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Welcome to The Traditional Tune Archive
    The Semantic Index of North American, British and Irish
 traditional instrumental music with annotations, formerly known as
                          The Fiddler's Companion.

40,934 Tunes by title with Annotations


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December 14 2019   Featured tune:     SIR SIDNEY SMITH'S MARCH
December 14 2019   Featured tune:     SIR SIDNEY SMITH'S MARCH

A Regency view of Plough Monday, c. 1825

The phrase ‘God speed the plough’ is derived from a wish for success and prosperity in some undertaking, and is many centuries old. It occurs as early as the 15th century in the song sung by the ploughmen on Plough Monday (the first Monday after the twelve days of Christmas). Linscott (1939) concludes the name of this dance and tune indicates association with or derivation from the ancient rituals connected with 'Plough Monday' in Great Britain.

This festival, he says, was part of the worship of agriculture which the early villagers practiced and occurred in mid winter (January): "The prayers for a good harvest were presented to the house gods with great ceremony; bread and cheese were set into the plough, and a like offering scattered to the fields for the crows. The first offering was to seek the blessing for the harvest; the second, to appease the adverse elements" (Linscott, 1939). An association with any ritual vestiges has not been proven and is, at this point, highly speculative. It smacks of the strong urge by some writers to assign great antiquity to fiddle music.

“Speed the Plough” appears in various versions in many British fiddlers’ manuscripts from the 19th century, including those of John Clare (Helpston, Northants, c. 1820), William Calvert (Leyburn, north Yorkshire, 1820), Rev. Robert Harrision (Brampton, Cumbria, 1820), George Spencer (Leeds, west Yorkshire, 1831) and William Hall Lister (East Boldon, near Newcastle, mid-19th century) [see Barry Callaghan’s Hardcore English, pgs. 49-50, for noted music from the ms’s]. The melody is still popular in English sessions in modern times, although considered somewhat of a ‘beginner’s tune’.

A note in O'Neill {Minstrels and Musicians, 1913} (based on the authority of the British Musical Biography) states the air was composed in 1799 by John Moorehead of Armagh, Ireland, a famous violinist who came from a musical family and who acquired some renown in the latter 18th century. O’Neill’s information was that he was born in Edinburgh, emigrating to Armagh in 1782, however, this is generally disputed. Groves Dictionary of Music (3rd edition, 1927), for example, gives his place of birth as Ireland, around 1760.

He was violinist of Covent Garden Theatre in 1798, though his life ended tragically some six years later when he committed suicide by hanging in 1804. O’Neill implies that the tune was first called "The Naval Pillar" (J.S. Skinner, 1904, gives it as an alternate title) A year after Moorehead was supposed to have composed it the melody was used for a play called Speed the Plough (1800) written by Thomas Morton, and was published in New York as an instrumental piano piece about the same time. W.B. Laybourn, editor of Köhler’s Violin Repository (1881) attributes the reel to "James Muirhead, 1800".

“Speed the Plough” has been attributed to others as well, including English conductor, arranger and composer Sir Henry Bishop (for more on whom see “Dashing White Sergeant”) [Murray, 1994]. Aloys Fleischmann, in his massive compendium Sources of Irish Traditional Music c1600-1855, ii (New York and London, Garland, 1998) gives three entries for the melody that clearly predate its use by Moorehead in The Naval Pillar (1800):

1) Edward Light: Introduction to the art of playing on the harp, lute, guitar (London, 1785) - here described as a reel.
2) E. Rhames: 3 Admired Country Dances - National Library of Ireland MS 7040 (Dublin, c1790).
3) Maurice Hime: Collection of Favorite Country Dances for the Present Year, vol. 1 - National Library of Ireland, Joly Music 5298 (Dublin, c1797)

Whomever composed it, the melody was hugely popular and quickly entered tradition on both sides of the Atlantic--apparently about the same time--where it has appeared regularly in fiddle-tune collections in America and the British Isles ever since.


