Scots Music Group runs traditional music and song classes for adults, informal sessions, monthly ceilidhs and other social events.
We are a community-based charity in Edinburgh.

Learning & Celebrating

Information for Beginners

1. Being a beginner
Sometimes it’s not very comfortable being a beginner as an adult. Some people are very good at learning new skills, while others secretly want to try but say “No, I couldn’t do that….” Some think music is a mystical power that you either have or you don’t, but really it’s like any other skill – it’s perfectly possible to learn the basics, do some practice and play or sing with others in sessions or with pals – we’re not all going to be concert performers but most of us can get a huge amount of enjoyment from it. Give it a go!
2. What do we offer?
All our song classes welcome beginners, and you can join any time during the year. You should start
beginners instrument classes at the beginning of the year in September.
3. Do I need to read music?
You don’t need to read music to come to one of our classes. We encourage teaching and learning by ear. Reading music can be a useful skill which you can pick up while learning, and if you want more information on reading music or music theory, look at our list of resources below. Your tutor will be able to help with specific questions.
4. Instruments
You need to bring your own instrument to class. Whistles should be in the key of D and Scottish smallpipes in the key of A. Ukulele beginners should have a soprano ukulele. If you have inherited an instrument which may have been in someone’s attic for a while, get it checked out by an expert! Several of Edinburgh’s music shops offer repair services – give them a call and ask if you can bring your instrument in and get some advice. We have had people in the past who have arrived at fiddle class with fewer strings than they need…
If you are buying an instrument, visit a shop and have a chat. As a beginner you don’t need to buy a horribly expensive instrument, but you do need one which works properly so it doesn’t hold you back. It may be possible to hire an instrument to begin with. Music Broth (Glasgow) have a low-cost instrument library and have teamed up with Edinburgh Tool Library to make instruments available in Edinburgh. We can usually help with questions about instrument purchase or hire – contact the office on

Music Theory Information


Our recent Music Theory Questionnaire showed that there is a very broad range of knowledge level among students, and a wide variety of learning needs. Given the limitations of online learning, we feel that there is no obvious level at which to offer a course at the moment which would bring enough students to make it financially viable. 

In the meantime, here are some links and information which you might find useful. All these have been recommended by students and others – note that SMG is not specifically endorsing any of these resources as we haven’t had time to look carefully at them all.

BEAR IN MIND that most of the music theory courses and links below are based on the Western classical music structure. They are useful for finding out about aspects like reading music notation, but traditional music doesn’t always fit neatly into that structure.

IF IN DOUBT, ASK YOUR TUTOR! A number of issues mentioned by students in the questionnaire could be answered easily, so do ask if you’re not sure about something specific.


The Open University offers a free online introduction: An introduction to music theory

The Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music and Trinity College London offer graded courses, for which you can buy text books, workbooks and answer books (available from many online retailers).

SMG tutor Sarah Northcott has written a brief guide for beginners, Beginning to Read Music for Traditional Musicians, which is available as a hard copy from her website or Nigel Gatherer’s web shop (where you can also buy a digital copy) Nigel Gatherer’s Scottish Traditional Music Site


The following YouTube channels offer a range of content from beginners to advanced:
Music MattersMusic Theory GuyMichael NewDave Conservatoire;

For the more advanced:
Adam Neely’s YouTube channel has a wide variety of content from standard music theory to the social and political context of music.

Scales, modes and chords:
Folk Friend channel. Start here:
The Many Moods of Musical Modes

Leonard Bernstein’s 1973 Harvard lecture ‘The Unanswered Question’

Winter Stramash 2021

Scroll down to see class videos

Merry Beetmas! from Whistle 3


Guitar 4 below


We seem to have two reindeer in Fiddle 4


All smiles in Fiddle 1!


Mixed Level Ukulele above
Fiddle 2 with Roo the cockapoo


 Ukulele Session Group
Piano Accordion 2 Christmas night out at Dean Bowling Club


Scroll through to see and play the videos from Mixed Instrument 1, Slow Session, Smallpipes 2, Fiddle 7, Smallpipes 3, Mixed Instrument 2, Piano Accordion 2 & Fiddle 6.


Hoirionn O! Air Nighean an Àirich

by Whistle 2 with suitably extravagant head gear!

Inspire Project Resources

Between 2010 and 2018, SMG ran several Inspire projects which worked in partnership with a variety of homeless and mental health charities to give people who needed greater support the opportunity to take part in music. We will shortly be adding links here to information about Inspire and Inspire music which may be useful to those working in this area. There will be some great songs to hear too!