Free English traditional music workshops

Photo by Alex Bienfait

‘Your workshops are fab’ – workshop regular.

English traditional music workshops – Gun & Spitroast, Horsmonden, Kent

The tunes for these classes are posted below!

Learn to play traditional tunes for music sessions and dancing in the company of others in workshops led by fiddler, concertina, guitar and melodeon player Gavin Atkin – and you’ll soon be playing in a group that sounds like this (YouTube)!

We play our tunes slowly to begin with, speeding up only as the class picks them up, and help you practice whatever’s causing difficulty for you. We generally work on three tunes during a two-hour workshop, and the Youtubes demonstrating how the tunes go (sowly and at tempo) appear online a few days after each workshop.

We meet at the Gun & Spitroast pub at Horsmonden, Kent (TN12 8HT) on the FIRST and THIRD Tuesdays of each month at 8pm.

”Well done Gavin. Your uploads and tunes are perfect for anyone who wishes to learn D/G Melodeon. You make it interesting but keep it simple… Very clever. Easy the best tutorial channel on Youtube. Keep them coming. Cheers” – YouTube user JackDaw

Please join us at any point through the year. To sign up for emails about these events and others we run in mid-Kent click here!

Admission is free but we often have a small collection (a quid or two would be fine, please don’t hand over paper money!) to cover expenses.

Typical instruments might be melodeon, fiddle, concertina, mandolin, harmonica, whistle, flute or banjo, but we’ll be just as happy if you pitch up with percussion (say, a triangle, tambourine, cajon, or snare and hi-hat) or  a saxophone or an electronic piano. Reading music isn’t necessary, though it definitely helps (and is worth working on it you can).

In addition to the classes we run tunes sessions (see the Sessions page) and in the spring and autumn also put on a dance in which the class is joined by friends to form a band to play for dancing. To see an example of one of these dances, click here.

Please tell your friends and especially anyone who’s starting to play and really should know about these classes! There’s a poster to print out and give to friends here: Horsmonden classes flier.

For information, call Gavin Atkin on 07985 522734.

Music for these workshops

Click on the links to download either pdf files of the tunes, or ABC notation (which can be played using the various ABC softwares and websites, including the excellent, or to access YouTube clips (many of which are here, but I’ll have to catch up with the rest when I have time!).

If you’re a learning player, don’t miss the notes about playing these tunes at the bottom of this page – I’ve put them there for convenience, but that doesn’t mean they are not important and useful!

Melodeon players may be interest in my document A first introduction to melodeon chords.

Workshop regular Kathy Wallwork has kindly made an index of the YouTube videos. Thanks Kathy! To access it, click here: Tunes YouTube index

There’s also a short YouTube demonstrating some of the most common tune types.

17 September 2019 – Robertson’s Reel, Navvy on the Line, abcs: Robertson’s Reel, Navvy on the Line

18th June – Harper’s Frolic, The Gypsy Princess, abcs: Harper’s Frolic, The Gypsy PrincessYouTubes: Harper’s Frolic, The Gypsy Princess, Oh Dear, What Can The Matter Be, Jimmy Allen 

4th June 2019 – Albert Farmer’s Bonfire Tune, The March of St Timothyabcs: Albert Farmer’s Bonfire Tune, The March of St TimothyYoutubes: The March of St Timothy, Albert Farmer’s Bonfire Tune, The Keel Row, Blaydon Races

21st May 2019 – Lamshaw’s Fancy, The Rose Tree abcs: Lamshaw’s Fancy, The Rose Tree YouTubes: Lamshaw’s Fancy, The Rose Tree, The Sussex Bonny Breastknot, Whinham’s Reel (yes, I gave it the wrong name in the workshop – sorry!)

