Gaelic folk music or Gaelic traditional music is the folk music of Goidelic-speaking communities in Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man, often including lyrics in those languages. Characteristic forms of Gaelic music include sean-nós and puirt à beul singing, piobaireachd, jigs, reels, and strathspeys.

Relation with Brythonic music

The six Celtic nationalities are divided into two musical groups, Gaelic and Brythonic,[1] which according to Alan Stivell differentiate "mostly by the extended range (sometimes more than two octaves) of Irish and Scottish melodies and the closed range of Breton and Welsh melodies (often reduced to a half-octave), and by the frequent use of the pure pentatonic scale in Gaelic music".[2]

Gaelic music in the Americas

The emigration of Scottish Gaels to Cape Breton has also resulted in a unique strain of Gaelic music evolving there.[3][4] A number of fiddle tunes of Irish and Scottish Gaelic origin have entered the American bluegrass and country repertoires.


The session is a common setting for Gaelic music, where musicians from a given locality gather to play music in a public setting. Gaelic music is also commonly heard at folk festivals, by pipe bands and at competitions such as mods and the Fleadh Cheoil.

Keys and modes

In Traditional Gaelic music, the Ionian, Dorian, Mixolydian and Aeolian modes dominate,[5][6] with the keys of D Ionian, G Ionian, A Dorian and E Dorian among those popular with session musicians.[7]


Unlike Classical and Jazz music, modal harmonisation avoids diminished chords, as seen below for the seventh scale degree of the major scale.[8] Seventh chords are generally limited to the II and the V positions of the chord scale.

Roman numeral I ii iii IV V vi V6(first inversion)
Scale degree tonic supertonic mediant subdominant dominant submediant subtonic


  1. ^ Skinner Sawyers, J. (2001). Celtic Music: A Complete Guide, Da Capo Press, ISBN 978-0-306-81007-7
  2. ^ translation by Steve Winick
  3. ^ National Geographic: Cape Breton Traditional Music, "Test Page for Apache Installation". Archived from the original on 2006-04-08. Retrieved 2006-04-08.
  4. ^ Boston Irish Reporter: Remembering Gaelic Roots,
  5. ^ Intermix: Modes and Scales, [1]
  6. ^ Scales and Modes in Scottish Traditional Music,
  7. ^ Flatpicking Irish and Scottish Music on Guitar,
  8. ^ "Chord Scales" and accompanying Irish dance music,