiddler's Companion.
  • James Stewart's Index of Tunes [4] is an online PDF database of 70K tunetitles (only) and which books they can be found in.
  • Morris Tunes on the Morris Ring website [5] ABCs, dots and mp3s of Lionel Bacon's Black Book, plus links to other sites.
  • The Village Music Project [6] An ongoing study of English social musicians from the 17th Century onwards from their manuscripts. Contains information about fiddle manuscripts, plus many of their contents transcribed into ABC notation.
  • The Farne Project [7] A selection of texts, pictures and recordings of Northumbrian Traditional Music, including a number of traditional tune resources. There are scans of one of the oldest tune manuscripts in England written down by Henry Atkinson in 1694. There are recordings by a variety of musicians including Willy Taylor, Joe Hutton and Will Atkinson.
  • Biteyourownelbow [8] Another long list of tune collections on the internet, from Mickey Koth. Free collections of tunes in gif, jpg, pdf, png, or tif format and/or in ABC notation
  • Manx Music - Manuscript and ABC format [9] contains a significant body of the music collected on the island by W.H. Gill, J.F. Gill and Dr J. Clague, as compiled by Colin Jerry in the book 'Kiaull Vannin'

Online Session Tunebooks

Here are some online collections to give a flavour of the tunes that are current nowadays in various informal English music sessions in Britain and beyond. The descriptions may be taken from the compilers' own websites. I have resisted the sometimes strong urge to comment on how up-to-date or not some of the choices seem, since they do largely reflect the current situation.

  • Paul Hardy's session tunebook. Mainly traditional Celtic and English from the British Isles.
  • Lewes Favourites website. Tunes. A good, large (200 tunes?) fundamental English repertoire, courtesy of the Lewes English Tunes Practice Session, in particular Bryan Creer and the late Andy Warburton. The following tunebooks are often subsets of this one, but worth browsing to get an idea of the first two dozen must-have tunes.
  • The Alton Steady Session website contains link to a small tunebook
  • The Bath and Bradford on Avon Sessions website. Concertina World Tunebook, includes tips on session etiquette.
  • Chorley Slow and Easy Session website contains links to two PDF tunebooks
  • Dartington Morris Men's Session Tune Book website
  • Dorking Folk Sessions website contains a link to a small Steady Speed tunebook
  • Chris Partington's English Session Tunes website What do you play when you’re in a “Mainly English” session with musicians you’ve just met for the first time? ABCs and PDF
  • The Duke of Wellington Folk Tunes Session FB page. Tunes. We (they!) are a friendly group who meet on the second Thursday of every month at The Duke of Wellington 119 Balls Pond Road, London, N1 4BL.
  • The Ewell Sessions website contains a link to a small tunebook
  • Folk at the Beech website We (they!) will have 133 tunes in the 6th Edition of our Tune Book, you will find them on the 'Playing Tunes page' when it has been updated. They are currently available as pages of music as pdfs and ABCexplorer files. We have also made them available as midi files.
  • Freds Folks Ceilidh Band website Not strictly a session, but common session tunes nonetheless
  • Horsmonden Sessions website workshop page contains link to tunes and the session
  • Tuneworks Sessions From their website - "The tunes are session standards, popular tunes that are played often at sessions up and down the country so they are useful tunes to know! They are mostly from Irish and English traditions and can be played on a wide range of instruments." PDF. 27 sets of popular tunes, mostly Irish.

Tune Books since 1900

There have been many books of tunes printed since the beginning of the 20th Century. Some are out of print but can be obtained second-hand.


Many musicians over the centuries have written down their repertoire in music books and some of the old ones have survived into the 21st century. The oldest one so far identified was written down by Henry Atkinson of Morpeth Northumberland and is dated on one page - 1694.

Some good work has been done in transcribing these books and making them available as paper published tunebooks or as ABC notation collections on the internet.

Historical Publications

A most useful list of historical dance-tune books on the web is the Early American Secular Music and its European Sources website. This was researched in the later 20th century and is a very good overview of the field, with a few omissions of books that have come to light more recently, or weren't in the targeted libraries.

Another huge resource based on years of research is the late Bruce Olson's website . Some of the material on the site has become redundant since his death in 2003, yet it remains a valuable tool for serious scholars.

Tunes and dances are bound together, and when Walsh and Simpson et al published the tunes, the dances often came attached. Mostly, modern musicians raid the tunes and skip over the dances!


Labels recording instrumental music are included in the main Recordings list along with song etc.

