Author Topic: A Wee Note on the Scottish Bagpipe  (Read 2531 times)

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Ron

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A Wee Note on the Scottish Bagpipe
« on: July 23, 2011, 08:11:38 AM »
For the first 8 years of my life, almost every day I heard the pipes. My mother was from Scotland and the village where we lived (Fergus, Ontario) was saturated with Scottish settlers. I'd hear the chanters alone most summer evenings as neighbors practiced on their back stoops. My mother constantly played recordings of Scottish music and taught me basic dances. Any day, for any excuse, local pipers would get together to march through the downtown, accompanied by bass and snares.

So, here's a bit of a guide.

Scottish bagpipes have three drones tuned to A (roughly 220 and 110 Hz). One is tuned to the lower A (bass) and the other two are tuned to the higher one (tenors). The chanter can produce 9 notes. They run from G to A. However, western music is out of tune with the pipes. A piper's scale is close to G - A - B - C* - D - E - F* - G - A. The asterisked C and F refer to the fact that these notes are about a quarter tone sharper than concert C and F. They are usually notated as natural C and F, though sometimes you might see those two notes with a sharp. Whichever, they are the same sounded pitch.That's the basic idea. However, pipers are not really comfortable with concert A and have raised it from 440 Hz to between 470 Hz and 485 Hz. Seeing as concert Bb is 466 Hz, many folks assume that the pipes are tuned to a sharpened Bb

An unusual feature of Scottish folk is sometimes called the "Scottish Skip." This is the habit of  putting the accent on the graces notes before the "regular" note. This gives Scottish music a very different sound than that of many cultures where a "regular" note is ornamented after the sounded note. (This is especially true in Mid-Eastern music and in jazz where a note can be "stretched" out for several measures with all sorts of twists, bends, and curly-cues. The Scots place the twists first.)

Attached is the score of a simple reel as notated for the highland pipe. Remember that the accents go on the grace notes.




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« Last Edit: July 23, 2011, 08:15:24 AM by Ron »
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Patrick O'Keefe

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Re: A Wee Note on the Scottish Bagpipe
« Reply #1 on: July 23, 2011, 01:44:41 PM »
An unusual feature of Scottish folk is sometimes called the "Scottish Skip." This is the habit of  putting the accent on the graces notes before the "regular" note. This gives Scottish music a very different sound than that of many cultures where a "regular" note is ornamented after the sounded note. (This is especially true in Mid-Eastern music and in jazz where a note can be "stretched" out for several measures with all sorts of twists, bends, and curly-cues. The Scots place the twists first.)
I can't be sure, but I think this is also a characteristic of at least some eastern European music where ornamentation at the beginning of the note - a grace not, turn, or a short trill - serves as an accent for the note.  I think this is particularly true of Macedonian bagpipe (gajda) playing, but I also hear in some Romanian bagpipe (cimpoi) and flute music.  It's hard for me to audibly parse the music since there is often ornamentation at the end of a note, too. I can't tell which note "owns" the ornamentation.

The eastern European bagpipes usually have just one (sometimes two) drones.  One type of Romanian bagpipe has two chanters.  (An article I read says they each have 5 holes, but unless the Romanians in that area have a thumb and 5 fingers on each hand, that would be very hard to play!)

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Re: A Wee Note on the Scottish Bagpipe
« Reply #2 on: July 23, 2011, 03:08:17 PM »
I find it is really difficult to get information on the tunings of "folk" instruments. Even harder, it seems, is to find it notated using Western notation. For example, I know exactly what North American First Nations music sounds like (I lived next to a reserve for 7 years when I taught Algonquin students), but I'm somewhat stumped when it comes to the notation of it. Especially difficult is the music of the plains Indians as they seem to have a lot of notes that don't fit in our commonly used scales.
« Last Edit: July 24, 2011, 08:05:04 AM by Ron »
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Patrick O'Keefe

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Re: A Wee Note on the Scottish Bagpipe
« Reply #3 on: July 23, 2011, 09:57:24 PM »
Our system of musical notation is both a blessing and a curse.  We obviously have centuries of wonderful music that could never have been passed down to us, could never have been conceived in the first place, without a notational system.  But it doesn't easily work for some other forms of music - music whose scales and/or rhythms don't conveniently map to the "western" system.  Worse yet, we can get the false impression that the essence of the music has been understood and captured once it has been notated.  That, of course, is not even true of our western music, but it's much more the case with music that "grew up" without a system of notation.

BTW, my comments are casual observations based on 40 years of recreational Balkan folk dancing.  I have no expertise in this area so I could be way off base.   


Ron

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Re: A Wee Note on the Scottish Bagpipe
« Reply #4 on: July 24, 2011, 05:12:24 AM »
I would say that 40 years of recreational Balkan dancing would make you something of an expert.  :)

Those of us stuck with computer-generated sounds for playback are also stuck with machine-like interpretation.  I'm thinking here of how unaccompanied violinist and singers automatically (if they have good ears) correct some of the deficiencies in our scales. And I think that you are bang-on when it comes to the false impressions many have that our musical system is the end-all and be-all. From all my reading that is completely false. Our brains create the music out of chaotic signals as molecules collide with our ear-drums and automatically "correct" it to fit into the patterns we perceived as infants.
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