For those who already feel that proceeding further will be a lost cause, first try the lighter introduction to Crib Diagrams, page by page in the Oslo SCD Group's Course in SCD Diagrams.
F.L. Pilling designed the basic format and published his first selection of these dance instruction diagrams in 1955 in a pocket-sized book which became known to the enthusiasts in the Scottish Country Dancing community as his "Little Green Book". His successors took over from 1969 and continued to publish new editions containing new dances and incorporating what were, then, newly-devised Figures.
Subsequently, the Personal Computer and the Internet have made these diagrams easier to create, disseminate and, when necessary or desirable, update. While various compilers have produced crib diagrams, Keith Rose is by far the most prolific; by now, he has covered over 3700 dances which are available on this website, are supplemented regularly and are updated as necessary. There are small differences between the conventions used by Pilling's successors and by other producers of crib diagrams; the explanation here covers the conventions used by Keith Rose.
The Overall Format of Crib Diagrams
In this example for the familiar dance, Mairi's Wedding, it is clear that the crib diagram consists of a rectangular box containing: a headline; other boxes filled with symbols; and a line of text as a footnote. Just as in written dance instructions, crib diagrams consist of two main parts:
the identification and format of the dance which are covered in the headline box and in the footnote; and
a detailed description of the sequence of Figures required to perform it which are covered in the remaining boxes.
The header is the full width box at the top of the diagram. It contains text only with:
THE DANCE NAME on the left; and
the dance music information in coded form, nxb T, on the right.
Where relevant, additional information such as an alternative name or the instruction relating to a second chord (as, for example, in Blooms of Bon Accord) is included in the middle.
In the coded information, nxb T:
Where there is no simple Repeat structure, nx is omitted and b represents the number of bars in the whole dance (as, for example, in Ian Powrie's Farewell To Auchterarder).
Medleys are shown with a mathematical expression such as 64S + 64J for Johnnie Walker or 2 x (32S + 32R) for An Niseag.
The footer is below the box with the deviser's name and the original publication information (where known) on the left. The set format is shown on the right in a coded form with, for example:
The Diagrammatic Boxes
Below the header are one or more rows of boxes whose contents define one Repeat of the dance, starting from the left side of the top row. Each box with a full line boundary normally represents an 8-bar Phrase; the first box represents bars 1-8, the second, bars 9-16, and so on. Mairi's Wedding has five such boxes (in a single row), consistent with the Repeat length of 40 bars. It is occasionally necessary, especially in a dance with many different 8-bar Phrases (and so requiring many rows of boxes), to include the starting bar number in the bottom left corner as, for example, in the box representing bars 33-40 of The One o' Clock Canon or the finishing bar number in the bottom right corner as, for example, in the box representing bars 57-64.
Exceptionally, in dances such as The Wee Cooper o' Fife, every box represents a 10-bar Phrase because the music has this format. While a box may be used to represent a longer sequence, this will always be made explicit; The Eightsome Reel has examples in bars 25-40 (where the Figure requires 16 bars) and in bars 65-88, bars 89-424 and bars 425-464 which involve repetition of previous sequences.
Occasionally, a precursor box is used to show how an 8-bar (or shorter) introduction should be used to acknowledge one's Partner and other Dancers in The Set, as in The Bonnie Lass o' Bon Accord.
Sometimes, a box representing an 8- or 10-bar Phrase needs to be subdivided for clarity; a coarsely broken line represents a 4-bar boundary, as shown in the first 8-bar Phrase of Mairi's Wedding. A finer broken line is used to represent a 2-bar boundary; bars 57-58, 59-62 and 53-64 are subdivided in this way in The One o' Clock Canon.
The Format of Each Box
Although there is no visible division, each box is logically divided into three bands: a narrow band at the top, a deep central band and a narrow band at the bottom. The central area is always used to represent the Figure(s) to be performed during that Phrase; the diagrams in it may encroach upon the upper and/or lower areas if these are not required to be filled.
The upper band is usually left blank when it is only the Dancing couple performing, as in bars 1-8 of Mairi's Wedding, or when the Figure unambiguously determines which others are required. Whenever there could be any risk of ambiguity, it is used to identify the Dancers involved at the beginning of that Figure; they are shown by the number of their Starting Place in the Active set, with the Top of The set at the left as, for example, in bars 33-40 of Mairi's Wedding, where 1st couple Start in 2nd place. Where a Couple is on Opposite sides in a Longwise set, the Couple number is followed by x, as for 3rd and 4th couples in bars 1-8 of Blooms of Bon Accord. When only the Ladies are involved, as in bars 17-20 of The Swelkie, the conventional square symbol may be used; similarly, for the Men only, the circular symbol is used, as in bars 25-28.