Traditional Players

Click on the title to go to the page


Click on the title to go to the page

Books, Articles, and Academic Studies

There are a small number of studies of vernacular instrumental music. These include books, articles, and academic theses.

Bartram, Chris; The Fiddle in Southern England[10]; Yorkshire Dales Workshops, n.d.

Campbell, Stephen William John; Doctor of Philosophy University of York,Department of Music, October 2012 Reconsidering and Contextualising the Vernacular Tradition: Popular Music and British Manuscript Compilations (1650–2000) PDF

Chandler, Keith; Articles on English traditional musicians on the Mustrad website [11]

Dellow, Becky; Fiddler's Tunebooks; PhD student and fiddle player, Rebecca Dellow, writes about her musicological research into C19th amateur musicians and their manuscripts. [12]

Eldon, Jim; Article on Billy Harrison, fiddler, on the Mustrad website [13]

Emmerson, George S.;Rantin’ Pipe and Tremblin’String: A History of Scottish Dance Music; Montreal:McGill – Queen’s University Press, 1971.

Faulds, Katrina; Invitation to the Dance:Social Dance and Dance Music in the English Country House 1800-1850; PhD Diss, University of Southampton; follow link to PDF

Faulds, Katrina (2015); Invitation pour la danse: Social dance, dance music and feminine identity in the English country house c.1770-1860; University of Southampton, Faculty of Humanities, Doctoral Thesis , 389pp Link

Fleischmann, Aloys and Mícheál ÓSúilleabháin; Sources of Irish Traditional Music C. 1600–1855; New York and London:Galland,1998.

Gammie, Ian and Derek McCulloch; Jane Austens Music: The musical world of Jane Austen; St Albans: Corda Music Publications, 1996.

Gammon, Vic; Manuscript Sources of Traditional Dance Music in Southern England, PhD thesis, published in Traditional Dance 4 (1986): pp53-72. Available, with much else, on Vic's personal web site [14];

Gammon, Vic; Articles on English traditional musicians on the Mustrad website [15]

Hall, Reg; I Never Played to Many Posh Dances; Major work on English Country Dance music, available as PDF download from Mustrad website [16]

Heath-Coleman, Philip; Articles on English traditional dance music on the Mustrad website [17]

Holderness, Chris; Articles on English traditional musicians on the Mustrad website [18]

Howson, John; Articles on English traditional musicians on the Mustrad website [19]

Johnson, David; Music and Society in Lowland Scotland in the Eighteenth Century; Edinburgh: Mercat Press, 2003

Keegan-Phipps, Simon; Teaching folk : the educational institutionalization of folk music in contemporary England; 2008; PhD Thesis, Newcastle University; Link

Pendlebury, Celia; (2015) Jigs, Reels and Hornpipes: A History of "Traditional" Dance Tunes of Britain and Ireland; [20] MPhil thesis, University of Sheffield. (on the page, go to the box labelled "text" to access)

Pickering, Michael; Articles on English traditional musicians on the Mustrad website [21]

Seattle, Matt; Harmonic Proportion; Extracted from The Master Piper (3rd edition), Matt Seattle, Hawick, 2011, with permission; "The term Harmonic Proportion, already used in art and architecture, is applied here to a group of ideas or principles which have gradually coalesced from a study of Border pipe tunes"

Stevens, Greg; Article on William Irwin on the Mustrad website [22]

Summers, Keith; English Country Music: A Tradition in Isolation?; Article on the Mustrad website [23]

Williams, Dave; Stan Seaman, Melodeon Player Article on the Mustrad website [24]

Yates, Cynzia; Excavating Notes: Archaeology of Canon in Manx Traditional Music, PhD Ethnomusicology, Cardiff University 2013

Yates, Cynzia; "…while the others did some capers": the Manx Traditional Dance revival 1929 to 1960, Master of Arts in Manx Studies Final dissertation, University of Liverpool 2006

Yates, Cynzia; The Andreas Flute Book, Batchelor of Music Final year dissertation, University of Wales, Cardiff 2002

Yates, Mike; Articles on English traditional musicians on the Mustrad website [25]

Conference Reports

International Council for Traditional Music:Study Group on Historical Sources of Folk Music. Conference Report, Copenhagen April 1995. Facsimile available at Google Books. You may need to translate some of it!

National Early Music Association, The Hornpipe (© 1993) Papers from a Conference held at Sutton House, Homerton, London E9 6JQ [26]


The Folk Music Journal. The peer-reviewed journal of the EFDSS. Contents pages are on the FMJ website.

Magazines containing published un-refereed learned articles

English Dance & Song is the organ of the EFDSS. It has a web site where extra content is included for each issue.