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Sources of Traditional Tunes and Songs

This page provides a search facility to find the location of tunes and songs, both printed music and on the Internet in Midi, abc, and other formats. They are mostly tunes from the British Isles, i.e. England, Scotland and Ireland, but there are also some from the American Appalachian traditions. There are an estimated 7000 tunes listed so far and the list continues to increase.

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Please see also this Readme file.



For information about books of traditional music see books.html . The page lists some of the major tune collections and gives some information about where they can be obtained.

Tunes on the Internet

There are thousands of tunes available on the Internet in the form of computer files of various kinds and which can be an alternative to printed sheet music for musicians. Traditional instrumental music is particularly well supported because there are no copyright problems.

The Tune Search

To search for a tune use the search engine here or elsewhere on this site. It is a good idea to specify a key word from the tune name rather than the whole name because tune names can vary slightly Also take care with the use of apostrophes because this search engine treats words like sailor, sailors, sailor's and sailors' all differently. What is worse, the data on this site may not always be precise in this detail.

If you require a particular format you may include one of the following words in the search: midi, abc, printed, sheet, GIF, CD, but when doing this be sure to select "Find ALL words" from the drop down list. The data is organized to ensure this will work.

When a tune is found you will be directed to a page on this site which lists the tune (with others) and gives the source of the tune. When the tune is available from an external web site it will be necessary to use the facilities of that site to get the exact location of the tune there.

  Site Search by PicoSearch

Other search facilities and tune sources

This is a list of good tune (and song) search facilities elsewhere on the Internet.

Traditional Music Library. Large resource of tunes in Midi and GIF formats. Useful information for musicians and pleasant to listen to. Chord backing. Some songs with lyrics.

Tune search by John Chambers. Finds tunes in abc format on his own site and elsewhere on the web.
Alternative location:

Richard Robinson's search page for his abc files. Searches may be done by title or other aspects of the tunes.

Chris Walshaw's web-wide abc index. Not a search facility but a large index of abc tunes.

The Fiddlers Companion by Andrew Kuntz. A huge list of fiddle tunes with lots of information and with many tunes included in abc format within the text.

Ceolas celtic music site search facility.

The Village Music Project. A project to recover old manuscripts of traditional tunes which are rare or still lost. Many of these are now converted to ABC files and available from their site. tune search facility.

Mudcat Cafe - mostly songs. - Lyrics and info.

Grand Chain - Scottish Dance resource with lots of links to dance music sources and more.

Tunes on this Site

There are so many tunes available from the sources indicated on this site that there is no point in repeating them here. Tunes here will be either those which are difficult to find elsewhere, or in versions which I prefer.

Tunes will be added occasionally.

Speed the Plough

Intended to simulate and illustrate the sound of the melodeon playing this popular english tune.


Sailors Hornpipe

A tune which appears in different versions. This version is what I believe to be correct. The first B part is as I found it, the repeat is a more common variant.

Said to be also called college hornpipe, but I wonder if the latter is a bit different.

Note on the rhythm. The first file below is a Midi representation of the sheet music as written. Sometimes the tune is played like this, but it is not a hornpipe rhythm, but more like a reel. However the tune may also be played with a hornpipe rhythm i.e. with an lengthening and emphasis on the first note of each pair. The hornpipe rhythm is probably the correct way to play the tune.

sailors1.mid - Sounds exactly as written in sheet music.

sailors.mid - The tune played with a hornpipe rhythm.


I included this because it is used for the graphical logo on this page.


Bluebell Polka

May be the only tune listed on this site which got into the top 20. It reached no. 20 in December 1955 recorded by Jimmy Shand. This version is in the form ABACA, but I have a recording by Jimmy Shand from 1971 which goes AABBACCABACA. I think Ad Lib would be a better description! Said to be composed by "Stanley". May still be copyright but generally regarded as a traditional composition and available from several sources of traditional tunes.


Dashing White Sergeant

Popular scottish dance tune used for a dance of the same name. Found in several variations. I like this version with its accidentals. Not playable on all instruments but good for piano accordion.


