The Royal Scots Cap Badge


Piobaireachd Information - Ceol Mor or Great Music

Piobaireachd (in Gaelic means Pipe Music) and it is some times referred to as Ceol Mor or the Great Music and some people use “Pibroch” as an alternative spelling. This page provides some interesting insight into the origins of Piobaireachd Terminolgy we use today


Ceol Mor is a very ancient art form of bagpipe music and its origins seem to be rather obscure. It is thought that by the time the MacCrimmons brought the art form to prominence during the 16th century that Ceol Mor was by then, already very highly evolved and complex as a classical music form. This could indicate that it may have had been in existence for several centuries before. The music is intended for solo performance only.

Broadly speaking bagpipe music can be grouped into three groups;

  • Ceol Mor — the Great Music: a repertoire consisting of salutes, gathering tunes, marches, laments and brosnachadh.
  • Ceol Meadhonach — the Middle Music: slow airs and jigs.
  • Ceol Beag — the Little Music: strathspeys, marches, hornpipes and reels.




The subjects of the compositions are quiet varied and normally share a common theme commemorating an event, person or happening in the composers life. Therefore the categories for the Great Music tend to be theme based and not have consistent musical patterns that are common for categorizing other forms of music.

The main categories are:

  • Salutes — tunes that acknowledge a person, event or location.
  • Laments — mourning tunes written for people of note.
  • Gatherings — tunes that where written specifically for a clan.
  • Rowing — these are rhythmic tunes used to encourage rower's rowing a boat.
  • Marches — so called, but in reality not marches as we usually know them in piping.
  • Brosnachadh — call to battle or commemoration.


The Music


The music was developed to be played on the Great Highland Bagpipe and as a result the music is subject to the limitations of the instrument. This limitation has had huge impact on the composition and structure of the repertoire. Composers of Ceol Mor have had to find ways to overcome these limitations when composing tunes. Some of the techniques used to compensate the instruments limitations are to:
  • Extend the length of a note for emphases.
  • Introduce various embellishments to accentuate various elements of the tune.
  • Variations on the theme/urlar.
The playing of Ceol Mor shows the Highland Bagpipe sound when properly setup and tuned, of to its best.




The musical structure Ceol Mor focuses on a central theme and its variations. The theme is called urlar, meaning ground or floor. This is the starting point for a tune and is normally played slowly and is usually accentuated with grace and connecting notes. In most cases the variations following the ground involve the use of a number of different musical embellishments, usually starting very simply and progressing through successively more complex movements before returning again to the ground (normally just the first line of the urlar), as in more recent practice. Most Ceol Mor has set patterns/structures akin to poetry that are classified in such a way as to help the performer with phrasing and memorization of the pieces.

Variations after the urlar usually includes a siubhal or dithis (simple divisions of the main theme notes) or both. The variations that are introduced are regular and rhythmic, yet with subtle touches of phrasing. These variations that are introduced increase in tempo and complexity. They are technically more challenging i.e. such as the taorluath that leads into the crunluath which is known as the crowning movement. This may be the final section of the piece, or it may be followed by an even more complex taorluath a-mach or crunluath a-mach segment before returning to the part urlar, or as it used to be not that long ago finishing on the crunluath a-mach. It becomes a matter of choice.




Light music enjoys huge popularity with the piping and pipe band fraternity, and is much more common than Ceol Mor. However Ceol Mor is still played throughout the world, increasing in numbers every year, perhaps because it provides practising pipers with an excellent outlet or diversion from the light music. The style and rhythm of Piobaireachd is unlike modern music, it has its own beauty and grace. By learning more about the structure and history of this music, a piping student can more readily appreciate its nuances.


Bill's Piobaireachd Tutorials


Bill has spent hours recording and compiling 115 Piobaireachd Tutorials onto a DVD


What's neat about them is that he does not play the tune right through and then leaves you asking questions. He has sectioned the tunes into the various pieces and he talks you through each section as he plays them. It is as if Bill was sitting in your lounge, giving you a one—on—one lesson. How good is that?

The DVD includes the following:

  • They are all recorded on a practice chanter, with comments at intervals on performance, structure, technique, and certain nuances.
  • 27 Supporting videos demonstrating various embellishments required for Pibroch.
  • Some literature about various historical aspects of Pibroch.


Music Notation Click this link to view a list of all Pibroch on Bill's DVD.


Return from Piobaireachd Information to Home Page


Some Useful Links



... I also like that you write out the music as it should be played but without removing staff lines (like Bineas) which confuses the hell out of people. I've shown it to guys at band and they just walk away from it. Yours, however, they can understand without, as one piper put it, having to learn how to read music all over again!

Not sure if I ever mentioned that one thing that I have always found helpful is the timing suggestions you offer...42 secs for line x; 36-40 sec for line y depending on mood, etc. It provides a framework within which I can work to (hopefully) express the music better without rushing or dragging. Without it, I would be clue less as to how slow or fast a piece should be played.

Mark Falzini 6th April 2008

| 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