Playing Strathspeys

For this bagpipe lesson Pipe Major Bill Robertson teaches you how to play Strathspeys using the tunes The Marquis of Huntly and The Shepherd's Crook as lesson tunes.

Listen to Bill's Audio Instruction
The Marquis of Huntly
The Shephards Crook

Download the Music Notation for playing Strathspeys

Click to download the tune notation for Strathspeys

This lesson is an extract from Bills "Interactive Advanced Bagpipe Tutorials."

Lesson Pointers for playing Strathspeys

When playing strathspeys, particularly within the lower grades of piping, I have expressed concern about the poor playing. For this reason I have recorded this video to help with understanding the rhythm of the dance and a few pointers on technique.

The following notes might also be of help.

Strathspeys are a form of highland dancing written in Common 4/4 time with four pulses to the bar of which some pipers appear to be unaware.

The Rhythm needs much lift or spring akin to the dance. This kind of snap is achieved by marked contrast between the long and short notes without being too jerky. The longer notes (dotted eighth notes) are longer than written, and the shorter notes (sixteenth notes) much shorter, although not hacked.

Where sixteenth notes follow one another a slight relaxation is necessary on the first of these to assist clarity of the second note – *see last bar of extract below. A similar relaxation should be considered when the short note is of a single interval and needs that touch extra clarity on such a weak interval, yet not seemingly at the expense of the long note.

The regular timing of four pulses in the bar must be maintained throughout strathspeys with a degree of accent particularly on the first pulse of each bar, not overdone but in mind. Even pipers of note some times fail to maintain the controlled regular four pulses to the bar by occasionally dropping off longer notes a shade too soon on to the next pulse.

That is why when beating time to keep beating four to the bar to maintain control without losing momentum. Beating time with a spring-like, or bouncing, action akin to the dance on downbeats provides a natural element of lift and control.

The following extract is from the first part The Marquis of Huntly a basic lighter strathspey

Apply the principles in all strathspeys, the lighter ones and the heavier ones. Tempos might vary with heavier competition type strathspeys being slightly steadier in tempo than the lighter smaller ones.

In this extract play slowly for some time at first about 60 BPM (later tempo would be about 120BPM or slightly less). Endeavour to maintain the strathspey rhythm, observing and playing dotted notes longer than written and the shorter notes shorter, yet clearly without being too jerky. The single quarter notes provide a natural accent when playing the full value of the pulse each time. Also keep in mind the value of the dotted notes as you go.

The theoretical rhythm of playing strathspeys is strong, weak, medium, weak every four pulse bar, although I tend to think that strong, medium, medium, medium might be more appropriate, so I will use the latter – S, M, M, M as a guide in the extract because the medium on the fourth pulse indicates better control, as some pipers tend to neglect that pulse.

The sign * is a reminder of slight relaxation on the E for good clarity leading to the triplet in the fourth bar. After that triplet low A* good duration in that fourth bar make sure the third beat D# has its full pulse value before the full strike doubling spot on the next pulsed D.

Below shows the low G grace note in the first example advanced way.

All three notes of the triplet must be sounded clearly. Count of 1, 2, 3-, third note longest, Up enough before next pulse.

This lesson is an extract from Bills "Interactive Advanced Bagpipe Tutorials."

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


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