Tag Archives: jig

The One Explaining Jigs, Reels, and Hornpipes

Sometimes new dancers have a difficult time with the music we dance to. No worries. Unless you’re well versed in music, you may not be able to immediately pick up on what tune is what. The following is a quick tutorial with examples on the differences between a jig, reel, hornpipe, and slip jig.

Let’s get started.

So, first off, how do you tell the difference between a jig and a reel?


For the purposes of Irish dance, a JIG is a tune in 6/8 time (6 beats to a bar). If you find it hard to count the beats, try to think ‘diddle-dee-diddle-dee…’ or ‘1,2,3,1,2,3…’ and it should fit the beat pattern. Most jigs are in 2 parts; an A part and a B part. For Slip Jigs, see the end of this post.

Jigs can be danced in soft shoes or hard shoes.

A great example of a jig is the traditional tune, The Irish Washerwoman.


And now, the REEL. Reels are tunes in 4/4 timing. This means that there are four beats to every bar. Each beat is counted in even measure as ‘1,2,3,4,1,2,3,4…’. I think it’s the easiest to understand because it’s the most common music timing we hear. If you aren’t sure, try saying ‘double decker, double decker…’ to the music.

Reels can be danced in soft shoes or hard shoes.

This example of a reel is the traditional tune, Fairy Reel.

So now we know how to differentiate between a jig and a reel. What the heck is a hornpipe?


Hornpipes were traditionally considered a sailor’s tune. With a medium tempo and a dotted 4/4 rhythm, a hornpipe has accents on the first and third beat ‘ONE,and,a,two,and,a,THREE,and,a,four…’. This means the beat swings, so the beats are uneven. It sounds a bit like a skipping rhythm.

Hornpipes in Irish dance are only danced in hard shoes.

An example of a hornpipe is the tune, King of the Fairies.

And finally…

Slip Jigs

Because you weren’t confused enough already.

SLIP JIGS are in 9/8 time. They can be really confusing to count if you aren’t familiar with them. With accents on 5 of the 9 beats, you count it, ‘and one two-three four-five, and two two-three four-five…’ tapping your foot 3 times in a measure. Mark Arrington, in Understanding Your ‘Slippery’ Slip Jigs, recommends saying “slippery” each time you tap your foot.

Slip Jigs in Irish dance are only danced in soft shoes.

My favorite example of a traditional Slip Jig is The Butterfly.

Something to note

Listen for any improvisation. This can sometimes throw you. You can hear small differences in the way the fiddle player (or guitar, mandolin, whistle, etc.) is playing the melody. This is a huge part of what makes the song Irish; all the little extra bits (ornemantation) the player throws in. It doesn’t change the beat at all, it just makes it pretty.

And there you have it, the basics.

Submit any questions or comments down below!