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What Does Contra Dance Music Sound Like?

The music for contra dance is played mostly on the fiddle with some help from piano, accordion, flute and other instruments. Many people learn to play the music by listening and joining in with other musicians.

Click on the musical notes below to hear what the music sounds like.

What is an Old Chestut?
Tunes that have been popular for many years are sometimes called “Old Chestnuts.”

Listen to a favorite old tune called Money Musk played by the group, Old New England.

Siberian husky
Jane Orzechowski and Bob McQuillen of the group Old New England playing a dance at the Francestown Hall

What makes the music good for dancing?
Listen to Carolyn Parrott explain while she and Molly Trayner play a portion of the tune called Over the Waterfall.

Play a melody.

First, a tune needs a melody.

Play a rhythm.

Dancers need a steady rhythm .

What are the basic rhythms of contra dance?

"Lark in the Morning."

Listen to a portion to a jig called, Lark in the Morning.

"Colored Aristocracy"

Listen to a portion of a reel called, Colored Aristocracy.

What do the instruments sound like in contra dance music?

If there is a symbol for string instrumentsymbol, it is a stringed instrument. The sound comes from plucking, strumming or bowing across strings.
If there is a symbol for wind instrument symbol, it is a wind instrument. The sound comes from blowing, pushing or pulling air through reeds or holes in the instrument.

Fiddle string instrument

Here is Molly Trayner playing, Tripping Up the Stairs.

Molly Trayner playing fiddle

Piano string instrument

Here is Carolyn Parrott playing, Over the Waterfall.

Carolyn Parrott playing piano

Accordian wind instrument

Here is Bob McQuillen playing, Frosty's Reel.

Bob McQuillen playing accordian

Concertina wind instrument

Here is Dudley Laufman playing, Rantin' Rovin' Robin.

Dudley Laufman playing concertina

Flute wind instrument

Here is Sarah Bauhan playing, Chasing the Moon.

Sarah Bauhan playing flute

Who keeps the dance going? The dance caller does!

Listen to Dudley Laufman call a simple family style dance called, Portland Fancy.

Dudley Laufman playing the fiddle

David Millstone calls for contra dances all around the country and even in Europe!

Sarah Bauhan playing flute

What happens at the end of a dance?
Usually the band plays a waltz.

"Listen to Old New England playing, Amelia's Waltz, a tune Bob McQuillen wrote for Deanna Stiles' daughter Amelia."

people waltzing at the end of a dance