The Piobaireachd Society
Patron HM The Queen

How to learn Piobaireachd

Nowadays piobaireachd is written on the stave usually (but not always) with a time signature and using crotchets and quavers etc. to show the relative values of each note.

The Society’s books 1-16 and the Kilberry Book are fine examples of piobaireachd written on the stave. Common to all music written this way is the difficulty of timing.

To achieve good musical effect not all crotchets and quavers will be played the same length. Furthermore the written score fails to convey the accurate tempo for each piece. It is therefore essential that enthusiasts endeavour to enlist the assistance of a respected tutor who will guide them through their difficulties in ceol mor study.

Learning from a teacher
Piobaireachd was originally taught as an oral tradition, with each teacher passing down his knowledge by singing or playing to his pupils. Many people still teach like this today and it is by far the best way to learn.

Certainly it is easier than trying to sort out what is going on by simply reading the music. More importantly, by singing, the teacher will be able to add nuance and pulse to the melody thus bringing it to life.

This method of singing is often referred to as ‘canntaireachd’ (Scottish Gaelic: literally, ‘chanting’). The teacher uses the strength of his voice to emphasise particular notes. Obviously it is not possible to use ‘volume control’ when you are actually playing the bagpipe. The skill in playing piobaireachd is to try and play musically, stressing the notes which are important, and gliding over the less important.

Where will you find a teacher?
Click on here. This will take you to ‘Learn’ on the PS homepage and you will see a link to the Society’s members who teach piobaireachd.

Learning from a CD
Many tunes have now been recorded by famous and reputable pipers. One can always copy these performances, but beware of using this as your only method of learning. The style of playing tunes varies from one piper to another, and indeed from one era to another.

Commercial CDs have been produced for example the series of CDs in the ‘Masters of Piobaireachd’ series where the renowned duo of Bob Brown and Bob Nicol of Balmoral, sing and play a number of tunes.

More recently, modern pipers have produced CDs and mp3s for teaching purposes, and this is an area which is likely to expand over the coming years.