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Contra-Dance Music

The contradance traditions of the Northeast retain many of the characteristics of Irish and Scottish dance tunes, and new ones continue to be absorbed into the tradition.

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Contra Dance tunes include folk tunes from up and down the Eastern seaboard of the US (Canada to Appalachia) and Great Britain (especially Scottish and Irish), and composed tunes.


The music uses major and minor keys and modes that are easy for a fiddler to play.


Jigs, reels, hornpipes, marches and waltzes are common. The normal structure is square, i.e. constructed of two 8-measure phrases repeated twice (AABB), with each song repeated a dozen or more times before the caller cues for a new song.


Amelia's Waltz

Dancing Bear

Haste to the Wedding

Haste to the Wedding is one of the most famous 6/ 8 tunes in British and American tradition. Chappell (National English Airs, No. 163) traced the tune to a version used in a pantomime in 1767; beyond that date its history is shrouded. Modern traditional sets have been recorded in Great Britain and in nearly every area of the United States. A few 4/ 4 tunes recorded or printed in America seem to be the result of refashioning "Haste to the Wedding" into the Ubiquitous reel mold. The popularity of the tune in America is partly due to its being used as a quickstep by nineteenth-century militias.

Rickett's Hornpipe

This number, together with Fisher's Hornpipe and Durang's Hornpipe, is one of the few hornpipes with wide currency in the upper South. The earliest set of the tune yet to appear is an untitled version labeled simply Danced by Aldridge, in McGlashan's Collection of SCOIS Measures (Edinburgh , ca. 1781). By the 1850s it had become a regular item in commercial fiddle-tune collections. It found its way onto early hillbilly recordings, and modern field collecting indicates that the tune is known in nearly every section of the United States. In the standard printed sets of Ricketts' Hornpipe, the second phrase of the high strain uses the same melodic material that makes up the low strain. In traditional sets from the upper South, however, the second phrase of the high strain repeats the melodic matter of the first phrase, changing it only to introduce the finaltonic.

Music for a Found Harmonium



    Jim Wood, Fiddle and Dance, Fiddler Magazine 2016.

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    Last updated Feb 2020
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