Note that the fitting of steps to the beats within the bar is covered in detail on the Footwork pages.
Note also that the smooth transition from the Finish of one Figure to the beginning of the next is covered in the Flow of the dance pages.
As in most forms of dance, Timing is of the essence in Scottish Country Dancing, especially as many Dancers are performing together and often Travelling on paths which intersect (for example, in Reels of three or more and Figures of eight). It is most important to perform each Figure in its prescribed time so that each dancer arrives in the right Position at the right time, thus allowing all the Dancers in The set to start the next Figure correctly.
Each Repeat is almost always made up of 8-bar Phrases; the majority of dances have four of these, i.e., 32 bars, per Repeat; though a few dances have Repeats of 24 bars, some of 40, some of 48, and a few of more. The Figures should fit within this Phrasing:
an 8-bar Figure should start at the beginning of the 8-bar Phrase;
a 6-bar Figure may start at the beginning of or on bar 3 of the 8-bar Phrase;
a 4-bar Figure usually starts at the beginning of or on bar 5 of the 8-bar Phrase though exceptionally, and somewhat disconcertingly, it may start on bar 3, as in the first 8-bar Phrase of Bonnie Stronshiray;
a 3-bar Figure should be combined with another 3-bar and a 2-bar Figure to form the 8-bar Phrase;
a 2-bar Figure may start anywhere to suit the other Figures in the 8-bar Phrase.
Some Figures such as Petronella and Rights and lefts for three couples require more than 8 bars and so overlap the boundary of the 8-bar Phrase. However, in all such cases, the full Figure is a composite of 8-bar, 4-bar or 2-bar Figures and the embedded boundary is at the start of one of these.
The Wee Cooper o' Fife (and some derivatives) are exceptional in having four 10-bar Phrases per Repeat of 40 bars rather than five 8-bar Phrases; if one needs any reminder of the importance of appropriate music, try dancing this to a conventional 40-bar Jig! The Figures must again fit within these 10-bar Phrases and, for the original dance:
the first 10-bar Phrase is made up of three 2-bar Figures and one 4-bar;
the second 10-bar Phrase is made up of one 8-bar Figure and one 2-bar;
the third 10-bar Phrase is made up of two 4-bar Figures and one 2-bar;
the last 10-bar Phrase is made up of one 8-bar Figure and one 2-bar.
While dances with 10-bar Phrases are particularly interesting musically, some Dancers find the phrasing too counter-intuitive; for example, there is a strong temptation to panic on bar 37 in The Wee Cooper o' Fife as one finds oneself heading away from the desired end-of-Phrase Position, forgetting that there are three more bars rather than one in which to reach that Position.