Celtic Sheet Music

Finding Celtic Sheet Music and Tunes on the Web ~
What You Need to Know First

kilted harperThere are two kinds of legally available free sheet music on the Web:
~ tunes in the public domain
~ original arrangements or compositions posted generously by the arranger or composer

Most Celtic tunes online belong to the first category, and that’s what this page is about. But there are tunes, such as Ashokan Farewell by Jay Ungar, that many people mistakenly assume are traditional, because they reflect the traditional Celtic style. As a rule of thumb, if the tune has a name on it, other than Turlough O’Carolan, it’s probably not in the public domain.

Celtic Tunes on the Web ~
Where to Look

For real traditional tunes, there are several good starting places on the web. One wonderful resource is the Session Tunes.

You will see that you can search an extensive library of tunes here. Most of them are available as pdfs, and they include helpful notes about where they come from.

One of the biggest collectors of traditional Celtic tunes was Francis O’Neil. Without him, many of the old tunes would not have been written down at all. Of the volumes of music he published, the three most popular are O’Neill’s Music of Ireland, The Dance Music of Ireland, and Waifs and Strays of Gaelic Melodies. This website offers all three volumes, over 3,000 popular tunes in pdf format: Free Celtic Sheet Music.
ABC Format

If you look for music for long, you’ll notice that many of the tunes on the internet are published in a strange-looking code called ABC format. Here is an example:

X: 1
T: Gentle Maiden, The
M: 6/8
L: 1/8
R: jig
K: Gmaj
F |: “G”G>AG “D7″FED | “G”d3 “C”efg | “G”d>cB “am”A2~G |1 “am”E3-E2″D7″F :|2 “G”G3-G2 d ||
“G”defg2g | g3-“C”gfe | “G”d>cB “am”A2~G | “am”E3-E2″D7″F |
“G”G>AG “D7″FED | “G”d3 “C”efg | “G”d>cB “D7″A2~G | “G”G3-G2 |]

As crazy as it looks, you can certainly learn to read this format, and in the old days, you either had to study up, or find software for your computer to translate the code. Now, happily, there is an online translator!

Online ABC Tune Translator

If I cut and paste the ABC version of The Gentle Maiden, above, into the translator, I get something that looks like this:


Now you can look through all the archives of Celtic tunes. Sometimes, I pick them out just by their funny names, such as The Lilting Banshee, or The Hag at the Churn (I am not making these up!).

Here’s one directory site to explore.

And here is another.

For background on folk tunes, lyrics, and midi files (wonderful for learning tunes), here is another very helpful site: Contemplator Folk Songs.

How Do I Find Out if a Tune is Copyrighted?

A tune in the public domain is one that is traditional, or old enough that its copyright has expired (usually because the composer died more than 70 years ago). To find out more about copyright law and whether there is a copyright on something you want to arrange or record, visit this helpful music business copyright directory.

Learn how to arrange a free Celtic tune here

Ask a question about finding Celtic sheet music or suggest a new source.