Music for Dancing

500 YEARS OF MAKING MUSIC FOR DANCE — how music, dance and musical instruments have all interacted over time.

A detailed and full account of Sarah Deters’ lecture delivered at the Early Dance Circle Online Festival, 18 October 2020, reviewed by Paul Kent. All of the many pictures included in this review (unless otherwise indicated) are courtesy of The Musical Instrument Collection at St Cecilia’s Hall. They, and others, may be found on the St Cecilia’s Hall website at

Dr Sarah Deters is the Learning and Engagement Curator of The Musical Instrument Collection at St Cecilia’s Hall, Edinburgh. St Cecilia’s was originally built purely as a concert hall in 1763. The University purchased the premises in 1959 and began not only to restore what is the oldest concert hall in Scotland, but, importantly, to convert other parts of the building into a museum to house the University’s magnificent collection of keyboard instruments, a bequest by Raymond Russell.  The combined Concert Hall and Musical Instrument Museum was opened in 1968, and the Museum’s collection has expanded since then, currently displaying over 500 musical instruments played in Europe during various periods over the past 500 years.

Click here for the full text of this extensive article.

Using Recorded Music

Music for dancing is not necessarily the same as music for listening. When organising the music for any performance of early dance, the first thing to decide is whether to use live or recorded music.

There are many recordings made specifically with dance in mind (see the list below for a start). Using these, you can be sure that your band will stick to agreed tempi or reproduce other features that are vital to successful dance performance. With recorded music you do know what you are going to get. Be aware, however, that the lack of spontaneity may affect your dancers’ liveliness and also that you will need a licence to use recorded music for public performance. Information about licences is available at

Anne Deller's Folia d'Espagne EDC Festival 2016

Anne Deller’s Folia d’Espagne EDC Festival 2016

Working with Musicians

Dancing to live music has the immediacy that can bring vitality to a performance, especially if the musicians enjoy playing for dance. Early dancers and early musicians have much to learn from each other. There are many groups around the country that are willing to play for dancers, however it is important that sufficient rehearsals be provided for dancers and musicians together and that musicians understand the importance of watching the dancers.

Even if the instruments are not always fully authentic, as with a folk-dance band, good rhythm will assist and inspire the dancers.

Live Music for Early Dance

 In the January 2018 edition of the EDC Circular, our Chairman Bill Tuck published an article on Live Music for Early Dance, under his oft-used pseudonym of “Your Roving Reporter”. Bill’s article is reprinted here for easy reference.: Live Music for Early Dance


A number of EDC members’ responses (solicited by our editor Junella McKay) were printed after Bill’s article, at least in part. Here is the whole correspondence received by EDC on this important topic. music for early dance discussion

Collections and studies of dance music

Many of the original sources for particular dances also give the corresponding melody-line. Modern instruction-booklets (see Learning the Dances) frequently do the same.

There are also publications in which all the dance music of a given age or type is brought together into one place:–

P. Aubry Estampies et danses royales (Paris, 1907; reprinted, Genève, 1975).

T. J. McGee Medieval Instrumental Dances (Indiana University Press, 1989).

F. Crane Materials for the Study of the Fifteenth Century Basse Danse (Musicological Studies, vol. 16, New York, 1968).

W. T. Marocco Inventory of 15th Century Bassedanze, Balli & Balletti in Italian Dance Manuals (CORD Dance Research Annual no 13, New York, 1981).

D. L. Heartz Sources and Forms of the French Instrumental Dance in the Sixteenth Century (Harvard University dissertation, 1957).

J. Ward Tudor and Stuart Dance and Dance Music (in preparation).

A. J. Sabol Four Hundred Songs & Dances from the Stuart Masque (Brown University Press, 1978).

J. Barlow The Complete Country Dance Tunes from Playford’s Dancing Master (1651-ca.1728) (London, 1985).

Some Recordings

Although there are many recordings of Early Dance music, much of what is on offer was not necessarily arranged with actual dancing in mind. If the music is to be of practical use for learning to perform the original dances, it will be wise to check that the number of repeats and the tempi at which the music is played are suitable.

It is not possible to offer even an outline discography for Early Dance. The groups listed below have made recordings in collaboration with a consultant Early Dance specialist with a view to their being used for dancing. (But not necessarily all their records of dance music are correct with regard to repeats, etc.; and other groups have also made excellent recordings of danceable music.)

Accademia Viscontea i Musicanti



Broadside Band

Ensemble La Follia

Ferrara Ensemble


Guildhall Waits

Lacrimae Ensemble

Les Haulz et les Bas

London Pro Musica

Longslade Consort


New York Renaissance Band

Oxford University Early Music Society

Renaissance Dance Band

Roaring Girls

Schola Cantorum Basiliensis



Sociall Musick

The York Waits

Verres Cassées

Instruction-booklets listed under Learning the Dances are mostly accompanied by the relevant recorded music.


Early Music Shop,  Saltaire and Snape,