7th May 2019 – The Kirkgate Hornpipe and Fox and Geese abcs: Kirkgate Hornpipe, Fox and Geese YouTubes: The Kirkgate Hornpipe, Fox and Geese, Wait for the Waggon

16th April 2019 Sussex Cotillion, Leadley’s Hornpipe Abcs: Sussex Cotillion, Leadley’s Hornpipe YouTubes: Sussex Cotillion, Leadley’s Hornpipe, The Happy Farmer

2nd April 2019: Roxborough Castle (hornpipe), The Red House Abcs: Roxborough Castle (hornpipe); The Red House YouTubes: Dan Leno’s, Blow the Wind Southerly, The Red House, Roxborough Castle

For the next few workshops (19th Feb, 5th March, 19th March), we’ll be working towards the workshop spring barndance at Brenchley Memorial Hall on Saturday the 30th March, so here’s  the proposed list:

  1. A Starry Night for a Ramble (jig)
  2. Bonny Kate (reel, maybe march)
  3. Caddam Woods (polka)
  4. Dorset Four Hand Reel (full length) (set dance, polka)
  5. Glakey Hornpipe (slowish jig)
  6. Mittel’s Hornpipe (schottische or hornpipe)
  7. The Cumberland Waltz
  8. Jacob or Enrico (schottische )
  9. Three Around Three (set dance, polka) See YouTube with fiddle (a melodeon YouTube can be found further down this page)
  10. Uncle Jim’s (jig)
  11. The Four Seasons (48-bar jig) See YouTube with fiddleand updated dots The Four Seasons  (a melodeon YouTube can be found further down this page)
  12. The Redowa (48-bar polka) Written music (amended to what I find I actually play!): The Redowa Abc: The Redowa YouTube: The Redowa

Here’s a list of incipits (written out starts of tunes to job the memory).

5th February 2019: Jacob or Enrico, Three Around Three  Abcs: Jacob or Enrico, Three Around ThreeYouTubes: The Cumberland Waltz, Jacob or Enrico, Three Around Three (melodeon), Three Around Three (fiddle)

15th January 2019: Bonny Kate, Watson’s Hornpipe, abcs:  Bonnie Kate, Watson’s Hornpipe YouTubes: Caddam Woods; Bonnie Kate: Watson’s Hornpipe

18th December 2018 Dorset Four Hand Reel (full length), Mittel’s Hornpipe Abcs: Dorset Four Hand Reel,  Mittel’s Hornpipe YouTubes: Dorset Four Hand – tune 1, Dorset Four Hand – tune 2, A Starry Night for a Ramble, Mittel’s Untitled Hornpipe

4th December Malcolm Woods Glakey Hornpipe Uncle Jim’s Abcs: Malcolm Woods Glakey HornpipeUncle Jim’s

24th November barndance tunes list

Polkas: The Redwing, The Belfast Polka (AABBAACC), Church Street, The Shepton Mallet Hornpipe

Jigs: Seven Stars, Hogmanay Jig, John of Paris, The Hundred Pipers

Waltzes:  Percy Brown’s Walta for the Veleta, (And possibly The Orotava)

Schottisches and hornpipes: Ideal Schottische (AABBAACC – and A to finish), The Italian Schottische, Off to California

30th October Redwing, The Belfast Polka, Church Street, abcs: The Belfast Polka, Church Street YouTubes:  Redwing, The Belfast Polka, Church Street

16 October 2018 Seven Stars, Hogmanay Jig, John of Paris, abcs Seven Stars, Hogmanay JigJohn of Paris YouTubes: Seven StarsHogmanay JigJohn of Paris

To whet your appetite for the Hogmanay Jig, just listen to the lovely Magpie Lane playing it (though very slightly different, as we know happens)!

YouTubes for the 2018 Tenterden Folk Festival tunes workshop: Rosalie the Prairie Flower, Seven Stars, The Orotava (the video has it spelt wrong!)

2 October 2018 John of Paris The Ideal Schottische, Percy Brown’s Waltz for the Veleta abcs: John  of Paris, The Ideal Schottische, Percy Brown’s Waltz for the Veleta YouTubes: John of Paris, The Ideal Schottische, Percy Brown’s Waltz for the Veleta 

18 September 2018 The Hundred Pipers, The Shepton Mallet Hornpipe  abcs: The Hundred PipersThe Shepton Mallet Hornpipe YouTubes (which now come with chords): The Hundred Pipers, The Shepton Mallet Hornpipe and The Italian Schottische

Here’s a little tune for folks who might fancy a summertime challenge: The Chinese Polka

5th June 2018 The Irish Washerwoman and The Four Seasons abcs: The Irish Washerwoman, The Four Seasons YouTubes: The Irish Washerwoman, The Four Seasons, Walter Bulwer’s No. 1

