What is meant by a ‘Celtic air’ in folk music?

4520 what is meant by a celtic air in folk music

A “Celtic air” is a type of traditional folk music originating from the Celtic regions of Europe. The term “air” refers to a slow, lyrical melody that is usually sung solo, accompanied by instruments such as the harp, flute, or fiddle. Celtic air music is characterized by its use of modal scales, ornamented melodies, and intricate rhythmic patterns.

The origins of Celtic air can be traced back to the medieval period, when bards and minstrels performed ballads and epic poems in the courts of Celtic rulers. Over time, these musical traditions evolved and spread throughout the Celtic diaspora, taking on regional variations and influences from other musical styles.

One of the defining features of Celtic air is its use of modal scales, which are different from the major and minor scales used in Western classical music. Modal scales provide a unique, haunting quality to the music and allow for a greater degree of improvisation and expression.

Celtic air melodies are also often ornamented with grace notes, trills, and other decorative embellishments that add to the emotional expressiveness of the music. These ornamentations are an important part of the tradition, and are passed down from generation to generation through oral tradition.

In addition to its melodic and harmonic elements, Celtic air is also characterized by its intricate rhythmic patterns. These rhythms are often syncopated and incorporate uneven time signatures, giving the music a lively, dance-like feel.

Today, Celtic air continues to be a popular genre of folk music, with a thriving community of performers and enthusiasts. It is performed in traditional settings, such as folk festivals and ceilidhs (Celtic dance parties), as well as in more contemporary settings, such as concert halls and recording studios.

While the term “Celtic air” is often used to refer to a specific type of folk music, it is important to note that the term can encompass a wide range of musical styles and traditions from the Celtic regions of Europe. As such, it is a complex and diverse genre that reflects the rich cultural heritage of the Celtic people.


  • “The Oxford Handbook of Celtic Music.” Edited by Margaret Harcourt-Smith and James Porter. Oxford University Press, 2013.