The Cliff Hornpipe

This file also appears elsewhere on this site in the comparison of hornpipe rhythms.


File Types

The file types most suitable for conveying tune information are GIF, ABC and Midi.


These are simple graphics files of the sheet music itself which can be read from the screen or printed. As such they are immediately accessible by musicians who read music. However, there is not so much tune data available in GIF form as is available in ABC and Midi files, and these can be converted to sheet music with suitable software, and better still can be played audibly. Most GIF music files on the Internet will have been generated from ABC or Midi files, and will usually lack special musical directions.

Example of a GIF file obtained on the Internet:

Sailors Hornpipe


According to the inventor of ABC, Chris Walshaw, ABC files are intended to express sheet music in simple text  files. Indeed ABC is well suited to representing sheet music and contains the same sort of information. Consequently it is also suitable for being converted to sheet music, and is often better than Midi for this purpose because ABC can contain some information depicted in sheet music which cannot be visually depicted in Midi, notably the symbols which show that music is repeated.

ABC files are extremely compact and so huge numbers of tunes can be stored in only a small amount of disc space, and can be downloaded quickly. As the file is simple text it is easy to write and edit with just a text editor.

This format has limitations when it comes to defining how the music will sound, but its simplicity is its strength.


Many computer users will be familiar with Midi files, and they can be played using software built into Windows.

Midi contains information about what the notes of a tune are, and so can also be used to contain the essential information depicted in sheet music (with some limitations). The ability to present a Midi file as visible sheet music will depend on whether the software can do it, but even then any sheet music derived from a Midi file cannot visually depict some of the special musical notations which a musician would interpret (e.g. staccato notes, slurs, crescendos etc). Instead these effects are audible in the music playback. In fact Midi can optionally contain far more information than is expressible in sheet music, and can specify much more precisely how the music will sound.

Midi has the advantage of being well supported by sequencer software from different sources. It is THE standard format for communication of music data between sequencers.

If used to convey the notes of a tune, as done in ABC, a Midi file can be compact and simple, but Midi  has the ability to contain variations and subtleties which go beyond what can be expressed in sheet music. For example note timing and lengths can be varied with much finer precision. Multiple notes can be sounded at the same time, thus chords, counter melodies, bass lines etc. can be precisely specified. Individual notes can be given their own volume levels. Instrument timbre can be specified with multiple 'virtual instruments' playing simultaneously. Midi also has a strong support for percussion and there are various other features.

In one sense the great versatility and flexibility of Midi can be a disadvantage. The creator of a Midi file has a great deal of freedom, and the result can make it difficult to obtain the essential information required by a musician. If the intention is to simply convey a tune, as in sheet music, Midi is well suited except that it cannot show where a section of the music is repeated, other than repeating the section in full in the file.

Where Midi files are intended for presenting tune information to musicians, their creators should avoid the temptation of adding too much complexity.

Site with high quality Midi files which illustrate the variety and musical depth which Midi can express: - follow the appropriate links.

Sequencer specific file formats

Most sequencer software has its own 'native' file format. These formats will vary in the nature of information they contain, but will usually be able to express more than can be expressed in Midi, e.g. information about the music notation. The problem with these formats is that they are unintelligible unless the same sequencer software is used to read them. (Fortunately most sequencers can read and write Midi, perhaps with some loss of information). These software specific formats are not widely used on the Internet, except one, Noteworthy.

Noteworthy (NWC)

Some music is available on the Internet in NWC format. This is the file format for the Noteworthy composer sequencer and notation software, popular because of its good performance at low cost. In its early days Noteworthy was far less expensive than other sequencer and notation software and established a lead which led to the file format being popular on the Internet. These files can contain more information about the presentation in sheet music notation than Midi can, but need the Noteworthy sequencer software. An evaluation version of Noteworthy may be available free of charge, and this helps to sustain the format.

To summarize, ABC is probably the better choice if you like to work from sheet music and can cope with the technical aspects. If you like to listen to the music and play by ear, then Midi is probably better. One important consideration is that when finding a tune on the web you might not have much choice about what you can get!

For more about the file types used for music and sound see the sound technology page by the same author: