Music for rapper
No dance would be a dance without music, and music is one of the most important (and too often overlooked) elements of a good rapper dance which can give the whole performance a major lift.
Modern rapper dances are always performed to jigs (6/8 time), as other time signatures would make the now conventional pattern of rapper stepping difficult or impossible. Double jigs are easier to dance to than single jigs. The Black Adder dance included a part performed to slip jigs, but as they are in 9/8 time that part had to be performed without stepping. Before the modern rapper stepping was introduced by clog dancers by the 1920s, it would have been possible to perform rapper to other music, such as hornpipes or reels; the Amble dancers were among the traditional teams who are known to have performed to hornpipes.
Although Northumbrian tunes were, and still are, used to accompany rapper, most of the tunes used are Irish, and indeed have been so at least since Sharp notated five traditional dances in 1910. As the probable date of the introduction of the rapper sword was at the time of mass migration from Ireland to the growing industrial centres of Great Britain, it is quite possible that rapper has always been performed to Irish tunes, which are generally more lively than their Northumbrian equivalents.
A wide variety of instruments can and have been used to accompany rapper. The most popular traditional instruments were the fiddle (used almost exclusively in the earliest accounts) and then the tin whistle, although concertinas, flutes, accordions and melodeons were also widely played. Unusual instruments used by the traditional sides included the piano (played by Bedlington for dances inside pubs), Northumbrian smallpipes (Washington) and even the highland pipes (Guide Post).
The tempo of the music used previously and today varies widely. By the time of the Newcastle Competitions in the 1920s, most sides had adopted fairly fast tempos, typically around 160 beats per minute (and often accelerando alla coda). Modern teams tend to prefer tempos around 120 to 140 beats per minute, although some perform at dances at 160 or faster. Rapper teams also tend to speed up as the dance progresses, and it is subject to debate whether this is a good thing, bad thing or just maintaining the tradition as the old teams apparently did it too!