15th May The Staffordshire Hornpipe, Ann Frazer MacKenzie abcs: Anne Frazer McKenzieStaffordshire Hornpipe YouTubes: The Staffordshire HornpipeAnn Frazer McKenzie, Poor Robin’s Maggott

1st May 2018 Parnell’s March and Ville de Quebec abcs: Parnell’s MarchVille de Quebec YouTubes: Parnell’s March, Ville de Quebec, Kentish CricketersSpeed the Plough

17th April 2018 The Great North Run and Elsey’s Waltz abcs: The Great North Run ’86,  Elsey’s Waltz YouTubes: The Great North Run, Elsey’s Waltz, The Redwing

3rd April 2018 Will Atkinson’s Schottische and Harry Reeves’ Favourite Abcs: Will Atkinson’s SchottischeHarry Reeves’ Favourite YouTubes: Will Atkinson’s Schottische, Harry Reeves’ Favourite, Lads of Alnwick

6th March 2018 Drops of Brandy, Fred Pigeon’s No 2, Dashing White Sergeant (make sure you’ve got a new printout as there are a couple of corrections) abcs Drops of BrandyDashing White Sergeant (ditto)

We’re bringing back these workshop favourites for the big dance on the 24th March, along with some extra jigs and a couple of step hop tunes. Here’s the proposed tune list:

Hornpipes and schottisches: Smith’s a Gallant Fireman, Off to California

Reels: Fred Pigeon’s No 2, Dashing White Sergeant

Polkas: From Night ’til Morn, Quickstep in the Battle of Prague, The Marmalade Polka, Oh Dem Golden Slippers

Jigs: Major Mackie’s, The Hullichan Jig, Squirrel in a Tree, Rig a Jig Jig

Slip jig: Drops of Brandy

Waltzes: Shave the Donkey, The Dark Island

6th February 2018 Marthy, From Night ’til MornFrom Night ’til MornMarthy YouTubes: Marthy, From Night ’til Morn, Quickstep in the Battle of Prague

This isn’t really for the workshop, but it’s a little lollipop I coded for a friend and I thought I’d make it available for folks who’d like something a bit challenging and different: 

Abc: Untitled Hornpipe from the Leadley manuscripts

16th January 2018 Beilbe’s Hornpipe and The Dark Island, ABCs: Beilbie’s HornpipeThe Dark Island YouTubes: Beilbe’s HornpipeThe Marmalade PolkaThe Dark Island

2nd January 2018 Hullichan Jig and Inisheer, ABCs: Hullichan JigInisheer YouTubes: Hullichan Jig, Inisheer, Kafoozalum (aka Oh Mrs Huddledee)

2017 – Beatrice Hill’s Three Handed Reel (Bromsberrow Heath), Major Mackie‘s Abcs:  Beatrice Hill’s Three Handed ReelMajor Mackie’s YouTubes: Beatrice Hill’s Three Handed Reel, Major Mackie’s, Shave the Donkey Bonus YouTube for Chris: Eleanor Plunkett (complete with abc)

Tunes for the dance on the 25th November:

Hare’s Waltz (32 bars)
Peeler Creek (waltz 16 bars, I think)
Archie’s Fancy (32 bars)
Galopede (32 bars)
The Quaker (polka 32 bars)
The Squirrel in a Tree (jig 32 bars)
The Ball (jig 32 bars)
The Trip to Highgate
48-bar jigs
Oats and Beans
Reel or march
The Curly Headed Ploughboy (reel or march 32 bars)
Smith’s a Gallant fireman
Off to California

Chords sheets for those who need them: Off to CaliforniaOats and BeansGalopedeThe BallSquirrel in a TreeThe QuakerHare’s Waltz

7th November 2017The Curly Headed Ploughboy and Oats and Beans Abcs: The Curly Headed PloughboyOats and Beans YouTube: Off to California

17the October 2017 –  The Quaker and The Trip to Highgate Abcs The Trip to HighgateThe Quaker YouTubes: The Quaker (for melodeon and fiddle)The Trip to Highgate, Smith’s a Gallant Fireman