As indicated above, the lower band may confirm the Starting or Finishing bar number of the box but more often it is used to indicate the Finishing Positions at the end of the whole Repeat, as in bars 29-32 of Rob Roy.
The Timeline within Each Box
Just as the 8-bar (or 10-bar) boxes represent successive Phrases, so also should the Figures in the boxes be read from left to right. Where the term While would appear in the written instructions, it is necessary to make it clear that two or more successive groups of Figures should actually take place at the same time; the brace symbol, , is used for this purpose. It is shown in the upper part of the box, above the numbers identifying the Dancers involved, as in bars 7-8 and 11-12 of Blooms of Bon Accord.
Occasionally, for a fugal sequence, as in bars 17-24 of Twa Rogueish E'en, an alternative representation is used; the box is divided into rows (three in this example) with the Dancers' numbers shown at the left so that their movements taking place at the same time are one above the other.
It is a fundamental problem of any two-dimensional representation of movements that left to right has two meanings; in these diagrams, it means either Figures performed successively or the Direction, Top to Bottom, in The set. When there is risk of confusion, it is necessary to make it clear that the Figures are to be performed successively; the bracket symbol, , is used for this purpose. It is shown in the upper part of the box, below the numbers identifying the Dancers involved, as in bars 11-20 and 21-28 of The Wee Cooper o' Fife.
The Representation of Figures by Abbreviations
Simple abbreviations are used for many of the more basic and prescriptive Figures, as defined in the bottom left and bottom centre boxes of the Symbols diagram.
R has the special meaning of "Repeat a sequence of Figures"; unless otherwise specified, it means the immediately previous sequence of the same length, as in bars 13-16 of The Earl of Mansfield. Where it refers to another sequence, the bar numbers are shown at the bottom of the box, as in bars 65-88, bars 89-424 and bars 425-464 of The Eightsome Reel. Some other Figures, such as Chain and Pass and turn may be shown with the full name. The Golden Pheasant is almost exclusively defined using these and the simple abbreviations.
Note that HS means Set using the Highland Schottische Setting Step and that P, meaning Poussette, should be interpreted as the Diamond poussette in a Strathspey tempo sequence.
Where a Figure, such as Right hands across or Left hands across has a meaningful half version, that is shown with a line through the standard symbol at half height, as in bars 23-24 and 27-28 of The Wee Cooper o' Fife.
While most of these alphabetical symbols, in context, adequately define the Figure, some, notably T, meaning Turn, and X, meaning Cross, need to be qualified; the suffixes in the bottom right box of the Symbols diagram show which may be used as subscripts for this purpose. When the extent of a Turn needs to be specified, a subscript fraction is used as, for example, in bars 13-16 and 21-24 of Rest and Be Thankful. Subscript fractions are also used with some other abbreviations (and with some Figures shown with the full name) to indicate that the Figure is truncated, as in bars 25-30 of Easy Peasy where only the first 6 of the 8 bars of the full Figure (RL in this example) are to be completed. Note that T◊ has the special meaning Petronella turn, as in bars 1-2 and 5-6 of The Fairbridge Reel.
The ↑ suffix is used with S to mean Set advancing; S with the circular arrow suffix means Set, Turning on the spot, as in bars 3-4, 7-8 and 11-12 of Angus MacLeod.
The second line of the top centre box of the Symbols diagram shows symbols like the corners of a square which are used to represent the principal Dancers' Corner positions: the top right, as a superscript suffix, means the First corner position; the top left, as a superscript prefix, means the Second corner position; the bottom left, as a subscript prefix, means Partner's First corner position; and the bottom right, as a subcript suffix, means Partner's Second corner position. These are used with S, T and X to indicate that the appropriate Figure should be performed with that Corner as, for example, in bars 11-14 of The Cashmere Shawl.
The Representation of Figures by Symbols
The symbols in the top right, centre and centre right boxes of the Symbols diagram are also used to represent Figures, mostly basic. None of these uses any form of suffix or prefix but all in the centre box and the top two in the centre right can be shown with a bar to represent the half Figure as, for example, in bars 9-12 of Rothesay Rant; note that this bar is always shown along the axis of a Reel of three or Reel of four, whatever the orientation of the symbol. Some of these symbols have their own form of qualification: the Hands round symbols in lines one and two of the centre box may contain a number to indicate how many Dancers are involved; the Reels symbols (in line four of the centre box) may have a line showing the entry direction of the principal Dancer. Note that the ◊ symbol means the 8-bar Half petronella Figure, not the 16-bar full Petronella.
