hms | home

The Historical Music of Scotland database

by David McGuinness and Karen McAulay

has details of over 200 Scottish printed sources of vernacular violin music from before 1850, along with images and indexes of 22 books from the University of Glasgow and Perth's A K Bell Library. You can browse the collection, search for tunes and composers, and play the tunes.

by Aaron McGregor

is a comprehensive catalogue of 27 Scottish manuscript sources of violin music from before 1750, with around 3500 tunes all searchable by name, Theme Code and other features.

This resource was created as part of the AHRC-funded project Bass Culture in Scottish Musical Traditions. The project’s principal aim was to encourage musicians in traditional music to draw further on historical sources in their repertoire, their teaching, and in their understanding of the music’s history, with a particular focus on the musical practices which underpinned the tunes: the structural and accompaniment traditions.

Because of this focus, the database does not include songs or airs, and it features only sources which contain basslines. Most of these sources are substantial printed collections, but also included are some of the hundreds of surviving single-sheet publications. We excluded manuscript sources to keep the project to a manageable and practical size.

The Resources section provides links to other materials produced by the team, including papers, recordings and presentations about the music, and information on how we prepared and built the database and website. Under References there is a full bibliography for secondary sources referred to in the notes, and a list of the library sigla showing the locations of all known copies of the primary sources in the UK and Ireland.

The boundaries of ‘Scottish fiddle music’ are porous and difficult to define: one early finding from our research was that early Scottish fiddlers were familiar with a more diverse repertoire than our present-day conception of Scottish fiddle music might suggest. ‘Scottishness’ in music can also be a problematic concept in a period when the notion of a national culture was in its early stages of development and negotiation, and even identifying simple tune types such as strathspey, reel and jig is sometimes far from straightforward in the 18th-century material. The notes on the music given here for each source include:

  • a summary of the kind of repertoire the source contains
  • some features of the basslines, and
  • particular points of interest that the research team noted on a survey of the contents.

Images will download at the currently selected zoom level; for a larger image, select a higher zoom level.

Please pass on your feedback about the site: you can trace how we developed it from 2012 to 2015 in our blog.

Here you will find a database of around 3500 tunes taken from 27 Scottish violin manuscripts compiled in 1670-1750. As well as introductory pages containing notes on each source, the database allows you to search tunes by title, thematic incipit, and by a range of other features such as number of strains, key-note and time signature. Detailed comments are given for selected tunes, as well as concordances from across the database, and information on variations and bass lines.

This work was carried out by Aaron McGregor in 2020-21 and builds on his AHRC-funded PhD research into early Scottish violin sources undertaken at the University of Glasgow in 2015-19.

The database includes the most significant pre-1750 Scottish manuscript sources written for the violin. Excluded here are sources containing violin music arranged for other instruments, or sources in Scottish collections probably compiled abroad.

In general, individual music manuscripts are far more varied than printed material from the same period. In a few cases, sources contain only music for the violin, but more often manuscripts feature a combination of non-musical and musical items, including pieces for voice and a variety of instruments. For sources predominantly consisting of violin music, the database lists all the musical items, including pieces for voice or other instruments. For sources where there is a clear stand-alone section of violin pieces amongst other musical items, only the violin tunes are listed. A description of the contents is given in the introductory page for every source.

The 27 manuscripts contain a variety of scripts and standards of musical notation, ranging across professional scribes (David Young), professional musicians (John McLachlan), musical amateurs (George Skene), and many other anonymous hands. Perhaps most challenging when building the thematic index were items containing approximate or missing rhythms and pitches. For example, the Gairdyn manuscript contains hundreds of short incipits or aide-memoires, and another two sources (Panmure 1 and Guthrie) include pieces in diatonic violin tablature, where only violin fingering is indicated, without exact pitches or rhythmic values. Where possible, the searchable tune index has been built from reconstructed versions of these items, but these each provide only one of the possible realisations.

A description of the two thematic index methods used in the database is given here.

Principal Investigator, project management and editor: David McGuinness
Researcher (post-doctoral), music bibliography & cataloguing: Karen McAulay
Systems Developer, web implementation: Luca Guariento
Co-Investigators, oversight and advice: John Butt, Susan Rankin
PhD student, project development: Barnaby Brown
Research Administrator, School of Culture and Creative Arts, University of Glasgow: Jeanette Berrie


Systems Developers, systems design: Zoltán Kömives, Neil McDermott
music encoding: Karen Marshalsay
MEI and search engine implementation: Andrew Hankinson
HMS.Scot logo design: Ewan MacPherson

Database researched and compiled by Aaron McGregor
Systems Developer: Luca Guariento

University of Glasgow Digitisation Centre for photography
University of Glasgow Library Special Collections
Nicky Small and the team at AK Bell Library, Perth & Kinross
Jim Donegan for enabling the addition of the Manuscripts database
the staff at all the libraries we visited in Scotland for being endlessly patient and helpful:
go and visit them, they will be pleased to see you!

  • Arts and Humanities Research Council
  • University of Glasgow
  • Royal Conservatoire of Scotland
  • Concerto Caledonia
  • AOK Productions
  • University of Cambridge

January 2022:
- minor corrections and additions;
- major software upgrades [Linux Debian - 10.x to 11.x; Django - 3.1 to 4.0.1; Python - 3.7.x to 3.9.2; Solr - 8.8 to 8.11].

March 2021:
- addition of the 'manuscripts' section and rearrangement of the overall structure;
- major software upgrades [Linux Debian - 8.x to 10.x; Django - 1.8 to 3.1; MySQL - 5.7 to 8.0; Solr - 6.4 to 8.8; Bootstrap - 3.4 to 5.0];
- search prints page enhancement [added the exact search capability, fixed several bugs, improved user experience];
- addition of a 'filter tunes' feature in the source detail page for digitised prints;
- addition of a 'filter authors' feature in the prints authors list page;
- addition of a 'show only digitised sources' switch and a filter in the prints sources list page;
- minor aesthetic improvements.

June 2020:
- Minor corrections and addition of the 'resources' page.

April 2020:
- Minor additions.

February 2016, May 2017:
- Minor corrections

October 2015:
- Initial publication

The material on is available for all non-commercial use. When reproducing or republishing, please credit and the library which holds the original, and provide a link to the page.

Historical Music of Scotland
Music, School of Culture and Creative Arts
14 University Gardens
Glasgow, Scotland,
G12 8QH

Dorothy Berry
Digital Curator, Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture provides a shining example of how thoughtful digitization can produce resources that reach beyond the classroom to influence the performance practice of professionals and enthusiasts alike.

Simon Thoumire
Hands Up for Trad is my new favourite website! I would never have time to find and research all this music and I feel very lucky that someone has done this for me. Thank you very much!

Tim Macdonald
Scottish fiddler, Chicago is a helpful and overdue tool both for researchers and working musicians. Having easy access to tune facsimiles has saved time and led to some interesting discoveries, and the accompanying commentary from the research team yields helpful insights. It's also saved me at the library — some books are catalogued by but not by the host library itself!