Tenterden Folk Festival tunes workshop 2017Sally Sloane’s Mazurka, The Trip to Highgate Abcs: Sally Sloane’s MazurkaThe Trip to Highgate YouTubes: Sally Sloane’s Mazurka, The Trip to Highgate, Davey Davey Nick Nack 

3rd October 2017 (NB – it’s a Tuesday and it’s at The Gun, Horsmonden) – Hare’s Waltz and Galopede Abcs: Hare’s WaltzGalopede YouTubes: Hare’s Waltz, Galopede, The Squirrel in a Tree

27th September 2017 (NB – at Brenchley Memorial Hall) –  The Ball and Peeler Creek abcs: The BallPeeler Creek YouTubes: Squirrel in a Tree, The Ball, Peeler Creek

Summer 2017 A little present in abc format – Harry Reeves’ Favourite in abc format: Harry Reeves’ Favourite – in D (dots in pdf) and the original YouTube played in C on tuned-down fiddles (so playing in C using D fingering). Have fun with it – it’s a great tune and there’s a lot to pick out and think about here, especially the way the tune is full of rhythmic drive…

24th May 2017 – The Fairy Dance and Charlie Batchelor’s Lost Jig abcs: Charlie Batchelor’s Lost Jig, The Fairy Dance YouTubes: The Lost Jig, The Fairy DanceOh Dem Golden Slippers

10th May 2017 – The Hesleyside Reel and The Redesdale Hornpipe abcs: The Hesleyside Reel, The Redesdale Hornpipe YouTubes: The Lincolnshire Polka, The Hesleyside Reel, The Redesdale Hornpipe

26th April 2017 – The Gloucester Hornpipe, Schottische de Virmoux abcs: The Gloucester Hornpipe,  Schottische de Virmoux Youtubes: The Gloucester Hornpipe, Schottische de Virmoux, Mount Hills

12th April 2017 –  The Rope Waltz, Lemmy Brazil’s No 2 abcs: The Rope Waltz, Lemmy Brazil’s No. 2 Youtubes: The Rope WaltzThe Market Rasen QuickstepLemmy Brazil’s No 2

8th March 2017 – Drops of Brandy abc: Drops of Brandy YouTube: Drops of Brandy (This is a ‘slip jig’, and it goes jiggity jiggity jiggity, unlike the jigs you are used to, which usually go jig-ty jig-ty or jiggity jiggity or some combination. You’ll hear lots of versions on line but I should warn you that many are rather fast… )

Kathy has kindly made one of her excellent lists including the first four bars of each tune.

More tunes for the dance on the 25th March:

The Sloe (polka) – see 25th January

Waiting for the Federals (reel) – see 14th December

The Swiss Boy (hopstep) – see 28th September Chords: The Swiss Boy

Uncle Jim’s (jig) – see 28th September Chords: Uncle Jim’s

Rusty Gulley (3/2 hornpipe) – see 28th September Chords: Rusty Gulley

The Hundred Pipers (jig) –  The Hundred Pipers abc: A Hundred Pipers Chords: The Hundred Pipers YouTube: The Hundred Pipers

An aide-memoire for tunes playing

There are various tips and tricks that you can use to bring interest and life to tunes. Good country dance tune players find all sorts of ways of embellishing them and emphasising their shape and form and especially their danceable rhythm – and they all do it in subtly different ways.

A good analogy is a child’s colouring book picture. The written music is like the printed outline waiting for the crayon to fill in the colours, and the pencil strokes and colours used and any added details are what makes the image individual.

Perhaps the most basic but also most important advice I can offer is this: generally keep notes considerably shorter than they are written, though lending extra length (within the specified length) when the phrase seems to call for it. This is a great place to start with nearly all types of tunes used for dancing, including the waltz. (Though clearly not the slow air or the slow retreat.)

I’ve listed out some ideas you might like to try using to add ‘colour’ to your playing below.


Listening to the eight-bar phrases in the tunes, you’ll notice that there’s often a recognisable ‘call and response’ type of structure – perhaps two bars seem to make a statement and then the next two form a response, and then maybe you’ll recognise two or four bars where you can imagine the callers and responders are all together.

Consider playing the calls and responses slightly differently – say make the call louder and more clipped, and the response slightly softer or just a tad more legato.

