The Battle of the Somme - Retreat Air

For this bagpipe lesson Pipe Major Bill Robertson explains playing the tune The Battle of the Somme. Bill breaks the lesson down into sections with commentary for each section.

The tune is a retreat air and the tune was composed by Pipe Major Robert Meldrum


Listen to Bill's Audio Instruction
The Battle of the Somme - Retreat Air

Download the Music Notation for The Battle of the Somme

Click to download the tune notation for The Battle of the Somme

Lesson Pointers for The Battle of the Somme

When playing the Battle of the Somme remember the three beats to the bar, good clarity of technique, and steady controlled compound rhythm i.e. the basic beat rhythm of 1–2,3– with attention to the remainder of the upbeat 3– duration without being too short sometimes. Some settings have a grip on the F of the seventh bar each part. The low A birls in the second part alternatively may simply have a high G grace note instead. Tempo could be about 80-84 BPM give or take a little.

Additional Information

Pipe Major Willie LawriePipe Major Willie Lawrie

The Battle of the Somme, a 9/8 Retreat Air commemorates the fierce battle of World War I in which many lives were lost on both sides of the conflict. Some weeks ago was the anniversary of that battle, hence my thoughts to have that tune for this month. 

The battle was started on 1st of July 1916 in which the British troops lost 58,000 lives, with one third lost on the first day of the battle. A Google search on the battle will reveal details. 

The composer was Pipe Major William Lawrie (1881-1916), 8th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. He was a composer of note with many of his fine pieces often played today, especially his fine 2/4 marches that feature in the major piping competitions, both solo and band. He won piobaireachd premier gold medals and many light music events. Please see www.pipetunes.ca for much interesting biography.



If you have any questions or comments, please use Contact Form to contact Bill.


BBC Scotland Documentary. Looking at the role of the Pipers who served in the Highland Divisions of the British Army during the First World War. We also see the descendants of former Piping ‘heroes’including Victoria Cross recipient Daniel Logan Laidlaw (26 July 1875 – 2 June 1950} visiting the scenes of Battle. Also featured is cutting edge audio technology recreating the sound of the  Battle of the Somme interlaced with Pipes. We will remember them.

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