UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

Expressive microtimings and groove in Scottish Gaelic fiddle music Glen, Katherine Marshall


This project examines how “groove” can be created through the microtimings of a solo instrument, rather than as discrepancies between multiple instruments or parts, as is often the case in similar studies. Groove is the nuanced rhythmic element of music in which microtiming patterns play upon listeners’ bodies in complex ways and stimulate movement. My study focuses on the reel, a type of dance tune used in the Scottish Gaelic tradition. Despite the repetitiveness and relative simplicity of the melody in this genre, these tunes have been widely played and performed for many years, and this seems to be due, in large part, to their rhythmic features. I analyze five recordings of a popular reel, “Jenny Dang the Weaver,” by different performers, using methodologies typically applied to the jazz canon. Each recording features only a solo fiddle, so any expressive microtimings are the result of the single performer and musical line, not influenced by interaction with other instruments. My analysis demonstrates that these recordings create groove through beat subdivisions and subversion of expected microtiming patterns. The primary method for analysis is a comparison of beat-upbeat ratios (BUR) and upbeat-beat-ratios (UBR) throughout the measure to determine any trends or significant outliers. The analysis shows that these performers, despite their different backgrounds, share certain microtiming trends and patterns (particularly in the performance of beats 2 and 3, and the presence of phenomenal accents on beat 2), which could therefore be understood as characteristic features of the Gaelic style. Conversely, I also demonstrate that while conforming to those patterns, each musician nevertheless has idiosyncrasies of microtiming that distinguish them from each other. 

Item Citations and Data


Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada