Fiddle Tunes & abc Notation

  1. Home Page & Discussion Including Some Practical and Background Discussion Topics

Online Host: New Hampshire Old-Time Country Dance Web Site.

  1. Peter Yarensky, Publisher, Designer  & Nearly Everything Else

NH Country Dance Table of Contents 

NH Old-Time Country Dance Web Site Home Page

Music Pages Site Map

Fiddling & Playing Music

  1. Wednesday Jam, Durham

  2. Canterbury Fiddlers Picnic

  3. Barrington Natural Heritage

Fiddle Tunes: Introductory

  1. Tunes Home & Discussion

  2. About the Tunes

The Tunes in abc & pdf format (individual pages by style)

  1. Reels | Jigs, Square Dance

  2. Two-Steps, Marches, Polkas

  3. Waltzes | Other Tunes

  4. The Tunes, PDF Format

  5. abc Musical Notation

  6. Peter’s abc Help File

Music-Related Links (In Progress)

  1. Sites with Recorded Music

  2. This section has a separate, more detailed site map.

Music & Dance Weekends

  1. Ralph Page Weekend

  2. Star Hampshire Weekend

Music & Dance Community, History & Stories

  1. Photo Page Index

  2. Music & Dance Story
    General Index

  3. NE Contras & Squares Index

Dance Pages

  1. Country Dance Newsletter

  2. Dance Calendar Page

  3. Lamprey River Band

Music Pages

  1. Wednesday Jam, Durham

  2. Canterbury Fiddlers Picnic

  3. Fiddle Tunes - Index, abc

  4. The Tunes, PDF Format

  5. abc Musical Notation

  6. Peter’s abc Help File

  7. Links - Recorded Music Sites

Site Information

  1. Contact/Link Information

  2. Update Notes

  3. Feedback Page

NH Country Dance
Site Navigation

Section Home Pages are listed here; a few major Subpages may be as well.

A more detailed listing of each section may be found on each Section Home Page.


Some Ideas on Learning Fiddle Tunes, Historical Context & Fiddling Traditions

This section presents sheet music for a variety of fiddle tunes in a couple different formats, primarily abc and  PDF; abc format is discussed elsewhere in its own section. I'd like to start with some discussion of the written music I'm presenting and some issues of interest related to that music. I’ll start with a brief Table of Contents for the page.

On This Page ...

You will find discussions of the following.

  1. Learning by ear vs. learning from written music.

  2. Sources of music for listening.

  3. New England fiddling and a brief history of New England music and dance tradition over the past century.

  4. Living traditions and the role of change.

  5. Is there really a New England tradition?

I hope you enjoy it and find it interesting and useful!

Fiddle Tunes of New England, Canada, Sweden and Related Traditions

In general I am presenting a selection of traditional and some more contemporary tunes from New England, Canada, Sweden and related traditions. More about the traditions below, but first ...

Why This Section is Here

It’s rather odd that I’m presenting so much written music, as I don’t really read music very well, and I don’t really believe in learning from written music unless you’re pretty familiar with the tune and the tradition from considerable listening, preferably to a variety of fiddlers playing the music, but at least to an adequate sampling of recorded music.

The following discussion of listening vs. reading clearly represents my opinion. I think it’s valid, but I realize some people disagree.

  1. To those who for whatever reason choose to learn primarily from written music, I hope you will read the next section Listening and Reading below and at least consider supplementing written music with a goodly amount of listening.

Listening and Reading. Clearly, written music is in no way a substitute for listening as a tool for learning a tune or a style of music.

  1. If you don’t believe the last sentence, think about the next question. Does it really make sense to use your eyes to learn something that's completely auditory in nature?

  2. Still not convinced? Sometimes if you turn things around you can see them more clearly. Would you listen to your clothes to figure out if the color of your pants matches the color of your shirt? It’s just the same thing in reverse.

  3. To those who believe they can’t learn by ear, please reconsider: you’re almost certainly doing yourself a disservice! There are numerous web sites that present various techniques for learning how to do it. A few of these either are or will be included in the Links section of this web site; or look up learning by ear in Google for a variety of such sites. You really can do it. Prove it to yourself right now by taking some simple familiar tune or song you’ve never played before (e.g. a Christmas carol, a popular song, or whatever works for you), and try playing it in an easy key - on the fiddle that would probably be D or G. I bet you can do it without much trouble!

