The Royal Scots Cap Badge


A History of Piobaireachd, Part 8

I come now to Class II where all the lines are equal and the first line is played twice. I believe that rules can be worked out, and the various descriptions of Class II tunes classified but this has not yet been done. The arrangement of the phrases is certainly more intricate than in tunes of Class I.


All that can be said is that among several types there are 2 which appear to have been adopted as patterns for the construction of quick marches. Quick marches are a form of music put on the pipes comparatively recently. Take Piobaireachds like:
  • The Lament for the Old Sword.
  • Struan Robertson Salute.
  • Kinlochmoidart's Lament.
We have the first line repeated, then we go up to the high hand for the second line. The 1st half of the third line is exactly the same as the first half of the 2nd line, and then for the finish we go back again to the 1st line or at any rate finish differently in some respect from the 2nd line.


This is exactly like 2-parted quicksteps such as ‘MacKenzie Highlanders.’ Again we have another type of tune where all three lines are different like the
  • Unjust Incarceration.
  • Praise for Marion.
  • The Lament for the Viscount of Dundee.
  • The Children's Lament.
These correspond to my mind with such 3-parted quicksteps as the ‘Earl of Mansfield.’ At one time it was a favorite custom of composers of quicksteps to make three parts and three parts only, and the original way of playing may have been to play the 1st part 3 times and the 2nd and 3rd parts once each. Anyhow it is a fair surmise to make that the composers may have been imitating deliberately a certain type of 3 equal timed piobaireachd. If this is not so then the correspondence between the 2 kinds of music must be accidental, for it is quite certain that the piobaireachd arrangement cannot have been derived from that of the quickstep.


A piobaireachd therefore commences with an Urlar or Ground constructed on a certain pattern into which is woven the air or melody which is the framework of the whole structure. To the casual ear the air is sometimes disguised rather completely by the application to it of certain embellishments (prominent among which are the long E cadence grace-notes and of certain conventional note combinations.) Of these latter the most characteristic are what Gen. Thomason calls the Double Echo beats and the Galosh on the low A. The long E grace note is a conspicuous feature, both the E and Galosh of the double echo beats on C and B.


A good instance for study is the ground of the piobaireachd ‘Broach nam Brierqair.’ Play this and then play the song version or pipe slow march and the resemblance will be slight. Take away however from the Piobaireachd ground the long E cadence grace notes and the resemblance becomes almost complete. The grace noting of the ground of a piobaireachd is most important. Every high G grace note has been put in or left out with an object on what precise system this has been done. We in our ignorance cannot say for we cannot compose piobaireachd music and until we begin to be able to do so, our ignorance must continue. What we have to remember in the meantime is that a piper cannot in a piobaireachd take liberties with the composer's grace notes as he can in marches, strathspeys and reels. He must play the exact grace notes which he finds, neither more nor fewer; otherwise he will land himself in trouble.


After the ground comes the variations. In many tunes these are entirely conventional in form. Some tunes have one or more variations of a more original character, and these tunes are usually highly esteemed. What may be called the conventional variations are the following:

  1. The Thumb variation: this is constructed by substituting throughout the ground high A for some prominent theme note of the ground, e.g. ‘Mary's Praise’, High A substituted for E and F.......‘MacKay's Banner’, high A substituted for C and E............‘Lament for the only Son’, High A substituted for Low A. In a very few instances High G is also used as a variation note in the thumb variation. Examples the ‘End of the Great Bridge’ and ‘Glengarry's March.’ Sometimes the thumb variation is followed by a doubling of the same variation, this consists in a slight alteration of form, a slight increase of pace, and the blending of the whole into one continuous phrase instead of the movement being split up into a number of phrases. Examples ‘Mary's Praise’, ‘MacKay's Banner’, ‘The Rout of Glenfruin’, ‘Piobaireachd of Domnuil Dubh.’

  2. The Suibhal: the next form of conventional variation of low A's or low G's with the prominent theme notes. Sometimes the accent is on the low G or A as in ‘Glengarry's March’ and ‘MacCrimmon's Sweetheart,’ sometimes the accent is on the theme note as in Angus MacKay's setting of ‘Donald Gruamach.’ The Suibhal is usually played first as a singling cut up into phrases and then as a doubling with the movements blended into one long phrase.

  3. An alternative to the Suibhal and perhaps more common form is the Dithis. In this the theme note is before the variation note low A or low G, the theme note being played with a high G grace note and the variation note with an E grace note. In the doubling the theme note with an E grace note is substituted for the variation note. Examples are numerous, ‘Bells of Perth’, ‘Battle of Waternish’, ‘Desperate Battle’, etc.

  4. A 3rd form of first variation uses A, low A or low G with an E or high G gracenote in a somewhat different way. Examples ‘Kinlochmoidart's Lament’, ‘Corrienessans’, ‘Lament for the Harp Tree.’ This is also played in a singling and a doubling. It often precedes a Taorluath and Crunluath played in the Breabach form.

  5. A 4th pattern of conventional variation is that adopted for the 1st variation of the ‘Prince's Salute.’ It is used often as a 2nd variation following a Dithis as in the Battle of Waternish, Scarce of Fishing or following a Suibhal as in Mary's Praise.

  6. In a few tunes such as the Piobaireachd Domnuil Dubh, the Rout of Glenfruin, Bodach nam Briqus, a variation called the Lemluath (singling and doubling) comes before the Taorluath.

  7. More often the Taorluath follows the 1st or the 2nd variation and is followed by the Crunluath (a) the ordinary (b) the Fosgailte, (c) the Breabach. There are one or two examples of peculiar forms of Taorluath and Crunluath for example in the ‘Lament for Mary MacLeod’ where the Taorluath and Crunluath are not as they seem to be at first sight in the Breabach form but in a slightly different form. Other peculiar forms can be seen in MacLeod's short tune ‘The Battle of Brunlock nam Broig’ and a ‘Flame of Wrath for Padruig Caogach’ but in the great majority of tunes the Taorluath and Crunluath are either (a) (b) or (c) above, and the peculiar forms to be used is often determined by the particular form of the preceding variations. It has been observed already that some tunes have exceptional forms of 1st variations.


| Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 |


Return to A History of Piobaireachd


| Privacy Policy | Disclaimer Statement | Contact Bill |

Bills Contact Number: +64 9 534 8553              Skype:

Return to top

Free bagpipe lessons for popular bagpipe tunes.

> Copyright© 2004- All Rights Reserved