The Shetland islands are located to the north of Scotland, 245 km east of Bergen (Norway) and 640km from the Arctic. Given this situation between Norway and Scotland, Shetland music has always been at the crossroads of two cultures, influenced by Scandinavian music and the celtic music of the British isles.

One of the biggest influences on Shetland music was the hardanger fiddle, a type of violin introduced to Norway in the 16th century. The hardanger has 5 strings more than the standard violin, strings that resonate when the melody is played on the upper strings; the practice of letting adjacent strings ring open in shetland music comes from the hardanger’s influence.

The violin is the most important instrument in traditional music of Shetland. The music is a mixture of Scandinavian folk music, songs and dance music of Scotland, and tunes brought by sailors from Ireland, North America, Germany and Greenland. Many of the tunes are modal, with asyncopated rhythm, often with “extra” notes or beats; an influence of Scandinavian music, but rare in Irish or Scottish music.

Here are 3 reels from the Edinburgh Shetland Fiddlers’ Society, played by fiddlers Aly Bain and Willie Hunter in the video below. We can feel the influences of Scottish music, and similarities to Irish music, but with some differences: for example, the syncopation in the reel Da Forfeit o ‘da Ship, or phrases ending with 2 crotchets in Aandowin at de Bowe and Da Forfeit o ‘da Ship. The Faroe Rum reel is pretty simple, but changes key in the second part, very common in the Shetland tunes.

Sheet music : 3 Shetland Reels

(high resolution; right-click to save, then print) 

Faroe Rum

Aandowin at de Bowe

Da Forfeit o’ da Ship


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