Who/What Are the Best Listening Sources? One more comment about listening. It is my observation that many (probably most) contradance musicians these days (which is what I consider myself to be primarily) listen mostly to other contemporary contradance musicians if they listen to traditional music at all - even when they’re learning a French Canadian reel or a Swedish waltz. That’s a start, but really a rather shallow one given the richness of the music. If that describes your listening habits, consider broadening them; it will likely be very rewarding in terms of enjoyment and its effects on your playing.

Other sources of enjoyment and inspiration would include previous generations of contradance musicians, and musicians from the various traditions contradance music has borrowed from, including the previous generations of those traditions (e.g. French and English Canadian, English, Scottish, etc.). You may want to play in New England style for the dance, but it’s nice to know something about where the tunes came from.


Let’s think a bit about the musical traditions themselves. We (those of us who live in New Hampshire or for that matter most of Northern New England) are very fortunate to live in a  place where there’s a strong musical tradition, and at a time when the local traditions are generally quite healthy. That hasn’t always been the case. Contradancing nearly died out at various times, and the music with it. Ralph Page revived it at one point, Dudley Laufman again later.

A Really Quick Look at the Past Century of Music and Dance in New Hampshire. It is rather interesting to look at a couple quotations from one of our few solid connections between the current contradance revival and dancing as it was 80 or more years ago. Newt Tolman attended and played flute for the Nelson dances starting as a kid by around 1918 or so when they were rowdy country dances (just “dances”, not “square dances” or “contradances”; no one made that distinction!). He commented that “by 1950 or so, I never expected to play again for square dances” (Quick Tunes and Good Times, 1972, 35). From his writings it is clear he never really even expected to hear what he considered to be real dance music again played by a live band for actual dancers.

The dances certainly never stopped in Nelson; after all Ralph Page called there regularly. But they did nearly everywhere else, and as much as I enjoy singing squares, the music for them is far less interesting than the old jigs, reel, hornpipes and other tunes used in the earlier dances. And even people who had previously called contras (e.g. Willy Woodward - Frank’s father) switched over to all singing squares because that’s what everyone wanted. The revival that Ralph Page led was centered around the caller; the music was given less emphasis.

After things died out again and shrank back to the core (once again, Nelson), Dudley Laufman came along to lead the most recent revival. This one was quite different, as it placed more emphasis on the music. Newt had a few things to say, of course. (I never knew him unfortunately but if anyone thinks I’m opinionated, I gather he was much more so!) Really you should find a copy of the book and read it if you can, but here are a few quick quotations. Some, as you might expect, were less than complimentary - like the one about Dudley’s followers as “wild-haired, barefoot girls carrying guitar cases which probably held nothing but their spare underwear” along with the ”bearded characters who twanged away on home-made zithers” (page 37). But he said “Though I may have accorded him less flattering titles at one time or another, he has really been our catalyst” (page 39), after which he describes at length how Dudley was responsible for bringing back the music he remembered from his youth. For example, a couple paragraphs later he commented: “At the last dance, I counted eighteen musicians, at some point in the evening, all playing - a sort of square dance symphony. It was probably the largest ensemble to be heard playing that sort of music in a new England town hall, in close to a century. And in contrast to the motley crew who used to appear only a few years ago, all of these people were well trained, and some of them were very expert performers.”

All this less than 15 years after he thought he’d never play for dances again. Newt took on a central role as a connection to the time before the music had largely been lost, a source of tunes, a researcher of old tunes, and was along with Dudley, Deanna Stiles and undoubtedly others, very important in shaping the current revival of New England dance music.