Long notes

Where you have a long note, consider:

  • inserting a lower note and going up to the higher
  • changing the chord during the note (if you have a chording instrument), say from the most obvious chord to one a fourth or fifth above and back. This is something to experiment with: try different options and see which one works best
  • playing a second open or double-stopped note if your instrument can do this
  • breaking it up into two or more notes and playing the first short and sharp (this is also good wherever you have two notes that are the same, ditto three notes, which you might play short, short, long)
  • using turns (one note up, one the same, one down, one the same ) or trills (quickly and repeatedly play the note and the note above)
  • playing the long note short and very loud, and then leaving a space
  • if you’re a fiddler or a brass or wind player, add a little vibrato at the end of some of the long notes
  • again, with long notes, where possible play with a little pulse – that is, get louder and softer in time with the rhythm. This is particularly effective with waltzes. If pulsing isn’t possible on your instrument, try achieving the same kind of effect by repeated plucking on a mandolin or banjo, by using a little vibrato on a whistle or recorder, or perhaps by breaking the note up – though this may not work if you do it too much!

 Repeated notes

As above, where you have repeated notes, consider making all the notes short /except/ for the last one.

Where you have repeated notes and you’re playing a chording instrument, consider changing the chord underneath, perhaps through a cycle of chords containing the same note.

For example, if the repeated note is a G, you might consider using the chords of C, Em, Am7 etc.

Dominant chords, perhaps with the 7th

Using a note or chord to add tension and ‘announce’ the next phrase. The last note of a tune is likely to be the key note – for example, if you’re playing in G, it’s likely the written music will end with a G note. (Ditto a C note when playing in C, or a D note if you’re playing in D. A good way to give shape to a tune and to ‘announce’ that the next phrase (say, the A music, B music or C music) is about to begin is instead of the key note to slip in the chord (even better the 7th chord) of the note that’s a fifth above.

This is called the dominant. So, for example, in a 4/4 tune in G, you might let the tune finish on a G notes with a G chord for two or three beats – but the last one or two would be a D or F# or A (all notes from a D chord) accompanied by a D or D7 chord. Ditto, an A or A7 chord when playing in D, of an F or F7 chord if you’re playing in C. It’s much easier and much more instinctive than it sounds! But be warned – it doesn’t usually work with waltzes!

Tune types

Thinking about different kinds of tunes, my take has been that in English sessions there seem to be broadly two kinds of tunes – lifting tunes such as polkas, jigs, hornpipes and schottisches where the emphasis is on the off-beat (oom-PAH, oom-PAH or oom-PAH-pah-PAH), and running tunes such as marches and reels where it is on the down-beat (OOM-pah-Oom-pah or OOM-pah-pah-pah). This is something to think about especially if you’re playing a chording instrument. In particular with guitars, I’ve found the ‘running’ tunes work best with all down-strokes across the strings, while the ‘lifting’ tunes work best with an  alternating down (down-beat) and up stroke (off-beat). It’s especially cool it you can play the downbeat short (by damping on a guitar, or releasing the keys on a piano) and let the following chord sing a little.

Getting the emphasis that works best into a tune can bring real excitement to the tune itself and to a dance.

If you have any questions about any of this, please email me at and I will be pleased to try to help.

5 thoughts on “Free English traditional music workshops”

  1. Dear Mr Atkin,
    because I am becoming self-taught in the mid-West of the US, I surely appreciate these notes that you have included from your music classes
    “An aide-memoire for tunes playing”–even these brief hints can make an impression on a novice. Thank you so much.

    I’ve printed the music and continue to live vicariously.
    most sincerely, Michelle Horner

    1. Hi Michelle! I’m very pleased you find this material interesting and useful.

      Over time I hope there will be many more slowly-played examples that should illustrate some of the ways we can interpret this music. But it all takes time, naturally…


  2. Hi Gavin,

    Not sure how I missed this but I did! I just came across the post on mudcat. As a beginning and struggling uillean piper these sessions could be useful for me. See you in November 2011 if you’re running them again. Perhaps I’ll have a tune under my belt by then!!

    All the best,


Comments are closed.

Sing, dance and play – English traditional and old fashioned music, dance and song in the heart of Kent