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

Why is singing more important than the written music

The traditional ways, or "songs", of the tunes have been taught by singing, because piobaireachd is characterised by free rhythm - particularly in the Urlar of the tune. The "song" cannot be accurately represented on the stave in metrical form, as time signatures and bar lines constrain and distort the melody. The nuances of expression cannot be conveyed on the stave.

Therefore written music which you may have seen, for example in the Piobaireachd Society books, is not played on the bagpipe, in the same way that it appears on the stave. Quavers, crotchets, and semiquavers cannot be used to express the subtlety of the music. In a single tune (or even a single bar) a quaver could be long, short, or very short, and the next quaver could be an entirely different length.

Secondly the gracenotes or small notes, are rightly played very short indeed in the light music (namely marches, strathspeys, reels and so on). But when reading a piobaireachd gracenote, it might be intended to be long or short. It could actually be a theme note in some cases, which means it should sound as long (or even longer) than the note which follows.

Lastly the bagpipe is an instrument which has a constant volume, and yet in some way the player needs to emphasise some notes more than others, to make the music flow. On an oboe or violin, these notes could be played louder. The piper must instead play them a bit longer, and/or make the most of the gracenotes on these notes, to express their importance. A teacher, singing to his/her pupil, uses lots of different tones and volumes, to show which notes need to be emphasised. A good teacher's singing is remembered long after the lesson, when the piper is playing the tune, and recalling the ebb and flow of the music.