Living Traditions. One thing I’ve learned is that if there ever was such a thing as purity in any musical tradition, it’s probably been more the exception than the norm for at least a couple hundred years in the Western countries if not longer. In the early days of the Ralph Page Weekend, a fascinating presentation included the fact that the earliest trip by a colonist back to the Old Country (England, that is) solely for the purpose of collecting the latest hot tunes and dances (same thing probably as they tended to go together much of the time in those days) was in about 1800 +/- a couple years. Given that such a trip then was almost like a trip to the moon now, we can assume there’s always been a lot of cross pollination of traditions. In later years there was Border Radio from Mexico or off shore that could be heard all the way up to Canada. More generally, most musicians, and probably especially the best ones, have always been looking for new and interesting tunes to play, often from exotic sources. These are all characteristics of living traditions: traditions that are actively being pursued and developed by their practitioners, unlike traditions that only exist in more controlled artificial circumstances such as a museum or a professional act.

So we have French Canadian fiddlers playing Texan and Ukranian fiddle tunes, New England French fiddlers playing country & western, foxtrots, and anything else they like, English Canadian fiddlers writing Calypso fiddle tunes, and New England fiddlers playing Swedish hambos, Irish jigs, Scottish marches and French Canadian reels. Most of the people I know who grew up with their tradition are happy to play whatever they like regardless of its purity. That has always been more a concern of new converts and people worrying about losing their tradition.

Change & Living Traditions. I admit to having some such concerns. The New England tradition has been changing at an accelerating rate in recent years. In one sense this is a good thing in that it’s an indication of the vitality of our tradition, as is the large number of young musicians and more recently young dancers. On the other hand while I don’t consider myself an expert at such issues, I would guess that it’s unhealthy for a tradition to change too quickly, and I’m not always happy with some of the actual changes occurring.

On the other hand, my concerns have been tempered considerably by having the good fortune of getting to hang out quite a bit over the past 15 years ago with people like Marcel who grew up in a tradition and are happy to play anything they like from that tradition or any other. At Marcel’s Wednesday Night Soirées Marcel played French Canadian fiddle tunes, but also Maritime and Ontario fiddle tunes, Square Dance tunes, Round Dance tunes (waltzes and foxtrots), country and western, a few New England contradance tunes Marcel learned from April Limber - anything Marcel enjoyed playing!  As a result when Marcel moved away and we started our own jam we deliberately decided to keep a very loose interpretation of what fits in our Canadian Jam Session: we play many tunes from the same selection as Marcel, and also play more New England and Scandinavian tunes.

New England Fiddling. What is New England Fiddling anyway? It’s changed a lot over the years, and incorporated a lot from other influences due to the variety of ethnic groups present in New England. (Yes, it may be fairly uniform, but if you heard the program Jack Beard put together on ethnic influences in New England music several years ago, the variety is surprisingly large!) In particular our fiddling has incorporated Scotch, Irish and French Canadian influences quite strongly.

A note about Lissa and New England Fiddling. As many of you already know, Lissa is one of the outstanding fiddlers currently playing New England contradance music, as well as being one of the nicest people around and a good teacher.

That’s more than most of us have accomplished - but she also has a strong interest in learning more about the history and development of the New England fiddle and dance traditions.

One more thing you might find interesting: Lissa even has a section on her web site of links to web sites that help make the world a better place. As long as there are people like Lissa around we’re in good shape for years to come.

For a good discussion of New England Fiddling, New England Contradance Music and Contradancing (all closely related topics) what they are, who are some of the important classic New England fiddlers, where to buy recordings, etc., go to Lissa Schneckenburger’s web site.

You should really check out the whole site as there’s lots of neat stuff there; but for current purposes, go to FAQs and click on "What is New England Fiddling?" and "What is a Contra Dance?" for a good discussion of all these issues.

I should mention that when Lissa was writing that section she solicited ideas and feedback from several people; I was honored to be one of them. She came up with a very nice discussion of the topics, and as a result I’m quite happy to refer people to her discussion and feel no need to duplicate it. Those of you who know that I can have perfectionist tendencies will realize that this is a major compliment!

The Role of Written Music. Assuming you're doing a goodly amount of listening and have an understanding of how the tunes should be played, it can be useful to refer to written music to figure out the details of a tune. If you have a thorough understanding of a musical tradition you can use the music to learn new tunes without listening to them specifically; but to do that accurately and with all the subtleties requires truly large amounts of listening. Therefore I'm providing written music in a few different forms. Hopefully it will be used to supplement listening rather than as a replacement!

