The Jig is a quick, lively dance-tune with a 6/8 time signature and is played in compound time. This means that its main beats (it has two dotted crotchets) can be sub-divided into groups of three quavers.

In music-notation this would look like this: 

dotted crotchets
three quavers

The Jig as a dance was popular in Scotland and northern England in the 16th and 17th centuries and in Ireland since the 18th century.

At the court of Elizabeth I, the Northern Jigs became fashionable in the 16th century, and the name was also loosely applied to other dances of folk origin. In the 16th and 17th centuries, Jigs appeared as stage dances and as stylised keyboard compositions by such composers as William Byrd, John Bull, and Giles Farnaby.

The Jig soon spread to France and, in modified form as the gigue (q.v.), became fashionable at the court of Louis XIV.

Listen to an example of a Jig:

The actual Jig as a tune genre can be further sub-divided into different types or styles. All of these are represented in the repertoire of Scottish Country Dances and you can find out more on each style below.

These are usually very simple tunes, easy to play and good for skip-change practice. The Frisky is a good example - the actual tune for the dance being based on an old street singing game – Humber Jumber. Its rhythm is mainly crotchet - quaver with only occasional appearances of quavers grouped in three.

Listen to 32 bars of The Frisky; the crotchet/quaver pattern is clearly evident. Here the sequence is A, A, B, B.

Some Single Jigs are more complex than that previously described. They are still rhythmically simpler than Double Jigs and contain a greater mix of the crotchet - quaver and three-quaver groupings, etc.

A good example of this is Miss McPherson Grant of Ballindalloch’s Jig by William Marshall, the original for the dance The Nurseryman. It is published in The Atholl Collection.

Listen to 32 bars of The Nurseryman. The crotchet/quaver pattern is clearly evident but there is now more movement with the additional three-quaver grouping of notes also. Here the sequence is A, A, B, B.

Double Jigs, as their name would imply, have more notes in them than Single Jigs and seem to be much busier.

The Laird of Milton’s Daughter by W.G.M Christian and the original tune for the dance of the same name is a good example.

Its rhythm is mainly quavers throughout. Notice that the quavers are not played equally; this is an unwritten characteristic style of Jig playing.

Predominant continuous quaver pattern.

Listen to 32 bars of The Laird of Milton’s Daughter. The continuous quaver pattern is clearly evident and the sequence played is A, B, A, B.

Pipe Jigs as their name would imply have their origins in bagpipe music. They can be Single Jigs or Double Jigs and are invariably in 4 or more parts. This makes them at least 64 bars in length. The typical sequence of a Pipe Jig is A, A, B, C, C, D. The B and D sections being 16 bars long and usually the second half of the Bs and Ds recalls the last four bars of the second A section. This means that once through the Pipe Jig gives two times through a 32-bar dance.

If the dance happens to be 40 or 48 bars long then the tune has to be modified to make it fit.

The Pipe Jig has a rhythm that is mainly quavers throughout the tune. What sets these tunes apart from the other Jigs is that their melodies use the ‘Pipe Scale’, which only consists of 9 notes. It is based on a scale of an octave plus one note with a flattened 7th note; it is this that gives pipe music its distinct feel and sound. The sequence played here is: G, A, B, C#, D, E, F#, G, A.

Listen to the Pipe Scale:

Like the other types of Jig the quavers are not played equally. This is an unwritten characteristic of Jig playing.

Quite often tunes that we use as Jigs were originally written as 6/8 marches and are usually played slower if used in this context.

Listen to 32 bars of The Atholl Highlanders. The continuous quaver pattern is clearly evident, and the sequence played here is: A, A, B ,B , C, C, D, D (64 bars).

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