The notation of piobaireachd

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By Capt. John A. MacLellan MBE

All piobaireachd available to pipers today, the exception of reprints, are abbreviated. Strangely, this innovation can be traced to Angus MacKay (just other example of his brilliant musical mind). His manuscript, as far as the piobaireachd volumes are concerned, is largely abbreviated. The piobaireachd collections which can be purchased at present are:

All have an abbreviated notation.

As piobaireachd has its own peculiar phrase structures (to be discussed in the future) it is best written in lines and it has been found, that if laid out in a series of three line groups, the phrase structures be readily understood. Thus, the relationships each variation has to its predecessor can be seen clearly.

Probably the first ‘stranger’ in notation that the newcomer to piobaireachd will face is the cadential or introductory E, which is written as:

which in fact means

Often this is referred to as a cadence but this is incorrect for as will be shown later it is but part of a cadence, hence the names cadential E, or introductory E.

It will be noted that the Es are shown as eighth notes. However, one of the beauties of piobaireachd is the elasticity in the playing of notes, so that an 1/8 note written as an introductory E, might well get the time of a 1/4 note.

The sign ‘tr’ above a note means that the note is to be preceded by a grip:

played as

However, not all grips in piobaireachd are made the same way and to clarify this, tables of examples will be placed as an Appendix to this article.

Another sign used is ‘w’ which signifies a grip preceded by the same note which it embellishes:

Further embellishment abbreviations are:

Leumluaths, Taorluaths and Crunluaths are shown as follows:

A half T written below a note means that the following A is to be lengthened.

The Tripling movement of G, D, E gracenotes on G, A , B or C is indicate dby placing three lines below the tripled note:

There are a number of note combinations that are referred to as Double Echoes or as Echoing beat. Two examples are:

(note that the D gracenote is a large one).

An alternative to the Low G gracenote is a C gracenote.

An echoing beat on E would appear as:

Most low G gracenotes are written as:

but must not, except in the cases shown above be over-stressed. A firm gracenote is all that is required,

Although the Piobaireachd Society books and the Kilberry Book of Ceol Mor are both Piobaireachd Society publications there is a difference in certain layout abbreviations.

Most variations have a ‘Singling’ and a ‘Doubling’. Singlings have a cadence at the end of each phrase, which interrupt the flow of steady rhythm but at the same time ensuring a closing off and a continuity from one phrase to another. A Doubling has no cadences. (See the Treatise in Music of the Highland Bagpipe by J. A. MacLellan which explains cadences). However, examples would be:

There are differing types of cadence in the Kilberry Book of Ceol Mor

S is the abbreviation for Singling

D is the abbreviation for Doubling

In the Piobaireachd Society’s collection, the Singlings and Doublings bracketed like this:

which means that the variation is played once incorporating that under the first bracket leaving the second bracket out. Then the variation is replayed leaving out the first bracket and playing that under the second.

Further minimising of space is achieved by the use of larger brackets, which are marked

The [Donald] MacLeod collection used the S and D as in the Kilberry Book while the [Archie] Kenneth collection follows the Piobaireachd Society system.

The Ground work in the Kilberry book have the embellishments abbreviated, but in the Piobaireachd Society’s books 1-8 they are written out fully. Books 9-13 are largely abbreviated.

*From The International Piper, September 1980.

• Structure of piobaireachd, 1
• Structure of piobaireachd, 2
• Structure of piobaireachd, 3
• Structure of piobaireachd, 4