...more at Speed the plow - full Score(s) and Annotations
Past Featured Tunes


Speed the Plow
Played by: Hog-eyed Man
Source: Soundcloud at https://soundcloud.com/hog-eyed-man/04-speed-the-plow








X: 1 T:Speed the Plough. WCa.15 T:Speed the Plow [1] M:C L:1/8 Q:1/2=75 S:Wm. Calvert MS, 1812, Leyburn, Yorks. R:.Country Dance O:England A:North Yorkshire Z:vmp.Chris Partington, May 2003 B:Village Music project, Calvert, William %%Mirrorred-From:http://www.village-music-project.org.uk/abc/calvert.abc F:http://www.village-music-project.org.uk/abc/calvert.abc K:A A>AA>c e>fe>c|e>ae>c e>fe>c|\ d>ed>B c>dc>A|FB-BA GBB2|! A>AA>c e>fe>c|e>ae>c e>fe>c|\ d>ec>d B>cA>B|F>AG>B AAA2:|! |:aaaA aAeA|aAgA fAeA|\ d>dd>B c>cc>A|F>BB>A G>BB2|! A>AA>c e>fe>c|e>ae>c e>fe>c|\ d>ec>d B>cA>B|F>AG>B AAA2:|

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Who Builds The Archive
Who Builds The Archive

Although we are not trained musicologists and make no pretense to the profession, we have tried to apply such professional rigors to this Semantic Abc Web as we have internalized through our own formal and informal education.
This demands the gathering of as much information as possible about folk pieces to attempt to trace tune families, determine origins, influences and patterns of aural/oral transmittal, and to study individual and regional styles of performance.
Many musicians, like ourselves, are simply curious about titles, origins, sources and anecdotes regarding the music they play. Who, for example, can resist the urge to know where the title Blowzabella came from or what it means, or speculating on the motivations for naming a perfectly respectable tune Bloody Oul' Hag, is it Tay Ye Want?
Knowing the history of the melody we play, or at least to have a sense of its historical and social context, makes the tune 'present' in the here and now, and enhances our rendering of it.
Andrew Kuntz & Valerio Pelliccioni

Please register as a user to make the most of the many functions of the TTA, and enjoy the many ways that information about traditional tunes can be elicited and combined, from simple to complex situations. Users may make contributions, which, when reviewed by an editor, become part of this community project. Serious user/contributors may become editors through the TTA's autopromotion process, in which quantity and quality of entries allows increased levels of permission to edit and review the entire index.
Above all, the developers wish you joy in the use of the TTA.

Help Getting started

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Navigation: Registered users can navigate the Traditional Tune Archive for information in a number of ways.

  • Search. The Search function is located at the top right, and can be used to search the entire index for any key word. See Search help pages
  • Alphabetically by tune title. Under “The Archive” on the SideBar on the left is “All Tunes”. Click on “All Tunes” to open up the list of tune titles in the TTA arranged in alphabetical order, 200 titles to a page. At the top of the page is an alphabetical breakdown that serves as a shortcut to pages. Clicking on any title will bring one to the music and tune fields. Once the tune appears, clicking “Tune Discussion” at the bottom of the page (below the notation) will open up the narrative information on the tune.
  • Query the Archive. The “Query the Archive” function under “The Archive” in the sidebar can be used to draw down reports from the TTA in either in single items or in a number of combinations. One might, for example, use a single item query to run a report in the TTA for a particular composer/core source. Clicking on the arrow at the right of the bar draws down a list of composer/core sources, or one may be typed in. For example, clicking on “Bill Pigg” and then the “Run Query” tab at the bottom left will result in a list of all compositions listed in the TTA that the Northumbrian piper either composed or is the core source for. Reports may also be run in combinations, as, for example, by selecting “William Marshall” as a composer/core source, “Three Flats” for the number of accidentals, and “Major” for the Key/Mode. This will result in a report of all Eb Major compositions of Scottish fiddler/composer William Marshall that are indexed in the TTA.
  • Tune Books/Magazines in the TTA can be accessed under “Publications” in the left side bar. These are reproductions of publications for which access has been granted to the TTA by the copyright holder, under the Creative Commons license.