1. Introduction
  2. Why is singing more important than the written music
  3. How do teachers know what to sing to their pupils
  4. What is the Campbell Canntaireachd
  5. Other forms of Canntaireachd
  6. An example of a tune

An example of a tune

Let's have a look at a tune called "Lament for the Viscount of Dundee". Here is how the first line looks in the original Campbell Canntaireachd:

The handwriting can be hard to read, so here is the first line of the Canntaireachd typed out for you ...

Himotra hahohioem hodinhiotra chelalhodin hiharara chehodroe hiharara hahohioem

There may have been misprints in this enormous document, such as the last "word" in the above excerpt, which nowadays might be sung or played as hiaenoem. Seeing the words written down like that isn't very easy to understand. However a teacher, singing the tune, might sing it like this.

If you were learning this from a teacher of piobaireachd, it is likely you would have the music written on the stave to look at – here's the first line from the Piobaireachd Society's version of this tune, as it appears in Book 1.

As you can see there are gracenotes which appear small, and some of these are meant to be longer than you think. For example the little tiny "E" which is a gracenote at the very beginning of the line, might last up to half a second long, depending on how the performer wishes to play it. A teacher of piobaireachd would sing the music to his/her pupil, to show how long these little notes should be.

In 1959 a series of piobaireachd books were produced called "Binneas is Borereig", from the playing of a famous piper called Malcolm MacPherson. The writer (Dr Roddy Ross) used a different format, which perhaps is closest to the real expression of the music. He did away with barlines altogether, and thus the phrases were easily seen. The long E notes at the beginning of tunes (such as in the Viscount of Dundee) were expressed as normal notes.

Here is the same tune as it might appear in Binneas. I have re–written it in my own handwriting, for various reasons which we don't need to go into now. This method emphasises the limitations of conventional staff notation, with time–signatures and barlines – instead Binneas splits up the tune into different phrases, putting an obvious gap between each phrase....

Other methods of writing the music "as it should sound" have been attempted. Here is the tune with the Canntaireachd and stave combined, and no time signature, so that notes can be given their proper value, up to as long as a minim in some cases:

(reproduced with kind permission of http://www.roddymacleodpiobaireachd.com)

But none of these sources can really tell you in detail how the tune would or should sound. The best method is to go to a teacher who will sing to you.

The first part of this lovely tune, played on the bagpipe, can be heard here. (reproduced with kind permission of http://www.roddymacleodpiobaireachd.com)

The recent explosion in music on CDs and the internet. has allowed many more people to hear Canntaireachd sung, by the great masters of the past. For example Donald MacLeod, and the Bobs of Balmoral, produced many recordings of Canntaireachd which are now available on CD. Note that some of these were not originally made with a view to wide dissemination, but they are an accurate record of how pupils were taught by these pivotal teachers. These teaching CDs can be bought online here.

Pause Marks

Sometimes pause marks ( ) are used in the written music, to show if a note should be lengthened. However even these are unhelpful, as how long is "long"? They might also mean "a denial of brevity", or "play this note smoothly".

Archibald Campbell, writer of the PS scores in the early years of the series, and the Kilberry Book, used the pause mark a lot. However he did not think that the written music would ever be used as the primary source of a tune. Rather, he assumed that pipers would continue to be taught by traditionally taught teachers – and that they would continue to rely on their teachers for the "ways" of the tunes. His use of pause marks was an attempt to convey some of the subtlety of the received way of a tune, where the inflexibility of the staff notation was too offensive.

In summary his pause marks were not the conventional music "fermata", which indicate that the note might be lengthened. Instead the duration was left to the discretion of the player.