When the Advocates Library, the National Library's predecessor, was founded in the late 17th century there was little interest in acquiring music collections. Only a small amount of printed and manuscript music was acquired by the Advocates over the centuries, but this includes such important manuscripts such as the Skene MS, the Leyden and Agnus Hume music books.
Though the Advocates enjoyed legal deposit of printed items from 1710, it was as late as the early 20th century that this method became the main source of acquiring printed music. Since the National Library of Scotland was formed in 1925, the music collections have grown considerably through its legal deposit privilege, bequests, donations and purchase of foreign and special collections.
Today the National Library of Scotland's collections of music comprise approximately 300,000 printed scores, around 5,000 published music sound recordings, as well as about 1,000 music manuscripts, with:
- Very extensive British holdings, acquired through legal deposit
- Music of Scotland a particular strength, especially Scottish traditional music
- A wide selection of foreign music editions
- Special collections of early editions of Handel, Berlioz and Verdi
- Published music sound recordings (reel tapes, cassette tapes, vinyl discs, CDs), mostly of Scottish folk music
- Music manuscripts from the early 16th-century Carver choir book to 20th-century composers such as Robin Orr and Ronald Stevenson