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What is lilting?

5th of June  2024 

As we approach the highly anticipated All-Britain Fleadh 2024, many participants may encounter lilting competitions for the first time, sparking curiosity about this distinctive musical tradition.

Lilting, also known as mouth music, diddling, or portaireacht bhéil in Irish, is a fascinating form of vocal expression deeply rooted in Irish culture. It involves vocalising traditional tunes using nonsensical syllables to create rhythmic melodies. Often likened to the sounds of nature, lilting reflects the melodies of birdsong and the vibrant rhythms of wildlife. Additionally, it's regarded as an emulation of the melodious tones of the Irish harp.

This art form boasts a rich history spanning across Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man, each region contributing its own unique style to the lilting tradition. Historically, lilting emerged from a scarcity of musical instruments, particularly in rural communities, where it served as a vital accompaniment to dancing.

Similar to other forms of Irish traditional music, lilting is typically taught by ear, passed down through generations via oral tradition and diligent practice. Its enduring popularity and intrinsic connection to Irish culture make it a cherished aspect of the musical landscape, showcasing the resilience and creativity of Irish musical heritage.


What nonsensical words are used? 

The typical set of words are dum, diddle and dee but any vowels and constant can be used. 

What are the characteristics of lilting? 

  1. Rhythm: Lilting has a distinct, upbeat rhythm. It often includes a sense of lightness and dance-like qualities. 

  2. Melody: It is often simple, repetitive and easy to sing or play. 

  3. Tempo: It is usually moderate to fast, contributing to the energetic feel. 

What is the purpose of lilting in music? 

  • It often accompanies dancing, providing a rhythmic and melodic framework 

  • It adds to the enjoyment and accessibility of music, making it easy for people to join in and participate. 

What is the difference between lilting and yodelling? 

Yodelling involves rapid changes in pitch between the chest voice and falsetto. It originates from the Alpine region. Lilting focuses on the rhythmic, repetitive melodies and nonsensical syllables, without the pitch jumps characteristic of yodelling. 

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