In all the above explanation there is nothing that makes these crib diagrams especially different from a written crib with extreme abbreviations. For example, in the simple dance, Petronella, the MiniCrib instructions are quite short and it would be easy to dismiss the crib diagram as a simple one-for-one code.
However, the crib diagram becomes special in the more complicated dances in two respects:
Figures represented by symbols and abbreviations within the two-dimensional diagrams in the Figures area of each box can have different interpretations depending upon context; and
when the movements are difficult to describe in terms of standard Figures, the actual paths followed can be shown.
It is important to remember that the Top of a Longwise, Square or Triangular set is at the left of each box.
Symbols and Abbreviations in Context
The context may take several forms. Reel symbols show the orientation of the axis, as in bars 9-24 of Tambourine Reel, alternately Across the set and in the Side lines. In bars 9-16 of Mairi's Wedding, Half diagonal reels of four are shown, successively, on the First and Second corners' Diagonals; where it is helpful, the small target symbol (in the fifth row of the top centre Symbols box) is used to indicate which Reel, of a pair, involves the principal Man, as in the Reels of three Across the set in bars 25-32.
Using the symbols for Man and Lady, with the appropriate number and the small "nose", as shown in the top left box of the Symbols diagram and, where appropriate, the Hold as shown in the centre left box of the Symbols diagram, the Dancers about to perform a particular Figure can be shown in their Starting positions and Facing appropriately ready to perform the Figure indicated. In bars 19-20 and 23-24 of Bonnie Stronshiray, the symbols for Advance and Retire (rows one and two of the top right Symbols box) show the Position and Direction of movement; bars 21-22 show all Crossing By the right Up and down; bars 9-10 show the 1st Couple Setting advancing from 2nd Place on Own sides; and bars 13-14 show them Setting advancing on the Centre line. Note that, where Dancers are shown as numbers without the symbol, as, for example, the Corners in bars 9-10 and bars 13-14, they are Stationary at that time and normally Facing Inwards; in exceptional cases where it would be helpful to identify that a Stationary Dancer is a Man or a Lady, as in bars 13-14 and 21-32 of The Honeysuckle and the Bindweed (Wilson), the numbered symbol is shown in grey rather than black.
The paths followed by the Dancers are shown, explicitly, when none of the above representations is completely adequate for a Figure or, more commonly, for the transition between one Figure and the next.
As indicated in the top left box of the Symbols diagram, a Lady's path is shown by a broken line and a Man's by a full line; the Starting Position is shown by the symbol for the Dancer; the Finishing Position is shown by an arrow head. Note that these lines are only a representation of the path followed so that, for example, where two paths would actually overlap (as in Double figures of eight), the lines are shown side-by-side; similarly, where the Finishing Position is actually one of the Starting Positions, the arrow is shown slightly short of the actual Finishing Position.
Note that when a line joining two Dancers' symbols represents a Hold, as shown in the centre left box of the Symbols diagram, it is emboldened in order to distinguish it from the path followed by those Dancers; this differentiation is important in bars 5-8 and 13-16 of The Blacksmith of Elgin to show that the Men, and the Ladies, retain Nearer hands' Hold WHILE Dancing Slip step around The set.
Schiehallion shows a good representation of the successive 2-bar movements of the first half of the eponymous Figure in bars 49-56 of the Reel part of this Medley; it also makes very clear the unusual movement in bars 53-54 of the Strathspey part.
Bars 1-8 of Dunsinane show how the modified Double figures of eight across should Start and Finish; the paths shown at bars 12, 16, 20 and 24 clearly indicate the transition to the next Figure.
This representation of complex paths is especially helpful in bars 23-24 of The Bonnie Lass o' Bon Accord, where many Dancers lose confidence that they will encounter their Second corners, and also in bars 30-32 where they have to release Allemande hold with Second corners and Travel, individually, to their Original Places.
The above description is intended to provide a detailed reference to Keith Rose's format of Crib Diagrams as used throughout this site. For a lighter introduction to Crib Diagrams in more general terms, try the page by page Oslo SCD Group's Course in SCD Diagrams but note that it sometimes uses examples from Pilling's "Little Green Book" and other sources. The first page links to the next and so on; it also includes a link to the original source for those preferring the whole course in one document.
While we would all acknowledge F.L. Pilling as the originator of Crib Diagrams, later compilers have produced diagrams which, albeit self-consistent, differ in some minor details from his. Wherever it might be helpful to anyone struggling to master Keith Rose's Crib Diagrams, as used on this site, there is a comment on the individual page.