About Musical Traditions - In Particular the New England Tradition


Some Thoughts on the Reality of the New England Tradition. I describe the tune selection I present in the sheet music on this web site as being from the New England, Canadian, Swedish and related traditions. Sadly over the years I have had the following experience on several occasions - which in my opinion is several times too many, thus the following discussion. A musician - generally a very good fiddler, generally playing in an Irish tradition, never from Ireland - learns that I play New England contradance music. He or she then informs me that there really is no such thing as a New England tradition; all the best New England tunes are really Irish.

Here’s are my thoughts, in the context of previous commentary. Please note that this should not in any way be taken as an insult to Irish music which is one of the great musical traditions and has without a doubt made major contributions to the music of New England.

Regardless of its validity, to deny the existence or validity of someone’s musical tradition in such a fashion is at best arrogant, and is a great way to arouse a variety of  negative thoughts and emotions in other musicians. In addition it’s obviously incorrect, which leads to obvious conclusions about the credibility of the person who makes such a statement.

Let’s see ... Amelia, Ross’s Reel #4, Fair Jenny’s Jig ...

As far as I know New Hampshire has been part of New England for all of recorded history, and if through continental drift it was once connected with Ireland there were no fiddlers around at the time. Therefore, one would have to account for Bob McQuillen and the well over a thousand tunes he’s written. In 1980 and 1981 Rod and Randy Miller justified including Bob’s tunes in New England Chestnuts Volumes 1 and 2 (an excellent pair of records now reissued on one CD by Great Meadow Music) by declaring Bob to be a New England Chestnut himself! Then there are all the other people we know of, not to mention all the ones lost to history, who have composed great tunes in New England over the past few hundred years. We have a long tradition of our own tunes, many of which are excellent and many of which are played elsewhere including Ireland.

Having said that, it is certainly true that many of the tunes we play have their origins in Ireland (or England or Scotland for that matter). But would we really call those tunes, as played by a New England contradance band, Irish tunes? It’s interesting to compare how we play our tunes, and how a traditional Irish band plays a similar set of tunes. (I realize both traditions include considerable variation, and some New England bands emulate the Irish sound.) Sometimes they sound so different it might be hard to realize they are the same tunes.

  1. It must be said that the same person who might say all the best New England tunes are really Irish, if faced with a New England musician playing New England style at an Irish session, would probably be horrified. For that matter an Irish musician tends to sound out of place in a New England jam session. The styles are so different they’re only marginally compatible.

The Role of Dancing. Here’s a partial explanation. In part it’s just a gradual drift in styles over time. But another issue is the role of dancing. In Ireland the music is played mostly for listening so rhythm and phrasing are much less critical. In New England our music is ultimately dance music, and rhythm and phrasing are key. Bob’s piano style probably exemplifies what’s so central to our music that’s generally not really present in much Irish music better than anything else. (Until fairly recently accompaniment of any sort was a foreign concept to Irish music; even now it tends to be much lighter.)

New England fiddling should be rhythmic too; Lissa once mentioned in a conversation that a good fiddler should play sufficiently rhythmically that you wouldn’t entirely need accompaniment for the music to be danceable. Irish fiddling may be rhythmic, but it’s often much less so, and wouldn’t really work well in the context of a contradance.

This distinction has caused problem on more than one occasion when I’ve called with musicians who weren’t dancers and didn’t understand this issue! Now and then someone has pulled out an Irish tune that has phrasing that just made no sense to me and isn’t clear enough to fit the dance. It may be a fine listening tune, but it’s not a contradance tune. One time I actually had to stop the dance and ask for a new tune; I just couldn’t figure out where to call the figures!

To conclude this section, in my opinion based on lots of observation and a fair amount of research although very little formal background in the field, it seems most desirable to acknowledge that each tradition exists largely as its own independent tradition, while at the same time acknowledging that they are all interconnected, often to surprising degrees, and have been for a surprisingly long time. Tunes and styles travel up and back across cultures, whether we want them to or not. We need to think about the implications of that, but ultimately it’s how things work so we should make the best of the situation, and if possible use it to the advantage of our tradition rather than complain about it.