The Music


There are certain things in music that tell us it is traditional. These include its own peculiarities of style, structure, melody, rhythm, and performance. To appreciate and understand it, you must understand these components.

Music is in a constant state of flux, and this variation and constant change are also part of what go to make a thing traditional. Once a tune enters the tradition, it will, for as long as it remains in vogue, be subjected to change, development and the whim and skill of the musician. The tune and its development will also be governed, to some degree, by the instrument for which it was written. A traditional tune written down in a book is never the definitive setting of that tune - it is merely one version of that tune - it might be how a particular musician played it on a particular day in a particular situation.

Like any spoken language, traditional music is learnt by listening and by imitation. Therefore, to become a traditional musician it is essential to engage with, listen to and play along with other traditional musicians. Younger performers begin by imitating the style and repertoire of those musicians to whom they are drawn, and in time they find their own unique voice - a mixture of those influences and their own interpretation and expression of things.

Moreover, the written version of a tune can only ever be a guide to its performance. Given the highly individual nature of traditional music, it would be impossible to annotate exactly how a tune is played, let alone expect another musician to read and perform that tune in precisely the same way it was played for that particular transcription.


  • Sean Keane

    The reel, The Bucks of Oranmore performed on the fiddle

  • Seamus Ennis

    The bucks of Oranmore performed on the uileann pipes

  • Four men and a dog

    Perform their version of the bucks of Oranmore


Liam O’Flynn

Performs Garrett Barry’s Reel on the uilleann pipes and talks about how traditional music is passed on, and how he came to know this tune.